My family decided to start my great aunt’s funeral procession at her house.
My mother doesn’t want to go inside.
I don’t want to go inside
The only person who dares step foot past the entry of Walnut Log, named after the street the dwelling is on, is my great aunt’s daughter. She would be of course. She was born there, raised there, fought through the early trails of adulthood there, and one of the few people who could stand her stepfather, my aunt’s husband — the man who made the home into a house.
The house was a beauty of a home. Velvet carpeting, white furnished living room, the walls covered with photos, the vents carrying echoes of voices of the dead, the living, and the forever united in blood and love.
Thanksgiving Video — 1996
I’m barely one. My cousins still are younger than a year old. The camera catches me multiple times playing with my feet while I sit in my carrier. Our parents have rags on their shoulders for our spittle. My grandmother totes me around singing a song she made up for me, her hair mostly black. “Grandma’s baby gotta do their no; Grandma’s baby gotta do their no,” she sings as my cousin K.G. stares at the camera and then at my great aunt’s (his grandmother) china cabinet. He looks befuddled with his existence and why the thing contains so many things. Delicate things, intricate things, big things, small things — all these beautiful things. His chubby hand keeps reaching at the gold-wire laced glass protecting the china cabinet’s treasures.
His mother bounces him in his arm and says, “That’s right, K.G. Grandma Ruby made all those figurines and plates –that pretty stuff.”
This is during Aunt Ruby’s heyday as an entrepreneur. She buys blank figurines and plates, tarps of fabric, bland purses, and minimalistic photo albums. Within a month of buying the materials and crafting away, she would open shop to the neighborhood. What was once bland now became beautiful thanks to her creativity.
K.G. leans his whole body towards the china cabinet as if he wanted to be included in his grandma’s self-made collection.
Christmas Auction — 2007
“If you give me $20, we’ll go in together for this next one, alright?”
Again, my grandmother making an offer to pile our fake money together for the family auction. Every year at Walnut Log our family would have a silent auction for different Dollar General, and if we’re talking big time, T.J. Max goodies. My aunt would place all the items up for auction by the fireplace in the living room. She decorated the house and cooked all the food. The family sits on the floor eating (some of us on our second place, but plenty on their third), counting our money to see if we could afford to go all in on the most coveted goodies. Aunt Ruby makes me the wealth manager for folks who needed help handling their funds because I was the “smart one.” She says so with a smile so genuine, I feel like Einstein for a minute.
During the “silent” auction everyone would talk, especially my grandmother. Somehow she’d end up buying an item from her sister’s house that was not up for auction. This year she’s going for a china set from Marshall’s my great aunt brought for herself. The velvet floor we sit on looks a bit dingier than years before. The furniture isn’t as white as once was, but white furniture hardly ever stays white.
My aunt’s husband is nowhere to be found. Probably somewhere in the basement smoking and drinking. He knows not to come upstairs when the family’s home.
My Aunt Ruby calls my grandma by a childhood nickname: “Lil’ Baby, I told you that china set is not for sale. Girl, put that back!”
My grandma snickers as she tucks the china set underneath the folds of her trench coat. I see her stare at the figurine angels guarding the living room. My great aunt has made dozens of them. Most of her neighbors had brought at least one from her over the years. My grandma wanted one for free. She calls out to my Aunt Ruby, ignoring my great aunt’s pleas to return her china and calling my aunt by her childhood nickname:
“Sug’, when you gonna make me one of those angels?”
“Just as soon as you give me back my dang china!”
Random Gathering — 2009
My cousin Airelle and I cry as we watch my great aunt’s daughters, one her mother and one her aunt. Her mom is protecting Aunt Ruby from a potential blow. Airelle’s aunt is on some substance. Airelle and I don’t know what. We just want the peace we felt only an hour ago.
The living room angels look dusty. The carpet and furniture is darker. The husband’s smoke creeps up the basement stairs. Lights from his basement hideout cast a shadow show of the altercation between my great aunt and her daughter.
My breath catches in my throat as I sob.
Random Visit — 2015
I cannot breathe when I step inside.
Dust and strange smells and unkemptness have wrecked the house. The wood of the outside has holes. Grime covers glass surfaces. The kitchen…. My paranoia causes me to see a rat scurry by in my peripheral, but when I turn my head — nothing. The angels have lost their glow. The contents of the china cabinet that fascinated my cousin are obfuscated from view. I know my aunt has the energy to clean. She just no longer cares. Her husband and his friends would ruin her hard work anyway.
We could not have another family gathering here.
“Rubyyyy, you got the collard greens for me?” Her husband looks at her with indifference. He looks at the house with indifference. We look at him with disgust.
How the hell my aunt let life happen to her like this?
Aunt Ruby wants to sit and talk with us, but neither of us could hold our breath for long enough. We tell her we’ll call when we get home. Don’t have time to talk now. The happiness glimmering in my aunt’s eyes dims.
I want nothing more than to hear her jokes and wisdom. Just not in that house.
My aunt mentions one of her daughters is buying her first home. Maybe the time has come for a new Walnut Log.
After both my mother, the rest of my family, and I refuse to enter, the house just stands on its own. Out comes my great aunt’s husband in a leopard print suit. A gaping hole claims a small portion of the house’s left side. He had run into the house with my aunt’s car. Walnut Log’s wood looks sickly: dingy, dirty, and in need of desperate anti-termite treatment.
The velvet carpet is now a bloody stool brown, so I heard. The white furniture is now the color of dirty oyster,so i heard. The glass fixtures protecting the photos on the walls and the china cabinet are grayed-out with smoke-stains — so I heard. Dishes filled the sink, food sat out in the kitchen for weeks at a time, the miniature poodle her and her husband was flea-and-mange-ridden. What I know of the place comes from those who had the tolerance to see my aunt’s house in such dilapidation. She typically had to travel to get her fill of human company.
When she died, the last bit of life Walnut Log had within left with her.