At the beginning of Jess Walter's best-selling "Citizen Vince" he writes: "One day you know more dead people than live ones...Start with grandparents. Two sets..."
This idea has been running through my mind a lot lately, probably on account of a recent birthday.
First dead person I ever saw was Msgr. Bieler, pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul parish in Boonville, Missouri. I was six. All the little kids had to file past his open casket during the mass offered in his behalf. He looked waxy.
I remember my brother, David, who died in his early forties. I always wonder if I could have done anything to stop his downward spiral. I remember my dad, Walter Scott DeClue, who died in his seventies. I quote him a lot—during his later years he gave me a lot of quotable quotes.
I remember my dad's dad, Ben DeClue, and his whiskers and tobacco-whisky breath when he picked me up. He was a renaissance man: hunted, farmed, and taught himself engineering and how to dance. I remember dad's mom, Lily Calvert. She was fat and cranky when I knew her, but I remember her chicken-and-dumpling dinners at my grandparent's farm house and the ducks in the yard. My dad quoted his mom all the time, and she lives on for me, through those sayings, and the old southern Baptist hymns the family sang.
Mr. Bushyhead was a Cherokee Indian lawyer I knew when I was growing up. He made a deal with the local police to pick him up from a roadhouse when he got too drunk to drive.
I remember my mom's grandmother. She was a Douglas. I was very young and she was bed-ridden when they lay me in her arms. I remember the light, her old face. Also, my mom's mom, Charlotte Lawrence Govro; her dad, John Govro—I know wonderful stories about their rocky marriage. I remember my mom's sisters, Rosemary Govro Schell and Charlotte Govro McMillen. I remember my dad's sisters, Florence DeClue, a bit of a floozy by many accounts. (She called up at dinner time and my dad answered. I guess she said, "I've had it, Scotty, and I'm going to do it" because my dad left right away and drove to St. Louis. She shot herself in the shower while he was on the phone.)
Marthe DeClue, dad's other sister, a tough school teacher, was told by her husband, in his sixties, that he was gay. He was in love with a truck driver, and off they went. And cousins—my Marthe's daughter, Marthe, took her life in her forties. My cousin Ben Jr., who started a web site for New Zealand, died around the same time.
I remember my first husband's parents: Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Chandler. He was a big deal in the World Council of Churches. What was his wife's name? I remember her fondly. She went to march for civil rights in Selma, Alabama. Chandler's sister married a wonderful smart and funny man, David Ward. He died as a young man of stomach cancer.
The lesson of Citizen Vince, who turns out to be in the federal witness protection program(his real name is Marty), is that everyone wants to be remembered. But how you spend real time still matters more.