Today has always been a special day for me. Yes, I celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the country in which I have survived and thrived. However, today is also the birthday of my great-aunt, Alma Jenkins Simpkins.
Today she is eighty-nine and she is the last surviving of and has experienced the most years of all of her siblings. She is the seventh of eight; she had four brothers and three sisters. Her lone younger sibling, my grandmother, went to live in the next world in 2008.
The four elder siblings were born in Mississippi and the rest were born in Oklahoma.
Her father and three of the four brothers died young--violent deaths, One, William, was executed for murder by the state of Arkansas. (William's race is listed as 'Native American' and they are, certifiably, one quarter Indian.)
Aunt Alma's eldest brother and three sisters died of diseases of the spirit--one cannot say that any of them were unpreventable: un-medicated high blood pressure and untreated cancers.
All of them were wild men and women, something I know both from reputation and from observation. Aunt Alma says that her father and all of her brothers carried a handgun on their persons wherever they went and weren't afraid to use them. She says that white people called her mother and her sisters "Mrs." and "Miss" in 1930s Oklahoma.
Last night, I made a green salad, and today I have cooked her an extensive breakfast, something not normally done because of her high blood pressure. Later, I'll prepare macaroni and cheese and broil slabs of boneless ribs. Aunt Alma will probably have a beer. And, of course, there is ice cream and cake.
Then, we're going to start a conversation--something which is now sometimes difficult due to her teeth. It will be a conversation about the men of our family who died before I was born--men who took their independence seriously and, sometimes, paid dearly.