my mother died in austin, pennsylvania, a place that almost isn't on the map. it seems that from the time she was born in the mid-1920s in shinglehouse, pa, she lived in places that were less and less visible from the interstates: whitesville, columbiaville, stottville, martindale, east taghkanic, and livingston, with a few exceptional bigger towns like mansfield and wellsville and hudson. she was a small town woman who spent all her life in places where, if they had a main street, people rode 4-wheelers up and down them all day, and the bar opened at 7 in the morning and stayed hopping until midnight. everybody tries to go home then cuz only the unemployed drink at the bar after midnight.
this is the kind of place I escaped from early on and have avoided ever since. I've been back here to visit at least once a year since they moved back 6 years ago, and when I got the telephone call from my dad at 5 o'clock this past sunday morning, I knew I'd be coming back for a while. the place is easy pickings to make light of: even the dogs here sport homemade tattoos and roll up packs of heaters in their shirtsleeves. we aren't on the rim of anything but in the thick of it all: thick air, thick trees, thick rocks, thick people. but my mom loved it and I love my mom.
but that's not why I'm here or not why I'm still here. I'm here because I love my dad too and these are his people now. they have taken him in like a lost starling. I could give a report of the trip out and the visitations and the funeral, but they were the same everyone experiences and there's nothing I could tell you that would be different than what you experience except with other people's faces. my mom's death was not tragic or unexpected. the rote comment I pair with handshakes is that it was "sudden but not surprising." my dad says he's lived with the notion for 14 years, ever since she was diagnosed with breast cancer. she's had at least 2 near calls in the ensuing years and we've all come to know what to expect.
here is what we've come to figure is what happened: she got up in the middle of the night to sit in a living room chair--a common event for her--and at some point stood and had a heart attack and died before landing on the floor. as these things go, it was a quick, painless death, the kind many of us, me included, could hope for.
so I am here for some weeks, in the thick of life, because this is what we do. we grow up, we move away, we start the life we want and we need, and then we find ourselves woken rudely by the news of death and we pack stupidly and rush back because no matter what we tell ourselves otherwise these are the people we really are. I am here for the immediate future because this is where I am.