Family Legacy

Written by: Judith Angell Meyer

I met Uncle August on my honeymoon.
I was prepared.
“He won’t talk to you," my new husband told me. 
"He’s a cantankerous old man,
so don’t be hurt, he doesn’t talk to anyone.”

He was in his 70's.
I was 20.
He was ill.

He was right where I was told he would be,
sitting at a long wooden table in a large kitchen.
One that had fed large families
and farm workers
for decades.

His arms were spread out to his sides
enlarging his lung cavity
so he could breathe easier.

His head was hung between his shoulders;
a long crooked ash hung
at the end of his lit cigarette
between gnarled and stained fingers.

He looked up to me when I was introduced and he talked.
We talked and laughed,
nonstop,
for two hours.

Thirty-seven years later his nephew,
at his long wooden kitchen table,
elbows extended so he could breathe,
Oxygen snaking its way into ruined lungs,
head hung low,
trying to nap.

Was he remembering Uncle August?

Unable to breathe
paramedics took him away.
He never came home.

His children said their tearful goodbyes — 
and now they wait 
to take their place 
at the long wooden kitchen table.