As I stood before the giant bonfire Dad was buildin up in my late grandparents’ patio, I looked through old family photo albums, salvaging pictures of those whom I reckoned familiar.
A tan satin sheet caught my attention.
It was the case docket from the condemnation trial against my grandpa’s ranch land, with date May 31st, Nineteen Hundred n Sixty-Three.
Along with it was a copy of the Bill of Particulars from when he tried to sue the mayor for inadequate planning.
It wasn’t just about the land.The forced sale was affecting his livelihoods.
He argued he’d have to take his kids outta schoolin.
Put the boys in the mines and the girls up for housemaids.
He’d a have to cancel his respiration therapies he was engaged in every other month in the capital.
‘Course, he failed.
But Granma was a glass-half-full type o’ gal and she thought there was a great opportunity there to expand her store.
Auntie Martha, the youngest of their ten children, now crossed the patio in a hurry and dumped a box of receipts into the greedy fire.
“Auntie Martha, what’s this about?” I asked holding up the documents.
‘Quench my curiosity,’ my eyes a-beggin’.
Now, she was the type who tended toward gossip and after mumblin excuses and I-really-shouldn’ts and an ask-your-father, (Dad stabbed at the receipt-ashes with the prettiest of the sticks while pretendin he couldn’t hear us), she sat herself on a chair, untied her long white hair and sank her head in her rough hands.
“Pa’ insisted on keepin the money in a savin’s account, you know, for when he retired from them fields, if he ever saw the day, but Momma- she went n took out a loan on it behind his back.
“Your Uncle Jess, he was a player in every filthy sense of the word before the Lord called him, and didn’t he find the cash under the trays in Ma’s jewelry box? And didn’t he bet all $18,000 of it on a bad hand cause he had nothin left to lose ‘cept what wasn’t rightfully his?
“That was around the time Pa’s health turned south n he started gettin these coughin spasms that- well you heard the big cat when he gots hairballs? It was more frightful than that, and your Aunt Maggie, she had been studyin to become a nurse before- she said he ain’t got much time. But ya’ know, who does.
“Well finally Pa gave way to fate and when us younger kids got home that bright Sunday afternoon- all the older kids had left the nest to seek out their own fortunes- well us younger kids, your dad and your Aunt Tina and I, we found him dead in his rockin chair. His chair still a-rockin.
“He was a clenchin Ma’s loan certificate. His will on the floor.
“Now you know the will left the remainin crop lands to Uncle Jesse but all hell broke lose at the funeral when Ma sent your dad to fetch the cash from her jewelry box in order to pay the mass and such but there wasn’t no cash in no jewelry box nor nowhere.
“The priest tried to keep the event a dig-ni-fied, oh and thee whole town was there by the way, so he recommended ‘the matter be settled through adjudication.’ Tha’s what he said.
“But Judge Warner, I dunno if you ‘member him, he married your cousin Tobiah, I mean he married Tobiah n Natalie, cause they was pregnant, not that Judge Warner himself married Tobiah, you ne’er know these days! Ha! Nah, you was too young, you don’t ‘member, in any case, the Judge, his name was Judge Warner, he was appalled by Ma takin Pa’s sole other heir to court just a two days after the burial.
“He exonerated Jess from any wrong doin.”
Auntie Martha seemed to need a hug somewheres around this point. So she hugged herself.
“An attorney told Ma that if she tried to take any type o’ retaliatory actions, not only would she be fined but also charged for exemplary damages.”
Auntie Martha got up dustin’ her apron with her hands as if there had been dust on it.
She went in through the kitchen door and turned off all the lights inside. Like we wasn’t there.
And that’s the story of why Dad built a bonfire.
Adjudicate: to hear/try and determine judicially
Bill of Particulars: factual detail submitted by a claimant as requested by adverse party, clarifying the charges or facts alleged in a pleading
Condemnation: Eminent Domain
Exemplary Damages: monetary award by way of punishment for injury caused by aggravated circumstances or malice, in addition to compensation for the injury
Docket: a document which summarizes a case