Friday, December 03, 2010

Like a Pat Conroy Novel

His works read like this: Man leaves broken marriage to save sister from suicide. Man and sister’s brokenness is due to parental vacuousness and violence. Dark fruit falls from the family tree; line upon line, violence on violence. All set against bridges, bayous, brackish water and French colonial buildings of the South. Such are the novels of Pat Conroy. Talking with my sister made me feel as if I had just stepped into the middle of a Conroy novel (or into the movie, “Walk Hard”).

Pulling me aside at my fathers’ memorial service she whispered, “This may help explain your father...” I already knew the story, no need for her to repeat it. My father was one of three children; Julius, Leo and Rhoda; Julius being the oldest. Julius, the oldest and favorite son was diagnosed with something akin to Rheumatic Fever. The family moved to a drier climate ending in California. While Leo was a teen, Julius succumbed to the disease. Dads’ parents told him that the wrong son had died.

Fast forward a generation---My aunt Rhoda lies on her deathbed and tells my sister another story. My grandfathers’ will left my aunt a small bequest. The will leaves one-dollar to my father. So my aunt, ever the peacemaker, split her inheritance with my father. My father gave it to his 2nd wife to invest in her business.

Fifteen years later my fathers’ will leaves five-hundred dollars to my sister; one-dollar, adjusted for inflation. A series of events led to separation between sis and my dad. Snippets I remember, I don’t remember much, am certain the sister remembers more. Bathroom door with holes; altar to a fit of violence; phone cords ripped out of a teen-age girls’ wall, hard words and failures to give grace.

The dark fruit fully ripens. The daughter tires of pursuing relationship with the father, the son vows (early on) to never be angry and out of control. Dark fruit opens to seed…ever to continue the line of violence?

Bitterness and betrayal read well but are crushing and painful spelled out. It has been written that God “will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren…” Bad fruit is redeemed by the Wine of redemption spilling into family lines and breaking violence. Conroy novels generally end on a note of redemption. May we say when the last page has turned that the story was worth the telling.

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