“I am all the daughters of my father’s house and all the brothers, too.”
I think it possible that the only relationship more complicated than that of father and son might be that between brothers.
My father’s only brother, Charles Luther, was named after my grandmother’s brother, who was the first practicing physician in Coahoma County, and he was as different from his sibling as any two such kindred individuals could be.
And it was those differences which in part combined with some things in the tradition of Southern families are often best left unsaid that served to keep my father and his younger brother from being as close as they could have been over much of their lifetimes. It was the special sort of unfortunate Southern intrafamily dynamic best understood by the Faulkners and Tennessee Williamses of the world which, of course, renders it completely unfathomable to those outside the region.
In his youth, Charles bore a striking resemblance to the French character actor Ives Montand, and was, by the something less than worldly hamlet of Coahoma, standards, from which he cometh, a sophisticate. Two years after Dad went away to serve something of an Ensign Pulver role on a communications ship in World War II, Charles went away to Florida State University, where he earned a degree in music.
There were only two loves in Charles’ lifemusic and his family—and as a young man in those years before the latter, he performed piano recitals across much of the South. Charles could transform a piano into an almost living thing with his long, slender fingers, and even after the echoes of the Beethoven and Mozart had faded within the regional concert halls, he spent the next 40 years of his life trying to instill at least a portion of his appreciation for it into the hearts and minds of what is now Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.
Charles was simply a neat guy to be around, in large part due to the fact that he possessed two traits not always present within accomplished musicians: He was able to see the humor in life and he did not take himself too seriously. After returning from the opening of a Broadway musical to the hinterlands of Coahoma, Charles was most excited to tell the home folk that he was now an important person in that he’d relieved himself at the urinal right next to the one being used by the British actor Basil Rathbone of Sherlock Holmes fame, during intermission.
He had not been long married to his wife Rose—who was the only person on the planet to so redefine the term of endearment as to insist upon calling him Luther—when the couple came home (which in those glorious days of yesteryear meant coming to my grandmother’s house) for a visit.
Our family is (and used to be even more so) a somewhat eclectic group of folks, and at some point during the after lunch conversation, the topic turned to the fact that my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Mary, had once upon a time raised worms. That’s right, she had a worm house and worm bins and attempted, regrettably without great success, to sell worms to fishermen.
Rose, also neat but also different in her own way, was not at that point as familiar with the greater Montroy/Mosby clan, and as an avowed lover of all living things, dared to suggest that this was perhaps not a wonderful thing, as it might not have resulted in such a great life for the worms.
And in what was in retrospect delivered with practically perfect timing, with a tone of abject seriousness belied only by the twinkle in his eye, Charles turned to his new wife and said, “I will have you know that Aunt Mary raised happy worms, Rose.”
It was memorable.
But in the years before the death of first one and then the other, my father and his brother had spoken little and for long stretches none at all. And so, in the summer of 2002 when word reached us that Charles was in the hospital and quite ill, indeed, I drove to my father’s home and practically demanded the estrangement end.
“It’s time, Dad,” I told him. “Don’t wait until there’s none left.” My father just nodded, and pointing at my then fairly new Mustang just asked, “How fast will that thing go?”
And so, after some fast and fancy driving, an hour or so later my dad was at his brother’s bedside, as it turned out only hours before he died. He hugged his brother’s wife and his brother’s children and when he softly patted his brother’s shoulder, the eyes of both welled with tears, and in an instant the differences were washed away and the years of distance were bridged.
One brother had gone home and a decade later the other would join him and I’d like to think the music they will now be able to make—together—will somehow sound just a little sweeter to both.
I’m not proud of all that much in this life. But I am proud of that.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.