Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Does Everybody Die?

One hot summer day, I wandered into the kitchen while Viola was fixing our lunch. Viola was our nanny/housekeeper for awhile when I was still in the primary grades of Amherst Academy. The whistling coming from our black and white TV was my cue that the Andy Griffith show would start momentarily, but I had some serious thoughts troubling my mind. Nervously shifting my weight from foot to foot, I stood at the table watching her at the kitchen counter, her broad back toward me. She was wearing her simple cotton dress, and her nylons hung in folds around her great, thick ankles which hung over the tops of her sensible flat lace-up shoes.

I already knew what she was making, and she already knew I'd complain about it. Every single day that woman made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I hated them, and she refused to cut the crust off of my bread like Mama would do if she were home. She would slap some peanut butter on a slice of store-bought white bread, and then spread the thinnest layer of grape jelly on another piece, and smash the two slices together. If she were going the extra mile, she would also serve us a bowl of lumpy mushroom soup, which I thought was an appalling side dish for children. Mama would be mad because she bought Campbell's soup to use in her casserole recipes, and old Viola was force-feeding the swill to us while she was at work. Later, I would tell Viola I was going to "tell on" her when Mama got home, but for now, I had a question.

"Vi-o-la?"  I began timidly. My young mind was worried, and she was the only person who could have alleviated my fears of the moment.

"What?" she asked, curtly. I had disturbed the great chef at work. It took me a long time to develop a relationship with Viola, although she assured Mama she loved us, and thought we were wonderful children. I never felt like she liked me when I was little. She seemed to tolerate us better, and I have happier memories of sleepovers at her house on her farm later, but during those summer weekdays, we were usually at odds with each other in the three bedroom ranch house on Kenmore Road.

"Viola, does everybody die?" Now a sensitive caregiver would hear the real question behind that question, and would carefully choose words that would reassure a young child. Viola was a practical woman who offered the only answer she knew.

"Well, of course, they do. Everybody dies."

"Even children like me? Do little children like me die?" My eyes began to sting, and my heart started to beat wildly in my chest. My breath came in short, shallow bursts.

"Anything that's alive has to die. That's just how it is."

I began to wail. She'd done it this time. She dried her hands on her apron, and waddled over to where I stood.

"Hush, now. You just hush. You don't need to cry about it. Cryin' ain't gonna change nothin'." I leaned into her ample waist, and she patted me on the back. I didn't want to die. I never wanted to die. I didn't want anyone I knew to die, either. Not even Viola, as mean as I thought she was for making me eat yucky food at lunch, and never giving me all of the snacks I wanted, and making me play outside even when it was hot as blazes. I just thought dying was the worst possible way for my young life to end.
We always walked quickly past the Amherst Cemetery when we were kids; I couldn't think of a scarier place,
unless it was the funeral home down the road.

It has taken me most of my life to realize that there are much worse things than dying. Living with loneliness, degenerative illness, and debilitating pain are terrible ways to spend the rest of a lifetime.

You'll be glad to know when I grew up, I realized while Viola could have been more empathetic, she was right. It was foolish to waste time worrying about that back then, but I was just a little girl, and didn't always ask the right questions that would have alleviated so many of my childish fears. I just needed assurance that death wasn't IMMINENT. At the age of five, my real question was, "Am I going to die soon?" 

Death no longer scares me like it did. Don't get me wrong; I have no plans of checking out any time in the immediate future. There is much I hope to accomplish in the days that are left to me.  I just think when it's my time to go, I hope it's quick, and painless, but I don't fret about that like I did when I was younger. I'm more concerned with living these days, and figuring out how to do that well. That should keep me pretty busy until my time's up.


  1. That was a great post. So many of my memories as a little girl were of BIG questions like that - I am glad that Viola made you feel better, even in her scariness ! I had babysitters like that too. Your post is really making me think about what my biggest question at 5 was!

    1. Thank you, Amy. I hope you'll let us know what your five-year-old brain was pondering...

  2. What a great post! I can practically taste those PB&Js and that mushroom soup (bleh).


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