People handle their grief in different ways. My mother just called with a totally disjointed story about my Uncle Eddie's branch of the family. His first wife, Shang, has been living in an assisted living complex a few doors down from the drug store I took refuge in as a child when I walked from my grandmother's tin roofed house on the corner diagonally across the street from the colored store at the edge of the colored district.
I walked toward the down town area, past Betty's hair shop, where even to this day, the ladies all go for their weekly perms. Think "Steel Magnolias" here, and you have the tenor of Betty's. Her front yard had been turned into a parking lot, but she'd beautified it with plants and flowers, in full bloom. By the time I got to the downtown area, I was in tears from my allergies, which is quite hard to explain. I remember the proprietor talking to me until I could give enough information for the patrons to figure out whose I was...
As I sat inside, in the cool air, my aliment cleared up. I hated the thought of walking the few short blocks back, arriving home in the same shape I'd been in when I got there... but the dread occurrence did not happen. Finally, as I got to the next house, I crossed the street and went up grandmother's walk... Sure enough, some of Betty's beautiful flowers were mums.
The next day, I walked the other direction, going into the colored store, where it took about two seconds to figure out whose I was. I was regaled with stories of my grandfather's charity and kindness, and told that they looked out for my grandmother now that he'd "passed on." I had NO idea what that meant at the time.
Gossip spreads quickly in small towns such as this, and Aunt Shang's tale was like greased lightning, and just as scattered as various bolts.
"Do you remember Billy Boy?" mother queried. "Yes, Shang's son. I remember Shang always yelling at him and chasing Uncle Eddie around with a butcher knife." It made quite an impression on me. I'd never seen anything like that before.
"Oh, that's unfortunate. Some women have it pretty bad when they go through menopause unmedicated."
Then came the social distinctions section. Aunt Shang's home (I forgot the name) was for people who were NOT destitute. To give me an idea, Aunt Jean did not qualify for The Good Samaritan, but did for the one Shang was in. (I might be misremembering, or mom may have left out some of the details when Jean's last days was related...but I don't think she went.)
People look out for each other in small towns. They know each other's business. When Shang did not come down to take her dog Tiger for a walk, and did not come down the next day, either, the super went up. Unlocking the door to Shang's apartment, she found Shang lying on the floor, dressed in only a blouse, unconscious, but alive. She had a festered bruise on one hip she had not taken care of.
So, off she goes to the hospital. They want to call someone... and think of her son Dale (named after my dad).
"No," says one of the elderly ladies. "He's got cancer. I saw him coming out of ____ (the cancer treatment place). He'd lost a lot of his hair." (True part: yes, he is being treated there, and is getting small doses, which has caused hair loss, but it is for a liver aliment.)
(Entry stopped due to dangerous lightning.)
6/5/03 As Paul Harvey would say, "And now, the REST of the story."
So, Billy Boy is called. He comes over, and tells Dale not to worry, he'll take care of everything. Billy Boy is older, from Shang's first husband. I have no idea who his father is, and am sort of afraid to ask, as generally, if things are not stated, it is because it is perceived as something bad. So I have decided to let sleeping dogs lie, as it were.
Aunt Muriel, Aunt Carol, and Mom go to the hospital, but Mom, the oldest, is tired out, and waits in the car while the other two pay the family visit. I also think Mom is avoiding what might be a bad scene. I don't blame her. Later, Carol and Muriel relate how Shang jokes with them and says Billy Boy is taking care of everything.
Billie Boy is 46 and has a wife and some unspecified number of children, or else I forgot... I only saw him once that I can remember, and he was way too young then to be thinking about getting married. However, he turns out not to be able to take care of everything. Instead, he has a totally unexpected heart attack. He DIES. Now the family is in another quandary. They go to the funeral, hear all the marvelous things everyone says in praise of Billy Boy, who is well-respected in the community, (presumably with a more adult-sounding name for the services).
Mom tells of a young man who keeps eying them strangely, so she works into the conversation what their relationship to Billy Boy is.
Shang recovers. I don't know when they plan to tell her what happened to Billy Boy. Not now, at any rate. This started another batch of telephone tangle, as Betty had to know before Thursday so she could warn the other ladies in the shop not to speak of it while Shang is in getting her hair done.
Believe it. You really CAN keep a son's death secret from an ailing mother in a small enough town.