"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tragedy brings out the memories

The Gee girls, three years ago, Brenda, Charlotte, Carolyn, and Sandi, whose laugh we will always remember. There might be better photos, but this so captures her personality.
I lost a first cousin this week, a spirit of laughter and humor and East Texas charm, shot by her husband, who then committed suicide. Sandra Gail Gee Russell was just 69, and I was counting on seeing her at a Culp first cousin reunion in two weeks.
When something like that happens, I start rummaging through old photos, photos from childhood and before, up through the last reunion three years ago. I don't know what I'm looking for, perhaps just trying to cope, or to understand, but also to remember the good times. Tonight there are family photos from albums and boxes scattered across the floor as I search through those memories.
It's hard to write about it, but I need to, because in spite of the years and miles, she's been a part of my life as long as I can remember, and before.
We were not close, geographically or otherwise, because it had been years  since we really knew each other well. But we were close, as families used to be growing up after WWII from common grandparents and parents in East Texas. 
My brother and I lived farthest away when my Dad and Mom moved to Albuquerque, but we stayed in touch, and most summer vacations were spent visiting our aunts and uncles and cousins. 
Sandi and I as teenagers. Just found this slide after writing the post.
The old black and white photos taken when some of us were babies show that connection, sitting on pallets in the yard or gathered with grandparents and parents.
Visits  through the teenage years strengthened it, until we started having our own families and time slipped away. 
Our first cousin reunion was about 20 years ago, down on the Texas Gulf coast, and then a few years ago in Livingston, Texas, and three years ago in Cleveland, Texas. Those were times to get reacquainted, to share old photos and memories, to see their children and grandchildren living their own lives.
We will miss her, because we are cousins.
Sandra was always the life of the party with her laugh and smile and good natured humor. She'd worked hard all her life, as that family of four girls had to to survive, with their Daddy dying when they were young. 
Sandi's 7th grade yearbook photo
There was not much money, but there was love and family, and they could laugh and enjoy life. Charlotte, Carolyn, Sandra and Brenda Gee, daughters of Ervin and Ima Culp Gee. She deserved so much better than the way she died, and we'll miss her, because we are cousins.
These photos and memories make me realize how important cousins are as time goes by, and it's evident on this blog with many articles and photos from the last reunion or other posts. Just click on these links: The delicious taste of memories. East Texas Cousins. When a Cousin Dies. Cousins part 2. Redheads and Cousins. East Texas Cousins Chapter 3.
I wrote this poem a few years ago when attending the funeral of their mother, my mother's baby sister, and changed it a little for my cousin Sandi. 

"East Texas family"

Swamps and steeples.
Pines and pickups.
Barbecue, beer, bayous and Baptists.
Holiness and honky-tonks.
Wildflowers and wandering roads.

In East Texas, springtime feels like it just rained, or is about to.
There's no horizon, and humid skies are  Confederate gray 
as the warm Gulf air sticks  to you.
More than the air sticks to you.

 Driving in East Texas is like going back into the womb.
It's warm, and wet, and ... green.
Where families are born, and grow, and spread out like runners 
from the ivy growing up the trunks of the hardwoods, 
across miles and years.

Go back for a reunion, or the funeral of an aunt,
your mother's youngest sister and her friend.
You sit around in lawn chairs 
visiting with cousins you hadn't seen for years.

The memories of earlier years come flooding back,
drenching you like the soft Texas rain 
Beginning as a mist and then saturates 
every green plant before moving on.
Without horizons you can't see the rain coming or going,
Pools of standing water and wet pavement and water-dappled leaves
Mark its passing, like the memories, like the years.

Memories of playing mud pies as a child with cousins,
aunts and uncles doing magic tricks, 
playing the guitar, or playing 42.
Memories of a nearby Mom and Pop store 
Of 5-cent Cokes and 3-cent candy bars. 
Memories of  grandma's house
cornbread in old cast iron forms. 
teen-agers going to the corner drug store.

Sitting on a porch with a summer girlfriend, 
watching the rain come down and the moments sweep by. 
Memories of aunts and uncles and parents and cousins now gone.


  1. That was very sweet and loved the photos, thanks. She was such a wonderful person. I will sure miss her visits to the hospital.
    -Stacy, friend and coworker

  2. julie saxby , coworkerApril 16, 2014 at 10:08 PM

    Beautiful person inside and out! She was a coworker at st pats and also one who 'mentored' me when I first started there. She was always smiling, laughing, singing, being silly and telling stories...funny stories. .. love love loved her! Rest in peace sweet sandi

  3. Definitely your poem is very nice. She was a great personality.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.