Coffee heat rising

How D’you Know When It’s Time to Go?

When the response to a call to your doctor’s office in which you remark that you hurt so much you’re contemplating a flying leap off the North Rim elicits, in response, a telephone call from a machine(!!)…that’s when you know you’ve outlived your time on this earth.

Yep: Time to go…we’re definitely gettin’ there.

My mother killed herself. Not in an obvious way: she smoked herself to death. Quite deliberately. She knew better than to puff down six packs a day. She knew exactly what she was doing. She worked at it for years after the U.S. Surgeon General explained to the American public, in words of one syllable, what any amount of tobacco smoking will do to you. With that knowledge in hand, did she cut down on the puffing?


She doubled up.

I’ve thought for a very long time that she killed herself on purpose.

Do I think my father’s father was murdered out on the side of a rural Texas road, early in the 1900s, as the story has it? Or did he commit suicide, too?

My money’s on the latter. He ran away from his wife because she refused to abort a late-life pregnancy: my infant father. Apparently he regretted not only having impregnated her (if indeed it was he who did so) but also having abandoned her and the yet-to-be infant.

That’s one way to look at it.

He’d been a prison guard. If you know anything about what US prisons were like at the turn of the 20th century — especially in monstrously backward venues like Texas — you could easily imagine one of his former wards stumbling across him as he sat by his campfire. Doing him in. Making it look like suicide.

Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see

That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it
If I please

How have I had it? Let me count the ways.

We live in a dystopia. No doubt he did, too.

It must have been difficult, living in a dystopia out on a remote frontier, wedded to a Choctaw woman in a society whose leitmotif was hatred of the Other.

Dirt road in the Texas boondocksBut one never knows. There he was, sitting by a campfire out in the middle of nowhere, noplace much to come from, noplace much to go to. Offing himself would have made sense. But, given how brutal my father could be, it makes just as much sense that some guy the old man had made an enemy of happened along, out there in the middle of nowhere, and took advantage of the opportunity. If the guy treated his prisoners the same way my father was given to treating children…well…yeah.

HowEVER…the story my mother told me — and presented as the story she’d heard from him — doesn’t add up. She said the father ran off after he learned his wife was pregnant and she refused to abort the pregnancy. However, it would appear that he didn’t die until 1927.  If that’s true, my mother’s bit of folklore doesn’t make any sense: my father was born in 1908. By January, 1927 he was 19 years old.

Isn’t that weird? I wonder where she got that tale.

She said that was what he had told her. Did she never question his story? Did he lie to her? Did someone lie to him? Why on earth would they have told a child a thing like that?

And if that old cowboy offed himself, how did he know it was time?