Sunday, May 16, 2004

American Joe....

I arrived at the First Church of the Nazarene in Kilgore, TX around 11:00 a.m. The only person I recognized, although everyone looked about the same, was my uncle Jackie who was playing with some kids out in the church parking lot. He's always been the uncle that all the nieces and nephew liked, so it seemed about right. I said hi to him, he asked when my parents would be there, I told them they had to stop in Tyler to get some hot tamales then he went back to playing with the kids. I decided to go in.

The reunion was for the families of my paternal grandfather's progeny and that of his sister, aint (aunt) Minny.

When I walked in Aunt Dottie, my dad's only living sister, was in the kitchen. I began to walk towards her when a lady who looked vaguely familiar stopped me in my tracks with her hand extended.

"I'm Polly Reed, how are you today?"

"Good thanks, I'm Craig Nash, it's good to meet you."

"Well I knowed you was a Nash from lookin' atcha. I just didn't know your first name."

Nash's look alike.

As human nature dictates I looked for the person who seemed to have the most stories and planted myself at their feet. That person was my second cousin, Wavy. Not sure his real name. It could really be Wavy. I didn't think to ask. Wavy is the son of my great Aint Minny, who passed away several decades before my birth. Wavy wore a western shirt. The kind people who listen to alternative music and have shaggy hair like to wear to try to be cool. I don't think cousin Wavy was trying to be cool. He has one tooth remaining. It's right up front and he displays it proudly, so I don't think he cares about being cool.


Josiah Nash shot a man named John Mae Gill in Louisiana early in the last decade of the 19th century. In running from "the law" he packed up his family and lived in southern Arkansas, Oklahoma, and eventually settled in Kilgore, TX, making it possible for me to cling to the homeland myth of "East Texas." This seems to be where he stopped running. Which makes sense because Nash's are not known for running, unless there's a buffet involved.

Josiah and his wife had several children. Only two lived to be adults: my great aint Minnie, and Cecil, my dad's dad. Several of Josiah's children died at childbirth. One young son was accidently dropped into a cookpot over a fire with boiling water inside. What a horrible tragedy. So tragic I feel bad for laughing at the story every time I hear it.

I've been interested for a couple of months in my family history and set out to begin work on studying it at this family reunion. But to my surprise, and joy, one of my uncles has already done a lot of the leg work. He's got pictures and certificates and newspaper clippings and notarized statements from government officials stating that Thomas Ash in the 1700's was a full blood Choctaw Indian. I think we're supposed to be proud about this. I kind of am.

And then there was the spiritual experience. I kid you not. I'm ravaging through these pictures like a person consumed with necessity and I run across a scrap of a black and whit photograph with a young boy, probably five or six, holding a gun out in the woods. "In the woods" is kind of redundant, I guess, since East Texas is all in the woods, and even moreso a hundred years ago.

It was me.

I could have sworn it was me. It was as if I was looking right into my eyes as a young child. Babyface. Innocence. An insatiable desire to please.

It wasn't really me. I found out it was my grandfather, Cecil Nash. He died when I was five or six. Wow. I just saw the irony or coincidence or whatever in that.

I have two memories of him. I remember holding his hand and walking him around the hallways at the nursing home he moved to after Maw Pood, my grandmother, passed away. I also remember him always asking me to show him my muscles, at which point I would flex for him. I could show you my muscles, but you wouldn't be as impressed as he was back then.

The eyes in the picture seemed to be looking straight through me. I think I'm going to start talking like a Native American or a New Ager who believes the dead can speak. Is there a crystal store here in Waco?

I really want to know about myself and I believe it's going to take a lot more than one family reunion and a very special photograph to teach me. But on the way back I think I realized something.

One of the unnamed family rules we have (every family has them) is Don't Offend. If conflict arises, you immediately walk away. Please people when possible. When not possible, just leave.

From Louisiana to Arkansas to Oklahoma to Texas. All the while running from the law. I'm sure throughout the years that the unwritten rule in the Josiah Nash clan was work as hard as you can at not drawing attention to yourself. Any attention could mean the death of the father.

Perhaps this is a stretch and maybe I'm trying to find meaning where meaning doesn't exist, but I think in some weird way my, and all my family's tendency, to please people is a way of us seeking redemption for the murder of John Mae Gill.

Or maybe that's just a good book I should write.

I've already thought of the title.

"American Joe."

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