At Bobby’s funeral, he told everyone what I said, which was “Al, you clean up good.” He told me not to tell his wife he wore the yellow alligator boots.
I don’t have enough stories about my own family, so I tell stories about Al, who isn’t my cousin, but my husband’s. It isn’t that we don’t have stories, but that no one wrote them down and what do you do when you have a photo of your grandfather as a child of the last wife of his father, among a cluster of relatives and the story of a farm, a snowstorm, a doctor, his horse and sleigh and a jealous husband who shoots his wife, your ancestor? The ancestor survives, he goes to prison. No details, even the names are lost. You make stuff up or you steal another family.
I knew Al through my husband’s stories before I knew Al. There was a VW bug, a pirogue, four dogs, two hunting rifles and December on the Bayou Gauche. There were no paddles. What would you expect two young men to do? Al said cut a bamboo cane and they could pole across. Six foot of cane only goes far enough for the dogs to catch the scent of the hunt on the other side, far enough to drift with no way forward or back. The dogs went forward without the boat until they hit cold water, then they tried to go back. Bob grabbed one over the bow and that’s when it all went down. Al yelled for him to grab the guns. From there to the bottom, a physics lesson – how fast can one sink twelve feet in a coat with a box of shotgun shells in each pocket, rubber boots and a gun in either hand? How fast can one shuck all of the above at thirty- three degrees before he drowns? When he reached the surface, Al was holding to the boat, hair dry, the dogs waiting on shore.
They stripped to their boxers and while all the drivers zipping by on the highway watched, they hoisted and strapped the pirogue to the roof of the car. Later that day, Al came back and dove for the guns. He said they stood, barrels down, two sentinels in the muck.