The morning after my father passed, my aunt opened every window in the house. She said it was to let his spirit escape.
So, I peeked my head outside.
All I saw were my uncles' two beat-up motorhomes rolling into our driveway. They parked in the tall grass, strung power cords into the barn, extended awnings.
That night, they built a campfire, then sat looking at the stars. Now and then, one uncle would stab the fire, sending a spray of sparks into the night.
Instead of conversation, someone brought out a guitar. In his raspy voice—which sounded like a bloodhound with sinus issues—my uncle sang, “Amazing Grace,” and, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” When he sang, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” he was nearly overcome.
I didn't understand the song, or what kind of circle he meant. I'm not sure he did either, because when I asked about it, he lit a fresh cigarette and said, “It's the mystery of life, boy.”
Like the way clouds keep reproducing out of thin air.
Or: what makes a heart beat—and what makes it stop? How a fire works, and why politics feels like a poke to the eye with a number-two pencil.
A boy can go his whole life without knowing these things.
Years later, I took a college biology class. For our final project, the professor charged us with reporting on an everyday mystery. One student chose childbirth. Another: tidal waves.
One girl, whose mother had died, chose life itself. As part of her report, she picked a guitar, singing, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
You've never heard anything so hillbilly.
“...You can picture...” she sang, rounding verse four. “...gatherings, round the fireside, long ago...”
The teacher, an adamant scientist, closed his eyes.
“...Of tearful partings, how they left you here below. Will the circle be unbroken?...”
The truth is, I don't know if the circle…