I wasn’t sure what to make of Luke’s answer. Maybe it was a polite way of telling me that what I asked was none of my business. If I was a betting man, I would bet that he had been one of those children Mother entertained.
The next Friday, I went to get my “fix” from Luke. I often wondered if he was just a storyteller. Someone who liked a bit of company. Someone who, nearing the winter of his life, wanted to spend part of his days weaving tapestries of legends and folklore, whether true or fabricated. Whatever the case, he and his stories were certainly captivating.
“Mother,” he began, “was a force of nature. A spitfire. A firecracker and she possessed a cogency not found in most.”
I was too embarrassed to admit that I had no idea what cogency meant, and like quoting Shakespeare, Luke was now using what my mother used to call “fifty-cent words.”
At first glance, Luke looked like an ordinary, disconnected bum. He was unkempt, uncaring, uninteresting, uninvolved and now, unbelievable…because clearly, he was not an ordinary bum.
I learned about the early lives of the Older, the Middle and the Younger. It no longer seemed strange to me that these children had no names and I almost found it endearing somehow. Luke spun the tales of each one like an intricate spiderweb, and as they came to life in my imagination, it was as if I would recognize them if I passed them on the street.
At eighteen, Older was no longer skipping school or disappointing Mother, and became the father figure of the house. He became a fine young man and was the template for Middle and Younger to follow when they entered manhood.
It seems that Mother raised them to be strong, independent “forces of nature,” in their own right, and from the way Luke described their lives, they became successful in whatever endeavor they pursued.
He paused and said, “after the younguns grew up and flew the coop, Mother seemed to have lost her purpose somehow.”
I asked what he meant and he said, “they had dinner together every Sunday afternoon, without fail and without excuse. One night, Mother seemed to be pontificating about her life. She felt as though she hadn’t done anything to ‘leave a mark’, as she put it.”
“Older and Middle queried how she could feel that way, as she had done such a wonderful job, raising three younguns.”
Luke laughed out loud when he said, “she surprised them when she said, ‘think about Al Capone and John Dillinger’.”
He said Older, Middle and Younger looked at her the way she used to look at them when they said something inappropriate and said, ‘but Mother, they were gangsters’.”
Still chuckling, he said “Mother said, ‘well what about Bonnie and Clyde? They left a mark and people still talk about them to this very day’.”
“Older and Middle laughed and said, ‘but Mother…they were killers’.”
Luke laughed again and said, “Mother said, ‘I know, but they left a mark. They will always be remembered. Did you know that 30 thousand people went to their funerals? Thirty thousand! Do you think that many people will come to my funeral? Who’s going to remember me’?”
“Older, Middle and Younger said, ‘why we will, Mother. We’ll remember you’.”
He said Older, Middle and Younger tried to convince Mother that she had left an indelible mark, but for some reason, she couldn’t be consoled.
“I guess when you get old and look back on your life,” he said, “that’s the kind of thing you think about. Did I do enough? Was I good enough? Will anybody remember me? Will anybody put flowers on my grave?”
I think Luke was thinking about himself. I think he was wondering if he had left a mark…if anybody would remember him…if anybody would put flowers on his grave.
It was time for me to go home but I had already decided that I wanted to know more about Luke. The question was…would he tell me?
To be continued___________