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Thanksiblings: Brothers & Sisters & Loss

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

By Suzanne Hudson

Photo, above: My late brothers, Wilson Stewart “Wilt” Hudson (1959-2011) doing his classic “fake nose-pick” pose) and Joseph Sumner “Joe” Hudson (1957-2017) looking on; downtown Sylvester, GA, @ 1988

With a poem, “kid sister,” by M’Kenzy Cannon

From a lullaby, “The Sandman:” So hush you little ones and have no fear The man-in-the-moon is the engineer The railroad track ‘tis a moonbeam bright That leads right up into the starry night

Those Cannon offspring, ages 15, 19, and 21, certainly have a peacock’s tail’s worth of creative talent betwixt and between them. The youngest of the batch, Kyra, sings, making lovely music, following the spirit of her late mom, Lari White, whose voice was always, always buffeted by angels and whose sense of sound, in the studio, was nothing shy of goddess-touched. Lari’s husband, Papa Chuck (age 1,000, he says), badass singer-songwriter, sent me an essay by son and middle child Jaxon a while back, and I was moved to use it in a post, “Life is Brutiful” (Nov. 1, 2018), here in this “Notes” section (with Jaxon’s consent, of course). Then he--Papa Chuck--goes and sends me a poem by daughter M’Kenzy, written back when she was a newly-minted teenager. Because it was a poem about her younger sister, it reminded me, once again, that I always, always longed for a sister, and, like her brother’s earlier words, it inspired me to tap away at this thing I do and send out some post-Thanksgiving thoughts (of course, and always, with M’Kenzy’s blessing; to neglect the gaining of consent before writing about someone in a personal way, by name, would be more than untoward; it’s flat-out rude and presumptuous).

Let’s just call this proper “netiquette.”

I grew up with three nasty, stinky, sweaty, frolicking, outdoor-peeing, wrestling, farting, nose-picking, annoying younger brothers--Joe, four years my junior; Wilson, six years my junior; and, to my supreme mortification, when I was in JUNIOR high school, my thoughtless mother sprouted a belly that carried my youngest and sole surviving brother, John, the obvious product of an intimate encounter, a sexual assignation between my mother and my father. Guh-ross! Now my sex-on-the-brain, body-obsessed peers absolutely knew, without a doubt, what my own parents had been up to, and to say that I was consumed by shame did not even begin to express my public humiliation. But I did put some energy into hoping for a sister, just to even things out in the gender department, if nothing else.

It was heady to think of the potential! I had read Little Women, after all, and how wonderful would it be to have a lifelong best friend in a blood sister, with whom to share confidences, to count on, come what may, all laid out by Louisa May. Jane Austen, too, had taught me that there would be hidden whispers beneath domes of trees, pink powder puff blushes as we lounged with our books in the forked limbs of a mimosa, and nightshade nestlings in the deep of the dark, when silence took us into the scary edges of moonlessness. It would be a protective love, one to the other, but as “big sister” I would be the one to step up, to nurture, and to love unconditionally. And, yes, I do know a few sad sisters who hate one another with the white-hot intensity of an exploding sun--but that would never apply to me and mine . . .

So when I read M’Kenzy’s poem, I “got” it, that feeling of being something of a guardian to another girl-child, a comfort, a guide, an admirer, a surrogate mother, in a way. Here are M’Kenzy’s words:

kid sister

my sister sleepwalks-- sometimes she is half-awake on a lazy weekend morning and makes her way to my room. in a daze she smiles climbs into bed next to me as I read, eyes of hazel green stars and a scar--below her right eyebrow (that was my fault, an accident; she was three and I was angry). she quickly curls back to sleep and I too grow tired, inspired by the quiet dream storms she breathes out with every sigh. she’s always been the pretty one with eyelashes bent toward heaven and black as the mascara I buy for $7.95 at the grocery store. she’s begun to mirror the moon with adolescent skin like craters and black holes, and a sleep smile that makes a waning curve, but fights against the new moon night of an empty age--one year older. and if you told her she laughed rainbows in her sleep she would only wish for more sabaismic dreaming. her warmth radiates like the summer of elementary school playgrounds and her hand absent of consciousness twitches against my pillow. and she opens her eyes to yawn a question wanting to know if she can play with my makeup.


M’Kenzy’s images are simply lovely, enviable, dream-delicate, and sugarplum fairy sweet with sly touches, her experience with Kyra the antithesis of those gnarly boy people who populated my life, teasing, rapping their knuckles bloody with card decks playing stupid games like “tunk,”spying on my dates with bumbling beaux, rifling through my own poems and diaries for the kinds of secrets only sisters can share.

And yet.

Thanksgiving just breezed past us last week, and, as holidays do, brought to mind, front and center, the ache of absence, of those lost to us, family in particular. Chuck says, very matter-of-factly, that he is 1,000 years old, I’m thinking, because of the loss of his wife Lari to cancer--and I’m guessing that behind Thanksgiving, with even more holidays and another dreaded date on the near horizon, he’s likely to add another 1,000 years in just a few months. It is the first actual calendar year, the “first anniversary,” after all, of everything lost when Lari joined the stars’ dustings of sparkles, this past January.

And that “profound absence”never goes away, not completely. You see, I kinda lied/truth-shaded about my brothers. Aside from the typical descriptors of “snips and snails,” they had more than plenty--a veritable cornucopia of good qualities--to recommend them. There’s Joe, whose sudden death from a heart attack not quite a year ago is still surreal to me, as if it is some kind of hideous cosmic joke, a fake-out, and I don’t yet quite believe it, to be honest. I only know that I miss him--his humor, warmth, and generous nature--his laid-back presence. There was not a mean bone in that body, a naturally athletic body that in his youth made him a stand-out All State football player and a graceful, winning golfer. But when we lost Wilson, back in 2011 to a vicious, BP cleanup-related (in my opinion) leukemia, over a period of sixteen weeks, the exit was more than real, as we all had the extended dread, the roller-coaster highs of hope, front-row seats to the entire process. We ushered him out, that mischievous, goofy, do-anything-for-a-laugh, Budweiser-loving guy--yes, hot-headed at times, especially when his master carpentry was not “plumb,” but never a grudge darkened his spirit. We granted his bucket list and he pushed off right where he wanted to, first staying at Cedar Creek hunting lodge, thanks to the Phillips and McMillan families, and finally at good buddy Stevie West’s hunting camp not far from there, in the deep Alabama woods, where zero light pollution encroached and the stars pulsed beyond a brilliance rare, to embrace him.

Loss is a thing you feel in your bones; it is spirit-dragging and weighted. You truly feel heavier, literally, all slow-motion and sluggish, when you’re not raging or weeping. And the fresh fog of grief is especially thick, oppressive--and even over time it rushes at you when you least expect it. Other moments you can see it approaching, there on the horizon, like an ocean wave. Might turn out to be a gentle ripple, pushing at your heart--or even making you smile; other times it builds and swells and knocks you rolling in a crazy plume of wet sand and bits of seashells.

I wrote about Lari here in these “Notes” (“Everafter,” January 28, 2018)--it was my inaugural “note,” in fact; her death, and the heartbreaking and beautiful text Chuck had sent to give the harsh news, inspired me. That time it was the Cannons’ dear friend Chuck Jones who granted me permission. Because I felt like a mere peripheral presence in these folks’ lives, rather than having a place in the thick of friends and family, I felt particularly obligated to go at it the right way, without presuming.

I don’t feel so peripheral anymore. When you forge a creative bond with a similar soul it kinda “takes.” When Chuck sends me not only his beautiful, sharp-edged, and even hilarious words, whether odes to a stolen card catalogue or the words that populate his music; when my husband and I spend hours in the studio at “The Holler,” watching Lari work with daughter Kyra as Kyra records each part of the harmony in “Mister Sandman” for a lovely CD of classics; when proud papa sends me the teen musings of Jaxon and M’Kenzy, well, there’s a bit of magic that happens, for which I’m grateful, simply because it gets me to tapping.

Loss is baked into life and we all tend to it in our own ways. This way, this “writing” way, is what I know, what those creative Cannons know. It’s pretty damn wonderful, actually, to put loss into art--any kind of art, to make a lasting something-or-other to honor the ones we loved, the ones who touched us in a unique way, altered a perspective here, a sense of empathy there--those tough and tumble brothers of mine, who, in spite of being made of “puppy dogs’ tails,” were every bit as certain as I was, when we were children, that it was, indeed, the Sand Man who brought us drowsiness and dreams, the “dream storms” M’Kenzy knows still live behind the beautifully-lashed, closed eyes of her “kid sister.”

And I like to think of Lari as yet another presence from those Sandman lullabies I’ve been basting in, during this post Turkey-Day week: “The Lady Moon is watching/ Throughout the darkening skies” simply because, having lost, as we all do, I choose to believe that we are always and forever enmeshed in spirit, in starlight and moon shadow, the sand duster and that “magic beam,” drizzling fine, rounded crystals onto Kyra’s eyelashes, “bent toward heaven.”

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