Lizzie Shockwell

There was a cherry tree in her yard in front of the house that Joe was born in, that he climbed when he was young, a tiny thing, two months, two years, an endlessly active child, always up in the trees or digging in the dirt or… anyway. Aunty Lizzie had a cellar under the house, just a cave dug out of the dirt, no concrete or anything, and full of all the things she’d canned, because that was how you kept stuff then: you spent hours and hours canning it yourself. You had to go out of the house and around back and lift the doors and go down and there you were. She had an outhouse, too, so you had to go out back for that, too.

She had asthma, and that’s how she died: sprawled out in her bed, gasping in her sleep, dead tangled in the sheets. George her live-in helpmate found her that way, so presumably they weren’t sleeping together but who knows? He’d been around for years and years and they were pretty old by the time she died, so whatever the relationship was everyone pretended it was just an old woman and her helper. But anyway he found her. Afterwards he moved in with some fellah and they sold frogs they caught on the lake to the restaurants.

Nick—that’s my great-grandad, Nick—when he got the news he drove from Aberdeen to Olympia in an hour and a half, and that was the talk of the town for months, at least among the kids who knew the family, that that speed devil had driven up to Olympia on what was then a terrible road.