Hardly anyone round these parts calls me by my daddy’s name. To them I’m Sophia Berengar, not Sophia Robillard, although, to be fair, that’s not incorrect; both names are mine. Legally, I’m Sophia Berengar Robillard, but to my family I’m “Sia.”
Oh, bother! I’m digressing once again. I’d offer my apologies, but you must understand this or nothing else will make sense. It’s important. Who I am today is bound up with who I was then — and all of it is tied to the secrets my family kept hidden.
Where was I? Oh, yes.
Uncle Peter was Mama’s brother. He was married to Aunt Lydia, who was what Mama called “delicate.” Whenever I pressed the issue, all Mama would say is that Aunt Lydia’s nerves were “shot all to pieces” and to let her alone. No one ever said why, though, and eventually we simply accepted it as a fact. Just as rain is wet and leaves fall in October, so Aunt Lydia was delicate.
And the end, when it came, was a disaster as hadn’t been seen in this county since the end of the War.
But that was later.
“We” were my cousins and me. Our families lived together in the house our ancestors built, the one that escaped Sherman’s fires; it had been Mama’s home before she married my daddy. I don’t rightly recall him, I was too young when he died fighting Nazis. He was a Robillard and Mama was a Berengar, so it was considered by all a good match, even if he was from another county. When I was very little me and Mama lived with his family in Charleston, but after he died Mama brought me home with her. Or so they tell me; as I said, I really don’t remember. It doesn’t matter, anyway. This is my home and these are my people. Even if the last name on my birth certificate is Robillard, I’m a Berengar to the core and the whole county knows it.
In those days we lived in a fragile dream, caught betwixt and between our family, our imagination and the real world. Our lives were set to the rhythm of the household and very little had changed there in over a century. The telephone and the car were something we took for granted, but school was something we only knew of — it was not for us. Instead, like our parents and grandparents before us, we had tutors each morning and dance lessons on Thursday afternoons; Saturdays were for visiting Mama’s or Uncle Peter’s friends in town and — if we were very, very lucky — a matinée movie. On Sundays we sat as still as possible on the wooden pews at church and later on we ate our dinner off the family china. Betwixt and between we played or ran wild across the countryside, breaking stride only for holidays & the occasional funeral.
Such was the measure of our days. Though we didn’t know then, it was like living in a soap-bubble — fragile and easily broken.
It’s simple, really. So simple most people in this county overlook it or steer clear of us. We’re here. We’ve always been here. And we Berengars aren’t afraid to do whatever it takes to hold on to what’s ours.
When I was growing up, I loved to play in the family graveyard or in the third floor attic — no staid afternoons for me.Hide and seek among the tombstones & mausoleums was ever so much fun, far more than playing in the garden or down the lane. On rainy days we played in the attic amongst musty trunks full of priceless family treasures and sheet-draped furniture.
But regardless of where we played we were surrounded by the past, by the family secrets that would become our secrets … by the ghosts of those who came before us. We became keepers of legacy we would never have wanted, but was ours nonetheless.
[Bookish Note: Bookish Miss is writing a story on Twitter. Yep, one tweet per day ’til it’s complete. It’s been interesting to see the response, but it occurred to me it would be nice to see how it all fits together. So, each Sunday there will be a #storycontinues roundup here at Foolscap & Ink, with that week’s tweets all in one place. Fair warning — original tweets may have minor edits for better readability.]
Most old southern families have a few skeletons in the closet. We’ve got a goddamn graveyard behind the overcoats.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. The family graveyard is down below the lower forty. Secrets, on the other hand, well, secrets tend to pile up like manure, but unlike manure it’s no use spreading them around — so they turn into dust bunnies. Then the secrets turned dust bunnies accumulate over time and become skeletons in the closet.
Oops, sorry, tangent.
Like I said at the beginning, we’ve a graveyard’s worth of skeletons in our closet. Why that is, no one really knows. We Berengars aren’t the wealthiest family around, but we’re not poor white trash either. We’ve land a plenty, some money … Maybe it’s our longevity. We do tend to live a long time, you see, and we’ve held on to this land for over 300 years now. I suppose, after that much time, it’s inevitable that a family would have some secrets piled up somewhere.