THE LEWIS BROTHERS
Or, an American Age in Seven Chapters
Paul, Ford, Samuel, Norman, Phillip, Alfred, and now, Murray. The seven Lewis brothers, six of whom served in WWII with the second of the two "little boys" serving in the Korean War, are reunited in heaven. The last little boy is gone.
Oh, you should have heard those boys sing the old hymns. You should have heard them. One or two would take the first tenor part, so you'd swear you could hear their mother Dollie in the group. One by one, tenor to baritone to base, each knew their line. Those boys. If they were walking along chatting, and sensed good sound around them, they'd stop and sing, giving an impromptu concert of In the Garden, Old Rugged Cross, Guide Me Oh, Thou Great Redeemer. More. It could be a shopping center, some tourist attraction somewhere, an underground parking lot. They sang.
And when they did, they drew the ancestors around them. All those Seventh Day Baptists gone before. And before that; the ones who stepped on this shore in 1653, and made their way inland, and who fought from the Revolutionary War forward, including on both sides of the Civil War.
Those boys weren't perfect. The Lewises carry a dark spirit, like the shadow Wendy sewed back onto Peter's heels. Some drank. Others raged. Most struggled with our family melancholy, and all of them had to have dealt with PTSD on some level. But they were good men, when all was said and done. Good honest farmboys who survived losing the farm in Southern Illinois, to sharecrop in Arkansas. Who loved their mother and father, and who kissed each goodbye every day before they left for the long walk to school, or to the fields. Who married strong women, the Lewis wives, and who had sturdy American sons and daughters as the bleak memory of WWII faded, and the sunrise of a brief affluence allowed us all to be educated, and cared for.
We didn't know, us cousins, as those men gathered on patios and decks and in living rooms during our regular reunions, how much those men, singing in sweet harmony, their red hymnals on their laps, had seen. We didn't know that we were seeing, in our time, the last of a fading era. I know we cherished those reunions. The women cooking up a storm, the men sharing memories, us kids playing Monopoly and maybe an older one or two sneaking a smoke (I was one of the littler ones, so I couldn't say).
I can see them now, in their semi circle. Their books are open, but they barely read the words. They already know them by heart. Their voices, braided by DNA and faith, come together and separate gently, perfectly, like patched sleeves twisting together as the work shirts dry on the swaying line. Like the furrows they plowed together. Like boots in a row by the door. Like horses’ heads, all down, eating, the long day done.
I can see them through a yellow window, and it's evening, and the room is lamplit now. They are young, and singing.
Ira and Dollie Lewis singing the old hymns, before they disappeared, caught by a Songcatcher from the Library of Congress in Washington DC in the ‘40s.