On kith and kin

As it happens, [Flaubert’s] “Un Coeur Simple” is a magisterial example of…how it is possible to enter into, and convey to others, a mental world that is not one’s own….

–Anthony Daniels, “Flaubert’s Simple Heart,” New Criterion (June 1, 2010)

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My grandpa liked to take my hand in his large, bony hand and roll my knuckles together and say, “Don’t take any wooden nickels.” He sat in an old recliner next to a silver canister as he watched The Price is Right and sucked unevenly through a green mask. He had yellow teeth and a few sprigs of white hair seeded down the middle.

My grandma picked and nagged, Stan-ing my grandpa out of existence. My grandma sold the house and moved into an apartment.

She was always seeing doctors and always coming away with new medications: one med for one thing, another for another, and a third for the one or the other or for something else. Her head stayed stuck on sideways. When she came to visit, she once went headfirst down our long basement stairs. It didn’t leave a mark. Another time, she slit her wrists by cutting sideways. She and her house and her apartment always smelled sweetly of powder.

And then the time came when we had no more reason to visit.


My kith and kin are mostly farming folk. An exception: my other grandma, once a rural Michigander, moved to Florida when I was a boy. This grandma likes going to casinos and taking cruises around the Caribbean. She used to like playing golf until Dan-o died. Last summer, to my sister and me she pointed out the houses where all the people with the “big bucks” live. I hadn’t seen her in years.

My kith and kin. Mine but not. I’ve never known them, aside from those once in a 10 year passings-by and notwithstanding a couple of Facebook friends among my stores. Some of my uncle’s posts:

“My next door neighbor wants to BAN all guns. Their house is NOT armed. Out of RESPECT for their opinion I promise NOT to use my guns to PROTECT THEM.”

“Attention thieves. Please carry ID so we can notify next of kin.”

“I’d rather have a gun in my hand than a cop on the phone! 2nd Amendment.” Tag line: “get r done.”

“sick of govt and insurance companies taught in school govt of the people by the people for the people reality govt of the govt for the govt against the people insurance policies pay top dollar then beg for partial payment.”


I have never been accused of rape; I have never thought of raping. I have never been accused of theft, nor have I thought of thieving. Rarely cheated, once or twice smoked, tried pot a couple times and found it stupid and stupefying. I have not grown up around rural folk, amid the hinterlands, around Waspy silences, near suffering and foibles. I have experienced nothing of the Slough of Despond, the parched fields, the government subsidies, very little of the struggle for existence, nothing of the unclarity, the opacity of thought, only a touch of the picaresque. I have not felt the gun against my hand or in my mouth, never having been seduced by it. Granted, for a season I shot purple grackles with a BB gun but then got bored of it or found the whole thing repugnant. Once, I was mugged in Crown Heights but the mugger gave my wallet back and apologized, saying he was hungry. Flipped up his hoodie and left in a hurry.

On kith and kin. How come? How now? Like a touch of grace, but for the…, I a philosopher.