Michael Thomason

Michael Thomason

All she left behind was debt and a broken down mobile home on a few unimproved acres. It wasn’t much. She never had children and there was no husband or partner or friend around to offer comfort, to hold her hand or wipe her brow as she passed. She died there alone.

Her brothers and sisters gathered to see what they could do to clean up around the place and get it sold to settle her estate. Even the sound of the word seemed out of place. The ‘estate’ consisted entirely of a beat up mobile home, a wrecked pickup, and a forlorn lean-to shack out back. Each of the three was slowly dissolving into the elements.

Inside was the accumulated wreckage of a life departed. It didn’t appear the place had been cleaned in a long while. Clothes were piled high on every closet floor, junk filled boxes were strewn everywhere, dirty dishes filled the sink, cheap posters with curled corners were thumbtacked to the walls. In the bathroom, the particle board floor had given way to an old water leak and sagged underfoot. Thin linoleum was all that kept someone from falling through. The back bedrooms were filled with the sort of possessions that should have gone to an attic or been thrown away long ago. The entire place felt sticky, smelling of nicotine and neglect. For those who came to clean up, the smell would stay in their nostrils for days. There was little worth saving.

They spent the day dumping clothes and junk and trash in a rented dumpster that was soon filled to overflowing. Towards the end of the afternoon, they had done the best they could and gave the carpets a final sweeping before leaving. They would sell the place for what it would bring and hope it was enough to settle her debts.

As evening lowered its shade over the scene, a brother thought to himself how sad it was to come to life’s end in this manner. He had only spoken to this sister once in her whole life, many years back at their grandmother’s funeral when he was an adult and she still a girl. Broken families will cause that. Divorce often brings a kind of death all its own, a death of family ties. Despite each side of the family living but a few hours down the highway from one another, there had been almost no contact.

Driving home across Texas in the deepening darkness, the man thought to himself how the children from the other side of his family shared so many similar traits with him but lived such dissimilar lives. They seemed a happy bunch, witty, artistic, easygoing. But they had obviously led a more hardscrabble life. From their conversation you caught on that life had often been a struggle. Obviously, they turned out different than their siblings from the first marriage. And obviously, some had made the sort of choices that led to a life more on the margins than the mainstream. He sighed and drove on thru the night.

Sooner or later, each person who lives on this earth is faced with choices they alone will have to make. It was obvious this deceased sister had been given little or no guidance when it might have helped, but he supposed that was just conjecture on his part, from his vantage. He felt it was difficult enough to make wise decisions all by yourself, almost impossible in the absence of parent or partner support. It is especially true if the parent is more unstable than the child. So who is to blame, who is responsible? How do you break the cycle of bad habits, bad upbringing, bad luck all by yourself?

The man was lost in such reflection and introspection as he drove, his somber face lit by the dim glow of dashboard lights. He realized full well that much of his success and stability in life came from being raised by those who cared enough to give him a proper upbringing.

Two children of the same mother, sharing remarkably similar traits, talents, and looks; raised entirely isolated from one another; unwittingly participated in a lifelong social experiment in nature over nurture. The differences between their outcomes were stark. While chance and individual choice affects all, what factors most is how we were taught, the foundation blocks of our guidance and education. Thinking back on the day, the man mentally recalled all the clothes and cheap junk and furniture and books and this and that other accumulated artifacts that filled the home and defined a life. It occurred to him upon reflection that the one thing not found in all they had hauled away from the house was a Bible. Maybe it would have helped, near as I can tell.

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