Bones to Ashes- page 1 | Science | Smithsonian

Bones to Ashes

An excerpt from the new book by Kathy Reichs

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Babies die. People vanish. People die. Babies vanish.

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I was hammered early by those truths. Sure, I had a kid's understanding that mortal life ends. At school, the nuns talked of heaven, purgatory, limbo, and hell. I knew my elders would "pass." That's how my family skirted the subject. People passed. Went to be with God. Rested in peace. So I accepted, in some ill-formed way, that earthly life was temporary. Nevertheless, the deaths of my father and baby brother slammed me hard.

And Évangéline Landry's disappearance simply had no explanation.

But I jump ahead.

It happened like this.

As a little girl, I lived on Chicago's South Side, in the less fashionable outer spiral of a neighborhood called Beverly. Developed as a country retreat for the city's elite following the Great Fire of 1871, the hood featured wide lawns and large elms, and Irish Catholic clans whose family trees had more branches than the elms. A bit down-at-the-heels then, Beverly would later be gentrified by boomers seeking greenery within proximity of the Loop.

A farmhouse by birth, our home predated all its neighbors. Greenshuttered white frame, it had a wraparound porch, an old pump in back, and a garage that once housed horses and cows.

My memories of that time and place are happy. In cold weather, neighborhood kids skated on a rink created with garden hoses on an empty lot. Daddy would steady me on my double blades, clean slush from my snowsuit when I took a header. In summer, we played kick ball, tag, or Red Rover in the street. My sister, Harry, and I trapped fireflies in jars with hole-punched lids.

During the endless Midwestern winters, countless Brennan aunts and uncles gathered for cards in our eclectically shabby parlor. The routine never varied. After supper, Mama would take small tables from the hall closet, dust the tops, and unfold the legs. Harry would drape the white linen cloths, and I would center the decks, napkins, and peanut bowls.

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