Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.
Update: We are offering an audio recording of Miss Daisy telling us her story prior to our transcription: Daisy Lee Archibald tells us about two brothers, Jacob and Esau.
Well, well, who is that on my porch? I thought for sure you would be shopping today with the young folk! Now you had better come in here and git warm before you catch your death! Git in here.
You sit there in the front room. Let me pull these biscuits from the oven, and I’ll get a jar of preserves. You have enough room for some tea and biscuits after yesterday’s feast? Now I’m sure you can make room. . . . Do you know I put up 3 dozen jars this year? We had quite the strawberries this summer. I changed the recipe a little bit this time. I guess I always do. But I didn’t change my biscuits, so don’t you worry.
There. Now you just help yourself and we will have a proper afternoon tea like they do in the old country.
I am so glad you came by. I just read some powerful sad news, and I have to unravel my thoughts. It’s like an ancient tragedy, this one. See these books I got out? High school literature books. I was wondering if I could find something useful in ‘em.
I got myself a letter today, you see. A real letter, not an email or a junk mail. But an honest-to-Pete letter. They are as rare as hen’s teeth, you know. Look at that pretty letterhead. You ever see anything that fancy? Or important? It’s from New York City!
It’s from my friend Sal. You don’t know Sal. Salvatore Dimitri Macchiato. Isn’t that a lovely name? It just rolls off your tongue: Salvatore Dimitri Macchiato. Hmm-mmm. He could almost be from Alabama with a name like that. My daddy’s name — did I ever tell you this? — my daddy’s name was Napoleon Ambrose Zephyr Archibald. His friends called him “Naza.”
But Sal’s not from Alabama. He’s Aye-talian. His grandparents came right from the old country too. Not the same old country as my people, of course. Someday I’d like to meet his mama and taste her marinara recipe. She could have my biscuits and preserves.
The reason I know Sal is because he is friends with an old family friend of mine, and that is who is on my mind. Now, I’m not gonna to tell you his name. You do know him. And I don’t like to tell tales. So I won’t say. So don’t you ask me!
It’s his mama I’ve known for forever. She is a real classy lady. Tall, slender. Like a willow tree, that one. We don’t grow ‘em that tall here in South Alabama. Too hot. And my friend got his looks from his lovely mother.
My friend has a kid brother. But that one got his looks from his father, poor thing.
So I got out these books to help me understand these two brothers. Brothers seem to naturally fight. Oh, I guess we women fight too, but different. Here’s Romulus and Remus — you remember that one from school? Twin brothers sired by the god of war and raised by a she-wolf. That’s all the women do in that story — birth and nurture and git outta the way. Romulus got his name on the city he founded. Might just fit.
There’s Cain and Abel, of course. Cain who cursed his beloved vocation by making the earth drink his brother’s blood. My mama used to say that Cain was the father of secrets ‘cuz he tried to lie to God. . . . Fool. Everybody already knew the secret.
There’s the Prodigal. Preacher said one Sunday that the brother that stayed home was actually the prodigal since he didn’t know his father loved him. These boys know how their father feels.
I’ve kinda landed on Jacob and Esau. My friend is the primogeniture, but his kid brother is always there grasping at his heels. with mama and daddy stirring up the rivalry. Pitiful to watch the two of ‘em feudin’ and spittin,’ preenin’ and fluffin’ up their feathers. Brother fightin’ brother. We know somethin’ about that here in the South. Not a good thing. Not a good thing at all.
Now there I go. I said I wasn’t going to tell family secrets. I’ve said too much.
Back to Sal. They don’t get much richer and more powerful than Sal. The likes of you and me don’t understand the likes of him. He eats people like you and me for breakfast. You saw that letterhead. Every time I pick up the newspaper and read some national news headline about political power brokers pushing for “family values” so-called, Sal is right there in the story, advising the people in the front. Never fails.
Sal should be up front. He’s so much better-looking than those other doughy uglies that he stands behind. Sal isn’t like them. Sal is gorgeous. Mmm-mm. What I wouldn’t do to get a man like that to pay me some attention? But he’s not interested in me.
He and my friend are . . . I don’t know how they talk about it these days. There’s always a way to talk about those . . . delicate things. If Sal and my friend were ladies, well, my mama would have said to me that they were in a Boston marriage. Took me years to figure what she was talkin’ about. And with gentlemen, I would have told Hazel Claire that they were roommates. Hazel Claire never understood that one. She was a thick one, that Hazel Claire. Confirmed old bachelors, we used to say. I don’t know what they say these days.
Sal fills me in every now and then about my friend. It’s a real newsy letter. I think my friend is too shy and declining and more than a little stuck. I think he’s embarrassed about that. Oh no, no, not about who he’s taken up with. He told us that long ago, and we in Alabama know about such things. Truman Capote lived just in the next county, for pity’s sake! We knew about that whatever-they-are-calling-it before those kids were born, and we understand that we don’t understand. No, I think he’s embarrassed about . . .
I can’t explain it. I remember the way his Daddy talked to his mama. I hear the way his kid brother and friends talk about the women in their lives. “Battle-axe” was their word. My friend’s no different. I think he might be embarrassed because of that. I would have thought that moving to the big city would have shaken that provincial ugliness out of him a long time ago. But those who move away from their mamas and their mamas’ friends, sometimes they forget how equal they are to those mamas and aunts and sisters. They continue just thinkin’ of ‘em as she-wolves.
What was it in the Bible again? Esau, the rich and successful primogeniture comes to visit Jacob, and Jacob sees him from the distance and is scared he’s going to kill him. So what does Jacob do? He puts all these presents and servants in Esau’s path hoping to quench his bloodlust. Silly boys. Still competing. Still grasping at heels. Still preenin’ their feathers.
Oh! Back to Sal. . . . He’s really got a way with words that Sal. Writes a nice letter. Silver-tongued, we would say. Now my friend is quite the word-smith himself. He’s like his mama. I understand her writing better, being a woman and all. I don’t get my friend’s writing. What do I care if he takes his papered and pampered German dogs to a five-star restaurant? And I don’t much care what swimming trunks he wears at the pool in Dubai, as long as he wears them.
Yeah, I said Dubai. He is living the high life with Sal. Mmm-mmm. I feel decadent when I put up 36 jars of strawberries, instead of just 24. . . .
My poor, dear friend. Sure, he’s living in the lap of luxury in that palatial beach home, but . . . how does that old song go? “Sing for your supper, and you’ll get breakfast. Songbirds are not dumb; they don’t buy a crumb of bread.”
But sometimes you want a crumb of bread that you yourself purchased respectable-like with your own money. To call your own. Your very own. I still don’t know if those boys git that. Both of ‘em stuck in their guilded cages, lacking the means and the mind to escape and fly free.
Sal says this here — do you know my friend started nine new companies in the space of one year alone? Just last year! Nine! Not one of ‘em succeeded. Not a web page, nothin’. He keeps registering new ideas though. Each with some weird mashup of a name only a writer would come up with. Like Eye-N-Vestment or something. Sounds like his mother.
Then he comes home and shows his fancy watches to that kid brother who’s too sheltered and too plain ol’ dumb to see through it, and that kid just drools and pants and tries to pull the same private-club lifestyle in his little town. Trust me — no uppity New South town is going to compare with the likes of New York City.
How does that story end again? Esau comes home, Jacob grovels (but never says sorry), and Esau’s the bigger man to his kid brother. Jacob stole the birthright, but Esau gave forgiveness. I just don’t know if my friend has it in him. Not until he really finds himself.
Bother! None of these brother stories fit one whit.
Did you hear about our turkey yesterday? Sometime ago I was sweepin’ the back, and I see two toms in a distance. I actually saw their heads turn from blue to white. Prancin’ around in a circle, promenadin’, twistin’ their necks ’round each other. Each tryin’ to prove who had bigger stuff. Hmm-mmm. It was fascinatin’ to watch, and well . . . I have a license. Daddy taught me how to shoot. Mm-mmm. That one was tasty yesterday. The other one’s in the chest freezer for Christmas. I think we’ll try deep-fryin’ that one.
Silly Toms. They were probably brothers.
Well, now. I have prattled on and done all the talkin’! You done with your second cup of tea already, aren’t you? Here. Give this jar of preserves to your mother, and keep this one for yourself. No, no. I insist.
And you have a Merry Christmas, hon.
Daisy Lee Archibald lives in Castleberry, Alabama. Miss Daisy enjoys canning, crocheting, Bible reading, and getting ready for the Strawberry Festival.