And David never did get that hat back.  And Franklin Meeks never met David’s wife in person.  He merely threw something in the smoke—a green substance in the fire that gave it the smell of potpourri—hints of rose and bay bean.  And not even some chant—a prayer—just his head bowed with his eyes, his face, covered by David’s hat.  A promise that when David returned home, to that apartment in Soulard, his wife’s fever would break—the remaining months—the days through the fall leading to the birth, a happy time.  With purpose…  David never told his wife about what Meeks said, but maybe she knew.  Maybe it followed him like all his other stories.  That fantastic and strange past we all have when we look back on our lives and love ourselves.  The memories almost chosen for us so we can be who we choose to be.  There was purpose in those months, those days through the fall of 1947.  There was purpose, but maybe there wasn’t love, enough love.  Instead separation.  And I guess I can go ahead and say it now.  What maybe was hinted at in David’s past, Bethany’s past—what brought them together and what they left in New Orleans.  They stayed married for eight years, ‘til the death of Duke Threnody in 1955.  David stayed working in his father’s pawn shop, and they stayed in that apartment in Soulard, where they tried to forget the death of one child with the life of another—Ben—for that’s what they named him, born just a few seconds after his brother, who they named Richard.  The headstone in a cemetery near the Cahokia Mounds.  I went to it, and saw it for myself.

And I don’t know why.  Why we make heroes of the dead.  Maybe because we’re waiting on our turn.  Maybe it’s what Bethany grieved, being the wife of an artist, and never forgetting the loss of a child in the features of the one that lived.  Maybe she had her own visions in her sickness, in that fever that instilled David to go see Franklin Meeks.  She’d always liked cemeteries.  In fact it was one of her favorite places to smoke.  And maybe that’s why she couldn’t worship—she made no heroes of the dead—and thus none of the living.  Which makes me feel I haven’t done my part, as a biographer of their lives.  In what caused them to love and not to love, even in the imagined musings of her voice, the voice of her grandmother (still alive, alive in 1955 when Bethany returned to her family in Texas with Ben, then seven years old).  I have some of her journals, and I have David’s. I have the transcripts of that PBS special from 1971, the interviews of people, friends like Johnny Tribout and other musicians, that lived in that time, that knew David.  I’ve met Dewey—his brother.  The records I found from research online.  I’ve created this story and I’m not sure where to go with it even though there’s more, much more, to tell…  Maybe I just don’t want to fail.  Fail in creating a hero.  Because it’s easy to talk about love, falling in love, but not so easy to capture how love fades.  How it burns out in that attrition of time.  The struggles David and Bethany had financially at that time.  No money from David’s music.  And the paltry income from working in his father’s pawn shop.  It’s hard to capture how our heroes are traded for other dreams.  A quality of life, much like what Johnny Tribout faced when he died in 1975 after dousing himself with rubbing alcohol—what his wife wanted—a nice house with a back yard, money for their kid’s dreams.  This maybe in the sadness later of David Threnody becoming an old man.  In what happened.  What happened with Ben…  Bethany Lebeau needed more than David’s music.  More than her own dreams, what maybe she mused upon when she smoked in cemeteries, when she visited the grave of Richard, and so maybe I should talk about it.  That February of 1948 when their twins were born.  What quit between them, and the roles they decided to choose.  I need to tell you how David didn’t mourn.  How he mourned when the baby was sick, but after he died—this just a few days after his birth—David didn’t mourn.  Maybe this how a hero becomes hero.  When they no longer mourn what they worship…  And so maybe I need to tell you another story about New Orleans.  Because Bethany didn’t give birth in East St. Louis.  They made the trip back when she was almost full term.  She had the twins back in New Orleans, or at least David was in New Orleans—Bethany staying with her parents in Hemphill.  And I need to tell you that.  About why they went back.  Why they went back to where they began.  Because there’s a story in that birth—maybe even a defining moment—a recognition of a soul.  The mid-wife present, the woman cutting the cord and bringing Benjamin Threnody into the world, none other than Marie Toussaint.

23

I went down to St. James Infirmary…

–James Carroll Booker III

            He dreamed it in his prime.  David dreamed the song before he ever wrote it.  The words coming first, coming before the music…

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