Tuesday, May 22, 2012


I wrote to my mother this morning on a card I had saved years ago, a card someone had written to me on. “Congratulations!” said the card. “Love, Sue.” I didn’t remember who Sue was or what I was being congratulated for, but one side of the card was blank, and the bright red flowery illustration was something I knew my mother with her partial eyesight would still be able to enjoy, so I did what I learned in the ashram, cut off the side of the card that was written on and used the sort of postcard that remained.

I didn’t want to say much. Just a thank you for the $35 check she had sent ostensibly to cover the cost of xeroxing my father’s writing and sending it to her to give to my crummy little sisters over there in California.

They are crummy. I have a new reason to be mad at them. They went together to Budapest a few weeks ago to go through my recently deceased father’s belongings. I had received a couple of missives here and there over the last years, tight-lipped letters about powers of attorney, a booklist which I was invited to check off if I wanted certain titles from his library when he died. I ignored all of these well-behaved letters for they seemed so cloaked in subterfuge of an undefinable nature, I just knew I wanted nothing to do with whatever these sisters were dabbling in. Certainly, I didn’t want to plan for my father’s death. My sisters like to do these things, years in advance.

When I was visiting my mother last month she told me the sisters were off to Budapest to go through Dad’s stuff. “I’d like his watch,” I heard myself say. “Could you ask them to bring that back?”

I was thinking of the wafer-thin square watch with the bright gold face and the shiny alligator strap.

The box came form my mother last week. She’d used the box her checks from Bank of America had come in. She’d stuffed it with cotton balls and inside were three watches. Two cheapos, and yes, the watch I remembered, still ticking when I wound it, its gold face mottled with age.

Did the sisters as they went through my father’s things notice anything they thought I might like and bring it back for me? No. They didn’t. Such crummy people.

I want to get the watch cleaned and restored to its confident bright shine, the one that made my father feel good. I hope it won’t cost too much. I took a lovely old wind-up watch for fixing recently and was told $250, something that will have to wait.

Last week Fred and I drove down to see my mother’s little house and meet with the woman who has been reenting it for the last two years. My mother wanted to show the flag and also just make sure things looked okay. So there I was again, on that ground that had once meant so very much. It was a little painful, revisiting this place that I had thought was permanent, but I was happy to see the warm yellow paint and the new tiles Susan had added to the kitchen, the soft green she’d painted the living room – the weird furniture not at all my mother’s.

I will always mourn that my mother had to leave that place, no matter how much the facts are in favor of her new life in California. I didn’t know how short years were. Snap snap snap, they’re gone.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


I sat in the car on a winter night, waiting while my mother delivered two sleds on behalf of my Brownie troop to a local orphanage. I looked up at the rows and rows of dark windows and wished I could live there.

Mostly, I wanted to be away from my mother. She was angry a lot and it usually came out of nowhere. You’d say one thing and she’d be blasting you, yelling, accusing you of being spoiled and sometimes she hit you, but it was the anger and the yelling I dreaded.

So I was eager when they said I was going to boarding school.

My mother was quiet as we toured the school, my father doing most of the talking, charming the nuns. This was his kind of place. My mother wore her simple black high heels and the suit with the small black and white checks and lipstick, and her purse. She didn’t sparkle when she dressed up. It was almost like a man dressing up.

My mother wrote to me every week in boarding school. Always a small white envelope, blue ballpoint pen and her round, even, loopy handwriting on small white sheets of paper – two pages, front and back.

Letters were laid out in the morning after breakfast when everyone went to the hall for assembly, a vast, high-ceiling room with alcoves and lead-paned windows. I could imagine in olden-times people dancing in this room in long dresses. The letters were laid out on two wooden radiator covers, and it was always good to spy an envelope with my name on it.

We read our letters standing up in the buzz of the crowd as people gathered and then took their places, head nun up front, everyone in several rows, standing with their class, in a horseshoe shape around her, hearing announcements.

My mother would tell me in her letters when they were coming to visit. It was about once a month. I didn’t want them to come. Not much. I envied the girls whose families were abroad. That seemed more grown up.

when my parents and sisters were due, on a Saturday morning, I sat waiting for them where you were supposed to in the curved wooden window seat in the Ante Room. It was a small room that looked onto the round open space outside where cars pulled up. I sat in the window seat, looking out the old-fashioned windows until the big gray car pulled up. Even just seeing it made me a little carsick. It had red leather seats that gave off a sweetish smell. Inside was my father in the driver’s seat, my mother beside him, my two little sisters in the back seat.

We went to the Grosvenor Hotel in the nearby village. My father talking with gusto, my mother in the background, minding children.

Sitting in the dining room for lunch, something that takes so long because my father is telling me how Napoleon’s army marched through Europe and he uses the salt and pepper shakers to demonstrate where they went. He is only talking to me and I have to pay attention though I wish he would just stop.

Afternoon they take us someplace outdoors where we walk. The sky is gray. There are ruins. My parents read the plaques. We walk. Maybe I run with my sisters. But this is never a place I want to be. I would prefer to be with my friends back at school.

Only at night do I miss her. Only at night, alone in my bed in the dark do I want my mother to come. I want her to come and kiss me goodnight and I cry because she is not there and will not come. Not every night, but sometimes.