Friday, September 21, 2012

Gracie's Secret

I’m pretty sure Gracie had an idea what was going on inside our house. I say that because she came from a messed up family too. Members of dysfunctional families can often sniff each other out.      
            I always felt something wasn’t right in Gracie’s past. Why didn’t she ever talk about her family or her childhood? One day I asked Mom what she knew.
            “Mac and Gracie never had kids, right? Did they not want them, or could they not have them?”
            I spied something on Mom’s face before she smoothed it out, like a tablecloth.
            My eyes narrowed. “What? What do you know?” 
            Mom fiddled with her wedding ring. “I guess I can tell you. They’re both dead, and everyone related to them is too.”
            I stopped nibbling my pinky nail for a second. “What are you saying? How bad is it?”
            “Oh, it’s bad.”  She closed her eyes. She always did that when she wanted to block out unpleasant things. Come to think of it, I do that too. “It’s hard to believe people can be so cruel, so controlling, to their own children.”
            I grabbed a hank of hair and started twisting it as I hung in between the wanting to know and not.
            “Gracie’s father was a very wealthy and influential man. He never approved of Mac. He didn’t think Mac, a slaughterhouse employee, was good enough for his Sunny. So he forbade them to marry. But Sunny and Mac were crazy about each other. They ran off, drove over to Pennsylvania, and got married anyway. When they came back, they bought a small house outside town. Sunny’s father never spoke to her again.”
            I sniffed. “That’s mean.”
            “Oh, that’s not the bad part,” Mom said. “The next year Sunny became gravely ill. Her appendix needed to come out. Mr. Mac didn’t know what to do. Sunny still talked to her mother from time to time so Mac called her. Sunny’s mom made arrangements for Sunny to have surgery. Somehow Sunny’s father found out. He either bribed or coerced the surgeon into performing a hysterectomy on Sunny while he was removing her appendix.”
            I gasped. “No way.” 
            “Sunny and Mac tried for a long time to have children. Finally they gave up. Years later, Sunny learned the truth. Her father was dead and her mother was dying. Sunny went to see her, and she told Sunny everything.”
            I wanted to sock Gracie’s dad. I’d sucker punch him hard, in the kidneys, like I did my brothers. How could he do that to his own daughter? How could God let that happen to her? For crying out loud, Gracie called herself a whosoever.  “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son, so that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  She said it at least once a week.
            Mom finally looked up. “She adored you all. You know that, don’t you?”
            “Yeah, I know.”  I blinked and wiped my nose. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Flying Fan Day

Because I was with her nearly every day, I stored more love in my heart for Gracie than I did for my own grandmothers. Her living room, and often her kitchen, was a refuge to me when things got crazy at home which was often. Like the day my middle oldest brother hurled a  fan at one of my other brothers. It yanked the outlet cover and the metal box behind it out of the wall as it sailed across the room.
           My mother squeezed the sides of her head. “Call your father at work,” she said, her voice all quivery. “Tell him the boys have gone wild. Again.”
            I did what I always did. Dialed the number for time and acted like I was talking to Dottie, my dad’s secretary.
            We had fans instead of air-conditioning. Because Dad was cheap. That’s what Mom said. I didn’t mind too much except when bedtime rolled around and the soaking sponge of humidity would squish me flat against my pillow and steal my breath.
            “Come on in, Pet,” Gracie’d said as she opened the door on Flying Fan day. “Things rough at your place?”
            I nodded.
            “You hungry?”
            I said yes, even though I’d just had lunch, the usual—a fluffer nutter sandwich, Charles’s Chips, an apple from my other next door neighbor's tree, and Kool-Aid made with half a cup a sugar instead of a whole. Because like Mom said, Dad was stingy. When I tattled on Mom, Dad told me he was careful with money because his daddy was a banker and also because he’d lived through the Great Depression. He called it being prudent.
            “I baked a strawberry rhubarb pie this morning,” Gracie said.
            My eyes bugged and my mouth watered. Behind my jean short waistband, my lunch moved over to make room for more.
            I rubbed my hands together and grinned. “Oh, boy!”
            In the living room, Gracie clicked on the TV and while we waited for it to warm up she reached inside Dicky Bird’s cage, her hand in the shape of a pistol. Dicky daintily transferred himself from his perch to her pointer finger.
            “Do you want him on your shoulder or hand?” she said.
            I held out my finger.
            “You tell him everything, Pet,” she said. “Talk to him as long as you want, long as you need. I’ll be back with your pie in a jiffy.”
I was licking my plate when Big Mac came in. His face brightened when he saw me. I stood carefully so as not to panic Dicky Bird. I tucked him in his cage but left the door open so he could come and go. Gracie’d trained him to only do his business on the newspaper that lined his house.
            I ran to Mac and inspected him head to toe. He worked at a meat packing plant and I wanted to make sure there wasn’t any yuck on him before I strapped my arms around his waist and squeezed. That day, finding him blood and guts-free, I launched myself at him. I knew he’d swing me around in a circle so I wound my legs around his so they wouldn’t fly out and knock my TV tray over.
            “I brought you something,” he said after he set me down.
            I grinned and clapped. Stuck a finger in my mouth and nibbled a cuticle in anticipation.
            He held his fists, big as beefsteak tomatoes, in front of me.
            “Put out your hands and close your eyes and I will give you a big surprise.”
            I felt something heavy and smooth in my palms and when I opened my eyes, I saw two objects that resembled shiny silver fingers.
            I squinted up at him. “What are they?”
            “They’re magnets. You see, when one of the guys thinks a cow swallowed a nail, he’ll drop one of these down its throat. It’ll attach itself to the object in the digestive tract and the animal will . . . You know . . .”
            My face broke open. “Poop it out?”
            Mr. Mac studied his workboots, then the ceiling. “Yes. Exactly.”      
            "That is so cool! Wait until my brothers hear this!" Off I ran. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Remembering Grace

Who knows when and where Gracie went to the bathroom? Not me. She never once held up her finger and said, “Excuse me while I use the little girls’ room.” I was afraid to ask if she and Mac even had one so whenever I had to go, I’d tell her, “I think I hear Mom calling. I better see what she wants. Be right back.”
            Maybe Gracie had a pee bag tucked inside her girdle like some old folks do. Or perhaps the green shed that Mac built against their back fence before I was born was actually an outhouse. It didn't really matter though since Gracie and I spent most of our time in her living room and kitchen. 
            In the living room, instead of regular chairs, there were two chaise lounges with gleaming silver frames. The cushions were glossy fake leather the color of Christmas trees. If I hovered my mouth an inch from the surface and blew, a milky fog would appear. When I wiped it away, I could see black capillaries in the pine shine.
            There was a sofa in the room too, in front of the window that paralleled our house, but I never sat on it. It was made up with flowered sheets and a pink quilt so I figured Gracie slept there. You don’t just walk into someone’s house and plop down on their bed. That’d be rude. I wasn’t sure where Mr. Mac slept, maybe on the second floor all the way to the left. I had no way of knowing because Gracie never took me up there.
            Most days I’d lay on the left lounge, ankles crossed, and Gracie’d recline on the right one. In the summertime we’d watch Phil Donahue in the mornings and Beverly Hillbillies in the afternoon. After supper I’d run back over and we’d watch Lawrence Welk. While we watched the tube, Gracie’d make lace doilies or embroider dresser scarves. I’d nibble my nails. Sometimes she’d rock herself to standing, go over to the mantle, and fetch one of her collectible miniature pitchers, the ones painted to look like American presidents.
           She'd hand it to me. “Hold this, Pet, instead of biting your nails.”
            “I don’t go too far down,” I’d say. “I just nip off the raggedy pieces.”
            One time she held up a dresser cloth by its top corners. "Ta da!" she sang.
            I shook my head in wonder. Gracie made the best French knots ever.
            “Do you have a hope chest, Pet?” she said.
            I shook my head. “No, ma’am. What’s a hope chest?”
            Her eyebrows flew up then the corner of her right eye fluttered. She did the exact same thing whenever she heard someone take the Lord’s name in vain.
            “A hope chest is what a young lady uses to store things she’ll need later in life, when she’s married.”
            I scrunched up my nose, stuck out my tongue.
            “Then I don’t want a hope chest. No way I’m getting married. I’ve lived all my life with three brothers I don’t like much and a daddy I do. That’s enough men for me. I wanna be like you when I grow up. Live all by myself with a blue parakeet named Dicky Bird.”
            She clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth, closed my right hand in hers, and led me upstairs for the first time in my life. We entered the first door on the right. There was a bed against one wall, a dresser across from it, and an ironing board over to the side, under a window. When Gracie bent to plug in the iron, I almost asked why she didn’t sleep up here since it was so pretty, but something pinched my lips and kept me quiet, a rare thing.
            I smiled at the black and white portrait of her and Mac that hung on the wall. He wore a dark suit and Gracie was in a dress, same as always. I imagined the dress was cobalt blue and its crouton-looking pattern, butter yellow. I went over to stand in the sunbeam that was pouring through the window. I squinted against the light as I pulled a deep breath into my lungs through my nose. When it came back out, it seemed frayed and silvery gray. I super duper wished Mr. Mac was still alive. He was a big man and the world had seemed safer with him in it, right next door.
            Gracie left the room for a minute, to get water for the iron. While she was gone, I turned around slowly in the middle of the room, tried to memorize the details in case she never brought me up there again. I bet Mac and Gracie slept in this room every night of their married life, fifty some odd years, him and her nestled together like quotation marks.  Maybe that’s why she slept down in the living room now. Because she missed him so. Perhaps it hurt her heart to lay all alone under their wedding ring quilt that still had someone's teeny pencil marks on it, between smooth and cool, bleached bright white by the sun, percale sheets. Or perhaps this was a shrine to Mac and she only visited once a week or when she had pressing to do. I searched the room to see if maybe she had a small candle to light in remembrance of him like they did at the big Catholic church I could see from one of my bedroom windows. My best friend Karen had taken me to mass there once.
            I traced the picture frame then used my pointer finger to cover the place where Mr. Mac’s heart had been.
            “I always had a feeling about you, Big Mac,” I said inside my head, “that I could ask your help with anything and you’d give it.” For some reason though, I’d never asked him for anything, never did manage to work up the nerve.
            Gracie smoothed the dresser cloth along the length of the ironing board. Licked two fingers and pounced them on the iron’s surface. Her spit sizzled. She covered her needlework with a clean, white cloth and set the iron on top of it carefully.
            “We’re going to press this,” she said, even though I was pretty sure she’d be the only one ironing, “and then we’ll wrap it in tissue paper. I’ll keep it here with me until you’re ready for it.”
            I didn't argue because something about her tone assured me I wouldn't win. Gracie knew stuff. I don't know how, but she did. In that moment, studying that picture, I wondered if Mr. Mac did too.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...