Yippy. After being sick, complaining, and missing three weeks of my ten week Monday night writing group, I showed up tonight and wrote:
I wanted to say that my grandfather could flip pancakes with his bare hands. I don’t think he ever did, but I can still feel the hardened traces of cement when he tousled me, and when he handed me the pig’s tail in a small plastic bag. I was home from school that day, privileged to have earned the soft green blanket and a double bed sheet and my own pillow neatly arranged on the living room couch. This privilege was granted only when I was sick. As long as I had a temperature, I would miss school and be cared for on the couch. My mother would make me toast and Lipton’s noodle soup and she and a tray would appear as if nothing mattered more than serving me lunch. There was nothing better than being sick on that couch. I can still see the skin colored plastic bucket on the rug, just below my head, just in case. That part, I hated. But my mother cleaned the bucket and me up as though that was a privilege too.
I was sick on the couch and my grandfather must have brought me the pig’s tail to cheer me up. It was gross even then, even though I was probably young enough when I wasn’t sick, that is, to kill ants with my magnifying glass, a feat I found absolutely amazing, how they curled up and fried on the cement walkway in not even two seconds.
It was obvious that the pig’s tail had not had time to harden, all those tiny blood soaked strings still visible, or so I remember, I could be wrong, but when my grandfather left my mother seamlessly took the plastic bag from me, never to be seen again. I never asked either. It took me thirty years to realize that it was no fluke that the pig’s tail and the fried ants were somehow related.
My childhood was idyllic by my mother’s standard, which I believed totally until I took my first psychology course in college but even now, in a certain way I still believe my mother’s version. I walked to school every winter day with my dress tucked into my snow pants and within the length of three blocks every day I successfully imagined myself to be a world famous detective, solving crimes and having movies made about me. I could not have succeeded in this role if I had not been able to tuck my dress in those snow pants, which is why I became a famous teacher in the spring and a famous actress in the fall.
I didn’t know until five years ago when I read a birth day astrology book that I was born destined to play roles, to master them and move on to another, driven as much by generosity as by my own earnest need for recognition.
I spent my summer days knowing I was lucky not to have Jeannie and Janice’s horrible mean stepmother. She wouldn’t let them wear shoes in their own house and she made everyone else take their shoes off in the kitchen. And she covered all the living room furniture with sheets of plastic, as if anyone would want to sit in there anyway, that room that seemed like it belonged in someone’s museum. Jeanie and Janice and I walked to Lowell field every summer day and we sat in the giant sandbox with its own roof.and we made potholders. I’d pick out certain colors and mix and match them and I would bring them home to my mother and she smiled and tugged at each one and told me I had made them good and sturdy. She never mentioned the colors but that was alright because I liked my colors.
My mother used my potholders until she either scorched them on the stove by mistake or they wore out. I never saw any in Jeannie and Janice’s kitchen, which was just more unnecessary proof of what a witch they had to put up with. They had an Italian grandmother who tried to shield them and that is where the potholders ended up, but even so Jeannie ended up with a nervous breakdown one summer and we all knew why.