In the corridors of memory, I keep a hazy replica of the stucco house in Miami, especially Grandma Tripp’s sewing room. The smells of recently lemon-oiled wood and cedar closets. Trunks and powdered linen. The soft Miami breeze in the corner room at the top of the stairs. The Singer sewing machine in a rounded wooden case with an iron lattice worked foot pedal. Drawers of pastel fabrics – straight pins and thread spool in clear boxes and pin cushions on the furniture. The room was sparse – dark sturdy furniture, worn and patched but clean linens on the bed. I remember the house seeming endless to me. The mangoes from Grandpappy’s trees were bigger than my hands and feet put together. And the avocadoes were thick and sweet and tasted like butter cream squash. The coconuts were SO hard to break and we’d walk to the creek and dangle our legs over the bridge. I hardly knew Grandma and Grandpappy died before I hardly knew he was gone. I laid in that corner room with the warm Miami breeze fluttering in over my sheets and through the open door. I felt so strange as an adult there, as I walked through the upstairs rooms. I guess us kids didn’t go up there much. Grandma has moved downstairs now. She had two rooms built down there, off the dining room, where the mango trees used to be. I think now that this must have been her favorite room because it’s so sunny and bright and cool in the evenings. Far enough away from the family rooms downstairs for some quiet time. Grandma must have looked out the window at their orchard and furtively unlaced her sensible shoes. She and Pappy were immigrants from Germany. Farmer’s families. No royal blood in me from that side. Just good solid stock, solid people. Grandma and Pappy, I still see them as they were on their 50th wedding anniversary. The whole family was there. But that was the last time we all got together. The photographer had to be pretty far away to get us all in. I guess most everybody went to Grandma’s funeral. They didn’t call me in California until it was too late. I remember her laughter when I asked if we used to be von Tripps – like maybe she was secretly a baroness or a princess. “No, dear, we are farmers, always have been. Come sit down and tell me where you got that notion.” Years later, I made copies of her genealogy sketched on the back of livestock accounting sheets – big sheets of beige paper with green lines for recording milk output by cow – of course the names and notes and branches were drawn on the blank back side. Sorta backed up her claim of being just farmers. And a faded piece of stationery with each of her children’s names and birthdays, and their children’s names and birthdays, it was one crowded sheet of paper, she had ten children who lived past infancy, and I figure that was alot of birthdays to keep track of.
I am cursed with Karma, I think. All my life, every time I told a lie, I would get busted. Like immediately. So if I get too much change, I tell the cashier. I know their employers take it out of their pay if they are short. Also, it is so much easier to remember what you said if you don’t try and remember who you told what. But I lie all the time. I act happy. I project contentment. That is simply not true, at least not all the time. Sometimes, I just feel useless. We used to call them old tapes, repeated loops of cruel relatives: Nobody likes the smart girl. You’re funny looking. Children should be seen and not heard. If Grandpappy asks you a direct question, you can answer, but then you shut up. I told my husband about the silent German dinners, about the only conversation being “pass the potatoes”. He didn’t believe me until Aunt Ruth made dinner for about eight of us. Before we sat down, Cousin Elaine started rifling through the cabinets. She knew Aunt Ruth kept a bottle of whiskey. Somewhere. We didn’t talk about that either. Aunt Grace, he said, “I hear you have three daughters” “yes’. “um, how are they?” “Well.” “Are they married?’ “Two of them”. Silence. “Uncle Marvin, I hear you were a detective” “No, I was a just a police officer”. “Any interesting cases?” “No.” “Cousin Elaine, where are you living now?” “Outer Hebrides.” “Why?” “Fewer people.”