Leavings

albertas1

Back on the patio. You can see it’s screened in.

Joe and Alberta never had children. They slept in separate rooms. I don’t know what that meant for them. Uncle Joe was much older than Alberta.

Her nickname was Babytot. That’s what my grandmother, Kathleen, called her. They were very close.

Kathleen and Harry are my father’s parents.

Family gatherings are strange. How did we, the above group, come together?

My Uncle Joe, being a pastry chef and Italian, grew up in a culture where people gathered around the dinner table and ate long leisurely meals.

One thing I enjoyed about being at Alberta and Joe’s, in addition to the food, were the aromas of things that we didn’t have in our home. There was the smell of old fashioned soap made of lard and lye. There was the smell of panetone when Christmas was near. There was the smell of baked beans. I loved them. I haver never tasted anything like them. They were kind of sweet but not like the things you can buy in cans. They were baked until they were dry and had a unique flavor that even now I can’t identify.

There were half gallons of ice cream in the freezer. Alberta would unfold the tabs on the square paper container and just slice off an inch thick slice and put it on a plate. No bowls. No scooping. It made sense.

There were pine nuts, chicken, cakes. Everybody seemed fairly relaxed. It seemed like real family. Not forced, although Kathleen never got along with Gertrude. Usually Gertrude stayed home.

My dad and uncle are incarcerated or in the process of getting that way at this time. My mother, age 21, was finding out she had cancer of some reproductive organ and I believe giving birth to another sister I never knew.

I had been sick with tuberculous for a spell sometime between my first and second year of life. When I was ready to be released from the hospital, ready to leave behind the weekly chest xrays, the shots and the solitude. I could not be around other children for a while so my grandparents came and took me to live with them.

I was told that I would talk to no one for six months after I left the hospital and moved to my grandparents house.

Something broke the dam of silence and I became quite chatty, they said.

granniesmomcolleenme

 

This is a picture of my great-grandmother, Marie, my mother Terry, my grandmother Kathleen, my sister Colleen and I. This must have been after I was let out of the hospital. Was it before my sister was given up and then reclaimed by my grandparents? There is no date on the picture but I’m younger than in the picture above. My mother and Colleen must have been visiting me. There is no one left who knows. 

My mother visited my grandparents house just before she died. I was seven. She seemed like a stranger. Not very interested in me at all.

I can’t blame her. She was ripped off, sick and soon to be dead at 27.

My father had been a friend of her brother’s. She had been a teenage girl in a convent when he first met her.

He never treated her right. He was a mean, self-absorbed ass. It’s the truth. Some people are creeps.

She had a twin brother named Chuck, Charles. Their last name is Bourbon. All the many brothers and sisters (16) were named for kings and queens. James, Charles, George, etc. My mother’s name was Margaret but she took the name Teresa in the convent and she was Terry afterward.

Chuck came to visit my sister Colleen and I  a couple of times after my mother died. He was cool. He hated my dad.

I can’t blame him, either.

He often visted Terry’s grave. She was buried under a beautiful tree in a memorial park in Glendora. She chose the spot before she died.

I met up with my uncle again. I was a young woman living and working in Santa Barbara. Chuck came into the coffee shop where I worked the graveyard shift.  In the wee hours of the morning I poured coffee for a good looking man 20 years older than me. he looked up at me and said “Do you know who I am.”

I looked at him, looked in his eyes. I felt his energy.

“You’re Chuck. My uncle,” I said, a little surprised that I remembered after all that time. But I did. He was familiar and had a face like the mother I must have buried deep in my mind, deep in some far away corner of my heart.

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