Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I am born and there are vaccines for everything and I am safe. I get measles, but everyone gets measles and that's okay. I get strep throat and then scarlet fever which reminds me of Gone With the Wind - such a pretty name.

But, before that, my parents were married twelve years, and did they wait until it was safe? My mother never talked about polio, or parents dreading summer or staying out of the water or hearts in mouths when a child stumbled. And today, right now, I wonder if polio viruses still frolic in streams and ponds and wonder why no one respects them anymore. Or, did they vanish into laboratories to live forever in a cell in a bottle, giving smallpox the idea? I had a teacher who survived polio, but she was so old I thought it was a Civil War disease.

But, before that, what did my grandmother worry about? I know some things about her, but they're not about her, they're about my mother. I know the picture of my grandmother, Vera, whose caption is "Mom at 212 pounds." I took a snapshot in my head yesterday at the doctor's scale: "Me at 213 pounds." A family history of chub, a genealogy of our war with numbers. My mother's numbers are small; she stands in history between fat women.

I know Vera had high cholesterol because she liked the fat from meat. I don't know why I have it. I know she died from being 212 pounds. But, fifty years later, my father's siblings die, round and 90. They didn't get the memo.

Before me, before my mother's first makeup or first date or first husband, Vera was a Spiritualist in Freeville. She saw things and read tea leaves and divorced her husband and broke his nose. He was not 212 pounds. She built a house and raised wild children and ran a business and took no shit. She got married twice and lost a young husband who laid down sick one day and died the next, one of Tioga County's flu statistics. Her second husband lasted longer.

I didn't meet these people and I don't know any true thing about them. I know what my mother said and the stories, but those stories belong to her. I am writing down stolen lives. But, before me, Vera had a boyfriend and the kids didn't like him. There is a story about pudding and X-lax that ends and he never wore those pants again.

After that, my mother and I visited the nursing home Vera ran; the current owner was pleased to show us around. Oblivious to possibilities, she showed us a tiny attic room painted midnight blue, and who would paint a room that color? But, before us, Vera would.

Now I make Vera what I want her to be, because I can, because my stories belong to me and so does she. Four dozen years I've looked for me in my mother's face, but I'm not there because she doesn't belong to me. I have to look past her, through her, to the other side. Biology insists I have half her genes, more or less, but which ones? I don't say this in scientific company, but I think Vera bundled hers in a sack and tossed them to me, right over her daughter's head. Monkey in the middle.

But first, Vera was a lesbian. [This is my story.] Sure, she married a man or two, but I made the same mistake seventy years later. It's okay Grammy, I get it. I never broke his nose, but I broke his heart, which was just about as gristly and hollow. I see things, like which way the wind blows, and I read signs, like writing on the wall. And now, I tell stories and they're as true as yours, as true as they need to be.

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