For those of you who have already read my first book A Bird and the Dragon: Their Love Story: A Memoir, you may have come away with the impression that we ran a fairly well-oiled machine of a family, with only a few glitches. Well, to give a little balance to that scenario–mixing it up–I’ve got more stories on the girls. I told you in one of my recent blogs that I had planned over two years ago to leave my beautiful senior community home and find a less expensive living situation. To that end I packed up most of my books, picture albums, and excess kitchen stuff and was storing these boxes in the garage. I don’t know what happened but about two months ago I got the message loud and clear, from wherever those messages come from, to take the house off the market and start unpacking my treasures. I’ve been doing that and have found all the old family albums. And the pictures trigger memories, so you are in for more stories.
The chapter in A Bird and the Dragon about May paints her as if there were never any good times or fun/frustrating times in our mutual lives. One of the pictures that I came across recently shows a group of our girls lined up on the side of the swimming pool that we added to the back corner of the Ugly Green House. May has her hand above two of the girl’s head in the V, the bunny ears sign, while the garage roof looms behind them. It wasn’t until all the girls were adults and it was either Annie or Felicia who saw the picture again and said, “Yeah, whoever took the picture didn’t know that May had climbed up onto the roof of the garage and dove into the pool.” New news to me!! My mother must have been babysitting at the time so that we could have a long weekend away. I chose at the time of the confession not to ask if any of the other girls had gone off the roof. There were no broken necks so I’m assuming the others stayed on the firm deck.
During much of that summer the girls and their friends were in the pool. I could look out over the scene from my open kitchen window as I washed dishes. The girls used to play Marco Polo at the top of their lungs. I can remember one day saying to myself, “If they scream Marco Polo one more time I’m going to go out there and murder every one of them.” It didn’t happen—they screamed but I didn’t murder. But to counterbalance this story my mother was visiting, and with the setup of where the pool was in relationship to the inside of the house, the girls had to march through my kitchen to get to the downstairs bathroom. (At least they used the bathroom!) My mother was drying dishes as I washed and was watching the parade of children marching by from time to time. Finally she pointed to one child and said, “Do you know who that one is?”
“No,” I answered. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before, but at least my girls and the neighborhood kids are in my backyard under my watchful eye. That’s what really counts.”
She nodded and didn’t say another word about the sloppy wet kitchen floor or the noise from the back yard.
And now I’m going to finish with another May story. May had finally moved in with us after her year of living with her father and had taken possession of the bedroom
we had built for her in the basement. She was fourteen by now and was smoking cigarettes. I grew up with a mother who smoked and stopped at age forty. So I had no use for cigarettes and for an underage daughter thumbing her nose at me with her smoking. This particular day I caught the smell of cigarettes coming from her room and marched down to catch her in the act. When I got there the cigarettes seemed to have vanished but the smell told me that it had happened very quickly. I confronted her and demanded she hand over the cigarettes. She told me she didn’t have any and by now she was sitting on the bed watching me to see what I might do next. Of course I didn’t believe her so I started looking by picking things up and opening draws. I pulled stuff out from under the bed. (There is always stuff under the bed with a teenager.) I made her turn out the pockets on her shorts and continued to demand she hand over whatever she had left. By now I was beginning to feel slightly silly and so I told her that we weren’t done yet with this topic and I marched back upstairs.
Come Monday morning, Maria, my cleaning lady, arrived to clean the house. She often started in the lower basement room and so I went down and poured out my frustration to her. She smiled at me, walked to the center of the room, reached up with one hand to lift the ceiling tiles, and pulled out the pack of cigarettes. She turned, handed them to me, and said, “Be patient with her. I was a May once and it took me a long time to get beyond it.” Surprising how wise counsel comes from some of the most unexpected places.