Let’s Begin Here.

It isn’t at the beginning, but closer to the beginning than now.

The year is 1964, the place Greensburg, Ind.

Here’s a Google Map of the place. (Make sure it’s in Street View.)

It’s my maternal grandparents’ home, the place they lived at since I was a baby.

Although my mother was born in New Castle, Ind., this was her girlhood home.

It’s the only place that instantly calls up some of my earliest memories.

There’s the garage my grandfather, Raymond, tinkered around in, mostly to stay away from the foul moods of Mamie, my grandmother, third-generation Irish and every ounce of it.

There used to be an ivy-strewn trellis between the garage and house, through which lead to the back door where you entered into the sparkling clean kitchen Mamie always kept: the scent of bland Sunday pot roast and overcooked veggies emerging from her shiny white ceramic Roper gas stove.

In the living room, antimacassars on the chairs and sofa, the huge RCA color television (we’ll come back to that in a moment) above which was a large print of a genteel scene: silk-clad women descending the staircase of a Southern manse.

I don’t know what my brother thought, but I always puzzled over the deeper meanings of that picture.

In the back, the main bedroom, a spare room, which had been my mother’s when she was a child, Renoir prints on the walls, a green-tiled bathroom that gleamed and always smelled of talcum powder and Listerine.

Grandpa Raymond kept a den just off the hallway leading back to the kitchen. There was no basement, only an attic crawlspace.

When I remember this place, I remember no joy, nor sorrow, no music, no dancing, no frivolity of any kind. It was stern, methodical (like their Methodist religion), all “just so.”

The story I was told much later by my father is my grandparents did not want their only daughter to marry such an impulsive man like my dad. There was always a sense of uneasiness between them. Though I was young, I easily sensed that.

On Sunday nights we first watched The Lawrence Welk Show, so Mamie and my mother Jackie could gossip about the dresses the women wore, and react with a straining sense of dismay to some of the musical numbers.

Later my brother and I sprawled out in front of the TV to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I probably first saw The Beatles play “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on The Ed Sullivan Show there, too.

I write all this because they are all gone: Mamie, Raymond, Jackie, and my father Paul.

This house is just an emblem of a time I can now barely remember.

Since my parents died, it feels like those old memories get fainter every year.

I struggle to remember the chalky-hot smell of Raymond’s slide projector screen, his collection of 1940s and ’50s holiday slides.

The memory of Mamie giving my brother and me our after-bath massages with baby oil (“First come the raindrops”) and then talcum powder (“Then come the snowflakes”), which always tickled and delighted me, fades every year.

What do I take away from all this?

That Raymond cheated on Mamie just after my mother was born, but given their small-town community refused to grant him a divorce? That my mother was raised an only child in that house? That she was so taken by my father, on a blind date in nursing school, that she would go anywhere with him?

And that their marriage, all of 50 years, still had traces of depression and secrets, many of which they took to the grave?

This is where it began: my suspicion that all was not as it seemed with the world.

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~ by completelyinthedark on October 3, 2010.

One Response to “Let’s Begin Here.”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Day 2 of major move, Day 3 tomorrow. Here’s how CITD began back in Oct. 2010. Cheers, Mike

    Like

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