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3 kittens

Devoted to Walls and Parapets

Posted on 2014.01.09 at 11:38
This is my grandmother, my father's mother:

January 9, 2014 013

In 1950, they parked my father with some cousins and went to Europe, where she kept a travel guide:

 Very early on in our trip, Al and I started to quarrel over walls, parapets, window sills, ship railings, and fences. We are still quarreling.
     My feeling about walls, etc., was that they should be kept out of our photographs, especially since they had a habit of assuming the most important position in the foreground and being out of focus there.
     Al declared that the shots I asked him to take required the services of a human fly, and that his acrophobia did not permit him to hang over the edges of all the ledges in Europe.
     I kept trying to explain that if he set his camera on top of the fence, for example, there was no chance of the fence creeping back up in front of his lens.
     This he refused to believe; so he went on photographing walls and parapets, claiming they could be cropped off the negative later, though I think he was secretly devoted to them, and never had any intention of having them removed.
     The picture on the opposite page [ed: below] shows one of his finest walls. What space was left after getting in the wall, he grudgingly conceded to the Ponte Vecchio - a singular bridge built as if it were a street with houses on both sides. On it are located the great tourist attractions: silver, leather and cotton goods shops.
     Although the Germans did not blow up the Ponte Vecchio, they mined all the houses on both banks, so that the debris made the bridge impassible to the allies.

And here is the photo in question, wall clearly un-cropped:
January 9, 2014 012

Isn't she so goddamn marvelous? I never met this grandmother, Gail, for she died when my dad was 19. The entire guide is about 100 pages long. What I would like to do is blog it, daily, this summer when I have more time. Gail was a wonderful writer.

A few years after she died, my grandfather remarried this woman, who was not marvelous and was instead a prissy asshole:

January 9, 2014 010
From left to write: Al's brother Lee and his wife Anne, the prissy bitch Rita, and Al.

I don't know this for a fact, but I like to pretend that this photo was taken on the same day that Anne and Rita descended into an all-out physical brawl in the clubhouse. What happened is that they'd been playing couples' golf. One person hits the drive, and then the spouse does the putting, and then you switch on the next hole. Anne asked Rita for advice on how to hit a shot. Rita told her to fuck off.

They simmered and stewed and got hotter and hotter until, that evening, my young dad showed up at the clubhouse to meet the four of them for dinner, and it erupted into a physical fight, rolling around on the floor.

Rita and Gail were wildly different women, by all accounts. Gail was a communist, intellectual, rootless cosmopolitan, wonderful, etc. Rita was a bitchy shrew who would look at me, and then look at my mother and say, "Should she be on a diet?" who cared about clubhouses and bridge and golf.  I do find that last part exotic: the Manhattan socialite in the 60s and 70s clad in designer clothes and bridge trophies.

Upon Anne's death, Al and Rita flew to Florida for the funeral. For reasons I'm not clear on, they left before the funeral occurred. Something to do with not flying on one of the High Holidays, but then not wanting to spend the holidays in Florida because there was an urgent bridge tournament. Al and Lee did not talk for twelve years after that.

January 9, 2014 011
The travel guide manuscript.

This past weekend I flew home to visit my parents, without any children or Jammies, and unearthed the travel guide above. We also found a novel that Al had written, which looks very hard-boiled and terrible. The provenance is wonderful, though: in the late 30s, when it looked like the US might enter WWII, Al and Gail went to Mexico City for a few years, where they cozied up with expat intellectuals and wrote a hard-boiled, terrible novel. As one does.

In theory, I went to help my parents downsize their house. The weekend was supposed to be full of me making permanent decisions about which items I want to acquire. The weekend was supposed to be very stressful.

It turns out: a year ago, a doctor told my mom that she could count on my dad living for one year, and after that, who knows. My dad has sarcoid, and it spread to his heart. My dad pooh-poohed this idea. But my mom panicked (understandably) and requested that each of me and my brothers spend a weekend without our families, to go through the house.

Since then, dad has a little monitor which has been sending data on his heart, and his heart is in fact doing great. Then he saw a scan from 2005, when he was first diagnosed, and saw that the sarcoid was already blocking the crucial electrical channels in his heart eight years ago, and no one had said anything, and it hasn't progressed. So mom is more relaxed.

The other thing is that they've decided they don't ever want to leave their house, until they are too frail to live there. So there was no urgency to downsize the house, either.

The last thing is that my highly organized mom seems uncharacteristically overwhelmed by the task of going through the house. When you are very organized, you can hide an amazing amount of junk in 3600 square feet of little rooms.  We ended up purging a lot of stuff from mine and my brothers' bedrooms. I think we sent over 20 bags to Goodwill. I told my parents that I'd start coming out yearly to tackle a room here and a closet there, so that the burden of junk isn't always hanging over my mom's head.  After all, they pay for our daycare, so I think we're squarsies.

Here are a bunch of things that I got rid of, on the condition that I might photograph and memorialize them, first:

January 9, 2014 001
I cannot wait to wear this on the first day of 7th grade. In fact, I've got my first weeks' worth of outfits planned out, and this is Monday. What a great first impression this will give, with a white shirt and very bleached jeans. I would pair it with my favorite fedora, but I don't want to draw that much attention to myself.

January 9, 2014 002
Andreas and I are going to be salt and pepper shakers for Halloween, and we're making our costumes ourselves, and this will be my hat.

January 9, 2014 003
Hello, $110 forgotten in an old tin. That $50 bill in particular was slipped to me by Al, during dinner, when I was seven or eight.  I thought I'd spent it on something unmemorable, so I'm glad to see that I unmemorably put it in a bank, instead.

January 9, 2014 004
Aren't I hilarious: rolling papers and matches are just hysterical to stick inside the box from an inhaler. Get it? GET IT?

January 9, 2014 005
Aww, when cameras were cute. And flashes were cute. And you got seven flashes, so use them wisely.

January 9, 2014 006
Someone tell young Heebie that commemorative cans of coke aren't that great. Also the one on the left, which is NIEUW SUPERBLIK German.

January 9, 2014 007
My dad took us fishing. I kept one of the jaws of one of the fish, for some creepy reason. It's now mostly jaw-dust, although big pieces remain. To the trashcan with you!

January 9, 2014 008
A Back to the Future ticket stub! How retro. It's actually from 1990, so I think it's probably II or III.

January 9, 2014 009
Of all my childhood arts and crafts, this one is the most deserving of the trash, right this now. It's broken and dusty and I just glued it together.

January 9, 2014 014

Big Kitty is not being thrown away. He has lost another pound though. He is now about 1/3 of his heaviest weight. He's also on hospice care, now. Pain meds and steroids to coast him to the nearing end.


parodie at 2014-01-09 23:11 (UTC) (Link)
That is the best travel writing EVER. I love it. What an amazing-sounding woman.
heebie_geebie at 2014-01-12 14:31 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. I am so rabidly hoping that her charm shines through, so this is gratifying. I can't wait to read the whole thing. (And put it down forever on the internet.)
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