By Diane Hope McAfee, a member of Get Your Wordsworth
Our new house on Rockville Centre Parkway was a brand new split-level design. From the half staircase leading upward was a sea of turquoise wall-to-wall carpet flowing through an open network of spaces for entertaining and dining and sleeping. My mother’s choice of white French Provincial style furniture suggested formality. Properness. Pretty. Dainty. This in contrast to the unconventional and unpredictable structure of our little family. We were three women, each of a generation; my nana, my mom and me-living together.
After my parents’ divorce some ten years past, it was for financial advantage that we became this odd little family circus of three mismatched rings. Each of us had learned to walk an emotional tightrope. As the child my walk was relatively uncomplicated, but for Mom and Nana, keeping their balance was a day by day challenge. Within the circus metaphor it is appropriate to say that they had perfected “knife-throwing”, “sword-swallowing” and “fire-breathing” to so subtle an art that in social settings at which they were both present, I was often the only one to note the slicing blur of a well-aimed jibe or the sparks from a scorching retort.
So today, after ten years and three apartments, it is Thanksgiving in the lovely, new house. I am seventeen. Having spent the summer after High School graduation helping us move in, I am now home from my first semester at Centenary College for Women to spend the holiday with Mom, Nana and two sets of oddly paired aunts and uncles: Uncle Bill and Aunt Betty and Uncle Frank and Aunt Gertrude (Toots).
Nana is, as always, in charge of the kitchen. She is a proficient, if not inspired, cook. Fearless and very, very noisy. She is a woman of few spoken words but her well-timed counterpoint of
pots crashing against pans during my mother’s phone calls or conversation with guests is her signature commentary…her retaliation for her daughter’s complaints and disapproval. That they are not even in the same room is no impediment to this well-practiced exchange. It is a persistent static crackling just under or behind the conversation above it struggling to survive.
It is a Vaudeville routine. Dueling banjos. Jazz musicians “Trading [furious] Fours”.
Finally it is time to move to the Dining Area and sit at my mother’s perfectly appointed Holiday Table. Nana lurches through the door from the kitchen into the dining room, grey curls askew, still wearing a spotted apron, juggling an enormous platter…a shiny, browned and stuffing-bloated turkey listing dangerously off to the side. Uncle Frank rushes to assist Nana while I clear a space for the landing. Mom shrieks softly, hands fluttering, convinced that Nana will bulldoze her way over the table and ruin the decor.
Finally we all settle into our places, each in front of the traditional “Sau-Sea Shrimp Cocktail”. Nana is flustered and clearly very, very hungry. She surreptitiously stuffs two of the flaccid so-called shrimp into her mouth.
It is at this point, eyeing my grandmother sideways, watching as Nana chews alone on the first course, that my Mother says, “Diane…will you please say Grace?”