Wednesday, September 1, 2010
THE PROCESS OF REVEALING MY FAMILY
TWOI settled the trunk in the living area where I could spread everything out. I hadn't even opened it yet and I already had a plan. I opened the lid and was presented with my first 'taste' of musty air. I sneezed my head off while I lifted the first section up and out. In all there were three levels, each with their own surprises. There were thin boxes six deep in the first section. I'd never seen anything like it. They all had the same thing in them: cream colored knitted camisoles and ladies' boxers. They were all folded in tissue paper and this was their first viewing in forty years. They established the theme of the first section, year after year of Christmas lingerie never out of their boxes. When I lifted up the first camisole I was astonished at how tiny it was. I remember very little about my father's mother, Marie Alice Kirkpatrick, other than she was rail thin and her face and hands looked mummified. She shared a room with me when I was about seven. Dad had brought her from Houston where she lived with his brother. Mother was determined to get some meat on her bones; and, Nanau, as she was called, was equally determined to refuse. They both were forces to be reckoned with and equally adept at staying in a snit.
The second section was filled with paper and scrapbooks from the 1920s to the end of WWII. The scrapbook leaves were brittle as the dead of winter with newspaper clipping glued with old fashioned mucilage or straight pins. The first book was my father's and filled with high school memorabilia. I learned more about my father that night as I poured over one crumbling page after another, than I knew in the eighteen years I lived in the house with his absentee head of the house status. He was the penultimate traveling insurance salesman. He'd come home Friday night after being 'on the road' since Monday morning. On Saturday morning he'd head out to the office until about 3p.m. and start drinking. Friends would come over for a cocktail and off they go to dinner. Sunday was church followed by bridge and drinks. On Monday he was gone by 8a.m. I figured it all up and came up with 8 months. I had seen my father about 8 months out of 18 years. If mother was unhappy about that she never showed it. Her mother had had the same marriage experience so I don't think anyone was much bothered. I didn't know any better.
The second scrapbook was filled with pictures of the movie stars of that era, among other unusual items. Grandmother had dissected them into body parts. The woman's faces had comments written in pencil stub such as nice hairstyle or her lips are too big. Hands were noted as creamy skin with too much finger nail polish. If anything was red, be it hair, nails or dress it received a dismissing comment that could have come out of the Old Testament. She never commented on the men but only the pretty ones were pasted in. The second half of the scrapbook was dedicated to pictures of lingerie from the newspaper. Some items were circled in pencil with a shaking hand and noted "I have one like this." There were pages of morning gowns, bras, slips, dresses and gowns. I can only imagine how many times she ran her hands over those pictures.
Marie Alice [Kirkpatrick] Dowlearn