Secrets Out To Flunkeys And Castrato Walkers

Tata: Look, it’s wrong to deputize waitresses and make them the cigarette police.
Daria: They’re already deputized to cut off drunks.
Tata: By the time you cut off a drunk, he sees two of you and you’re sober. Even with a gun, he’s not much of a threat to you. A smoker with a gun gets pissed off and homicidal while he can still aim. That’s how that bouncer in the city bought the farm.
Tom: I loved going to bars in California and not smelling like smoke.
Tata: Look, I have nothing against smoke-free restaurants. Bars are a different story. Absolutely nobody is going to a bar to improve their health.
Daria: They’re the same story. What do you care, anyway? You quit smoking. It’s not your problem.
Tata: I like my bar dark and smoky. Anybody who doesn’t doesn’t have to go.
Daria: What about the people who work there?
Tata: They’re not serving drinks when they’re outside smoking to protect them from their secondhand smoke.
Daria: Now I’m not uncomfortable in bars with my asthma.
Tata: Now you’re never in bars, either, so what do you care?

Mom, Lois, Dara, Anya and Corinne sit still as church mice while Daria and I shout at each other. Everyone knows if Daria and I are rolling around on the floor punching one another that before anyone can say, “Nice uppercut, sweetie!” Daria and I will be off in a corner whispering, “You didn’t hear this from me, but…” So nobody says, “Keep it down, willya?” as we’re shouting the four feet across the dining room table and as suddenly as it started the squall blows over. It helps that Mom’s holding a bottle of wine and asking who wants refills. Tyler and Dan have taken a powder for the evening. The only male personage left in the room is Tom. Everyone else, including the infants, is female. After Lois, Dara and I clear the table and load the dishwasher, Lois takes out a new knitting kit Mom’s given her. Corinne has a book of incomprehensible puzzles and looks up from penciling in squares to explain how simple the puzzles are. Daria looks over Corinne’s shoulder and frowns.

Daria: I don’t have time for puzzles that don’t involve my phone bill.
Tata: From here, it looks like needlepoint patterns. Lois, do you know how to ball yarn?
Lois: No.
Tata: Your great-grandmother taught me. Here, I have a skein, watch. Take the end from the inside.
Lois: Why that one?
Tata: The outside end has cooties.
Lois: Did she teach you that too?
Tata: No. Grammy didn’t lie to children, even the naughty ones. You hold the very end between your fingertips and stretch your fingers far apart.
Lois: That looks awkward.
Tata: Yeah, pretend your in Mime School or something. Then wind the yarn around your outstretched fingers loose enough that it doesn’t cut off circulation but tight enough that after about twenty or thirty spins you take your fingers out, wrap them around what you’ve spun and turn the loop 90 degrees in any direction. Then you do this over and over until you have a ball. When you run into tangles, your impulse will be to pull tightly. Don’t – keep your hands loose and find the snarl gently. After the second or third skein of yarn you will find making a ball as natural as blinking an eye.

I do this all very fast and we move on to the skein for Lois’ project. She tries it out, slowly and uncertainly. It’s not complicated but it takes practice. In the meantime, around the table we talk about the year Mom lost the connection between eating and everything else and was too thin: 1967-1968. She’d been excited enough about Robert Kennedy to work in his campaign and then he was assassinated. Mom was devastated. The world seemed like it was on fire. In July, 1968 we moved to the house Mom lives in now. We are very much aware of teenage girls at the table as we talk about food issues.

Mom: You don’t remember all that, do you?
Tata: Sure, I do. Let’s go back in time, shall we? “Hey, Mom! Eat a sandwich!”
Daria: Shut up, Miss Anorexia.
Dara: What?
Tata: Oh, it was very glamorous when I was in high school to puke up your lunch. But then Mom caught me so I stopped eating. Our Grandma put a stop to that. She was a genius.
Dara: What did she do?
Tata: She sat across the table from me with a bowl of her amaretto mousse, eating small spoonfuls. “Domenica, this is so delicious – ” Nibble, nibble. “It’s too bad you’re not having some – ” Nibble. “This is so good I shouldn’t be eating this all myself but – ” Nibble. “I have really outdone myself this time, it’s so delicious – ” Finally, I caved and ate. Man, she was shrewd.

Dara was born the day before our Grandma died in 1991; to Dara, Edith is nothing but pictures and stories, as someday we will all be. Anya notices that it’s after 1 and, startled, we jump up, run to our beds and sleep at high speed. I’m the only one at the table certain I won’t be supervising small children in a few hours. My bedroom seems cavernous, my bed feels a mile wide; I am utterly certain I won’t sleep and then it’s morning.

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