Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summer Returns

My grandmother, once upon a time, was a nurse in Pennsylvania. After the death of her first husband, she supported herself and my mother there until she met and married my grandfather. She came south to Texas when my mother was a teenager with her second husband, a captain of a tankers out of Port Arthur, and lived in a small house in Port Arthur until, at my grandfather's retirement, they moved into a house down the street from my family.

Her story tumbles through me when our a/c blows a faint scent of vinegar heat beneath the coolness. Her Lake Jackson living room develops from this tang, the ironing board stiff before the great cabinet television while the iron clicks and slides in the dimness. My grandparents had purchased a house with few windows in the living room to counter the dark paneling and dark carpet. It was a flat cave for the TV. The rest of the house felt exposed by comparison.

In the living room, you could read in the one chair by the glass door (the only light in the room, save the TV, during the day) or dump the old plastic toys out across the white marble of the coffee table and arrange endless iterations of cooking and cleaning for the molded families while grandmother performed endless examples of the same. Iron or wash or fold or cook or just sit and watch the over-shampooed soap stars glitter through whatever brittle venality kept you moving and shaking your head.

Those toys were generations removed from my experience. The men wore hats and smoked pipes. The women wore kerchiefs and kept baskets of eggs. One family was pressed into the same clothes as the Leave it to Beaver clan. Their material was soft, almost like rubber, and they were monochromatic: the farm family yellow, the suburban family and eerie pink flesh color, as if their skin included sweathers, bobby socks, and shoes.

Perhaps the heat in the garage and in the attic is pressing that smell through the vents. The summer is encouraging me to remember today my former places of refuge. Until now, I had only had intimations of threat.

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