I sit down by my mother on her
TV-watching couch – the only furniture we kept when I moved her
into the efficiency unit at Cedar Rest. Dr. Phil is
hectoring some poor schlub who cheated with his wife’s sister. I
grab the remote and mute him.
gives me a look.
hand her the photo album I found buried under forty years of her National
Geographics. “Dayton – 1965” is
stenciled across the cover.
frowns. “Why were you in my basement?”
mother and I have spent a lifetime not talking about the stuff that
matters. I’d been cleaning out her house so I can sell it to pay
for Cedar Rest. She doesn’t want to hear that. And she probably
doesn’t want to talk to about that last family vacation, either.
generations my father’s family worked at the Goodyear plant in
Dayton. His two older brothers followed the plan, but not my father. He
didn’t like people telling him what to do. He took over a
drive-in theatre up in Lansing, where he met Mom. Six months after I
arrived the drive-in folded. We moved to Amarillo and he bought a
muffler shop just before Midas opened down the block. His last shot
– a full-service carwash in Bakersfield – had a couple good
years until the self-service places started showing up everywhere.
mother glances at the first page and shakes her head. “Your
father’s grand 4th of July expedition.”
After the carwash closed he had to take a job at Sears. Normal hours,
paid vacation and a twenty percent discount on equipment. He hated it.
With his discount he bought a movie camera and with the vacation he
drove us across the country to visit his brothers back in Ohio. I was
twelve years old that summer – the year before my father killed
snapshots traced our route. Mom and I squeezed into a booth at the
Waffle House in Barstow. Me standing at attention by the entrance to
Roman Nose State Park in Oklahoma. An inexplicable line of customers
queued up to enter a Bob Evans sausage emporium in Indiana. And then
pages and pages of Dayton’s 4th of July Parade. I
didn’t remember any of it.
pictures of Dad?” I ask.
shrugs. “His camera.” She snortles at the last photo, which
fills the back page. It’s the whole clan – Dad’s
brothers, Nick and Tony, and their wives and kids, with Mom hidden in
the back as though she didn’t belong. I’m front and center
with the Super 8, filming my father as he takes our picture.
could I have forgotten that? The Sears camera he let me play with
because he couldn’t bring himself to use it. I filmed everything.
“What happened to our home movies, Mom?”
sucks in her cheeks like she used to do when she threaded a needle.
“I threw them away during one of my angry decades. Sorry.”
shrug back at her.
that girl?” I point to a pensive blonde about my age.
smiles. “That’s Mary Bryan. She was a friend of one of your
Bryan?” I ask. Every birthday while I was growing up my mother
made a fabulous double fudge chocolate cake she called Mary Bryan Cake.
gave me the recipe.”
my mind I hear the clicky-clack of the film as it spools through the
projector and I watch as my mother and father sit together eating Mary
Bryan cake. My mother schmooshes her piece into my father’s mouth
like she’s a new bride and all the aunts and uncles and cousins
cheer as my father picks up my mother and kisses her with
chocolate-frosting smeared lips.