[CREATIVE NONFICTION] Places of Origin
They let you eat cake on White Pond Road
First, like all the other cousins, here’s a child’s thin slice being served on my grandparents’ piazza. It’s called a whole sheet, ordered from a bakery, a flavorless yellow sponge, white frosted, a garden of bright blue roses planted on top for this family reunion.
While cousins play hide and seek in the yard, while aunts and uncles sit reuniting, the half-eaten sheet wants more. I make trip after trip across the piazza in front of all the mothers and fathers and grandparents, helping myself, plating slab after slab in my hand, to the yard, melting every leftover rose on my tongue, caring so much for a cake everyone has forgotten, I feel queasy and crawl with my ache, my rose blue lips, onto my mother’s lap where it takes too long for the effects to wear off
One thing I’d like answered about White Pond Road
is why my grandfather calls his hot glassed-in porch without screens a piazza
A nice surprise you can find at White Pond Road
is how a French twist untwists into hair falling all the way down the middle of my grandmother’s back like a girl’s after she puts on her bathrobe before going to bed
A mystery of White Pond Road
is, where is the pond?
Instead of carpet at White Pond Road
you have floor called linoleum, it bubbles in uneven hills under your cold feet on the way to the bathroom at the bottom of the stairs when your parents leave you overnight, and you have to go alone so you won’t wet the bed you share with your sisters in the spare room of the attic
When you’re trying to leave White Pond Road
Thanksgiving’s the only day you can come in and go out through the front door, so you have to stand on your tiptoes. This helps you see out the window of the kitchen. You can see onto the piazza and keep your eyes glued to the storm door. Pretty soon your grandfather says maybe your mother’s not coming at all, maybe she’s leaving you here for good, and your grandmother says, now Jim, it’s not nice to tease her, and the way he’s smiling makes your stomach do a somersault, like you swallowed a squirrel, so even after the storm door opens and lets you go, it takes a long time for the effects to wear off
Her Loaf, Half-Baked
My mother’s mother liked to say she was half-baked because she weighed less than a loaf of bread at birth and they kept her alive by heating her in a kitchen oven.
Butter melts in the grids and maple syrup swamps the steaming brown square on my plate. We suddenly have warm waffles for breakfast from a batter made by my mother. Her mother never wanted to cook waffles, so she sold her daughter the electric appliance for $12 cash.
My mother, a girl, must wear the new coat her mother has given her to Sunday school. It’s pea green, the color of soup. Clutching her catechism, she follows the road to the church and passes it. The road runs to a bridge where she waits to watch the train pass, her head hanging hatless over tracks. There’s the whistle, rush, and roar – the trembling – as cars thunder under the V of her black-stocking legs, the blast of black dust damning her Sunday coat.
When I’m a girl my mother visits her mother, which means we have to go with her. For pain relief, twice daily, her mother reclines in bed for the application of fresh, hot pads to her hips, steaming, like loaves of bread from the oven. We play in her wheelchair while her arthritic hips are heating. She scolds us because we’ll never know how lucky we are to have been blessed with limbs that enable us to walk. To my mother she says, I love all my grandchildren the same – even the ones who were never baptized.
My mother takes us to visit the Franklin Park Zoo to see the monkeys while her mother is in surgery at a hospital nearby. A miracle will be performed – the lame will walk again; her rotten hips will be replaced. I wonder if this will cheer anyone up.
Hanging in a grandmother’s kitchen is a box painted black with a tiny slit where a penny saved is a penny earned and if we run an errand for her she will give us one or if we are lucky, two.
We believe at the Unitarian church in the center of town. On Easter morning my mother dresses the five of us in our Sunday best and curls my hair. In front of the chimney, we pose for a family picture. She snaps me thumbing my nose at her. In Sunday school we learn how we descended from apes.
To appease her mother for being pregnant out of wedlock, my mother marries my father in a Catholic Church. He makes a promise, to her mother, to raise Catholics, but he’s a Protestant and doesn’t keep it.
Because my mother’s mother says she’s loving us as much as the ones who are, I wonder why we’re the ones who are not. Everyone has a soul, I learn. Anyone can see your head, it’s under your hair, and, your belly button when you take off your shirt, and your feet when you take off your socks. But nobody can see your soul even when you are taking a bath. I try to picture what my soul looks like and I can’t. I picture my mother’s mother’s soul. I taste a waffle, unbuttered.
A question may be answered with a story, which is easy to remember, but hard to understand. My mother explains about nuns – a pair – her mother sent to visit her before a baby was born. How many times from inside her own home she heard the bell ringing before it stopped ringing for good.
This I almost forgot: At Christmas, my mother’s mother asks each of her five children to make a list. Every grandchild must receive a gift. One Christmas, my dull present arrives damaged or doesn’t fit or is wrong in some irreparable way. My grandmother asks my mother who asks me what I want instead. What I want instead is a wonderful place to hold onto my trinkets. The kind of bright painted box that when you open it there’s a tiny twirling ballerina inside and the tinkle of music. In the middle of January, this present arrives in a box that’s addressed – not to my mother – to me.
Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from Boston. She’s author of two poetry chapbooks, All These Cures, (Lit House Press), and Tree of the Apple, (Two of Cups Press). Her poems, prose, and photos are published in many literary journals including Tupelo Quarterly, Kindred, Sliver of Stone, Corium & Lumina Online. Kelly founded and produces the Our Voices Festival of Women Playwrights at Wellesley College, now in its 11th year. She’s on the board & faculty of The International Women’s Writing Guild. You can follow her daily nature photo & creative writing blog, “#NewThisDay Writing From My Photo Stream,” at kellydumar.com