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Meeting My Father For the First Time

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I had met my grandparents one time, briefly, when I was nineteen. Bill and I had driven up to New England to see his parents, and I persuaded him to make a side trip to “the grandparents’.” While my grandmother was cold and aloof, my grandfather was warm and kind. The first words out of his mouth to me were, “You have eyes just like your father’s.” I would hang onto to those words for years to come because that matched exactly what my mother had said years prior.  I would close my eyes and think about what the rest of my real father’s face looked like. Did it look like mine? Did he have my hair color? Was his nose like mine?

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Meeting My Father

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“DON’T EVER  CALL  me  again!” my paternal grandmother warned harshly as she hung up the phone.  This abrupt conversation, actually just an answer to my greeting of “Hello,” left me bewildered. She and I had been having long-distance phone conversations for at least fifteen years. Sure, the conversations were brief, stiff, and unwelcome on her part, but many years ago, we had made a deal: if she would talk with me occasionally by phone, then I would not pursue the search for my father. I had kept my end of the bargain, so what in the world was the matter with her? I immediately called her back.

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Like a Bundle of Dirty Laundry

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ONE AFTERNOON, WHEN I was buying a pair of shoes, I flirted with a cute shoe salesman. Slight of build, with blond hair and deep dimples, he seemed funny and engaging.  After he insisted that I try on nearly every pair of shoes in the store, I finally left with a pair of shoes I could afford and a date that very evening. We both loved to jitterbug and there was a great band that night at a local nightclub.  He was to pick me up, and dancing we would go.

My date rang the doorbell promptly at eight. He was a perfect gentleman in opening the car door for me and being attentive throughout the evening. We had such fun as we danced the night away. Both a little drunk, we left one club and decided that we would drop into a similar dance club nearby. First, he wanted to stop by his apartment to pick up his sport jacket. Fortified with alcohol, and without a care in the world, I followed him up to his apartment when he insisted I see the new and unusual fish he had just purchased. I wasn’t into fish, but what the hell? I giggled a little sloppily as I stepped into his apartment.

Once inside, the fear I felt was instant and surprising—almost sobering—when I heard the locks click shut on his door. I heard three loud clicks, which immediately registered in my brain as odd since we were supposed to leave after fish-gazing and jacket-fetching.

Before I knew what was happening, I was body slammed against the wall. My head snapped back against the wall, then bounced forward into his face, which made him angry.

“You filthy slut!”

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Who’s Sorry Now?

bigstock-Surreal-Cubist-Eyes-And-Faces-7736887_resizeGrandma went on, “Both were broken and scarred real bad from their different experiences. Neither of them understood ’bout the lost letters, but in the end it didn’t matter anyway, because Roland had hardened his heart to the love that he once felt for your mother. Who can say if it was the years gone by, or his time in the war, but he was surely a changed man. Said he felt betrayed that she’d married another man and had his child. He thought her to be damaged merchandise. You know, Dawnie, men had some strange ideas in those days. If touched by another man, the woman was considered damaged goods. You have to be a virgin or you are spoiled—so you remember that, Honey. They courted for a while, but when she told him that she was pregnant with his child, you know—he mistrusted her. He said the child could not be his. He offered to help with an abortion, but said there would never be no marriage.” Grandma looked at me with such tenderness in her eyes as she asked, “Are you sure that you want me to continue?” “Yup” I said.

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Does “half-brother” Mean Less of a Brother?

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Lighting another cigarette after handing the first lit one to me, Grandma continued, “But as much as he loved her, her poor grammar got on his nerves real bad. He knowed that he could never bring her home to meet his prim and proper  mother, a stiff-skirt schoolteacher type, don’t you know. Roland himself understood the desperate family situation your mother growed up in, causing the end of her education at grade eight—although, that was five grades more than I ever done. Even so, he was accepting of your mother the way she was.”

When I needed a break from Grandma’s storytelling, I concentrated on blowing the perfect smoke ring, but they never looked  as good as Grandma’s, nor could I suck the smoke up through my nostrils like she could. Even so, the smoke ring ritual gave me a way to manage all of the mixed up feelings swirling around in my tummy.

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Blowing Smoke Rings Before Jesus, Mary & Joseph

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WHILE SITTING ON our twin beds, sharing a cigarette beneath Grandma’s beloved statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Grandma and I practiced blowing smoke rings. We had gotten so good at this game that sometimes we could blow them right through each other’s ring. We giggled like schoolgirls when that happened.

I would ask her, for the hundredth time, to tell me about my real father. What else better to do when your grandma is in a best-friend kind of mood than ask her to let you in on another girl-to-girl secret?

In the past, she had always shied away from  the  subject of my father’s identity as if she feared my mother would walk in and somehow smell her disloyalty. But this day, with a sigh that seemed to reach all the way to her toes, Grandma stared off into space while slowly blowing the most perfect smoke ring ever, without even noticing she had done it. Looking up toward the ceiling with a faraway expression on her face, Grandma told me the story that I so longed for.

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When Hugging Feels Creepy (Ragdoll Redeemed)

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Mr. and Mrs. Kelly, an elderly couple, lived two doors away from us. Mrs. Kelly was always kind to me. She freely offered fruit from her trees and fresh-baked peanut butter cookies with a glass of lemonade. Unlike my home, theirs was sunny, clean, and smelled like lavender soap. I was delighted to even set foot in their home, because no other neighbor ever invited me in. Mrs. Kelly even allowed me to sit on their furniture, albeit while it was covered in plastic. Mr. Kelly would show me his coin collection and give me long hugs. I didn’t like the hugging part; somehow it always felt creepy, though I didn’t know why.

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Ragdoll Redeemed: The House with No Paint

Christmas w HowardMy  mother—God bless  her—couldn’t carry through on many things. She couldn’t hold her temper, a husband, or a job. Maybe it was failing to marry my real father that made her so determined to never fail again at landing a husband. She made a vow even before I was born, that she would find me a father and make me legitimate. My older half-brother, Ronnie, had been born with a proper heritage: two married parents. Unfortunately, he also never got to know his dad, who died in the war.

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Bastard Child from Ragdoll Redeemed, cont..

4DawnTightening her fists into balls of rage, Veronica keeps her word and begins to scream.  “God  damn  it, mother,  shut  up!” Elizabeth’s chin quivers as smoke from her cigarette crawls around her sweaty face and fills the air between her and Veronica. She begins coughing violently, and gets up and moves to sit at the old card table that serves as a place to eat and her holy altar. She shakes out the embroidered scarf—a gift from her favorite nun, Sister  Veronica—and replaces  it beneath the wood crucifix. Next, she snaps on her Lady of Fatima night-light and opens her Bible, a move she hopes will leave her daughter feeling guilty for her sharp tongue and lack of faith.

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Bastard Child from Ragdoll Redeemed, cont..

4Dawn“Afternoon,  Elizabeth,”  Lucy says, smiling. “Thought you might like these. We’ve got enough to go around.” As she sees the two over- ripe avocados and six figs that Lucy is offering her, tears of gratitude well up in Elizabeth’s eyes. She knows she doesn’t have to explain or feel embarrassed by her reaction. A lot of people are strapped; WWII drags on. Neighbors share anything they can spare with each other.