My grandfather was blind, so there was a terrible fascination with those vacant orbs. Because of this marginalized sense, he was reserved and quiet, and frightening. It could be that it was his personality to not interact much with the family. (After all, we were a loud and boisterous tribe of hooligans.) As a young child, I mostly observed him, fascinated and terrified. There was a large walk-in coat closet at the front of the house, where he kept an electric shaver. My dad used one of those death defying straight edge razors, so the fact that my grandpa could shave without being able to see was beyond comprehension. This was at a time in the world when men wore hats, and so did my grandpa. His forehead was pale from the hat, giving him a “farmer’s tan”, and those pale blue eyes peered out from under the brim of that soft grey hat and saw…shadows? One day I was lying on the grass beneath a plum tree in the back yard. He shuffled by and paused, calling me by my sister’s name, scaring the hell out of me. He apparently had some sight, enough to make out the shape of a young girl, but to a silly child, it was horrifying to be identified by the blind man on a sunny Spokane summer day. Grandpa possesed habits that shaped my world. He make popcorn on the stovetop. Without seeing. How did he know not to burn the corn kernels? It was beyond comprehension. He used to sit in the kitchen at the yellow formica table, listening to baseball games on a transistor radio. He would sit for hours, listening to the play-by-play, announcers from cities like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. My grandpa’s blind eyes saw things that haunt me still.
My oldest living relative would by my aunt, my mother’s sister. She was one of four children, and she had nine babies with my uncle. As a reward for a life well lived, she is our matriarch. It is so strange to move inevitably closer to that category: the elder generation. The wise ones. The ones with institutional memory. Where do the stories go when the elders are gone? Does the narrative lose its bite? Do the family mythologies soften around the edges like a cherished photograph carried for years in a wallet? Perhaps family stories are like an image that over time fades until only the ghost of an persona remains.
She wore Chanel No. 5. On nights my parents went out, she drifted out the door on a cloud of deep musky-floral pheromones, an accommodation of the sophistication she yearned for. Periodically, when we were old enough for them to leave the brood with a reliable steel-belted sitter for the weekend, they journeyed north to the Banff Springs Resort in British Columbia. There are photographs of them from one trip, souvenirs from a night club they had attended. My mother appears to be in her thirties, young, pretty, wearing a classic kind of Jackie O sheath dress. The photographer caught her smile and a sparkle in her eyes. She seemed happy then, and glamorous. I imagine that in that dress, in that club, she was enveloped in a cloud of Chanel No. 5. She later switched to a fragrance called Interlude – with the same base notes, a similar mysterious, musky presence. Other scents of my mother that I recall: Breck hair spray, spray starch, despair.
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