Thursday, April 27, 2006

Skeletons in the Family Closet

D taught me how to twirl. We made up a routine to “It’s an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikini.” B sewed me my very own Raggedy Ann doll. C put my hair up in the latest styles. I was the youngest of the four grandchildren, all of us girls. By the time I was five my cousins were in high school. On a few special occasions I got to spend afternoons at their house, and at Christmas they’d give me enchanting presents; I was thrilled by the fact that these beautiful, mysterious, exotic teenagers selected something just for me. Perfectly focused images hang suspended in my mind. I remember staring awe-struck at their endless drawer of barrettes, at the maze of bottles in their shower and at their long, golden, and womanly bodies as they sunbathed. One Christmas they bought me a life size crib for my favorite doll. It was beautiful, pink and had rollers on it. My baby and that crib went everywhere with me, from room to room, so that dolly was never out of sight. As a child I was aware that my family didn’t spend a lot of time with my aunt and uncle and cousins but I never questioned it.

When I was eleven or twelve my parents finally explained it to me. Uncle G had helped himself to funds from the family run business. Dad agreed never to tell Grandpa about this embezzlement if Uncle G would agree to give up his share of the business.

And so it is that my Aunt claims we robbed her children of their inheritance. I wish I could tell you that our family run business turned into an icon like Hilton Hotels or Ford Motor Company. Instead it was simply a struggling mom-and-pop that was slowly put out of business by superstores like Wal-Mart.

This past year we buried my grandmother. Grandpa passed on two years before. And once again we were all together. Huddling around the gravesite we quickly became reacquainted. My magnificent teenage cousins are now middle-aged with children in college. Uncle G is almost a splitting image of Grandpa. And Aunt J has the exact same bouffant hairdo as before but now it’s grayish white instead of black. We reminisced a little, especially about the drawer full of love letters we found in grandma’s dresser, which she refused to let us read. I’d like to read them now, but they seem to have been lost.

As we left the funeral that day I realized that a chapter in my life had closed. That was the last time all of us will ever be together.

Two days ago my mom called to say that my Aunt and Uncle are contesting the will. I guess that chapter isn’t quite closed yet.

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