We sit on the worn couch, as we do every visit. Once pale gold velvet, now smoke-stained and yellowed. We rub the dingy fabric one direction, smooth. The other direction, prickly against our fingertips.
Grandpa and Grandma sit in their twin recliners drinking martini after martini, smoking cigarette after cigarette. We “sit still” on this couch, we “quiet down” on this couch, we “KNOCK IT OFF!” on this couch; the grown-ups are talking.
The ceramic dish in front of us holds our interest more than the conversation does anyway. We cross our fingers hoping to find pointy, foil-wrapped chocolates; delicate white flags rising above like plumes of warm breath against an icy morning. Instead, stained glass candies melted together, untouched since our last visit. We pick one up, but they retain their form, holding on like a tug of war. We giggle until we are flashed “the look” from Mom: a warning to scare us straight.
At least for now.
This couch is where I will sit on my 13th birthday, but it won’t be a celebration.
Martini after martini, cigarette after cigarette, Grandma will be gone far too young. One twin recliner won’t look right, holding my great grandmother who sits in her own little world unable to hear the soft conversations around her; for this she is fortunate. My mother’s mother’s mother sits nobly, dressed for a party. This will be the only time I see her wear anything but a house dress, a carefully studied TV Guide in hand.
This will be the only time she loses her only child.
But today we smile. Mom in her pastel-striped summer dress, hair fashionably feathered (medium ash blonde), and control-top nylons (suntan) straight from the big blue plastic egg we will find later, filled with yellow sugar-coated marshmallow chicks.
She is the most beautiful woman in the world.
Dad sits wearing a rare smile, teeth betraying him against his copper beard and ruddy skin, weathered from cruel stretches of summer sun sitting high in his blue collar crane. I am still Daddy’s girl.
At least for now.
I sit in my blue satin recital outfit and once-pink ballet slippers and too much rouge (a must for any stage performance). My hair is slicked back in a glossy bun—a varnished prison of bobby pins, awaiting their escape. An itchy tulle tutu hugs my waist; I am certainly aching to take it off, if only I didn’t feel so beautiful in it.
My brothers with their buzz cuts; pale gold velvet like the couch in better days. Dad’s arm holds them both. Not necessarily a sign of affection, but more likely a bounding barricade with faded green graffiti, courtesy of drunken nights in the U.S. Navy.
We sit together on the velvet couch; we are still happy. Life is simple; we are still a family. This was an easier time. Before my brother went to rehab at 13, before Mom lost both her parents to heart failure, before Dad survived cancer (his little sister wasn’t so lucky).
We all smile. At least for now.