“Marking Time” Narrative

In front of their house by the Ohio River in Maysville, Kentucky my father Clarence stands between his brother and sister towards the beginning of the twentieth century. His family had lived there since the eighteenth century and his mother, my grandmother, was poet laureate of Kentucky.
Across the continent my grandmother Sarah, who had emigrated from Hungary and lived in Chicago, sits alongside my mother Dorothy and her twin sister Gertrude on their farm in Norwalk, California.
Now a strapping teenager, my father sits with his sister and cousin at a family picnic in Maysville. In the background are various maiden aunts.
In the early twentieth century Norwalk was still a town of open fields and small farms.
Wearing a black cap, my father swims with friends on a nearby lake.
After graduating from law school at UK, my father moves to California to make his fortune. Older, richer, and a flashy spender, he meets my mother and dazzles her with his sophistication and panache. They double-dated at Lake Arrowhead with my mother’s younger sister Amelia and Cliff, her husband-to-be.
I enter the picture with my dapper father looking on fondly.
My grandmother was considered grouchy, but she loved tending to the flowers in her garden on Denker. Many years later I found out that my mother’s family was Jewish. When I was growing up, it was never mentioned and the only religious experience in California I can remember was being taken to the Christian Science church on Edgemont.
My father was doing well in real estate and the stock market, and we moved around a lot. Here I am with my new kiddy fire engine in front of our duplex on Redondo Boulevard.
I am proud of my new dress.
My mother’s twin sister Gertie, now a sophisticated secretary complete with painted nails and a constant cigarette, lived with us on Gardner. On weekends we had a ping pong table set up in the driveway. Always intent on center stage, my mother enrolled me in the Meglin Kiddies, a Hollywood dance school for embryonic child stars that boasted Shirley Temple among its graduates. I’m wearing my official dance costume.
My younger sister Ellie at the Farmer’s Market, when it still actually was a farmer’s market, tentatively watches a duck being fed.
Ellie always seemed a better vehicle for Mom’s dreams of stardom than I was.
Our favorite times were at the beach in Santa Monica.
In the Denker backyard, Grandma, my mother’s half-sister Lily, and I sit on the glider. I didn’t find out the half-sister part until later as well. When I asked my mother who my grandmother had been married to before, she replied, “We didn’t talk about such things then.”
On the front porch at Denker, Ellie and I hold our cousin Kathy, Cliff and Amelia’s daughter. Grandma is in the doorway and the shadow is Mom taking the picture.
My father’s business is not going well. His Kentucky gentlemanly ways- agreements with a handshake rather than a contract- have made him prey to sharper dealers. He’s drinking more and has a bleeding ulcer. After my Kentucky grandfather dies and leaves him a small insurance business, they move back to Maysville.
Second Street Maysville, the business district. Jaunty and unburdened, my parents are making a new start. Even though small town life is totally new to my mother, she will plunge in, joining the Presbyterian church, becoming the Twilight Lady on the radio, and generally taking part in whatever social activities are available.
Along with the insurance business my father inherited a family farm worked by tenant farmers. Here he poses as the gentleman farmer helping some of the harvesters hired for the season.
After the freedom of school and life generally in California, Maysville is a shock to me but I’m learning its ways. I’m eleven now in my own front yard, wearing my boyfriend’s watch.
Ellie and I iceskate on a nearby frozen pond. The beaches of California seem far away.
Before we moved back, my father implied all Kentucky houses resembled Tara. Instead we moved into a small two-story Victorian house on a busy street, where Ellie and I often rollerskated.
Our house was one of the many stops on the round of parties that made up Maysville social life.
My friend Betty and I sit on our front steps in our first black dresses, feeling terribly sophisticated.
One summer pastime was canoeing on Park Lake with Ellie and friends. I’m in the green sweater.
My father in our kitchen with our maid Edna, his ubiquitous drink in his hand. His other distraction was doing crossword puzzles.
I played the clarinet in the band from sixth grade to twelfth grade and began to make friends with boys like Ralph Calvert here, as well as boyfriends.
George, my first husband, lived in a big house on the hill, the best part of town. I often felt I was playing the part of the happy wife in the romantic marriage.
The second birthday party for Fitz, the older of our two sons. I am pregnant with David.
On vacation in Kentucky Lake. George is in the water and I’m sitting with my friend Zoe. Our marriage isn’t going too well.
George and I have moved to Rockland County, near New York City. Fitz and David are growing up. But George and I are beginning to go our separate ways.
My second husband, Leon, is a psychiatrist. We move to New York with my two boys and his four girls.
That marriage is beginning to fray. Leon often plans camping trips with all the kids, which only he seems to enjoy.
Leo, my third husband, and I have been married now for more than thirty years. It’s the early 70s here, and we’re walking near our apartment on the Upper West Side of New York, with one of our neighbors bopping in the background.