Wish you were here!
The summer of 1952, Elizabeth’s stay with grandmother had ended on a bad note. Uncle Gus threw her clothes in the trunk of the car, clenched his teeth and said, “Dammit to hell, you’re done here, you’re comin’ with me.”
Driving the two-miles from her uncle’s marina to grandmother’s farmhouse, the awful memory came back. Elizabeth’s heart pounded. She gripped the steering wheel, pulled over, and closed her eyes.
Early morning on the gravel lakefront road, grandmother had driven me to my cleaning job at Aunt Dot and Uncle Gus’s lodge. She had fumed about me slacking off on farmyard chores, and had screamed. “You’re nothin’ but a lazy good-for-nothin’ kid.” (Not her favorite 13-year-old grandchild). She had been in a vile mood, but…I had asked,“Gee whiz, grandma, why don’t you like me?” Grandmother slammed on the brakes, and glared at me. She slapped me across the face and punched me. I cringed away from the blows, flung the door open, jumped out and ran. Grandmother stomped on the gas pedal and chased after me. I heard the car coming closer, but I didn’t look back. I ran faster and made it to the lodge. Uncle Gus found me sobbing, crouched on the kitchen floor. His face turned red, and he yelled, “What in god’s name happened to you?”
Elizabeth shook the images out of her head, drove the last mile, and parked in the driveway. Paint had peeled off the Colonial house and the adjacent two-story. Her grandmother fell on hard times after she sold the beachfront resort, Sunset Inn. Elizabeth rubbed a hand across her forehead. Uppermost in her mind, if grandmother’s mood took a dive too, she’d have to deal with her, alone.
Earlier, when she called Elizabeth, she soundedher straight to the point, old self. “Heard you’re here for the summer before nursing school. Stop by, I’m home.” Elizabeth had said, “Sure, grandma.” Not askingwhy after so many years?
She stepped out of the car, thankful the scent of pine trees hadn’t changed. She smoothed long brown hair away from her face, set Cat-Eye sunglasses on top of her head, and walked to the front door.
Gray-haired, plump, grandmother greeted her as if nothing had ever happened between them. “Look at you all grown up. It’s been a long time.”
No hug or hand shake, she turned and walked through the living room. Elizabeth followed. A stark contrast to the sun-filled day, dark, overstuffed Victorian furniture and embroidered pillows cluttered the room. Knickknacks and books filled the side tables. A Hammond organ took up the far wall.
Grandmother’s voice trailed behind her. “I want you to know sometimes when people get old they do things they’re sorry for.”
Elizabeth paused mid-step. She held her tongue. If she made a remark the visit would not end well. Grandmother’s off-hand sorry (for scaring the bejesus out of her)had to be enough.
In the dining room, she stood in front of grandmother seated on a velvet-cushioned chair aside the oak table. She cleared her throat. “Nice to see you, too.”
Grandmother pulled up her flowered housedress to the knees. “Now, take a look at my legs. Tell me what you think.”
Elizabeth bent down and slid a hand over her swollen legs. “How long have they been like this?”
“A few months.” She pointed to The 1951 Family Physicianbook on the table. “That says it’s the way my heart pumps.”
“Dad takes a water pill for blood pressure. We could ask him.”
“I don’t want anyone to know. You find out, seeing as you’ll be a nurse.”
Elizabeth smiled, amazed she asked for help. She put her hand on grandmother’s shoulder. “Okay, I’ll find out for you.”
Grandmother didn’t resist the touch. She looked up at Elizabeth. “Well, good! Now, I’ve got more to say, Elizabeth. I’ll make tea, and I baked those brownies you liked so much. Never know though, maybe you don’t eat em’ since you’re a model. Karl sent me the picture of you posing on a billboard, always a pretty girl.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened. The compliment and warm welcome a surprise first. She followed grandmother into the kitchen. “Thanks. Nice you and Dad keep in touch.”
“Sit down. I’ve got to get something.” She turned on the stove burner under the teakettle, and disappeared into a small office off the dining room.
Grandmother came back with a folded white lace handkerchief in her hand.
“I remember that in your jewelry box years ago. You grabbed it from me.”
“Ah ha, now you’re older. I’m not living much longer, and I’m giving you your grandfather’s gold pocket watch. Don’t tell the family about it.” Grandmother put the watch into Elizabeth’s outstretched hand.
She unwrapped it, and put an attached note on the table. “It’s beautiful.” She ran a finger over the floral engraved case, opened the latch, and stared at the sepia photo of a young woman. “Who is this?
“That’s for you to find out. Your grandfather died, and I got the watch in his belongings from the hospital. I don’t know why, we were divorced two years.”
Grandmother picked up the note. “Look what your grandfather wrote. I dedicated each solo performance to this woman.
Grandmother raised her voice and pointed at the photo. “He threw this in my face to get even for divorcing him. Well, bad thoughts came back, he had plenty of other women. I threw it in the jewelry box drawer years ago, so I’d forget.”
Elizabeth scowled. “What did I know?”
“You were too young to understand unfaithfulness. You did research at the library and asked questions, the only grandchild interested in famous Gustav’s public life. Even so, you were too young.”
“What answers can I get now from the woman’s photo?” I want to know if grandfather’s Jewish, and what ties he had to the Jewish guests at Sunset Inn?”
“You won’t get answers here in the US. I asked but, he never told me about his private life before he immigrated. His dying words tell a lot, No one is to look into my past. That history dies with me.This secret other womanof his may be in Germany. At the time of the Sunset Inn property settlement, the Boston Herald quoted him.‘All I wish to retain is my golden trumpet, the gift of admiring friends. It is my pal, and when I answer the last curtain call I pray my trumpet may be buried with me.’ His final word to everyone.” Grandmother grimaced and pointed to the woman’s photo. “Except for her.”
“The more I hear about grandfather, the more I want answers about his life. Charlotte Hobbs, at the library, read grandfather’s newspaper obituary quote from his history file. Grandma, I know about unfaithfulness, dad left three years ago. If you suspect the other womanis a link to grandfather’s past, I want to know who she is too. But, it’s impossible I’ll ever get to Germany to find out.
“Well, like father like son, if you ask me. Gustav’s first son, Fred might know something. Ask him, and forget about Germany.”
“If I ever get the chance. The woman’s a link and maybe not. I really wanted to know if he was Jewish, years ago. You and Dad refused to teach me German so I could read grandfather’s German books up in the attic. The notes stuck in them might have had the answer. In the 4thgrade Heritage class at school, I didn’t know much about my German grandfather, so I picked a German mythology. The school bully said his father told him a lot of things, and most of all he must be a Jew because he hung around those rich Jews at Sunset Inn. He called me a Jew girl in front of the class. Sounded like a bad thing, I got mad and told him I’d find out the truth. Right after class I went to the library!”