Fig Leafs & Triangles

Fig Leaf Charm

“Tell me again, Mom,” Ava pleaded. “Tell me how Grandma met Grandpa.”

“Do you want the fairy tale version or the truth, little girl?” joked Lottie, my sister.

“Leave it alone, Lottie,” I warned.

I curled up on the couch next to Ava, wondering if my daughter, like me, would one day recall verbatim my Mom’s fairy tale-caliber love story. Or would she embrace Lottie’s cynical revisionist version? Lottie and I each clung to our respective interpretations of this family lore, desperate for individuality.

I’d grown up with my mom’s romantic musings echoing in my head – true love, a deep abiding faith, love at first sight. I’d longed for a similarly dramatic experience, an equally compelling legacy to hand down to my children.

Mom was dating Bob, a Navy ensign from her Little Italy neighborhood in Chicago. They wrote to each other faithfully for two years while Bob was stationed in Japan. Bob wrote heartfelt sentiments and dreamed of marrying Mom when he returned home; Mom enjoyed the root beer floats Bob treated her to while on leave. And wrote to Joe, a man she’d never met, in Italy.

“One man could never satisfy Mom’s needs,” Lottie teased. “Ava, your Grandma had a way with words and men on two continents lusted after her … letters.”

I flashed Lottie my “shut the fuck up” look, with the usual result.

At Christmastime that year, Joe proposed a rendezvous. Bob proposed an engagement.

“Our Mom, breaking hearts across the Atlantic,” joked Lottie.

“Auntie, Japan is in the Pacific Ocean,” Ava reminded.

Confused and overwhelmed, Mom asked God for a sign. The sign came in the form of a tiny gold fig leaf charm, a symbol of love, enclosed in a Christmas card from Joe.

“Better luck next time, Bobby boy!” Lottie exclaimed, dissolving into giggles. “The poor schmuk.”

“Ignore her,” I chided.

Because of immigration restrictions, Joe could not enter the US. He and Mom instead met in Mexico. From the airplane window, Mom spotted an old man waving in her direction.

“This is my favorite part,” said Ava. “Grandma refused to get off the plane. She knew right away she didn’t like him and told the flight attendant to take her home!”

“Mom’s one moment of sanity in this sordid tale,” teased Lottie. “Ava, for future reference, big diamonds are the only signs worth paying attention to.”

Acknowledging my annoyance, Lottie lifted her hands in mock surrender, “Just sayin’!”

The flight attendant escorted Mom off the plane, and Joe turned out to be a different man with a warm, infectious smile.

Joe, immediately smitten, professed his love that night. Mom took longer to warm up.

“They got married 10 days later,” Ava reported with a triumphant grin. “That’s true love!”

“And they’re still together 52 years later,” I added, casting Lottie a superior smirk.

Lottie rolled her eyes, “Ava, let me know when you’re ready for the ‘Green Card’ version of this fairy tale. It’s a better story.”

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I’m linking up with Yeah Write for the final week of the Summer Writer’s Series. Please click on the link and check out the many talented writers. Then come back and vote for your favorites on Thursday.

Piggy, Piggy

“Why does she have more than me?” I wondered. “It’s not fair.”

After listening for the whirring noises of my mom’s sewing machine in the basement of our split-level home, I slipped a butter knife from the kitchen and silently marched across the hall into my sister’s bedroom. My fuzzy, footed pajamas felt scratchy on my skin as I dragged my sister’s desk chair over to her tall dresser and hoisted her piggy bank into my arms.

I had spent the better part of the morning comparing the weight of my sister’s bank to my own. The data were consistent and clear. Her bank was heavier. She definitely had more money. It wasn’t fair.

Her bear-shaped bank was beautiful – silver-plated – a majestic figure with a sanguine expression on its face. My bank, shaped like a squat pig, was silver-plated, sure, but ugly and fat with a grimacing countenance. And decidedly lighter.

My heart racing, I carried both banks into my sister’s closet and carefully slid the door closed. Not all the way. It would look more natural that way, in case my mom came looking for me. A sliver of sunlight gleamed across the bear’s peaceful face as I tried to pry off the plastic plug.

“If only my fingers weren’t so stubby,” I told myself. “My mom’s fingers are long and graceful. Why aren’t mine like hers?”

The butter knife made quick work of the plastic cap. I carefully slipped some coins onto the hardwood closet floor. “I want hers and mine,” I thought. “I want all of it.”

Candy. I would buy candy. Reams of delicious, chocolatey goodness. Like Charlie in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I’d savor it, slowly and delicately, make the pleasure last forever. I wouldn’t gobble it up like that greedy girl, Veruca, in the movie. No way. And I wouldn’t have to share; wouldn’t have to stop eating until I wanted to.

The pennies would buy Bazooka bubble gum; the nickels, Gold Rush gum – the kind in the little draw-string pouches. I could taste the delicious banana flavor on my tongue as I quietly dug more coins out of the bear’s behind. Laffy Taffy with the dimes; Charleston Chews with the quarters.

“How did my sister get so many quarters?” I wondered. She was swimming in quarters.

“Grandpa? I bet Grandpa slips her quarters,” I thought.  “He doesn’t like me because I don’t want to give him hugs. My sister gives him hugs. I bet she gets quarters.”

I only got dimes. My beautiful, loving Italian grandmother secretly slipped me a dime every time I saw her, with the unspoken message I wasn’t to share, wasn’t to tell. I was her favorite, and she gave me the biggest hugs. She also gave me the biggest slices of her perfectly-delicious almond coffee cake. And those dimes.

I sensed the my mom’s presence moments before a rush of sunlight highlighted her dark features.

“Mary Lynn, what the hell are you doing?”

I am linking up with Yeah Write for Week Two of their Summer Writer’s Series