For all that Grandma El retained her love of
It wasn’t that easy for her sister Edith. Dede (her family nickname) was the child who had been bartered to childless relatives in return for passage to
In 1963 Dede retired from her job at the Hotel Taft and moved to a three room apartment on
My Aunt Mona, El’s daughter, adored Dede too. She took her shopping after work, out to dinner, vied with my mother for Dede’s attentions and love. Grandma was still living in
R to L: my aunt Mona, my mother, Aunt Dede
Taken at my wedding 9/8/68
Dede was the one who stayed in contact with our relatives in
To the same dog she’d played with as a girl? Wait a second!
The well-groomed collie was sprawled on the lawn when her cab pulled up the long curving drive. What a well-behaved dog, Dede thought. He didn’t even glance her way when she called to him. “That looks just like Teddy,” my aunt said to the cousins who greeted her. “That is Teddy,” they said. “He died the year after you left for
I am descended from a long line of animal lovers but obviously some of them loved animals a tad too much. Poor Teddy had spent the last forty-five years as a lawn ornament, brought inside only when it rained. “We just couldn’t part with him,” they said. “We comb his hair ever day.”
That was one of the nicer family stories Dede told us. The other ones? Well, let's just say I'm not proud of the genetic mix bubbling through my veins. My great great grandfather was master of all he surveyed. When Dede moved back to Sea View, he was still the patriarchal figure whose moods set the tone for life inside the great house. The Edwardian Era flourished in
They knew what they were doing, my family, when they asked for Dede rather than El. Dede was tall and awkward, a quiet girl who grew into an introspective woman. She lived an interior life. Not so my Grandma El. El would not have gone quietly to her new home. Society’s conventions were enough to still Dede’s protests. Society would have had to work much harder on El. I like to believe society would have lost the battle.
No one spoke up against my great great grandfather. His daughter Claire retreated into her own private world. She crept through the house on silent feet, seeing everything, revealing nothing at all. Dede would awaken with a start in the middle of the night to find Claire standing over her, gazing down at her with vacant eyes. No motherly touch from Claire, no words of comfort from anyone at all.
(Would it surprise you to learn that Dede grew up to be a reserved, self-contained, independent woman who turned into the quintessential geisha each and every time she fell in love?)
My great great grandfather’s reach extended beyond Sea View. Your daughter for my patronage, he’d said to the dairy farmer. The dairy farmer thought it sounded like a fine deal and the two men struck a bargain. The girl, a scared little chit in a faded cotton dress that had obviously known its share of owners, was delivered that night to Sea View. Dede watched from her window on the second floor as the child walked around back to the servants' entrance. Briefly she considered tapping on the window, to let the girl know there was someone who understood what she was feeling, but Dede knew an action like that would bring the wrath of God down on her own head and so she kept silent.
I learned from Dede that my great great grandfather died in bed one night with a young girl spread-eagled and crying beneath him. There was a sense of acceptance about Dede as she told this story that puzzled me, but that was only because I was too young to really understand what she wasn’t saying. I was a happy, spoiled American child of the 1950s. Stories about rich relatives and spooky mansions and Jane Eyre-ish little girls passed around like baseball cards were the stuff of the books I devoured on a daily basis. The fact that this was real, that it had happened to my Aunt Dede, took years to sink in.
A hint of things to come: Dede runs off to
As with most things in my life, it is only through writing about them that I've come to understand my family's history.
Okay, maybe "understand" isn't the right word. Let's just say I'm starting to make a little sense out of it.
Thanks to all of you who have read and enjoyed the story so far. I appreciate your comments more than I can say. This month three commenters chosen at random will receive signed copies of CASTING SPELLS and JUST DESSERTS as a small token of gratitude.