I am four. My dad and I are sharing a birthday cake, blowing out the candles together. This excites me – that we get to share something. It makes me feel special, to celebrate something with my dad that no one else is part of. And I love cake. My dad was born the day after me, so we celebrate our birthdays together. He explains to me that he was actually born first – many years before I was born. When he says this, everyone around the dining table laughs.
My dad was born in Cleveland, where we live. He grew up in the house where my grandma still lives. I love her house; it’s very old and made of bricks. Being with Grandma is my favorite thing to do. At Grandma’s house there is a framed painting on the wall of a dirt road that goes on forever. I love to look at it. I am four now but I can remember being in a crib and staring at the painting. It was morning that time. I remember my grandma coming into the room and leaning over the crib, smiling and talking to me. I couldn’t talk yet, though. I could only stare. I liked her smile.
When my brother and I sleep over at Grandma’s now, before we go to bed, she leaves cheese on a plate inside the cold oven. “It’s for the mice,” she says. “In case they get hungry.” When my brother and I get out of bed in the morning, he opens the cold oven and takes out the plate of cheese. “That’s for the mice!” I warn him. He explains to me that Grandma was just kidding; the cheese is for us to eat so that we don’t wake her too early.
Grandma drives us to the Cleveland Art Museum in her white Valiant and we get to feed the ducks in the pond outside. We go so often to the art museum that my grandma calls it “her” museum. When we’re with Grandma, my brother and I get to have snacks – pretzels and ginger ale. My grandma is always happy, she never yells at me. She never grabs me and shakes me around. She doesn’t remove my clothes and scream and get angry and slap me. My grandma doesn’t scare me at all. She holds me on her lap and sings to me a lot. She teaches me to sing “Frere Jacques.”
In my grandma’s bedroom, her bed is almost as big as the whole room. She has photos stuck in the mirror of her dresser – they are of my grandpa, who died before I was adopted. His name was Maurice and he ran the movie theater. He and my grandma were both Jews who escaped Poland when they were just three years old. My grandma sits with me on the side of her bed and tells me about my grandpa. He sounds nice. She misses him but she still smiles at me. There is a drawer in the hallway where my grandma keeps all of my grandpa’s old tools. My brother and I love to get all the tools out and play with them: hammers, screwdrivers, and measuring sticks that fold like an accordion.
My mommy hates Cleveland. She did not grow up here and only lives here because my dad makes her. When my dad was in the Navy, they lived in San Francisco and had two beautiful collie dogs – like Lassie. She preferred that. My mommy hates snow. And traffic. And the cold days in a city that’s on a lake. Lake Erie is very large – like an ocean. If you stand on the shore and stare across the lake, you can see Canada on the other side of it. My brother says that I cannot see Canada; that it’s too far away. I believe he is wrong, but I don’t say anything.
My mommy calls to me from the top of the basement stairs. We have moved and are in our second house in Cleveland. “I’m going outside to shovel snow from the driveway,” she says. “Just stay down there and play, okay? I’ll be right outside.” I look up the basement stairs at her. She wears black knee-high boots, black slacks and a bright red sweater. She wears red lipstick, too, and her dark brown hair is short and very wavy. She has bright blue eyes. “Mommy, you look beautiful!” I say. She smiles at me. She puts on her coat and then opens the side door that leads to the driveway. “You behave,” she calls down to me as she goes outside into the bad weather and closes the door behind her. It reminds me of the mommy in The Cat in the Hat book. But with that mommy, you can always only see her foot.
– in progress –