I grew up in the South, but so close to New York, one and a half hours by train, that I didn’t even know it. In spite of my ignorance, my early memories feel peculiarly Southern— the high-ceilinged, wide-porched house that belonged to my grandmother, fans spinning lazily overhead, rugs rolled and stored and couches slipcovered with light cotton every summer. In the drowsy, sleep inducing heat, we watching my grandmother drink thimbles of bourbon starting at exactly five, tucked ourselves behind wing-chairs to listen to arguments about family politics, played invented games of chess with the tiny silver boxes on the multi-shelved mahogany display table. My grandmother wore her silver hair in a perfect bubble, had a closet lined with Lilly Pulitzer dresses, shoes in matching colors underneath. We hid between the dresses, trying to find the signature, “Lily,” hidden in the stems, petals, paisley swirls. Everything smelled faintly of gardenias.
Martha’s room was on the far side of the kitchen, along with a small sitting area with a portable t.v. that sometimes played, sound off, during parties. She died in her sleep, childless, far from the family she left behind. Mary died not long after, an event marked principally by my grandmother as an inconvenience— no cook ever understood the rules of the kitchen as well, they put their hands too chummily on my grandmother’s shoulders when they greeted her in the morning, suggested crude side dishes like Jello salad, failed to master the art of butter balls. I stood with my hands on either side of the empty glass jar and wondered why Mary died. Her hair, a pale shade of pink, made it hard to guess her age. Only years later did I remember Brit, bent with grief in the sitting area, shoulders shaking, eyes boiled by sorrow.