Chapter 6: Life Picks Up Speed

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

By December, Grace was relieved to have December 8 free because it was a national holiday (the Annunciation). She didn’t sleep in as she’d planned, but was able to catch up on her letters and her diary. The whole day spent writing with the radio on was her idea of heaven.

“Dear Dad,

“I’m sorry this is so short, but I wanted you to know that I got your letter on Wednesday and that everything’s going well.

“How are you? How was the footballl season? Lots of parties, of course, but did it rain or snow during the games? I think Michigan State is did well this year, but I’m sorry they’re not going to the Rose Bowl.  How many parties has Lally thrown this fall? I’m glad you and the family had a wonderful Thanksgving and I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’m sure it was great!

“How are Deirdre, Lola and Caro? Now that Deirdre’s at Michigan State and Lola’s at Kingswood, your house must be very quiet these days!

“I’ve been so busy I don’t know where to start. I’m teaching English at a language institute downtown from 5 to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday and enjoy it very much. I’m making new friends in addition to the people in the building where I live. On Saturdays or Sundays I go to a movie with someone. There are really nice theaters in my neighborhood (especially the Aladino and the Libertador), so my friends and I walk, unless it rains. (It did that a lot last month!) I’ve also been to a couple of parties which were a lot of fun, too.

“I guess that’s all for the moment. I’ll write you soon and send you a Christmas card!

“Much love,

“Grace”

She ran the air mail envelope through the typewriter to address it before signing the letter, folding it and sticking it inside.  Then she put another sheet of paper into the Olivetti, headed and dated it and started a similarly brief note.

“Dear Mom,

“How are you?  How’s Dad? Now that football season is over, you must be really tired. Too tired to go to more parties? (That’s a joke!)  How are Nana and Aunt Katie? I know I have to write them, but I’ve been so busy myself that this will be just a quick note. I’m going to a movie at 6 with Eileen and Sean, the couple in Apt. 202, and I haven’t even gotten dressed!

“How are Rob and Cynthia? Do they like their apartment on Marigold? I thought it was cute and had nice light. Too bad their new dishwasher takes up so much space, but as Rob pointed out, it does have a great cutting board top so he can slice and dice to his heart’s content. Please tell them I said hi when you talk to them! Are they going to stay in the apartment after their baby is born?  I hope they can find something a little larger, though, because I think one baby and some diapers will make them feel like they’re living in a pup tent.

“Otherwise, I’m fine. I teach between 5 and 9 p.m., so I can use the day for errands and things. Last week I substituted for a teacher who got a cold, so I taught her class between 11 and 1, and then would go to lunch someplace downtown. (And there are LOTS of places!) A couple of times I went with my friend Ellen, because she knows some of the most interesting and inexpensive places around. There’s one on Calle 22 that’s pretty small and kind of tucked away on the right side of the street (as you walk down from Séptima) and it serves WONDERFUL hot chicken sandwiches. It doesn’t look like much–the tables are simple wooden ones, with two or four tiny staight-back chairs around them. They’re varnished, so you can see the color of the wood, which is a pale yellow, very pretty. I’m not sure how we manage to fit at the tables because they seem to be built for smaller people, but we do and we have a great time! The sandwiches are shredded breast of chicken served on long (6”) French bread, with lots of butter and a dab of mayonaise, and they’re steaming hot when served. We get Cokes or sometimes Ellen asks for a ‘malteada de chocolate’ (a chocolate malt, although it’s really a milk shake, since it doesn’t contain any malt). The other day it started to rain as we ate, so we just sat there and talked til it stopped, about an hour and a half later.

“I’ve also met some very nice boys. One is from Cali. His name is Alvaro Sáenz, he’s my age and he goes to Los Andes University. He went to high school in England, so he has a British accent and all the girls–Colombian and American–almost swoon when they hear him. (I mean the other teachers, who are American and Colombian, although his girl students think he’s cute, too, and do everything they can to imitate his pronunciation.) I was going out with a boy named Eduardo Borda, but he hasn’t called in a while. He might be travelling for his father, who has an import business, but in the meantime, I met someone else, who is just as nice. His name is Julian and he went to school with Eduardo (college, that is; they both started at Los Andes University, but they haven’t finished yet).  And all of them speak excellent English, so if you get to meet them, you’ll be able to talk about whatever you want and they’ll understand.

“But it’s really nice to spend time with Eileen and Eddie (and Sean, when he’s in town) downstairs. We go to movies (her maid really dotes on Eddie) and the hairdresser (Louis XIV, which is the one I took you to when you were here last December; it’s owned and run by a Frenchman, remember?) and Carulla. Sometimes I go with her to the dressmaker, mostly as a translator, and I do that with some other women she knows. They all love getting handmade clothes, but explaining what they want or what the dressmaker needs is completely beyond them. But at least I’m developing a broader vocabulary!

“I guess that’s all for the moment. Say hi to Dad, Rob and Cynthia for me! Write soon!

“Much love,

“Grace”

This time she addressed the envelope by hand before stuffing the signed and folded letter into it. Standing up, she picked up the letters and moved away from the desk to go to the kitchen.  She left them on top of the buffet, ready to be taken to Avianca for mailing the next day on her way to class.  She reminded herself to ask for stamps and not let the mail girls run the envelopes through the machines. Colombian stamps were so pretty and made a much better impression on her parents than the mechanized red ink registration marks.

She fixed some tuna salad and made a sandwich, which she ate at the romboid-shaped dining room table. The apartment didn’t have a separate dining area, but just an area off the livingroom where a custom-made table with four chairs had been placed. The building’s owner had four of these tables made because the shape of the building itself made it impossible to use any other type. But Grace had discovered that, by pulling the table away from the walls and moving the couch forward toward the apartment’s door, she could get four and maybe even five people around it. More than that, and dinner would be buffet style, which actually worked even better.

She left the dishes in the kitchen sink and went to her bedroom to get her diary. Now she could sit down and be honest about her life and what was going on. Her letters to her parents were informative by design, and by now custom-tailored so that each parent got news that would not upset him or her. This was really easy, since her parents had divorced in 1948 and hated each other mutually. Grace was glad each had remarried, and preferred her stepfather because he was a genuinely nice and fair man, as opposed to her own father, whom she tried to avoid as much as possible. He wasn’t physically mean to her, but she caught on to his lack of emotional connection to his oldest daughter by the time she was 14. She kept trying to please him, to no avail. He clearly adored Deirdre, almost above his own wife, who was Deirdre’s mother. (Deirdre’s father was her mother’s first husband, for those who think life in the Midwest is staid and dreary.) In Bogotá she could forget he existed, and she did forget except for once or twice a month when a letter would arrive. She’d read the paeans to Deirdre, the exploits of the half-sisters Lola (for Dolores, a maiden aunt on her mother’s side, long dead) and Caro (for Carolyn) and whatever other “family news” her father would include, and then stick the letter near the typewriter, to be answered in a week’s time. Once answered, she’d throw away her father’s.

Her mother’s letters constituted notes on beautiful paper. She knew her mother just did not like to write letters, but had no problem dashing off a note in flawless penmanship (which Grace had learned to write as well, thanks to her mother and not the East Lansing school system) for whatever reason. When Grace got back to East Lansing, she’d hear all the news that had not been written down, with asides and almost verbal footnotes, and she tried to remember them when she wrote in her diary. She wasn’t always succesful about the writing, but she certainly did remember. Last summer in Michigan was pretty much as burned into her brain as the riots in Detroit had been to that city. By the time she heard someone screaming on CBS News, “Burn, baby, BURN!” she was having the same fantasies about the new White Hills enclave where her mother and stepfather lived, as well as her grandmother Lally (her own father’s mother), two blocks away.  (The only time Grace had genuinely and sincerely felt sorry for her grandmother was when the older woman had lost her house on South Washington Avenue, in Lansing, mostly thanks to greedy and immoral state politicians. Lally’s father had built the mansion in 1905 and when she inherited it in 1950, upon her parents’ death, Lally had re-done part of the gardens and modernized some of the exterior and interior without losing any of the house’s character. But the State of Michigan tore it down to make way for an expressway connection, which could have just as easily been built one block down South Washington across the river, and so Lally eventually lost the house. Moving to White Hills, classy as it was, constituted living in a shack, as far as Lally was concerned. A well-appointed and even beautiful shack, but compared to the mansion on South Washington, she was living in the maid’s room with bath. Grace sympathized, more so after she saw what maids’ rooms with bath looked like in Bogotá, compared to the one’s in her grandmother’s houses.)

It was peacefully quiet when Grace sat down in her chair to write. She flipped through her mosts recent entries to make sure she didn’t repeat herself and then wrote the date for the entry. These were her notes for a future book or magazine article, as well as her own private conversations with herself. She thought of the diary as “The Naked Me.”

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