Chapter 17: A New Loom?

(C) 2001 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved 

Grace sat at the diningroom table at her mother’s, in Tucson, looking at the sunlight pouring through a livingroom window a few feet away. She could hear her mother’s staccato footsteps in the hallway, moving between the guest bathroom and the master bedroom. Arabella was going to the beauty shop and her daughter was almost counting the minutes til she’d be alone. She wanted to write in her diary, which she’d been doing for years, but during this trip, between December 1977 and the end of January 1978, putting a single word on paper had become very difficult. This hadn’t happened when she wrote Julian, until November, and suddenly, everything stuck in her mind, but incoherently. She felt like her engine had stopped and she couldn’t restart it. In fact, the trip to spend Christmas with her mother and Arabella’s new husband was Grace’s way of trying to revive something inside herself. She’d brought her new Mamiya 645 camera as well as her Chinon Super-8, which could also record sound, and looking through those viewfinders helped, sort of.

“I’m ready!” Arabella called out cheerfully, walking through the kitchen. “Are you sure you don’t want to go?”

“Yes,” Grace answered, looking up. “I’ll go with you next week, I promise.”

“Okay. How do I look?” Arabella stopped in the doorway.

“Fine. I like your earrings.”

“Oh thanks! Chuck gave them to me a few months ago. Aren’t they cute?”

“Yeah. I love garnets, so can I have them someday?”

“Well, these are for pierced ears. . .”

“I don’t care. I can always have my ears done.”

Arabella giggled. “Oh honey, I’m just kiddin’. Of course you can have ’em!” She backed up into the kitchen and reached toward the counter on her right, to get her purse and keys. “Okay, Chuck’s playin’ golf so I guess he’ll have lunch there and I’ll be home later and then we’ll go to the club for dinner tonight. D’you have somethin’ nice to wear?”

Grace nodded. She had two suitcases full of “somethin’ nice,” all from Jacobson’s and Saks. “I’m going to do my hair later.”

“Oh good. Well, I’m off. Be back soon!”

“Okay. ‘Bye.” She watched her mother leave the kitchen and walk quickly through the dining area toward the front door, her keys making a slight jangling sound. As usual, Arabella opened and shut the front door as if it weighed a thousand pounds and required brute force. She did the same thing with car doors, to the horror of her children and her husband. No one understood why she did that and the woman couldn’t explain her behavior either, so Grace cringed in anticipation of the pictures on the wall shaking gently when her mother left.

Except for music on the radio, the house was silent. Grace was alone and felt all her muscles relax. Looking at the sunlight again, she almost wanted to stay in one place and do absolutely nothing til Chuck came back. He was a very nice man, a few years older than her mother, and seemed able to get Arabella to calm down. That Arabella actually listened to him and took the edge off her words and actions seemed very close to a miracle to her children. The “Nightmare in Size 5 Shoes” had toned it down to “Mrs. Bad Dream.” Hooray.

Slowly Grace got up and went to the guestroom to dig her diary out of the bottom of a suitcase. She didn’t know what to write nor even organize her thoughts, but she felt she had to say something. The uppermost thought in her mind was pretty superficial–the brightness of the sun, its warmth and the silence of the condominium her mother had bought after divorcing Grace’s and Rob’s stepfather in 1972. She wanted to sit at her mother’s desk in the master bedroom, which looked out onto the tiny patio, but decided against it. She already felt overwhelmed by her mother just by being in her house, and sitting in her empty bedroom would only compound the sensation. Probably interfere with her writing, too.

She went back to the diningroom table, a very heavy copy of a 16th  or 17th Century Spanish table which Arabella had had made in Nogales, Mexico, along with six chairs and a small buffet. Grace still couldn’t understand why the Americans now moving to Arizona, and especially Tucson, had only two decorating schemes–one was to replicate Cape Cod or Boston (18th Century Colonial to the hilt) and the other was “Spanish Colonial ” (16th and 17th Century monasteries, of a kind Grace had never seen in Colombia, with an emphasis on dark oak and wrought iron), highlighted with posters or paintings of bullfights, señoritas  swathed in black lace mantillas or wide-eyed street urchins of the type that gave UNICEF and other child welfare agencies paroxysms of anger. In fact, in Colombia there was a major government agency dedicated to taking these children off the streets and putting them in shelters or foster care. In addition, there were regulated adoption agencies dedicated to giving these children a better chance in life. But to Americans, nothing said “¡olé!” like half-starved Mexican children. Grace shuddered. Even her own mother had a couple of original oil paintings with the same theme. Gross!

She leafed through her diary. What did she want to say? What had she said? Why did she feel like she’d been run over by dozens of great big trucks?  Why was she even here, in Tucson? Where had that idea come from?  She got to November 1977. Oh yeah, right. She’d wanted to fly to Germany to see Julian and had written him about it. His answer was no, that it was not a good idea because he was travelling for his job, staying in a series of one-star hotels, at best, and would not be able to take her with him. What was she to do all day anyway, since she didn’t speak the language and he also didn’t think she’d enjoy sharing a bathroom down the hall. Would she please think about these things and be patient?

Grace had burst into tears when she read the letter. She was reacting like lots of women passionately in love with a man often do–she didn’t believe a word he said.

And then she compounded the error by telling a couple of her “best friends” that he didn’t want to see her. This was Grace at her worst, since the best friends already had issues about the man. It absolutely never occurred to Grace that her friends–one with a boyfriend, the other recently married–would be envious or jealous, but they were. They simply reinforced her misgivings and later gloated to their other friends that Grace had fallen for a rich guy who dumped her.

Toward the end of November, Julian wrote again, apologizing if he upset her in his last letter and explaining a little more about what his situation was. He then added that, money being tight, he couldn’t come to Bogotá for Christmas, but instead would be staying with friends in Munich. And hating it, he added. The friends were fine, but he still couldn’t get used to the goddamned COLD!!!!!! What was she planning to do?

When she answered, ambivalently, she sympathized with his being stuck in the cold in Munich, and said she was going to visit her mother and meet Arabella’s new husband for Christmas. And she wanted to take some pictures of the snow in Michigan.

Grace sat back and sighed. Okay, Julian was in Germany but she didn’t have a phone number for him. He was probably with Elisabetta (shit!). She had spent Christmas with her mother, and had taken a long way around to do it. She wasn’t even sure why in the world she decided not only to surprise her mother, but to arrive by train!!! Why had she done that? Emma had said that she was going to Washington, D. C., for Christmas, and then go up to New York with Ellen for New Year’s. Why didn’t Grace come to D. C. for a couple of days and then could fly up to Benton Harbor, where Arabella and Chuck were?

Grace liked that plan, and didn’t bat an eyelash when she found out there were no flights between Washington, D. C., and Benton Harbor, Michigan. The best she could do would be Eastern to Detroit. She and a travel agent spent two hours working out the following itinerary–Bogotá-Miami on Braniff; Miami-Washington on Eastern; and then Washington-Chicago on the train, followed by Chicago-Benton Harbor on the bus. Back to Chicago to catch the train to Tucson via Houston. (Arabella and Chuck were driving, and that actually took as long as the train.) The return trip would be less complicated: Tucson-Dallas on American; Dallas-Miami and Miami-Bogotá on Braniff. With two large suitcases and an overnight bag, plus a large but stylish purse, and no real clothes for winter.

She and Emma left Bogotá on different airlines but met up in Miami and flew on to Washington, where Grace had a good time at Ellen’s. The train left around 6 p.m., with an EST in Chicago for 8 or 9 a.m. the next morning. Grace could be in Benton Harbor by lunchtime.

More like 5 o´clock. A severe snowstorm hit Ohio and Indiana, slowing down and then stopping the train. Grace forgot that she’d planned to surprise her mother and asked the conductor if it would be possible to call Arabella. He said yes, and she gave him the phone number. Unfortunately, it was for her mother’s Tucson house, so of course, no one answered. She spent about an hour huddled in a seat, wondering what she’d do if no one was home in Benton Harbor? Maybe call her brother, Rob, who lived on the other side of the state, south of Detroit?

The train pulled into the station in Chicago before noon, but Grace had to take a taxi from there to the Greyhound  station, and the bus ride was longer than she’d anticipated. She slept for a while on the bus, but began to get very tired of travelling. The bus pretty much dumped her in a parking lot in Benton Harbor and she called Chuck’s house from a pay phone. Her mother was very definitely surprised, but sent Chuck to pick her up.

It was a really nice Christmas, with lots of snow and a big dinner with Chuck’s grown children and grandchildren. Rob and his wife had driven over, but then Cynthia got car sick, so she stayed in a motel while Rob and his children deflected Arabella’s nasty remarks about Cynthia. They left early, of course.

Grace enjoyed the train trip to Arizona. She felt much more conscious of what she was looking at, in terms of geography and people, comparing the vast flat expanse of the Great Plains with the tight verticality of Colombia. It was interesting, but she was quite happy to be passing through.

Chuck and Arabella met her at the Tucson station, and Grace liked the warm air that hit her face as she got off the train. In her detached state of mind, warm was comforting and meant she didn’t have to made decisions or engage in anything. They went to Arabella’s, Grace went to bed and woke up in the morning believing that two weeks in that bright sunshine would make her entire life better. Somehow.

Arabella’s campaign to get her daughter to move back to the US was subtle. She never confronted her daughter. She took her shopping, to lunch, to Nogales (where she prodded Grace to speak Spanish to the bilingual Mexicans), to the Skyline Country Club (great view from the main diningroom) and generally made it clear how wonderful life was in all that glorious and eternal sunshine and fresh air.

And then she took her daughter out to look at houses for sale, “. . . because you could have such a wonderful life here. . .”

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