December 26, 2018
A farm outside Pilot Mound, Manitoba
Amy is thirty-three.
“Grandpa’s mom, Marjory was a strange one, you know,” Grandma says, talking over my shoulder to a spot on the wall somewhere behind me.
“How so?” I ask, urging her onwards.
“She was a good teacher, but you had to work hard for her. She told me once that I didn’t have half the brains of my uncle.”
“That wasn’t very nice,” I cluck.
“No, it wasn’t,” Grandma agrees, “but it was mostly Grandpa’s father who bothered me.”
“He was a nasty piece of work, that one. Drank a lot. Was hard on Grandpa. Very cutting. Not a nice father at all. That’s why your grandpa never talks about his parents. He didn’t have a happy childhood, you see. Later on, your grandpa would have got his mother away from his father, but that’s not how they did things back then.”
“Domestic abuse was rather hidden, wasn’t it?”
"Everyone knew, but it was never talked about it. People pretended it wasn’t going on, for the sake of Marjory’s pride, I guess. It wasn’t fair to your grandpa or anyone else, but that’s how it was done. He feels shame about it to this day. Funny, he’s nearly ninety, but there you are. He still doesn’t know how his parents ended up together, or why a smart woman like Marjory thought it was a good idea.”
Grandma is silent now. The ashes on her cigarette have grown long and curvaceous. Somehow, I’ve never thought to notify her she’s about to lose ashes everywhere. The family disapproves of her smoking habit for her health’s sake, if not everyone else’s, but we just ignore the smoking and all its downsides in a silent protest.
“You know, Amy,” Grandma suddenly says, butting out her cigarette. “You should try the cupboard under the stairs. I bet you'll find her photo album there.”
I set down my coffee mug and head to the dining room. A small door leads to a misshapen cupboard, built under the curving staircase. Its shelves are filled with more photo albums—my sisters’ and my wedding pictures, baby books of nieces and nephews, vacation pictures from Mount Rushmore in the ‘90s. There’s nothing old about any of the books.
But then I see it. Tucked into the far end of the shelf, great-grandmother’s scrapbook hangs out further than the rest of the books. I pull it out of its resting place and gently flip open the cover.
Time falls away. Jazz music plays. Pearls swing. It’s 1929 and the world is young and careless.