My Mother’s Cameo

From time to time, I wear the cameo that Mrs. Upperman left my father.

She also left him a rocking chair and a large tin of pistachios–red, tan & unshelled.

Unshelled?
(Unheard of.)

At 16, I was surprised to find that my passion for pistachios was eclipsed rather than enhanced without the effort of finding just the right one to crack open.

(And who had ever seen tan pistachios?)

But maybe I’ve remembered it wrong.

Probably Mrs. Upperman didn’t “leave” the pistachios to my father along with the cameo and the rocking chair (and the furs!), but sent the large tin over at Christmas or Thanksgiving, or maybe the pistachios, like the many other arrivals, were from another patient altogether.

It was easy to adore a man who saved you, particularly if he was tall and handsome and young.

And if you were such a man, it was increasingly difficult to spend much time at home where despite your male birthright, your societal status, and your dashing good looks–you were not the star of the show–not with your teenage daughters, not with your wife who was turning the hormonal corner from sacrifice to self (even as she continued producing your babies), and not with the endless tasks to be done that came and went with any pistachios or applause.

My mother left the cameo in her jewelry box, and so I borrowed it from time to time, until one day I didn’t put it back.

I don’t think she would have worn it anyway. She never touched the furs either. Unlike my father whose family presided over one the largest homes on the avenue, my mother came from “the other side of town,” off a pot-holed side street, where 8 children crowded into a house that leaned up against a motel and shared its backyard fence with a bar.

“Your mother was the prettiest girl in the high school,” my father said.

“I had a single dress all through school,” my mother told me, but she wasn’t complaining; she rarely complained.

Bonnie, aka. Loretta Cecilia Kelly, was without expectations, which made her the perfect fit for a man who was accustomed to snapping his fingers for a pen, and expecting a hot dinner on the table no matter the hour of his return  home, and who regularly brought operating room nurses to tears as they tripped over his every command (which was just the right place to harvest his replacement wife after my mother, at age 40, had the audacity to want more than a cameo role in her own life, and so without voice, offered a scandalous resignation instead.)

“That’s not the Philips!” he would shout, and I never knew which one was, no matter how many times he showed me.

I still don’t want to know, and apparently neither did my five younger sisters, which was something I discovered when I returned home for a visit and came across a fierce and familiar scolding in the garage with one of my youngest siblings.

I still prefer my pistachios in the shell, but now without the color red.

my mother, just after the affair, in her new/smaller house, with her dark-brown hair dyed blonde

 

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