Mrs. G. was recently scanning some old family photos and came across this picture. Her mom thinks she was around three when it was taken. Mrs. G. isn’t sure if this is typical but her memories begin around kindergarten. Her parents divorced when she was nearly five and she has no memories of them together. Sometimes Mrs. G. thinks this is normal while other times she thinks it’s because the many parental divorces and abrupt transitions she experienced as a kid didn’t allow enduring memories to gel, to set properly like a decent batch of fudge. And then there are those other times, especially of late, she just thinks her brain, for whatever reason, isn’t equipped to retain small details . Mrs. G, no joke, spends a lot of time with her head in the clouds. Her mind frequently wanders and she has to literally take it by the hand and lead it back to where it should be…like the edge of a curb or the steering wheel.
And then there are those other other times she has discovered that memories are enormously subjective and her family is filled with some tricky ass liars.
Times like in this picture, the picture to which Mrs. G’s rambling mind is now returning.
When Mrs. G. pulled out this picture out of her grandparent’s old suitcase last week, she asked her mom why she was holding her Aunt Wilma’s dog, Whitlow, but was not at Aunt Wilma's house. Aunt Wilma, for those trying to keep up (don’t try too hard—it’s just millimeters from impossible) is Mrs. G’s estranged father’s estranged sister. Mrs. G. would have liked the privilege of being estranged from Aunt Wilma too, but back in her day, there was no correlation between actually liking a relative and being forced to spend one weekend a month at her house because your mom needed some disco time believed in the sanctity of family. It didn’t matter if you begged the whole car ride over not to have to go because Aunt Wilma sucked on Hall’s cough drops like they were Certs or made you go to her church on Sunday, where she introduced you to her all her friends as a “child of divorce.” Which was pretty nervy considering she smelled like a bouillon cube stuffed inside a Kleenex stuffed inside a cardigan pocket.
But let’s circle back to Mrs. G’s question about why her three-year-old self was holding Aunt Wilma’s dog but was not at Aunt Wilma's house.
“Well, before Whitlow was Aunt Wilma’s dog, he was our dog,” Mrs. G’s mom said matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean he was our dog?”
“He was our family dog until your father and I got divorced.” Mrs. G’s mom has a way of reporting strange and unusual events as if they aren’t strange or unusual. It’s her gift. She went on to explain that the hatred between she and Mrs. G’s father was so thick during their divorce he shipped the family dog off to his sister, whom he despised, rather than keep any ragtag combo of the family intact. Aunt Wilma got custody of the dog. God help Whitlow, the poor bastard—Aunt Wilma probably introduced him to her friends as a “dog of divorce.” It was the seventies. No doubt he was a latchkey dog.
“So you are telling me that I not only had to go to Aunt Wilma’s house and be forced to take generic salt tablets if I so much as walked briskly in her backyard because she thought losing sweat was akin to losing oxygen, but I had to go there and visit my own dog?” Mrs. G. said through gritted teeth. “NOW I UNDERSTAND WHY WHITLOW AND I HAD A VERY SPECIAL BOND! HOW AM I JUST FINDING THIS OUT?”
“It was a different time,” Mrs. G’s mom sighed, “We just hoped you wouldn’t notice and your grandfather bought another dachshund to take Whitlow’s place.”
That would be Schnapps…Mrs. G’s other childhood dog, an unwitting imposter. Damned if it didn't work.
As is often the case, Mrs. G. starts out angry and upon reflection, ends up shaking her head in reluctant admiration because ho-o-ly hell.
Mrs. G. is convinced an interesting life is going to be problematic. She hasn't figured out a way around it.
Sometimes when Mrs. G. daydreams, she imagines her past playing out on some patchy acreage, like one of those off the beaten path Civil War role-playing games where disenfranchised crackers pee in buckets, gnaw on hardtack, and stage tactical battles where they shoot each other for authenticity’s sake, recreating history on a bogus battlefield.
Mrs. G. would be the one on the sidelines trying to figure out what the hell was going on, and then wandering away.