There is a young woman looking out the front door with my eyes… Also a faint smile, but held back, as not to disrupt the proportions of the face; it might be a smirk. There’s a head bent, contrived in partial profile… And hair, a soft red — and skin I know as well — ghostly, without a shade of melanin.
She’s dressed like a Scandinavian maiden. Quite innocent-looking, actually. The most profound word you could use for her is thoughtful — the pale blue-grey of the orbs discriminating, considering. But it is just one dimension of her: the picture that sits in our entryway.
“After your great-grandfather died, she used to stand in the living room and just scream. Until the neighbors came by and embarrassed her, of course. Then she would just go into the closet…” I was talking to my Dad about her again… Introducing the notion that maybe he was placing a little too much of the burden of depression on her personality, and not her circumstances.
“Well, it didn’t matter. She still made my mother miserable.” He does have that point, to be certain. But I’m still not convinced she was “a narcissist,” as he calls her.
I DID find out that apparently she was a semi-professional singer, who was paid to sing for silent movies (I didn’t know they used more than pianos — that’s kind of interesting)… And — of course, I should have known this but I’ve never thought about it much before — the piano sitting in our living room, the one I sat and learned on by myself for hours… Was hers. I don’t think she played Chopin or Debussy like I do — but it’s her piano, a Gulbransen, and must have been one of the first because that company has only been around since 1907.
The fact is, even though this woman was apparently such a large source of resentment, Dad says that grandmother and her sister were incredibly devastated by her death, so… There must have been something endearing about Rose. And also, possibly a kind of a codependence that existed between her and her daughters.
When Grandma Sylvia died about three years ago, her mother’s portrait came to our house. I didn’t know how to feel about it. Dad seemed so oppressed already by the legacy of mood baggage passed down to him from this woman… So I felt it slightly perverse that her picture was put in the front of the house as the first thing you see when you walk in. Maybe this was just because of my Mom, who likes old antiquey things, and doesn’t have the associations that my Dad does. But I think it’s more complicated than that.
Like her or not, she was a force. And apparently, picturesque, if difficult to live with. I feel like winking at her when I walk in. They don’t get it, I say. They don’t know what it’s like to have so much inside you that you have to scream. We understand these things, don’t we?
But I think I’m talking to myself. I never knew her, after all.