Dad made Frenchie an offer to buy it all, said Frenchie could keep on living in his little house on the edge of the junk, rent-free, forever. Frenchie accepted. Dad built a hillflood protectionand Mom's dream house on the hill. Mom landscaped the junk into trees and lawns and an hourglass-shaped carp pond. The school bus got towed. I built a tree house in the willow. I tried to construct a car out of Frenchie's leftover junk. On the weekends Dad wore a JC Penney work shirt and led a crew of men planting grass, grapes, and flowers, and shoring up the eroding banks of the Napa River, which ran along the property's edge. Perfect happiness started flowing. Mom brought Dad cooling beverages while he worked. We had picnics. I made friends with a Mexican kid down the road, and we hammered nails into the tree house. At night Dad showed us World War I movies on an old projector. Mom's best friend, Dede Traina (pronounced Tryeen- nah), had a place nearby, and she was over all the time. Hundreds of people came to our housewarming party, where a Catholic priest blessed the premises and Benny Goodman played live. This party blended into another and another. The biggest was a Gone with the Wind ball, when Dede upstaged everyone by wearing Scarlett O'Hara's green-and-white hoop dress from the movie, refabricated by the original designer; it was like the willow tree, and I crawled underneath, following her sons, Todd and Trevor. There was a whole world under there!
Mom said, "Sean, get out!"
Dede said, "No, he can stay."
I wanted to spend my whole life there.
MOM'S PREVIOUS best friend had died in a mysterious fire while living in Mom's old apartment, shortly after my parents were married. Dede Traina arrived in Mom's life in the early seventies (around the same time my shrink told Mom to stop spending so much time with me). Dede was new to San Francisco, fifteen years younger than Mom, in her early thirties, unhappily married. Mom liked Dede. Dad liked that Dede came from an old East Coast family. Dede was grateful; every time she visited our house she brought gifts. Once it was a coffeetable book of "history's great beauties."
She climbed up on Mom's bed and they looked at it together. Helen of Troy, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O.
"You're one of them, Pat," Dede said.
"Oh, Dede, you are making my day," Mom said, beaming.
Before long Dede was the first person Mom would call in the morning, and the last she 'd talk to at the end of the day.
One time, when my parents were out, Dede appeared in my doorway.
"Come with me, Sean," she said. "I've got a surprise for you."
I wondered how she had gotten into our house. But it didn't matter. She was Mom's best friend. I went downstairs, got in her car, and we drove to the supermarket. She took me to the candy aisle.
"Let's pretend it's Halloween," Dede said. "And we can have as much candy as we want."
I was tentative. Yeah? Was this possible?
Dede started grabbing bags off the shelves, opening them, and handing me Reese 's Peanut Butter Cups and mini Hershey bars. She was like a kid with the power of an adult. She told me I could eat them right there in the aisles, demonstrated, and nobody stopped her. It was as though she owned the store. Maybe she did own the store! I started eating. We filled a cart with candy. I was flying on sugar. In the checkout line I chewed a Starburst and drank a Coke. Dede drank a Pepsi Lite and ate hunks of something called almond roca.
From Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey. Copyright 2005 Sean Wilsey. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Penguin Press.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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