Back in the days of reel-to-reel tapes, he created a recording studio to work on his demos, in what had been the garage of the house we rented, this time in Connecticut. I wasnt sure the owner of the house would appreciate it that my father cut a hole in the garage door to let in more light, never mind what he was going to do in wintertime, when it would get pretty chilly in that uninsulated garage.
By winter the checks would have started rolling in, George told me. Then he could get himself a real place to work on his music, and things like an electric organ. We might even move to Nashville, he said. Thats where the action was in country music.
Even then, I knew this wasnt happening, as did Val and my brother probably, though I was the one in the family with the firmest grasp on reality. Even as a kid, I always had the ability to see down the line to where trouble lay, or truth. George used to complain that I expected the worst out of life, but it wasnt that. I simply recognized that just because the sun was shining one day didnt mean it would the next. Frost would come, and so would snow. The fact of rain did not rule out the possibility of drought. You could call it pessimism. I based my attitudes on what I saw in the world around me. Not what I dreamed up.
Dana has her feet firmly grounded on earth, one of my teachers wrote about me on a report card. I remembered this because to me it seemed like the nicest kind of compliment, but I could see that for my mother, this was a disappointment.
Dont you ever want to use your imagination? she said, but I was more the type who based her thinking on what was realthe things I could touch and see.
I was not one to believe, the way my father did, that things would always turn out the way you wanted them to, orlike my motherthat we should surround ourselves only with what was beautiful. Life wasnt like that. Even as a child, I knew and accepted this.
I think I always had an understanding of the seasons and recognized that all of themwinter as much as summer, fall as much as springwere necessary to sustain the cycle of life. I might be the youngest, but I kept track of the bills. Where the others whistled in the dark, I considered how we might get by in the event of a worst-case scenario. From what Id seen of the world, those were far more likely to take place than the paydays George kept expecting.
I loved my brother, Ray. He was the only one in our family who showed me a certain interest, for a while there anyway. But I understood that I was the only truly reasonable person living under whatever roof happened to be sheltering us that season.
Except for one uncle, we saw no relatives. No cousins. There was one grandparent that I met one time and one time only. All I knew of my heritage was Georges story: that his father had performed in silent movies, where he met my grandmotherthe woman, he told us, who had posed for that image we saw at the beginning of every movie made by Columbia Pictures to this day. He called her a legendary beauty of Hollywood. He said she could stop traffic with her amazing body, well into her sixties.
Traffic? What traffic? My grandparents had lived in Vermont. Due to some kind of falling-out that had something to do with my mother, though we never got the details, I met my grandma only once, when I was five or six, but in distant memory she was an ordinary-looking person who served us meat loaf and called my father Georgie.
George was a fair-weather type. He wanted every day to be sunny, and never believed, as long as it was, that the sky would ever darken again, as it always did over the broad green horizons he imagined for us all. He liked the idea of having children and being a father, but only long enough to cook up some project for us, which hed forget about shortly after.
Excerpted from The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard. Copyright © 2010 by Joyce Maynard. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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