In August of 1962, I held a small green parasol above my head.  I was newly turned four, and loved the idea of an umbrella so exotic that it was meant for sunny weather.

     Now I can only guess, of course, how I felt about the parasol, but within the square of this white-framed photo, I am smiling broadly.  My mother wears her white oval sunglasses and looks exactly like Ingrid Bergman.  Everyone said so, and it was certainly true.  In the photo, her honey-colored hair says so.  Her red lips, her impossibly white blouse say so.  She is behind me, bending over, her hands on my small tanned shoulders, her whole face laughing.  Her pose says, This girl is mine.

     My father and my little brother are in the picture, too, indicating that a stranger was persuaded to point the Brownie at us all.  We are in a parking lot; it must be Sunday, the only day my father didn’t work at the funeral home.  My brother is frowning.  My father’s dark brown Italian skin and shiny black hair contrast strongly to my mother’s fair starlet looks.

     I have to invent the part that the photograph doesn’t give away.  It’s only a 3 x 3 inch history of a moment.  We’re in the parking lot of Palisades Amusement Park , where we spent many summer Sunday afternoons.  My brother is two, so he’s frowning because he doesn’t want to wait another minute to see if that tomato-red racing car on the carousel is empty, or if some other kid is in it right now, when my brother could have his small hands on the wheel, driving away from the tyranny of bedtimes, and vegetables to be eaten, and strangers taking family photos.

     My father’s squint and his serious half-smile say to the stranger holding our camera, You’re wondering how I got her?  You’re saying to yourself, Does he deserve this pale glamorous woman?  Well, me too, pal.  Me too.





Remember the funerals of great aunts?  Each one’s remaining sisters weeping.  Their perfumes and pearls.  Their necks of fur.

     Your grandfather drove.  Each time, it was one of his sisters.  You sat quietly in the back with your younger brother, while your grandfather drove his black Buick Electra.

     He paid cash for the Electra, babied it.  He even had the garage in Teaneck, New Jersey lengthened to accommodate its hulking size.  Your grandmother had a quiet fit when she lost a third of her kitchen to it.

     An elegant car, but big.  A well-heeled gentleman who’s just a bit too large for his tux.

     On the way to the great aunts’ funerals in the black Electra, your grandmother sat quietly in the front passenger seat, which was about three-quarters of a mile away from the driver’s seat.  Sometimes she looked out the window, maybe taking in the brown or blue houses passing by, the styles of their curtains, other people’s rhododendrons.  Maybe she counted the number of chimneys or eyelid dormers between her house and the funerals.

     Why don’t you remember attending the funerals of great uncles?  Didn’t they die eventually, too?  Perhaps they’ve outlived your grandparents.  They’ve remarried and are dying very slowly in Florida.

     Remember when the three pairs of greats came to visit your grandparents in Teaneck?  Great Aunt Marion brought you a bunny-shaped dish, or was that for your brother?  In any case, you were both already too old for it.

     Her husband, Great Uncle Chamberlain smoked cigars the size of your

arm, and had that ridiculous first name.  Other than that, not much comes to mind.

     Great Aunt Lottie and her husband Uncle R.D. were there, too.  What did “R.D.” stand for?  No one ever told you, but you and your brother had ideas.  When Uncle R.D.

entered the room, you saw a plum-colored shadow swim across your grandmother’s face.  She almost backed into you when he leaned into her for a kiss.  She wore the apron with the blue boats and pilgrims on it, and you saw her small hands run into the front pocket and stay there.  She seemed afraid, so your brother whispered in your ear that “R.D.” meant “Really Dead.”  

     The other greats who came that day were Aunt Rose and Uncle Charles.  Rose was quiet, tall and pale like an egret.  She seemed very fragile, and this made her a little scary. 

     Great Uncle Charles told those jokes in which the child was always made the buffoon, and everyone laughed, but the children stood there not getting it.

     It was hard to tell how your grandmother felt about her sisters-in-law.  She spent many hours cooking in the one-third smaller kitchen when they visited that day.  The aunts followed the uncles into the garage for your grandfather’s viewing of the Electra.  In the kitchen, your grandmother’s small frame hunched over the pots, her dark hair curled in the steam of boiling cauliflower and beans.


     Eventually you’d all arrive at the great aunt’s funeral, the surviving sisters posed like very tall birds on the steps of the chapel, graceful and smelling like lilies.  It was winter when they died.

     Your grandmother told you that the clock in her kitchen stopped at the exact hour of the great aunt’s death.  And now you remember her telling you that about another aunt, at another funeral.

     You remember that distinctly.  That, and your grandfather’s Electra, shining, black as loam, when he turned to look at it on his way up the steps to his sister’s funeral, the trace of a smile, nevertheless, on his face.




Melissa Montimurro is still in the rural northwest of the state, teaching workshops and writing. Most recently, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the journals Runes, Square Lake, The Comstock Review, and Tundra, and online at Sidereality, Poetrybay, and Can We Have Our Ball Back?



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stories by Nancy Priff and Melissa Montimurro