All the Greats

We were four, side-by-side in the bed. Buddy-roo claimed the prized position between De-facto and me. Short-pants pressed in close on my other side. The girls crossed and kicked their legs, piling them on mine and over each other’s, vying for top placement. De-facto attempted to ignore us; I was sure any moment he’d pull himself from under the oven of covers and leave us to find peace in one of the girl’s empty beds. Then we’d have the big bed to ourselves for an all-girl cuddle, as they like to call it.

Short-pants offered an enthusiastic report (I think). She lost a tooth. One of the loose molars on the top row finally fell out. I sensed some dismay mixed in with her delight – she didn’t say it but I wonder if she’d expected the Tooth Fairy to come during the night. She lost the tooth after our goodnight rituals; she hadn’t told me. Was she now putting two and two together to guess the real identity of the Tooth Fairy? Would she opt not to bring this up because she wants to get a 1€ coin even if it means ignoring new knowledge? Or would she remain in the group of faithful believers? It’s not the first time the Tooth Fairy has been a bit of a slacker; perhaps Short-pants has just learned to be forgiving. Or else she just likes believing in the Tooth Fairy.

I have an aunt who likes to believe in the Blue Fairy, a magic helper who does all sorts of tasks you’d prefer not to do yourself, like cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. I love that what started as a polite ploy to prohibit any of us from helping her wash up (the Blue Fairy only comes if you leave the dishes on the counter and close the door behind you) turned into a myth that persists. My aunt speaks about the Blue Fairy with admiration and awe. I think she enjoys the act of pretending to believe.

Buddy-roo, despite a loose tooth that will not fall out – even with the adult tooth growing over it – had no comment about the tooth fairy. She was staring up at the ceiling, moving her lips as if counting or considering something important. This went on for a good 30-seconds before she verbalized her thinking.

“I had a great grandmother,” she announced, “and a great, great grandmother. And a great, great, great grandmother…” The recent visit of the mother-in-love just one of the reasons she’s thinking about all great things grandmother.

She continued, emphasizing distinctly each great in the series of great, great, great, greats. She was digging back into the lineage of women before her. I pictured the old sepia photographs, once hidden in tattered, black-paged albums until my mother’s big project to frame them and hang them together in one room to make what became of gallery of our ancestors. There were plenty of men on this wall, but it’s the women who stood out: my grandmothers, great grandmothers and other elegant, austere or well-hatted women standing in poses stylish for the portraits of their time.

Now that technology permits, we keep this family lineage on-line; my sister took the initiative and it’s been amazing, the information we’ve acquired by going social-network with our family tree. Now all those faded photographs on the wall have names to match and for once I understand who they are and how they are related to me.

“…and then there’s a great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother.” She kept going.

I told her how she stands on the shoulders of many women who lived interesting lives, like her great grandmother who moved, with a husband she’d known only for a few months, to Cuba, where she knew nobody. Or another great grandmother who passed through Ellis Island when she was a girl, younger than Buddy-roo. Or her mother, who was pregnant during that long voyage across the Atlantic. Or on De-facto’s side, a great grandmother who was married twice, to the two loves of her life, both marriages lasting more than thirty years.

De-facto, until now silent – pretending to be asleep – piped up, pointing out that Buddy-roo’s two grandmothers also had two grandmothers, meaning she had four great grandmothers. And each of them, in turn, had two grandmothers, which makes for eight great, great grandmothers, and so on, making this big story of all the grandmothers an exponential one. I had never considered this, how many great, great women existed just to make me, so that I could make Short-pants and Buddy-roo. There’s a long line of women with wisdom, style and sass who’ve been before us.

“But what if I get children, like you and Papa got me?” (I love Buddy-roo’s choice of verb. She isn’t going to have children, or give birth to them, she’s just going to get them, like, at a store or something.) “What will they call her?” She pointed to her sister.

“She’ll be an aunt to your children,” I said.

“But won’t she be a great something?”

Considering her unwavering faith in the Tooth Fairy, Short-pants is poised to be a believer in the Blue Fairy, which puts her in good stead to become a greatest kind of aunt.

“Of course I’ll be a great aunt,” Short-pants volunteered, “I’m a great sister, aren’t I?”

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