I love my father dearly, but he has a tendency to drive me a little nuts. It only take a tone or the juxtaposition of a couple of his words to reduce me to a teenager again, with my defensive hackles standing straight up and my heartbeat pounding, readying for an argument. A lot of the time I'm utterly baffled at how he thinks I've managed to care for myself—not to mention others—all these years, when he tells me things like, "I hope you remembered to move your bank account from Detroit to Connecticut. Because that's an awfully long drive back if you have to see a teller." Or, gravely, "Do you see a dentist? You know you should see the dentist every six months."
And a lot of the time I feel as if I'm some kind of underqualified nurse assistant left to care for a dotty old man. One who will hold an entire phone conversation stretched out uncomfortably over the sofa with his ear pressed against the coffee table, because he refuses to take his cell phone out of the charger because he's worried about the battery level going under one hundred percent. ("I might have an emergency and need that three percent!")
Sometimes, though, he can surprise me. I was talking to him last night after his return from a visit to his sister's, in Tennessee, when he said, "You know, we were going through some old photographs during the week."
"Oh?" I said, certain that what was coming next was going to be an exhaustive catalog of every photo he saw. My father the former academic cannot remember the names of any of the women on his favorite television show, Desperate Housewives—he refers to them as 'the red-head, the dumb-ass, the hot Latina, and the ugly one'—but when it comes to photographs, maps, or old letters he has the steel-trap mind of a curator at the National Archives.
"And I was very surprised when we found an old diary belonging to your grandmother."
I considered this news for a moment. Now, my father's mother was a crabby old battleaxe. Equal parts gin and disdain ran in her bloodstream when she was alive. When she finally died, she arrived at the mortuary self-embalmed. If she'd kept a diary, I was pretty certain it was full of entries like, Shooed little bastards from down the street off the lawn, or Had a fun day of shushing annoying patrons at the library, or Put out poisoned meat for the neighbor's cat. "Fascinating," I said suppressing a yawn.
"It's from 1934," my father rattled on. "And while it's not of much use to a historian—that is, it doesn't shed any light on the economic turmoil of the Great Depression—it certainly was interesting."
"Oh?" I asked, preparing to stretch out for a good mental snooze. "Why is that?"
"Because apparently my mother was—" And here he mumbled some words.
I sat up in my porch chair and cocked my head. "Excuse me?"
He seemed rather embarrassed. "I think you heard me."
"No, what I thought I heard you say was that your mother was kind of a slut." I nearly bolted out of my chair. "Wait. Is that what you said?" I asked, excited at last.
"Yes," he admitted.
"Oh my god!" I exclaimed. "Tell me more!"
My father, in his dry way, went on to explain that the diary had been written during my grandmother's senior year of college, when she had somehow managed to graduate Phi Beta Kappa while going out every night with a different boy. "She kept a really detailed record of what they did," he told me.
"You mean, sex?" I thrilled. My grandmother had never seemed so interesting.
"Well." He seemed a little embarrassed to be discussing his mother's amorous life. "As far as we could tell, she used a system of plus marks to indicate how hot 'n' heavy things got. So if she put down kissing plus, we figured the guy was a pretty good kisser. And if it said heavy petting plus plus plus plus. . . ."
"Oh my god!" I commented.
He laughed uneasily. "So, along with the other stuff she wrote. . . ."
"You're not getting away with that, old man," I snapped. "What other stuff?"
"Well. . . ." I could tell he was considering whether to tell me or not. "She also rated the guys on something it took us a very long time to figure out. On a lot of the entries she rated them either soft, firm, or something that read r-k h-r-d that we figured had to mean rock hard."
"Holy fuck," I nearly shouted. It's a good thing I have no near neighbors. "Your mother was a whore."
"I just don't know why she didn't destroy the diary after she met my father," he said, not bothering to disagree with me.
"She might've forgotten about it," I pointed out. "Or thought she had, when she hadn't."
"But still," he said, and for the first time I could tell he was a little cross with the deceased woman. "She had to have known what incendiary stuff this would be, if anyone found it and read it. I mean, I can't imagine writing down all the details of my sex life and chancing that anyone would read it. Could you?"
I had to suck in my lips for a moment.
"Are you there?" he asked at last.
"Mmm-hmm," I replied.
"I just can't imagine. Could you?" He repeated the question.
"Nooooooo," I lied. "Nuh-uh. Not me. Never."
My poor father. The only good man in a family of whores.