She would want to put the phone down again. She would want the call to have been about a role I had gotten, or a boy I was seeing or a piece of furniture I had found at a swap meet or a new lipstick color…
"I wouldn't be surprised by anything your father did at this point. How do you know?" She couldn't help but ask. Her fear and curiosity blended in a scorching aroma. Her daughter was asking yes-or-no questions that she didn't want to answer. She knew that I had had little memory of my childhood in the past and that things had clearly changed.
"I know a lot of things." She had already admitted years earlier that I always knew things before anyone else in the family.
"Why did you remember this, Anne?"
The town house burned down. Or at least it burned enough that we would have to move. Why did he do it? This man? This father? There could have been so many reasons. The thing each had in common was that he wanted to hide. Which thing in particular on this day probably even he didn't know. I was learning to talk. He didn't have any money.
Insurance companies bought his lies because there was no reason not to. He was the choir director of a church he had started with another man who was the preacher. He was blond-haired and blue-eyed and fair-skinned and certainly looked the part of a man who would tell the truth. He was dynamic and charming and everyone liked him.
We packed our charred belongings and moved on, away from what we didn't want to know and didn't take the time to discover. This would be the pattern of our lives until he died.
Chapter Two: Centuries of Memories
The house we moved into was absolutely stunning. It would be the house I referred to as home for the rest of my childhood. Who knew that insurance would pay for a bigger and better home, or maybe Dad's parents paid for it or my mother's parents — we were never clued in. We just went where we were told, and this place was a beauty. It was a "century home." We were enlightened to this like it was a prize or present that we would keep on opening. More than one hundred years old, it sat on the side of a long stone driveway away from the road and shone white and lovely with accents of black shutters. As far as I can remember, everyone loved it. By everyone, I mean the family. I was not an only child. There were four of us children. Four that were alive. We had one sister, Cynthia was her name, who had died years before. We never spoke of her except to say: "There are four children in our family and a sister who died and is in heaven with Jesus."
I loved that I had another sister. I used to fantasize that I would go to heaven and meet her. "When I go to heaven I'm going to meet her and we'll be friends," I would say with a smile to everyone I met, like it was a good thing that she was dead. It gave me something to look forward to.
That's all there was to say or think about Cynthia. We never knew why or when she died. We weren't told. We didn't speak of unpleasant things in our family, and the number-one rule was never to ask questions. We learned this rule by getting hit with a wooden spoon on our bare asses if we did. We didn't know of war or famine or Nazis or blacks or Jews. All of these "things" would fall under the category of "unpleasant" for my family, so we children conveniently had the wool pulled over our eyes from the day we were born. We were a happy, white, Christian, blond-haired, blue-eyed family — Squeak!