EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

Today, only five tapes remain, the labels peeling off from the dust that has weakened their glue, their images scratchy and worn. Amanda is the reason we have any tapes at all: After our mother's third and actual death, the one that followed our father's by three and a half years, Amanda carted those tapes around in boxes, stored them in a friend's garage, and drove them across state lines. They have been packed up, unpacked, sent parcel post, and popped into VCRs in New York, Virginia, and Texas. They're our family heirlooms, a fuzzy, dusty connection to the person whom waitresses at Chock full o'Nuts recognized as Eunice or Margo but whom we knew as Mom. Watching them now, we see bits of our lives on the screen. The diamond ring Eunice wears is really the one Dad gave Mom when he proposed in the early sixties, just a few months after meeting her. The red mug ringed with fat white hearts that Margo drinks out of spent the eighties stained with coffee in our kitchen sink at home in Bedford, New York. The yellow organza dress that she wore to announce her engagement to the cult leader is the one that Diana wore, fifteen years later and tripping on acid, to the junior prom. Though the ring was stolen years ago, and the mug is long gone, Amanda saved the dress, as she did the tapes, and the grandfather clocks, and the Etruscan trunk. Like Mom, she keeps the clocks wound to chime on the hour, and she fills the trunk with sheets and blankets. And, like Mom, she saved the manila folder that holds magazine clippings documenting the highlights of our mother's career.

"Ann Williams: 'I Relate to Children and Animals Better Than to Adults!' " shouts a bold headline across the opening spread of a 1976 article from Day TV Gossip. It chronicles life at Twin Meadows, the fourteen- acre estate where we grew up. In it, Mom describes Amanda, then ten, as a "serious human being" who likes to ride her pony and wants to be an animal trainer someday. "Lizzie," six, is a "backgammon whiz, you can't beat her!" and also the "most giving of people," one who would gladly give up her dessert so that another child wouldn't be left wanting. Daniel, four, is a "lover" who "practices his best Clark Gable moods" on Mom. He also has a "vivid imagination" and likes to go "elephant hunting in the backyard with his Daddy," she says. "They shoot them out of the trees." Diana wasn't born yet.

In one of the photos accompanying the article, Amanda, Liz, and Dan are all piled on Mom's lap. In another, Amanda and Dan pose with their stuffed animals. There's one of Dad, his salt- and- pepper hair elegantly parted on the side and slicked back, like a Kennedy. He has a kind Irish face, freckled and dimpled, and smiling eyes. They described him as an investment banker. He was on TV with Mom only once, for a Newlywedstyled show called Tattletales that Amanda, Liz, and Dan remember watching when they were kids. Every time Dad got an answer wrong, Mom would swat the air, smile big, and shrug her shoulders. Diana has seen the photo someone took of the black- and- white television set the day the show aired. Mom is sitting on Dad's lap, biting her bottom lip. He looks nervous and serious, though in real life he was neither.

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