April 15, 2007
The women gathered in Sara and Matt’s living room where waves of “oohs” and “awes” crashed and settled around the furniture as the presents were opened. Dana and Gina perched regally in identical high-backed wing chairs separated by the wood-burning fireplace. Sara had pulled a club chair next to Gina, and she jotted down in a legal pad pressed against her thigh a description of each gift and the guest responsible for it. Cindy’s handwriting was easier to read, but Sara was more detailed-oriented and didn’t punctuate her sentences with smiley faces, so Gina had delegated the administrative task to her.
Dana Cody retrieved a digital camera from her bag and handed it to Cindy, who sat on the four-cushioned sofa opposite her with Abby, Brenda, Margaret, and Jane.
“Could you please take a quick photo of me and my baby sister?” she asked, as if suddenly remembering to have her parking validated.
Wiping her hands on a pink napkin, Cindy put down her plate of food and accepted the assignment graciously.
Dana draped a threadbare arm around Gina, and they posed with her shower gift: A pink onesie with the image of an American flag, of which Gina approved, and a blue-tinted donkey with the words “Tiny Democrat” smeared underneath. Gina’s pert nose scrunched up at the sight, as if her unborn child had already soiled herself while wearing it. The sour expression became instantly cordial with a click of the camera, but her posture remained stiff and formal, like a celebrity posing with a slightly repellent fan at a convention.
“Thank you, Dana,” Gina said, handing off the onesie to Sara with the tip of her fingers. “Not on the registry,” she whispered.
Gina considered the Afghan Whigs tee-shirt Tom and Dana gave her two year old benign enough for one polite photo before being banished to the attic. This onesie, however, would never come in contact with her child. The socialism might seep into the skin.
Dana patted her sister-in-law on her trousered knee.
“Regina doesn’t mind if Tom and I put our liberal stamp on our nieces, right?” She then said, with brittle laughter, to the rest of the group, “We used to call Regina ‘Alexis P. Keaton’.”
Gina moved a strand of wavy blonde hair from one end of her forehead to the other. As a child, she’d developed this habit as a polite replacement for eye rolling.
“Why?” Sara asked.
Attributing Sara’s lack of recognition to their seven-year age difference, Dana kindly explained to her the premise of the TV series Family Ties.
“Progressive politics runs in my family,” she continued. “I’m related to Rebecca Felton on my mother’s side.”
The other women were more familiar with Alex Keaton, so Dana proudly declared, “She was the first woman senator.”
Sara reached for the sterling silver tea service, a gift for the occasion from Matt’s mother, and started to pour herself a cup of Darjeeling.
“She served for just one day.”
“Oh, you’ve heard of her?”
“Yes,” Sara replied as she diverted a stream of her cool blonde hair from the path of hot tea. “She was a slave owner and white supremacist who supported the lynching of Sam Hose in 1899. He was dismembered and burned alive. His knuckles were sold at Atlanta grocery stores.”
Jane Hind slowly and dramatically lowered her dish containing an untouched lady finger onto the coffee table.
“Well, we don’t talk about that,” Dana said with a rhetorical sweep of the matter under the nearest afghan. “We focus on the positive. She did a lot for the woman’s suffrage movement. That’s how history remembers her. Not the other stuff. She’s a Georgia woman of achievement. Her papers are at Athens.”
Teresa Bryan, sloshing out of a slipper chair, asked, “Greece?”
“No,” Gina clarified, “the University of Georgia. In the South, Athens means UGA and UPS means packages.”
“I dated a black guy once,” Jane announced, straightening up in her seat as though addressing the Nobel committee. The ladies’ heads snapped back from the force of the non-sequitur.
“African-American,” Brenda corrected in a nervous whisper, as if speaking louder might summon one to tea.
“Oh, she’s entitled,” Gina wryly insisted, “she gives to Save the Children.”
Wiggles sat cross-legged in rolled-up yoga pants on the floor where she wrapped a piece of smoked salmon around a cinnamon-raisin scone. Gina turned away from the sight and asked Jane, “Would you like to share with the congregation?”
“It was fine for a while, but… ” Jane had retrieved her lady finger and now wiped off crumbs from her own french-tipped fingers. “Whenever we were around babies — my friends’ kids; he never met my family — they would freak out or just stare oddly at him. It was impossible to know if it was because of… you know…” She completed the thought with a twirl of her hand. “Or if they just sensed something off about him.”
“What did you do?” Brenda asked.
“I couldn’t take any chances, you see. Five years ago, it might have been edgy, but there are more parents and kids in my social circle now. It’s like a real thing.”
Wiggles’s broad flat nose trembled in agreement.
“And he was really obsessed with race, which is kinda unfortunate in this day and age. For instance, it bothered him that I believe Michael Jackson’s a child molester but Woody Allen isn’t. I don’t even see race, but he made a big deal about it.”
“Really?” Margaret wondered. “Why? There’s like zero racism out here.”
“Yeah, it’s not like it’s the South,” Abby said, and upon the twin glare from the Cody sisters, quickly added, “You know, like, Alabama.”
— from The Wrong Questions