My father asked my mother this question every night at dinner: “Did you hear from anybody today?” He never looked at her when he asked. He was usually lighting his cigarette or putting out his cigarette or slipping a fresh cigarette out of a pack. It was the 1970s and dinner meant dinner, stories and cigarettes.
Sometimes my mother answered with, “No, I was in and out all day, didn’t talk to nobody.” She didn’t look at him, either. She was usually filling a plate, pouring a drink or clearing a dish.
But other times, on the days that she was only in and not out, she said things like: “You know what I heard today? Josephine and Dominic are going to Florida. Again, for Chrissakes! I can’t figure those two out, one minute they’re crying poverty and killing each other and the next minute they’re on a second honeymoon!”
I loved when my mother wasn’t in and out all day. When we had those “in” days together and she heard from the Anybodies. The Teresas, the Jerrys, the Josephines and the Dominics all calling with tales to tell. Stories that needed to be told and heard and then taken apart, piece by piece, right then and there. The room swirled and buzzed on those days when she talked and talked and talked and I drank in all of her words.
Even the wooden counter stool wobbled from the energy in that kitchen. I’d sit there, half in a trance and half in a tizzy, roll my finger through the holes of the long telephone cord, listen to her voice and watch her dark eyes smile and frown with each new twist and turn in the story. All this swirling and buzzing and wobbling only made me hungry for more drama, more characters, more action.
Her talking to people meant that I was part of something more than the usual stuff in our smoky brick ranch at 847 Regency Court. And so in my early years, I was always by her side, watching her and wondering about things that mattered to us all.
Forty-five years later, I still do.
“Will Teresa’s daughter ever find someone to get rid of her tumor?”
“What will happen if Jerry’s poor mother, the one with the kids who forgot about her, leaves the stove on?”
“Did Josephine and Dominic win the lottery and keep it a secret? Where did all their money come from? Are they still in love?
Joan Didion said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Maybe we tell ourselves stories in order to live on.
Kathy Curto teaches at Montclair State University and Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of Not for Nothing-Glimpses into a Jersey Girlhood. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, on NPR, in the essay collection, Listen to Your Mother: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now, and in various journals. Kathy is also on the faculty of the Joe Papaleo Writers’ Workshop in Cetara, Italy. Please visit her site: www.kathycurto.com.