Thursday, July 07, 2005

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He longed to travel, like his mother did when she was young. When Lisa was ten years old, she traveled with grandmother and her aunt on a summer-long train trip, from Kansas City to Detroit and Canada to San Diego and Mexico, then back home. They rode first class, because her aunt “wasn’t gonna ride no coach,” sleeping in bunk beds and eating breakfast every morning in the restaurant car. Lisa would spend hours just staring out the window, watching the world gradually change as they moved along, from farmland to prairie to mountains to desert, marveling at how the sunset looked different in each new place. She saw, for the first and only time in her life, a hang glider, gently floating across a valley they were passing through. In California, she went to Disneyland, and crossed over into Tijuana, where she bought earrings and a set of maracas. For a week she called herself Rosa, and danced around the house shaking the things incessantly, driving the grown-ups nuts. Her uncle took her fishing in the ocean. He was light skinned, a bit snooty. He liked to say, a bit too often for Lisa’s taste, “We are the particular negroes.” His family had peach and lemon trees growing in their backyard. She ate bananas every day. Now whenever she peels one, she thinks of California. For a long time one of her prized possessions was a picture of her grandmother from that trip. In it, she wore a pink sleeveless blouse, loud 1970s polyester pants and a great big straw hat, standing in front of a pier that stretched out into a perfectly small cove.

She misplaced the photo when she and Jay and the kids moved to their current house, and she still ached at the loss. All through her adolescent the picture had hinted at a life she hoped to one day lead, free, worldly, and, at very least, far from the doldrums of a Midwestern ‘hood. “I knew there was something better out there,” she told me. “I was young, but I knew all this around here is the same, even though I hadn’t experienced it yet. Shit, I know the hell out of it now. And I don’t care about what I don’t know.”

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