Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I am sitting in my aunt and uncle's beautiful brownstone in Cobble Hill. I sit here writing, and I know I'm surrounded by history-this was the brownstone where  Thomas Wolfe wrote "Look Homeward Angel". 40 Verandah Place. There's a pretty little park out front,.and Bob the dog is my little buddy at this point, sitting with me on the couch. I forgot how much I missed having a dog. He's awesome. On the television, there is a documentary on the Titanic. The Titanic was my childhood ghost story. I went to the Episcopal church in Rhinebeck-where the Tiffany stained glass windows were all dedicated to men who went down with the ship-Astors....my mom told us the story, and I was so fascinated. It was a beautifully tragic story. Watching the documentary is making me go back in time, when it was just a story. And now that I'm older -perhaps the tragedy isn't so beautiful. This Easter was a bit tough-I just still mourn the family I remember. I have started to go back in history, my history to try and make sense of things. My father's family is very difficult, and filled with mysteries and miscommunications. My aunt, who has been with my uncle more than two decades has heard half truths about her husbands family, my family, and I get upset-because these people are real to me. My great grandma, Nana, who represented the devotion and warmth that was missing from my distant grandmother-who was a cigarrette and martini kind've woman. I never met my enigmatic grandfather who seems to have led a truly remarkable life of utter self sufficiency after being put on the streets as a child, during the Depression. He spun coal into gold. Drank like a fish. And died on the NY Subway. I am still unraveling them-I remember feeling a bit like they were glamorous villains as a kid, and now I wonder where that came from. I do know that Dad's family is as WASP-y as you can get, with a stiff upper lip. It wasn't until I became an actor and put the Depression in perspective that I was able to put my extended family in a place that I was able to cope with. I really don't think my father and mother realized the stories kids put together in their heads-and both of mine had serious issues with theirs. My grandmother was a divorced single mother from a blue collar background-a flirty, good time girl, which mortified my mother-who had exquisite taste and "passed" as a wealthy girl. My father, on the other hand was the more well off son of an Irish Street kid who grew up to start and launch cosmetics companies, and to market perfumes. As a matter of fact-if you walk into a drugstore, you still see his products, which he helped design. I think everyone has seen the retro bottle of Jean Nate Afterbath Splash. And the beautiful Chanel packaging. Both his.Estee Lauder Youth Dew is one of his, too, and the one my grandmother always wore. My dad's mother, to me, is the biggest enigma. I remember her asking me one morning when I was very small if she could make me scrambled eggs. I was shocked. She knew how to cook? I remember thinking she didn't like me as a little girl. In retrospect, I think she was a deeply unhappy woman who was not particularly open. She drank martinis and smoked two packs a day. I remember she stayed in her rather elegant bedroom, where I was allowed to play with her tchotchkes. There was a family of china ducks that had broken crayons in them. I spent hours trying to get them out. She also taught me to make banana slippers by crocheting. Mine were yellow. I learned to embroider, too. I never realized my grandparents were Irish. I knew we were "Irish", but not actually from Ireland. So now- I am putting the pieces together from family stories. It helps me make sense of things. 

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