When I was four I went on my first great adventure, a business trip with
a black-haired, blue-eyed, handsome stranger who seemed to be my father.
That is, my mother had told me he was my father; ergo, I trusted he was
my father. Trust was my default position: I had had no experience with
I had no experience with men, either. This particular man, the one labeled
"father," had just returned from years of Air Force service
during World War II. He’d been stationed halfway across the country.
During his long absence I had made my debut into the intimate family society
which was, during that war, a lively matriarchy. Women cuddled us, fed
us, bathed us. It was my mother, a teacher, who left for work every day
and earned the money that paid our rent, bought our food. In fact I never
had to become a feminist; I was born as one.
So my father and I were not really acquainted with each other. When he
was able to get leave, he’d drop in for a week or so. Upon returning
to his base, he’d write letters to my mother, sometimes with a wistful
question about me: "Did she notice when I left?" I don’t
think I did. I didn’t know what his function was.
What a staunch little character I was! I had no qualms about going off
alone with this strange man, plunked in the front seat of an auto without
seat belts. Our departure point was The Bronx, New York, where we lived.
Our destination was Woonsocket, Rhode Island, a factory town where my
mother’s large family had settled. Distance, about 185 miles. Driving
duration, over 4 hours.
My father and I headed off in bright daylight, wafted, I presume, on the
winds of my mother’s fervent hope that her first and up til then
only child would initiate some sort of familial relationship with her
cerebral, emotionally restricted yet deeply beloved husband. I had another
role on that journey, but I wasn’t aware of it until now.
Interstate 95, that wide white superhighway, didn’t yet exist so
we took the old road, overhung with huge trees, an enchanted forest. Hours
later it was nighttime, we were in a village square in an old New England
town and my father had pulled off the road to phone Woonsocket and say
we were lost. I was unfazed; my chauffeur was slightly puzzled but not
We got there, eventually. An open front door, golden light flowing out,
my aunts, their loving smiles, open arms. One of my aunts asked my father
how I had fared on what was a long, long trip for a little child. Had
I gotten fussy?
No, my father said, I had done very well, had kept myself entertained
by looking out of the car window and chatting away to myself.
"At some point," my father reported, "she announced
that she had seen a blue cow with red spots. And not only was there not
a blue cow with red spots, there wasn’t even a cow."
In that little story is buried every secret of my entire life.