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Red Velvet

November 23, 2010

About fifteen years ago, at a small kitchen table covered by a plastic sheet for protection, my mother and grandmother sat talking about nothing much. The cucumbers in the back garden, maybe the changes in McDonald’s salads or sales at the Big Y. Mom helped her mother pay her bills, addressing and stamping the envelopes, while our grandmother asked about us girls and how we were doing in school. For no reason she can divine, my mother suddenly had a vision— a velvet dress trimmed in white lace. A funeral.

“Did I wear a red velvet dress to Babci’s funeral?” Mom asked. “Babci” is our shortened version of “Babcia,” the Polish word for “grandmother.” Mom called her grandmothers Babci, as we did our grandmother.

“Yes! Absolutely. A velvet dress with lace trim and black patent leather shoes.”

Mom’s grandmother, while crossing the street in a crosswalk, had been killed by a drunk driver when Mom was two years old.

Decades later, she suddenly remembered what would have been most significant to her at the funeral—her dress. She might have pulled at her tights, clacked her shoes, grabbed folds of the velvet and rubbed it between her fingers. As her father said goodbye to his mother, as the mourners discussed the tragedy of her early death, as the priest lamented the unfairness of being killed by a cause so preventable, Mom focused on that little velvet dress, not knowing that it would disappear but stay dormant, until a time, far in the future, after she’d had her own little girls and dressed them in red velvet, after she’d lost her husband to drunk driving, it would reappear, a red memory slicing through an otherwise ordinary Massachusetts morning.

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