My house is very quiet today. Deafeningly so. Sometimes I feel strangely alone with only ghosts for company. The women I am writing about had never heard of Thanksgiving, although Mary Wollstonecraft dreamed of living in America. To her, Illinois was an exotic word, as was Indiana. To me, they are the states we passed through when we drove east for the summer.
I grew up in a family with five children, lots of animals, and a swarm of friends. I remember polishing the silver, pouring nuts into the nut bowls, and arranging the mints. Our maid, Sadie, was in charge of ironing, basting the turkey and making the mashed potatoes. I was the youngest and I liked being in the kitchen with Sadie, although I also liked greeting the guests when they arrived. “My mom will be right down,” I’d say, because invariably she was upstairs changing, recovering from making dinner for thirty.
There is nothing extraordinary about any of this except that it is all gone. My brothers and sisters are in their fifties. Soon, I’ll join them. My nieces and nephews are graduating from college. One niece is almost done with graduate school. My father is dead. My mother lives by herself out west. I haven’t been back to the city where I grew up since I was nineteen years old. But I am partly there today, although, to be strictly accurate, I suppose I am also in the 1770s, Mary Wollstonecraft’s England. Not to mention, 2010, New England, in a messy house that has to be cleaned for guests tomorrow.