Beyond the Lies
Mother’s Day, 1948, the Hamiltons rose earlier than usual. Each holiday, Doris, her sister, Kate, and their mother took turns hosting a family dinner. Being practical and frugal people they celebrated Mother’s Day and Gloria’s birthday, which were only days apart, as one. Gloria would have preferred her own party, but it wasn’t her decision. This dinner, Kate was hosting at her farm near Tipton, Indiana, with her mother’s help. Even when Grandma wasn’t the hostess, she and Grandpa arrived a day early so she could “lend a hand.” Doris, who liked the comfort of her own bed, preferred to make the trip all in one day.
After breakfast, Gloria and her father disappeared, so Doris could prepare in peace for the trip. History told them that it was best to stay out of her way on these occasions.
Upstairs, Gloria sat in front of a mirror looking for something that might quiet her fears that she wasn’t really a Hamilton. Fears she had kept to herself for years.
At eleven, spider-legged Gloria towered over her mother. Over the past two years, she had sprouted even more. Only days from her thirteenth birthday Gloria stood an inch taller than her father and eyebrow-to-eyebrow with her married brothers, Richard and Rudy. Just once she wanted to look into a mirror and recognize a family feature--her mother's eyes, her father's smile, or Richard's cleft chin. Even the beauty spot above Grandma's upper lip, like Arlene Dahl's, would be welcome. There was the superfluous nipple beneath her left breast, but no one in the family would ever discuss anything that intimate, so Gloria had no idea if anyone else was so endowed. She prayed for a sign that would confirm her as a Hamilton, hoping against hope to banish her suspicion that she was adopted. Still, the mirrored image offered no clue.
Leaning forward, she examined her features. If she wasn’t a Hamilton, maybe she belonged to someone famous. Looking deeper, she wondered whose child she might be. Lana Turner? Barbara Stanwyck?
Around nine-thirty, Doris shouted a summons. Her “Gloria!” climbed the stairs and slithered into her room, disintegrating slowly as a few maverick phonemes chose other directions and lost their way The third calling of her name brought Gloria back to reality. Then, she could visualize her mother, standing at the foot of the stairs, looking upward and waiting patiently. There was still time. Her voice lacked conviction.
Still searching her reflection, Gloria pushed away from the vanity, but remained seated. In less than a week she would be a teenager, so her preoccupation with the mirror was not considered excessive. Doris excused the daily mirror-worship ritual as perfectly normal behavior. “A side-effect of puberty,” according to her mother.
Some time ago, Gloria asked her parents about the height difference. Ralph dismissed her concern, as he did most serious subjects, with a joke. “What’s the problem, Princess? Everyone's taller than your mother.” True enough. Doris was short--very short--about five foot nothing. The discussion ended there.
Again, her mother's voice traveled up the stairs. “Young lady, you have exactly thirty seconds. Now, move it!”
Gloria sighed, “Okay, Mom. Just a minute—”
“No, not ‘just a minute.’ NOW! Your father is in the car, and . . . he's waiting.” Her mother was serious now. She expected action because she had invoked the magic word: father. Doris would deny any jealousy of Ralph and Gloria's relationship. Still, Gloria felt it on many levels. Most of all, it seemed to her daughter, that Doris tried too hard. Time and again, Doris explained that Gloria’s father had been reluctant to have a third child, insisting it was her idea. “I wanted a little girl,” she added, wistfully. Well, maybe so. But when Ralph first held his baby daughter, a connection was made. “What will Daddy think?” was always Gloria's first concern. She coveted her father's approval. Gloria was Daddy's little girl. Doris couldn't change that. Lord knows she'd tried.
In response to her mother’s ultimatum, Gloria rose and walked around her room, creating a commotion designed to satisfy Doris and send her back to the kitchen. A moment later, Gloria ran down the stairs, causing the house to shake and rattling the Wedgwood in the china closet.
Racing back through the house, Doris shouted, “Gloria!” over and over. Meanwhile, Gloria waited on the bottom landing of the staircase.
The moment her mother arrived, Gloria leapt the last three steps, soared briefly, and landed with both feet together on the hardwood floors. At touchdown, the twelve-year old offered an innocent, “Hi, Mom.”
Doris snapped, “How many times have I told you not to run down those stairs?”
“Gee, whiz,” Gloria flashed her dimple. “You said, “‘'Hurry’”
The daughter’s smile faded the mother’s scowl. At an early age, the child realized her smile was a powerful weapon, and she wielded it unmercifully.
“Well, yes, but…” Doris changed the subject. “Did you bring a change of clothes? I'll not have you messing around those smelly, old horses in your Sunday dress.” Doris didn't like farms or anything about them, especially the animals.
Pointing toward a small bag perched precariously on the bottom riser, she muttered, “Yeah,” before she thought. Doris flinched. Gloria knew exactly what her mother was thinking.
The heavy sigh would have said it all for anyone but Doris. She had to verbalize it. “The word,” she reminded her daughter, 'is yes, not ‘Yeah.’” Doris actually shuttered when she said, “Yeah.” “And,” she added, “ladies do not point.”
“Yes, Mother,” she mocked with perfect enunciation before planting a kiss on Doris’s forehead. “Happy Mother's Day.” There was that dimple, again.
Embarrassed and flustered, but not at all blinded by her daughter's manipulation, Doris flitted from place to place, issuing orders. “Get the packages off the buffet…I'll lock up…and don't forget your sheet music. Grandma and Grandpa will want to hear your recital piece.”
Gloria's hands were full when she passed the piano, but not that full. She could have carried the sheet music, but she walked on, scrunching her face at the music her mother had set out. The piano was her refuge. She played for herself; however, her mother insisted she play for the family or any stray soul who happened by, claiming it was “her duty to share her God-given talent.” Their daily arguments always ended the same. Doris would threaten to sell the “damn” piano until Gloria reluctantly practiced. Her mother, of course, had no idea that Gloria did play—for hours—when she was alone.
With the toe of her black, patent leather shoes, Gloria kicked the screen door open. When it slammed behind her, she half-heartedly listened for her mother's predictable, “Don't slam the door!” Gloria wasn't disappointed. “And, tell your father to lay off that horn! I'm not deaf. Not yet, anyway.”
E-ISBN: 1-59088-258-X POD-ISBN: 1-59088-791-3
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