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The Mast-Head: The Green Wallpaper

Wed, 12/13/2023 - 19:05

Early darkness this time of the year and the bell music coming from the Presbyterian Church often make me think of my grandmother, who lived just up the driveway from the Star office. Jeannette Edwards Rattray was my grandmother on my father’s side. She died in 1974.

Evenings were a lot quieter then. Grandma would make hamburgers from lean beef she had specially ground for her at Dreesen’s. I liked them well done and can remember how they tasted as we sat at the table listening to the hymns. There was white wallpaper with a green design, I think. A door at the far end of the table led to her yellow-painted bathroom. There were Christmas cactuses in red bloom and the thick perfume of forced paperwhites.

When I stayed over, I would sleep in my father’s old room, where pale-colored prints of fish were mounted on the walls, circling the room. My nephew Ted and his cat now occupy it, though the fish prints remain.

Prints loom large in memories of my grandmother. Her other son, like me named David, and unlike me, a poet, wrote of one that hung over her bed, “A Red-Framed Print of the Summer Palace,” which can be found in his 1991 collection, “Opening the Eyelid.” The poem is about memory, too. Jeannette had seen the palace when she was young, and 50 years later sometimes woke from her dreams in tears at not returning.

David inherited the print after she died. Many years later, he learned that there were mistakes in the picture. There were too few arches in the bridge and “errors in perspective / and the Chinese writing in the clouds / over the lake / is cut-and-dried description, / not the poetry I had hoped.” I can remember the print as well as I can the green wallpaper.

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