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The Glass Castle  玻璃城堡-Chapter 05: Thanksgiving

I WAS STANDING ONthe platform with my second husband, John. A whistle sounded in the distance, red lights flashed, and a bell clanged as the gates were lowered across the roadway. The whistle sounded again, and then the train appeared around the bend through the trees and rumbled toward the station, its massive twin headlights pale in the bright November afternoon.

The train eased to a stop. The electric engines hummed and vibrated, and after a long pause, the doors opened. Passengers spilled out, carrying their folded newspapers and canvas weekend bags and brightly colored coats. Through the crowd, I saw Mom and Lori getting out at the back of the train, and I waved. It had been five years since Dad died. I had seen Mom only sporadically since then, and she'd never met John nor been to the old country farmhouse we'd bought the year before. It had been John's idea to invite her and Lori and Brian out to the house for Thanksgiving, the first Walls family get-together since Dad's funeral. Mom broke into a huge smile and started hurrying toward us. Instead of an overcoat, she was wearing what looked to be about four sweaters and a shawl, a pair of corduroy trousers, and some old sneakers. She carried bulky shopping bags in both hands. Lori, behind her, wore a black cape and a black fedora. They made quite a pair.

Mom hugged me. Her long hair was mostly gray, but her cheeks were rosy and her eyes as bright as ever. Then Lori hugged me, and I introduced John.

"Excuse my attire," Mom said. "but I plan to change out of my comfy shoes into some dress shoes for dinner." She reached into one of her shopping bags and pulled out a pair of banged-up penny loafers.

* * *

The winding road back to the house led under stone bridges, through woods and villages, and past marsh ponds where swans floated on mirrorlike water. Most of the leaves had fallen, and gusts of wind sent them spiraling along the roadside. Through the thickets of bare trees, you could see houses that were invisible during the summer.

As he drove, John told Mom and Lori about the area, about the duck farms and the flower farms and the Indian origin of our town's name. Sitting beside him, I studied his profile and couldn't help smiling. John wrote books and magazine articles. Like me, he had moved around a lot while growing up, but his mother had been raised in an Appalachian village in Tennessee, about a hundred miles southwest of Welch, so you could say our families hailed from the same neck of the woods. I'd never met a man I would rather spend time with. I loved him for all sorts of reasons: He cooked without recipes; he wrote nonsense poems for his nieces; his large, warm family had accepted me as one of their own. And when I first showed him my scar, he said it was interesting. He used the word. "textured." He said. "smooth" was boring but. "textured" was interesting, and the scar meant that I was stronger than whatever it was that had tried to hurt me.

* * *

We pulled into the drive. Jessica, John's fifteen-year-old daughter from his first marriage, came out of the house, along with Brian and his eight-year-old daughter, Veronica, and their bull mastiff, Charlie. Brian hadn't seen much of Mom since Dad's funeral, either. He hugged her and immediately started ribbing her about the plucked-from-the-Dumpster presents she'd brought for everyone in the shopping bags: rusting silverware, old books and magazines, a few pieces of fine bone china from the twenties with only minor chips.

Brian had become a decorated sergeant detective, supervising a special unit that investigated organized crime. He and his wife had split up around the time Eric and I did, but he had consoled himself by buying and renovating a wreck of a town house in Brooklyn. He put in new wiring and plumbing, a new firebox, reinforced floor joists, and a new porch all on his own. It was the second time he'd taken on a true dump and restored it to perfection. Also, at least two women were after him to marry them. He was doing pretty darn well.

We showed Mom and Lori the gardens, which were ready for winter. John and I had done all the work ourselves: raked the leaves and shredded them in the chipper, cut back the dead perennials and mulched the beds, shoveled compost onto the vegetable garden and tilled it, and dug up the dahlia bulbs and stored them in a bucket of sand in the basement. John had also split and stacked the wood from a dead maple we'd cut down, and climbed up on the roof to replace some rotted cedar shingles.

Mom nodded at all our preparations; she'd always appreciated self-sufficiency. She admired the wisteria that wrapped around the potting shed, the trumpet vine on the arbor, and the big grove of bamboo in the back. When she saw the pool, an impulse seized her, and she ran out onto the green elastic cover to test its strength, Charlie the dog loping after her. The cover sagged beneath them, and she fell down, shrieking with laughter. John and Brian had to help pull her off as Brian's daughter, Veronica—who hadn't seen Mom since she was a toddler—stared wide-eyed.

"Grandma Walls is different from your other grandma," I told her.

"Way different," Veronica said.

John's daughter, Jessica, turned to me and said, "But she laughs just like you do."

* * *

I showed Mom and Lori the house. I still went into the office in the city once a week, but this was where John and I lived and worked, our home—the first house I'd ever owned. Mom and Lori admired the wideplanked floorboards, the big fireplaces, and the ceiling beams made from locust posts, with gouge marks from the ax that had felled them. Mom's eye settled on an Egyptian couch we'd bought at a flea market. It had carved legs and a wooden backrest inlaid with mother-of-pearl triangles. She nodded in approval. "Every household," she said. "needs one piece of furniture in really bad taste."

The kitchen was filled with the smell of the roasting turkey John had prepared, with a stuffing of sausage, mushrooms, walnuts, apples, and spiced bread crumbs. He'd also made creamed onions, wild rice, cranberry sauce, and squash casserole. I'd baked three pies with apples from a nearby orchard.

"Bonanza!" Brian shouted.

"Feast time!" I said to him.

He looked at the dishes. I knew what he was thinking, what he thought every time he saw a spread like this one. He shook his head and said. "You know, it's really not that hard to put food on the table if that's what you decide to do."

"Now, no recriminations," Lori told him.

After we sat down for dinner, Mom told us her good news. She had been a squatter for almost fifteen years, and the city had finally decided to sell the apartments to her and the other squatters for one dollar apiece. She couldn't accept our invitation to stay awhile, she said, because she had to get back for a board meeting of the squatters. Mom also said she'd been in touch with Maureen, who was still living in California, and that our kid sister, whom I hadn't spoken to since she left New York, was thinking of coming back for a visit. We started talking about some of Dad's great escapades: letting me pet the cheetah, taking us Demon Hunting, giving us stars for Christmas.

"We should drink a toast to Rex," John said.

Mom stared at the ceiling, miming perplexed thought. "I've got it." She held up her glass. "Life with your father was never boring."

We raised our glasses. I could almost hear Dad chuckling at Mom's comment in the way he always did when he was truly enjoying something. It had grown dark outside. A wind picked up, rattling the windows, and the candle flames suddenly shifted, dancing along the border between turbulence and order.

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