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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:01:46
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  "Bonanza!" Brian shouted.

  A year after Lori was born, Mom and Dad had a second daughter, Mary Charlene, who had coal-black hair and chocolate-brown eyes, just like Dad. But Mary Charlene died one night when she was nine months old. Crib death, Mom always said. Two years later, I was born. "You were to replace Mary Charlene," Mom said. She told me that she had ordered up a second redheaded girl so Lori wouldn't feel like she was weird. "You were such a skinny baby," Mom used to tell me. "The longest, boniest thing the nurses had ever seen."Brian arrived when I was one. He was a blue baby, Mom said. When he was born, he couldn't breathe and came into this world having a seizure. Whenever Mom told the story, she would hold her arms rigid and clench her teeth and go bug-eyed to show how Brian looked. Mom said when she saw him like that, she thought, Uh-oh, looks like this one's a goner, too. But Brian lived. For the first year of his life, he kept having those seizures, then one day they just stopped. He turned into a tough little guy who never whined or cried, even the time I accidentally pushed him off the top bunk and he broke his nose.

  Just then the door burst open. Someone was calling our names. It was Dad. Lori and Brian woke up and ran to him, coughing from the smoke. I still couldn't move. I watched the fire, expecting that at any moment my blanket would burst into flames. Dad wrapped the blanket around me and picked me up, then ran down the stairs, leading Lori and Brian with one arm and holding me in the other.

  "I've spent my life taking care of other people," Mom said. "Now it's time to take care of me.""But you're not taking care of you.""Do we have to have this conversation?" Mom asked. "I've seen some good movies lately. Can't we talk about the movies?"I suggested to Mom that she sell her Indian jewelry. She wouldn't consider it. She loved that jewelry. Besides, they were heirlooms and had sentimental value.

NEW YORK CITYIT WAS DUSK WHEN I got my first glimpse of it off in the distance, beyond a ridge. All I could see were the spires and blocky tops of buildings. And then we reached the crest of the ridge, and there, across a wide river, was a huge island jammed tip to tip with skyscrapers, their glass glowing like fire in the setting sun.

  "Why not?" Mom said. "Being homeless is an adventure."* * *As fall came and the days shortened and the weather cooled, Mom and Dad began spending more time in the libraries, which were warm and comfortable, and some of which remained open well into the evening. Mom was working her way through Balzac. Dad had become interested in chaos theory and was reading Los Alamos Science and the Journal of Statistical Physics. He said it had already helped his pool game.

  THE NEXT DAY WAS Sunday. When we got up, Uncle Stanley was leaning against the refrigerator and staring intently at the radio. It made strange noises, not static but a combination of shrieking and wailing. "That there's tongues," he said. "Only the Lord can understand it."The preacher started talking in actual English, more or less. He spoke with a hillbilly accent so thick it was almost as hard to understand as the tongues. He asked all them good folk out there who'd been helped by this here channeling of the Lord's spirit to send contributions. Dad came into the kitchen and listened. "It's the sort of soul-curdling voodoo," he said, "that turned me into an atheist."Later that day, we got into the Oldsmobile, and Mom and Dad took us for a tour of the town. Welch was surrounded on all sides by such steep mountains that you felt like you were looking up from the bottom of a bowl. Dad said the hills around Welch were too steep for cultivating much of anything. Couldn't raise a decent herd of sheep or cattle, couldn't even till crops except maybe to feed your family. So this part of the world was left pretty much alone until around the turn of the century, when robber barons from the North laid a track into the area and brought in cheap labor to dig out the huge fields of coal.

  I called him at Grandpa's and presented my case. He'd need to get a job to pay his share of the rent and groceries, I said, but jobs were going begging in the city. He could share the living room with me梩here was plenty of space for a second bed梩he toilet flushed, and the ceiling never leaked.


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