In the picture on my kitchen wall my father is standing with his two older brothers, in age order. Therefore he is the bottom step. They are all wearing double-breasted winter coats and holding hats in their hands, except my father is dressed in a little boy’s coat, holding a little boy’s hat, and smiling a little boy’s smile. Herb, the oldest, is looking pleasantly and hesitantly at the camera. He will grow up to make a lot of money in sweaters, and to eventually be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, burdening his wife and daughter. He had another daughter who was diagnosed as intellectually disabled but she died young of cancer before her father got crazy. She was extremely perceptive, and when she was five and met my mother for the first time she ran crying from the room. Her older sister, my cousin who is still living, says that was because even beneath the disguise her sister could tell that my mother is a psychopath.
The middle brother, Nat, is probably around ten in the picture and is looking distinctly self-satisfied. He married a lovely woman, had two daughters also, and was an Army lifer. He retired a Colonel, and would have been a General except that he publicly opposed the TET Offensive and so Westmoreland put the kibosh on that. A few years before he died I was taking a walk and we were talking on the phone and I told him I thought I’d have been a much different person if he had been my father. He agreed. He was pushing 90 at that time, had a picture of Obama behind his bathroom door when Obama was still a Senator, and was learning tai chi. He came to visit and asked my family why they let me do all the work.
My father is perhaps five and looks sweet. I think he was sweet and would have stayed that way if he hadn’t married my mother. Nat confirmed this. My mother wouldn’t let us around my father’s family because she knew they knew who she really was. Their parents got divorced when my father was 3, and soon after he learned to cook while my grandmother went to work. They all were quite poor, even while living in Greenwich, CT. He drove the launch to take people out to their yachts in Greenwich Harbor. They sometimes lived in servant’s quarters, while his mother worked as a governess. Later he became a long-haul trucker, and in the middle of the night he and a friend would sometimes drag race with 18 wheelers on the Post Road to Rye or Stamford. My father would occasionally whisper to us that he knew my mother was a witch, but that he couldn’t stand up to her because then they would have to get divorced and he hated it when his parents got divorced.