вторник, 22 марта 2011 г.

Queen of Hearts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers

By Emily Parke Chase

They might not need me; but they might. I'll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.
~Emily Dickinson

After the great American poet, Emily Dickinson, died, her home in Amherst, Massachusetts was sold to my grandparents, Hervey and Ethel Parke. There in the heart of New England, they raised their five children. My father was born in the home, which is now owned by Amherst College and is open to the public as the Emily Dickinson Museum.

The house at 280 Main Street was officially called a mansion, we were informed, because it had four chimneys, not because the property included formal gardens and a grass tennis court. It also offered a wonderful cupola high above the roof where children could peek out and spy on the entire town. Doors and stairs creaked with mystery. Walls were said to harbor old poems stuffed behind the plaster by the famous former resident. Grand, sprawling, full of nooks and crannies, it became the perfect playground for sixteen lively grandchildren.
We called our grandparents Nai Nai and Yeh Yeh, the Chinese terms for revered grandmother and grandfather, not because we had a wonton noodle in our heritage, but because my aunt and uncle served as missionaries in China in the early 1940s, and they were the first of the clan to supply grandchildren. Once their children used these terms of endearment, the pattern was established and the rest of us adopted the same honorifics.Nai Nai, by the time I arrived on the scene, was already an older woman. During the day, her snow-white hair was pulled back in a neat bun, but at night I remember sitting on the black leather chaise at the end of her bed and watching her brush out the long strands. To me she looked like the woodcut illustration of the first wife of Mr. Rochester in my child's copy of the Brontë novel, Jane Eyre. "Like the woman who was raving mad?" she laughed when I told her so.

My grandmother delighted in having fresh flowers from the garden appear in vases all about the house. She would walk in the gardens and point to the ones she wanted us to cut and indicate where they might look best. "Those would look nice on the mantel in the library. The others can go in the parlor."

Her heart always wanted the house to look its best because from time to time, random visitors knocked at the door and asked to see the place where Emily once wrote her poems. Without fail, Nai Nai would welcome these complete strangers and offer them a tour. Before they left, she would invite them to enjoy a hot cup of tea and read some of their favorite poems aloud. She knew the lines herself by heart. Her head would nod as she listened to her guest recite, "I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you — Nobody — Too? Then there's a pair of us!"

Early in the evening, like a shepherd rounding up his flock, she would announce bedtime and shoo all of us grandchildren up the oval staircase to the Austin Room, the Emily Room or the Lavinia Room. As we grew older, we were still sent upstairs by 8:00, the hour she herself retired to her bed. Even as teens, we obediently continued to follow her lead, only to sneak downstairs half an hour later for a raucous round of games in the library.

Parlor games were an important part of our life in Amherst. Most of us learned to manipulate the cards in a playing deck well before we learned to read. We began with simple games of matching hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. Then we spread the cards out on the floor and played Memory. Later we worked up to games with more and more complicated rules — Canasta, Cribbage, Canfield. Each game had its own rules, and no Parke ever relaxed the rules just because the opponent was a child. My cousins and brothers and I all knew Nai Nai's favorite phrases. If she was losing, she'd quote the dime novels she grew up with: "I'll get you yet, Nod Nixon, he cried, as he shook his fist in the villain's eye!" Or she would promise ominously, "The worm will turn!"

Nai Nai had no fears about her grandchildren becoming card sharks. Her theory was that learning to play cards was character-building. Card games taught a person to win and lose graciously. No one ever wins all the time, so the loser might as well learn to be pleasant even when he is "skunked" and then congratulate the other player. Just as importantly, when you were lucky enough to win, you were not to flaunt that victory at the expense of your cousin's humiliation. Nai Nai's personal attitude was that she never lost: Either she got the highest score or she won bragging rights about having "such smart grandchildren."

If our hearts are as warm and welcoming as my grandmother's, then we too will all be winners.


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