The Price You Pay: The Hidden Cost of Women’s Relationship to Money Routledge, 1996

The Egg Route (fragment)

" . . . the entity called the family—that battleground, open wound, haven and theater of the absurd, which dominates each human childhood."
—Adrienne Rich

"Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between the passive be and the active being."
—Audre Lorde

"Oh he was terrible," my mother said, "he drove Nana Jo to distraction." She was talking about her father, "a terrible spendthrift."

We became aware of my grandfather’s peculiarities through his obsessions: vast collections of cameras, socks, monkey wrenches, and luxury tools he purchased at gentleman’s stores like Abercrombie & Fitch. Dozens, in some cases hundreds, were found when Mother and her brother cleaned out his office after his death. Many were in their original wrappings.

Grandpa DeWitt Davidson had been a jewelry salesman who took his wholesale gems and settings on the road. A traveling salesman, but not of brushes or encyclopedias. There were also stories of a dashing young man working as a ranger at one of the western parks, among other such exotic jobs. It was said he was a crack shot, but I never saw guns. And he raised large dogs.

Then, eight years after my mother, a son was born. When he was two years old, my uncle DeWitt was taken ill with mastoiditis. The recovery nurse happened to be a Christian Scientist. That Grandpa was a womanizer is an acknowledged family fact. Growing up, I heard my mother and her brother speak of that aspect of his life with a sort of benevolent admiration, while noting Grandma’s martyrdom.

Perhaps the middle-aged man was attracted to his son’s nurse. In any case it was she who introduced him to her religion. My grandfather eventually became a Christian Science practitioner and the Second Reader (combination minister/healer) at a prominent New York City church. The family patriarch and referred to as saintly as well as a bit daft.

It was in the spirit of this daffiness myth, that my mother now spoke. "When I was a child," she said, "Nana Jo had to sell eggs door to door. She had an egg route. That’s what a spendthrift Dad was . . ."

I heard this frequently as I grew up, this story about my righteously petulant grandmother. If my mother cared to elaborate, or if I put this egg route comment in context with other bits and pieces of information accumulated over the years, the image conjured looked something like this:

Nana Jo, with her coarse white hair, darkly-circled eyes, and tense mouth, climbs into the back seat of an elegant chauffeured automobile. Perhaps an early Daimler or Rolls Royce. The driver is uniformed. Nana’s small hands, an unpainted half-moon at the base of each nail, hold a large basket: carefully so as not to disturb its fragile contents. The eggs are covered with a linen napkin, maybe a small table cloth folded several times over, almost certainly monogrammed. As this liveried transport makes its way through the privileged streets of Sea Cliff, New York, I imagine Nana descending and knocking on the doors of mansions like her own.

I may have seen the estate once, as a child. Memories are in conflict on this point. In any case Mother often talks about the 23-room place where she grew up, and in recent years longs to go back and see it one last time; its stable, boat house, and lawn sweeping down to a substantial stretch of beach rights on Long Island Sound. Last we knew, William Casey’s family lived there. His widow responded to a note from Mother with a gracious one of her own, in which she assured her she was welcome whenever she might wish to visit.

But back to Nana’s egg route. In my imagination and throughout my growing up, I saw her descending and reentering that limousine, descending and reentering, always with the egg basket on her arm.

It took me years to question the egg route story, and then I did so with irritation, even anger: "Mother," I demanded, "why do you keep repeating that crazy story? Doesn’t it seem contradictory to you that a woman with a 40-room house would sell eggs door to door? Haven’t you ever stopped to ask yourself about the car, the gas, the chauffeur’s salary? Any one of those expenses would have been more than Nana could have made hawking eggs!"

My mother didn’t look at me. "No," she admitted, "not until just now."

I was 56, she 83 when this conversation took place.

In my memory, only one half of the doorframe is illuminated, the other half and the room itself—from where the child, me, sees—is in darkness. Nana Jo leans against that brightened side of the frame, her face, her dark eyes fixed on what is happening inside the room. Happening, no. Being done. Being done to the child, to me.

He pins me against the green lucite top of a clothes hamper, its surface covered with something clean and warm. But my body is held against my will. Hurt. Frozen. Now I am floating somewhere above that small terrified body, experiencing and watching. Refusing to experience. But watching.

The powdery white face descends, that other white head rises: heads, faces, tensed lines of a mouth spilling liquid that will drip onto me, into me, stain me, fill me, undo me, destroy . . . . NO.

At the last possible moment I make the necessary gesture, kick or silent scream, brandishing of tiny fists. I succeed in reinventing what I now know to have been his mouth, his penis, his invasion of my self. In that moment the other terror is born. The birth of terror.

As my grandmother watches.

She takes it all in—my struggle, his pleasured will, my humiliation and escape. She cannot forgive any of them. But she also takes a witnessed satisfaction. Perhaps this is when she begins to hate me, as she leans against that doorframe, her breathing a shattered harmony . . .