Cover image for A good enough daughter : a memoir
Title:
A good enough daughter : a memoir
Author:
Shulman, Alix Kates.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Schocken Books : Distributed by Pantheon Books, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
xiv, 254 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Language:
English
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9780805241617
Format :
Book

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Central Library PS3569.H77 Z474 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Central Library PS3569.H77 Z474 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Riverside Branch Library PS3569.H77 Z474 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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Audubon Library PS3569.H77 Z474 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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Summary

Summary

At twenty, Alix Kates Shulman wrenched herself from her middle-class family and staked a claim to a fierce independence. From her bestselling novel,Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, to her brilliant memoir,Drinking the Rain, she has chronicled what it means to defy the expectations of family and society in order to map one's own life. Now, in this unflinching but tender memoir, she explores what it means to do what is expected of a daughter--discovering in the process the unexpected, complicated joys of going home. Told with the grace, clarity, and insight we have come to expect from her,A Good Enough Daughteris the story of Shulman's difficult journey from dependency to alienation to reconciliation, as she returns home to care for her aging parents in the last years of their lives. The intersection of her own memory with family documents discovered in her parents' house provides the structure for this riveting exploration of her life as a daughter.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

To be free to express herself as a feminist and a writer has been Shulman's intentions ever since she left the comforts of her parents' art-filled Cleveland home. She celebrated her self-sufficiency in Drinking the Rain (1995) and now recognizes its high cost: alienation from her brother Bob and from her remarkable parents. Shulman couches memories of her childhood--a nearly idyllic life complicated only by the strange rivalry with Bob, the son of her mother's sister, who died in childbirth, and a man who couldn't care for him--with reflective and moving accounts of Bob's premature death, her parents' slip into old age and infirmity, and her taking on the bittersweet work of closing down their home and ushering them to the end of life. Regret is a blue thread running throughout this well-worked tapestry, but there are bright yellows and golds, too, in Shulman's portraits of her compelling and admirable parents. And her astute charting of the tides of love and guilt is moving and cathartic. --Donna Seaman


Publisher's Weekly Review

Shulman's autobiographical novel, Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, epitomized the intellectual and sexual awakenings of many young women in the 1960s. Now, like so many of her contemporaries, she's grappling with the loss of her parents, and with what it means to be a daughter. For Shulman, this undertaking is infused with guilt about the distance she imposed by choosing to live the literary life in New York City while her parents grew old in Cleveland, Ohio. But this memoir is more than just an effort to express the appreciation for her late parents that she couldn't quite bring herself to grant them in their lifetimes. What makes it satisfying are Shulman's wonderfully idiosyncratic reminiscences of two colorful and articulate parents who loved and encouraged their daughter. She elegantly interweaves such poignant events as dismantling the family home after her mother and father have moved into a retirement community with moments from the childhood years she shared with her adopted brother, Bob, who died of lung cancer at a relatively young age. The messager of this honest and well-written memoir is, in the end, one of redemption, reconciliation and affection. The rebellious ex-prom queen has become a caring daughter. Black and white photos. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Watching one's parents slip toward death is a painful process, but Shulman transforms her experience into one of self-discovery and renewal. The author of ten previous books, along with stories and essays, Shulman is probably best remembered for Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen (LJ 2/15/72). Here, she departs from the current trend to dwell on the negative in lifeÄshe loves her parents, finding satisfaction and joy in helping them face the decline of old age. Shulman alternates present events with scenes from her past, telling of her rebellion and youthful struggle for independence from the parents she considered hopelessly bourgeois and describing the reconciliation between her family and her earlier self. As she packs and sorts papers and mementos, she engages her parents in their collective past and draws closer to them. A skilled writer, Shulman brings wit, warmth, and insight to a situation many will face: going home for the final time. A story that will warm hearts and bring tears; recommended for all public libraries.ÄNancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Whenever my parents came to visit me in New York City, I never met them at the airport; even during the years my husband had a car, I let them take a bus or taxi. Yet for forty years, each time I flew to Cleveland, my parents or brother met my plane no matter how I might demur. They did it out of courtesy and love and to insure that no preventable discomfort could provide me an excuse to stay away. Still, once I wrenched myself out of their lives, nothing they did could bring me back till I was ready. The years rolled by, with some years only the occasional phone call and not one visit. Now I was back--smack in the center of their lives. But this time my parents' car, armed with a car alarm, sat idle in its garage, and my brother Bob was dead. So I took an escalator down to the lowest level of the Cleveland airport, hopped on the convenient Rapid Transit that goes directly to downtown Cleveland and straight out Shaker Boulevard to a stop not two hundred feet from my parents' house. The Rapid had been whisking affluent professionals and businessmen from their downtown offices past Cleveland's industrial slums back up to their grand Shaker Heights houses ever since the 1920s, when the Van Sweringen brothers built the suburb, along with the fancy shops of Shaker Square, for successful Clevelanders--including the architect who built for himself my parents' house. I used to think the proximity of the house to the Rapid was Mom's trump in persuading Dad to sell the modest Cleveland-Heights-style three-bedroom on Ashurst Road where Bob and I grew up ("a postage stamp, but sweet," recalled my mother) for this six-bedroom English-style Shaker edifice: any day of the week he had only to step out the front door at five minutes past the hour or half hour to catch a train that would deposit him in a mere twelve minutes on Public Square, a five-minute walk from his office. Some people might have taken longer, lingering at the enticing windows of those great thriving department stores, Higbee's and May's, or (like me) stopping for cashews at the Nut House or for chocolates at Fannie Farmer; but S. S. Kates, born Samuel Simon and known around town as Speedy Sam, was in too much of a hurry to saunter. "I saw your dad on Prospect Avenue the other day walking so fast he leaned going around the corner," reported a young lawyer to me admiringly when my father was ninety. The brief memoir Dad composed at eighty-eight begins: "I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, November 10, 1901, in the kitchen of my parents' home, apparently in a rush to enter the world, and the habit of rushing--hurrying--being impatient--being early--has stayed with me ever since." Now I know my father agreed to buy the house for Mom for a weightier reason: Okay, Bummer, he said when the time came, I'll move if that will bring you back to me. I carried my bags up the drive past the long leaf-strewn lawn spotted by one tall spruce and one towering elm. There used to be three elms, but two succumbed to Dutch elm disease years ago and were felled and hauled away. Around the garage I trudged, past Mom's flower garden, dormant but for three late roses, to the back porch. Fishing out my key and the secret code to the alarm, I felt an illicit excitement: in the forty years my parents had lived in this house, I'd never stayed in it alone. Now I could search out its secrets without asking permission. An ear-piercing wail violating the dignity of the entire stretch of boulevard shattered the air as I let myself in. Dropping my bags, I dashed past the kitchen to the foyer, flung open the door of the coat closet, and groped behind a scarf for a keypad to shut off the alarm. Consulting my notes, first I punched in the code for the outer ring, which controls doors, windows, cellar, and porch, then the one for the electric eyes that scan the interior spaces in search of an intruder who, breaking the beam, can set off a tremendous clanging in the house and simultaneously a signal at the police station. This tyrannical burglar alarm (and its cousin in the car) was the highest-tech object in the house. Until a decade ago, my parents didn't own a clothes dryer, but had their laundry hung by wooden clothespins on lines strung the length of the basement. Though Mom was passionate about music and a lifelong concertgoer, they never upgraded their sound system to stereo, much less to cassettes or CDs, remaining content to play their old 33-rpm records on the same Magnavox phonograph on which I learned the classics back in the 1940s by playing them over and over endlessly, driving everyone away. (It was only fair, since Bob was allowed to blast through the air all summer long the play-by-play of every Cleveland Indians game.) Except for the garage-door opener and a microwave oven, there were no electronics in this house, no VCR or answering machine or even a digital clock, though my mother invested in an electric typewriter when she decided to write a novel at sixty-six. At eighty-two she considered buying a computer to write a book about Bob, but never did. I'd been using a computer for years by then, but I didn't encourage her. Worse, fearing her too old to learn, I was evasive when she sought my advice. Too bad--it might have kept her mind intact. That's one book I'd now give anything to read. When the deafening noise stopped, I stretched a tentative toe into the hall before venturing out to the living room. Pale pleated drapes of beige linen covered the windows, dulling down the late afternoon light. I drew them open window by window as I circled the rooms--living room, sun porch, dining room, even the small corner library where my mother always sat with the drapes drawn tightly shut. Not that the neighbors could have seen her through the shrubbery, but for a public person Mom always husbanded her privacy, hugged close her secrets. Sunk into the cushions of the sofa with her stuffed datebook beside her and her mail piled on the low Japanese lacquered cabinet that held the telephone, she could linger all morning over coffee in negligee and slippers, the phone cradled on her shoulder, a pencil between her polished fingernails. A slow starter, compared to Speedy Sam. Or maybe just a leisurely dresser, given the rigors of her exacting toilette. Hurry up, Bummer, make it snappy--Dad's signature words to Mom, sixty years' worth of which are indelibly etched in my ears. He taps his foot and pulls out his pocket watch. Speed it up or we'll be late. Come on, move the bodouv!--short for bodouviator, Dad's elevated coinage for behind. As light filled the library, I was taken aback to see no sign of life. The plants on the table drooped in their pots, the unanswered mail lay somewhere in a drawer, Mom's active datebook had taken its place in the cabinet alongside dead ones going back to the 1950s, the clock had stopped, and no smells wafted in from the kitchen. Returning to the living room, where no book lay open on the coffee table, I walked to the farthest end to survey the vast expanse. So much space for just the two of them--as Bob repeatedly observed, bugging them to sell their house, forgetting that even back in 1954 when they bought it there were just the two of them. If you stood beside the Anthony Caro sculpture at one end, looking past the large tiled fireplace with Dad's Crystal Owl, bestowed by the American Arbitration Association for distinguished lifetime service, on the mantel, straight through the entrance hall, past the paneled dining room with its long mahogany table, marquetry sideboard, and tea cart with hammered silver tea service ("Your mother," pronounced their friend and neighbor, Carola de Florent, "set the most elegant table in all of Cleveland, down to the tiniest detail. The silver, the china, the table linens, every last teacup was exquisite. And the food!--the food was perfection!"), and on to the distant library, your eye took in an expanse of pale blue walls, blue carpet, and Persian rugs extending eighty feet from one end of the house to the other--and every table and wall boldly adorned with art. There they hung, my mother's pride, warranting the loud alarms: the de Kooning, the Motherwell, the Frankenthaler, the Avery, the Dubuffet, the two Stellas, the Kline, the Olitski, the Tworkov, the Nevelson--gay or serene, somber or wild, resplendent in their colors and forms, embodying my mother's ambition, resourcefulness, and taste, and, despite his ambivalent mix of disapproval and pride, my father's security and solace. I plopped down on the living room couch to study the Nevelson while there was still light. A three-foot-square wooden construction of black-painted disks and cubes set inside an irregularly shaped black formica frame, it now belonged to me. Last year I asked for it--the only thing of value I ever asked for. Because it was the one piece in the collection I really loved, I said I hoped they would will it to me rather than leave to chance my drawing it in the elaborate face-off between my brother's children and me whereby, according to the wills, we were to take turns choosing what we wanted, so long as the values wound up equal. (Dad always made a fetish of equality between me and my brother, alive or per stirpes). We were finishing dinner at the time. Since she turned eighty, Mom had been gradually dispersing her things, at the end of each visit inviting her granddaughters to select a pair of antique cups from her collection and urging me to choose something valuable to take home; but I was so loath to appear acquisitive that I usually accepted only trifles. Tickled that at last I wanted something, Mom waved her fork and said, Well of course, darling, it's yours, and turning to my father asked, Why don't we give it to her now, Sam? Whereupon my father tossed his napkin on the table, leaped up, and penned a letter on the spot conveying the Nevelson to me. Signed, dated, witnessed, done. Alone now in this empty house, too late I realized I should have admired her things more openly, accepted her gifts of love. After so many years apart it was foolish to feel that my independence could still be compromised or might melt away in love's heat. How old would we have to be before I would finally let down my guard? Except for Milton Avery's Purple Mountain Landscape-- another picture I admired and Mom's first major purchase for which in 1967, the very year I discovered the fledgling women's liberation movement, she scraped together a small down payment--the rest of the art was a blur to me, if not an outright embarrassment. Her collecting represented all I'd rejected when I fled Cleveland for New York at twenty: acquisitiveness, frivolity, suburban pretension. Not sharing her interest in art, I assumed the worst, unaware that at the same moment I was beginning to transform my life through feminism, my mother was opening a space in hers for her own suppressed ambitions. I remembered the chagrin I felt in the office of a SoHo gallery the day she bought the Tworkov. Show me what else you have, she said, prolonging the transaction while the normally imperious gallery owner offered coffee and fawned as he brought out canvas after canvas. My distress eventually drove me from the office into the gallery, where I pretended to look at pictures, then outside to wait. Yet Mom's shopping style on that day seemed hardly different from on those treasured days of my anointed childhood when we sat together on easy chairs in department store dress salons viewing garments displayed for us by a salesclerk who produced them one by one from a back room--a style that eventually drove my frugal father to wait outside, foot tapping, whenever Mom stepped into a store. In his later years he grew so phobic about shopping that when I took him with me to the wonderful farmers' market in New York's Union Square he wouldn't even sample the apple slices set out for tasting, afraid it might oblige us to buy. You go ahead, he'd say, I'll wait here. Here was the very image of their conflict: she reaching out, he drawing in. And I? Torn between them, like him I left the gallery in disgust, like her I tasted every apple. Unable to endorse their differences, yet too implicated to make a choice, for a long time I simply fled them both. In my childhood, extravagant love had flowed between us. Theirs were the trunks I scaled to see the world, theirs the fruit that nourished me, theirs the leafy canopy that sheltered me, theirs the sap that fed my curiosity. But they were firmly rooted in suburban Cleveland, a place I had come by the early 1950s to find so airless and constricting that I knew I would suffocate if I didn't leave. Which meant I would have to leave them too. But how--short of hacking myself off at the roots? That brutal image matches the agonizing shock of my first return to my childhood house after leaving home at twenty: autumn chill, dead leaves massed along the porch steps as I open the door on the sudden smell of her perfume and the breath-stopping knowledge, like a blow to the solar plexus, of what I've thrown away in the name of freedom and can never regain. That ambitious lust for freedom that tempts each successive generation of Americans to obliterate its past propelled me in my rush toward independence to identify my family with everything I'd renounced--a move not only cruel but self-defeating, since my scorn was soaked in guilt. No wonder the first novel I attempted when I started to write in my thirties was about that family--a novel I abandoned after three chapters. I barely understood my own feelings, much less theirs. The independence I'd flaunted by leaving home was evidently still too shaky to support such scrutiny, and laying aside the manuscript, I took on other work, returning my parents to comforting oblivion. In the big kitchen I rummaged around for a snack. Not much to choose from since I'd tossed out all the opened boxes preparing for my parents' move. A year earlier, after Dad fell from the stepladder trying to put away a bowl, I had cleaned out every cupboard and countertop. I'd weeded a rat's nest of yellowed recipes and clippings, tossed out a mountain of plastic bags, cleared the cluttered surfaces and rationalized the cupboards, moving the everyday dishes to the lower shelves and Mom's cup collection to the upper ones. Dad was grateful for my efforts, and even Mom, who had forbidden Dad to tackle the job, thanked me, though she soon complained that she could no longer find anything. Was it my zeal that confused her or her dementia? Gradually she'd been losing control of her things, letting objects stay wherever she dropped them in unattended piles that threatened to teeter into chaos unless my father or I rescued them. I found an unopened box of raisins in a canister where I'd placed it during the grand cleanup. Always a staple in our house, raisins were Dad's choice egestion regulator, which he consumed daily to forestall constipation and once distributed to his children as performance rewards. One raisin for Number One, two raisins for Number Two; one to urinate, two to defecate. (These are the words our family used, no others. The rest Dad considered vulgar.) I remember the tenderness with which he held my small grubby hands in his big clean ones as I sat on my potty seat atop the toilet trying to let go, facing him perched on the bathtub rim hissing gently. After a while he turned on the sink faucet to add a trickle of water to his sibilant hiss and waited patiently while I concentrated. When at last my own trickle joined the chorus, I claimed my reward: a joyful grin spreading from his lips up his cheeks to his dancing blue eyes and the roots of his red hair--and a single raisin. Still, Dad was deeply ambivalent about the body. Where did innocence end and corruption begin? On the one hand, he crinkled his nose in embarrassed disgust at the etching Mom had hung in the study of a bathing nymph with exposed backside, which he disgruntledly dubbed Pants Down; on the other hand, our family showered together every weekend. On weekday mornings it was my joy to join my father in the downstairs lavatory, where he performed his daily ablutions in the nude--a pleasure abruptly replaced by shame the day he realized I was staring at his privates while he shaved his lathered chin. (How did he, focused intently on his beard, catch me looking? And why, after all those showers, did he care?) I was mortified by my breach, of which I was afterward daily reminded by the white towel invariably wrapped around his waist to hide those fascinating jiggling genitalia. Yet my mother's jiggling parts as well as the dark beard of her pubis I was permitted to gaze upon unstintingly. Was it an instance of Mom's liberality triumphing over Dad's propriety, or simply a privilege of our mutual sex? Until I turned five, when Mom went to work for the WPA (Roosevelt's New Deal Works Progress Administration) and I began kindergarten, I daily accompanied her through her morning toilette--from the steamy shower where I sometimes joined her, to the cloud of lilac-scented talc she exuberantly applied with a giant puff to her body and my nose, to the womanly mysteries of her dressing. She was a small woman, only five feet two, but to me, a child--straight, tubular, skinny, hairless, not unlike my brother except in one particular--my mother was a marvel of strange undulating protuberances, a voluptuous creature of rippling flesh carefully hidden from the world inside an array of bizarre garments. The complicated ritual of her dressing began with her wriggling her way into a formidable elastic girdle stiff with stays, from which hung six garters. (No matter what she had planned for the day, never in those years did she skip that girdle.) She then plucked two silk stockings from her top dresser drawer, examined them for runs, and one at a time rolled them down to the ankle, inserted a narrow foot, and rolled them up her legs to attach to the garters above. As she had not put on underpants, her beard remained on tantalizing view beneath the girdle. Are my seams straight? she asked me, turning her back. Earnestly, I rendered my report, grateful to participate in those secret ceremonies. Next came the bra, which she hung from her shoulders and filled by bending over and lifting one breast at a time into the cups. Even at thirty her substantial breasts hung flat and low against her ribs--a result, she said, of the tight swaddling they'd undergone in the hospital to dry up her milk. Whatever they tell you, she warned me, don't do it, it breaks down all the tissues. Then came the panties, a satin slip, and finally the outfit she'd selected from the double rack of clothes on her side of the compact closet she shared with Dad. Sliding her dainty feet into leather pumps, she tied on a makeup cape and proceeded to do her hair, tweeze her eyebrows, and "put on her face" by applying the makeup promised to me as a distant reward for growing up. Like Mom, I had no shame about my privates. We called them maked (two syllables), source of Number One, and bodouviator (five syllables), source of Number Two. Occasionally the formal vagina, comparable to Bob's penis, and the vernacular behind, but never bum, rump, butt or--heaven forbid!-- ass. To my decorous father words seemed to matter more than the natural parts and processes they represented. One of the rare times I saw his deliberate calm give way to rage was when, standing at the top of the stairs, I yelled Bull! down to my brother who was badmouthing me. Not bullshit, just bull: in junior high school then, I didn't know what bull was short for. Dad took those stairs two at a time and, confronting me in the upstairs hall with his whole body tensed to shaking and his voice all but exploding from the strain of keeping it down near a whisper (never in my life did I hear him raise it in anger), said, Don't you ever let me hear you use that word again in this house! At the time, I laughed at him, regaling my friends with the story of his ludicrous linguistic purity, but secretly I was proud. This singular relationship to language, distinguishing him from all those fathers who cursed and hollered, became one of our strongest bonds, one of his golden gifts. Though maked was possibly my own coinage, a noun variant of the common bathroom verb "to make," the latinate bodouviator, with its soupçon of French, was obviously Dad's. My very name, Alix, was another--the only one of his long string of hypothetical names Mom okayed. (Recently, I asked my parents what other names they'd considered, but all of them were buried deep in the imaginary realm where my father had found them.) Though odd, Alix had a sound basis: I was named after Alexander B. Cook, my father's mentor at law. Had I come out a boy, I would have been Alex; Dad decided that changing the e to i would adequately feminize it. How wrong he was! To my endless satisfaction, my name remained for me such an inextricable combination of the masculine and feminine that I grew up feeling secretly exempt from the standard restrictions of gender that limited everyone else. Indeed, until my first pregnancy erased all doubt, I secretly suspected I was really a male in an ambiguously female body--a suspicion confirmed each time I received mail addressed to Mr. Alix Kates. As my body inevitably bound me to my mother, my name bound me to my father. Jews, of course, were not supposed to name their children after anyone living--and Alexander B. Cook was not only alive but a little bit Christian, having agreed when he married to raise his son Catholic. Giving his child an invented name in honor of a living Catholic-Jew was a triumph of the optimism and rationality on which my father, self-made and proud of it, constructed his life. He had changed his own name from Katz to Kates soon after going into practice in 1925, when he discovered that there were already three lawyers in Cleveland named Samuel Katz. Katz itself had been a misrendering of Kotkess, the family name in Poland, Dad reported, lest we think he was trying to hide our Jewishness. Still, that duplicate-lawyer story doesn't explain why Dad also changed Katz to Kates for his parents and all his siblings but one, Louis, the oldest, who had already begun to make a name for himself as young Professor Katz of the medical faculty of Western Reserve University. Many children of immigrants aspired to make themselves over as pure Americans. My mother told me that her paternal family, in Russia named Radnitsky, had changed their name to Davis at Ellis Island on someone's shaky advice that most of the important people in America were named Davis. (Who? The Confederate president Jefferson Davis? The writers Rebecca Harding Davis and her son, Richard Harding Davis?) A cousin speculated that they were named for Grandpa's brother David, the first Radnitsky to immigrate. Mom's maternal family anglicized the German-sounding name Kurlander to Curtis during World War I to escape the rampant prejudice against all things German. Words, names, heritage--none were immutable; all were opportunities for self-improvement. As a child, I practiced forging my parents' signatures until I had them by heart--not only for such practical purposes as writing school excuses but as a sign that with the magic of language, even written language, I could be my parents if it suited me. In America one could become anyone, just as my brother Bob, whom Mom and Dad legally adopted a year after his birth, became a Kates. Dad's linguistic inventiveness and refinement of which I was so proud also insured that as I grew toward my teens I would know precisely how to provoke him, eventually cultivating a foul mouth as a badge of independence. The single physical battle I ever had with my mother was over some now forgotten excremental expletive. The one-more-time-young-lady threshold had been crossed and the appropriate disciplinary sentence, thrice threatened and ultimately backed by the full force and credit of my father's authority, invoked--called in like an unpaid debt: Mom, teller at Dad's bank, must reluctantly wash out my mouth with soap. She dropped the handle of the carpet sweeper and grabbed a bar of Ivory--"99 and 44/100 percent pure," in stark contrast to my foul mouth. While one of her hands held me around the waist, the other searched my bobbing head for the erring mouth--the very one that had, just so, once blindly rooted for her nipple. But even as we struggled, leaving a soapy trail on the floor, we found the situation so farcical that soon we were doubled over laughing, tears streaking our cheeks like suds. Ivory--the very brand my mother had, with the extravagant generosity I treasured in her, permitted me to carve into fanciful animal shapes during the dark days of World War II when soap was strictly rationed. Dad's verbal purity extended far beyond rejecting the "vulgar" and "profane." Semantic sloppiness, grammatical error, mispronunciation could equally distress him. A usage was correct or incorrect; in case of doubt, the dictionary could settle it. Although Mom had officially taught English, it was Dad who brought it into our house to party and dance, inviting the objective, subjunctive, and conditional to join us at dinner. You mean to whom, not to who, don't you? he would suggest gently; or, If I were you, not if I was you, since it's contrary to fact; or, I believe you mean it's irritating, or exasperating, not aggravating, sweetheart: a feeling may be aggravated but aggravated is not a feeling. As Dad's first mentor--the chief engineer of General Electric, who hired Dad fresh out of high school as his stenographer--urged him to stretch his vocabulary and soften his guttural ng -ending words, so Dad attempted to improve us. Gently now, children, softly, try to modulate your voices, was his usual response to our arguments. Speak up, son. Don't mumble. Try to e-nun-ci-ate, he was always bugging Bob, who supplemented his thumb sucking and nail biting by chewing his syllables and swallowing his vowels. Though Bob resented Dad's corrections of our speech, I welcomed them. If English was the mystery train that had carried him out of poverty into the law and onto the Heights, I didn't want to miss it. Like him, I tried for ten new words a day and several books a week, though I stopped short of reciting famous speeches before the mirror. When evening fell, I turned on the lights and took my bags upstairs. The wide, graceful staircase had been significantly narrowed by a chairlift I'd had installed a year ago (the Electric Chair, Dad called it), following Dad's hospital stay. Several of the signed prints that lined the stairway had to be moved to make room, but the Picasso, the Matisse, and the Rockwell Kent were still there. More art in the upstairs hall and in every bedroom: constructions, drawings, muscular prints, and, leaning against a file cabinet in Mom's dressing room/studio, the tall framed oil painting she bought in Paris that a curator from the Cleveland Museum suggested might be a genuine Maurice Prendergast. What a flurry of research followed! Imagine! said Dad, eyes widening like shining moons. It might turn out to be worth a tremendous sum of money. Can you beat that? Was it a Prendergast? Until that moment I'd neither known nor cared, preferring to remain aloof from Mom's collecting; but as the trustee of her estate, soon I'd have to find out. And after the art, the antiques. And the fine china, silver, linens, jewelry. And the books, thousands of them, filling the bookshelves and piled on every radiator and in cartons in the attic--books on history, law, biography, belles lettres, plus a whole library of Mom's French books, and art books on every artist who ever caught her eye. Now all this must be sold. My parents have moved halfway downtown to a pair of rooms in the Judson Park Retirement Community, and I have returned to discharge my filial duty to see them through to the end. Excerpted from A Good Enough Daughter: A Memoir by Alix Kates Shulman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. XIII
I The Birthrightp. 1
II Sweet Sinp. 119
III A Simple Movementp. 155
IV Midairp. 227
Afterwordp. 251

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