The Goddess from the Machine

At brunch today, by way of explaining the paper I'd just delivered at a conference, I told my grandmother in great, gruesome detail about the plot of both the stage and film versions of SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER, complete with my best Katharine Hepburn impersonation: "Sebastian always said, 'Mother, when you descend, it's like the goddess from the machine."

When I got to my description of Sebastian's Euripidean death, she exclaimed in a Violet Venable voice: "Oh, *Sycorax*, really. Where do you FIND these plays?".

When I had finished my vivid plot summary/reenactment, there was a brief and pregnant pause. Then, suddenly: "Wait. Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams were gay?"

If only Gore Vidal had been there to parse the question with her. His answers always defied mere plebeian yeas and nays. 


Over carved roast and horseradish ("You'd think I'd learn my lesson," she murmured, her face one vast contraction of fire), we got down to family history, never her favorite topic.

I: "You never knew your grandparents?"

Nonna: "No."

I: "Why not?"

Nonna, bluntly: "They were all DEAD. Mostly."

I: "Um. Most of them were dead, or they were mostly dead?"

Nonna: [shrug]

After a moment: "My parents moved to Oklahoma City shortly after their marriage for my mother's health. Oklahoma was considered to be quite a wholesome climate then." My grandmother rolls her eyes.

I take the bait: "What was wrong with her health?".

She makes a gesture like she is batting the question aside. "She probably had tuberculosis or something. I had an aunt who died of consumption." Thoughtful pause. "She lived in Arcadia...."

"Even in Arcadia, there is death." I say sententiously.

"It didn't mean anything to me at the time."

I hum my assent: "It was just another of those gorgeously classical place-names that are strewn about the American country-side. Like Athens, Georgia."

"Yes?" She raises her eyebrow, first sign of a challenge. "Name another one."

"Well, I can't think of another one right now. But you know I'm right."

Pause. Regroup.

"My mother was one of the first women in Oklahoma to get a driver's licence. She bought a yellow Apperson Jack Rabbit, and had a driving suit made all in yellow to match it." Slight smile. "She was quite a fashionable woman, my mother."

Dea ex Jack Rabbit

Dea ex Jack Rabbit