Coffee Table: Excerpts from Chapter 13

…At Grandmomma’s that night I was in the sitting room with Billy. I got up to pace around and ran into the piano bench. Then the coffee table. “Bad coffee table,” Billy said. “Bad bad piano bench.”

I asked him about shock treatment and he said he really didn’t know what it meant. “I’m going outside,” he said.

I felt the sofa I was sitting on. It had two slipcovers, one for summer and one for winter. Since it was winter, I knew the sofa had on what Grandmomma had described as a “dark green winter” slipcover. The winter slipcover had a smoother feel than the summer one. Grandmomma had told me that the summer slipcover was white.

If I knelt on the sofa facing backward and spread my arms wide, I could feel the books on the huge floor-to-ceiling bookcase behind the sofa. My grandfather kept all his legal books there, along with some novels. Most prized were some slightly worn family Bibles at the end of one shelf. The names William McCann Paul “Billy” and Margaret Mason Paul “Peggy,” along with our birthdates, appeared in the Daniel family Bible.

I felt a large, old-fashioned radio sandwiched between the sofa and the bookcase. It was made of smooth wood. I felt the mesh front and pushed it inward. Grandmomma had told me the mesh covered the speaker. Momma said she used to listen to Little Orphan Annie on the radio. Grandmomma said the family used to listen to FDR’s Fireside Chats on the radio until she and Granddaddy decided the country was going to the dogs and FDR was responsible.

Only at suppertime did the TV trays sit between the coffee table and the sofa. Otherwise, the coffee table stood alone. On it sat four plastic blocks, each with different-colored sides. Grandmomma called the set of blocks a conversation piece. I could only see the red sides. Billy said the other sides were blue, green, orange, yellow, and white. The idea was to put all the greens in a row, all the reds in a row, and so on. Perhaps it was a forerunner to the Rubik’s Cube.

Grandmomma also had a small black-and-white TV on the coffee table. It was the one on which she watched the news and the game show Jeopardy. Sometimes she would turn her black-and-white TV into what she called a poor man’s color TV. This meant she would put a translucent, snap-on cover over the regular TV screen. Billy said the cover made the TV screen look blue at the top and green at the bottom, and that in between the blue and green were sections of yellow and red. If the picture on the TV screen was of a blue sky with a yellow sun and a red house and green grass, then everything looked fine. Otherwise, the picture looked strange. Grandmomma had a stack of Town & Country magazines on the coffee table as well. Sometimes I liked to pick up a print magazine and pretend I was reading it. But usually Billy would come along and say, “You have that magazine upside down, piglet.” His nickname for me wasn’t meant to be mean. It was just a play on my name, Peggy.

Sometimes our dog, Beany, thumped her tail on the sitting-room rug and I could hear it. Other times, if Beany was sleeping quietly, I might trip right over her and she’d growl and I would bump into a piece of furniture. It is incredible how much time blind people spend running into things.

Grandmomma also had an upright piano in her sitting room. I could feel the framed pictures on top of the piano when I stood on the bench. Momma never minded if I stood on piano benches, but Grandmomma greatly minded. Billy said a lot of the pictures were of him, Momma, and me before I was blinded.

Momma came home from the hospital after six months. I had just finished kindergarten and I had not yet entered first grade. She and Billy and I moved into the bungalow Granddaddy had bought for us.

Mary Jean, Billy, Peggy

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