Laura Berglund

PEONIES

 

Grandpa came home from World War II with a Hitler moustache. Grandma made him shave before coming inside. Jet skis on the lake are too loud. Four wheelers in the woods are too loud. They scare the horses. Mom’s picture books became mine. Her favorite was The Horse that Lived Upstairs, because of the illustrations. I felt the same way about Beatrix Potter. Mice in a dollhouse trying to eat pretend food. There’s a horse’s grave on top of the hill. Everyone says PEE-en-ee, We say pee-OWN-ee. We have a peony plant, used to belong to Great Grandma. I bake Danish pastries with Grandma. It’s a dessert, but the sugar comes last. And there isn’t much. The top is an exposed custard wound. Refrigerate so it doesn’t go bad. Mosquitoes bounce off car windows. An Iowan fly explodes on the windshield. We feel it make contact. Great Grandma Ella served pears and cottage cheese. No rice. That’s for poor people. But we Depression Babies ate a lot of Jell-O. Guests thought it was jam, spread it on toast. My aunt was born while Grandpa was in the Navy. Grandma lived with her parents until he came home. Everyone thought she was an unwed mother, hiding out. Salamanders and rocks. Robins live under the deck in the summer. Covered in fleas, heads hang out of the nest. Mouths open. Mom fed them water with an eyedropper. La-sag-nah. Great Grandma Ella found frozen lasagna at the grocery store, I didn’t think Ollie would like it. Man appears in the barn, asks mom about a wounded deer. She hadn’t seen it, he didn’t believe her, checked every stall. Mom’s eyes tracked him, terrified of the gun he carried. Grandpa asked mom why she has stupid, big ugly toes. Mom jokes Honeysuckle berries are diarrhea berries. Our suburb is the greenest suburb. Great Grandma used rhubarb leaves for umbrellas. I know every room in my grandparents’ house. Sold 11 years ago. Old man, stranger, knows that mother, unwed, had a baby. Carries a high chair down the dirt road. Grandpa wrote an autobiography, dictated, my aunt wrote. There is a picture of him on the cover, a field with a house at the edge, a baby in a wash basin. Big head is obvious. It’s him. My aunt tried to buy him a hat in France 80 years later. The store clerk laughed. Non. No one has a head that big. My great aunt is quoted under the photo. Uff, what a kid. Ladybugs aren’t scary when grandma pinches their heads off. Grandma and her friends would walk to church choir rehearsals. They hitchhiked a lot, occasionally dropped in the wrong town. They walked to church because they liked it. If a car came by, we hid in the ditch to avoid saying no. His sisters kicked him, but he never kicked as hard.

 


Laura Berglund grew up in the suburbs of Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she enjoyed reading books under trees. She studies Creative Writing with Wang Ping and plays violin at Macalester College.

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