Doing time at Alcatraz / Haciendo tiempo en Alcatraz

La versión en español está después de la versión en inglés.

AFTER TALKING ABOUT ALCATRAZ THE other day (click here), I looked around for photos of the time I put in there. The only one I found was the souvenir shot taken of my mother; my aunt Sylvie; San Geraldo’s mother, Alice; and me before we got on the boat to the island. SG and I were living in San Francisco and it was the only time both our mother’s visited us at the same time (for SG’s 50th birthday party).

My mother liked Alice (it was difficult to not like Alice), but she was jealous of my relationship with her. My aunt didn’t approve at all and only made matters worse. One morning, Alice quietly asked SG why my mother always said such mean things to me (she didn’t always but she did far too often). Another day, Alice told SG she was no longer going to ask my mother how she slept because “every night is awful and it’s always Mitchell’s fault” (the pillows of three firmnesses, the bed, the sheets — all purchased new for the visit). Most days, SG and I went to work at Berkeley. When we returned home, my mother and aunt were in the second-floor den watching TV. Alice was on the third floor in the kitchen preparing dinner. She spent most days at home while my mother and aunt went clothes and jewelry shopping. After dinner, the two sisters went downstairs to brush their teeth leaving the dishes to Alice, who I then joined. She refused to let me do them myself and I’d have to insist to do them with her. What I’m trying to explain is that it was definitely not an easy visit.

Alice was protective of me and her usual tact and care went out the window (or overboard) when we posed for our Alcatraz photo. Sylvie complained every time she saw the photo that Alice should not have stood next to me like that. Had I been the good son I usually tried to be, I would have pulled my mother and Sylvie aroud to my other side and shifted us all down. I know I thought about it. I must have been burnt out. You can see that my mother and aunt weren’t pleased.

I feel ashamed now when I look at that photo. Less than a year later, Alice was diagnosed with cancer and died just five months after. This wasn’t supposed to be depressing. So, I added San Geraldo’s sisters up top. They flew in together and walked off the plane looking like that. It was a great party.


DESPUÉS DE HABLAR SOBRE ALCATRAZ el otro día (haz clic aquí), miré a mi alrededor en busca de fotos del tiempo que pasé allí. El único que encontré fue la foto de recuerdo que le hice a mi madre; mi tía Sylvie; La madre de San Geraldo, Alice; y yo antes de subir al barco a la isla. SG y yo vivíamos en San Francisco y fue la única vez que nuestra madre nos visitó al mismo tiempo (para la fiesta de cumpleaños número 50 de SG).

A mi madre le gustaba Alice (era difícil no gustarle), pero estaba celosa de mi relación con ella. Mi tía no lo aprobó en absoluto y solo empeoró las cosas. Una mañana, Alice preguntó en voz baja a SG por qué mi madre siempre me decía cosas tan malas (no siempre, pero lo hacía con demasiada frecuencia). Otro día, Alice le dijo a SG que ya no iba ella a preguntarle a mi madre cómo dormía porque “Todas las noches son horribles y siempre es culpa de Mitchell” (las almohadas de tres firmezas, la cama, las sábanas — todo comprado nuevo para la visita). La mayoría de los días, SG y yo íbamos a trabajar a Berkeley. Cuando regresamos a casa, mi madre y mi tía estaban en el estudio del segundo piso viendo la televisión. Alice estaba en el tercer piso en la cocina preparando la cena. Pasó la mayoría de los días en casa mientras mi madre y mi tía iban a comprar ropa y joyas. Después de la cena, las dos hermanas bajaron a lavarse los dientes y dejaron los platos a Alice, a quien luego me uní. Ella se negó a dejarme hacerlas yo misma y yo tendría que insistir en hacerlas con ella. Lo que intento explicar es que definitivamente no fue una visita fácil.

Alice fue protectora conmigo y su tacto y cuidado habituales se fueron por la ventana (o por la borda) cuando posamos para nuestra foto de Alcatraz. Sylvie se quejaba cada vez que veía la foto de que Alice no debería haberse parado a mi lado de esa manera. Si hubiera sido el buen hijo que solía tratar de ser, habría llevado a mi madre a mi otro lado. Sé que lo pensé. Debo haberme quemado. Puede ver que mi madre y mi tía no estaban contentas.

Me siento avergonzado ahora cuando miro esa foto. Menos de un año después, a Alice le diagnosticaron cáncer y murió solo cinco meses después. No se suponía que esto fuera deprimente. Entonces, agregué a las hermanas de San Geraldo arriba. Volaron juntos y se bajaron del avión con ese aspecto. Fue una fiesta genial.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

26 thoughts on “Doing time at Alcatraz / Haciendo tiempo en Alcatraz”

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. The reality is that there is nothing you could have done that would have satisfied your aunt and mother. They were what I call the PPO…otherwise known as the Permanently Pissed Off. It was their “happy” (read: ironic) place to be upset at whatever so-called slight they could muster. Sad. But true.

    1. Mary:
      You hit the mark really well. I’ll continue to tell the stories, good and bad. At least there ARE good ones.

  2. This is a perfect example of how knowing the backstory of a picture affects one’s perception of it. When I look at that shot, everyone looks perfectly happy to me! Even if they didn’t hide their feelings well, when the shutter clicked, I think they more or less managed. Love the pic of SG’s sisters. Ah, Birkenstocks!

  3. I can see how that would have created problems but……..your mother could have/should have taken it upon herself to do exactly what you you said… move to your other side/instead of being so passive aggressive about it. Good thing though that the ‘mothers’ liked each other, I guess.

    1. Jim:
      What’s amazing is even after all these years it never dawned on me that she could have handled that differently. Thanks for waking me up. And I think my mother did sincerely like Alice who always remembered her with cards and notes, and had thoughtful, perfect gifts for her when she visited New York.

  4. Alice would have fit in well with my family, while your aunt and mother would have fit in with Dennis’ family. He has wounds similar to yours. As Mary said, some people are only “happy” when they are blaming others for their dissatisfaction. You should treasure that photo of Alice protecting you! And the photo of his sisters is priceless; I bet they livened things up!

    1. Wilma:
      Your comment to “treasure that photo of Alice protecting [me]” makes me look at it completely differently. Thanks. I DO have some more stories to tell about SG’s sisters.

    1. Debra:
      I somehow had the expectation that I’d be “recovered” by now. I had a privileged childhood, too. It could have been so much worse. It’s fascinating what still pops into the head.

  5. You did nothing to regret. Mother visits can be complicated. Jay’s mother stayed with us in Florida a couple of times, it was rather stressful. We only had his mother and my parents together once, the weekend I graduated from law school, I was a wreck, and I was cooking for 25 people, and doing the dishes. Shudder!

  6. I think you posed alongside the person you chose . If your aunt and mother disapproved, they could have asked for a second photo with you next to them.
    Oy. Family.

  7. I agree with Steve. If I didn’t know the backstory I would think that was a very happy bunch there. That said, if I didn’t know your mother from past posts (even if there is a bit or resemblance between you two) and I had to guess which one was your mother, it would be Alice. It’s great that you got along with her.

    1. Walt the Fourth:
      I always think about that now when I see pictures of that house. Wondering how many times we crossed paths in the neighborhood.

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