Fire & Ice
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There was a secret in her bag
Every morning, a woman in a white coat got into the driver’s seat of our old Cadillac, reversed down the steep driveway of Groverton Place, made a right onto Sunset Boulevard, and headed into the ethnic labor camps of Nazi Germany.
As I looked on from the passenger’s seat, she talked endlessly about this strange road we were traveling – the right curve from Westwood to Brentwood leading up, by secret passage, to the summit of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark had landed, before slipping back down to killing fields of the Armenian Genocide.
The woman in the white coat was Mama Vart. She was my grandmother. She had short gray hair and thick glasses through which she could see things nobody else could. The streams of her consciousness ran wild and fast, connecting continents and centuries.
The truth is that I couldn’t keep up. For the most part, I tuned Mama Vart out and waited for our daily journey to end. And so at a school built at the end of the world – where Sunset Boulevard finally finishes into the Pacific Ocean – I jumped out of the car, slammed the door shut, ran off, and never looked back.
I wanted to fly high. She wanted me to go deep.
Only now, decades later, do I realize that my grandmother was the first and greatest magician of my life. I remember the cryptic notes she would leave for me to find and decipher across the house. I remember her little inventions – an ingenious combination of rubber bands and paper clips, for example, that could patch a broken suitcase. Whatever I needed, she had – or somehow could create from the contents of her bag.
Most importantly, Mama Vart taught me the language of magic. In that relentless hypnotic voice of hers, she shared with me the roads that can’t be found on maps. She guided me through the riddles of time and the puzzles of memory. She told me magic stories.
And then, watching me run off into the crowd, she turned her old Cadillac around and headed to the opposite side of the city – driving through unimaginable mountains and valleys – until she reached her own destination: the mythic lands of Panorama City. There, in a shining hospital called Kaiser Permanente, Mama Vart was a beloved doctor to hundreds of patients. Her specialty was, of course, internal medicine.
Mama Vart is flying high now. It’s time for me to go deep.
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