About Alice

About Alice by Calvin Trillin Read Free Book Online

Book: About Alice by Calvin Trillin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Calvin Trillin
Tags: Fiction
“No Kvetching”—we hadn’t made clear how difficult we knew it could be to get through the imperfect patches that occur in everyone’s life. “As you get older,” she wrote, “you will begin to understand that we love you not because you are perfect, but because you are decent and loving and honest and will always deal with what life brings you with courage.”
    Alice always said that parents had a huge influence on children when it came to what she called “the big things.” Essentially, she meant values. In a letter to the girls, she once included among the messages we’d been trying to send them “to worry about being kind and generous to other people, to be honest with yourself and with others, to find meaning in the work you do, not to over-value financial success.” Although we never discussed it in these terms, I think she believed in the transformative power of pure, undiluted love. Once, for the program at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp gala, some volunteer counselors contributed short passages about their experiences at camp, and Alice wrote about one of the campers, a sunny little girl she called L. At camp, Alice had a tendency to gravitate toward the child who needed the most help, and L. was one of those. “Last summer, the camper I got closest to, L., was a magical child who was severely disabled,” Alice wrote. “She had two genetic diseases, one which kept her from growing and one which kept her from digesting any food. She had to be fed through a tube at night and she had so much difficulty walking that I drove her around in a golf cart a lot. We both liked that. One day, when we were playing duck-duck-goose, I was sitting behind her and she asked me to hold her mail for her while she took her turn to be chased around the circle. It took her a while to make the circuit, and I had time to see that on top of the pile was a note from her mom. Then I did something truly awful, which I’m reluctant now to reveal. I decided to read the note. I simply had to know what this child’s parents could have done to make her so spectacular, to make her the most optimistic, most enthusiastic, most hopeful human being I had ever encountered. I snuck a quick look at the note, and my eyes fell on this sentence: ‘If God had given us all of the children in the world to choose from, L., we would only have chosen you.’ Before L. got back to her place in the circle, I showed the note to Bud, who was sitting next to me. ‘Quick. Read this,’ I whispered. ‘It’s the secret of life.’”

The summer after her operation, I was finishing the second of what turned out to be three books about eating. The work I did on the final drafts of the book was dominated by additional references to Alice. The title I eventually settled on for the book was
Alice, Let’s Eat.
Spreading Alice from beginning to end in her usual George Burns role was a way of declaring, mainly to myself, that we were not accepting the prognosis that would have made her a tragic character.
    â€”Family Man
    I was never able to remember more than smatterings of what the surgeon said just after Alice’s operation in June of 1976. He told me the tumor had been malignant but that he’d taken it out, along with a lobe of Alice’s lung. I don’t remember whether he mentioned then that there’d been some lymph-node involvement; I’m not sure I would have known what that meant anyway. After he had summed up the operation in a couple of sentences, I asked him about Alice’s prognosis, and he said something about “ten-percent chance.” I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about. I thought I’d missed something. I asked, “Ten-percent chance of what?” And he said, “Ten-percent chance that she’ll survive.”
    For some years, that conversation with the surgeon was unsafe territory for me if

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