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Born Cold

When I was a kid, ABC After School Specials were where middle class youth with troubled families could find themselves.  On most Wednesdays at 3:30 pm, alcoholism, divorce and every day dysfunction were portrayed by actors like Scott Baio.  I’m sure THE BOY WHO DRANK TOO MUCH was a real comfort to teens struggling with a drinking problem and a good morality play for those who weren’t.  I liked them as much as anybody, but for my parents and grandparents, the “problems” portrayed on the ABC After School Specials were a real head scratcher.

“Heavy drinking isn’t problem,” my grandmother would say.  “It is part of life.  Now dictatorship!  That’s a problem!”

If I wanted to see a more accurate reflection of what real problems were like, I should watch DR. ZHIVAGO, my grandfather once suggested.  And I did – getting the same, satisfying recognition that most of my friends could find by surfing the networks.  Varykino felt like home, even if I didn’t live in a frozen summer palace, but a 1960s style two-story house in suburban Chicago.

And like Zhivago, our family story was a two-hanky drama:  heroes and villains, cowards, redeemers and the redeemed, those who were beyond hope, and those who pulled victory from a hat just as it looked like it was all over for them.  There were ghosts, there were priests, and there were spies.  Beautiful women and dashing men.  Achingly beautiful love stories and wretched marriages.  Drinking and smoking and storytelling – lots of storytelling.  “Did you hear about Uncle Jaroslav?” Heavy sigh, deep pull on a Carlton 120 (the “healthy” alternative to Viceroy in our household by the time the 1980s rolled around).  “He hung himself in his shed.” My mouth drops open.  “Why, Baba?”  My grandmother waves her hand – smoke goes curling around my poodle’s head.  “Why not?” she says.

I loved that woman.

And I love the stories I grew up hearing at my dinner table.  I love black and white films and photos.  I love the smell of whiskey and cigarette smoke on a man.  And a tailored suit.  I love rich, world-weary laughter, and a home with scratches on the wood floors and books piled up all over the place.  Strong tea is good.  Strong coffee is better.  A strong man is the best.  An old map of the world pinned to the wall – and two tickets to Buenos Aires in the top drawer – just in case.  I love unpolished nails, but a nice coat of lipstick on a pair of parted lips – but not too full, like Angelina Jolie.  More like Juliette Binoche.  I love the rain.  I love the cold.

And if you share the love, come on by.

  1. wewerenothing permalink

    Lovely writing!

  2. Only great!
    Incidentally, that ‘cold’ body on the beach? What was the inspiration? (Can’t seem to get it out of my mind!)

  3. I was looking for an image where it was unclear whether the body was dead or alive. The nude element looked mysterious and creepy rather than erotic, so I liked that, too.

  4. Santino Deng permalink

    Hi Victoria Dougherty,
    I am extremely, inspiration by the way you wrote the story , it look gerogeous and great, you are an icon keep it up!

  5. That quote of your grandmother is really cool!

    That infected wound? No big deal. Let me tell you about the plague …

    • Exactly, David. Even as she lay dying (at 92), she would barely acknowledge her cancer and talked only of her “plans.”

  6. I am now officially in awe of your blog (and your storytelling).

    • Wow, Middlemay (or is it Adrienne?) – you’ve made my day. Thank you. Please come by any time. And if you get a minute, tell the men in your life to weigh in on the novel that changed their lives, or at least inspired them. I’m compiling a comprehensive fiction reading list for men. Happy Thanksgiving.

  7. “Why, Baba?” “Why not?” Grabbed me with that. Like your writing very much.

  8. Victoria, I love your fiction and your blog. I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. No need to accept, but if you’re interested, the details can be found here:

  9. Thank you and yes, I accept – always happy to share the love. Can I post next week?

  10. i have been reading through your blog since yesterday afternoon! i keep coming back for more! what stories! what a writer!

  11. Barry Henderson permalink

    What years were you in Prague, Victoria?

    • 92-95. Were you there, Barry? I have family there, so I went back and forth a lot, too. Haven’t been in years now, though – kids and all.

  12. I love your ” born cold ” ….xx

  13. Really good piece, Victoria

  14. Thanks, Brendan 🙂

  15. Carrie Cannady permalink

    I love the normal of all of this. Very familiar to me. Your writing is inspiring, Victoria!

  16. Thank you, Carrie 🙂

  17. Victoria, just stopping by to tell you that you’ve been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award.
    For details about accepting this award please visit here:

  18. Victoria, I’ve nominated you for the Creative Blogger Award. Here’s my link to it:

  19. Thank you, Susan! I’ll do my best – I’m stretched so think right now you can’t see me 😉

  20. Two tickets to Buenos Aires? Fabulous detail. Great writing.

  21. Judy Caywood permalink

    I love your writing and I really love your Grandmother’s view on life.

  22. Thank you, Victoria, for your big heart and insight to the world and family. Would have loved to have known my grandmother as well as you did yours. I found your email about love, support, and Nixon particularly brilliant and honest. Yes, we all have a string of bad luck from time to time. Mine has always helped me grow and stand straighter. I hope your little girl made it and is thriving. I was raised with no-nonsense parents and community. So thankful for that. Carry on. The world needs you.

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