Ursula could not sleep that night. Her dreams woke her with terrifying imagery of sickly red, rubbery tentacles, wrapping around her wrists and ankles, trying to drag her into a black ocean.
The girl’s tossing and turning woke her mother, who tried to coax her into sleep. “Count sheep, darling. Fluffy, happy sheep.”
It was no use. The sheep morphed into miniature sea monsters, causing the girl to whimper. Ursula’s mother lost her patience. “For heaven’s sake, this is what you get for nosing into adult conversations. It should teach you to mind your own business.”
This phrase, “mind your own business,” summed up the lesson Ursula tried to pass on to her granddaughter, her namesake, a small and bravely curious Marilyn.
“Whenever I forgot this, whenever I stuck my nose where it did not belong, my poor nose took a smacking,” the elderly Ursula went on. “My dear mother tried diligently to correct this tendency in me. My hindquarters still sting with the memory of her hairbrush, which, let me tell you, did its duty the following morning. My restlessness that night kept my mother from her sleep, and she did not let me escape my punishment. The poor woman, she’d had a million sleepless nights taking care of my father after a bout of drinking. She could not punish him, I suppose, so she exorcised her frustrations on me.”
Ursula had long forgiven her mother, who had not lived past her fiftieth birthday. Cancer was an undifferentiated diagnosis back then, a word written in large black letters. Exhausted from the challenges of her life, Ursula imagined, her mother’s lungs had simply given up. She wanted her own daughter, Marilyn’s mother, to have a better time of it. And she hoped to keep her namesake granddaughter on the straight and narrow by making an example of her own nosy, adventurous, less-than-decorous childhood.
But, as always happens when the young hear the stories of the elderly, little Marilyn took her own lesson from the tale. She barely heard the part about the hairbrush. Instead, the girl swore to become a deep-sea fisherman, if that’s what it took to view such a tremendously, delightfully frightening monster for herself.