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Red Diaper Baby

(by Lisa Herman)

In my childhood home in the Toronto suburbs, the couch was covered with plastic, with plastic plants for decoration. In my mother’s kitchen, the table was plastic, the chairs too, and we ate from hard plastic Melmac dishes that she bought at a discount from a cousin’s warehouse in Chicago. We’d traveled from Toronto to visit the windy city where she grew up. I was two years old, and it was my first trip on a train—in sleeping cars, my mother with me, and my father across the aisle with my little brother. The porter didn’t understand that we were together, a family, as my mother and I had American passports, while my father and brother had Canadian ones. It’s a complicated American story from the Senator McCarthy witch-hunt days.

My mother was an idealistic Communist, a glamorous former pin-up girl and radio actress. Dad was a handsome, rough-and-tumble Royal Canadian Air Force vet from Montreal. They were introduced when he was attending the California Labor School in San Francisco and visiting his Hollywood screenwriter older brother in Los Angeles. My mother and future uncle brought fellow-traveler Dad into their local inner circle. The Party itself was then le