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Lemonade’s Stand

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How do you solve a prob­lem like Anas­ta­sia? That’s the ques­tion that tor­tured, plea­sured, and ulti­mate­ly ruined my grand­fa­ther, Richard Lemon­ade. And stand­ing here, on his beggar’s grave in one of the worst parts of the Krem­lin, I can’t help but won­der — will it ruin me too? If so, I hope the mad­ness takes me before the Rodgers and Ham­mer­stein estate sues me for my unau­tho­rized “Sound of Music” ref­er­ence in the first line.

The sto­ry starts on a cold sum­mer day in 1918. A Bol­she­vik exe­cu­tion squad alleged­ly mur­ders the teenage Princess Anas­ta­sia by shoot­ing a bul­let through her tiny impe­r­i­al skull. It seems like a mer­ci­ful death when com­pared to my grandfather’s; he died from a bul­let to his con­fi­dence from the rifle of pub­lic opin­ion. The doc­tors insist­ed it was “cir­rho­sis of the liv­er.” But they aren’t the ones writ­ing this sto­ry, now are they?

As a young reporter on the Cincin­nati Enquirer’s Moscow beat, my grand­pa stum­bled upon the sto­ry of Anna Ander­son. She was a dark-eyed skirt with a keen eye for suck­ers and a habit of call­ing men­tal insti­tu­tions “home sweet home.” She claimed to be Princess Anas­ta­sia. She said she’d sur­vived the exe­cu­tion squad. Any guy with a lick of sense in him could see that the only thing she’d sur­vived was a nasty fall down the ugly tree on Whore Island. But young Richard Lemon­ade was nev­er known for his com­mon sense. He once spent a year of his life design­ing a device that would allow a man to car­ry a horse. And you know what? It sort of worked.

Grand­pa became the most vocal sup­port­er of Anna’s sto­ry. He was going to make his bones on this sto­ry and maybe, just maybe, snag him­self a princess bride in the process. How­ev­er, Anna’s errat­ic behav­ior led many to ques­tion the verac­i­ty of her sto­ry. Her only rec­ol­lec­tions of her Romanov past con­sist­ed of danc­ing bears and paint­ed wings — things she almost remem­bered.

There would be many tests of my grandfather’s faith in Anna. At an embassy ball, she famous­ly con­fused the sal­ad and dessert forks. She claimed to love danc­ing the mazur­ka, although it is a dance dis­tinct­ly Pol­ish in ori­gin. One time she told my grand­fa­ther, “I’m actu­al­ly the tiny mouse inside Rasputin.” Who was he to believe? Should we all stop believ­ing in God just because mir­a­cles stopped when the cam­era was invent­ed?

Grand­pa Lemon­ade could han­dle the jeers from peo­ple who thought he was a loon. Heck, he could even han­dle los­ing his job at the Cincin­nati Enquir­er. “They fired me for ask­ing all the right ques­tions!” he told me. Enquir­er records show that he was actu­al­ly fired because he had failed to report Euro­pean bas­ket­ball scores. But the one thing Grand­pa couldn’t han­dle was Anna’s mar­riage to an eccen­tric Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor. He also couldn’t han­dle the sight of a hot air bal­loon, but that’s a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. A sto­ry I wrote for Parade Mag­a­zine.

Grand­pa lived out the rest of his days fran­ti­cal­ly try­ing to win Anna’s love by prov­ing her sto­ry. He took to writ­ing var­i­ous sce­nar­ios of how Anna escaped her Bol­she­vik cap­tors. Here’s an excerpt of one from his diary:

ANNA: Please don’t shoot!
BOLSHEVIK #2: Not shoot? What’s in it for Boris?
ANNA: I’ll dance for you. I’ll do a new dance every night for 1,001 nights. You’ll see.
BOLSHEVIK #3: I object!
BOLSHEVIK #7: I’ll allow it.
BOB DYLAN: Hel­lo, every­body. [Anna escapes while Bob plays “Mr. Tam­bourine Man” on the bal­alai­ka. The elec­tric bal­alai­ka. The audi­ence boos. Philistines.]

Grand­pa died a poor lone­ly old man. On his deathbed he was attend­ed only by his wife, his three chil­dren, and the Gov­er­nor-Gen­er­al of Cana­da. The Prime Min­is­ter couldn’t even be both­ered to send a card. At least Grand­pa died believ­ing that his work would one day be vin­di­cat­ed.

If you’re the type of per­son who wor­ships at the altar of sci­ence and believes in things like DNA evi­dence, I sug­gest you stop read­ing and head back to your god damn Solyn­dra jobs. You already know what I have to say. Sci­en­tists con­clu­sive­ly deter­mined that Anna Ander­son was not genet­i­cal­ly relat­ed to the Romanovs in the spring of 1994. “The Sign” by Ace of Base was top­ping the charts.

I can’t bring my grand­pa back to life, but just maybe I can repair our fam­i­ly lega­cy if I can dis­cov­er the real Princess Anas­ta­sia. His­tor­i­cal records show that if Anas­ta­sia were alive today, she would have to be 111 years old. That like­ly means one thing: I’m run­ning out of time.

I’ve looked up Princess Anas­ta­sia a bunch of times on Wikipedia. I’ve asked my friends if they’ve seen her any­where. I found one extreme­ly old woman at a nurs­ing home but she was ful­ly Cam­bo­di­an. I’m at my wit’s end.

Maybe I’m just a man chas­ing after the ghost of a young girl. Sort of like The Love­ly Bones. Have you read The Love­ly Bones? I haven’t, but I’ve heard it might be rel­e­vant. I left my copy in the seat back flap of a Delta flight from Den­ver to Mon­tréal. If you know how it ends, please send me a per­son­al email at email hid­den; JavaScript is required

Do I wor­ry about going crazy like Grand­pa Lemon­ade some­times? Sure. I had a dream the oth­er night that peo­ple had start­ed eat­ing glit­ter as food. But if I learned one thing from Gramps, it was that you can’t be afraid to chase an idea just because soci­ety labels you as “crazy” or “a dead­beat dad.” So I’m going to fol­low this lit­tle elec­tric rab­bit of a sto­ry all the way to the grey­hound track fin­ish line. I’ve been spend­ing a lot of time at the track these days. Dogs don’t judge. Well, they don’t judge humans at least.

Anas­ta­sia. It seems to me she lived her life like a can­dle in the wind. Smokin’ hot, leav­ing a mess all around her, and prob­a­bly fash­ioned from wax. At the end of the day, does it even mat­ter if Anas­ta­sia actu­al­ly sur­vived? Some­times I think we’re all Anas­ta­sia. And then I real­ize that’s impos­si­ble. Because Dame Mag­gie Smith is Anas­ta­sia. You heard it here first. But offi­cial­ly, you nev­er heard it. ♦