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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(12) THESE HARPIES ARE NOT FIT TO MENTION YOUR NAME.

  I stopped by at Ravenscraig to tell Vaughan's friends that her last days had been comfortable and blessedly without pain.  Mrs. Kelly took off her clown mask and said, "You loved her, didn't you."  Obie came in, beckoned to me, and said Mrs. Harrington wanted to talk to me.  I went out to the kitchen to see what she wanted.
     “I’ve often wondered what you must have thought of us when we wouldn’t take Mrs. Ross back after she went to the hospital,” Mrs. Harrinton began.  “Well, not to speak ill of the dead, but—“
     She and Obie stood there side by side, one nodding her agreement as the other slandered my friend.
     “After all you people did for her, we thought it was just terrible the way she used to talk about your family.”
     “I was really shocked,” Obie said.
     “She used to tell Obie the wildest tales about your daughter,” Mrs. Harrington continued.  “She said your daughter used to stay out till all hours and tell lies—well, we just couldn’t believe our ears!”
     “That’s right, Mrs. Malley,” Obie said.  “She’d tell me all this stuff and I’d go down to the kitchen and tell Mrs. Harrington here, and we’d shake our heads and wonder how she could be so disloyal to people who’d been so good to her.”
     I didn’t know whether Vaughan had ears to hear this rubbish, but in case she did, I kept saying silently, “Vaughan, these harpies are not fit to mention your name.”
     To Obie I said, “I imagine Vaughan didn’t think she was revealing anything you hadn’t already heard.  I used to share my worries with her when you were right there in the room.  She was so deaf I’m sure everyone in the whole house couldn’t help but hear me.”
     “Oh, she wasn’t as deaf as you thought,” Mrs. Harrington said scornfully.  “She just liked to get attention.  And as for those tall tales she used to tell you and Dr. Cline about what went on here, well, I guess you can see there was no more truth in them than there was in those terrible things she said about your family.”
     Ah, but Mrs. Harrington (I could have said if I cared to argue with the fraudulent bitch), the things Vaughan told Obie were true, so what does that do to your specious little argument?  Not out of disloyalty but out of the love and concern in her self-forgetful heart she confided in Obie, whom she trusted and regarded as  a sympathetic listener. 
     Mrs. Harrington went on to malign Dr. Cline, as she has so many times in the past.  She didn’t know what the man could have been thinking of when he said Mrs. Ross could be in charge of her own medications.  “That was strictly against the rules, and he knew it."  So they stuck to their rules and Vaughan went through agony when the nurses forgot to bring her pain pills on schedule or brought her a vitamin pill instead. 
     “And when Mrs. Ross went to the hospital, he left orders that her medications should go right along with her. Why, he knows better than that, we could send poison along in those bottles and the hospital would never know the difference.” So once more Mrs. Harrington had her way and Vaughan suffered for hours until the hospital staff got around to providing a new prescription.
     “Those orders of his are right there in the book and when the state inspector comes around he could get in a lot of trouble if I pointed it out—but I wouldn’t do that.”
     And why wouldn’t she do that?  Not because she’s a charitable woman but because, “Once these inspectors spot something like that, they start digging deeper.”
     Very interesting, Mrs. Harrington.  You kind of gave yourself away that time, didn’t you?
     Thank God Vaughan spent her remaining days among sensitive, kindly human beings who recognized her for the pain-ridden, valiant-to-the-end soul she was.
August 1, 1962
       Years ago Vaughan had written an essay, expressing her desire to be cremated and her ashes strewn “in silence to the wind and trees.”  I called Sparrell’s and made arrangements for a small private service in the chapel tomorrow morning.  Mr. Wadsworth said it was illegal to strew ashes in a cemetery, but we could carry out my friend’s wishes by holding the ceremony either in a privately owned wooded area or by the ocean.  Janeth recalled that an original copy of Vaughan’s request spoke of having her ashes strewn over the ocean, so we decided to have our gathering on Cunningham’s bridge.  Mr. Wadsworth offered to officiate and read Vaughan’s farewell message.
      “Her son will have to authorize her cremation,” he said.  “Have him send a telegram to the Forest Hills Cemetery."         
       I was about to call Harold when he called me.  Ostensibly he wanted me to know that he had called Ralph “and a few other interested people,” but his true purpose soon revealed itself.     
        “You mentioned sending Mother’s clothing and jewelry,” he said.  “I guess she had that little old transistor, too, didn’t she, and then of course, there was her TV set.”
      His mother's body was scarcely cold.  I told him that one of Vaughan’s friends at Ravenscraig had been using the TV.  “When Vaughan lost interest in it, I brought it over to Dottie Bongarzone.  She’s had a shock and is unable to talk or read, but she does enjoy watching televsion.”
      “Well, if it makes the poor woman’s burden any lighter—“ he murmured piously.  Then:  “What condition is it in?  Is it working pretty well?”
      When I talked to Kit Bursk this morning, she reminded me of something I had forgotten.  She and Mr. Bursk had given Vaughan both the transistor and the TV set.  Moreover, when Vaughan first went to Ravenscraig she told Mrs. Bursk she wanted Kippy to have her radio and TV, but Kit said she wouldn’t hear of it.
      “You’ll get lots of pleasure out of them yourself while you’re there, Vaughan,” she said.        
       Mrs. Bursk was very generous about Dottie Bongarzone and said she thought it would be a lovely idea to keep the TV set at Ravenscraig in memory of Vaughan.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the set was not mine to give away.  The Bursks had bought it in the first place, and Vaughan had spoken of wanting Kippy to have it.  I remembered we had a small portable of our own—the one Kathie had at Swathmore.  Ed is going to fix it up so that Dottie can use it          
      I spent the morning sorting over the mementos Vaughan kept in her bureau drawer:  old photographs and snapshots, Christmas cards, letters, address books, her bankbook, a diary.  There was a record of her yearly custom of sending flowers to Alma Rush on the anniversary of John’s death in the war over twenty years ago.  I came across two cruel letters written by Harold’s wife, Margie.  A scrap of paper in Vaughan’s handwriting bore the message, “My motto:  Be as happy as you can but appear happier.”  There were several letters from Harold with “Save” marked on the envelopes.
      Her savings account had shrunk to $1.75.  Over a period of seven years she had withdrawn well over a thousand dollars, most of which went to Harold.  Her last large withdrawal, $150, was on October 4, 1960.  A letter from Harold, dated seven weeks later, began:  “Guess it’s high time I got a note off to you and thank you for the do-re-mi.” 
      A journal with the title, “Days to Remember” was inscribed:  Dearest Jessica:  May all the dates you record in this little book be happy ones.  The season's greetings and my fondest love to you always, dear.  Lovingly, Horton 12/25/38.”
      In October of 1940 Vaughan wrote:  “As time goes on I miss darling Sunny more and more.  Something has died within me.  Harold is so engrossed in finding comfort for himself that he seems to lose sight of the fact that I too need a little kindness, a little thoughtfulness.  I know we can’t go till our time comes, but I pray God he will hasten the time when I can go to Sunny.  I wanted Harold to need me, but I find he doesn’t.  He turns to strangers, to outsiders for comfort.  Anyway all I have ever wanted was to see Harold happy & Sunny too, as long as she lived. My whole life has been built around him, and if he finds happiness now in turning to others I must be happy for him.
      “There will never be another Sunny . . . .”
Wednesday morning
      I drove to Pembroke to collect Vaughan’s possessions.
      “Mrs. Ross died so easy,” Mrs. Dunn told me.  “I had a feeling she wasn’t going to last, but I didn’t want to go against the doctor and call you.  He said to wait until he’d seen her, but when he said he wouldn’t be getting here until six, I felt as if someone ought to know.  I stayed with her most of the day and her mind was clear right up to the end.  Bless her heart, she was such a doll.  She was semi-conscious a good deal of the time, but once she opened her eyes and saw me trying to catch a fly that had been bothering her.  She smiled and said, “`Make sure you get ‘im!’”
      “I can just hear her.”
      “She really had a way about her.  We were all very fond of her.  She was too weak to go to the bathroom or use the bedpan yesterday, so I put a diaper on her.  When she kept trying to get up, I had to raise the sides of the bed.  I told her to go ahead and go in the diaper.”
      “Oh dear, I’ll bet she didn’t think much of that.”
      “She didn’t give me a bit of trouble—she was awfully good about it.  She just looked at me and grinned.  Later I had to give her oxygen after I called Dr. Cline and told him she was turning blue.  I put the thing over her head and she said –what was it she said—something about Indians--`What’s this supposed to be, an Indian headdress?’ or something like that.  She had more spunk, bless her heart!  I started to take her earrings off, and she said, `Please don’t take those, I’ve worn them for two years,’ so I said all right and left them on.  They were still on when she died.”
      “Her young friend Jack Bursk gave her those earrings,” I said.
      “I had another patient on the second floor—she was giving me a hard time.  To tell you the truth, she was raising the devil.  She’s one of those emotional types and I finally told the doctor, either she does things my way from now on or she’ll have to leave.  I stood at the foot of her bed and I told him right in front of her how she’d been carrying on.  He didn’t blame me, he agreed with me.  I said to her, `Do you know what happened last night?’ I thought maybe if I told her, she’d be shocked into behaving herself.  `While I was up here struggling with you, a little old lady downstairs died all alone.  In all the years I’ve been running this home, that has never happened before, I have always been with my patients when they died.’  But she went very peacefully.  Miss Hammer was right there 
August 7, 1962             
     We gathered at Cunningham’s Bridge last evening and listened as Mr. Wadsworth read Vaughan’s final request.        
      “This is the request of Harold’s mother, Mrs. Jessica Vaughan Ross. Please have my body burned, take the ashes and place them in an earthen urn.” (Mr. Wadsworth opened a small square box and handed it to Ed.  Inside was no earthen urn but a plastic bag, which held . . . Vaughan?)          
     “Keep them until there comes a warm windy day in summer or spring.  Then if there can be found a few who loved me and felt my presence on earth enough to be sorry I am gone, let someone who loved me a great deal call them together . . . ”       
     Ed and I were there, and Mother and Kathie and Vonnie.  Albert, Kathie’s German friend, had joined us, as well.  Would he return to Germany imagining he had witnessed a typical American funeral?  The ever-loyal Mrs. Bursk was present with her sons, Jack and Kip.
      “. . . and let them go out into some open place where the grass is green, and there are trees and flowers and wild birds and squirrels.  There let them sit on the warm grass and eat and drink not stolidly and with gloom but with Joy, for then they are pleasing me, and my spirit is in their midst.
      “Let them tell some of the good stories I used to tell for I have always loved a merry tale with a laugh at the end and let them recall the kind and unselfish acts I performed if they can think of any.  Then—when evening falls let someone open my urn and, taking my ashes in handfuls, sow them in silence to the wind and trees . . . .”
      (So these were human ashes, these tiny fragments of bone that met the swirling tide below with a clinking, tinkling sound. Vaughan.?)
      “. .  . and some be dust on the clothing and some be blown away.  So when people shall ask for my grave it can be said,
     ‘Earth, air, meadow and all living things are her grave.  You will find her spirit in the Sunny days.’ (Vaughan had capitalized Sunny, the name of her beloved first daughter-in-law.)
     “Above all, let there be silence, no prayer, no ritual, no words said, for the supreme expression of feeling is, Silence.”
     We stood quietly for a moment by the railing of the bridge, watching the moiling current surge toward the open sea.
     Then:  “I guess that’s it,” said Ed. . . . 

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