Monday, June 19, 2017


Circa 1975
     I had noticed an unusual plant growing by the wayside when we made a stop on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia. Jack found a tin can, filled it with water, and clutched the plant between his legs as we continued on our drive.  Feeling a moist discomfort in his lap, he realized the can was leaking muddy water onto his trousers.  “That’s all right,” he said in his easy-going way.  “They’ll dry out.”
     At our next picture-taking stop, Jack saw my camera pointed in his direction; hastily and bowleggedly, he checked the state of his trousers.  Recognizing ‘the decisive moment” described by photographer Cartier-Bresson, I snapped the shutter.
     That’s one of the advantages of being a letter- and picture-saver.  You can laugh again at things you’d forgotten for years.  
     What I would miss most about Jack if we broke up forever (again): his gift for generating humor out of nothing, the way a magician plucks scarves from the air. How could I split from a man who had kept me laughing for nine years?
     Jack had one failing: He showed little interest in good food and the ritual of sharing it. Yet, if he had developed a paunch, that would have turned me off even more. His tall, slim body was the perfect counterpart for mine. He was so huggable I could hardly keep my arms to myself even when we were strolling through a supermarket. The younger generation has no idea we older folks still breathe hard on occasion, and not just from climbing stairs.
     Me to Jack: I’m glad your prostate surgery doesn’t interfere with your sex life. I’ll bet a lot of men would be affected out of sheer panic.
     Jack: Not me. I’m not going to give this up, no matter what they take out.

     Ed sold his last plane, but not before I had a chance to take Jack for a ride. His friends at the bank were incredulous when he told them his lady had flown him to Martha’s Vineyard—and back, too. I was also incredulous. Ed left me with many warm memories; our mutual love affair with flying was one of the best.
     Jack’s buddies were next mystified by the news that his lady was in Fort Lauderdale with her ex-husband. People have a hard time figuring us out. Luckily, we don’t have to defer to “what people think.”

February 1, 1982
     A month ago Jack and I went to a flea market in North Reading. I discovered a brown leather doll made in Martinique in the mid-19th century.  She was dressed in a long print skirt and plaid shawl, with a bandana wound around her curly black hair.  Her owner said I could have her for sixty dollars.  Since black dolls are much rarer than white ones, I bought her.
     I displayed my find on a side table in my dining room and thought she looked splendid. Jack asked if I'd thought of sprucing her up by washing her clothes.  My first reaction was that it would be too much trouble; her clothes were sewed on.   But then, to please Jack, I got my dusty sewing box out of the closet.
     I snipped the threads connecting shawl, skirt, and cotton shift and began working her shawl down over her shoulders.  When I reached her chest I realized the material was sticking on something.  Turning her over to investigate, I pricked my finger on a sharp point protruding from her belly.  My Martinique lady was no lady, she was a voodoo doll.
     I paused long enough to put her clothes in suds and bleach, then went to the Hingham Library to do some research.  I learned that voodooism was particularly prevalent in Haiti.  I read up on rituals.
     "First you need a voodoo doll . . . Then you need blood.   The intended victim's blood is best of all, and if the victim is a woman, menstrual blood is said to be unusually effective."
     Could it be that those reddish‑brown stains I was trying to  bleach out of the shawl were blood-stains?  An assistant librarian produced an atlas and helped me locate Martinique, an island southeast of Haiti.  She said she didn't think she'd want to own a voodoo doll.  It did seem as if I'd had a lot of bad luck lately ‑‑ car trouble, a malfunctioning camera, the loss of a contact lens, and other costly annoyances.  But fortunately, I'd had equally bad luck before I bought the doll, so I refused to be intimidated.
     Superstitions don't work unless people believe in them, I decided.  Whenever I feel the hair on my neck rising, I smooth it down and say, "I don't believe, I don't believe, I don't believe."                          
May 11, 1982
     Jack will be retiring in June, the day before our tenth anniversary. Since Ed’s new boat will be in the water by then, we can look forward to fishing and picnicking. Perhaps one or both of them will fall overboard so I’ll have something to write about.
June 24, 1982
     Our outing didn’t provide enough action for a boating article, but it wasn’t a total loss. Ed brought Aliceann along with her usual hamper of goodies.  After an hour at sea, Ed and I agreed we should
have made an earlier start. We decided to end up at Plymouth instead of Provincetown.
He left me at the wheel with instructions to “keep her on the course she’s on now.”
     When Ed Boatguy next showed up, we were nearing the “dip in the land” he had pointed out. A red nun buoy rode a few hundred yards ahead on our right. Ed took over the topside controls, and I was just sitting down in a deck chair when I was thrown with a lurch to starboard. A prolonged grinding noise—screech, scrunch—accompanied the lurch, along with some curses from the flying bridge. Jack, Aliceann, and I looked at each other wide-eyed.   Should we prepare to abandon ship?
     Our captain, rather the worse for wear, studied the chart again and figured out where the ship hit the fan, so to speak. What he thought was the number 4 red nun off Plymouth Harbor was actually the number 4 red nun off Green Harbor.
     “You managed to find the only rock within a thousand miles,” Ed said. “No, she’s not leaking, I checked.”
     We dropped anchor at Scituate Harbor to rest our nerves and broke out the beer and Aliceann’s picnic. What a lovely way to spend a steamy Sunday afternoon. When we were ready to leave, Ed and Jack couldn’t free the anchor from whatever it was caught on, no matter how hard they tugged.
     “There goes another hundred dollars,” Ed sighed, cutting loose the anchor and chain. We ended up at Ed’s house, dunking ourselves in his pool and sending out for subs and pizza.
     Ed was annoyed with Aliceann because she was annoyed with him because of his new lady friend, Patty. She had scarcely spoken to him for a week. The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, also known as Romeo Malley, was getting restless.
     “You know how you could save me from marrying any of them?” he said cagily. “You marry me!”
     “But what about Jack?” I asked, shocked. “He’s practically your best friend! You wouldn’t steal his girl away, would you?”
     “Penis erectus non conscientious est,” quoth Ed. (All’s fair in love and war.)
     Jack and I had always had our highs and lows, and we frequently broke up “forever.” Eleven years after we met, the time came when it was forever.
To Jack
     After much heart-searching I’ve come to the conclusion that this reconciliation isn’t going to work out. I no longer feel like half of a loving twosome but more like the partner in a not very successful marriage.
    It was physical attraction and your unquenchable sense of humor that kept us going for so many years, despite our bickering about anything and everything. In almost every area of life we perceive things too differently to achieve any real degree of compatibility.
     I assure you I’m grateful for the many thoughtful things you have done for me and will always, as you suggested in a recent letter, accentuate the positive memories. I’d have missed lot if I had never met you. . .
     Jack responded graciously, and although he moved to California to be near his daughter and grandson, he maintained his friendship not only with me but with Ed and Aliceann.  I think he fell a little in love with her sweet, cheerful disposition, as everyone does, including me.
     I miss you and think of you often. You’re a tiger and difficult to forget so I won’t.
     If I ask you a question, will you answer me? like—are you well and happy and loved by someone else? I hope you are.
     Please convey my best wishes to Ed, Aliceann, or whoever you feel would care.
     Merry Christmas

     Jack called from Florida in June of 1986 and said he was lonesome and wanted to talk and he missed me. I had just finished a three-page letter to him. Every time he asked me a question I'd say, "That's in the letter."
     Finally he said Jackishly, "I'd like to think that before I die I'll be able to hold you and kiss you once or tw—ten times."
     He reminded me that it would be five years in August since we last saw each other. "I still see you. I see you in a hundred different ways . . . when I don't see you.”
     And that's how I will always see Jack. My funny Jack. . . .

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