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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

(3) SHE AND I ARE MORE LIKE SISTERS THAN WIFE AND EX-WIFE.

     When I hear of Kathie’s proposal, I can barely voice my fears. “Kathie! How can you make such drastic changes to your house? What will happen to your retirement plans?”
     I know she doesn’t make that much money as a college professor, she tries to supplement her income by teaching extra courses and reviewing manuscripts for publishers, and she has a lot of medically-related expenses that don’t get covered by insurance—adaptive equipment for her car, transfer boards, elastic stockings . . . I also know she was left financially strapped by her first husband, who had a greater talent for spending money than for earning it. He was far better dressed than she was in her perennial dark slacks and inexpensive tops. And she’s pushing 60! What can she be thinking of?
     She tries to reassure me. There’s ample equity in the house that she bought nearly 25 years ago. She and Frank will figure out to the penny how much they can afford to take out and still have a mortgage payment they can cover each month. Frank is as supportive of this project as she is; he’s been distressed by the changes taking place in his father-in-law in the few years he’s known him. As I listen to her arguments, I am still inwardly uneasy, but I withdraw my objections.
     When Ed learns that Kathie is coming to the rescue, he telephones me to say, “She’s a saint.” He promises he will reimburse her for her expenses when business gets better, which sooner or later it is bound to do. It’s a shame that the current crisis is making them give up their Florida home, he says, adding that it’s probably all for the best. It will be nice to live closer to me and his children, and Blake and Jayne will be nearby while they’re summering up North, and some day he’ll be able to make it up to Kathie and Frank for making all this possible. His tone is more relieved and optimistic than it has been for months.
May, 1991
     I don’t know whether the Massachusetts contingent or the Florida contingent is the more tizzied up about the planned exodus of Ed and Aliceann and their children. Down in Florida, Ed is already suffering from the heat and from his fear of falling. Since Aliceann is working, he hires local handymen to take him shopping and to medical appointments, as well as to maintain the appearance of a house he now can’t wait to sell. Ten rooms and two sheds are too much for him to take care of. He can barely take care of himself. Now that the decision is made, he wants only to leave promptly and move north. His biggest worry is that the house has been on the market for a month now and they haven’t had a nibble. He’s still hoping they can sell it and move before the hurricane season.
     Aliceann says anytime is okay with her. She’s being an amazingly good sport about the prospect of uprooting herself.  I’m so glad my ex‑hubby found such a compatible second wife—and so glad of the role I played in helping him find a partner after our divorce. I had no interest in remaining his wife after finding a letter with hugs and kisses that weren’t from me, but I still cared about him, despite our divorce. Knowing how unhappy he was living by himself, I helped him manage his increasingly complicated love life . . .
Flashback:
March, 1983
     Ed’s life resembles a comic opera. A couple of weeks ago he set out in his old Ford station wagon to pick up Claire at the railroad station in Quincy. So I won’t mix up the characters‑‑they can do that very nicely for themselves‑‑I must explain that Claire is the one with the long blonde hair and Southern accent who used to be Ed’s regular date but currently sees him only once a week. Aliceann has long black hair crowning her head like a turban, dramatic spectacles, chunky jewelry, a shaggy dog, and an inscrutable cat named Sybil. She is a favored stand‑in for Eva of the long very, very very blonde hair.
     En route to Quincy, Ed’s Ford began to gasp and falter. Mellow as Ed has become in the autumn of his years, I imagine he swore a bit as he made a U‑turn and headed for Aliceann’s, hoping to borrow his Toyota from her. She was using it because her car was in the repair shop. This may be the reason he hangs on to the venerable station wagon; with four ladies in his life, including the one named Barbara with the silky, naturally brown hair, one of us is bound to be having car trouble. We all do appreciate Ed’s spare wheels.
     Aliceann and Ed’s Toyota were not at home, so he drove on to Eva’s, coaxing a few more miles out of the ailing Ford. “Why should I lend you my car so you can pick her up?” Eva demanded. But she surrendered, as Ed’s ladies usually do, and off he sped to Quincy, where Claire was tapping her foot in front of the station. End of Scene 1.
      In Scene 2, Ed and Claire drive to Aliceann’s and find out that she has returned from her errand. Claire gets out of Eva’s Dodge, climbs into Ed’s Toyota, and follows him to Eva’s house, where he drops off her Dodge and picks up his Ford. With Claire still following in the Toyota, the wheezing Ford manages to make it to Ed’s driveway. End of comic opera.
ALICEANN IN DEFENSIVE MODE WHILE OUR GRAND-
SON PONDERS WHETHER ONE STRAWBERRY IS ENOUGH
     Ted asked me recently which of Ed’s ladies I like best. “I love them all,” I said. Actually, Aliceann has an edge because she has a warm enthusiastic personality and the world’s greatest strawberry cheesecake recipe. I have some superb recipes, too, but they sit in the cupboard with the instant puddings. Aliceann uses hers. She leaves so many treats in Ed’s refrigerator he can’t keep up with them, so my friend Jack and I help out. Any ex‑wife would say the same thing I did when I first sampled Aliceann’s apple strudel: “Ed, you’ve gotta keep this treasure in the family!”
      Ed does his best to keep us all in the family. Claire, the Wednesday night lady, has a steady named Gerald she sees on weekends. Ed is jealous but reasons that one‑seventh of Claire is better than no Claire at all. Weekends, he divides his time between Eva and Aliceann, each of whom is jealous of the other. Eva’s fondness for mini-skirts contrasts notably with her rival’s elegant style. Aliceann always refers to her as Ava Baby‑‑just to annoy Ed, she confided to me on the way home from the airport. I had driven there to pick her up after her week’s vacation with Ed in Fort Lauderdale. (He’s staying on alone for a few days.) I don’t know what Ava Baby calls Aliceann.
     “Is Eva watering your plants the way she promised?” I asked Ed on the phone.
     "I don’t know; she’s pretty mad.”
     As much as I like Eva, I do think she’s being unreasonable. Hadn’t she assured Ed from the beginning that it was okay with her, she was dating other men, he was a free agent, etc. If she’s too irked to water Ed's plants, I suppose I’ll have to do it. Might as well be gracious about it; my clutch has been acting funny lately.
    
    One of the most positive aspects of moving back to Massachusetts is Ed’s confidence that his original surgeon can and will do the knee surgery he is convinced will end his constant pain. Without surgery, he fears he will have to resign himself to living in a wheelchair, as his daughter has done for over 30 years. Ed is so sure Dr. Scott can accomplish this feat, he has already made an appointment for September.
     Meanwhile, Kathie has been floundering in the Great Red Tape whirlpool. To get a building permit, she had to arrange to have members of the Westwood Board of Health, Building Department, and Conservation Committee as well as various other consultants come look at the property. They tell her she cannot add any living space to her home without first hooking up to the town sewer, which means she has had to spend hours on the phone getting bids from engineers for the engineering plan and from contractors for the actual hook‑up.
     My role in the Red Tape whirlpool involves going to the town hall and standing at the Planning Board window to confer with the clerk. I start describing Kathie’s project, and the clerk’s manner changes from casual to dismayed.
     “Tell your daughter she’s making a mistake, a big mistake,” she says urgently. “I understand her motivations, but if she goes ahead with this plan, she could have a disaster on her hands.” Abruptly, she pulls off her glasses, framed in tortoise shell. They dangle from a gold chain as she leans closer to me. Her eyes look even more distressed than her voice sounds. “I know this from past experiences on similar projects.”
     I drive too fast back to Country Lane and repeat the warning to Kathie. She shakes her head. Her daddy needs help, and she is determined to come to his rescue. She is so sure she is doing the right thing, I resolve to suppress my doubts. The original plan for this visit was that Kathie and Frank would help Ed and Aliceann sort through their things and decide what they should bring with them to Massachusetts and what should be donated to charitable organizations in Florida. This plan has been discussed for weeks, so there should be no problem carrying it out, right? Wrong. Kathie’s blow‑by‑blow phone calls to me make it apparent that Ed and Aliceann aren’t ready to part with anything yet. Not so much as a grapefruit picker. Not even one of the sets of poolside lawn furniture.
     Kathie and Frank go to Florida to help Ed and Aliceann get ready for the big migration north. Frank, oldest of seven and, like Kathie, accustomed to watching out for others, is more than ready to support Kathie in her desire to make a home for Ed and Aliceann and Strumfie (dog), and Sheba (dog), and Ling Ling (cat), and Jasmine (cat), and Cleo (cat), and Caesar (cat), and Calvin (more of the same), and Hobbes (you know). Frank, who recently completed a degree in Human Services at U Mass Boston, was a foreman at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy for years, so he has both the care-taking instincts and the mechanical skills to build a new home for the undertaking.
     Plan 2—to reduce the cluttered look in the house, Frank is going to rent a truck and drive one truckload of furniture back up to Massachusetts. Ed will hire professionals to move everything else north, once they’ve sold the house. It has been on the market for two months now without so much as an outrageously low offer that Ed and Aliceann can turn down with impunity. The broker believes one big problem is the clutter—a word that surely must shock the sensibilities of his clients, avid collectors of antique dolls, modern dolls, toy soldiers, doll houses, paper dolls, dioramas, teddy bears, and miniatures. He urges them to pack their valuables in boxes and get them on their way north, or at least out of sight.
     Frank is now painting the walls and doing some minor repair work. Kathie helps him, painting shelves that have been removed from closets and are spread out on newspapers on top of the dining room table. Ling Ling assists Kathie by draping herself around her friend’s neck and intently overseeing every sweep of the brush. Kathie also tackles the trim on doors and cabinets, stretching up as far as she can reach from her wheelchair. Aliceann is taking advantage of their presence to go visit her mother in western Florida, leaving Ed in their protective custody.
     My assignment is to make an appointment with the B‑Dry people and show them Kathie’s basement in Westwood. It floods during major rainstorms and leaks with little provocation. I’ll get a waterproofing estimate, which Kathie expects to be five or six thousand dollars (be still, my frugal heart!), so that Ed and Aliceann’s furniture and other possessions can be safely stored there. I’m glad to do what I can to help, not just for Ed but for Aliceann, too. As the years have passed, she and I have become more like sisters than wife and ex-wife.
         Ed calls from Florida, cautiously ecstatic. They had their first open house since Frank did the makeover, and they’ve already received a bid on the house. It doesn’t come close to enough money, but Ed is sure there’s room for negotiation.
     Kathie’s pleas to B‑Dry have paid off. They advanced her spot on the waiting list and have waterproofed her basement two months ahead of schedule. She and Frank and I have been clearing out all their excess possessions so they can be replaced by all of Ed’s excess possessions.
     After months of broken promises, the engineer Kathie hired last May finally submitted to the Conservation Committee the building plans for the sewer connection. The delays have made Ed extremely nervous, especially now that they may actually have a buyer for the Florida house. He calls Kathie every night, looking for reassurance that he and Aliceann et cetera will be able to move north whenever they have to. He is confused about the weather; he worries that the remodeling will proceed too slowly now that it is “winter up there.” Kathie laughs and says, “Dad, it’s summer up here.” “It can’t be,” he replies. “It’s summer down here so it must be winter up there.” Kathie tries to explain that even though it’s cooler up here than down there, it’s still summer up here too. He wants to believe her but sounds dubious.
     To help convince Ed and Aliceann that all the obstacles will be overcome and there really will be an apartment for them, Kathie supplements telephoned descriptions with building plans drafted by Frank’s nephew, an architect. The former garage will house a spacious, wheelchair-accessible bathroom with roll-in shower, a large bedroom, a little office area for Ed’s large desk, situated so that he can look out over the driveway to the trees and pond beyond, and a spacious eat-in kitchen. The large formal living room/dining room area will be divided into two rooms—a family room and a studio for Aliceann with a fireplace and bay window looking out on the meadow and pond.
     The blueprints lead, of course, to new over-the-phone discussions. Ed and Aliceann are having a hard time visualizing what the final space will look like, especially when the plans change for either financial or accessibility reasons, but say they trust Kathie and Frank to go ahead with what they think is best. One essential component that they check on daily: the sizable attached cat pen where their babies can get out in the fresh air. It will need a roof and a dozen padlocks, since all six foxy felines are known escape artists.

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