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Monday, June 26, 2017

(4) "I THINK OF WHAT MOTHER WENT THROUGH."

January 28, 1962
Waterville, Maine
TED AND ED AT COLBY COLLEGE
  We drove up to Colby to watch Ted play hockey in the afternoon.  After the game we took Ted and his roommate to dinner, then went on our way.  We planned to stop at a motel within an hour or so of home, leaving us an easy drive the next day.  When we got to New Hampshire, we decided on Lamie's Tavern for nostalgic reasons.  Hampton was the town where we married after I turned eighteen.

January 29, 1962
Hampton, Maine
    We were having breakfast when Ed said, “I wonder what happened to Mr. Penniman. He sure seemed uneasy about marrying us!”
    “Let’s look him up in the telephone book. If he’s still around, why don’t we drop in and reassure him?”
    The only Penniman in Hampton was listed under Penniman Insurance Agency. It might not be the same fellow, but having gone this far on our sentimental journey, we couldn’t give up now. After getting directions, we drew up in front of the same old white farmhouse where we had pledged our troth twenty-two years ago.
    A pleasant-looking lady with her hair in curlers came to the door.
    “Mr. Penniman hasn’t been here for a good many years,” she said. “Can I help you?”
    “Well, we were wondering”—I looked uncertainly at Ed—“you see, this Mr. Penniman was a justice of the peace, and we were hoping he’d still be here.”
    The lady looked at me and then at Ed. “I’m a justice of the peace,” she said with an encouraging smile.
    “The reason we particularly wanted to see Mr. Penniman,” I explained,” was because he married us when we were very young. We’d eloped, you see, and we wanted to tell him everything worked out all right.”
    “We have four children,” Ed said. “Two of them at college.”
    “Isn’t that nice!” beamed the lady.
    “Is Mr. Penniman—not living?” I asked.
    “Oh, he’s very much alive! He’s been up before the justice two or three times himself!”
    “You mean—he’s been married two or three times?”
    “Yes indeed! He’s living up in Maine with his third wife. I was the first Mrs. Penniman.”


    “Then you were one of our witnesses! Of course you wouldn’t remember, but you asked the couple next door to come over and be witnesses, too. Mr. Penniman told us to remember it was easier to tie the knot than to untie it.”
    “He didn’t practice what he preached, did he! But tell me your name and I’ll relay your message. Once in a great while I do hear from him.”
    Ed and I gamely took pictures of the house and each other, but we agreed that our romantic gesture had been a bit of a fizzle.
January 12, 1962
    Ed got up early and put another blanket on the bed.
    “Thank you,” I said. “I was too frozen to move. What time is it?”
    “Five-thirty. Remind me to tell you about the dream I had when we get up.”
    “I had wild dreams, too. It must have been something we ate.”
    When I next awoke it was 7:15. I was upset to discover Tim was finishing one of his interminable showers, and Vonnie was still asleep.
    “You two should be downstairs eating your breakfast this very minute! Why didn’t you get Vonnie up when your alarm went off? Now she’ll have to rush off to school without a thing to eat, that’s the second time this week!”
    “Relax, Maw,” Tim said. “How long does it take to eat a scrambled egg?”
    “Timmy, you know how long it takes her to get ready! By the time she finishes combing her hair the bus will be here—she should have been up half an hour ago!”
    “Don’t worry about it, Maw!”
    “Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it,” I muttered. I returned to my bed and lay there brooding about the irresponsibility of teenagers. Ed reached over and caressed my head.
    “That dream I had was so vivid,” he said. “It was back when we were young. . . .”
    He paused for a moment and I said, “Well, go on—did I or didn’t I?”
    “We forget,” he said. “We take things for granted. In the dream you were Barbara Beyer again—and boy, did I want to marry you!”
    “It must have been the corned beef and cabbage.”
    “You didn’t want to, though. I tried everything I could think of to persuade you, but you weren’t— well, you weren’t gonna, that’s all. We were intimate, there was no doubt about that, but you’d reached the stage where you were talking about a platonic relationship, so I wasn’t very happy about that.”
    “Well, as long as I just talked about it—“
    “Lord, how it took me back! You were very sweet and nice, but you just didn’t want to marry me. I kept trying to figure out ways of getting you pregnant—“
    “There’s more than one way?”
    “—so you’d have to marry me. You seemed like the most desirable creature in the world, you were exactly as you were when I met you: tall, slim, willowy—“
    “Instead of short, fat, and dumpy the way I am now?”
    “—your eyes were bright and sparkling—“
    “These dull, lusterless things?”
    “You were charming and pert—“
    “Hey, Maw, whadja do with those trousers I asked you to sew?”
    “—and carefree,” I sighed. “Try looking in your closet,” I called.
    Tim’s sliding door clattered and screeched as he looked in the closet. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Hey, is Dad up? I want to get there early, you know.”
    “Be right with you, Tim.” Ed jumped out of bed and began hurrying into his clothes. I brushed my teeth, bathed my eyes with cold water until they sparkled, combed my hair. My poor, rejected hubby! If he asked me to marry him, I was going to say yes.
    I was waiting expectantly by the door when there came a rap. Tim came in to get his allowance and told his father to hurry up, it was getting late.
    “Won’t even have time to eat my grapefruit,” Ed grumbled.
    “Why do you cater to him? It’s his own fault for standing under the shower all morning. Take your time!”
    “He likes to go down to Braintree Center and have a cup of coffee with his buddies,” Ed said, giving me a peck on the cheek.
    “Is that all I get after that dream?” I said with a pout.
    “Stick around,” he said.
    But I know what will happen. Long before he comes hone he’ll have forgotten about the elusive siren of his dreams and I’ll be available old me again.
I wonder if he’d go for corned beef and cabbage two nights in a row?
***
[I've been looking for a place to record a 1964 shock to the family, without having to reschedule a large number of posts.  This will do.]
September 25, 1964
Cohasset
     Gene Porta called Ed from Martha's Vineyard with some friendly advice.  He'd heard Ted was dating a divorcee with three children.  He suggested we ask Ted to invite her to Cohasset so we could meet her.
     Last night Ted called his father from an airport in Pennsylvania.   A few minutes later I heard Ed say, "Well, it's an awful lot of responsibility you're taking on, kid, but I certainly wish you luck and happiness."
     Ted and this girl (I don't even know her name) were married two days ago.  Thank God I have Ed or I think I would fall apart.  I keep thinking of my mother and what she went through in her forties.  First she lost my father, then her beautiful home, next came the shock of my elopement, along with problems with my adolescent sister and worries about my brother.  These were the lean years of the Depression when she took in roomers in order to survive.  Finally she had to face an operation for cataracts, and the acceptance of heavy, thick-lensed glasses.
    Maybe being father to a ready‑made family will be good for Teddy's character.  "Don't sweat it, Mom," I can hear him saying. 
ED AND INSTANT GRANDCHILDREN
April 4, 1970
Westwood
    Ed's mother has been visiting for a few days, and as usual, keeping her entertained is no problem.  All I have to do is let her ramble on about the man who bumped into her fender, the saleswoman who was rude to her, Mickey's finicky eating habits (". . . he won't eat beef kidney, it has to be lamb kidneys, only twenty-one cents for three, down in Florida they cost eighteen cents apiece,” etc., etc.)
      Late this afternoon I went into the bedroom to change and get ready for dinner in town with Ed.  Mimi followed me and continued her monologue about everything under the sun and inside her digestive system.  Suddenly my attention was caught . . . what was she saying?
     "You never can tell about a lot of men, Barbara, even after you've lived with them for twenty-five years you just can't tell what they'll do next, but I'll say this for Edward, he really loves you a lot, he even wrote me a letter once telling me how much he loved you, he said if anything ever happened to you he wouldn't want to go on living."
      "When was this?"
      "Oh, a few years ago.  I found it when I was cleaning out my desk, he said you'd taken Kathie and gone down to Florida to visit your mother and Vaughan -‑ "
      "That was thirty years ago!"
      " ‑ and he missed you both so much, he said, `you know,  Mother, she's only a little baby herself, only seventeen years old' -‑"
      "Nineteen," I said, memories squeezing my heart and leaving me breathless.  Did she have the letter?  I didn't dare ask.
      "He was explaining why I hadn't heard from him at Christmas, he was looking for an apartment for you and the baby, he wanted to be sure it would be something you'd like, it was really a beautiful letter, Barbara, I guess that's why I saved it so  long."
      "Mimi -- did you -- do you still have it?  You can't imagine how much I would value it."
      "Oh no, dear, I tore it up [flinch from me], I thought of sending it to you  but then I thought maybe it was confidential between Edward and  me and if some stranger ever went through my things it wouldn't  mean anything to them.  It was eight pages long, four double sheets on both sides." 
      "Can you remember anything else, Mimi?  You have such a good memory, I'd appreciate whatever you can tell me."
      "Well, it was the nicest letter he'd ever sent me.  He  started out apologizing and saying he was sorry he hadn't written  before, and then he said `I'm going to weep on your shoulder, Mom, I'm going to tell you how much I miss Barbara, he said you'd gone to Florida with the baby and you were just a little girl yourself, `she's had no experience with married life,' he said, `it takes a lot of learning' and he said, `I'm looking for an apartment, I don't know exactly what she'd like but you know, Mother, you can't get much on $30 a week, I'm hoping Dad will give me a raise.' I found the letter in a cigar box when I was destroying all those old bills and things, it was a real pretty box I got in Havana for Ed's dad."      
       This was as much as I was able to salvage, but I was grateful for every little bit and piece she was able to remember.  Awash with romantic feelings, I greeted Ed with the news of his long-ago letter.  Instead of sweeping me into his arms like Rhett Butler, he said, "We were two different people then." 
       His romantic button clearly needs a new battery.

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