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Saturday, June 24, 2017

(4) "IF HE BITES, IT WON'T HURT MUCH."

October 14, 1960
     When I was shopping at Tedeschi’s yesterday, a voice came over the loudspeaker asking the owner of a black Ford convertible (I had Ed’s car, so I pricked up my ears), license number H666, to come to the courtesy desk.
     “Maybe it’s something pleasant,” I thought, “like `Because you’re our one millionth customer, we are giving you a new Thunderbird, this full-length mink coat, and a trip to Paris!’”
     Au contraire. The man at the courtesy desk told me I had parked my car in such a way that the car beside it was blocked. An agitated woman was waiting for me outside. Her car had just been painted, and she hoped I could back out successfully, although she doubted it because our fenders were practically touching, and how I had managed to park so close without scraping her fender she couldn’t imagine.
     I moved the Ford to the tune of gasps, squeals, and prayers emanating from this bundle of nerves and returned to the store. I was looking for the family-sized packages of English muffins when a man tapped me on the shoulder and said I had made off with his cart. Perhaps I’d prefer mine, which I had left yonder at the end of the aisle.
     To round out the day, Ed was mean to me. He was preparing to finish a repair job he’d begun on the bathroom light last weekend. “Of course you saved that little nut I left in the globe,” he said.
     I said, “You mean that tiny weeny roundish thing?”
     “You didn’t throw it away!”
     I allowed as how I might have. I remembered hearing something drop when I picked up the globe to wash it. It was possible I might have tossed out whatever it was.
     “Oh, this urge to clean,” Ed said. “How am I going to fix the damn thing now, tell me that! You women and your urge to clean!”
     He stomped out of the kitchen and I yelled after him, “What do you mean, urge to clean, I have no urge to clean and it’s a good thing I don’t or I couldn’t live in this house, why didn’t you fix that light six months ago when I first asked you to?  Boy, I wonder how many women could stand living in a ouse where things don’t get fixed for years!”
     After I’d simmered down I remembered it was Ed's birthday and he was going to take me out to dinner. I decided to forgive him as soon as I could without losing face.
     I was reading the paper when I heard him come down and stand behind me in a way I could tell was repentant. He didn’t say anything, so I didn’t say anything, not wanting to lose face. Then he started upstairs. Mustering a pleasant tone of voice, I called, “How’s it going?”
     “Oh, fine!” he said, sounding startled.
     When he came down again he said with a grin, “Guess what! I’m smarter than I thought I was. When I took that fixture apart last weekend, I remember I said to myself, `If I leave this nut where the nut I married can get her hands on it, she’ll throw it away.’ So I screwed it into the rim, and there it was when I looked for it.”
     Ed had insisted I shouldn’t get anything for his birthday because we couldn’t afford it, but I wanted him to have something to open, even if it was made of plastic and cost a dollar and a half.
     I gave him his present and told him we were going to play twenty questions.
     Ed put down his paper and took up the challenge.
     “One, is it something for the boat?”
     “Yes.”
     “Aha!” said he. “You never thought I’d get there that fast, did you!”
     After several more questions he established that it was something you would use in an emergency, not necessarily at night, and although it felt like a cranberry scoop, it was not a cranberry scoop. (I had told him not to feel it, but the closer he got to the twentieth question, the more he cheated.)
     I gave him a hint. “What is the biggest emergency we could possibly have on the boat?”
     “We’re sinking.”
     “Right.”
     “An inflatable life preserver!” he said.
     “Cranberry scoop was closer.”
     In the end he gave up and tore off the wrappings.
     Oh, for heaven’s sake!” he said. “I thought it was something expensive!”
     “You told me not to get something expensive.”
     “I didn’t know you’d take me up on it. Well, it’s a very nice bailer.”  
October 14, 1960     
      For the first time in months and months I was alone in the house.  Vonnie and Timmy would be home before long, but even an hour to myself was unique to the point of being precious. Kathryn was baby-sitting for Mrs. Tosi, and Mother and Vaughan were on their way to Vermont to visit Aunt Alma. There was no one around to ask questions or tell me something was wrong with the garbage disposal. Even the telephone was silent.  All I could hear from the terrace was the distant cacophony of gulls circling above the cove, the rustle of waves unfurling on the beach, and under my nose, the scratch of pen on paper. Soothing, undemanding sounds . . .
     A few days ago Kathryn complained that the cap for the bottom of the flour bin was missing. Taking a poll of the family, I tracked down the flour bin cap-snatcher, Timothy. “It’s upstairs on my desk,” he said. “I’ll bring it right down.”
     “May I ask what you were doing with it?” Ed asked with a certain wary curiosity.
     “Oh, I was just doing an experiment with some flour and a candle. You take a coffee can and punch a hole in it and put a rubber tube through the hole. Then you put a dish of flour inside the can and a candle next to it. You light the candle, put the top on the can, and blow through the tube.”
     “And then they cart you off to the bug-house?” I said.
     “No, you get this beautiful explosion,” Timmy explained, quite pleased with himself.
     Ed looked at me and said quietly, “He could have blown up the whole house.”
     I thought he was exaggerating, but he said even a small amount of flour under compression is a dangerous concoction.
     I suppose someday when Tim is a famous nuclear physicist, we’ll look back on this incident and laugh, if we're still in one piece.

       A northeast blizzard rattled the house during the night. Ed started for work and got stuck in Quincy along with hundreds of other stranded motorists. He spent the day sitting in a nearby drugstore and phoned to say he was going to set out to the Marshes’ house—half an hour’s walk, he figured. It was bitterly cold out, so I was worried about him.
     While I was having dinner with Mom and Kathryn, I reported that the man of the house was walking through the storm to the Marshes’. I added that I wouldn’t be worried if it weren’t so cold.
     “The biggest danger is stepping on live wires in the dark,” said Kathryn.
     I hadn’t thought of that, but now I could think of nothing else. At last Ed called. He had reached the Marshes’ house safely, having run all the way, he said, to keep his feet from freezing.
     I was taking a shower a little before nine when Vonnie tapped on the door and said Daddy was on the phone. I wrapped a towel around me and dripped downstairs to talk to him. (Mom was sitting beside our bedroom phone, watching TV—the downstairs sets weren’t working.) Ed said he missed me.  More than when he was out of town because we were so frustratingly close to each other. He’d talked to the local police and learned the roads in Quincy were fairly navigable. He repeated that he missed me. He told me not to do anything foolish like trying to get him . . . Marion had a spare bed.
     “Suppose I got stuck,” I said.
     “Yes, you might. You just stay put, don’t try to come after me.”
     “If the situation were reversed, you’d come after me,” I said.
     “I’m s big strong man, and you’re a silly, weak, helpless, lovable female.”
     Once again he urged me not to do anything foolish, and I hung up convinced that something foolish was what he wanted me to do.
     I bundled up, put on my boots, and hurried outdoors. A huge drift covered the front porch and there was a ten-inch layer of snow on the car. The window on the driver’s side was open an inch, so the seat occupied by an abominable snowman. Even the steering wheel and dashboard were covered with snow.
     I finally got going but bogged down a few yards from the end of the driveway. When I tried the back-and-forward-dash technique, the car began to act strangely, stalling and dimming its lights when I pressed on the starter.
     I had to give up, but no one could say I didn’t try to do something foolish.
     Ed came home in a raunchy mood the next night. He went to refresh his drink during a commercial and called out from the bar that as soon as the movie we were watching, "Harvey," was over, he’d like to go upstairs and cuddle. I flinched, not because I don’t like cuddling, but because I knew Mom was watching TV in the playroom, within easier hearing distance of his proposition than I was.
     “Shh, not in front of Mother!” I whispered with a frown, as he returned to the living room.
     “Certainly not!” he said. “Upstairs in bed was what I had in mind.”
     I wigwagged desperately in the direction of the playroom. Ed stopped stirring his drink and asked me with an air of mystification what I was doing—thumbing a ride or something?
     By this time I was sure Mother was finding Ed much more interesting than Harvey. To express my mortification, I had a mild seizure, which involved sinking down in my chair until I was almost horizontal, flinging my arms wide, and rolling my eyes at the ceiling.
     “That’s it!” Ed cried. “Now you’ve got the idea!”

     I had a problem. Between Vaughan’s diet and our poodle’s diet, the refrigerator was as crammed with tidbits as it was in the summer, when everyone was home. While I was rinsing the dishes, Ed began withdrawing various mysterious (to him) odds and end from the shelves and making throwing-away motions.
     “Don’t throw that away,” I said. “That’s Tokay’s liver juice. I use it to flavor her vegetables.”
     Ed distastefully replaced the cover, then asked if it was necessary to have three different containers of butter. I said yes, it was because one of them was Vaughan’s butter, which was unsalted; one of them was Vonnie’s butter, which I bought her occasionally as a treat; and the other was oleomargarine for us proletariats.
     “Oh,” said Ed. “Well how about this gooey stuff? Whatever it is, don’t feed it to me.”
     “Egg whites left over from Tokay’s egg yolks,” I said. “Kathryn will make a lemon meringue pie sometime.”
     “And this odd-looking concoction?”
     “Leftover vegetables for Tokay.”
     “Looks like garbage to me. What the devil’s in here?” Ed said, pinching a limp foil-wrapped package. “Feels like a couple of boneless fingers.”
     “That’s asparagus for my lunch. Stop squeezing it.”  I was beginning to be annoyed because only that morning I had defrosted the refrigerator and disposed of enough moldering remains to stock a penicillin factory.
     “And what’s this mess here?” he persisted, sticking his nose into another container.
     For a minute he had me stumped, but a gingerly taste convinced me it was last Saturday’s oatmeal. “I’ll have it for breakfast.”
     “If this oatmeal isn’t gone by tomorrow night,” Ed said, “out it goes!”
     “Is that so!” I said.
     “Yes, that’s so,” he said. “Let’s have a little efficiency around here.”
     I had two choices: I could throw something at him or I could think of something. I thought of something.
     “Listen,” I said, “seeing as you’re in such an industrious mood, how about going out to the playroom and cleaning the aquarium. It’s a sight, and you promised me when you had it installed in the wall that you’d keep it clean, the only one who ever cleans it is my mother, suppose someday she falls off the stool and breaks a leg, she isn’t getting any younger, you know, what’s the point of having an aquarium if—“
     “Okay, okay, I’ll clean it over the weekend,” Ed said, backing out of the kitchen.
     ‘How can you, we’ll be up in Maine. I’m having two tables of bridge next week and I’m ashamed to have my friends see that aquarium, it’s a disgrace, the fish can’t see out and we can’t see in.”
     “I’ll do it tomorrow night,” Ed called.
     When I reminded my husband of his chore the next night, he said he didn’t think he had the proper cleaning tools; he’d bring some home tomorrow. I remembered that this was what he always said whenever I tried to pin him down on cleaning the aquarium.
     “What did you do with the gadget you brought home last time, throw it away?”
     “Gee, I guess it got lost or something,” Ed said, settling down with the paper.
     I rummaged around in the cupboards behind the bar and found the scraper tucked away in a back corner. This is the kind of efficiency my husband doesn’t admire.
     Since it took only five minutes to scrape the sides of the tank, I don’t know what all the fuss was about. The fish seemed glad to see us and wagged their tails as if to say, “By Neptune, what a long night that was!”

     Our dinner party went off very well. I wore a new dress, an Empire style in pleated lavender, with a matching short-sleeved sweater. It was a becoming outfit; in fact, Gene Porta, who ordinarily looks right through me, being a bosom man, attributed my vanquishing him at Ping-Pong to my “sexy dress.”
     The most lavish compliment came from Don Kneale, a house-guest staying with Daisy and Bill Rogers. He said I was one of the rare people he had ever met who had true maturity. He said this not once but twice, repeating it late in the evening when I'm not always my most mature.
     The lavender dress was the secret, I realized. It was a talisman that gave me poise and assurance. In order to perpetuate this illusion, all I had to do was wear it morning, noon, and night.
     I woke up the next morning with a smile, remembering Don’s compliment. Somewhere in this world was a person who thought I was mature. How very flattering. No one had ever said that about me before.
      Ed heard me telling Mother about the lavender dress and its magical effect. He said under his breath but quite loud enough for me to hear, “I’ll buy her thirty lavender dresses!”

     I called Ed to remind him to pick up his mother at Columbus Circle.
     “I can’t pick her up,” he said. “I’m going to Worcester, so I’ll be late tonight. Do you want to put her off for a week?”
     “No, I’ll do it.”
     Mimi was waiting for me on the steps of the rooming house when I arrived at five. I was hoping to get on the expressway before the heavy commuter traffic developed, but it was hard to pay attention to what I was doing. Mimi’s tongue was drowning me in a stream of consciousness that would make James Joyce seem laconic. I got lost twice, took an hour and a half to get home, and was a nervous wreck by the time I pulled into the driveway. I could hardly wait for Ed to arrive, fix us a cocktail, help me listen to Mimi, and take us out to dinner.
     “When will Edward be home?”
     “He had to go to Worcester, so he’ll probably be a little late.”
     At 7:15 Ed called. “Did you get my mother?”
     “Oh, yes, she’s here.” It was clear Ed would not be home before eight. Daisy and Bill’s friend would have been proud of me for not flying off the handle the way some wives would.
     “Well, I’d better run along now, the fellows are waiting.”
     “Fellows? What fellows? Where are you, anyway?”
     “I’m in Worcester, where’d you think I was? I told you I was going to be late.”
     I should have dashed upstairs and put on my maturity dress. Instead I spilled out a torrent of protests that must have made his mother, who was scanning the paper nearby, assume divorce was 
around the corner.
     “I thought you meant late for dinner! You didn’t say one word about not being here for dinner!”         “You should have known—“     “Why should I have known? You don’t always stay to dinner. Only the other morning you went to Worcester and didn’t stay to dinner. When you said you were going to be late, I thought you meant too late to pick up your mother. I thought the three of us would be going out to dinner the way we always do.”
     Ed said there was nothing he could do about it now. Even without the lavender dress I could see that his statement had logic.
     Hanging up, I sat there for a minute with my hand on the receiver. How was I going to stand that voice for three more hours? With an effort, I explained to Mimi that I had misunderstood Ed’s plans, and asked her if she’d like something to drink.
     “You know, Barbara,” she said with a pleased smile when I brought her a cocktail, “I had a strong premonition that Edward wasn’t going to be here tonight.”                                
     I believe in having respect for older people, but when she said that, I longed to pour the scotch and soda down the back of her neck. There was something about Mimi’s premonitions that exasperated me beyond words. She never foresaw anything pleasant. It was always something horrible like one of
"I HAD A STRONG PREMONITION. . ."
us getting burned or drowned or not coming home to dinner.

     By the time I finished my drink I had resolved to be patient and make the best of things. To my surprise, Mimi and I had the most agreeable evening we’ve ever had. We went to the Lighthouse, and Mimi did all the talking, but it was interesting. She told me about the cruise she took one summer when Ed was in camp. The carved chest in Kathie’s room was one of the treasures she bought in Hong Kong; large objects like this were delivered to the ship free of charge. She got one chest for Ed and one for herself. She also brought back a couple of Oriental rugs.
     “Some of the women spent their tourist allowance so foolishly, but I took my time and bought only the best.”
     Poor Mimi, she does try, but the one thing she’s never tried since the day we met is to stop talking for 30 seconds.
~~~
     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, Ma,” 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, Ma!”
     “Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it,” I muttered, returning to my bed and lying 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 seventeen 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 home 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. . .     .

    We drove up to Colby to watch Ted play hockey. After the game we took Ted and his room-mate to dinner, then went on our way.
 TEDDY AND ED, COLBY CAMPUS
    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 had married after I turned eighteen.
      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.
     “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.                
PENNIMAN HOUSE
                     
“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!  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 agreed our romantic gesture had been a bit of a fizzle.


       Our neighbor, Don Morse, called and asked if we had anyone in the family who liked birds.  Recognizing a trap question when I heard one, I said tentatively, "Well, there's our cat, Dizzy."
      "Oh, I don't think your cat would be interested in tangling with this fellow. He's a big black crow and I can't persuade him to leave our porch. Don't know whether he's someone's pet or what. He can't fly, but he has a good appetite."
      I told Don I would relay his message to Vonnie when she came in from riding.
      "Who was that?" Ed asked.      
     I told Don I would relay his message to Vonnie when she came in from riding.
     "Who was that?" Ed asked. 
     "Don Morse has a tame crow he's trying to get rid of," I said.
     It was no use. Ed threw down the  Sunday papers and rushed out to the back hall to get a carton.      "Bring along some bread," he ordered, as I resignedly put on my jacket. "A tame crow. Imagine that. Maybe we can teach him to talk."
IT WAS NO USE.  ED THREW DOWN THE SUNDAY PAPERS
AND RUSHED OUT TO THE BACK HALL
      Remembering the habits of a succession of pet seagulls, I said I wouldn't be impressed until he learned to say, "Which way to the bathroom?"  I wanted to know who would be in charge of hosing the terrace this time.
    "Why you, of course," Ed said, clapping me on the back. "You're so much better at it than the rest of us."
     "That kind of flattery will get you nowhere."
     Don was relieved to see us. "The crow was at the front door just a minute ago," he said, pointing to the evidence. "I think he's half starved."
     "I think he has diarrhea," I said.
     Following the spoor, we found the bird strutting around on the side porch.
     "Hello, hello," I croaked encouragingly. His guttural response might have been intelligible to a fellow crow, but he'd have been a flop on TV.
     "See if he'll eat the bread," said Ed.
     I tossed him a crust, which disappeared down his black shiny gullet in a flash. Gradually I lured him toward me with strategically dropped crumbs of bread.
     "Now put the box over him," I said to Ed.
     "No, I'm afraid it might scare him. Why don't you just grab him?"
     I was dubious.
     "If he bites, it won't hurt much."
     "You grab him,” I said.
     "But he knows you," Ed said. "You're the one that's been feeding him."
     "Here you are." I relinquished the bread and folded my arms. "Good luck."
     "Here fella, here fella," Ed said ingratiatingly, extending a piece of bread. The crow looked him over and backed up a few steps. Ed dropped the crust and, when the crow sidled up to it, made a grab for him. He was quick, but so was the crow. Ed chased him all over the porch, swooping down  and coming up with one handful of air after another. Finally he succeeded in cornering him. What a caw‑motion!
     "Ow!" said Ed, as his captive hacked away at his fingers.
     "Does it hurt?" I asked solicitously.
     We walked back to the house by way of the beach because Ed was afraid automobiles might alarm his friend. His friend, meanwhile, was attempting to chop his hand off at the wrist, an operation Ed endured with a minimum of plaintive ow's.
     The question was, where to keep the creature until he overcame his aversion to human society and his craving for human flesh? Since we had spent the morning cleaning the garage, I was opposed to shutting him in there. The floor was so clean and neat for the first time in years, I had been thinking of putting up a sign: "Do Not Enter Without Removing Shoes.”
     "How about the barn?” said Ed. “That’s a mess, anyway.”
     We put the crow in the barn and left a note on the door so Vonnie and Heidi wouldn't be taken by surprise when she got home from her ride. Vonnie was enchanted with her new pet. She named him Ajax and started making a cage for him out of chicken wire.
    Vonnie had no sooner finished the cage than she found to her sorrow that Ajax had turned up his heels and died. Poor fellow. I guess Ed disagreed with him.
~~~
     From our spring vacation I brought home from Fort Lauderdale a nautical white straw purse I really doted on. It had a fetching red fringe and a lid decorated with anchors of red and blue felt. I stowed it away on my closet shelf, intending to save it for summer boating jaunts. It wasn’t long before Vonnie asked if I "happened to have" a small straw bag she could borrow.  I said I did happen to have just such a bag, and she could borrow it if she would promise to take very special care of it.
     A couple of weeks later I drove to Thayer Academy to collect Vonnie after basketball practice. I was waiting outside the gym when she came out with her coat slung over one arm and my property swinging by its handle from her teeth.
     "Vonnie, take that out of your mouth!" I called through the window. "I don't want teeth marks all over the handle."
     She removed it long enough to assure me she was holding it very gently, then put it back in her mouth and opened the door.
     "But you'll get lipstick on it. Take that thing out of your mouth this minute."
     "I don't have any lipstick on," she said amiably, climbing into the car. She set the pocketbook on the floor, which was covered with sand and dirt as usual.
     "Honestly, Vonnie," I said, reaching for the bag. "Not on the floor."
     "Careful." She tossed her coat in the backseat. "It has mice in it."
     I stopped, my hand still outstretched, and stared at her. I got back a level look that convinced me she was joking. I said, "Very funny," and reached for the bag again.
     "Mummy, I'm not kidding," Vonnie said. "It has mice in it."
     "Mice?" I squeaked. "Oh, come on, Vonnie!"
     A strong, musty odor drifted up from the floor and I realized my daughter was not joking: there were mice in my pocketbook.
      "I'm doing an experiment for Biology," she explained briskly. "I didn't have to,” she added, “I volunteered. You give one of them a well balanced diet and the other one coke and stuff like that. Boy, you ought to see the pictures in my biology book—the one that gets the coke is a mess!"
     "Vonnie," I said, "— my new pocketbook—"
     "Don't worry, it won't smell. I lined it with lots of paper."
     Not a word did she say about those mice until I reached for my nautical straw purse. It was thoughtful of her, I suppose, not to wait until I opened it.

     Kathie and Ted have the Welcome Mat out almost every weekend for out-of-town friends. I keep zipping it in again, convinced that our household is complicated enough already—especially with Kathryn away on vacation. But the minute my back is turned, out goes the Welcome Mat again.
     Kathie clues me in on her plans, but Ted likes to surprise me. Actually, boys his age don’t seem to know what their plans are from one hour to the next.
     Recently Ed and I came home after a weekend on the boat, just the two of us, and found the house a-swarm with humanity. Kathie’s two young men friends were still there, as we could see when we retreated to our bedroom and were faced with scattered piles of clothing, unmade beds, and a breakfast tray of dirty dishes. Ted had invited two of his pals to spend the night, and since there wasn’t a bed to spare in the main house, they slept in Kathryn’s wing. I would have to make sure there wasn’t a sign of the invasion, such as an upturned toilet seat, before she returned.
     Down in the kitchen Mother was floating around preparing a casserole for four lady friends who were expected any minute for Sunday night supper. And finally there was my sister Jan and my brother-in-law, who had come to see their visiting children, little Wally and Linda.
     Their car had broken down halfway between Reading and Cohasset, so they called Mother to see if she could pick them up. Mother and Vaughan set out, but Mom didn’t understand Janeth’s instructions on how to get to the service station and drove almost to Reading without finding them. She called the number Jan had given her and once again my sister tried to make clear where they were. This time the weary ladies drove all the way back to South Hingham, again missing the stranded pair. At this point, Mother was half hysterical with worry about her supper guests, and Vaughan, who had been recovering nicely from a strep throat, was ready for a stretcher.
     At the service station Janeth resigned herself to life being what it was sometimes and sat calmly reading one magazine article after another. Walter paced up and down, advising her not to get excited and to relax. He paced for exactly four hours, which was the time it took Mother to find them. In the end, she offered a gas station attendant a dollar and a half to interpret the directions and lead her to the service station.
     When Ed and I entered our house late that afternoon, there were sixteen people milling around, including ourselves, with four dear old ladies due to arrive any minute. How Mother survived her ordeal without having a heart attack, I’ll never know. I retired to the bathroom, miraculously empty, and began putting my hair up on rollers because we were invited to a friend’s house for the evening. Jan and Walter joined me, filled me in on their misadventures, then said they guessed they’d be on their way. I couldn’t blame them for making their visit so short—there was scarcely a place to sit down. They borrowed Mom’s car and departed, and a few minutes later her four guests arrived.
     I sat under the hair dryer in the laundry room and counted up the occupants of the house—twenty. Most of them were young people who would soon be expecting supper. Vonnie came out with Linda and Wally in tow and reasonably asked, “Who’s going to feed us?”
     Not in the sunniest of moods, I said I didn’t know and I didn’t care. Nobody starved, of course. Kathie had a cookout for herself and her friends, and Vonnie fixed frankforts and beans for the rest of the gang. I told her I was proud of the way she pitched in and prepared dinner for her cousins and Ted’s friends.
     Before Ed and I left for the evening, I went up to see how Vaughan was doing. She looked exhausted, but her first thought was for us. “Why don’t you turn right around and go back to your boat?”
     Then she said she was starved and asked if the coast was clear in the kitchen. She and I see eye to eye on this house guest business. It isn’t the extra work that gets us down, it's the confusion. We're getting too old to cope with so many different personalities and problems at once.
     The children’s father was patient and unruffled. No one appreciates peace and privacy more than Ed does, but he says the kids are entitled to entertain their friends in their own home. He's right—all too soon they’ll be grown up and gone . . . .

     Our firstborn was grown up enough to plan a journey to California with friends Nicky and Marilyn. The night before, while they were packing, I was reading Fate is the Hunter and wondering by what good fortune my visiting mother-in-law was lingering in the kitchen and permitting me to enjoy my book. Then I heard The Voice.
     “Oh Barbara are you in here all alone I didn’t know you were in here you were so quiet I had no idea you were in here have you been sitting here all this time I said to Kathryn I’ll bet Barbara wants to be alone with Kathie on her last evening I’ll leave them alone together I said. I didn’t know you were in here all alone if I’d known I’d have come in and kept you company.”
     “I don’t mind being alone once in awhile,” I said. “I’ve been reading this wonderful book, Fate is the—”
     “I said to Kathryn I’ll bet she’s helping Kathie pack I’ll just stay out of the way they probably want to be together on Kathie’s last night. See this bag Barbara, Bob sent me two dollars in a letter the other day he must have cut down on his beer to do it so I saw this sale on handbags in Revere two dollars and sixty-one cents, do you like my bag isn’t it nice inside it holds a lot I brought this bottle of mints for Vaughan I always like to bring her some little thing and see this little covered dish I picked up in Filene’s basement for thirty-nine cents I said now I won’t have to ask Barbara for a glass for my false teeth I got a bleach to clean the tub. That Mrs. McGarrity is so dirty she dyed her slip and left the tub all stained I said Mrs. McGarrity I wanted to take a bath before I went down to my son’s I can’t take a bath in that tub now I’ll have to go to my son’s smelling. She’s very odd that’s why I didn’t say too much about the tub you can’t be too mean to someone when they’re not quite right in the head— ”
     “Speaking of tubs,” I interjected desperately, “I think I’ll go upstairs and take a shower.”

August 2, 1961
     A letter from Kathie has arrived from San Francisco
     Our stay with Darrell McClure was very pleasant.  We intended to spent only one night and be on our way, but he begged us to stay an extra day and night.  He really needed support—he was frantic with worry about his daughter, who has been very ill and who they feared was going to die.  Fortunately, exploratory surgery yesterday proved that her condition was not serious.    
     Last night we had a party to celebrate.  Darrell gave us a twenty-dollar bill to spend on food, so we bought all our favorite things and served up a feast—wine, candles, and all.  Darrell was an entertaining host.  Nicky loved him and Marilyn absolutely adored him.  He taught us to hula and fed us our first Vodka Martinis.  All I liked was the olive.
     The McClure house is lovely, very tastefully done in an Oriental motif.  When he greeted us Tuesday night, he was wearing a Japanese robe that completed the picture . . . . 
And all this happened because of a letter I wrote to a stranger in 1954.
       Ed had once remarked that he wished he had a Darrell McClure cartoon about his boat to hang on our playroom wall.  Mr. McClure was the cartoonist for Yachting Magazine and also for Little Annie Rooney in the Sunday comics.   Figuring I had nothing to lose except the $25 check I enclosed, I wrote the artist a letter quoting Ed’s wishful comment and describing life with Captain Malley.  
      I sometimes think what my husband really needs for Christmas is a gift certificate to a psychiatrist’s office.  The man is a rabid perfectionist about everything pertaining to our Matthews, but when it comes to extracting a few dollars for household repairs, I might as well ask him for one of his eyes.
     Take the matter of the bathroom linoleum.  Last spring I pointed out that not only was it stained and faded, it was so cracked the rugs had humps in them.
     “New linoleum!” my husband sobbed.  “Why, I bought you new linoleum ten years ago!”
    “You won’t admit we need new linoleum until you fall through to the first floor,” I grumbled.                       
     A few days later, however, Ed breezed into the house with a box full of linoleum samples and said cheerfully, “Pick a color.”
     “Is this a game?” I asked
    “No,” he said, looking hurt.  “We need new linoleum.  You know better than I about things like colors.”
     Quickly, before he could change his mind, I chose a practical bathroom design.
    Ed was shocked.  “That one!  On a boat?”
   There followed a brisk exchange of opinions.  Don’t misunderstand me, Mr. McClure; my husband and I have no differences that couldn’t be settled by the Supreme Court.  This time we compromised: new linoleum was installed throughout the Matthews; she was freshly painted inside and out; new curtains and slipcovers were ordered for her.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the bathroom is now resplendent in black marbleized linoleum. . . .
     This letter led to a correspondence, portions of which found their way into Yachting Magazine articles over the years and culminated in Kathie's visit to Darrell .                                                            ~~
     Vonnie’s friend Nancy Burns is a student at Emmanuel College, which is next door to the building where Vonnie has been seeing her psychiatrist. As we were getting out of the car, she said she wished she could find her friend, but she didn’t know where to look. Then we heard someone call to us.
     “Nancy!” Vonnie screamed, and the two of them hugged each other and practically cried with joy. We had been parking weekly within a few yards of Nancy’s dorm.
     After our appointment with Dr. Meiss, the girls met outside and went to the dorm for a talk while I killed time looking at greeting cards in the local drug store. Nancy loved college, Vonnie reported later.
     “She thinks I should go, but the trouble is, I don’t see how I can bring up my marks enough. I wish I hadn’t let them slip. How is it you can do something like that to yourself and then later on wish so much you hadn’t.”
     “Why did you let them slip?”
     “It was my social life. My social life was more important to me than my studies. I just didn’t care about anything else.”
     Vonnie said Dr. Meiss asked her what sort of man she would like to marry.
     “I said I wanted someone like my father, someone who would love me and be kind, generous, thoughtful, intelligent, ambitious. She said, `What do you mean by ambitious?’ What does anyone mean by ambitious? I felt like saying, `If you don’t know what ambitious means, you’d better go back to school.’”
     Dr. Meiss asked Vonnie if she thought her father was perfect. “I said, `Well, nobody’s perfect, of course, but I think he’s a perfect husband.’ She’s always asking me what makes me think you and Daddy get along so well. I say, `I don’t think, I know.’”
     These psychiatrists and their textbook deductions. The fact that Ed and I don’t loathe each other must be a big disappointment.

     We’ve called it quits with the shrink. I doubted she’d had the slightest beneficial influence on Vonnie.
     “Mummy, I don’t want to see her anymore,” Vonnie said after our last appointment. "She just doesn't understand our family at all. I can’t stand the way she magnifies things. I told her awhile ago that it made me feel rebellious when you got mad at me for getting into trouble, but when Daddy spoke to me quietly, I felt sorry for what I had done. She keeps coming back to that again and again. I keep telling her it wasn’t that important, but she has the idea I went out and got into trouble because you made me feel rebellious.
     “I said to her, `You don’t understand me at all, you don’t understand what my mother and father are like or anything about us.’ She said, `It takes time,’ and I said, `Well, I’ve been coming here for two months and you still don’t understand us.”
VONNIE POSING AT SIXTEEN
     Ed agreed that we’d given her a fair trial, and it was a waste of time and money.
     It's too bad Vonnie didn’t get along as well with Dr. Meiss as she does with her guidance teacher. 
     “I talked to him for 45 minutes today, and it was such fun, Mummy! I can tell he likes me a lot, he really appreciates my personality, and he’s always laughing at my jokes. He asked me what I planned to do after I got out of Junior College and I said I was thinking of going to modeling school. I felt sort of foolish when I said it, so I looked at him like this.” She fluttered her lashes and crossed her eyes in a half-demure, half crazy-as-a-coot manner.  Mr. McCallum laughed and laughed and he said, `You know what I think you should be, Vonnie?'  I said, `An actress,' and he said, `How did you know?'  How did you know?'  I said, `My mother's been telling me that for years.  She thinks I'm the Lucille Ball type.'  He said he thought you were absolutely right."
Circa 1965  
     Forty-eight hours ago I wouldn’t have believed I could have such a change of heart. I got up this morning, feeling more discouraged than ever about Vonnie. Then Bob’s mother called. She said the kids had just told her they were getting married and of course it was a shock, Bob was her only son, and she knew how disappointed we must feel, too. It wasn’t a very good way to start out, but after all, what was done was done.  After the wedding, she and her husband were going to have a little reception so all Bob’s relatives—“and we have a flock of them!”—could meet the bride.
     “If you and your husband would care to join us, we’d love to have you—and anyone else who might like to come would be most welcome. Our doors are always open.”
     This warmhearted person changed my point of view completely. I knew changing Ed’s would be a tall order, however.
     “Now honey, before you fly off the handle and say no, will you listen to me for a minute? I just had a nice long talk with Mrs. Crosby and—“
     “Who?”
     “Mrs. Crosby. Bob’s mother. You know, Vonnie’s prospective—“
     “Oh. What did she want?” (Growl.)
     “Well, she sounds like a very nice person. She and her husband were disappointed just the way we were, but she says what’s done is done, so after the wedding they’re have a reception and they want us to—“
     “No! I won’t go! I positively won’t do it!”
     He didn’t hang up, though, so I kept talking and he said, “Boy, have you changed. What’s come over you all of a sudden?”
     “It’s Bob’s mother. Don’t you see how right she is? Sure, maybe all our gloomy predictions will come true, maybe they’ll be fed up with marriage inside of a week, but it isn’t going to help if we turn our backs on them.”
     “Okay, okay,” he finally said in his I’ll-never-understand-women tone of voice. “I’ll go. For your sake. Why should I make things any tougher for you than they’ve been already.” 
“WHY CAN’T IT LOOK THE WAY
 IT DID YESTERDAY?"


     Vonnie asked if her light gray suit and my white blouse would be appropriate, and I said I thought it would be fine. Mother decided to wear her teal blue suit and a flowered hat. I chose my green wool, the one Ed doesn’t like but everybody else does. We took turns using the iron. Vonnie set her hair three different times and still wasn’t satisfied. “Why can’t it look the way it did yesterday?”
     She brought me a sheaf of her drawings. “There won’t be room for them in the cottage. Where should I put them?”
     "In one of the third floor cupboards, I guess."             
     “All right.” She gathered up her sketches, then said wistfully,   “Will you go up and look at them once in a while?” I promised I would.
      The justice of the peace, Mr. Christianson, performed a brief but beautiful ceremony. Weddings are always beautiful if you  really listen to the words.
     At 8:00 P.M. the “clan” began assembling at the Crosbys’ house. Ed and I could hardly believe what they had accomplished on such short notice. Aunts and cousins, contributing platters of lobster rolls, sandwiches, and homemade cookies, had decorated the table and placed Aunt Gert’s three-tiered wedding cake in the middle. All of Bob’s relatives were delightful, outgoing, down-to-earth people. I was happy we hadn’t missed the event, despite all the misgivings.
     When we made our farewells, Ed kissed Vonnie, to whom he had barely spoken for the last week, and shook hands with Bob.

    We looked through the nursery window at Michael Wayne Crosby, and I murmured to Ed, “Isn’t he beautiful?”
     “Humph! I’ve had a million of ‘em.” .
     “Don’t exaggerate, dear, it just seems like a million.”
     Vonnie’s report after Michael’s first feeding. “He’s a little pig. He finished his bottle in ten minutes flat. They leave the babies with you for an hour, so I had all that time to play with him. He could only get one eye open. It was dark blue. At the end of the hour he managed to get the other eye open. It was dark blue too.”
     I asked Vonnie if she was going to have the baby circumcised and learned she didn’t know what the word meant. After I enlightened her, I suggested she talk the matter over with Bob and her doctor. The next time I saw her she said, “I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and have the baby . . .castra—  . .  . what was that word, Mummy?”
     “Good grief!” I said, unmanned at the thought. “Circumcised, Vonnie. Make sure the doctor has it straight.”
     With that little misunderstanding cleared up, Vonnie told me she was introduced to another new word when the nurse brought a bedpan.
     “Did you void?” asked the nurse, returning a few minutes later.
     “No,” Vonnie told her bashfully, “but I urinated.”
     “That’s what I meant,” the nurse said, staggering out to the corridor, where she repeated the conversation to co-workers, whose reaction carried to Vonnie's ward.
     She told me this story amid fits of giggles alternated with gasps of pain.
     “I’ve had to learn a whole new way to laugh, Mummy. I used to laugh with my whole body, but if I did that now my stitches would be right over in that corner. If I just let the surface of my stomach joggle a bit when I feel a chuckle coming on, it doesn’t hurt so much.”
     She said she cried often, too, but her tears were tears of happiness. “I lie here thinking of how lucky Bob and I are. We had so much, and now we have this darling little baby to love.”
     I’ve been wondering how Ed would accept his new role. The answer is, he hasn’t. He refuses to be a grandfather. We’ve shared many experiences in the past, good, bad, exciting, scary, some requiring no small amount of cajolery on my part, like the time I talked him into dancing lessons at Arthur Murray’s. But when it comes to grand-parenthood, I’ve never known him to be so stubborn. I'm on my own, he says.
     I've decided not to press the issue. I admire his spirit. If he doesn’t want to be a grandfather, he doesn’t have to.

     Vonnie dropped Michael off for a few hours. Ed read the paper while I gave the baby his six o’clock bottle. Then I improvised a bed in the bathtub, tucked him in, and started dinner. When I returned to the living room, who was propped up in Ed’s lap, all smiles, but our three-month-old cherub.
     “I heard him crying, so I went upstairs to see what was wrong,” Ed said. “When I picked him up, I said, ‘Your mean Grammy put you to bed too early, didn’t she.’”
     “And what did he say to that?”
     “He said I was exactly right and he likes me best,” Ed said smugly.  
     “Better,” I said, correcting his grammar.
     “Oh, you noticed it, too.”
     When Michael began to fuss again, Ed decided he needed burping.
     "Remember the time Timmy spit up in my pocket and I went to work smelling funny?  I've smartened up since then."  He produced a hand towel and cradled Michael on his shoulder.
"HE LIKES ME BEST."
     Half an hour later I said, “Do you want your dinner or are you going to play with that baby all night?"                                                               "I'll be there in a minute. Michael tells me he's ready for bed now."                                           Indeed, the baby had conked out in Ed’s arms and was snoring softly.
    “Smart kid, that grandson of mine," said Ed.
                                                          
Falmouth
     A beautiful day on the water. Bluefish running. Too fast for us. Cruised up and down the reef off Chappaquiddick Island. Tokay and I didn’t like the choppy water churned up by the reef. She threw up; I complained.
     Started a long letter to Kathie. “Do you see how hard I work on these letters?” I said to Ed. “Two hours and all I have is three pages.”
     “I know.  It’s a wonder they aren’t better, isn’t it,” he said, supportive husband that he is.
     Admitted defeat by bluefish, headed back to Falmouth around 3:30. After we tied up, the Captain ordered me to go to forward and catch the line from an adjoining boat, which we had cast off when we left this morning. As he stood on the other boat's deck and prepared to toss the line, I said, “That looks awfully heavy.”
     “It is,” he said.
     “Suppose it hits me,” I said.
     “Just watch what you’re doing and it won’t hit you,” he said. “You’ll have to stand closer to the edge than that.”
     “I don’t want to get a black eye.”
     “Try it once, and if you can’t catch it, we won’t bother. This guy’s boat is all right without us, anyway.”
     Ed tossed the line, which was more like a cable. I shut my eyes and ducked.
     “You’ve got to keep your eyes open, dum-dum,” he said, reeling in the cable. (Years ago, he used to call me honey.) “Come on, pay attention.”
     He heaved the massive thing again (it was the size of a python and twice as vicious), and this time I kept my eyes open and caught it about four feet from the loop at the end. The loop whip-lashed over my shoulder and struck the back of my neck, rabbit-punch fashion.
     “Ow!” I cried, rubbing my neck and glaring at the brute. “That hurt!”
     Was he overwhelmed with remorse? Did he rush to my side in order to catch me in case I dropped dead? No, he was too busy slapping his knee and exchanging mirthful glances with the fellows on the dock.
      “Women are so uncoordinated!” he snickered.
     I punished him by not talking to him as we drove to the fish market for some clams. He enjoyed the silence so much, I punished him by talking to him again.
     The proprietor at the market shucked a dozen and a half little necks for us, and we had them as an hors d’oeuvre with our first drink. A sprinkling of salt and pepper, a dash of lime juice, and we slurped them out of the shell with gusto. We felt sorry for the patrons of the Flying Bridge, who must perforce resort to their forks and refrain from licking their fingers. Hey, that’s rather poetic. “Perforce resort to their oyster forks and refrain from licking their fingers, whilst we disport with a loin of pork till only the memory lingers.” Actually, it was a sirloin of steak, but Lewis Carroll and I are permitted these liberties. . . .

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