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Saturday, June 24, 2017

(6) "UPSTAIRS IN BED WAS WHAT I HAD IN MIND."


Circa 1952     
      A few days after Kathie’s 12th birthday in August, our friend Alden Pinkham mentioned to her that he’d heard of someone who was trying to give a horse away.
     “Oh, I wish I had known! Daddy, if I find a free horse, can I have him?”
     Ed laughed and said she could.
     Within a week, Kathie saw an ad in the Patriot Ledger. A camp manager in Needham had ten horses he wanted either to sell or to board for the winter.
     “We might as well look into it,” I said to Ed. “When she discovers how much responsibility and work a horse is, maybe she’ll be disenchanted.” He was skeptical, but he had promised.
     I made an appointment with Mr. Browder. Kathie could hardly contain herself on the way to Needham, bouncing up and down on the seat as if it were a saddle. Mr. Browder introduced us to a horse named Sugar.
     “He’ll be several shades whiter after he’s brushed and curried. Would you like to ride him around the ring?” Kathie had never ridden a horse before, but she handled him like a pro.
     Sugar arrived the next day, along with 44 friends of the Malley children, all of whom hoped for rides. The beach proved to be a splendid place to ride him. For the next hour he was as busy as The Old Woman in the Shoe.
     Kathie wanted her father to meet Sugar, so that evening they went down to the barn with a flashlight. She tried to put his bridle on, but to do this, she had to remove his halter. Then she couldn’t figure out how to get the bridle on.
     “I’ll get Mary Humphreys to help me in the morning. She’ll know how.” Sugar was left loose in the barn.
     Ed returned to the house, still skeptical about the whole affair. “Of all the moth-eaten, mangy looking animals I’ve ever seen,” he reported to me. “He’s no saddle horse; he belongs in front of a plow!”
     Kathie arranged with Vaughan to wake her every morning at six, so she could feed and exercise her pet before school. The next morning she tapped on our bedroom door and presented us with a long face. Mary Humphreys was there, but Sugar was gone.
     Ed looked at his watch and groaned—six-thirty. But there was nothing for it but to get up and help Kathie capture the runaway. We found him grazing contentedly with the cows in Deans’ pasture. Every time Kathie or Mary came within 30 feet of him, he broke into a lazy trot and widened the distance between them. Catching Sugar was going to be no cinch—especially since he had nothing on his head to grab except his mane.
                                  1947: Before Sugar, Heidi and Pokie joined the family.
                                            Mr. McKenna’s house is in the background.
               
     We finally succeeded in heading Sugar back along the lane that leads to Atlantic Avenue and our driveway on the opposite side. When he reached the street, instead of going straight across, Sugar veered to the right and trotted into Mr. McKennas’ driveway.
     It was a shame that our neighbors had left for the winter. I would have enjoyed seeing Bill’s face when he looked out the window and beheld a horse on his lawn.
     Sugar saw the fence between the McKennas' yard and ours. He must have felt hemmed in because he swung around and headed for the end of the driveway. Nothing stood between him and freedom except me. He looked as big and unstoppable as a locomotive.
     I quavered, “Whoa, Boy,” whereupon Sugar slowed down and turned toward the fence. Now we had him cornered. I grabbed his neck and held on while Mary bridled him. Then the girls led him down to the beach for a ride before breakfast. I followed with the movie camera.
     “Hey, Mom, watch us canter!” Kathie called.
     I started taking pictures, and off they went. Literally. The girls were unhurt, so I took movies of them brushing themselves off and climbing back on Sugar.
     Kathie proved herself so conscientious about getting up early in the morning and caring for Sugar that she began to look peaked. I found a woman in Beechwood, Madeline Stover, who had two horses of her own and offered to board Sugar the coming winter for $30 a month. We arranged for the bus to drop Kathie at Red Ranch after school, and I would pick her up at 4:30. As we were driving home the first afternoon, Kathie said to me, “Most of my friends have big ambitious, Mom, they want to be singers or ballet dancers when they grow up. All I want to do is get married, settle down, and have a couple of horses.”

     One Friday evening Ed came home in a Ford pick‑up truck so he could clean up the yard over the weekend. In the morning he decided that tackling the yard was secondary in importance to checking on the Matthews. He drove to Simm's boatyard in my car, and as he described the situation, he was walking along the dock when my keys flew out of his hand and into the harbor. Mother had sent me a magnetic key case for Christmas, and several times I had asked Ed if he would hide the case somewhere under the car. I kept getting his "I'll do it tomorrow" routine, so when he called from the boatyard, my sympathy was rationed.
     "Are you busy?" he asked.
     I was reclining in an easy chair, catching up on a stack of unread magazines, so I said, well yes, I was kind of busy.
     "How about calling Edgar Hill to see if you can borrow his car,” Ed said.
     Edgar Hill was one of those neighbors you never saw unless you wanted something, like money for the Red Cross or the use of his car. Marg had a four-month-old baby I hadn’t visited since his first day home from the hospital. I walked over and admired the baby for a while before I broached the subject of the car.
     “I probably shouldn’t say this,” Marguerite grinned, “but wasn’t that kind of a dumb thing for Ed to do?”
     My neighbor’s view of the key losing incident provided me with a potential rejoinder when the truck and I got stuck in the mud the next day. Kathie had asked her father to show her how to drive the truck because she thought she should know how to use a manual shift. Ed, true to form, kept putting her off until finally it was one o’clock and she was due to go riding at Red Ranch. By the time she got back, he’d tell her it was too dark.
     “Ed, I know how to drive the truck, why don’t I give her a lesson? It’ll take only a few minutes.”
     “For Pete’s sake, I just got it backed up to the barn and had a devil of a time doing it.”
     “But it means so much to her, dear—“
     “Oh, all right,” he said reluctantly.
     “Hey Mom, don’t forget you’re taking me to the movies,” Teddy said.
     “Plenty of time,” I said. “Come on, Kathie.”
     I had to pick my way across the mud in front of the barn to get to the truck. I drove it out on the asphalt and Kathie changed places with me. I had forgotten how many things there were to remember with a manual gearshift. We lurched along in first, grazing Mr. McKenna’s fence. Kathie asked me not to scream because it made her nervous, and I said, “But dear, this is an expensive piece of equipment, your father will have a fit if—now ease the clutch up gradually, and put it in second. Second!” I yelled. “Not reverse!”
     I looked toward the house to see if Ed had burst out to investigate the ghastly grinding noise. Kathie took her foot off the clutch, and the truck leaped forward and stalled.
     “I guess that’s enough for now,” she said shakily, climbing out.
     “Hey Mom,” Teddy yelled from the porch. “Did you say those brats could go to the movies?”
     “Timmy and Vonnie? I guess I did. What’s wrong with that?”
     “For crying out loud. Me and Norbert don’t want those brats around when we’re going to the movies with—with girls!”
     Timmy began to cry. “Why can’t we go? We won’t say anything. We’ll just sit in the car.”
     “After all, Teddy,” I said, “I am doing the trip over and I don’t see what harm—“
     “Gee, what’ll my friends think if I have to drag those babies along, for Pete’s sake.”
     That rang a bell. I recalled how strenuously I objected to having my younger sister tag along with me and my girlfriends. “Well,” I said uncertainly. “We’ll see. Wait till I get this truck backed up to the barn.”
     Timmy went back into the house, yelling his indignation at the unfairness of life. I didn’t do a good job backing because within a few minutes I was hub deep in mud and so close to a bush I couldn’t open the door. I started to get out on the other side and found I was marooned in a squashy brown sea. I tooted the horn, hoping to attract Kathie’s attention.
     “She’s strong,” I was thinking. “She can push me out of here and Ed will never be the wiser.”
     Ed called from the porch, “Anything wrong?”
     “No, nothing’s wrong,” I answered hoarsely.
     He didn’t believe me. He walked down the driveway and looked at the truck. He shook his head and whistled.
     “Well, if you had been willing to give that poor child a few minutes of your precious time, it would never have happened. You have plenty of time for Your Boat and plenty of time for Your Squash but when it comes to spending time with Your Children—“
     “Hey Mom, it’s time to go!”
     “Teddy, go get the tire chains,” ordered his father. “Barbara, you get the station wagon and back it up to the truck. No, wait, on second thought, I’ll back it up to the truck.”
     “But we’re late for the movies!” Teddy wailed.
     “Well, isn’t that just too damn bad!” said his father. Teddy’s face crumpled and he plodded off to get the chains. Ed put a plank down so I could get out of the truck.
     “Now listen, you don’t have to take it out on that poor child. This is important to him. He and Norbert are going to the movies with girls, they’ve been planning it all week; can’t you remember how important things were at that age?”
     Teddy returned with the chains, his eyes red, his face dejected.
     “Be patient, Ted,” his father said kindly. “This won’t take long.”
     I chauffeured Ted and his friends to the movies after bribing Timmy and Vonnie with the promise of a special treat. Tuning in on their teen‑age chatter, I could see Ted’s point of view; his siblings would be as welcome an addition as Carrie Nation at a cocktail party. I was tolerated only because someone had to do the driving.
     When I got home, Ed told me he took Kathie to Red Ranch in the truck, giving her a driving lesson on the way. That's one of my husband’s most endearing traits—his way of eventually heeding any requests I holler at him.

     We took Vonnie and Timmy to Orleans for the weekend to visit Ed’s folks. During the drive to the Cape we tried to impress on Tim that he shouldn’t nag, shouldn’t argue, shouldn’t complain, shouldn’t bicker with Vonnie — in other words, he should act as unnatural as possible. He said uh-huh, uh-huh, but he couldn’t have heard a word we said.
     Saturday morning Grandpa organized a target-shooting contest: children vs. parents, with Grandpa holding the binoculars and judging the shots. When Tim and I came closest to the bulls eye, the judge told us to shoot it off. We darn near ended up shooting it out, due to Tim’s contention that we were a bunch of cheaters.
 TINA AND GRANDPA
     Our first two shots had landed almost on top of each other. Grandpa proclaimed the tie unbroken and invited us to try one more shot apiece. Timmy proclaimed the tie was most certainly broken and demanded a tape measure to prove it.
     According to Ed’s measurements, the shots were side by side on an arc at an equal distance from the bulls-eye. I was inclined to agree that Tim’s was a fraction of an inch closer, but Grandpa was barking, “It’s a tie, it’s a tie,” and who am I to argue with Grandpa?
     Timmy started to stomp off in a huff. I grabbed his elbow and murmured, “Come on, Tim, be a good sport," twisting his arm only slightly. He was so mad he couldn’t see straight, let alone shoot straight. When it was my turn he growled that I’d probably be mean enough to miss the target deliberately, just to pacify him. When I wasn’t that mean, he was madder than ever.
     Ignoring Grandpa’s request to stay and help put the guns away, he stamped into the house. As I was coming up the cellar stairs I heard Tim answer Tina’s question about the outcome of the contest: “Oh, they won by cheating, they’re all a bunch of cheaters.”
     That did it. I chased him through the house and up to the second floor where I whacked him on his behind and shoved him into his room. I told him he could join the rest of us when he was ready to stop acting like a sore loser.
     Timmy’s next move was to march downstairs, through the living room where the rest of us were trying valiantly to enjoy ourselves, and continue on down to the cellar.
     “Oh my God, he’s going to shoot himself!” Tina said.
     Vonnie began to cry. “Do something, do something!”
     Tina followed him down the stairs to see what he was up to. Tim had found a pair of calipers and was measuring those two bullet holes scientifically. According to his measurements, his bullet was a good sixteenth of an inch closer than mine. Wasn’t this argument based on the truth or falsehood of his allegation that he was the winner of the shooting match?
     I had a feeling that when Grandpa heard about this final insult to his judgemanship, he would boot the four of us out and invite us back semi-annually, if at all. Instead, he cocked his head on one side and said with a chuckle, “Y’know, maybe the kid has something there, at that.”
     Meanwhile Ed had banished Timmy to his room once more and told him not to come down again until he was ready to apologize.
     About the time the lobster salad was placed on the table, I heard a soft, “Mum-mee!” Tim had crept down to the front hall and was whispering that he was ready to apologize. However, he didn’t want anyone to say anything like “That’s all right, Tim,” or “Don’t worry about it, dear.”
     “You don’t know how hard it is to come down and face everyone,” he wept. “If they just won’t say anything, I can do it.”
     I tried to track everyone down and warn them. Tina and Vonnie were in the kitchen. Ed was in the cellar, but Grandpa had disappeared. On my way up the cellar stairs I heard Tim set up an indignant bawling. Grandpa had come in the back door, had been met by Tim’s apology, and had committed the faux pas of putting his arm around him and saying, “Ya poor kid.”
     The good man was bewildered by his grandson’s reaction. “He’s gone back to his room,” he told me dazedly. “I don’t know why.”
     There was a fresh torrent of tears from Timmy when I pointed out how unkind he had been to his nice grandfather.’
     “I don’t want to hurt Grandpa!” he wailed. “Go down and tell him I’m sorry, will you?”
     Up‑down, up‑down; I was sure I’d worn the varnish off that stairway by the time the six of us
stumbled into the dining room. We were all rather subdued as we applied ourselves to our lobster--all except Timmy, who ate ten times his share, evoking the sotto voce comment from his grandfather that apparently the kid was gonna live.

     Kathie earned enough money babysitting to buy a beautiful Morgan pony and a goat to keep her company. One morning Ed delayed his departure to the office long enough to fashion a makeshift gate at the barn’s entrance to the corral. He led Heidi and Pokie from their stalls into the corral, brushed the sawdust from his suit, and drove off to work. A while later, I looked up from my cereal and saw Pokie munching on my baby lilac bushes. Giving a scream that startled Kathryn, my household helper, and sent Dizzy flying, I dashed outside, then braked to a stroll as I neared Pokie. I didn't want her to suspect there was any feeling in my heart but love and admiration, any thought in my mind except approval of her lilac pruning.
     I extended a cupped hand as if it held a leafy morsel: "Here Pokie, here Pokie, Pokie."
     She lifted her head long enough to give me a bored stare, then went back to work on the lilacs. I backed away from her, calling affectionately, "Here, Pokie, yum‑hum, here Pokie, Pokie."
     I got a round of applause from Kathryn, who had joined our household when Esther retired.  She was on the front porch, watching the proceedings.
     "Oh, Mrs. Malley, if only I had a movie camera!"
     Since I couldn't lure Pokie to the corral by the force of my personality, it was time to try something else. What did Kathie do when Heidi got loose? The oats.
     I rushed to the barn, scooped up some oats and called Pokie, shaking the coffee can suggestively. Her head jerked up. She gave a bound of joy and began loping toward me. Screeching to a stop, she buried her snout in the oats.
     Now I had to induce Pokie to duck under the bars of Ed's gate and return to the corral where she belonged. I wasn’t thinking clearly, or it might have occurred to me that if she could duck in, she could duck out again.
     "Here, Pokie," I said, extending the tin of oats between the bars and trying to shove her under the lower bar with my other hand. Pokie humped into the knee chest position and refused to budge. Meanwhile Heidi had ambled over and was helping herself to the oats.
     "Come on, Pokie, there's a good goat," I lied. "Shoo, Heidi, go away!"
     Heidi bared her teeth and growled. I swear she did. I figured if she felt that way about it, I'd better drop the can. In a flash, Pokie ducked under the bar and began fighting for her share of the oats.
     I wiped my brow and started for the house, only to become aware that Pokie was trotting along beside me, friendly as could be.
     "Oh, Mrs. Malley, if only I had a movie of you and that goat!" Kathryn was hooting.
     She was such a necessary adjunct to our household, I had to put up with her odd sense of humor. I returned to the barn, shadowed by my buddy.
     "Okay, into the clink you go." I removed the bar from the stall door and entered, Pokie hard on my heels. Whoosh! I was out again, slamming the door behind me. I was stooping to replace the bar when bang, the door flew open, striking me squarely on the nose.
     Moral: when you're on one side of a door and a goat is on the other, make sure the door is bolted before you stick your nose out. Otherwise you'll get a nasty scrape and jocular comments from your housekeeper and your husband.
     Ed looked at my nose, heard my story, laughed heartily, then redeemed himself by promising to make the corral escape proof in the near future.
     A few days later, when I walked down to our mailbox at the end of the driveway, I noticed that Heidi wasn't in the corral. Vonnie must have forgotten to put her out. I went into the barn, sliding the door shut behind me. I opened the door to the ramp, then opened the stall door warily in case there was a stampede. Sure enough, I was almost knocked down by Pokie. My leap sideways had placed me directly between her and the grain barrel.
     Meanwhile Heidi was skittering around in the doorway of the stall, trying to avoid a pail that had rolled under her feet. When she finally emerged, she glared at me as if I had deliberately tried to trip her up. Kathie had told me Morgans were ponies, but she looked a hundred hands high to me. I pointed to the runway that led to the corral and said, "Out, Heidi!”.
     Pokie had given up trying to butt over the grain barrel and was trotting down the runway like a good little goat. Heidi shifted around and pointed her nose in the right direction, which meant that her kicking end was pointing at me. She definitely looked a lot bigger than a pony.
     She ambled down the runway, then stopped dead. I had forgotten to open Ed’s makeshift gate to the corral. My oversight created a ticklish situation. I hurried down the runway, sidled past Heidi ("Good girl, nice girl"), and opened the gate. Pokie trotted into the corral, but Heidi had meanwhile turned around and was heading back toward the barn.
     "Come on, Heidi, it's open now," I said, but we had a new problem. When she tried to turn toward the gate, there wasn't sufficient room. I could see she was considering going into the barn and starting over, but the door had swung to, just enough to discourage her. Heidi backed up a couple of feet, and her blanket caught on the branch of one of our surviving trees. She moved forward again and to save face, pretended she was interested in nibbling on a dead leaf.
     So there we were and what to do? I could race through the corral and back to the barn so I could open the half closed door, but Heidi had been doing some thinking, too. She began backing again, this time avoiding the protruding branch. She backed all the way down to the wide part of the runway and cantered triumphantly into the corral. "Smart girl!" I applauded, relieved that one of us had the brains to work out a solution.
   
      We all overslept one Saturday morning, so when Muffy Brewer phoned to ask who was going to do the trip for the 8:15 tennis lesson, we were far from organized. By skipping breakfast and turning Heidi's care over to Ed, Vonnie was ready in a tousled sort of way by ten past eight. Before she left for the golf club with her grandmother, she told me she had brought the rope up to the barn so her father could conveniently lead Heidi into the corral
     Now I had to break the news to Ed, who had decided on this morning of all mornings to have a swim. When he sloshed up from the beach, I explained about the chore awaiting him. "Oh, my God," he groaned. "I'm due at Blake's office in five minutes." Grumble, grumble, cuss, cuss.
     "I'll do it for you, Dad," said Tim, who had padded into our bedroom to see what his father was cussing about.
     "Are you sure you know how?" I asked.
     "Yes, yes, I put her in her stall last night when Vonnie asked me to. I didn't have any trouble at all."
     The next words I heard from Timmy came while I was brushing my teeth. "She wouldn't have gotten away if Vonnie had left the rope where it usually is."
     "Timmy, that horse isn't loose again!" I gurgled, foaming at the mouth. The last time, she had made straight for Mr. McKenna’s precious lawn, checkering it with divots among other things. Bill had had words with me about horses in general and Heidi in particular. He claimed she was a danger to life and limb and ought to be chained.
     I told Tim to keep an eye on Heidi, warning him that if she put so much as one toe on the McKennas’ property, I would kill myself first and then him.
     I dialed Blake Thaxter's office, hoping to catch Ed before he left for Boston. I caught him all right, but none of us could catch that kittenish horse. She seemed to think we were playing tag, the object being to let whoever was "It" (all two legged animals) come tantalizingly close—then with a snicker and a toss of the mane, away she’d go.
     At 9:00 Ed said he was sorry but he did have to go to work. I called the golf club and told Vonnie to bum a ride home with someone as soon as possible. At that moment I saw through the window that Heidi had her head in a pail of oats and Tim was snaking a rope through her halter ring. I told Vonnie to take her time, everything was under control.
     The rest of the day was uneventful except for what Pokie did to my flower box. Vonnie tethered her too close to the terrace, and she ate my geraniums to the nub.
To Kathie, from her grandmother
July 31, 1959
     Heidi escaped yesterday. In my room I could hear your father reasoning earnestly with her. Seems she was of a mind to keep her liberty. The goat also had a Day. She was on a tether that she discovered was of a handy length since it enabled her to turn the corner of the house and reach the terrace. The nearest flower‑box today gives mute evidence of her visit. I was the one who discovered her on the terrace; imagine my horror when glancing out of the window I saw what I thought for a surprised moment was a rather homely bearded old gentleman staring at me.
     I dropped my book and ran out to tell him to get back to the Odd Fellows' Home, only to discover that the odd fellow was a four legged flower chewer. I think he is doing time, now, in the corral.
     The weather has been gorgeous to quote your dad. He does enjoy it so much. Both your mom and dad are well, Vonnie is faithful and dependable, Timmy is Timmy, and I am writing a lot. That in a capsule is the News. Loads of love, Isha*

*Derivation of Ish and Isha
     The tradition started with my maternal grandfather, Camden M. Cobern, an archaeologist and a Methodist minister. When they became grandparents, Camden and my grandmother chose to be called Ish and Isha, derived from Genesis and meaning "man and wife.”
     
     As my dear ones could testify, when I was in a bad mood the best solution would be a padded cell for the duration. A more practical one turned up in the form of some little pills recommended by Ed’s company doctor. He claimed they were helpful in relieving tension.
     Ed brought home a handful, and when my nerves began to jangle, I started taking two a day. It may have been the power of suggestion, but they seemed to work. I became so gentle and patient with my children, they asked me what was the matter. My attitude toward Ed was one of such loving understanding, an outsider wouldn’t have believed we were married. I faced the usual daily emergencies with good humor. To show his appreciation, Ed gave me a corsage of camellias on Valentine’s Day. Instead of wanting to know what he’d been up to now, I thanked him. There was no getting around it, I was much nicer than I really am.
     But now I lay in bed thinking black thoughts and refusing to resort to the Disposition Pills. Maybe they were habit forming. It would be a terrible thing if I couldn’t be agreeable without taking a pill first.
     All I needed was a little sleep.
     I envied Ed the way he could sleep. The way he could sleep when I couldn’t was grounds for divorce. I remembered my mother telling me that Dad sensed it when she had insomnia, no matter how careful she was not to disturb him. “What’s the matter, honey bun? I can hear you thinking,” he would say sympathetically.
     When I had insomnia I could use a little husbandly sympathy myself. To make it easy for him, I didn’t even try to be quiet.
     “Ho-hum,” I said when the town clock struck 2:00. I up-heaved my blankets and rolled over with a thump, hitting my head on the bookcase headboard. The door rattled along its track like the Toonerville trolley. Not a sound from Ed.
     “Ouch!” I said lonesomely.
     There was a soft snore from the bed next to mine, followed by a breezy sigh. He must be dreaming it was his birthday and he was blowing out the candles, I thought. Snore, puff, snore , puff, snore, puff.
     I turned on the light and shined it on Ed’s face to see if he was just pretending. Snore, puff. I read a few more chapters of Marjorie Morningstar. I reached the point where Marjorie was on the brink of an exciting career and losing her virginity. She was twenty-one. At twenty-one, where had I been? Out in the laundry, washing diapers for his children. What had my life been since then? More children and more diapers, and anyone who calls that an exciting career is a man.
     I dropped Marjorie Morningstar on the floor and switched out the light. My exciting career was dreaming about girls. Sigh, wolf whistle, sigh, wolf whistle. I stabbed him in the back with my forefinger.
     “Humph, flumph, hunh? Wassa matter, cancha sleep?”
     “Aren’t you the perceptive one! I haven’t closed an eye for hours, if you’re really interested.”
     “Z Z Z Z.”

     At least I could forward to sleeping late while the children got ready for Sunday School. A couple of hours later, I wearily focused one eye on the clock and tried to make out the time without waking up. I heard Kathryn call from the foot of the stairs that it was after 8:30 and breakfast was nearly ready. If Vonnie would remember to rouse Teddy from his ivory tower on the third floor, I could go back to sleep.
     The harrowing thing was, sometimes she remembered and sometimes she didn’t. Remembering was only half the battle. Ted was like his father; he could sleep through anything, especially the hour before Sunday school. On Saturdays he was up and dressed with no prodding; basketball practice started at nine.
     I dragged myself from bed and called up to the third floor. “Teddy, are you up?”
     “Yeah,” came the sleepy answer.
     “Well, come down and get dressed right away or you’ll be late for Sunday school. Don’t forget to make your bed.”
     I closed the windows and crawled back into bed. I waited for the sound of bare feet pounding down the stairs. Ten minutes later I got up and called him again.
     “Yah, yah, I’m coming. You want me to make my bed, don’t you?”
     “Well, not from scratch, Teddy.”
     Back to bed. Bare feet pounded down the stairs and into Timmy’s room, where the boys shared a closet.
     As time went by, I knew I’d better check on their progress. I rapped on the door and looked in. Timmy, in his underpants, was in the midst of a flying tackle.
     I blew up. “Okay, you two, if you’re not ready to go downstairs in five minutes—teeth brushed, beds made, hair combed, faces washed—you’re both going to bed early tonight.”
     “Don’t we have to get dressed?” Timmy asked.
     “I mean it, now! I’m sick and tired of going through this same nonsense week after week, two big boys like you, what are you, babies? Well, if you’re babies, you can go to bed early like babies. From now on, either you kids are ready for breakfast at nine o’clock every Sunday or you got to bed early. Is that clear?”
     As I stomped out of the room Teddy mumbled something and Timmy said loyally, “She is not!”
     “I’m ready, Mummy,” Vonnie called virtuously from the bathroom, where she was polishing her shoes.
     “Oh, goody for you!” said Teddy.
     “Vonnie!” I scolded. “That’s not the right polish, look at the mess you’re making, what are you doing with Daddy’s polish?”
     “I like to open the can.”
     “Honestly, Vonnie, what a mess. You’ve got little bits of polish all over the floor. You’re stepping on it! No, don’t use the good towel! Put the can away and use the shoe polish in the bottle and don’t spill it. Why are you wearing your school shoes instead of your patent leathers?”
     “Because my patent leathers don’t need polishing,” Vonnie said with patient eleven-year-old logic.
     “Vonnie, some rainy day you can polish all the shoes in the house. Now go put on your patent leathers, Kathryn is calling you for breakfast.”
     “Hey, Mummy, I can’t find any socks,” Timmy said.
     “There must be some in the laundry room. Take your shoes and go downstairs before your breakfast gets cold.”
     “I’m having cold cereal,” said Timmy, always ready for an argument.
     “Get going!”
     Ed was awake when I returned to our room. “Honestly, those kids of yours are going to drive me out of my mind!” I said, glaring at him.
     “Why don’t you take a tranquilizer?”
     “Take a pill? It’s not me! It’s those kids! They’re irresponsible, inconsiderate, lazy, careless—“
     “Children.”
     I snatched open a bureau drawer and the handle fell off. “You see?
     “Take a pill,” said Ed.
     Vonnie came in, carrying a pad of paper.
     “What now, Vonnie,” I sighed.
     “I want to show you the picture I drew of you. I think it’s the best picture I ever drew.”
     “Not now, go down and have your breakfast.”
     “It’ll only take a minute,” she said, leafing through the pages. “Here it is—oh no, that’s not it, I’ll find it in a minute.”
     “For heaven’s sake, Vonnie!”
     “Oh, here it is. It’s a picture of you. Isn’t it good?”
     “Very good. Now run along.”
     She gave me a hug and ran downstairs. I looked at the picture again. Under it she had printed: “My mother is a beautiful picture to me.”
     I put down the picture and went to the bathroom medicine cabinet. I took two tranquilizers.
     Breakfast might have been pleasant if I’d taken the pills sooner. I got our breakfast ready while Ed drove the children to Sunday school and picked up the papers. When he walked in, he threw his coat down on one of the dining room chairs.
     He did this every night of the week. When I wasn’t not in a bad mood, my thought process was as follows: “The poor, tired boy! He works so hard at making a living for his family, he’s too exhausted to hang up his coat. What a privilege it is for me to hang it in the closet for him.” I would put the coat away with a tender smile of understanding. (I knew I was sincere about this because I didn’t wait for him to come downstairs and see how understanding I was being.)
     When I was in a bad mood, there was nothing that irritated me more than this habit of throwing his coat on a chair. “For Pete’s sake,” I’d say to myself, “how am I supposed to train the children to be neat if their own father doesn’t set them a good example? Suppose we all threw our coats on a chair, wouldn’t the house look lovely. I’ll bet it takes him longer to walk into the dining room and drop his coat than it would to open the closet door and hang it up.”
     On this occasion, while ostentatiously transferring Ed’s coat to the closet, I expressed these thoughts aloud. Ed looked surprised and promised to set a good example thereafter.
     Then there was the way he ate his grapefruit. Usually I didn’t notice the way he ate his grapefruit because I was busy tackling mine. But now I watched and listened with an air of distaste. Couldn’t he take a spoonful without that silly gasp? He went after it as if someone were going to steal it from him. After slurping up the last section, he squeezed the grapefruit over the bowl, which he raised to his lips, gulping the juice with the gusto of a parched water buffalo.
     “If you could see yourself!” I burst out. “Would you eat grapefruit that way if you were having breakfast with Marilyn Munroe?”
     Ed thought it over. “No, I’d have her feed it to me.”

     I was reading while I waited for Ed's arrival with Mother, whose car had broken down when she reached Massachusetts. The phone rang, and it was Kathie. Yes, I said, it would be all right for Vonnie and Kathie to stay overnight in Amherst, only they'd miss a good roast beef dinner. Then she said Vonnie wanted to speak to me.
     "Mummeee?" came a quavering little voice. "Guess what?"
     "You miss me." I guessed.
     "No, I mean yes, but that's not it. Guess again."
     "You tore your new ski pants?"
     "No. It's ‑‑ you know." (An octave higher.)
     "You mean you—you got your—you didn't!"
     "Yes I did! Honest!" (Triumphantly.)
     "Oh, go on. You're kidding. April Fool."
     Then Kathie came on the line and assured me this event had indeed taken place and that she and Priscilla and Vonnie had gone to the ice cream parlor to celebrate.
     Ed finally showed up with Mother at 8:45. After a flurry of greetings and hugs were exchanged, he carried her suitcases to her room.
     "How was she when you picked her up?" I asked when he returned. "A wreck?"
     Not at all, he said. She was in surprisingly good spirits and had chattered away all the way home, undismayed by the pile of lumber stacked between them. (The mother of one of Tim's friends had backed into Mr. McKenna's fence.) Ed said the boards kept sliding over on top of Mom, but she just pushed them back without complaint.
     Mother asked me if Vonnie had taped the messages of welcome to her mirror.
     "No, she's skiing with Kathie," I said.
     "It wasn't Vaughan, so who could it be? "
     Curious now, I went upstairs and examined the notes. One said, "We've missed you!' and the other, "Hi! Nice to have you home!"
     The handwriting was unmistakable—her son‑in‑law's.

     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 bughouse?” 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 are still in one piece.

     I was shopping at Tedeschi’s when a voice came over the loudspeaker asking the owner of a black Ford convertible (I had Ed’s car, so I perked 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 in the parking lot. 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, Edward 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 house where things don’t get fixed for years!”
     After I’d simmered down I remembered it was his 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 sensed Ed standing behind me in a way I knew was contrite. 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, 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.”

       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 a 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 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 didn’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 said. 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,” Edward 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 that 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 Edward 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 looked right through me, being a bosom man, attributed my vanquishing him at Ping-Pong to my “sexy dress.” 
MY MATURITY 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 was 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!”

      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 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 knew what would happen. Long before he came home he’d have forgotten about the elusive siren of his dreams and I’d be available old me again.
     I wondered if he’d go for corned beef and cabbage two nights in a row. . .     .

     We drove up to Colby to watch Ed play hockey. After the game we took Ted and his room-mate to
 TEDDY AND ED, COLBY CAMPUS
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 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."    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.
     “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.”
A BIT OF A FIZZLE. . .
     “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.                                                                                                        

 
     Ted was home for the weekend with his Moses Brown buddies, Jan Moyer and John Tomlinson. Vonnie was practically swooning at the proximity of her real live football hero, but she was as shy as a hummingbird about approaching him. Ted helped by dragging her into the playroom when they were watching TV, and that gave her an excuse to be near Jan.
     In the morning the boys went off some place in Ted’s car. (“Where are you going?” “Out.”)
                                                                                            
     Ted was communicative enough to let me know they wouldn’t be home for dinner. I wondered how the three of them were going to survive the trip in that microscopic front seat. I couldn’t believe it this morning when Vonnie said they had picked up Bruce Henkle. Ed took movies of the four boys getting into the MG: Jan first, on the floor; John next, behind Jan, squeezing into the passenger seat; then Bruce, who wedged as much of himself as he could into the narrow back shelf—what was left over, one of his legs, joined the gang in the front seat; and last, Ted wormed his way into the driver’s seat, which gave me claustrophobia even when I wasn’t surrounded by miscellaneous arms and legs. Obviously the adaptable lads were going to be right at home in a space capsule.
     Ted asked Vonnie if he could take her record player back to Moses Brown. All right, she said, starting upstairs to get it for him. She stopped aghast outside her room. ("I was never so embarrassed in my life, Mummy!") There stood all the boys, intently examining her bureau and bulletin board. Under the bureau’s glass top were snapshots of Jan, and tacked to her bulletin board was a newspaper photo of him with the 42 circled, as well as clippings with his name underlined and decorated with hearts. Sprawled on the bed was her Football Hero doll, the number 42 adorning his chest. Vonnie’s secret crush is no secret any more.  

      Sandy Cove looked like Fort Lauderdale in the spring. Half the teenage population of the South Shore converged on the beach, swarming through our yard like a migration of lemmings. When I saw the havoc they had left in their wake, I rather regretted that they hadn’t, like lemmings, continued on out to sea.   
     Instead of the thirty young people Vonnie expected, there must have been a hundred, most of whom she had never seen before. She had appointed a delegation of “bouncers,” but they were hard put to keep up with the avalanche of teenagers. One group, turned away, bent the antenna on my car, and when Tim attempted to straighten it, it snapped off.
     The ash can provided for empties was soon filled. I had no quarrel with the kids who then dropped their beer bottles in the sand, but I wondered at the heedlessness of those who deliberately smashed them. One joker threw a full quart bottle into the fire; it exploded and showered the crowd with flying pieces of glass. A girl was severely cut.
     Vonnie had said the party would break up at eleven, the tradition being to head for the Shack, but at eleven-thirty the grapevine was still at work. Group after group paraded past our window toward the Mecca on the beach: Turtle-necked Lady Killers, Man-stalking Beach Frequenters, Beer-sipping Whippersnappers, Night-prowling Morning Sleepers, Blanket-toting Lovebirds. Observing cynically from their nest: a pair of Heavy-lidded Party-Poopers.
     Ed went down to break things up. Vonnie was very good, he said. She kicked sand into the fire and circulated through the mob, announcing that it was time to go. Within half an hour, everyone was gone, or so we thought. When Ed left at six, there were two or three boys still on the beach who had been partying all night. We wondered what kind of parents had so little interest in their children’s whereabouts, but then the answer hit us. The parents assumed their children were staying overnight with friends, accepting their word for it as we did with Tim. Tim and his pals might be doing the same thing, for all we know. So often, lately, I’ve find myself “wishing away” these anxiety-laden years.

     When Kathie called last night to ask what was new, I hardly felt up to telling her because what was new was the Brewers’ $400 outboard motor that Timmy borrowed with young Whitey’s permission while we were cruising with the senior Brewers. He also borrowed their boat, to which the motor was insecurely fastened, Timmy said. When he swerved to avoid a lobster pot, the outboard plopped into the harbor.
     When Ed heard what had happened he heaped the usual ten thousand punishments on Timmy. He couldn’t use his boat for the rest of the summer, he wouldn’t get the promised outboard for his birthday, he was never again to borrow anything from anyone (“By the way,” Tim interrupted, “can I borrow a dollar? Neil and I are going down to the Shack.”) “No!” thundered his father. (“Fifty cents? I’ll just get a frappe.”} “Not one nickel!” said his furious father.
     Later—about five minutes later—Ed decided he’d been too hard on Tim. It was an accident, the kid hadn’t heaved the motor overboard just for a lark. Moreover, we probably had liability insurance to cover this type of mishap.
     He suggested I call Edgar Hill first to make sure we were covered, then call the Brewers (with whom we had just had a friendly parting at the Yacht Club) and apprise them of the fate of their outboard motor and our intention of replacing it with a new one.
     A bit jittery, I dialed 1862 instead of 0662 and got Mr. Brewer on the line.
     “Oh—er—hi, Whitey,” I said.
     “Hi, Babs, long time no see, ha-ha,” Whitey said jovially.
     “Ha-ha,” I said. Then I stammered that I’d meant to call Edgar because “I wanted to find out if we had liability insurance for your outboard motor.”
     “What’s wrong with my outboard motor?” Whitey said in a less jovial tone.
     “Oh—nothing—it’s just fine. At least it will be if we can find it. Ted’s going to dive for it tomorrow.”
     The Brewers took the news very well. Sally even thought it was funny. Edgar said we were covered for the expense, so now I could laugh, too.

     Ed was delighted with his big new workbench in the furnace room. His employees had torn down the closet, which hadn’t been used much since the children outgrew the wet snowsuit age, and replaced it with the bench. He spent a week sorting out hundreds of pieces of hardware and storing them in cabinets with clear plastic drawers. He placed the cabinets on a rack at the end of the bench.
     I was stacking the dishwasher when I heard a crashing sound. I looked around and saw Kathryn coming through the back door, so I figured she had dropped something in the back hall. She murmured something about “the poor man,” but I didn’t quite catch it. Then I heard an anguished call, “Barbara!”
     My husband had tried to move the rack in order to get something behind it. It toppled over, and those little plastic drawers tossed their contents in all directions. Nails, screws, bolts, nuts, electrical fittings, fishing tackle, boating hardware, and grommets, and other gadgets were strewn from one end of the room to the other. Later I asked Ed what a grommet was; he said, “Grommets are grommets.”
     There wasn’t much I could do except commiserate and bring him a broom. “It’ll take me all winter to get back where I started from,” he sighed.
     I was finishing up in the kitchen when Ed came in with an even glummer expression and asked if I knew anything about a bottle of dye under the laundry table. He had knocked it over while he was sweeping up the hardware.
     “That was mine,” said Kathryn. “I thought I’d found a good safe place to keep it.”
     The floor was blue, the mop was blue, Edward was blue, and Kathryn was her usual philosophical self, bless her.

     Vonnie came home from school with an infected throat. She said it was very sore, so she’d asked the school nurse to look at it. Sure enough, it was inflamed and covered with white spots. “It looks as if you’d accidentally swallowed something sharp,” the nurse said.
     Poor Ed. The infected throat was the first thing he heard about when he walked in the door last night.  Vonnie maintained that the infection had nothing to do with her recent efforts to acquire a husky voice by screaming at the top of her lungs.
     “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s a direct result," her father said. “No wonder I need a drink when I get home!”
     While he was getting out the ice I asked him if he had any desire to see “The Misfits,” and he said, “Not tonight, I had a terrible day in town and I’m too tired.”
     A minute later he called from the bar, “Who’s in it?” and I said, “Marilyn Munroe and Clark Gable.”
     “Maybe we’ll go later in the week. To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve always thought she was a terrifically attractive girl.”
     “You don’t have to be that honest,” I said. “Did anyone ask you to be that honest?”
     Ed came out of the bar, carrying our drinks and laughing. “I’ve got to admit you’re funny. That’s the first laugh I’ve had today.”
          
     In the fall of Kathie’s sophomore year at Swarthmore, she wrote that she wanted to breed Pokie. Dr. Kearns, referred me to a Mr. Gilbert in Hanover who had a pedigreed French Alpine buck. Mrs. Gilbert said her husband wouldn't want to board our goat for a month, as Kathie had suggested. All I had to do was wait a few minutes, and I could bring pregnant Pocahontas home with me.
     "The trick is to catch her when she's in heat and bring her right over," said Mrs. Gilbert. "Some goats are in the mood only a few hours."
     “And how would I know when Pokie was in the mood?”
     “Well, that depends on your goat. Some act frisky, others are very quiet.” The reason the Gilberts had invested in their buck, she said, was because of this unpredictability of females.
     I considered postponing the project until Kathie came home for Christmas, since she would be a better judge of Pokie's moods than I was. I couldn’t remember a time when she wasn't frisky. Maybe she was a nymphomaniac.
     Then someone told me I didn't need to drive all the way to Hanover for an assignation; there were lots of goats in Marshfield. I phoned the Marshfield police station for information, said I had a female goat I wanted to breed and asked if anyone there could direct me to a male goat. There was a long pause while the Sergeant waited for me to giggle and hang up, then a sort of strangled, "Just a minute, please." Another officer came on the line, and I repeated my request. I pictured the Sergeant wordlessly handing him the phone and tapping his forehead. The second chap must have detected a ring of sanity, or at least sincerity, in my voice because he gave me the address of a Mr. Hutchison.
     Mr. Hutchison agreed to board Pokie for a few weeks.
     "I'll be right over," I said.
     I lured Pokie into the backseat of the station wagon with a handful of oats and off we went for Marshfield and maternity. Mr. Hutchison's farm was a collection of ramshackle buildings housing sheep, chickens, and cows. His goats were sleek thoroughbred Nubians with glossy brown coats. Could our humble Pokie attract such princes?
     The day I was scheduled to collect Pokie from Mr. Hutchison, I looked out the kitchen window, saw that Ed had taken my station wagon and left an unfamiliar sedan in its place. I hoped I wouldn't have a problem squeezing the animal into its backseat. It had snowed all night, so I put on my boots and drove to Marshfield.
     When I arrived, Pokie was not glad to see me and clearly had no desire to leave her princely consorts. Uh-uh! No way, Jose. She dug her heels in, so I had to put a rope around the slut’s neck and drag her step by grudging step to the car. If she stopped pulling in the opposite direction, I would be flat on my back in the snow. She would love that. Pokie climbed nimbly enough into the car when she got a whiff of the oats I had sprinkled on the floor.
     On the way home, I stopped at the bank in Cohasset to make sure I had enough balance to cover Mr. Hutchinson’s check. When I came out, I had a dilemma. Not only had I forgotten where I parked the car, I also couldn’t remember what it looked like. Was it blue‑ish or gray-ish? Had I parked in front of the paper store or down by the coffee shop?
     I stood there feeling stupid, the way one does when one misplaces a goat. Then inspiration struck. Wherever the car was and whatever it looked like, there couldn't be many with a goat in the backseat.
     I walked up and down Main Street looking for a dirty white animal with a long bearded snout and pointed ears. I saw no sign of the contrary beast, who must have decided to lie down. I made the circuit again, approaching each car individually and peering inside, wondering how I'd explain my behavior if Officer Simeone happened along.
     At last, a pair of eyes stared back at me from the interior of a grayish sedan. Hearing a "baa," I said "Same to you" and concluded I had found the right car.
     Vonnie was mucking out Heidi's stall when I got home. Bidding Pocahontas a tearless goodbye, I opened the car door and watched her trot into the barn to join her pal—not a princely consort, but a reliable friend and soul mate.

     The baby goat died. Poor little thing, we hadn't even settled on a name for it. Kathryn said Pokie might not have had enough milk. Now she looked as if she had milk to spare and with no baby to nurse, Dr Kearns said she would need milking for some time to come. I hadn't the foggiest concept of how to milk a goat, but I put on my foul weather gear since it was raining and brought a pail up to the barn.
     I opened the door of Pokie’s and Heidi’s stall, let her out, and told her to stand still. I don't know what gave me the idea she had started taking orders. I tried to set the pail down in the appropriate location, but once she discovered there was nothing edible in it, she wouldn’t cooperate. Never mind, I thought, the important thing was to relieve poor Pokie. I‘ll just let her milk squirt on the floor.
     When I made a pass at her dairy section you'd have thought she was being violated. Around and around the barn we went, with me insisting I was only trying to help her, and Pocahontas looking over her shoulder with an expression of shocked outrage.
     I decided I’d have to tie her. Unable to find a rope, I took a leather contrivance—a halter, maybe?—and stuck Pokie's head through it. I fastened the straps to a post, said "Nice Pokie," and set the pail under her udder. She gave me a suspicious look, ducked out of the halter, and ran to the other end of the barn.
     "Okay, stupid, go ahead and suffer," I said, shoving her into the stall and returning to the house, thankful I hadn't married a farmer. I made some phone calls and found a milkmaid named Angie.
     When I got home from marketing, Kathryn said, "Mrs. Malley, there's something wrong with Pokie. She's been making an odd noise. I would have tried to milk her myself, only I was afraid Heidi might nip me."
     I tried to reach Angie, but there was no answer. I decided to make another attempt. After watching the milkmaid in action, I had a better idea of the proper technique than I did a few weeks ago. First you had to catch your goat and tie her tightly to a tree. If she tried to get away when you started milking, you hung onto her handles until she realized she couldn't go anywhere without them. It was pouring out again, so I put on my boots and raincoat.
     Pokie was jumpy and hard to manage at first. She was so distended, my ministrations must have been painful, but as we began to make progress, she quieted down.
     I sat in the rain pumping away at Pokie's faucets for over an hour, determined not to quit until she was drained. At one point I had the eerie feeling someone was standing behind me, watching me. I turned around and bumped noses with Heidi, who was breathing moistly down my neck and observing my labors with a curious eye.
     I appreciated Heidi's interest, but what I really longed for was the recognition of my fellow man. Ted came along, gave me a brief stare, shook his head, and drove on up to the house. Then Vonnie and some friends slowed to a stop in Ed's Buick and watched me from a distance.
     "Want to try it, Vonnie? It's easy."
     "No! I'd be too embarrassed."
     I got the attention of passers‑by, who slowed their cars and goggled at this eccentric matron, milking her goat in the rain. One driver must have turned around for a second look because I heard her say, "See, I told you she was milking it."
     Finally Mom drove in. I waved to her and called, "Look at me!" She clasped her hands over
her head and answered, “Good for you!" I could always count on Mom.

     It was mid-summer and Malley’s Madhouse was bursting at the seams. Like similar institutions, there were too many inmates and not enough aides, so the proprietors were getting as balmy as the inmates.
     Kathie and Ted had the Welcome Mat out almost every weekend for out-of-town friends. I kept zipping it in again, convinced that our household was complicated enough already—especially with Kathryn away on vacation. But the minute my back was turned, out went the Welcome Mat again.
     Kathie clued me in on her plans, but Ted liked to surprise me. Actually, boys his age didn’t seem to know what their plans were from one hour to the next.
     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 her husband, who had come to Sandy Cove 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 recuperating 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, which was 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 saw eye to eye on this houseguest business. It wasn’t the extra work that got us down, it was the confusion. We were getting too old to cope with so many different personalities and problems at once.
     The children’s father was more patient and unruffled than I was. No one appreciated peace and privacy more than Ed did, but he said the kids were entitled to entertain their friends in their own home. He was right—all too soon they’d be grown up and gone . . . .

     Our firstborn was grown up enough to plan a journey to California with her friend Nicky. 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.”

     Vonnie’s friend Nancy Burns was a student at Emmanuel College, which was next door to the building where Vonnie had 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 donn’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 was too bad Vonnie didn’t get along as well with Dr. Meiss as she did 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 them 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 cttage. 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.
    Ed and I 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 finishes 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 very 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 said 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’d been wondering how Ed would accept his new role. The answer was, he hadn’t. He refused to be a grandfather. We’d 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 came to grandparenthood, I’d never known him to be so stubborn. I was on my own, he said.
     I decided not to press the issue. I admired his spirit. If he didn’t want to be a grandfather, he didn’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.
     Half an hour later I said, “Do you want your dinner or are you going to play with that baby all nnight?”                                                                                                      
     “I’ll be there in a minute,” Ed said. “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.”

"HE LIKES ME BEST."
                                                               





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.”
     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 limejuice, 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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