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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

(1) PUT YOUR FEET IN MY LAP; I'LL WARM THEM FOR YOU.


E-mail exchange with Newton High School classmate, Aura Kruger, about our high-school English teacher, Floyd Rinker
February 13, 1988
      I keep looking at the picture you sent, wishing I knew more about him.  Floyd was born in Great Britain, wasn’t he?
       In all the years that Floyd and I had lunch together, he never said he was born anywhere but here.  I believe his practice of starting a sentence with "I say" was an affectionate affectation, springing from his admiration of the English.   
Do you know anything about his childhood? 

     He spoke to me often about his sister Idessa, who was perhaps sixteen or eighteen years older than he.  For some reason, he was brought up more by her than by his mother, who may have been unable to nurture him properly.  At any rate, he felt so loved because of his sister's care and a flock of devoted aunts that he didn't notice the hump on his back until he was a teenager.  After taking a shower, he happened to glance at a full-length mirror and was suddenly struck by the realization that he was a hunchback.  
    “I was shattered and angry. I went to every bookcase in the house, looking for textbook definitions and photographs. When I found them, I ripped them out and tore them into pieces. . . . "
 What about his adult life?
      He did a lot of traveling, told me he saw the famous black singer, Josephine Baker, in Paris a number of times, and said she was an incredible entertainer.
IN  ITALY WITH FLOYD
 In his older years, after he stopped driving, I would pick him up and be directed to whatever restaurant he had decided upon.  At the end of the afternoon a ritual took place.  We would take each other's hands, lean forward and exchange a kiss on the lips.  (My teenage self yearned only to sit at his feet in future years, adoring him and absorbing his wisdom.  A kiss?  Too much to ask.)
     My pal Maggie, whom I met in an Oriental Brush class in the 80s, wanted to meet Floyd because I talked so much about him.  I told him this, and he said dryly that he wasn’t sure he wanted to meet her However, we arranged a threesome date, and Floyd was instantly smitten. 
October 3, 1986
Dear Maggie,
        I have talked to Floyd, and the mystery of the enigmatic paragraph in his  unreadable penmanship has been solved.  He was talking about you throughout. His translation went something like this:
He identifies you with the Eternal Eve. "She is as young as the time she lives in and as old as the Garden of Eden -- not a common phenomenon. If Maggie were to be in a play, she would be the one who reacted to the others; she'd be a foil. She is not a suburban matron in 1986 any more than she is one of the women in Shakespeare's plays."                                                             
       He alluded to his phrase "tapestries so far from medieval France in a Hudson River setting," which had you and me scratching our heads. "It's the way she dresses, the way she walks that evokes certain medieval tapestries."
       Floyd concluded his remarks with, "I can see why you find her so engaging."
March 21, 1987. 
      Maggie and I had lunch again with Floyd. She came bearing gifts for both of us, as usual.  She knows he's a chocoholic, so she caters to his addiction with things like chocolate-covered apricots and strawberries, packaged elegantly, as if for royalty.  She gifted us with two loaves of bread, hollowed out and filled with cream cheese, sour cream, mushrooms, minced clams, broccoli, kielbasa, chopped scallions, and garlic, an hors d'oeuvre she invented.  “Put it in a slow oven for two hours,” her directions said, “then dunk small squares of warmed-up bread and try not to eat THE WHOLE THING all by yourself.”                                                                             
                                 A MOMENT WITH MAGGIE AND FLOYD
      I still treat Floyd with the deference of a teenager toward her English instructor, but Maggie is not one to stand on ceremony.  While we waited for our lunch one chilly February day, she grabbed his hands, said "My, they’re cold!" and began massaging and caressing them.  He loved it.
      "How about your feet?  Are they cold, too?  Put them in my lap, I'll warm them for you."  There was no way my dignified guru could conceal his pleasure or refuse the invitation.   
      Maggie is a red-headed imp who looks like Shirley MacLaine, cooks like Julia Child, and acts like Peter Pan. We are going to never grow old together.                                                                        
January 9, 1988
Dear Maggie,
       Enclosed is my mom's verse I told you about, "Rendezvous."  Couldn't copy it without getting choked up.  What power a poet has to move one to laughter and tears with a brief collection of words. My article, Ernestine and Jeeves, is so close to completion that I yearn to brave the roads and get back to Kathie's computer.  But she says not today, tomorrow, Mom, so she has her good reasons, which are not for me to question.
      I want Floyd to see the article before . . . Stop.  I won't express a negative thought--that wouldn't help him get better.  There are passages, mostly quoting Mother’s belief in the power of positive thinking, that I’m sure he would find meaningful and comforting.
     That is what he finds in abundance in your love-filled missives, Maggie darling, our bountiful lady. 
      I guess either of us could sign herself. . . Floyd's Other Woman   
                                                 Rendezvous                                                                   
                When himself's behind his paper and the childer sleepin' sound,
                And the moon's a winkin' lantern throwin' shadows all around,
                Forsakin' fire and hearthstone, down the Way of Dreams I start
                To meet my darlin' truelove in a corner of my heart.
                
               His voice is like the west-wind when it whispers low and sweet,
               His words are like the poppies that be growin' in the wheat.
               I forget the bangin' shutters and the candle's sleepy stare,
               When I meet my laughin' truelove where he's waitin' for me there.
                                                                                            
               When himself has grown a-weary in the cozy evenin' tide,
               A ghost it is that follows him and settles at his side.
               I'll be so true and faithful that he'll never know, shall he,
               I go to meet the laughin' lad, the lad he used to be!
                                                                  Ernestine Cobern Beyer

To Floyd from Maggie (who shared with the Chronicle Keeper her letters to and from Floyd)
January 7, 1988
Darling man,
        It’s time, more than time, that I withdraw from routine and stress to write to you.  I want to say, “Pen a letter,” but when you sit in front of a machine like this, you cannot call it “pen,” you call it “Challenge,” and it is out to get me, to make me a fool, to let me know it is smarter and more stable than I.  It would be easy to harbor resentful feelings about this typewriter, but I am afraid to:  it could walk up the stairs to my bedroom one night and unload its spell-right dictionary of 60,000 words on my pillow while I slept. 
       Many thanks for your wonderful gifts.  I have be-ribboned the cat dish and put it with my cat gallery.  It is charming and you are ever with me, you are represented throughout the house, it is comfortable and pleasing to me.  You are the bountiful Mr. Bountiful.
        One of my cats is Mr. Poo.  He was a barn kitten, discovered in the apple orchard nearby.  A German Shepherd was throwing him into the air and when the kitten survived the abuse, the dog had great respect for him and accepted him as a friend.  The man who owned the orchards refused to let him into the warmth of the house in late fall.  Being a fool about animals, I was victimized by the sad eyes that peeked into the owner's window as he clung to the door.  So I brought him home. 
      When he got into the coziness of this house and knew he could use a box, he made a decision that he would never set foot outside again, ever.  There was an imprint on his brain that earth was a more desirable toilet than kitty litter.  So he used my plants, thus earning his name, which was formally registered at the veterinarian's as Mr. Poo.  Kenneth says he feels a little silly when he takes him there, two grown men referring to a cat as Mr. Poo. 
                                                                 
KENNETH AND MAGGIE
       Barbara is so supportive of everything I do, a true friend without whom I would never have found a path to you.  And what a loss that would have been.  You have enriched my days, brought a newness to me; you are there to hear my chitchats deposited in brain cells to be recalled for you.  You have brought a child-like response to my foolishness with wonderful giggles and twinkling eyes.  Deep thanks for all that.
        Do be careful not to breathe in this cold air.  Be like Charlie, our fat cat who thinks he wants to go out.  He hurries to the door, which is automatically opened by his obedient slave.  He sniffs the air, marking space with his affirmative head movements.  He hangs onto the edge of the step, takes another whiff, retreats to the house mumbling to himself, “frig it,” and I hear only “frigid” and encourage him to use the box. . .
January 30, 1988
Darling Man,
                           
FLOYD'S BACK YARD, 100 PAUL REVERE ROAD 
 NEEDHAM, MASSACHUSETTS
                             

 
                             




          Your letter moves and delights me.  You do more for my ego than a Southern exposure.  A Southern exposure is what you mentioned as welcoming you on your return from the hospital.  I think of it often, especially when watering my plants in the solarium.  How fortunate you are to have a Southern exposure and a flourishing garden.  And a shrimp on the shrimp plant you gave me.
      Thank you for that, thank you so very much.  Where could I begin to list your gifts to me, topping it all with your understanding and love. 
      Here is a picture of Charles, who is uninhibited about posing for pictures like this one.   He is a very solid cat.  He cannot be picked up, which becomes a problem when he has to go to the vet for his yearly physical.  Charles is very slippery and very heavy.  The only carrier he fits into is a “top loader,” so that means lifting Charles, pushing him into this carrier while he extends all four legs outside of it.  Pushing in one leg at a time is useless because meanwhile he has found a way to escape to parts unknown.  A call to the vet to make another appointment.  Charles laughs, covering his chuckles with his white mittened paw.
      “Outwitted her again,” he’s thinking.  When the day arrives, it takes two of us to push and shut the top quickly while Charles cries out in pain and frustration.  He continues to wail in the waiting room.  When he is finally on the examining table, he cries to get back in the carrier.  Other than that Charles is a delight, treating my legs to strong, firm massages when I stand near the cupboard at meal time.  
      He can catch food that is tossed to him in his mouth.  He could get very fat this way because it is so funny to watch his antics.  I would love to have him sit on my lap, but Charles insists on being loved from above, responding to touch only if he is not lifted.
     Barbara tells me you are not well and I want to know EXACTLY what is wrong, why the hospitalization did not do what we had hoped, how you are truly feeling, what the prognosis is.  Do you hear me?   EVERYTHING.  Do not be stoic, share your discomfort as much as you share your radiance.  Is that too much to ask?  At this stage in your development, you can shed your protection of others and open up.  Then we will be able to send healing energy to a specific destination.  Sermon ended.
      Tonight is the beginning of “Voices and Visions” on Ch 2.  We will watch it together, you and I.  I wish I had recorded “The Whistling Detective” that was on three Saturday evenings, very late.  I got so caught up in it, could not go downstairs to tell Kenneth because of reluctance to miss a word.  It was very intellectual, clever, funny, with many subplots and intrigue.  The second, third, and concluding nights Kenneth watched each two and a half hour episode with me.
      One more request.  Will you be my valentine?  My love, my love, Maggie

To Floyd’s nephew
February 24, 1988
      [Floyd died at 11:30 this morning.]                                                                             
      I will take a leaf from my guru's book and think of how much I have to be grateful for.  Fifty years of unstinting friendship, starting in Room 218 where inspiration bloomed before and after class.  The renowned blackboard "jottings" that greeted us every week.  His appointing me as his secretary my senior year, enabling me to see him regularly although Miss Rideout was my English teacher.  His always being there as decades passed, supportive and non-judgmental.  His concern not only for me but also for my family—caring when we suffered, rejoicing when we triumphed.
      His answer to my mid-life cry for help, "Where do I go from here?"  "Travel!"  The joy of seeing so much of the world I would have missed, had he not been my friend.  Accompanied by the best possible guide, my guru himself. 
      Then there was his courage when he became ill in India and had to leave the Smithsonian Study Tour.  How brave and uncomplaining he was.  I worried when it took so many months for him to recover.  And yet, how much more of him we were granted— another 12 years.  The list of superb restaurants we visited became pages long.  How many women are blessed with so wise and congenial an escort?  Maggie, for one, whose mischievous company and culinary treats thrilled him.  How could he help but love her?   
    My October 1973 letter to Floyd concludes, "If I were 70 and could return to any age I desired but must live through the years ahead of me as I did before, I would go back no further than fifty.  That was when I was born . . . with your help, Dr. Rinker."
   Farewell, dear Floyd. . . .

3 comments:

  1. Hi Barbara -

    Loved reading about your friends Maggie and Floyd! One of these days, I'm going to try and redo the beautiful poems of your mom's on my blog, and post a link on each one of them to your blog...

    This beautiful site you have created is too much of a haven to keep all to myself!

    Love always,

    rhapsody

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oooo!

    I think I tweeted this on Twitter as well! I hope it took! =D

    <3

    rhaps

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Paige -

    So glad you enjoyed description of my high-school English teacher Floyd Rinker and the friend who charmed him with her letters and chocolate treats mailed regularly to his Needham address.

    ReplyDelete