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Sunday, July 23, 2017

(14) I HEARD ON TV THAT KENNEDY HAD BEEN SHOT. WHAT KENNEDY? WAS I FIVE YEARS IN THE PAST?


August 20, 1955, Cohasset to Sharks
     Temperature ashore expected to be in the high nineties.  I started calling prospective cruising companions at 9:00 this morning, wound up with the Whitcombs and Brewers.  Meanwhile Timmy cajoled me into cajoling his father into letting him and his sister join us.  I made him promise not to nag, not to keep asking questions, not to bother his father.
     “Is it all right if I think I see a whale to say, `Daddy, is that a whale’?”
     Whitey’s Whiteyish comment: “Don’t tell me we’re going to have children on board!”  
     Unsquelched, Vonnie announced that she was going up to the crow’s nest—“to lay some eggs.”   
           
                HOW DID VONNIE ACHIEVE THIS FEAT AT THE COHASSET 
              YACHT  CLUB?  A GIANT SIDEWAYS LEAP?  OR DID SHE FALL FROM THE SKY?
  
     I was telling Jill Whitcomb and Sally about the day Tim and Dennis Reardon took it into their heads to go rowing on the windiest, stormiest day of the season, and had just reached the point where Dennis fell over-board, when Jill said: “Should Vonnie be doing that?  I really don’t think she should be doing that, should she?”
     All we could see of Vonnie was her hands clinging to the railing at the bow.  The rest of her was dangling out of sight over the water.  We all shouted at her to get back on the boat, her father making the gruesome observation that if she lost her grip, she would fall under the boat and be chopped up by the propeller.  It took Vonnie a couple of minutes to pull herself up because her bathing suit got caught on something.  Timmy, shaken by his father’s remark, came and sat quietly beside me for five minutes.
     We tried for sharks with the harpoon, but had no luck.  Dead fish donated by a passing dragger gave us bait for the rod and reel.  This time we met with success and gave Bob Whitcomb lots of moral support as he waged his battle with this thug of the fish world.
     The children were thrilled, but Whitey kept saying, “When does the excitement begin?”  He is being very typical today.  He fondly referred to the shark as a “Timmy-eating shark.”  When the shark was close enough to the boat, Ed and Bob were able to tie a line around its tail--just in time, too, because it managed at the last minute to shake the hook loose.  Then we proceeded to drown it by dragging it behind the boat.
     My mother was distressed by our shark movies. They distressed me, too.  Grandson Teddy, environmentally-concerned vegetarian, will join our ranks if he ever reads this entry in the Log. 

May 11, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie
     Getting into harness after two slothful weeks in Fort Lauderdale was not an easy  transition.  On my first day home, I was so busy catching up on accumulated responsibilities, by nightfall I thought it was Tuesday, couldn't understand why the TV wasn't come in loud and strong with Tuesday type programs.  Missed half of Rowan and Martin before I got my inner clockworks straightened out.
     Joyce called and wanted to know if I could take care of Michael while she and Ted were in Florida.  Well, certainly I could if someone would give me a magic carpet big enough for Michael and a babysitter, but otherwise how could I possibly fly from one chore to the next with a three‑year ‑old  clinging to my mini‑skirt?  I came up with a solution:  Auntie Janeth.
     She said she'd be glad to take him, and guess what!  He was so cute and well‑behaved she's ready to take him again any time Joyce wants.
     Jan brought Michael over for a visit a few days ago, and as they pulled into the driveway I was frantically reading the Polaroid instructions, thinking I could at last comply with  your  request for snapshots.  I kept telling myself if I could fly an airplane I ought to be able to operate a camera.  After another half hour of study, I produced my first picture, starring Michael Crosby.  There was one trouble: the star didn't want to be a star, he wanted to be a producer.
     "Let me take a pitchah," he insisted, while I cleverly snapped him and then allowed him to manipulate the levers.  Michael was not to be fooled, however.  I had the camera in my lap and was admiring the second snapshot.  ("Look, Michael, here you are, sitting in the wheelbarrow.")
     "Take a pitchah," he said, reaching for the camera, and before I could say Jack Robinson or Michael Crosby, he pushed the button and took a close‑up of my elbow.  Good likeness, don't you think?
     Michael has a puzzlement:  he's been wondering who the heck I am, anyway.  These familial relationships can be confusing, even to a bright toddler like my grandson.  He dutifully called  me Grandma Malley, but the next day when I was talking to Aunt  Jan on the phone, she said,. "Just a minute, Barb, Michael wants to say  hello."
     "Hello, Barbara," says Michael.  "I love you."
     After we hung up, Jan told me later, Michael furrowed his brow and inquired, "Who is she?"
     "Well . . . " Jan said, wondering how she could make it  clear, "she's my sister . . . and she's Linda's aunt  . . and  she's your grandmother."
     "But who is she?" he repeated, apparently having decided he already had one grandmother.  Just who was this lady who appeared every now and then, exercising grandmotherly prerogatives such as swooping down on a person and giving him a hug.
    When I pulled up in front of Jan’s house that evening, Michael ran to the door with Linda following and called, “Hi, Aunt Barbara.”
     Linda played with Michael while Jan and I had a cocktail and chatted.  She asked about you, and I told her you'd be back soon for the summer.  Of course I referred to you as Vonnie, but your son's memory cells must have made some sort of connection because he suddenly looked up at me and said with conviction, "You're Grandma!"
     All this is probably making you miss him more than ever, but I feel safe in drawing these verbal sketches since you will be seeing him so soon.  He is a happy, well‑adjusted little boy, and I do think his living with Ted and Joyce is the best possible  arrangement until you can provide a home for him.   
May 14, 1968                                            
Westwood
To Vonnie
      This morning Timmy showed up with his grandmother. "Even if he looks like a hippie he's a very nice boy," Mimi said.  "My, you are wearing your skirts short, aren't you,  Barbara, I can't wear them that short, I'm an old lady, you know, 76 years old, Nettie says my coat is too long, she thinks I  should shorten it, do you think it's too long?"
     Tim gave me a wink and left for his flying lesson.
      "I'm going to leave it the way it is, I don't care what  Nettie says, I'd look foolish, I don't think I should show my knees at my age, I like your house, Barbara, it looks lived in, I  like a house that looks lived in."
     At the moment our house looks lived in by an absent‑minded professor.  Pictures are still leaning against the wall where the paper‑hanger left them a month ago.  All the doors were taken off their hinges by carpet layers a week ago. 
     Kathie had called earlier with a list of groceries, so I brought Mimi with me to Framingham, stopped at the market, picked up some things at the cleaners, and arrived at Kathie's as she was wheeling out to the car to leave for an afternoon class.
      She had been working all morning on the pilot study for her dissertation and didn't have time to say more than hello, how are you, and goodbye.  Mimi thought she looked terribly thin ‑‑ her   schedule has been so busy the last few weeks, I know she hasn't  been eating properly.  We're going to work on building her up this summer.
May 21, 1968    
San Francisco
From Vonnie
     WOW!  I'm so excited I'm shaking.  Bobby Kennedy just drove by the bank and I actually shook hands with him.  I was gonna  tell him whose daughter I am, but his car went by too fast.
     This morning on my way to work someone handed me a flyer that said RFK would be in the vicinity of the bank at 12:00.   From 12:00 to 12:25 I was hanging out of my ninth story window in  hopes of getting a glimpse of our young man from Boston.  At 26 minutes after 12:00 I couldn't stand the suspense any longer and asked my boss if I could go.  He said yes, with a sigh. "That's better than having you drop nine stories into his lap." 
      I ran to the elevator, which inevitably stopped at every floor, and dashed out into the mobbed street.  An open car full  of photographers passed by, then a small orange jeep with bikini-clad broads, another car full of reporters, and finally Bobby, dark‑tanned, with sparkling white teeth, longish strawberry blond hair, and a magnificent smile.  He was standing in the back of a  limousine, and as it drove by I held out both hands and he shook  them vigorously.  I was gonna pull him out and run away with him,  but a big hefty gorilla was stationed at his feet, his arms around RFK's knees, just so idiots like me wouldn't try anything foolish.
     If he's elected he's going to end the war in Vietnam, so if he's nominated, and if I'm ever in one place long enough to register, he'll get my vote.  Ever since I came to San Francisco, I've really taken an interest in what's going on in the world.  I never thought I'd see the day when I'd turn on television to see the news.
      Is Brother Tim staying there for the summer?  How is K-K doing?  Tell them I miss them.  Dad, give my love to my darling older brother and ask him to give Michael a hug and a kiss from his mother.  Love to you all.
May 22, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie
     A few weeks ago I spent several hours at Kathie's house, typing up pages for a contest (sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation) as fast as she could write them.  At 7:00 we were still hard at work when Dick walked in, looking for attention; I told him to go look at the new issue of  Playboy.  That kept him busy for about fifteen minutes, then back he came to Kathie's study, rumpling her hair, asking her what she was doing, and  acting like a neglected husband.
     "Okay, I'm done, I'm exhausted, that's it," Kathie said.
     "But you can't stop there!" said Mama, descendent of a long line of slave‑drivers.  "You need a concluding paragraph.  Tell how you've been putting these ideas into practice at B. U. or something like that to sum up."
     So she summed it up and it came to one hundred and fifty dollars and third prize winner out of 138 finalists!  She got a personal letter from Eunice Shriver and a check from the J. P.  Kennedy Foundation.  I feel so proud of her.  I'm also pleased with Playboy and myself for the not insignificant part we played in her success.
May 29, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie  
     This will be just a scribble so I can get this check off to you.  I think you are doing the right thing in casting your lot toward semi permanent diggings in California.  I can tell by the tenor of your letters and the lilt in your telephone voice that San Francisco is doing good things for you.  I under- stand how torn your are about Michael, but Ted and Joyce are taking good care of him, and meanwhile you have this chance to get your life together. 
      I was particularly glad to hear you've cut down on the drinking and partying.  I've seen too many women fall victim to this weakness.  It's a vicious circle, a not-so-merry-go-round kind of lifestyle, and since it's the only life we're going to have, why mess it up?  I sound like Carrie Nation herself, but you know my heart's in the right place.
     How `bout that great victory for McCarthy?  I realize Bobby is a personal friend of yours but maybe you'll get to shake Gene's hand, too.
     About Brother Tim:  his second motorcycle has been stolen.  I won't go into the details of arguments, opinions, advice from  Kathie and Dick and me, but I loved Dad's remark last night when I  told him everyone thinks he's too easy on Tim.
     "What can I do?" he said.  "It's like saying to the tide, `Don't come in any more, I'm not going to put any more sand on the beach."
June 5, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie 
     I'm so sick I don't even know what month it is.  I started to write "Feb." but it can't be Feb. because I'm writing this by the pool, a boy is mowing the lawn, Miette is tirelessly looking for her froggie friend . . . and Senator Kennedy lies with a  bullet in his head.  America the Beautiful.  That should make the Hit Parade as the funniest song of the year.
     I know how sick you must be feeling, darling.  You held his strong young hands in yours only three weeks ago.  Why didn't you run off with him, take him to some safe, happy island where 
 people have love in their hearts instead of hatred and murder.  That’s all.  There's no more to say.
June 6, 1968
San Francisco
From Vonnie 
     I wanted to let you know I'm sharing in the grief of the world.  I woke up yesterday and turned on the television to watch the Today Show while getting ready for work and heard that Kennedy had been shot.  I couldn't believe my ears.  What Kennedy?  Was I five years in the past when John Kennedy was assassinated?  What was happening?  Suddenly shock and fear took the place of bewildered grogginess.  As the story unfolded, I found myself wandering around in circles, tears streaming from my eyes.  Where is this great country headed?  I could feel a sense  of disaster gripping my insides.
     I went to bed last night with a prayer in my heart that this dedicated man would pull through and resume his vital role in life. When I woke up, it was late, and I had to hurry to make the bus. Grabbed a seat and . . . there it was . . . in the hands of the woman next to me . . . KENNEDY DEAD!  I gasped out loud, and again felt terror and tears clutching my heart.  Oh God.  Why?  I'm so afraid, so alone.  What must the Kennedys feel?  Here is a family that has faith in a Supreme Being, yet they have suffered painfully over and over again.  How do they explain it to themselves?  What makes them go on believing, accepting.  I just don't understand.
     I'd better get back to work.  This letter is pretty screwed  up anyway.  I never was very good at putting in writing my deepest, most sensitive feelings, but they're there, and I want to try to share them with my dear wonderful parents.  I want you to know me and experience with me, even in my poorly written words.  I love you.
October 5, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie
     Three weeks ago I started classes at Northeastern, following a suggestion of Kathie's.  My courses are in psychology and sociology, and I'm as excited as a schoolgirl.  School‑mom? 
      My sociology teacher told the class to write a family observation paper on a family we knew very, very well.  She said we could change the names of the characters, if we wished, to preserve our anonymity.  I was raring to go until she stipulated that the paper shouldn't be longer than a dozen pages or so.  How can you write about six people, their relationships and interactions, in a mere twelve pages?  I finally boiled the "Marden" family down to thirteen pages, but it took me ten cannibalistic days to do it.
     Then my psychology professor returned my "autobiography" with the comment that he wanted my story, not my family's.  "But  my story is my family," I argued Timmyishly.  Maybe if Timmy had been with me, the two of us could have beaten him down, but Mr.  Kraus insisted I must start over and reveal my personal feelings about past experiences.  I've been working 38 hours a day on that  project, while my abused-sounding husband wants to know  what I'd do if I were taking four subjects instead of only two.
October 28, 1968
San Francisco
From Vonnie
     Got your letter last week and welcomed it with open arms.   It's about time you sent me something other than a few scribbles.  I don't know what it is with you, Mom, but you keep writing and  giving me bits and pieces of events, assuming you've already  mentioned them before but leaving me utterly bewildered.  For instance, last week you sent me a check and along with it a torn scrap of paper informing me that Dad's operation was a success and he'd be coming home the following day.  Heh, heh.  What operation, Dum- dum?  I've been suffering all weekend.  Why was my daddy in the hospital?  Why is the doctor keeping an eye on his ear?  What's going on back there?  When did Timothy leave to come out here?  How did he get here?  Plane, car, bicycle?  Or did he walk? 
October 30, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie
     Oh.  I thought you knew about Dad's operation.  He finally got an ear infection that didn't clear up as quickly as usual, so the doctor chipped away at the excess bone growth and stuffed a corncob in there.  That's what your father says it feels like, and he's very unhappy because the corncob won't be removed for another week. 
     To answer your question about how Tim got to San Francisco  ‑‑ plane, car, bicycle, or did he walk?  From what I remember of the letter he finally sent us, the answer is yes. 
      We loved your drawing of the doctor keeping an eye on Dad's ear.  I'm glad your sense of the
ridiculous is alive and well.
November 20, 1968
San Francisco
From Vonnie
      I'm glad you're glad I still have my silly sense of humor.  I never needed it more. It would help if breaking up with Russ had come at another time.  How will I get through Thanksgiving?  All I can think about is everyone else sharing the day with someone they care about. 
      I can handle the Russ situation beautifully until I go to bed.  Then I lie there and think night time is the worst time in the world for people who are lonely.  I haven't slept now for the better part of a week.
      Last night I kept thinking about my family.  Don't look at their faces, Vonnie.  Don't see Mom with her feet up on the footrest.  Don't see her reading a book or watching TV while Dad gazes fondly at her over the rim of his glasses.  Don't see Dad wandering around the machine shop with his hands in his pockets, waiting for Ted to play squash with him.  Don't see Michael sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner with Ted and his family -- drumstick in one hand and cranberry sauce running down the front of his new suit.
      Don't picture any of them because when you see their faces, it hurts.  That's when you pull across the curtain that blots everything out -- leaves only names with no faces.  I'm afraid.  Will I become hardened if I keep pulling the curtain?  Will I lose my sensitivity?  I use that standby curtain for more reasons than you'll ever know.
November 23, 1968
Westwood
To Vonnie
      It was a relief to hear your voice and know you and Russ have patched up your quarrel.  Dad and I were worried about you. We'll give you another call on Thanksgiving.
      I have finally found an interesting place to volunteer, as my Sociology course requires.  Every Monday I go to the Veteran's Day Center in Boston, established ten years ago as a sort of "halfway house" for mentally ill veterans well enough to be discharged from the hospital but not yet ready to face the outside world.  I had mentioned to one of the doctors after my first day that I was surprised the patients never swore.  I had figured in a group of twenty or thirty men I'd be exposed to some raw language but I'd just take it in stride.
     Dr. Bradbard explained that in general the men are too withdrawn and fearful to do anything so bold as to swear.   However, there was one patient, a Mr. Oliver. . . .
     I met Mr. Oliver for the first time last Monday when he asked me to get him a cup of coffee, then snapped that he wanted some fucking milk, too.
     I should have said brightly, "Sorry, all we have is Hood's," but with the doctor standing there two feet away, I  was too busy acting unconcerned to think of any smart rejoinders.
     Mr. Oliver followed me into the TV room where I'd been talking to a young man named Mr. Trask, who had been haltingly telling me of his past . . . what he could remember between the  blanked ‑out periods when he had amnesia.
     Mr. Oliver, a short, Mr. Peeperish looking type with big round glasses, sat down nearby, told me what his coffee tasted like, and asked me if I'd like him to screw me.
     "No thanks," I said politely.  Again, several comebacks occurred to me later, like, "Not just now, but I'd love a rain check." 
     Mr. Oliver said, "I've killed quite a few people, you know."
     "Really?" I asked, edging a little closer to Mr. Trask, who edged a little closer to the wall.
     "Two million," Mr. Oliver scowled.  "Sent `em all to the ovens.  Burned `em up."
     He is clearly the most disturbed of all the patients there.  Dr. Bradbard doesn't understand why he was released from the hospital and thinks he should be sent back.  Mr. Oliver is a Vietnam veteran, terrified that he'll have to return to combat.
     I feel so sorry for these guys.  I cope with my feelings by making jokes, but it would give me an enormous sense of accomplishment if I could help even one man build up enough confidence to return to a normal life.  My job, and that of the other volunteers, is to show them they can relate to people from the "outside."
     After Dad saw the doctor the other day, he came home and told me his hearing had been tested and it's better than ever.
     Deciding to put him to a test of my own, I said questioningly:  "Unphadundil prantivostic?"
     Without flickering an eyelid, he replied, "Take your clothes off and lie down and I'll show you."  
     Your father has more in common with Mr. Oliver than one might think.
December 3, 1968
San Francisco
      Wow!  Do I have exciting things to report.  Sunday night Barb and I decided to go to the Marina Lounge.  Neither of us had much money, but there was enough between us to go over the bridge to Sausalito and have a beer at Zack's.
      For some reason I was in a mood of all moods.  I just couldn't stop smiling.  When guys see a happy face, they automatically want to stop and talk to it, try to find out why the face is so happy.  I was having a ball trying to ward off three thousand gorgeous men. .I was standing smack in the middle of four guys who were feasting on my charming company when a huge, tall, blond, completely and utterly handsome fellow walked up and said, "All right, you guys, lay off.  My wife shouldn't be such an adorable flirt."
      Their eyes popped, and I said coolly, "Oh honey, you said you were going to let me have fun this Sunday and not bother me."
      His eyes popped, and then everyone started laughing.  His name is Christian, he's from Germany and has been here since 1952, speaks impeccable American, has been in Vietnam, was supposed to go back but got in a motorcycle accident and can't go back until he's repaired.  Whew.  I can't get it all out fast enough.  As soon as he’s discharged from the Marines, he's going to Columbia for his Master's in International Relations.
      He's 25, tired of running around and hustling girls, but is intrigued with me, loves my personality and wants to see me again.  He asked me out for dinner tomorrow night.  Oh, please let him show up.  I love him. 
      I haven't been this happy for a long time.  Maybe there's hope for me yet.  And if there's hope for me, you know what that means.  Michael and Vonnie together.  You'd love Christian.  He's honest, ambitious, sensible, and eeeeeeee!  Beautiful.  What can I say, I've only known him for a few hours.
      Thus ends another suspenseful episode in the life of Stephanie Vaughan Malley Crosby.  What's new with you folks?  I love you.                      
January 10, 1969
San Francisco
From Vonnie
     Things are still going unbelievably well out here for me. 
      Mom, you always said I should have a bunch of guys on the string, but I never thought I could do it.  It's scary.  Russ has never been more attentive.  I think he's worried -- with good reason.  Up until now I haven't been able to even look at another guy, let alone be interested in two.  He's had a perfect setup, sure that I'd be safely tucked away at home while he was playing the field.  Now he's beginning to feel the heat, and he doesn't like it.
      Tonight I'm going out with Christian.  Everything is coming at me so fast, I'm a nervous wreck.  I've always been a one-guy girl, but I have to admit I love the attention.  I've gone out a few times with John, one of the salesmen in the office. He tells me I'm one of the most charming, effervescent, outstanding girls he's ever met and says I can have anything I want.  What's going on?  I just don't believe what's happening to me.
      Joyce was thoughtful enough to send a picture of Michael.  She doesn't know how much it means to me; I look at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  Mommy, Daddy, I want him so much I can't stand it sometimes. 
January 14, 1969
San Francisco
From Vonnie
      It was really good to talk to you last night.  When I get like that I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you to turn to.  You're the greatest pacifiers in the world, better than my thumb ever was. 
      I try to be brave, but every once in awhile my steam engine blows a leak and it's all over but the crying.  I think being sick with the flu for so long wore me down, but mostly when I take inventory of myself, I get discouraged.  I want to be a good person for you and for Michael, but I don't live up to the standards I've set.  I'm a disappointment to myself, but what bothers me more, I'm a disappoint -ment to you.  You deserve better.  Maybe someday I can be the type of person you can be proud of.
      Thanks a million for the pictures of Michael.  He's really a beautiful little boy, ears and all.  God, he looks like his mother, lucky fellow.  I miss him so much.  I realize it's best this way, but I can't help regretting that I’m missing all this time with him.  I must admit he looks happy and loved.  And isn't that what's at stake?    

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