A call from Timmy, asking if I’d talked to his dad.
“Not today, but I saw him yesterday afternoon. Watched him go through his paces with the walker at a parking lot.”
“Well, something happened last night. Dad called and said they were going over to Ted’s building to look through the stuff that’s stored there. He asked if I’d be interested in any of the furniture they’d be leaving behind. I said no, my house was already full of second-hand junk, and there was nothing I needed. Then Aliceann comes on the line and says there’s some really nice glass end tables, and I said no, I don’t need any more stuff.
“I was feeling tired, and it’s been bugging me ever since they came up here with every last thing they owned. I said I know you’ve got Kathie’s cellar full of things. It’s going to take a long time to sort it out.
“Then Aliceann says, ‘Well last July Kathie and Frank made us put all our things into a truck and left us with a practically empty house.’
“I blew up at that because I can’t stand it when they criticize Kathie and Frank after all they went through trying to help them out. I said, ‘Kathie is the most unselfish, most generous person I know, she made incredible sacrifices for you and Dad and all your damn animals, and it kills me to have her so unappreciated.’ I said, ‘If it weren’t for your extravagance and all those goddamn dolls, my father wouldn’t be so broke.’
“She got real huffy and said who did I think I was talking to, and then she put Dad on the line. He said, ‘What’s going on, what are you saying?’ I could hear Aliceann in the background saying ‘he’s accusing me of spending all your money on dolls.’
“Dad said this wasn’t true, she’d sold most of her dolls, and anyway, she’d paid for them herself, every one of them. He said, `You know I’m going to be really poor now, poorer than I’ve ever been. I guess Jody Thaxter will drive our car down to Florida, so we won’t have to pay for that.’
“I said I didn’t want to talk about it any more, we’d have to talk some other time. After we hung up I was still mad for a couple of hours, but then I began thinking about what a good dad he had been, all the things he did for us, the jalopies he let me buy, the motorcycles, the help he’d give me when I’d take off for Haight Ashbury or Florida and then call him and want to come home. He always said yes, never gave me a hard time.”
“I was the one who gave you a hard time, wasn’t I? I remember telling Dad you should jolly well take the bus instead of coming home in style on a plane.”
“Yes, you used to carry on and yell and it didn’t faze me the way it did when Dad talked to me quietly and reasonably and gave me a better perspective on what I was doing with my life. I felt so bad about the way I’d cut him off on the phone last night that I went into the bathroom and cried.”
Kathie calls to tell me she and Frank were on their way out the front door when Ed and Aliceann stopped them, wanting to know if they would be interested in the belongings they weren’t keeping.
“We were late for a 9:30 appointment with Frank’s doctor about his bone bruise, and then he had to get me to B. U. in time to meet with my students. I told them we didn’t have time to talk, we were already behind schedule and in a rush. It’s a shame because only a few days ago I had been pushing them to get busy and start making decisions, and when they try to do this, they get rejected, first by Tim and then by Frank and me.”
“Do you know if Timmy has called to apologize yet?” I asked.
“I don’t think so. I can tell Dad feels terrible about the whole business and is all the more convinced the family is conspiring against him.”
Out to Westwood for my usual Friday morning visit. First I go looking for Kathie and Frank and find them sitting at the round table. Kathie is having a late breakfast of cinnamon toast. I begin to talk about Timmy’s conversation with Aliceann, but Kathie holds up her hand and asks me to say no more. I look over at the double fireplace and whisper, “Do you think Ed can hear me?”
Frank, meanwhile, has stood up and says he has a couple of errands and will be back in about 20 minutes. Then Kathie tells me why she didn’t want me to discuss anything to do with her dad and Aliceann in front of Frank.
“He is totally devastated by what’s happened. It’s too painful to him to talk about their moving out or even think about it. He’s blocking out the whole traumatic experience as best he can and carrying on with his life.”
When Frank returns with his cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts, he gives us a smile and walks up the hall to the study he shares with Kathie. “He’s all right, Mom,” she says. “I can tell.”
“That’s a relief,” I say, grateful for her reassurance. “I’ll be more careful after this.”
I slide open the kitchen door and have a quick visit with Aliceann. I tell her how much I enjoyed the spaghetti sauce she gave me last week. Being Aliceann, she promptly whips another container out of the freezer for me to take home. Collecting Kathie’s grocery list, she leaves to have her hair done and to food-shop for both families.
I head for Ed’s study and show him three cards for Aliceann’s birthday the next day. He chooses the one with the cat looking into the goldfish bowl. What a time he has trying to open it to see the message inside. My Mr. Fix-it ex-hubby, on whom Blake depended every year to assemble Christmas presents for his children, can’t even open a greeting card without an enormous amount of effort.
Then Ed reminds me about his frustration with being unable to write. Gripping a pen with his sausage fingers, he demonstrates what he means on a scrap of paper. He begins shaping the letters of my name and laboriously forms a fairly legible “Barbara,” but then the pen tapers off after the “M” for my last name. The wobbly line looks like an electrocardiogram of someone’s heart, slowing down to its final beat.
“I can start out all right, but then my fingers get tired or something. It’s the same way when I use the walker at the parking lot. I go around a couple of times, and then I’m too tired to take another step.”
I say he’ll be able to practice walking every day once he gets to Florida’s warm climate, and this will surely build up his endurance. As if I knew what I was talking about. But you have to put the best possible light on his prospects, even if you have your doubts.
“I see you brought one of your folders,” Ed says. “What do you have for me this time?”
“It’s a letter you wrote my mother when you sold the island property. She saved it, and I found it among her keepsakes after she died . . . “
North Terminal Machine Co., Inc.
November 26, 1954
As Barbara has probably told you, we have finally sold the island after getting the price I always thought it was worth. Barbara is sending Dick and his wife a thousand dollars, and also Janeth and Walter five hundred. I am enclosing with this letter five hundred, which we feel very strongly you should keep and use for yourself—not give to anyone else.
Barbara and I are leaving for a short vacation on Friday, December 3, and returning in time for Christmas. Although Barbara, the kids and I shall miss you during the holidays, we can’t help but envy you for spending the winter where it is warm.
Inasmuch as I can’t see you to tell you in person, I hope that Isha, the world’s nicest mother-in-law and practically my second mother, has a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s. We are all looking forward to having you with us again in the spring. Until then— Love, Eddie
“You certainly knew how to write then,” I say, but Ed’s expression tells me this is of little comfort.
“Would you like to hear Mom’s answer, or are you getting too sleepy?”
“No, my eyelids are a little tired, but I’m awake. Read on, McDuff.”
November. 30, 1954
Winter Park, Fla.
I have at last parachuted back to earth. It took twenty-four hours for me to float down—it really did. I couldn’t even attempt to write you although I wanted to at once. I was afraid I’d embarrass you by speaking too much of my heart to you who cover up your sentiments with gaiety or playful brusquerie. I know you well, for David did the same thing. I wear my heart as a lapel ornament too often, and so consequently I lose it or it gets brushed a bit hard by some innocent passerby. I am now trying my best to control the flood of adjectives and impetuous phrases which are natural to me.
Therefore, speaking with the calmest judgment which I can summon to my garrulous typewriter I want to make an understatement to end all understatements: You, Ed, are a source of pride and joy to me constantly. I delight in your success, I share your every pleasure, I applaud with true appreciation your growth in all good things of the mind and soul. I feel that Barbara is the luckiest of girls to have sensed in you long before I did the qualities that are stable and growing.
Living with you in the summer, I sometimes marvel at your handling of complex situations. You and Barbara are both more adult than I despite the disparity of age. I feel that I fail to be wise many times. So your letter is reassuring; it makes me feel that you are a good forgiver! That you can care for me not for my all-too-few virtues but in spite of my many faults. Your letter made the check for five hundred feel like two cents. I so much more valued the former than the latter.
In accepting it I make an Indian giver of myself, for the land was your wedding gift. Barbara writes me that she had quite a time to get Janeth to accept the check she sent her. I can understand, and I honor her attempt to pay you back the loan you made her. However, I am very, very happy indeed that she yielded to Barbara’s persuasion, for she needs a washing machine and ironer, I think, and now she will surely get them.
Have fun on your trip, dear. I’m glad you are able to have a well-earned vacation and rest.
To my surprise, I start crying in the middle of this letter and can hardly get through it. I had read it to myself earlier without getting emotional. It has something to do with the contrast between the stolid figure beside me, nodding off in his wheelchair, and my dynamic young husband of long ago. Mother had thought—everyone had thought—even I had thought I’d ruined my life when I had to leave Smith because I was pregnant. Ed proved we were all wrong.
When I blow my nose, he raises his head and says, “I really did love your mother. If she were still alive, I’ll bet she wouldn’t be against me.”
“Ed, do you realize how paranoid you sound?”
“You’re not paranoid if you have good reasons for being paranoid,” says Ed.
I ask him if he’s heard from Tim. He says no, he hasn’t, and he feels very unhappy about his son’s harsh words to his wife. I say I am sure Tim will want to make amends.
“Could you find it in your heart to forgive him?” I ask, hoping to pave the way for an apology that is long overdue.
“Oh sure,” he says. “But I don’t know where the family gets this idea that all I’ve done is spend, spend, spend, year after year. It’s not true and it’s not fair. Well, piss on them!”
“You don’t mean that any more than you meant what you used to say about your mother’s grave before she died.”
“What was that? Oh, yeah, I remember. That was a terrible thing to say. I was wrong, she was a good mother, a poor, ignorant woman from Prince Edward Island who did the best she could with what little she and my father had during the Depression. She made great macaroni and cheese, even better than Aliceann’s. I don’t know why I was so unkind to her in later years.”
“Edward, she was a difficult woman to relate to. Don’t you remember how she used to talk non-stop and annoy you to death?”
“I should have been more patient. Now that I’m old, I appreciate patience almost more than love. There are only two people in this family that aren’t against me—you and Aliceann.”
“Kathie isn’t against you,” I say. “She accepts the fact that you want to move to Florida. She’s sad that she won’t be able to visit you in such a small house, but she still hopes you’ll come back here some day.”
“No, I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again, any of us. Aliceann will be happy because she has a lot of friends down there, she’s kept in touch, and she can’t wait to see them again. I won’t have anyone.”
“You’ll have Blake, only six blocks away, until he moves north in May.”
“Yeah, I’ll have him six months of the year,” Ed says.
Aliceann tells me not to forget the spaghetti sauce; Kathie and Frank are departing for Symphony Hall; I kiss everyone goodbye. Then I lean down to Edward’s wheelchair, put my arm around his shoulder and whisper in his ear, “You are loved by a lot more of us than you think.”
I call Tim at his office as soon as I get home. I say I think he shouldn’t postpone talking to his father, suppose he died all of a sudden, Timmy would regret for the rest of his life that he . . .
“But I did talk to him,” he interrupts, and I say, “Today? He said this morning he hadn’t heard from you.”
“It was a couple of days ago. He’s forgotten. Aliceann answered the phone, and I started saying I was sorry about what had happened. She says I should be, I had no right to talk to her that way. Her one-sided point of view set me off again. I said, `Aliceann, any time you criticize my sister, that’s the reaction you’re going to get.
“My words didn’t make a dent. She said she hoped I’d try to control my tongue in the future. Then she turned the phone over to Dad.”
“He has no recollection of talking to you. What did you say?”
“I more or less repeated what I’d said to Aliceann about Kathie. Then I told him how sorry I was that I’d hurt him. I said that when I was getting ready for bed, I began thinking of what a great father he had been. He still is. I told him I loved him, and he said he loved me, but he wished the family would be more understanding.”
It’s Saturday night, and I just talked to Ted about Ed and Aliceann’s visit to the storage space this morning. “Was anything accomplished?” I ask.
“I hardly know what to tell you. Most of the stuff they brought up here is mind-boggling. This whole thing is sad. It’s too bad, but it’s driving me crazy. I’m put in a position where I have to be `tough,’ as Dad puts it, but someone has to be or everything would go down the drain.”
“What are some of the things that boggle your mind?” I ask out of morbid curiosity.
“Well, his riding mower, for example. He bought it a couple of years ago for two or three thousand, and why he shipped it up here, I can’t imagine. He’ll never be able to use it again. He should have sold it and got at least $500. But that’s one thing Timmy will probably be glad to take off his hands.
“Then there’s an edging tool—a machine that does edging. Who’s going to use that? There’s an old mattress, about ten fishing rods for a big boat, a little outboard motor he’s probably had for 15 years. I said I could use that, the one I have keeps breaking down.
“But here’s the thing. It’s like, bite the bullet while you’re down there and make a lot of hard choices about what to sell or give away. Once a second truck came into the picture, I guess Dad figured he might as well use up all the space and take everything.
“Did I tell you he called me a few days ago, saying he wanted to explain his side of the story?”
I say no, I hadn’t heard about that.
“He says everybody hates him, and it’s true that he probably said he would help out with the expenses, but he had no idea Kathie would get in so deep. Then Aliceann wanted to talk to me. She said she is completely innocent in this mess. Nobody ever consulted her, they just went ahead and made all these arrangements, so it’s not her fault it didn’t work out.
- “I felt like saying, `You both knew this disaster could happen since 1990, when I warned you we couldn’t count on keeping the old tenants forever, but did you ever cut back on the spending and put something aside for the future? Never. You’re as much a part of this as anybody else.’ But I didn’t say it, of course.”