Friday, July 21, 2017


March 24
My contribution to the Malleys’ exodus is to meet Jody Thaxter—who will drive their car to Florida—at Blake and Jayne’s old house in Cohasset.  I’m not due until 1:30, so I have plenty of time to add several pages to my current writing project, hit the treadmill, haul out my 30-year-old vacuum cleaner (sometimes that’s as far as I get because it grows heavier every month), dust here and there, and admire my African violets blooming their bloomin’ hearts out (they like the view of the marina, love the glorious sunsets, but entreat me to get some potting soil because they need more root-room).  Thus goes the morning of an aging lady living alone and loving every minute of it except the vacuuming.  And maybe the dusting.  And the violets are lovely, but do they have to be so demanding?
On my way to Cohasset I get gas for the guzzler at the new exorbitant rate, and stop at the liquor store to collect some small cardboard cartons for Ed, who mourns about how frustrating it is to be trapped in his wheelchair, unable to help with the packing and truck-loading.  He can pack small items, like the contents of his desk but tells me he needs more boxes.
When Jody and I arrive in Westwood, the scene is chaotic.  A huge truck is backed up to the front of the apartment, and the driveway is so full of cars, Frank comes out to direct me into a grassy area.  Ed and Kathie are sitting on the ramp’s sunny platform, finishing their lunch and watching the dismantling of the apartment.           
“Look, Mom,” Kathie says, pointing.  I turn and see that the truck is already full of furniture, the most imposing piece being a sideboard massively stretched midway.  I wonder how Frank and his brother Jake ever managed to hoist it up there.  It is so big that nothing stored behind it is visible.  Jake is in charge of finding spaces for stacks of cartons and large paintings that Frank and Aliceann hand up to him.  One of the cartons includes the famous ashes of the previous pets.  When it actually came to burying the boxes, Aliceann couldn’t stand putting them into cold ground where there was no sign of a real pet cemetery with appropriate commemorative markers.  So, like the rest of the family, Strumfe 1, et cetera, will be returning to warmer climes.  With the rusty grapefruit picker no longer in evidence, I assume it’s on its way home, too.
The front door is blocked, so Ed wheels around the corner to the side door.  I open it and try without success to help him get over the threshold.  “You have to press down on the handles, Mom,” Kathie calls.  Pushing the handles down lifts the two front wheels, and a minute later Ed is in his bedroom.  All around us, more chaos reigns.  Big cartons, medium-sized cartons, and Aliceann’s arts and crafts are stacked in every room, including the kitchen.  A few paintings still hang lopsidedly on the walls, including the brazen nude that witnessed Ed and me glaring accusingly at each other.  I help Ed zig and zag his way to the bathroom, then spend a few peaceful minutes with Kathie.  She tells me her father took half of a new sleeping pill, then woke up and may have taken a whole pill, which the doctor didn’t want him to do.  The medication is very strong, so another half would have been sufficient.  The overdose made him so groggy in the morning that he had to go back to bed and sleep it off.  
She tells me her father said yesterday that he wants to come back to Westwood for a month this summer. 
“To escape the heat, I suppose,” I say. 
“No, it’s because he wants to see his family again.  He thinks Aliceann would enjoy visiting her mother while he’s away.  We’ll have him stay in our guest bedroom, since Jake will be in the apartment.  Anyway, I’d want to have him close by, in case he needs help.”
I hear Ed struggling to get his wheelchair from the kitchen to his study. I clear a path for him and wheel him over to his desk.  I show him the smallish empty cartons I have brought and he says put them anywhere I can find a spot.  Aliceann and Frank make trip after trip into the study, transporting Stuff to Jake, who stows it away in the truck’s “nooks and crannies.”  I notice that Frank is piling cartons on top of each other, including the empty ones I just brought.  I figure he is too numb at this point to be making any fine distinctions.  This is only the first of the two trucks he will be loading.
The return of the natives is such a complicated process, it’s almost impossible to describe, but I’ll try.  Someone is flying up from Florida to drive this truck back to Palm Beach Gardens tomorrow, and then Jake and Frank will load the truck that they’ll be driving to Florida on Sunday.
I tell Aliceann I’d like to help, but she insists I stay with Edward and keep him amused.   Ed informs me that he and Aliceann don’t like the house they’re moving into; they can tell from the snapshots that it’s too small.  “We’ll be buying a bigger place as soon as we can afford it."
I grit my teeth and say nothing, pushing my surge of annoyance to the back of my mind and reminding myself that Ed is not a selfish monster but a sick old man—a man who in happier days had welcomed into his household my mother, my second mother and childhood caretaker, Vaughan (whom I had promised a “place by the chimney corner” in her old age), my sister’s two children when she sorely needed a respite for a month, and my brother’s five-year-old daughter by his foundering first marriage, who lived with us for a year.  Ted tells me his father was equally generous to people less fortunate than he in his business life.
Jody comes in, gathers an armload for the truck, then returns and says he really should leave, he promised his girl he’d take her out to dinner.  I look at my watch and am shocked to see that it’s 4:30.  I’m supposed to pick up a friend in Weymouth at 5:00 for dinner and a movie, so I’d better get going, too.   The Friday night commuter rush will already be under way.  I lean over and kiss the back of Ed’s neck and massage his shoulders, and he says, “I know, I know.” 
Out in the driveway, Jody asks if he can follow me out to Route 95; I wish him luck on his journey and tell him to drive carefully.  I keep an eye out for the white van behind me, and when it takes the Braintree exit, I wave a cheery goodbye to the driver, who, I then notice, is not Jody but a girl with long dark hair.
Frank and Jake and the second truckload left Westwood early Sunday, arrived in Palm Beach Gardens last night.  Ed and Aliceann and the rest of the menagerie were picked up at 6:00 A. M. this morning and are now soaring through the air to Florida.  Calvin, annoyed at the lack of attention he was getting during the last-minute arrangements yesterday, hid himself for the day, but is part of the flying family.  Ed, for the first time in his life, I think, expressed concern about flying and said he would be nervous until he was safe on the ground.  Even when our Comanche crashed back in 1963, he only for an instant considered giving up flying.
April 2000
We hear that Ed fell the first day they arrived in North Palm Beach.  Aliceann couldn’t get him into his wheelchair, so she called Blake.  Between the two of them, they managed to hoist him into his seat.
“It was because we didn’t have any hand holds yet,” Ed says when I call, concerned. All these falls, but he never gets hurt.  I say I hope his luck holds.  I ask him how Blake is, and he says, “He’s not in a very good mood, I don’t know why.”  I muse to myself, “What could possibly have happened to put Blake in a bad mood?  Surely he didn’t mind being given the responsibility of coming over at six a..m.two days ago to supervise the removal of all the unwanted furniture in the house?  And could he possibly be nettled at being told the house he found for them is too small, too old, and too dirty?  Good old full-of-fun Blake?  Couldn’t be. 
Ed tells me they’re planning to take up the wall-to-wall carpeting and replace it with hardwood flooring, so he can wheel around the house more easily. 
“The grounds are very nice, I’ve been out there with my walker.  But the landscaping needs attention, and you know what that means—more money.”
I tell Ed Frank’s brother Jake has moved into the apartment.  It has a new refrigerator because Ed and Aliceann took theirs with them.  I don’t tell him how upset I was when I saw the gap in the wall.
“There’s a refrigerator in their new house, I saw it in the snapshots.  Why did they do that?” I asked Kathie.
“Because it’s theirs.  They brought it up from Florida.  Aliceann does so much cooking, she’s always had two refrigerators.”  I subside, recalling all the times I’d been gifted with her savory goodies.

It’s early in October, and Ed and Aliceann are still trying to wedge themselves, their pets, and their belongings into the too-small Florida house. He calls me and asks what I want to do about the old boat Logs.   There’s not a square inch of closet space to store them in.   
“Throw them out, I guess,” I say.  “But wait till I ask Kathie what she thinks."       
Kathie says she doesn’t believe anything like that should ever be thrown out. “Remember how terrible we felt when we learned that Ted Hughes had destroyed Sylvia Plath’s final two journals?”
 Aliceann ships the Logs to Weymouth.
July 28, 1955, Nantucket
For Happy Hour, Jayne had lovingly prepared two hollowed-out fresh pineapples and filled them with half a bottle of rum.  The idea was, the rum would absorb the pineapple flavor, but what happened was, the pineapple absorbed the run.  Oh, what a pair of drunken pineapples.
Had Happy Hour, cut-up lobster meat for the hors d’oeuvre, more drinks, then charcoal broiled tenderloin, spaghetti, tossed salad with Roquefort dressing.  More drinks.   After our usual very late dinner, we found ourselves having a long philosophical discussion on death and immortality of all things.  At 2:30 Blake summed up the topic: “Eventually you’re either 85 or dead.”   

October 12, 2000
Tomorrow will be Ed’s 85th birthday.  He has dropped his slogan, “How the mighty are fallen,” and adopted a new one.  Whenever he and I talk on the phone, he gives me a litany of his physical problems, the number of times he has fallen, all the things wrong with the Florida house and the accumulations of expenses he can’t afford.  But he invariably ends his complaints with “Oh well, it could be worse.”  He has made up with Blake, his family has not fallen apart, the new house and garage are stretching to hold the Precious Possessions, his bones and his sense of humor are still intact, and the temperature is blessedly hot.

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