Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Circa 1986   
Now that Jack and I have parted for good, I find my women friends are as much fun as men and seldom cause pangs or pain. Maggie and I were trying to analyze why our perspective has changed so radically. In our younger days, we decided, we were always competing with other women, inclined to see them as rivals and wary, therefore, of genuine closeness. I’m glad that nonsense is behind me. The cynic who said “Screw the Golden Years” must have been a youngster of fifty.

      Maggie is the catalyst of our group. She is outrageous, irreverent, generous to a fault, and politically perfect like me. Another lively friend in our Oriental brush class is Kathie Carr. When the three of us were driving to a restaurant recently, Kathie related the following vignette about her marriage:  
     “When I was forty-two I thought I was pregnant. That night my husband and I were sitting up in bed, reading. I said, `I think I’m pregnant. If I am, I’ll kill myself.’ Irving stared at me for  moment, then said, `I’ll help you.’”  

     When I mentioned that I was going to have an operation on my breast in March, Kathie exclaimed, “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner so I could start worrying about you?  I’m an Olympic champion worrier, you know.”  
     “It’s just a nodule; the doctor says not to lose any sleep over it. Besides, how can I complain when all my friends have overcome more serious problems? Sylvia lost both breasts, June a kidney, Maggie a lung, Kathie her uterous.”     
     “There isn’t a complete person in the whole art class!” Maggie chortled.
     Then we had a marvelous idea. We decided the three of us should troop down to Florida and have our faces lifted. A Pygmalion, that’s what we needed.
      “We’ll stay at Ed’s, and Aliceann will take care of us,” I said.
      “And wash our bandages,” said Maggie.
      "And Ed can pay the bills," Kathie added in her practical way.
      The hilarity was such that I don’t know how Kathie was able to concentrate on her driving.
Maggie and I were both gasping.
      “Maggie,” I wheezed, “I don’t know how you can laugh so hard with only one lung!”
       “What did you say? Only one lung?” Maggie whooped. It’s a good thing we had our seat belts on or we’d have been on the floor. My face hurt. I told my friends I would have to stop seeing them; I could feel my skin developing permanent puckers.
       Deep down, I know they’re worth it. And besides, there’s always Dr. Pygmalion.
To Ed and Aliceann
May 31, 1986
      My pal Maggie has a new kitten, fluffy white, which she has named Powder-puff. There are four other cats in the Manley household, plus Rascal, a golden retriever with a beautiful smile and a habit of nudging visitors in the crotch. I was never sure how to respond to this approach until Maggie told me her neighbor’s reaction—“Thank you!”  When Powder-puff isn’t bouncing around the house or rubbing noses with the other animals, she is stretched out next to the master.
      “I didn’t know how Ken would feel about another cat,” Maggie said, “but he fell for her right away. She lies on her back next to him, her tummy arched and her legs spread out like a whore. How could he resist?”
To Jack
September 13, 1986
      Since I last wrote my California pen pal, I bought an electric treadmill, fell and burned my knee when I tried to look at my watch (for a moment I visualized myself sliding along the belt and coming out a lot thinner than when I started), got cancer, had a lumpectomy, started radiation, finished orthodontia, finished radiation, started golfing mid-season, and wondered what was going on with you.
      Remember the lump you discovered that turned out to be benign? This one wasn’t. I’m lucky, though, to live in an era when doctors aren’t so quick to throw out the breast with the biopsy. They remove your lymph nodes, and if they’re okay you are spared chemotherapy and need only 35 days of radiation. I had no side effects except for irritation over the daily drive to Mass. General. I could have written you volumes about my operation, Jack. No, it’s too late now, I’m not going to tell you now no matter how much you beg.
      I’ll tell you this, the greeting card business thrived on the South Shore this spring. Three of us in Ellee’s Oriental brush class had operations one after another. On August 15 we were going to have a big party at the Hingham Yacht Club to celebrate our recoveries, but Kathie, our hostess, got a sore throat that wouldn’t go away. She asked her doctor if it could be cancer, and he said, “I don’t know.”  
      That’s what lawsuits have done to diplomacy, I guess. After nearly dying of fright, Kathie got better.
      Another good friend is Maggie Manley. She’s the type you like, Jack, a zany madcap with a racy Irish wit. She hasn’t the slightest awe of people in authority and expresses herself with uninhibited zest. Before she checked into Quincy Hospital, a Vietnamese anesthesiologist gave her a pre-op interview.
      “What sort of operation are you having?” he asked.
      “A crotch lift,” she said. The doctor ducked his head, snickered, and covered his mouth.
      “Do you have false teeth?”  “No, do you?”  The doctor giggled again.
      “Do you wear a hearing aid?” "
      The doctor was so charmed by this saucy patient that he dropped in to see her a couple of times after her operation.                               


      Maggie’s spontaneous witticisms enliven our art class; we all love her. Her husband has a matching sense of humor. She was planting rosebushes one afternoon when Kenneth came out to see what she was doing. 
       "Would you like some help?’ he asked. At that moment, Maggie committed an inadvertent social error.
      “A simple no would suffice,” said Kenneth.

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