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Saturday, July 29, 2017

(5) ED IS REFUSING TO BE A GRANDFATHER.

     Vonnie’s friend Nancy Burns is a student at Emmanuel College, which is next door to the building where Vonnie has been seeing her psychiatrist. As we were getting out of the car, she said she wished she could find her friend, but she didn’t know where to look. Then we heard someone call to us.
     “Nancy!” Vonnie screamed, and the two of them hugged each other and practically cried with joy.      We had been parking weekly within a few yards of Nancy’s dorm.

     After our appointment with Dr. Meiss, the girls met outside and went to the dorm for a talk while I killed time looking at greeting cards in the local drug store. Nancy loved college, Vonnie reported later.

     “She thinks I should go, but the trouble is, I don’t see how I can bring up my marks enough. I wish I hadn’t let them slip. How is it you can do something like that to yourself and then later on wish so much you hadn’t.”

     “Why did you let them slip?”

     “It was my social life. My social life was more important to me than my studies. I just didn’t care about anything else.”

     Vonnie said Dr. Meiss asked her what sort of man she would like to marry.

     “I said I wanted someone like my father, someone who would love me and be kind, generous, thoughtful, intelligent, ambitious. She said, `What do you mean by ambitious?’ What does anyone mean by ambitious? I felt like saying, `If you don’t know what ambitious means, you’d better go back to school.’”

     Dr. Meiss asked Vonnie if she thought her father was perfect. “I said, `Well, nobody’s perfect, of course, but I think he’s a perfect husband.’ She’s always asking me what makes me think you and Daddy get along so well. I say, `I don’t think, I know.’”

     These psychiatrists and their textbook deductions. The fact that Ed and I don’t loathe each other must be a big disappointment.



     We’ve called it quits with the shrink. I doubted she’d had the slightest beneficial influence on Vonnie.

     “Mummy, I don’t want to see her anymore,” Vonnie said after our last appointment. "She just doesn't understand our family at all. I can’t stand the way she magnifies things. I told her awhile ago that it made me feel rebellious when you got mad at me for getting into trouble, but when Daddy spoke to me quietly, I felt sorry for what I had done. She keeps coming back to that again and again. I keep telling her it wasn’t that important, but she has the idea I went out and got into trouble because you made me feel rebellious.

     “I said to her, `You don’t understand me at all, you don’t understand what my mother and father are like or anything about us.’ She said, `It takes time,’ and I said, `Well, I’ve been coming here for two months and you still don’t understand us.”
VONNIE POSING AT SIXTEEN
     Ed agreed that we’d given her a fair trial, and it was a waste of time and money.

     It's too bad Vonnie didn’t get along as well with Dr. Meiss as she does with her guidance teacher.

     “I talked to him for 45 minutes today, and it was such fun, Mummy! I can tell he likes me a lot, he really appreciates my personality, and he’s always laughing at my jokes. He asked me what I planned to do after I got out of Junior College and I said I was thinking of going to modeling school. I felt sort of foolish when I said it, so I looked at him like this.” She fluttered her lashes and crossed her eyes in a half-demure, half crazy-as-a-coot manner. Mr. McCallum laughed and laughed and he said, `You know what I think you should be, Vonnie?' I said, `An actress,' and he said, `How did you know?' How did you know?' I said, `My mother's been telling me that for years. She thinks I'm the Lucille Ball type.' He said he thought you were absolutely right."

Circa 1965
     A few hours ago I wouldn’t have believed I could have such a change of heart. I got up this morning, feeling more discouraged than ever about Vonnie. Then Bob’s mother called. She said the kids had just told her they were getting married and of course it was a shock, Bob was her only son, and she knew how disappointed we must feel, too. It wasn’t a very good way to start out, but after all, what was done was done. After the wedding, she and her husband were going to have a little reception so all Bob’s relatives — “and we have a flock of them!”  —could meet the bride.
“If you and your husband would care to join us, we’d love to have you—and anyone else who might like to come would be most welcome. Our doors are always open.”
     This warmhearted person changed my point of view completely. I knew changing Ed’s would be a tall order, however.
     “Now honey, before you fly off the handle and say no, will you listen to me for a minute? I just had a nice long talk with Mrs. Crosby and —“
     “Who?”
     “Mrs. Crosby. Bob’s mother. You know, Vonnie’s prospective —“
     “Oh. What did she want?” (Growl.)
     “Well, she sounds like a very nice person. She and her husband were disappointed just the way we were, but she says what’s done is done, so after the wedding they’re having a reception and they want us to—“
     “No! I won’t go! I positively won’t do it!”
     He didn’t hang up, though, so I kept talking and he said, “Boy, have you changed. What’s come over you all of a sudden?”
     “It’s Bob’s mother. Don’t you see how right she is? Sure, maybe all our gloomy predictions will come true, maybe they’ll be fed up with marriage inside of a week, but it isn’t going to help them if we turn our backs on them.”
     “Okay, okay,” he finally said in his I’ll-never-understand-women tone of voice. “I’ll go. For your sake. Why should I make things any tougher for you than they’ve been already.” 
“WHY CAN’T IT LOOK THE WAY
IT DID YESTERDAY?"

     Vonnie asked if her light gray suit and my white blouse would be appropriate, and I said I thought it would be fine. Mother decided to wear her teal blue suit and a flowered hat. I chose my green wool, the one Ed doesn’t like but everybody else does. We took turns using the iron. Vonnie set her hair three different times and still wasn’t satisfied. “Why can’t it look the way it did yesterday?”
     She brought me a sheaf of her drawings. “There won’t be room for them in the cttage. Where should I put them?”
     "In one of the third floor cupboards, I guess."
     “All right.” She gathered up her sketches, then said wistfully,          “Will you go up and look at them once in a while?” I promised I would.

     The justice of the peace, Mr. Christianson, performed a brief but beautiful ceremony. Weddings are always beautiful if you really listen to the words.
      At 8:00 P.M. the “clan” began assembling at the Crosbys’ house. Ed and I could hardly believe what they had accomplished on such short notice. Aunts and cousins, contributing platters of lobster rolls, sandwiches, and homemade cookies, had decorated the table and placed Aunt Gert’s three-tiered wedding cake in the middle. All of Bob’s relatives were delightful, outgoing, down-to-earth people. I was happy we hadn’t missed the event, despite all the misgivings.
     When we made our farewells, Ed kissed Vonnie, to whom he had barely spoken for the last week, and shook hands with Bob.

     Ed and I looked through the nursery window at Michael Wayne Crosby, and I murmured to Ed,          “Isn’t he beautiful?”
     “Humph! I’ve had a million of ‘em.” .
     “Don’t exaggerate, dear, it just seems like a million.”
     Vonnie’s report after Michael’s first feeding. “He’s a little pig. He finishes his bottle in ten minutes flat. They leave the babies with you for an hour, so I had all that time to play with him. He could only get one eye open. It was dark blue. At the end of the hour he managed to get the other eye open. It was dark blue too.”
     I asked Vonnie if she was going to have the baby circumcised and learned she didn’t know what the word meant. After I enlightened her, I suggested she talk the matter over with Bob and her doctor.      The next time I saw her she said, “I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and have the baby . . .castra . . . what was that word, Mummy?”
     “Good grief!” I said, unmanned at the very thought. “Circumcised, Vonnie. Make sure the doctor has it straight.”
     With that little misunderstanding cleared up, Vonnie told me she was introduced to another new word when the nurse brought a bedpan.
     “Did you void?” asked the nurse, returning a few minutes later.
     “No,” Vonnie said bashfully, “but I urinated.”
     “That’s what I meant,” the nurse said, staggering out to the corridor, where she repeated the conversation to co-workers, whose reaction carried to Vonnie's ward.
     She told me this story amid fits of giggles alternated with gasps of pain. “I’ve had to learn a whole new way to laugh, Mummy. I used to laugh with my whole body, but if I did that now my stitches would be right over in that corner. If I just let the surface of my stomach joggle a bit when I feel a chuckle coming on, it doesn’t hurt so much.”
     She said she cried often, too, but her tears were tears of happiness. “I lie here thinking of how lucky Bob and I are. We had so much, and now we have this darling little baby to love.”
     I’d been wondering how Ed would accept his new role. The answer was, he hasn’t. He refuses to be a grandfather. We’ve shared many experiences in the past, good, bad, exciting, scary, some requiring no small amount of cajolery on my part, like the time I talked him into dancing lessons at Arthur Murray’s. But when it comes to grandparenthood, I’ve never known him to be so stubborn. I am on my own, he said.
     I decided not to press the issue. I admire his spirit. If he doesn’t want to be a grandfather, he doesn’t have to.

     Vonnie dropped Michael off for a few hours. Ed read the paper while I gave the baby his six o’clock bottle. Then I improvised a bed in the bathtub, tucked him in, and started dinner. When I returned to the living room, who was propped up in Ed’s lap, all smiles, but our three-month-old cherub.
     “I heard him crying, so I went upstairs to see what was wrong,” Ed said. “When I picked him up, I said, ‘Your mean Grammy put you to bed too early, didn’t she.’”
     “And what did he say to that?”
     “He said I was exactly right and he likes me best,” Ed said smugly.
     “Better,” I said, correcting his grammar.
     “Oh, you noticed it, too.”
     When Michael began to fuss again, Ed decided he needed burping.
     "Remember the time Timmy spit up in my pocket and I went to work smelling funny? I've smartened up since then." He produced a hand towel and cradled Michael on his shoulder.
"HE LIKES ME BEST."
Half an hour later I said, “Do you want your dinner or are you going to play with that baby all night?"
"I'll be there in a minute. Michael tells me he's ready for bed now."
Indeed, the baby had conked out in Ed’s arms and was snoring softly.
“Smart kid, that grandson of mine., said Ed.

Falmouth
     A beautiful day on the water. Bluefish running. Too fast for us. Cruised up and down the reef off Chappaquiddick Island. Tokay and I didn’t like the choppy water churned up by the reef. She threw up; I complained.
     Started a long letter to Kathie. “Do you see how hard I work on these letters?” I said to Ed. “Two hours and all I have is three pages.”
     “I know. It’s a wonder they aren’t better, isn’t it.”
     Admitted defeat by bluefish, headed back to Falmouth around 3:30. After we tied up, the Captain ordered me to go to forward and catch the line from an adjoining boat, which we had cast off when we left this morning. As he stood on the other boat's deck and prepared to toss the line, I said, “That looks awfully heavy.”
     “It is,” he said.
     “Suppose it hits me,” I said.
     “Just watch what you’re doing and it won’t hit you,” he said. “You’ll have to stand closer to the edge than that.”
     “I don’t want to get a black eye.”
     “Try it once, and if you can’t catch it, we won’t bother. This guy’s boat is all right without us, anyway.”
     Ed tossed the line, which was more like a cable. I shut my eyes and ducked.
     “You’ve got to keep your eyes open, dum-dum,” he said, reeling in the cable. (Years ago, he used to call me honey.) “Come on, pay attention.”
     He heaved the massive thing again (it was the size of a python and twice as vicious), and this time I kept my eyes open and caught it about four feet from the loop at the end. The loop whiplashed over my shoulder and struck the back of my neck, rabbit-punch fashion.
     “Ow!” I cried, rubbing my neck and glaring at the brute. “That hurt!”
     Was he overwhelmed with remorse? Did he rush to my side in order to catch me in case I dropped dead? No, he was too busy slapping his knee and exchanging mirthful glances with the fellows on the dock.
     “Women are so uncoordinated!” he snickered.
     I punished him by not talking to him as we drove to the fish market for some clams. He enjoyed the silence so much, I punished him by talking to him again.
     The proprietor at the market shucked a dozen and a half little necks for us, and we had them as an hors d’oeuvre with our first drink. A sprinkling of salt and pepper, a dash of limejuice, and we slurped them out of the shell with gusto. We felt sorry for the patrons of the Flying Bridge, who must perforce resort to their forks and refrain from licking their fingers. Hey, that’s rather poetic. “Perforce resort to their oyster forks and refrain from licking their fingers, whilst we disport with a loin of pork till only the memory lingers.” Actually, it was a sirloin of steak, but Lewis Carroll and I are permitted these liberties.

    
     We drove up to Colby to watch Ted play hockey.  After the game we took Ted and his roommate to dinner, then went on our way.
TED AND HIS DAD, COLBY COLLEGE
      We planned to stop at a motel within an hour or so of home, leaving us an easy drive the next day. When we got to New Hampshire, we decided on Lamie's Tavern for nostalgic reasons. Hampton was the town where we had married after I turned eighteen.
     We were having breakfast when Ed said, “I wonder what happened to Mr. Penniman. He sure seemed uneasy about marrying us!”
     “Let’s look him up in the telephone book. If he’s still around, why don’t we drop in and reassure him?”
     The only Penniman in Hampton was listed under Penniman Insurance Agency. It might not be the same fellow, but having gone this far on our sentimental journey, we couldn’t give up now.   
     After getting directions, we drew up in front of the same old white farmhouse where we had pledged our troth twenty-two years ago. A pleasant-looking lady with her hair in curlers came to the door.
     “Mr. Penniman hasn’t been here for a good many years,” she said. “Can I help you?”
     “Well, we were wondering”—I looked uncertainly at Ed—“you see, this Mr. Penniman was a justice of the peace, and we were hoping he’d still be here.”
     The lady looked at me and then at Ed. “I’m a justice of the peace,” she said with an encouraging smile.
     “The reason we particularly wanted to see Mr. Penniman,” I explained,” was because he married us when we were very young. We’d eloped, you see, and we wanted to tell him everything worked out all right.”
     “We have four children,” Ed said. “Two of them at college.”
     “Isn’t that nice!” beamed the lady.
     “Is Mr. Penniman—not living?” I asked.
     “Oh, he’s very much alive. He’s been up before the justice two or three times himself.”
     “You mean—he’s been married two or three times?”
     “Yes indeed! He’s living up in Maine with his third wife. I was the first Mrs. Penniman.” 
THE PENNIMAN HOUSE REVISITED
     “Then you were one of our witnesses. Of course you wouldn’t remember, but you asked the couple next door to come over and be witnesses, too.  Mr. Penniman told us to remember it was easier to tie the knot than to untie it.” 
     “He didn’t practice what he preached, did he?  But tell me your name and I’ll relay your message. Once in a great while I do hear from him.”    
     Ed gamely took pictures of the house, but we agreed that our romantic gesture had been a bit of a fizzle.         




  

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