Thursday, July 20, 2017


July 9, 1993
To Aliceann
     You're a dear to ask about my book.  Keeping Up with Kathie is on hold at present, since my agent and his assistant decided--get this-- that Kathie is too normal. 
     "Once well," Don writes, "she seems to function in an almost normal fashion . . . there is not the sense of agony and distress that the average reader should find in reading about this kind of experience. God knows that's to be desired by her, you, and the rest of the family, but it doesn't make for a dramatic emotional experience."
     Mary Ann, Don's assistant wrote:  "Another problem is that interesting goings-on among other family members are hinted at but never fully explained.  Vonnie gets a divorce, leaves her child with her brother and his wife to go to California, which brother then gets divorced, but no mention is made of what happens to Vonnie's son then.  Vonnie is killed in a car accident when her son is about eleven (possibly as a result of a drinking problem which is mentioned once in passing but never is explained) [what's to explain?  a drinking problem is a drinking problem], and again there is no mention of who then raised Vonnie's son.  Because Kathie adjusts so well to her handicap, her life story is actually less interesting than those of her family members, and they are the ones I wanted to know more about."
     Aliceann, it would be too painful for me to write in any greater detail about Vonnie than I already have.  I can't and won't delve into her emotional problems.  It would seem like a betrayal of a vibrant, loving human being whose hilarious and touching letters I still treasure.
    One review of Take My Ex was written by Cindy Bartorillo of Frederic, Maryland:  " . . . I couldn't help noticing that one of Barbara and Ed's four children simply vanishes over the years.  On the very last page of the book you learn that she died.  The author's candor, like mine and yours, too, I expect, has limits. . .  "
    And yet Take My Ex was a failure, selling only about half of the seven thousand copies printed.  Writers get used to rejections and disappointments, but now that I've been shoved into my seventies, the days dwindle down to an alarming few and the disappointments loom larger.  
July 12, 1993
    I showed my dermatologist a strange bumpy place on one of my knuckles.  "Is that arthritis?" I asked him. 
    "Yes," he said.  "This happens to people in their old age."
    I pounded the examining table and said, "No, no, no!!"  As if I could hold back old age with my denials.   
    "I shouldn't have used that phrase," the doctor said.
    "That's all right," I said.  But it was the first time I had heard "old age" applied to me.  Maybe by the time I'm a hundred and five, I'll be used to it. 
July 20, 1993
    I was lamenting to Ted about my dashed hopes for Take My Ex.
    "It was a good book," I complained.  "Your father was right, it just needed national attention."
    "I agree," said Ted.  He then came up with an Elmore Leonardish suggestion.     
    "What you should do is go to Florida, arrange to kidnap the Malleys' pets, and leave a ransom note, demanding something you've always wanted.  You'd be front-page news, and everyone in the country would want to read your book."
    "I've always wanted a red convertible," I said.  "I wouldn't be unreasonable; a second-hand one would be fine."
    It was a great idea, I thought as I drove home, but there were a few problems.  How would I spirit two dogs and three Siamese cats out of the house, and where would I keep the spirited creatures?  In a rented red convertible, I decided, with the roof up, and the windows cracked, so the animals wouldn't get too warm.  After all, I was a kidnapper, not a sadist.
    But wait, how would Ed and Aliceann get to sleep without their five pets surrounding them?  Knowing the torment of insomnia, I would be guilty of sadism if I disturbed my victims' slumber for even one minute.   I couldn't be that unkind.  Ted will have to think up another plot.
July 28, 1993
     With my August birthday approaching, the time has come to renew my license.  For four years I've been hoping the old one would get lost, so I could replace the photograph with something less humiliating.  No such luck.  Even after my wallet began falling apart and I tacked it together with staples, the mug-shot hung in there, a hateful reminder that I was getting neither younger nor better looking. 
     Yesterday, when I reached the head of the line leading to the registry desk, I said to the clerk operating the computer:  "My old license says I'm five feet four.  Can that be corrected?"           
    "Sure, how tall are you?"
    "Five six and three‑quarters," I said, stretching my neck.  (I used to be five seven and a half before I started shrinking.)
     "We can't do fractions," the clerk said tartly.
     "All right, make it five six." I relaxed my neck.  "That's where I'm headed, anyway."
[At ninety-one I've shrunk to exactly five feet, can barely reach the second shelf in my kitchen cupboard. Maddening! 1-25-2013]
     I was passed along to the photographer.  Her artillery was mounted at an angle pointing downward toward a chair.  I would perforce be looking up at the lens, chin squared and upper lip elongated.  The registry picture of four years ago confirmed my belief in an evolutionary link to simian ancestors.  I looked like an ape wearing lipstick.
     If I had to be shot, I wished I could face my fate at eye level, but no one preceding me had made such a bizarre last request.  What reason could I give for my misgivings about sitting in the chair?  Certainly not the truth.  What cared the registry if the camera angle was unflattering?  How about, "I fell asleep at a nude beach and can't sit down"?  Naw, they wouldn't buy it; how many 70‑year‑olds go to nude beaches?  I was working on something more plausible, like "My religion won't allow me to desecrate the flag by sitting under it," when the photographer motioned me toward the chair.  Flash!  The first part of the ordeal was over.
     The next part was looking at the result.  It happens that one of my shoulders is lower than the other.  This flaw was unnoticeable in the Bachrach studies of twenty‑five years ago.  In the registry's effigy, I look as if I am dodging a blow.  Or missing a shoulder pad.  As for the simian resemblance, it had increased
 Bachrach's flattering version  
     What was I going to do with this horror show known as my "identification"?  One thing was sure.  No eyes but mine must ever bear witness to it.  If I were stopped by a policeman and he asked if he could see my license, I'd say no.  If he asked if I'd prefer to go to jail, I'd say yes. 
     Perhaps there was a method in the registry's candid caricature policy. It would make drivers extra cautious. 
     Today I was cruising along toward the golf club in my new used car, festive pink ribbons still flying from its antenna.  What a change from my battered 1988 jalopy!  I felt as if I were floating on a cloud.
     Oh‑oh.  What were those flashing lights in my rear-view mirror?  A police car?  Surely it wasn't following me.  I had gone through a light that was turning from yellow to red, but otherwise . . . .
     I pulled over and rolled down the window.  My heart and stomach had changed places, but I tried to sound nonchalant.  "Did I make a bad judgment call at the light?" I asked the handsome uniformed man advancing on my car.      
     "No, that wasn't it.  I clocked you at ten miles an hour over the speed limit."
     "No!  Are you sure?"  (He was going to ask to see my license, I just knew it.)
     He was pleasantly sure.  Perhaps he was a reasonable man.        
     "It's my new used car's fault," I explained.  "It has a tendency to go faster than I think it is."
     "Could I see your license and registration, please?"
     I decided I would rather play golf than go to jail.  Reluctantly producing my license, I told the officer I hated the picture.  He promised he wouldn't look it, but he lied.  "It isn't any worse than mine," he said.
     I got a written and a verbal warning.  "If we meet again," the officer advised, "don't use the same excuse."
     My ill‑timed encounter with the law did nothing to improve my golf swing.  At the end of my non‑existent defense against Warren's wife and her partner, I told Warren the reason for my shaken nerves.
     "Well okay," he said, "but if we play again, don't use the same excuse."

September 2, 1993
From Kathie
Today is the first anniversary of my first date with Frank--the night you worried and wondered whether your first born had disappeared with a homicidal maniac.  And all the while I was enjoying myself at an energizing rock concert at Great Woods followed by a quick peck on the mouth as he hastened out my door.  The year that has rushed by since then has been unbelievably terrific—full of changes for both of us.
Frank, as you may remember, is a city boy.  Where he grew up, the lawns were made of asphalt, and the horizon was a glimpse of sky peeking through the occasional gap between tall buildings.  Now that he lives in the country with me, a whole new world of experiences has opened up for him.  Among the events that have broadened his horizons during the nine months he has lived with me are the following:
1.  a blistering case of poison ivy all over his arms; the heat, the swelling, the blisters, and the oozing were sufficient to torment his skin for twenty days and cool his ardor for three nights;
2.  a ruptured and infected blister on his foot from stepping on a nettle while walking barefoot in the fields; that wound meant two weeks of antibiotics accompanied by acute diarrhea;
3.  a bee sting on his posterior from a confused yellow jacket that flew up inside the leg of his shorts (no light at the end of that tunnel) and made him jump higher and run faster than he ever thought he could;
4.  a confrontation in the garage with an arrogant raccoon who assumed the food in the barrel was intended not for the dogs but for masked visitors, and who was in no hurry to depart from the mess hall;
5.  the successful trapping of a woodchuck who threatened him with acute bodily harm during their trip together to a new home in a lovely forest--and then ran off when released without a goodbye glance or thank you for the ride;
6.  the successful trapping of a rabid raccoon who flopped around drunkenly in the have-a-heart trap until dispatched by the police who said didn't Frank know he wasn't supposed to be trapping wild animals even if they were eating his flower garden.
7.  a frantic scramble back to the house just ahead of a swarm of pissed-off hornets who objected to having their nest run over by a mower and were intent on committing hornet hari-kari all over his body;
8.  another case of poison ivy that had attacked his legs and was advancing northward in a menacing manner.
Last night, as he sat on a chair in the bathroom, his blistered legs soaking in an astringent solution in the tub, Frank signed deeply.
"What is it, dear?" I asked, as I sat with him companionably.
"I was just thinking about life in the city," he replied nostalgically.  "The smell of a burning car, the sound of street gangs cursing and threatening each other, the wail of police sirens.  It was all so familiar and predictable there, so much more secure.  Country living is a lot more dangerous, if you ask me."
Well, I gotta go. There's a wolf howling outside my door, and I want to let him in.
September 22, 1993
    A cool gray morning on the first day of fall, and already I'm feeling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder.)  Somehow I don't think it would help to put all the lights on.  It's bad enough to be putting them on earlier and earlier every evening.
    But as I said to the bank teller on September 17, "Just think -- in only six short months it will be Saint Patrick's Day."
    Time accelerates at my age like time-lapse photography.  Slow down, Life.
    I heard something pleasant last night at Anne Bell's duplicate-bridge session.  There were several newcomers from Hingham, and a woman named Eileen Something and I began chatting.
    I mentioned that I used to live in Cohasset at Sandy Cove.  She looked startled and said, "What did you say your name was?  Barbara Malley?  I can't believe this, we were just talking about you a couple of days ago.  You wrote a book, didn't you -- something like Throw My Ex-Husband Away, But Not too Far?"
     She said one woman from Cohasset kept praising my memoir to the skies, saying everyone ought to read it, it was a wonderful book.  Eileen said the woman knew me personally, but darn it, she couldn't think of her name.  I felt like telling her to put her head between her knees and think harder.  I forget names, too, but not important ones belonging to women of good taste such as Emily Post, Amy Vanderbilt,  Miss Manners, and now this admirer of my book.  I'm left with no choice but to consult my Ouija Board.
October 15, 1993
    I played bridge yesterday with seven other women at the home of Mary Ann Ward, whom I know through golf.  I was substituting for someone who was away and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  You bring your own sandwich for the lunch break at noon, and the hostess supplies coffee and dessert.
    During lunch I heard a story told by Millie Mitman.  Her mother, in her mid-eighties, was invited to a relative's wedding.  She was very excited about the event, wore a pretty new dress, and happily greeted everyone from her wheelchair.
     Then someone pointed out to Millie that her mother was slumped in her chair, with her head rolled over on her shoulder.  Millie thought she'd had a stroke and called for an ambulance.  She had the presence of mind to ask that the driver refrain from sounding the siren, so the wedding guests wouldn't be upset.
    The ambulance arrived quietly, and Millie's mother was rushed to the hospital.  Shortly afterward, 
a phone call came from the emergency room.  "Your mother has no problem," said the doctor, "except that she's drunk.  She'll be fine in the morning."
    Every relative who stopped to greet the dear soul had brought her another Old Fashioned.  Her son had been careful in recent years to water down her favorite cocktail, but this wasn't the case at the reception.  The next day Millie's mother asked her a lot of questions about the wedding.  For some reason she couldn't remember very much about what went on.
November 1, 1993
    Kathie called last night and asked if she and Frank could drop by; he had a textbook he wanted to give me that would help with my computer.  I said they didn't need to go to all that trouble; I could get it the next time I pet-sat.
    "But we have an errand to do in Braintree, so it wouldn't be any trouble at all."
    I told the guard at the gatehouse that my daughter and her friend would be dropping a book off to me.
    "I'll meet them outside my building," I said.
    "They're not coming up to see you?  That's no fun."  
    I said I didn't want to delay my visitors--they led very busy lives.
    At 8:30 there was a tap at my door.  I looked through the peephole and saw Kathie with a weird-looking character standing beside her.  I opened the door and beheld Frank, decked out in a costume consisting of a mop for a wig, a shapeless dress made more shapely by a pair of falsies, and a long triangular shawl.
    This is the first time in the 19 years I have lived here that I ever had visitors on Halloween.  Frank, or should I say Frances, showed me all the money people had put in the poor old bag-lady's purse.
    "Would you take a picture of him, Mom?" Kathie asked, handing me the Nikon I gave her.
    "I want Kathie to be in it, too," said Frank.
    So I took pictures of the happy couple, and Kathie can hardly wait to see the results.  She keeps telling Frank he's handsome, and he keeps saying he's not.  Last night he was right.
    Before they left to trick-and-treat his parents, Frank borrowed my lipstick and a mirror.  He said his mother wouldn't be surprised, but his father might faint.
November 21, 1993

     The disastrous tearing of Kathie’s left rotator cuff has made her temporarily as helpless as a quadriplegic. She comments ruefully that she'll never pitch another ball game.

     Frank has been wonderful—lifting her in and out of the car (when they went to the emergency room on Saturday) and helping her with bathroom necessities. This is the kind of help she has always hated most, but Frank's gentleness and tact are a balm to her pride. She loves him more than ever, and so do I.

     "What would we do without you?" I said, hugging him yesterday when I arrived with a car full of groceries from her list.   “What would I do without Kathie?” he responded.     

     She is in less pain today, thinks her arm is getting better. She won't be able to go to Frank's mother's for Thanksgiving but insists she wants me to come to her house.

     "No, I want you two lovebirds to be together."

     "We will be together," she said.

     "I mean together alone." I hope I can convince her that I wouldn't in the least mind spending the holiday organizing my piles of manuscripts stacked not only in my study closet but on the floor and in my bedroom, as well. I've been dreaming a lot about my mother and Vaughan lately and know I have a deadline to meet if I want to leave my apartment in a less chaotic state than it is now. I wonder what the date of my departure will be and what will happen between now and then.
March 23, 1994
    I spent the morning with my accountant.  I had no royalties to declare on Take My Ex, but did have a princely (to me) $600 on the two books based on Mom's poems.  My writing expenses, including the new computer, were double that figure. 
    This yearly confession must make Norman think I'm taking three steps backward for every step forward in my writing career, but he's tactful enough not to point that out.  I say staunchly, "Someday someone from Walt Disney will see my mother's poems and realize they'd make wonderful animated cartoons.  I'll be balancing off my royalties with trips to Hollywood for conferences."
    Then I came home and found a message that made dreary old Income Tax Day the pleasantest one of my life.  A stranger had looked up my number and left a long message on my machine about Take My Ex.  It ended, "I just wanted you to know I'm a big fan.  Thank you again for some wonderful moments."
March 31, 1994
    My agent has rejected my second book, and the first one has had pitiful sales.  I don't understand it.  My editors were so sure it would be a hit, they had even picked out Jane Curtain to play my role in the TV series.  When I heard from readers of Take My Ex, their comments were always enthusiastic.  I never tire of hearing the cliche, "I couldn't put it down."
    Now my hopes have crashed, landing me back in the real world.  I won't be able to help my children.  I won't be able to tell Ed he's off the hook on my alimony.  And I feel so guilty about failing Little Brown, I've been wondering if the ethical thing to do is to return their cash advance.  Kathie vetoed that idea.  She says publishers don't expect every book to be a best-seller.  
    "They just charge off their losses, Mom, so stop worrying."
April 19, 1994
    I have a new friend named Joanne whom I met through my answering machine a few weeks ago.  She told me someone had given her my book, and she thought I had a wonderful sense of humor.  As an afterthought, she said she lived in Weymouth, too, and gave me her phone number.  Returning her call, I learned she was an unmarried Catholic in her 60s, and was only halfway through the book.  Oh-oh, I thought.  How is she going to feel about the second half? 
    We made a date to have lunch.  Over the first course, I discovered that Joanne is not only a devout Catholic but also has a fervent belief in angels, including her guardian angel.  She had finished my book, and I could tell she was dubious about my chances of getting into heaven and associating with angels.       
    "I hope you don't mind if I ask you a question," she said.
    "Go ahead."
    "How could you bring yourself to write about personal matters so frankly?" 
    Because that's the turn my mid-life took, I said.  It wouldn't have been much of a memoir if I'd glossed over or omitted the harrowing episodes.  And weren't my revelations tame in comparison to the torrid stuff you read in books or see on TV nowadays?  Joanne nodded.  I told her that other readers, especially divorcees, had related to my experiences.  One woman said she felt as if she were reading about her own life. 
    Joanne took the big step of accepting me as the non-angel I am, and we plan to get together once a month for lunch and a movie.                 
April 20, 1994
    The Take-My-Ex hoopla has died down, but the notoriety lives on.  A golfing friend told me yesterday that her husband, looking for something to read, had picked up her copy of my book.  His report: "All this happened to Barbara Malley?  Wow!  I'll be looking at her with new eyes the next time I see her."
    I am amused by that sort of reaction, rather than troubled.  Certainly my friend thought it was funny, or she wouldn't have passed it along with an impish gleam in her eye. 
August 19, 1994
     I shared my sister's funny card with the family when we went out for dinner the night before my birthday.  "Better a birthday than a baby" is right.  I have recurring dreams about finding myself involved with an adorable baby.  The dream turns into a nightmare as it slowly dawns on me that I'm expected to be responsible for this kid for years to come.  It is almost worth having the dream, I'm that relieved when I wake up.
September 9, 1994
    Last Sunday afternoon, Tim and I played golf.  Then I followed him home for a dinner featuring marinated tuna fish and swordfish steaks, charcoal broiled by Tim.  As the steaks neared done-ness, he would hand me a morsel as an hors d'oeuvre.  The best seat in the house was the one near the outdoor grill.
    My daughter-in-law coped with the rest of the dinner with her usual ease but not quite so easily with Timmy.  He has developed into a character who wants center stage ALL THE TIME.  And what an actor he is, with his rolling eyes and his face of a thousand expressions. I don't know whether he has picked up his style from TV or was born with it or is simply going through a stage (center).
    "No, Mummy, it's not your turn to talk, it's my turn, then Isha's, then you again, then me—"
    "That's not the way conversations work, Timmy," says Kathy.  As she starts explaining how they work, he reminds her it is not her turn to talk. 
    "It's MY turn, and I--" (his eyes roll upward as he tries to think of something spellbinding to tell his audience)--"I um, I'm not hungry, so don't make any dinner for me.  Now it's your turn, Isha."
    "I'm starved," I say.  "But then I didn't eat a cupcake."
    After two bites of dinner, Timmy was ready for another cupcake.  His mother told him he had to eat more of his dinner.  "But I'm not hungry!  I'm full!" 
    "If you're too full for dinner, you're too full for a cupcake," Kathy said.  Mothers can be so unreasonable.
    A little later, Timmy wasn't too full to bite Lauren.  She came running to her mother, who sent him to his room and then went upstairs to have a talk with him.  His next appearance (center stage) was as droll an act as I've ever seen.  Kathy had told him he must apologize to Lauren or stay in his room.
    "He hates to apologize," she said in an aside to me.  "Lauren is good about it, but Timmy can't stand the whole idea."
    Timmy had reluctantly promised to tell his sister he was sorry, but he had a problem.  "I don't know where she is," he said bemusedly, with eyes rolling not just upward, but downward, and sideways, as he staggered sightlessly around the kitchen.
    "She's right there in the living room where she was when you bit her," said his mother.
    "But I don't see her!" Timmy insisted, waving his arms in circles to demonstrate his sincere efforts to find his sister.
    He didn't apologize when he was pointed in her direction because the next thing we knew, Timmy was crying to his mother than Lauren had bitten him.      
    "Now you know how it feels," said Kathy with a lack of sympathy that baffled her son.  He demanded an apology from Lauren. "I'm sorry, Timmy," she said.
    "I didn't hear you," he said.
    "I'M SORRY!"       
    "What did you say?  I still can't hear you." 
    Lauren leaned over and shouted in his ear, "I'M SORRY!" 
    Blandly he repeated, "I can't hear you."
    In short, this grandson who is a charmer most of the time has figured out how to push people's buttons like a master manipulator.  
November 1, 1993
    Kathie finished revising the last two chapters of my book, which has gone through several stages.  It no longer focuses just on Kathie but covers the 50-year tragicomic history of the Malley family.  I think it's funny and touching, but God knows what Colleen (my former editor at Little Brown, now an agent) will think of it.  I mailed it to her today and am keeping all my fingers crossed except the two arthritic ones.
April 8, 1994
To Ed and Aliceann
    Ed, I had a weird dream about you last night.  It must have been prompted by a TV movie I saw.  One of the characters was turning 49, which was too close to 50 to suit him.  He didn't want a surprise party, any more than you did back in 1965.    
    In my dream, we were in Fort Lauderdale, but I was stuck in the condo for some reason, while you were carrying on at the beach.  You nonchalantly brought one of your conquests up to meet me.  You were 64, but she had it backwards and thought you were 46.  Hah! I said.  Even if you were 46, she'd be young enough to be your daughter.      
    I was very annoyed, of course, and said I'd thought we were having a vacation like the ones when we used to lie on the beach and talk and read and go for walks.  You didn't have much to say, being busy fixing lunch for the bimbo.  It's a wonder you didn't ask me to fix it.    
    I said if this was the way things were going to be, I was going home.  You said there was a plane leaving at 4:00 a.m.  "Four a.m.?" I screeched, waking myself up.  That was lucky for you because I was ready to file for ex-spousal abuse.  If I were you, I'd keep an eye on him, Aliceann.
November 25, 1994
    The book I've been working on for over two years was read and rejected by Colleen.  Another crushing letdown, but I'm not going to let it ruin my life.  Half a day was long enough.  Colleen wrote:  "The problem is that there is no one subject to the book and a family memoir about everything that happened in one family, spanning many years will, frankly, be of little interest.  If asked, an editor or agent cannot just say, `Well, it's about the Malley family,' without getting blank stares.  Your other book worked precisely because it was about a certain aspect or angle in your life.  It had the theme and gimmick of a burlesquish romantic life, and it had the consistent tone of humor—that's what the book was meant to be and could be pitched as a humorous look at marriage."
    She once suggested I write about the dating game from an older woman's point of view.  I have three or four episodes in my computer ("Msadventures") but don't know how I could expand my material unless I went looking for Mouldy, Dried-Up Mr. Goodbar.  Not an appetizing assignment. 
January 2, 1995
      When I watched Tim install the two disks that came with my laser printer, it appeared capable of doing almost anything except stopping hiccups.  I'll have a fascinating old age learning about its mysteries, as well as my computer's, whose functions are still 90% baffling.
    For the last month, I've been attacking my massive collections of letters and manuscripts and photographs (Mom's albums and mine), trying to cut down on the task of moving, if I should have to do this at some point in the future.  Also, trying to spare my children from coping with All That Stuff when I leave for parts unknown.  I find there's one thing I can do in my seventies that I was never able to do in my fifties or sixties: throw The Stuff out or store it in a space Kathie has made for me in her basement.
April 7, 1995
    I've been taking bridge lessons from Anne Bell two nights a week, Mondays at Milton High School and Tuesdays at the Hingham Community Center.   This week we had our last class on Wednesday night at the school to make up for the one we would miss on Easter Monday.  My friend Mary and I were late, so we didn't have time to go to the Ladies' Room after our long drive.  That was okay, one could always seize the opportunity when one was Dummy.
    The school's disagreeable janitor appeared in the doorway of our class, wanting to know what we were doing there.  He appeared skeptical of Anne's answer that she had notified the appropriate authorities.  Scowling, he slouched away.  I never thought to call after him, "Are the rest rooms open?"  I should have remembered we'd had this problem with him the first couple of sessions.  He seemed to begrudge us the use of the school's facilities and the imposition on his time.
      In the middle of our first round, my bladder informed me it was time to go.  I sat tight until I was Dummy, then hurried down the long corridors leading to the rest rooms.  I thought to myself, I'll bet they're locked.  If so, I had a contingency plan I'd thought of as I passed the trash barrels. 
    Both rest rooms were indeed locked, so I rushed back to the trash barrel that was on the further side of a narrow partition with a window in it.  I grabbed the large plastic liner and retreated behind the partition, where I trusted I would be unseen if anyone came out of Anne's class.
    I was flooding the bag’s interior, when I looked up.  A few feet away stood the school's other janitor, a chap with thinning reddish hair, who was staring at me with shock and disbelief. I stared back at him with the same expression.  As I yanked up my clothes, I dithered an explanation of my bizarre behavior.  Then I carefully folded down the top of the plastic bag and handed him my specimen.
    "Perhaps you could take care of this," I suggested.  He accepted my gift and walked toward the Rest Rooms without going downstairs for the key.  I think he didn't believe they were locked.  He thought I was the kind of nut who always pees in trash barrels.  Talk about your bag ladies.
    I took Anne aside to tell her what had happened.  She got hysterical.  I told Agnes, my bridge partner.  She got hysterical and said I'd have to write about it.  So here it is, my latest Most Embarrassing Experience.
    "I'm glad this is the last class," I said to Anne.  "Those guys are never going see my face or any other feature again."
    I'll close now, as I gotta go to the trash barrel.
June 2, 1995
     One of the things that’s always tickled me about children is their dawning comprehension of family relationships.  For example, Linda, at about four or five, called to her mother with the words, "Mummy, your sister is on the phone."
    Timothy Vaughan, now four and a half, demonstrated his expertise on who is what to whom during a visit to my condo yesterday.  He had played splashing games with his father in the pool, then played on the jungle gym while Tim and I used the opportunity to chat.  When Timmy began to get bored, I said, "Okay, let's go to the golf club for lunch."
    As we were leaving Weymouthport's barbecue area, we noticed a grandmother sitting with her grandson at one of the tables.  The two little boys showed enough interest in each other to warrant introductions. 
    "This is Timmy," I said.
    "And that is my father," said Timmy.  "He is her son, and she is my grandmother, and I am her grandson, and she is his mother, and I am his son."
    As we went on our way, Timmy called over his shoulder, "You see how they all connect?"
    The little boy looked bewildered at having met so many people, all rolled into three, but the grandmother smiled, and my grandson's father laughed aloud.        
August 7, 1995
    During dinner at the golf club with Kathie and Frank and Sarah . Kathie said, "I'm going to run to the Ladies' Room." Sarah laughed and said, "Kathie, you can't run!"
    Kathie's response:  "It's just an expression people use, so I use it, too."
    "That's what's so great about Kathie," I said to Sarah.  "People don't feel as if they've goofed when they say something like, `I'm going to run along now' in front of her because she uses the same expressions."
    Kathie tells me Sarah will probably attend Lexington Collaborative until she is 22 and ready to cope with a job or marriage.  She doesn't lack for boyfriends.  She told us the one she met at camp this summer kissed her on the mouth right in front of her visiting mother and sister. 
    "What did your mother say?" Kathie asked.
    "She was shocked," Sarah giggled.  "The boyfriend I had last summer didn't kiss me.  We just put our arms around each other and hugged."
     It's hard to believe Sarah will be 22 in seven years, and I'll be an octogenarian.  At least I hope I will.  I'd like to see how things work out with Sarah and my other grandchildren.
August 17, 1995
To Ed and Aliceann
    I was thrilled when I began to open the package you sent for my birthday—an electric can opener, just what I’d always wanted.  But no, the box contained two packages.  I investigated the smaller one first, thinking surely it must be a sleeve of golf balls.  Instead, it was the Cinnabar.  One spritz, and the fragrance clung to me all night, giving me erotic dreams in which I wore nothing but a towel and my Cinnabar.   My subconscious, imagining I'm young enough for these shenanigans, loves staging scenes for the me-that-used-to-be.        
    Then I opened the other gift.  Nothing could give me more pleasure than Darrell McClure's "Little Annie Rooney."  I leafed through the pages with a magnifying glass until I found a clear imprint of the date the booklet was published. In 1933, I was twelve years old and read Little Annie in the funny papers and never would have believed the artist would someday be a cherished friend.  Even less that I would write a book, and he would be an important part of it. . .  .      
 October 20, 1995
The time:  yesterday afternoon.  The message on my machine:  "Hi, Mom.  Call me when you get in.  I want to invite you to a party in January."  So I called Kathie and asked how come she was giving me such short notice, and what was the occasion?
    "Can't you guess?"
    "Frank's birthday?  Your anniversary?"
    "We're getting married."
     I began rehearsing the ceremony in my mind.  As I pictured them saying their vows,  the tears began.  I had to switch my mind to another subject, or I would have burst into sobs -- which I hope I won't do on January seventh.  ("Why not?" said Kathie.  "It's all right to cry at weddings.")
November 19, 1995
    I helped Kathie address wedding invitations yesterday, a new experience, since Kathie eloped the first time, and Vonnie's wedding was spur-of-the-moment, like mine.
    It took me three hours to do just twenty-five according to etiquette’s demanding rules.  There are six things to remember, including the stamp on the small return envelope.  You are also supposed to center each line of the address.  The computer in my brain is not clever at centering lines.  I found myself either squeezing the zip code or stretching it out to make it balance with the line above. 
     After ineptly addressing the first envelope to Ted and Maureen, I decided to switch to printing.  The result looked like a carefully disguised note from a kidnapper.  Toward the end of the third hour I began sealing the envelopes with a damp face cloth to spare my tongue from a glue overdose.  Flipping through the envelopes, I found half of the flaps hadn't stuck.  I resealed them and put them on the kitchen counter.
    Frank picked them up (I had hoped neither he nor Kathie would see my ransom notes) and said, "Barbara, some of these flaps are open."  He sealed them with his tongue and diplomatically said nothing about my gangster-ish calligraphy.
December 30, 1995
    The newlyweds will be going south on the 8th to spend their honeymoon with Ed and Aliceann.  I can't believe the oldyweds will celebrate their tenth anniversary on February 14th.  Time passes faster and faster these days, like a video tape picking up speed toward its end.  Sometimes I wish I could rewind and change certain scenarios, especially the tragic ones.  But fooling around with Fate would alter other scenarios, perhaps with worse consequences.  As the adage says, "Be careful what you wish for . . . ."
January 12, 1996
    The wedding was at the Unitarian Church in Needham.  I stuffed my pockets with tissues, preparing for a tearful break-down, but Kathie began the ceremony with a funny poem she'd written.  It kept me smiling all through the wedding vows. 
    We went to another part of the church to a big hall for the reception.  Frank comes from a huge family of brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews.  After the buffet, the photographer took pictures of the bride and groom with both sets of families.  Timmy, incorrigible ham that he is, tried to sneak into both groups but was pulled away from Frank's.
    "Oh, that's too bad!" said Kathie.  "It would have been fun to see him with all those Morrisons."
     The honeymooners couldn’t fly to West Palm Beach because a blizzard closed the airport for two days.  They changed their reservations to February in hopes that Florida will warm up.  My ex says he's been freezing in 50-degree temperatures.  Sounds good to me -- the temperature, I mean.
May 13, 1996
To Ed and Aliceann
    A couple of days ago the gatehouse guard told me a gift of flowers had arrived while I was out, and he’d sent the delivery person to the office.  When I got there, I saw a glass vase filled with flowers for Barbara Konowitz, who lives two floors above me.  Jim McLauren, that pleasant fellow who used to work for you, Ed, happened to be on hand and witnessed the falling of my face.  He said wait a minute, I'll get the keys to the mail room and we'll see if the flowers are there. They were, but they, too, were for someone else.
    I trudged off to my condo, flowerless.  Half an hour later Jim called.  "Pat Setemelli discovered your delivery in her sales office and brought it here to the office."  (Pat was the social worker at Ocean Manor, where your mother spent her last years.  Remember her, Ed?)
    The florist's package had an attached envelope.  I said to Jim, "I can't wait to see who they're from!"  
    "They're from my ex-husband!" I exclaimed.  "Isn't that something?  We've been divorced for over twenty years."
    "That's Ed," said Jim, who obviously thinks highly of you.  Jim is one of those kind-hearted people who takes folks to the doctor when they can't drive themselves and picks up groceries for them.  He and Kathie had a good talk a few years ago when she came to our annual clambake.  That's how we found out he used to work for you. 
    Thank you, dear Ed, for the Mother's Day remembrance.  
May 20, 1996
      I’m having a memory problem.  Not that it's been that great for the last few decades, but I’ve started having strange lapses, as if I'd come down with Instant Alzheimer's.  I was forgetting not only names but faces I should have easily recognized.  Sue Barunas, for example.  She and her husband, George, showed up at Anne Bell's duplicate bridge game last month. 
    "Hi," I said cordially, when the couple arrived to my table. "This is my partner, Agnes, and I'm Barbara Malley."
    "I know," she said.  "Dorsey Roby and I played bridge with you in February."
    Not only had we played bridge, but I had been the hostess.
    Trying to bluff my way out of my dilemma, I said to Sue's husband, "And where is it you and I met?  On the golf course, I suppose."
    "I've never seen you before," George said relentlessly.
    The next week the same couple arrived at my table.  They might as well have dropped in from Mars.  Sue had seen me examining the scores for the previous Tuesday.  "Did you notice who came in first?" she asked.  I said all I noticed was that Agnes and I had tied for bottom.
    "Sue and George Barunas," said Sue, pointing to the score sheet.
    "And that's you two?" I inquired, looking from one Martian to the other.  "Congratulations!"
    It wasn't until I'd seen Sue and George for the third bridge session that I began to register their names and faces. 
    I told my other bridge partner, Barbara Elliott, not to expect too much of me next time we played in our bridge Marathon.
    "Something weird has been happening to my memory,” I explained in an e-mail.  “I've been reading a book by an autistic woman and another one about the brain’s synapses and neurotrans-
mitters.  I think my neurotransmitters aren't making the connections they should."
    I went on to tell Barbara about the odd things I've been doing, like pouring tomato juice on my cereal.  And bringing in the Sunday paper at 8:00 a.m., then getting upset at 9:00 when I didn't find it on my doormat. 
    "And Barbara," I wrote, "don't hesitate to get another partner for next year.  I'll understand."
    Barbara's advice:  "Stop reading books on autism and stop worrying."
June 22, 1996
    My Westinghouse refrigerator went to its final west in the dump.  I recalled the old joke about the woman who opened her refrigerator and saw a rabbit sitting there.  "What are you doing in my refrigerator?"  "Isn't this a Westinghouse?" asked the rabbit.  "Yes."  "Well, I'm westing."
    I should have known two weeks ago when Edy's frozen yogurt got soupy that something was wrong.  By the time I faced facts (and mushy frozen carrots), the weekend had arrived.  The 24-hour service people were unavailable.  Someone at the golf club told me repairs would cost as much as a new refrigerator.  For sure, a new one wouldn't match my Harvest Gold stove and dishwasher.
    I called Kathie for advice.  "We have a refrigerator in the basement that isn't that old," she said. 
    "What color is it?" I asked.
    "White, but so what?  You're not going to be in Better Homes and Gardens, are you?"
    It took another week to arrange the swap, but by yesterday the task force was ready.  Kathie called early in the morning to say Frank and his brother would put my new second-hand refrigerator into his truck.  Then Frank would meet Ted and Michael, who had just flown up from Florida.  They would arrive at Weymouthport in 45 minutes.  "Oh sure," I thought, and told the gatehouse guard I'd be having guests in an hour or so. 
    Darned if the two trucks didn't arrive in 45 minutes.  I had to abandon my computer and rush to empty the contents of the Westinghouse onto my kitchen counters.  The rabbit sat there looking sleepy and annoyed.   
    It's amazing what three men and a dolly can accomplish with such an unwieldy assignment.  I was shocked to see dirt, dust, rabbit droppings, and a Triple A battery lying under the Westinghouse.  (That didn't fall out of the motor, I told myself shrewdly.)  There was also a 3-foot length of wire.
    "What do you suppose this is?" I asked Ted.
    He said, "That's why your refrigerator stopped working."  I looked at him in  dismay, and he grinned.  His jokes always catch me off-guard.
      I began hurriedly sweeping up the debris and trying to clean the worst of the stains with a damp cloth.  Ted told me not to bother; no one would see the mess under the replacement refrigerator.  When it comes to housework, my favorite words are "Don't bother."
September 30, 1996
    The minute I saw the perky straw hat at Bradlees, three years ago, I knew it was for me.  The open weave would enable me to anchor it with bobby pins on windy golfing days.  I also liked the narrow black scarf that ended in a fluffy, feminine bow at the back and would go with everything. 
     The hat became my trademark.  When I occasionally wore another one, distant golfers had trouble recognizing me.  When I didn't wear one at all, they really got confused.  ("I think it's Barbara Malley."  "No, it can't be, she's not wearing her hat.")
    It didn't bother me when the sun faded the black band to a sort of putty color.  Putty color goes with everything, I told myself.  I wasn't tempted last month when I saw hats just like mine on sale at Bradlees.  Why waste the money? The handsome jet-black band would only fade by the end of another summer.       
    I wore The Hat when I recently played golf in Marshfield with Anne Bell and the Stevenses (regulars at our Tuesday night duplicate bridge sessions).  The day was a lot more glorious than our golf, but we had a good time, anyway.  Gerry and Alan invited us to stay for a drink, so we packed our clubs in Anne's car, and I took off my hat, placing it on the front seat.
    Looking over my shoulder, Anne drawled in her agreeable southern accent, "Bahbara, I think it's abaht taame you replaced the scaaf on your hat.  You can find a nice one at the Faave and Daame."
    I gave the object in question a more critical assessment than usual.  Anne was right, the faded material looked frumpy and unattractive.  What a good friend she was.
    That night I operated on the hat.  I ripped off the glued-on scarf, which looked uglier than ever with its black underside now visible in the twisted length of material.  The general effect was of a goat's entrails.
    I set about attaching to the hat a sheer pink scarf from a bureau drawer.  It was long enough to make a fetching bow in the back.  I tried it on.  Anne would approve.             
    I brought my conversation piece to Tuesday night's bridge and launched into a speech about how our instructor not only had brilliant suggestions as a bridge teacher but  was also helpful in other areas of life.  Anne was smiling as I described the advice she had given me after our golf game.  Then, taking the goat's entrails from my pocket, I dangled them from my fingers and said, ". . . although I really don't see what she didn't like about this."   
January 1. 1997
To Ed and Aliceann
    By the time you get this, Kathie and Frank will be down there enjoying what we don't have up here.  Beautiful, balmy breezes and warm, well-bred weather.  Oh my, the lengths to which I go to achieve alliteration and not end a sentence with a preposition.   To describe the results of my cataract surgery, bananas became such an intense yellow I could have used them for a lamp.  Lettuce was greener by far than the valley in that book by I-forget-whom.  A favorite rose-colored pullover became hot pink overnight.  As for the pink in my cheeks, in reality it was a multitude of spider veins.
    Other shockers were the countless areas in my condo that weren't as clean as I thought they were.  In the bathroom, I tipped my head back for the eye-drops prescription and witnessed a ceiling covered with specks and spots.  I'm still trying to catch up with years of unobserved grime.
    Another effect of the operation was a droopy eyelid.  The doctor says it should be back to normal in a few months.  I devoutly hope so.  What good is one bedroom eye?
    Oh well, as long as it's good enough to see a golf ball landing in the rough, that's the important thing.  Gene Peterson has resigned because he intends to make golf his career and, I suspect, because he could no longer stand certain golf-club pains-in the neck. 
    Our best woman golfer, Nancy Black, described the new pro as "yummy."  Maybe I'll take a lesson and give him a load of my bedroom eye.  One never grows too old to dream.
January 28, 1997
    Kathie and Frank are so, so close.  He's been doing some painting for me and always arranges to come on a day when she can keep him company, usually a Friday.
    Last Friday I expected to be gone for the day. I spent the morning at Anne Bell's bridge course at the South Shore Country Club.  We students look forward to stopping at noon and enjoyng an excellent lunch in the dining-room.  I thought I'd have plenty of time to get to Cohasset for a "Marathon" bridge game at 1:30. 
    The service was nerve-wrackingly slow.  Finally the orders began to arrive, and I waved at the waitress who was passing out the soup-and-sandwich entre to those who had ordered it.  When I was ignored, I whimpered to my fellow diners, "I'm in such a hurry," flapping my arms the way Timmy does when he's excited.      
    It was 1:00 when I hurriedly began scalding myself with the soup, figuring I'd take the sandwich with me.  A few spoonfuls later, I poured ice water into the bowl, picked it up, and gulped the soup down.  At 1:10, after I waved to the waitress and flapped my arms some more, she brought me a take-out carton.   I raced for the coatroom and could only imagine the raised eyebrows that followed me. 
    I pulled up in front of Joan Graham's house at exactly 1:30.  She came out into the cold to tell me she'd been trying to reach me all morning.  Her partner was sick, so the bridge was postponed until next Friday.
    Meanwhile, back at the condo, Kathie and Frank had arrived late because they had to pick up a part she needed for her wheelchair lifter.  Frank hadn't wanted to appear at the repair shop in his painting pants but thought it wouldn't matter if he got paint on the oldish pair he was wearing.
    Kathie thought otherwise.  "Those are too good to turn into painting pants," she decreed.  So off came the pants.  Then Kathie decided his jockey shorts were too good to turn into painting jockey shorts.  Non-argumentative fellow that he is, Frank took them off, and began nakedly painting my front hall.
    "Wouldn't it be funny," Kathie said, "if Mom came home early for some reason, ran into a neighbor, and invited her in to look at the new paint job?"  About 17 seconds later, I tapped on the door and turned my key in the lock.  Upon entering the hall, I found Kathie giggling as she looked toward the dining-room at Frank's disappearing heels.  She said she'd never seen him move so fast and then told me why she was giggling.
    "That's okay, Frank," I called. "I've got work to do on my computer, so you can come out now."
    After awhile I realized I'd forgotten to bring my phone into my study.  "Frank," I called, "I'm going to back into my bedroom and get my phone. I promise I won't peek."
      It was a productive afternoon for both Frank and me.  I printed a copy of my revised Read Me a Rhyme, Please for a publisher, and Frank finished painting the hall.  
    The next day I looked at his work and left a note on the kitchen counter:  "The closet opposite my bedroom has two or three little drips that probably happened when you were bollicky and I was backing to and fro.  Could the drips be sanded and touched up?  I figure Kathie can read this note to you while you’re painting, sanding, stripping, or whatever. . . .”

No comments:

Post a Comment