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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(6) "IT'S GOOD WE'RE NOT PREGNANT, ISN'T IT, KATHRYN?"


     "I was working in a dressmaker's shop," Vaughan said.  "I didn't care much for the work, as I'd never been fond of sewing, but it was the only job I could find at the time.  One day I was sitting by one of the big windows in the shop, sewing something by hand.
      “A man passed by the window, and I glanced up but didn’t pay him much attention.  Eva Reynolds was sitting there, too, and she said, `Has Fred had his mustache shaved off?’  I said no, and she said, `Well, that fellow certainly looked like him.’  When I saw Fred that evening his mustache was gone.  I was so upset, I cried and wouldn’t eat any supper.  How silly I acted!  But believe me, he let it grow in and never shaved it again.  He said he’d grown tired of it and didn’t think I’d feel so bad about it.  Poor, patient Fred, I’m afraid I gave him a hard time.” 
      We were both silent, Vaughan lost in her memories again, while I bit my pencil and tried to think of another evocative question.
      “Did you and Fred ever spank Harold?” 
      “Fred did one time, and that was the first, last, and only time.  Harold had a dog that was part Collie and part something else.  He and the dog and Fred were out in the yard, and Fred told Harold not to do something.  Harold disobeyed him and started up the steps of the house.  His father grabbed him by the back of his dress and gave him a spank.  The dog leaped up and his teeth landed in the seat of Fred’s pants.
      "I had seen Fred swat Harold, and my first reaction was one of anger, but when I saw the dog snarl and fly at him, I was frightened.
      “I don’t know why I was so torn up over Fred’s disciplining him,” Vaughan mused, half to herself.
      “Did you ask him not to hit Harold again?”
      “Yes, I did,” she admitted, an almost sheepish grin fleeting across her face.  I could guess why she was looking guilty.  When she and Kathryn get their heads together over a cup of coffee, one of Kathryn’s favorite subjects is the deplorable lack of discipline administered to the children of today --and that includes the Malley children, I have no doubt.
       "Did you ever spank him yourself?”
      “I used to spank his hand once in awhile when he was little, but I can remember only one time when I really whipped him.  We had a neighbor who was going to have a baby.  She wasn’t very well, and she asked Harold if he’d go down to the market and do an errand for her.  He refused to go.  Well, I’m afraid I didn’t handle it right -- I was sure of it afterward.  He came home and told me Mrs. Littlefield had asked him to do an errand, but he didn’t want to.  I said, `You’re going to go.’  When he still wouldn’t, I picked up a stick and spanked him good and hard.  Then he went to the market.”
      After Fred died Vaughan sent Harold to Easton to live with her sister Gertrude, his favorite aunt. Since Gertrude and Frank had no children, Harold was lonesome.  He used to write pathetic letters to his mother, telling her how he would go out to the haymow and cry.
      “What were you doing at that time?”
      “It goes without saying that I worked.  Let me think . . . “
      After a moment, she said, “I believe that was when I worked for the Whitin Machinery Company in the first aid department.  I got the job through Gene Morehouse, one of the head ones around there.”
      Vaughan didn’t see Harold for two years.  When he was thirteen, he was invited to live with the family of a friend named Billy Smith.  Billy and he had gone to school together and had corresponded regularly after Harold moved to Easton.  Vaughan was overjoyed to have her son near enough so that she could see him once in a while.
      “He had grown so, I could hardly believe it was he.   He had always been large for his age, but now all of a sudden he seemed grown up.”
      “How long did you work for the machinery company?”
      Vaughan frowned and thought hard.  “Three or four years, I think.  Then when Harold was a junior or senior I took a position in a private home.  I had a friend, Eva Bracken, who worked as a personal maid to Mrs. La Salle.  The La Salles were multimillionaires, and Eva wanted me to come there and join the staff.”
       Vaughan had an interview and was immediately hired.
      “When Mrs. La Salle asked me what my name was, I said, `Jessie Vaughan.’  She said, `Oh! Jessie is my name, we can’t call you that.  We’ll call you Vaughan.’  I liked it because I didn’t have to give up the name when I married Dr. Ross." [A chapter we never got into.]
Monday, circa March, 1962
      It’s strange the way a small thing can get on your nerves, no matter how you reason with yourself not to let it bother you.  Whenever I put Vaughan’s tray in front of her, she exclaims, “Oh, my!”  She has been saying this same phrase three times a day, seven days a week, without the slightest variation in tone or inflection.  She says, “Oh, my!” whether the meal is visible or hidden under a pie tin to keep it warm.
      During the few seconds it took to level the front legs of the tray with a magazine, I would implore silently, “Vaughan, please don’t say `Oh, my!’  Say something different this time."  But without fail she would regard the inverted pie tin with a look of pleased surprise and exclaim, “Oh, my!”  How did she know there wasn’t a dead toad under there?
    I decided to call this unconscious habit to her attention.  Flinching as I was greeted with “Oh, my!” for the forty-first time in two weeks—you’ve got to admit that’s a lot of oh mys—I said, “Vaughan, do you know you say that every single time I bring your tray?”
      “Say what?”
      “`Oh my.’  You say it every time.”
      “I do?  Well, it’s just that it always looks so good.”
      I made my little joke about the dead toad and she laughed and said she knew there was something good under the pie tin even if she couldn’t see it.  Nevertheless, it pays to face up to these irksome problems.  Vaughan no longer says “Oh my” when I bring her meals, she says, “Oh my -- goodness!”
      More progress:  for the last two days she has been able to walk to the bathroom by herself.
March 20, 1962
      I thought I’d never get Vaughan settled night before last.  Ed was waiting for me to go out to dinner with him, and things always go wrong when you’re in a hurry.  First I spattered Milk-of-Magnesia all over her room when the top flew off the bottle while I was shaking it.  Couldn’t blame anyone but me, since I was the genius who left the cap loose.  I mopped up the mess, then mixed the laxative according to instructions and handed Vaughan the glass.  She took one look at the clay-colored stuff and began to retch.  When she was through with the basin, she choked down her medicine and asked for a nausea pill.
      God, what a way to live.  And yet she never whines.  She says, “I think I feel a bit stronger today,” or “Dr. Cline says I show a marked improvement this week.”
      When she was finally ready to bed down, I couldn’t fix the pillow to her satisfaction.  Lying on her side, she tried to position it herself, but her shoulder was so sore she couldn’t raise herself more than an inch or two from the mattress.  “I want it up,” she kept saying.
      “Up where, Vaughan?  Up toward the wall?”
      “No . . . up,” was all she could say.
      I tried that pillow every which way, but I never did figure out what she was aiming for until I tested my own pillow last night.  “Now I get it,” I said to myself.  “She wants it tucked up here between her neck and her shoulder.”
       "There!" Vaughan said tonight when I adjusted the pillow perfectly.  
      Tokay and I have been enjoying the early arrival of spring.  Trailed by a retinue of admirers (hers, darn it), we have been taking long walks along Atlantic Avenue toward Sandy Beach.  With the bridge in disuse because of ongoing repairs, there is little traffic; I unsnap her leash and let her run free.  She scampers ahead of me and frolics like a puppy in the sunshine.  Then she runs back and looks up at me as if to say, “Hey, where are we -- in Florida?”                                                  

March 27, 1962
      Yesterday I fixed what may be the last breakfast I’ll ever prepare for Vaughan.  I made scrambled eggs for me, too, and carried the tray to the third floor.  I set my breakfast on the TV and was about to place her tray in front of her when she asked me to fill the hot water bottle -- her hip was killing her.  I stood the tray on the TV while I heated up the bottle and tucked it under her hip.  By this time I had forgotten my breakfast was sitting under the legs of Vaughan’s tray, so when I whisked her breakfast over to her bed, my buttermilk went along, too.  Thick globs of buttermilk all over my robe, the television, Vaughan’s quilt, and the frayed carpet where she has shuffled so many hundreds of times from bed to bathroom.
      Life is so full of big calamities with our teenagers, a small one doesn’t even quicken my pulse.  I mopped up the buttermilk and joined my friend in a meal of cold scrambled eggs.               
Wednesday
      This is as far as I got yesterday.  I had to go up to the high school for a conference with Mr. Wunschel about Vonnie’s shenanigans, then do some errands, then visit Vaughan.  This morning Kathryn is sick with something that appears to be German Measles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I were getting them myself, as I feel the way Kathryn did yesterday, all fagged out.  I have a slight fever and can’t seem to concentrate on the story of Vaughan and the Nursing Home.  It will have to wait.
March 28, 1962
      I have no rash this morning, so apparently I’m not coming down with the German measles after all.  Yesterday, when I thought I was, I said to Kathryn, “It’s a good thing we’re not pregnant, isn’t it?”  How she laughed at that one.    
      To go back to Monday and Vaughan’s exodus to the nursing home . . .
      “Is it today I’m going or tomorrow?” she asked when I brought up her breakfast tray.  I think she knew very well it was today but clung to the hope she could somehow forestall the inevitable.        
     Late in the morning Mrs. London arrived to bathe her and help her get ready to leave.                
     “What are you doing here!” Vaughan asked.
     I was sorry I hadn’t mentioned that the visiting nurse would be coming as usual on this last day.  I could sense the hope leaping up that perhaps her routine was not going to change.  Mrs. London would be coming every weekday morning as she had the last few months, and life in her third-floor haven would continue in its customary course.
       “Don’t you want to see me?” Mrs. London said reproachfully.  “I’ll go home if you want me to.  I just thought you might like me to help you pack.”
      Vaughan sighed and said that would be nice.           

                              It was after two, and the police hadn’t yet shown up with the portable wheelchair, so Vaughan and I watched “Password” together, twisting our hands and thinking our thoughts.  She asked if the nurse had packed the knob that belonged to her TV set, and I said I thought it was in the box with her medications.  When I looked, it wasn’t there, so I called the Social Service League to ask about it. “It’s in the suitcase,” Mrs. London said.  “When are the police coming?”  I said I’d expected them at two, but they hadn’t arrived yet.  
       “You’d better call them.  Dr. Cline may have forgotten to notify them, and these delays are awfully hard on a patient.”  
       The officer who answered said they had received no request to transport a patient in a chair.  Dr. Cline was apologetic, and shortly afterward the police car drove in the driveway.  Vaughan had been insisting all day that she could manage the stairs by herself, but when the officers appeared in the doorway, she said meekly, “So you’ve come to give me a ride."
~~~  
      “Good heavens, I never saw so many medications for one patient. Why does she need these?” Mrs. Twomey asked, examining a bottle of pain pills.
      “They’re for pain,” I said.   
      “I know, that’s what is says on the label, but what is she in pain from?”
I had told Ravenscraig’s owner that my friend was a cancer patient, but it must have slipped her mind.  Since Vaughan was sitting only a few feet away I stammered, “They’re for her arthritis.”
Later, when Mrs. Twomey was comparing the various bottles with Dr. Cline’s list and muttering that these would all have to be labeled, that was a state law, I said in a low voice that Mrs. Ross actually had cancer and would be in constant pain if it weren’t for the pills.  She didn’t look up, and I wondered if she had heard me. 
While Mrs. Twomey and a nurse were getting Vaughan settled, I chatted with one of her roommates.
       “This is the most wonderful place in the world,” Mrs. Gilman said.  “They treat you very nice here, everyone’s very kind.”
      She spoke of her failing eyesight when I mentioned Vaughan’s TV, and I told her there were many programs she could enjoy even if she couldn’t see them.
       “I suppose I might, once I got used to it.”
       “Do you have a radio?” I asked, wondering what she did to pass the long hours.
       “I have one at home, but I didn’t bring it with me.  I thought, 'What’s the percentage'?”  She shrugged and smiled.
      “How long have you been here?”
      ”I don’t remember.”
      “I mean, has it been a few weeks or a few months?”
      “Oh my no, it’s been years.”
      Years of sitting in a chair all morning and lying in bed all afternoon -- doing nothing.  I looked at this placid, half-blind woman and thought, "How does she stand it?"
      George was due to have his temporary shot at 4:30, so at about 4:00 I told Vaughan I had to go.  Leaning over to kiss her goodbye, I said, “I’ll stop in and see you tomorrow.”
      Her face began to work and I said, “Now, now, it isn’t going to be that bad.”
       A tiny woman shaped like a butternut squash and wearing huge horn-rimmed glasses waddled in and said heartily, “How do you do, are you the new patient, I’m one of the Grassie sisters, we both live here, my sister and I, you’re going to like it here.”
        She extended her hand and Vaughan clutched it, blinking back her tears and smiling.  “I’m Vaughan,” she said.  “What did you say your name was?”
       “Miss Grassie.  G-R-A-S-S-I-E.”
        “Bassett?”
       “No, Grassie.  Just think of Cohasset and you’ll never forget it.”
       “Grasset,” Vaughan said.  “Do you live here?”
        “Yes, I got tired of keeping house so I decided to move over here with my sister and take it easy.  I guess you’ve heard of the Grassies,” she said, turning to me.
       “Everyone’s heard of the Grassies,” I said.
       “My family has lived in Cohasset for generations.  If my father were alive today he’d have been a resident for 120 years -- what do you think of that?”
        I agreed that this was an amazing statistic.  It made my head reel to think of how many years her grandfather would have been a Cohasset resident if he were alive today.
       “Where do you live?” she asked me.
        “Sandy Cove.  Do you know where it is?”
        “Do I know where it is?” she cried.  “Why, my father built the foundations for every one of those houses!”
       Looking at the intrepid Miss Grassie I realized I would think of her father whenever a northeaster threatened to shake the house from its moorings.  The framework might go, but without question the foundation was there to stay.

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