Sunday, July 16, 2017


April 4, 1962
      Timmy walked downtown last night to buy a loaf of bread and get a thermometer for Kathryn, who is now coming down with a cold.   “Guess who gave me a ride home!” he cried, running up to my room and waving aloft a familiar blue suitcase.  “Isha!” 
    Yes, Mother is here and very happy about an exciting letter from Pauline Belmont, of Reilly and Lee.   “Just wanted to tell you the good news that The Story of Little Big has been chosen for the June issue of the Parents’ Magazine Book Club.  Besides the nice prestige and publicity, this means a minimum advance of $1000 to be split 50/50 between us (the publishers) and you (author and your illustrator).  Details later.”                             
    Another one of Isha’s stories, The Story of Lengthwise, is being held for further consideration by Wilcox and Follett. 

Back to Vaughan. . . .
Sun -- night nurse blows up hot water bottle [scribbled reminder]
    Actually, the nurse didn’t blow up the hot water bottle.  She blew up when Vaughan asked her to fill it.
   “I didn’t hold it against her.  I knew she was busy and I hated to bother her, but my shoulder was hurting me so, I could hardly stand it.  She brought it to me a couple of hours later, and the pain eased right away.”
   I asked her if she wouldn’t reconsider a heating pad, which she could plug in herself whenever she wanted it, but she rolled her eyes and said, “No, thank you!”
Tues -- Boston & “Carnival”
     Mom and I drove in town this morning, stopping to see Vaughan on the way.  Incurred Miss Kaywood’s displeasure, first by being there before visiting hours (“We can’t have guests traipsing in and upsetting our routine”), second, by dripping juice from a wax bag containing strawberries on her nice clean floor.  I grabbed a tissue from my purse and wiped up the drops, but the stout, starchy lady continued to mutter.  I gave Vaughan the strawberries and told her we could stay only a minute.
    “What do you have all over the back of your coat, Babbie?” she asked.
     Strawberry juice!  My beautiful white Lawrence-of-London coat.  I took another minute to sponge off  the stain in the utility room, while Miss Kaywood stamped around and growled to herself.
     Ed and I had dinner at Dinty Moore’s, then saw “Carnival,” a musical with Susan Watson and Ed Ames.  I liked it so much I asked him to get tickets for Mom and Janeth.
April 16, 1962
       Day before yesterday I invited Vaughan to come over and spend the day.  At first she said she didn’t feel up to it, but the nurse called a little later and said, “Mrs. Ross has changed her mind, she’d love to come.”
     “Miss Grassie was sitting in my room with her sewing when I got back from the phone,” Vaughan explained when I came to pick her up.  “She hit the ceiling when I told her I’d turned you down and told me to go ahead and go, it was all in my mind.  `It’s all in my shoulder,’ I said, but then I decided she was right, I wouldn’t feel any worse at your house than I do here.”
     I brought along her pillows and set her up on the couch in front of the TV,  then went to the market and got some calves liver, which she had been craving.  I hadn’t intended to impose on Kathryn, but she took over and prepared a  feast "fit for a queen,” as Vaughan always calls it:  liver and bacon, fried onions, baked potato, and a pineapple and avocado salad.
     In the afternoon I got out some mending and kept Vaughan company during “Password” and Art Linkletter’s “House-Party.”  At 3:00 she looked at me wearily and said, “I guess you’d better take me home."
     Home!  Not "take me back."  Home!  
       I was getting dinner when Mom called and asked me to send for Dr. Cline.  She had an “odd feeling” in the area of her heart, similar to the one she had last year when she had an angina attack.  Dr. Cline checked her heart, found no sign of damage, but advised her to stay quiet for the rest of the evening.  The little pill she put under her tongue had counteracted the spasm.  The doctor said he’d be pleased if he had a heart as strong as hers when he reaches her age.
     I brought Mom’s dinner up to her room after Dr. Cline left and we laughed together over Malley’s Tray Service, briefly discontinued after Vaughan moved to Ravenscraig.  I told her I thought it might be a good idea to install a dumb waiter between the kitchen and the third floor.  She beat me to the pun.
April 18, 1962
       Miss Kaywood has had a heart attack and is in the hospital.  She knew she had heart trouble because she used to tell the other nurses to put one of her pills under her tongue if she ever had an attack.  Maybe that’s why her disposition wasn’t as agreeable as it might have been.  We never know what private griefs and anxieties other people may have.
     When I went to see Vaughan, I brought my notebook so we could continue with her biography.  We’d reached the point where she was working for a woman named Mrs. LaSalle.
      “I had a nice room at LaSalle’s.  I was sort of a governess to a little boy about -- oh maybe five --no, he was six because he was old enough to go to a little private school nearby.  He was Mrs. LaSalle’s grandson.  His parents lived in New York City, but the little fellow wasn’t too healthy, and his grandmother thought the country air was good for him.”
     Vaughan used to walk to the school every noon to get Michael.  She would bring along a piece of fruit or a sandwich, and on the way home they’d sit down on a bench under a shade tree, where Michael would eat his snack and chatter about his morning’s activities.
      “He was a very poor eater.  When I first went there he used to have his dinner in the dining room with his grandparents.  He’d get so absorbed in the conversations, he wouldn’t touch his plate.  It was `Eat, Michael, eat,’ from Madame LaSalle.  She decided to put a separate table in one corner of the room for Michael and me -- it was a huge room, the house was known in Whitinsville as `LaSalle’s Mansion.’  A folding screen was set up to separate our table from the family’s, and from then on Michael did better with his meals.”
       “What sort of person was Madame LaSalle?  Was she pleasant to work for?”
       “No, she was very hard to get along with.  Everyone on the staff was afraid of her; we always had to be on the alert because we were afraid we’d do or say something we shouldn’t.
       “She used to have her cocktail every afternoon at four.  When I’d get back from a walk with Michael she’d be reclining on the couch.  I’d fix her cocktail and carry it in to her.  Sometimes she didn’t make me take it back.  I always made it the same way, but I never knew whether she was going to fuss about it or accept the way it was.  Once she said I hadn’t put any liquor in, so I went back and added more.  You had to agree with Madame or else.  It would have been a sorry day for me if I told her she was mistaken. 
       “We used to have a lot of fun behind her back in the kitchen.  If Eva was around I’d make believe I was putting a lot of extra liquor in Madame’s glass.  We’d have the biggest laugh over it.  Mr. Hunt, the houseman, used to join in the horseplay when he wasn’t busy looking after things.”
       “What were his duties?”
       “He cleaned the curtains and rugs and waxed the floors -- that sort of thing.  He stayed with the LaSalle’s for many years until he died, not long ago.  He had a nice home and family nearby.  Some of his children went to school with Harold.
       “Michael was a smart little rascal.  I’d read to him to keep him from listening to the grownup conversation.  I’d read a line and say, `Eat, Michael.’  Then I’d read another line and say, `Eat, Michael.’ One time when I’d said that about half a dozen times, he said to me, `The devil’s telling me to throw all my supper on the floor--’(Imitating a small devil-resisting boy of six, Vaughan pursed her lips and shook her head virtuously) --`but I’m not going to.’”
       Shortly before Harold graduated from high school, Vaughan received an urgent telegram from Maine:  “Come at once, Marie needs you.”  Vaughan asked for a leave of absence from Madam LaSalle and went "down" to Ogunquit, expecting to find her sister sick or in some kind of difficulty. 
       Marie owned a little place called “Gleason’s Lobster House.”  It was on the boulevard near the beach and was a little gold mine, with a restaurant downstairs and rooms on the second floor.  Marie’s husband, George Gleason, was chef, and Marie was general manager.
      “I got off the bus and walked down the boulevard.  When I got in sight of the Lobster House, there sat Marie on the porch, fatter than ever, and laughing her head off.  She just wanted me to work for her, and the telegram was her way of seeing that I came. I was provoked to think she would give me such a scare.”
     Vaughan agreed to stay for the summer, provided Harold could be with her.  She went back to Whitinsville, quit her job at LaSalle’s, and packed up her belongings. 
     George Gleason was Marie’s fourth husband.  She had borne two children by her first husband, Ralph Whitehead.  Donald, the older boy, was grown up and married.  Paul was tragically killed in a hunting accident when he was nineteen.  He and several other boys had crossed a stream in a boat.  He was the last to climb out, and as he did so, he dragged his gun across the gunwale, causing it to explode.  He was holding the barrel in his hand and was instantly killed by the blast.
       When the brothers were eight or ten years old, Marie and Ralph were divorced.
       “My mother took in the two boys and raised them.  They were more like my brothers than my cousins.”
       Vaughan couldn’t recall the name of Marie’s second husband, whom she promptly divorced.  Her third also brief marriage was to a man named Watson.  When number four, George Gleason died, she had another husband or two, finally marrying a man thirty years younger than she, Paul Dewey.
       In her efficient way, Vaughan took over the preparations for the opening of Gleason’s Lobster House.  Marie spent most of her time in her car, stocking the kitchen and doing the other dozens of errands that were necessary to equip the place for business.
       “On opening day my first customers were two men, the first customers I’d ever waited on.  They had shore dinners and left me my first tip -- twenty-five cents.  I rushed out to Marie and said `Look, Marie, I got a tip!’  Marie daintily lifted the quarter from my fingers, and dropped it in the cash box.  `Here is where this belongs, they meant that for me,’ she said.  I was such a dumbbell I didn’t know any better than to believe her.  Later the other waitresses said, `Don’t be a fool, those tips are yours,’ and believe me, I kept them after that.”
       More and more responsibility fell to Vaughan.  When early customers arrived for breakfast, she was the one who was up and ready to serve them.  She also locked up the restaurant at night.
       “Most of the other waitresses were young girls who’d rather sleep in the morning and go out at night.
       “Harold spent the summer helping in the kitchen, receiving no pay except his board.   We slept in rooms on the third floor of the main building.  The rest of the help were quartered in six rooms over the three-car garage.  I became particularly friendly with a couple named Wilbur and Edith Moody.  Edith did chamber work and Wilbur washed the dishes.  They had a boy a little older than Harold and a girl Eunice, thirteen, who lived on the premises but didn’t work.
       “All of a sudden, sometime during the summer, the Moodys said to me, `What do you say we go to Florida?’
       “None of us had ever been, and it sounded like a good idea.  I said, `Why not?’ 
       “We began making our plans right away but didn’t break the news to Marie until the latter part of August.  My, didn’t she blow her top!  She didn’t care what the Moodys did, but she wanted to hang onto me.  I was the main spoke of the wheel, really, I took so much of the work and responsibility off her shoulders.  She had all she could do to look after the financial end of things.”
       Vaughan agreed to wait until Labor Day came, when the big rush would be over.  Then she told her sister firmly, she and Harold were going to Florida with the Moodys.
       “By the end of the summer I had hoarded up three hundred dollars in tips.  Marie was supposed to give me ten dollars a week, and as she hadn’t yet given me a cent, I asked for my pay.  She didn’t want to settle, saying I had made enough money in tips.  Her husband spoke up and said, `Marie, Jessie’s earned that; it belongs to her no matter what she got in tips.’  Finally she  reluctantly paid me, and we started for Florida.”
       “What did you have in mind?  Were you thinking of spending the whole winter or just a few weeks or what?”
       “We didn’t have any idea what we were going to do.”
       “How did you get down there?”
       Vaughan chuckled.  “It’s a wonder we ever did!  The Moodys had two rickety old automobiles.  Harold and I and Mr. and Mrs. Moody traveled in one, and their son and his girl drove the other, which was loaded with all our supplies and camping equipment.
       “We set up two tents every night, one to eat and cook in, the other to sleep in.  The Moody boy and his sweetheart, who had been a waitress at Marie’s, were obviously very much in love.  Although it wasn’t official, it was generally understood that they were going to get married.
       “It took us about ten days to get from Ogunquit to St. Petersburg.  There were no motels on the highways, but there were parking areas where you could put up your tents.  There was usually a little store nearby where you could buy groceries.  We had a small gasoline stove and cooked all our own meals -- we never once ate in a restaurant.”
       “What year was this, Vaughan?”
       She tried to figure it out.  “Harold graduated in June and I know he was very young compared to the other seniors --sixteen, I think.”
       “Well, he was born in 1904, so it must have been 1920,” I said.  “How did you and the Moodys get along during the trip?  Were there any feuds or personality clashes?”
       “Not a one.  The only trouble we had was when squirrels got into our food a couple of times and when the car broke down and had a flat right in the middle of Gandy Bridge.  It’s seven miles long and heads into St. Petersburg.  You’re not supposed to call a halt, it’s like going through a tunnel, but there was nothing we could do except stop and change the tire.  We held up traffic and caused quite a commotion.”
       “Vaughan, let’s go back a couple of years,” I said the next day, pulling a chair up beside her bed and opening my notebook.  We’ll get to the Florida saga later, but meanwhile, we seem to have skipped over an eventful period in your life.  How were you affected by World War 1?”
       “None of my relatives were of an age to go,” she replied.  “They were either too young or too old.”
       “Well, how about the flu epidemic? Remember those fair-weather friends you told me about years ago?  I can’t think of their names, but I remember how they disappointed you in some way.”
       “Oh -- you mean the Quackenbushes?” 
       Vaughan became acquainted with Sally and Mildred Quackenbush, mother and daughter, through a mutual interest in the Whitinsville High School basketball games.
       “I was always a fan of basketball, football, and baseball, and I'd been friendly with the Quackenbushes ever since Harold was small and we used to see them at the games.”
       Sally Quackenbush, whose husband died when their daughter was a young girl, was a telegraph operator in Whitinsville.  Mildred worked as a secretary in a business office.  Both Vaughan and the Quackenbushes lived in the neighboring town of Lynwood.
       “I used to invite them for dinner quite often.  Once, when Harold was still a little fellow, he made some Cream of Tartar biscuits, and Sally thought they were wonderful.  She asked him how he’d made them.  He said, `Well, the first thing you do, you wash your hands.’”
       Vaughan was the first person in town to come down with the flu.  She was working in the Northridge Woolen Mills, running a machine, and as she walked to the bus stop on this particular morning, she wasn’t feeling well.  She had heard people discussing the influenza epidemic, but thus far no one in Lynwood had been stricken.  She had been operating her machine only a short time when she began to feel dizzy.  Her head ached and she was burning up with fever.
       “I didn’t say anything, but my boss came around and asked me if I was sick.  I said I didn’t feel good, and I remember so well, he said `You’ve got -- he didn’t use the word flu, it was some other word they used that meant the same thing, I can’t think what it was.  Anyway, he said he was going to have me sent home.  He had one of the men in the mill take me home in his car.
       “I was living in a duplex.  The other side of the house was occupied by a very nice French family -- most of the people in Lynwood were French.  I called to Mrs. -- well, I can’t think of her name just now, and told her I was sick and needed a doctor.  The doctor took my temperature and found it was 104 degrees.
       “The next morning I felt a little better, so I got dressed and went to work.  They hustled me out as fast as they could.  My boss asked me what I was thinking of to come back to the plant when I was sick with the flu.  I hadn’t realized it was so contagious and that it would spread like wildfire the way it did.  I thought it was just something I could stave off like a cold and get back to work as soon as I possibly could.”
      Vaughan went back to bed, this time to remain for two weeks.  Harold, who had been taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Maddox, neighbors who had a son about his age, used to come to see his mother every day -- but from a distance.  He would look through the window and wave to her. . . .                                                             

No comments:

Post a Comment