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Sunday, July 23, 2017

A HAND WAS DIPPING INTO OUR OLIVE DISH (25)

October 5, 1962
     Ed and I had the weirdest evening last night. He had been out of town for a couple of days but got back in time to take me to the Threepenny Opera. We met at the Fifty-Seven Club, one of our favorite restaurants, but not the place to go, I realized belatedly, when you’re in the mood for a romantic tete-a-tete.
     “This isn’t very private, is it?” I murmured to Ed as we were shown to our table. The people on either side of us were so close I wondered how we’d manage a knife and fork without jabbing them in the ribs.
     “I know,” he said. “You and I have got to get away. I’ve missed you.” 
     “Maybe this weekend when we go up to Colby?”
     “No, I mean really away—for a week or two. We need some time alone together.”
     Surrounded as we were by strangers, it was difficult to say much of a personal nature. I touched my Martini glass to his and was gazing at him tenderly when I became aware of a phenomenon:  a hand was dipping into our olive dish.
     “Mary! What are you doing!” the lady on my left said.
     The owner of the hand popped the olive into her mouth and looked at us roguishly. Do you mind?” she said. “I love olives, and ours are all gone.”
     Ed picked up a handful and said, “Here, have some more.”
     “Pass the dish, not the olives,” I said. “You’re as bad as Mary. Uh—I mean—Ed, dear, didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?”
     “Yes, she taught me to wash my hands before dinner. They’re perfectly clean.” He dropped the olives back in the dish and set it on Mary’s table.
     We returned to our private conversation, or tried to. It wasn’t easy to concentrate because our olive snitching neighbor, chin in hand, was openly listening to us.
     “Do you mind if I ask you something?  Are you two married?”
     “Mary!” said her friend.
     Ed said we sure were. “We’d better be—we have four children.”
     “Imagine that!” she breathed. “And you’re still in love, aren’t you! I can just tell you two are in love.”
     “Mary!  Let these poor people eat their dinner in peace.”
     “Don’t you agree with me?” Mary said, leaning across our table and addressing the gentleman on my right. “Aren’t they still in love?”
     “Absolutely!” the man said. “No question about it!” Gulping the rest of his coffee, he signaled the waitress, paid his bill and left.  I’m sure he’d have lingered if he’d known we were about to pass around pictures of the children.
     Mary wanted to know if we were celebrating an anniversary. We said no, we were just  celebrating the end of a separation.
     “Two days?” Mary said, clucking sympathetically. “Two whole days! How did you ever stand it?”
     Coincidentally, her friend’s name was Barbara. She had an eight-year-old son. She said her parents were still in love, too, even though they were grandparents. We parted the best of friends, Mary insisting on jotting down my telephone number so she could call me in the morning and ask me how I liked the Threepenny Opera. I haven’t heard from her.
     The evening was weird, too. We were waiting for the curtain to rise at the Charles Theatre when who should stroll in and sit down behind us but the Barnards. After the first act we got together for a drink in the downstairs bar.
     Ed said, “Unless I’m seeing things, a woman just walked into the Men’s Room.”
     The four of us swiveled on our stools and fixed our eyes on the door. A fellow swung in, the door closed behind him, then flew open as he emerged, looking over his shoulder and muttering to himself. This scene repeated itself two or three times until an usher was summoned. He stood guard outside the door, his hands clasped behind him, his lips pursed, his expression enigmatic. What was going on, we wondered. Finally a distraught-looking blonde lady conferred with the usher, entered the room and marched out, yanking the first lady along by the hand.
     During the first act, both ladies had been sitting near us with a Chinese gentleman. During the second act he sat there alone. Then the blonde woman returned and murmured something to her escort. I am unable to read lips, although I certainly tried, so we can only guess at what happened to her friend.
     On the way home Ed and I had an argument because I didn’t like the way he was cutting in and out of traffic. “If Mary could hear you now,” he said, “she wouldn’t wonder if we were married, she’d know.”
    Subdued, I stopped my criticizing.  Clearly Ed has discovered an effective Wife-Chastener. From now on, whenever I get out of line, all he’ll have to say is, “If Mary could hear you now.”
     Other news: Tim bought a car for $135. It’s a 1951 Mercury. He understands he won’t be allowed to drive it if his marks are unsatisfactory but assures us the incentive will spur him on to do well.
     A few days ago a mean old dog snapped at Tokay when she tried to defend a bone Mrs. White had given her. She has a black eye, poor darling. Dr. Kearns says the eye suffered no permanent damage, but it will be bloodshot for several weeks. Her puppies are due next Monday. She is enormous. She keeps me awake every night with her huffing and puffing and squeaking and hole-digging under the bed.
     Mrs. White is going to make slipcovers for the bamboo furniture. She wants to help me redecorate the whole house. She is a nine-day wonder.
October 6, 1962
      Things have never been more peaceful around here. In fact, if we don’t have a little action, reaction, and inter-reaction, I’ll begin to think I’m dreaming. Vonnie is being an angel and David Timothy is becoming more Davidish and less Timmyish every day.
     Vonnie said yesterday, “I almost wish something would go wrong do I’d have something to talk about with Dr. Meiss.”
     “Why don’t you tell her about staying after school for your English teacher?”
     “Oh, she wouldn’t want to hear anything like that. She’d just sit there and smile her little smile, and when I was finished she’d say, `Oh, really?’ or `Is that so?’”
     Vonnie had received her first detention because she laughed at something Joanne Patterson said as Mr. McCallum was bringing the class to order. When she presented herself after school, he asked her if she knew why she was there.
     “I said I didn’t, but of course I really did. He told me to sit down and think about it for a while, and then he asked me to write an essay on the subject of talking. I looked up the word `talk’ in the dictionary and wrote an essay describing the difference between talking and laughing. I ended up by saying, `And so, my dear professor, even though I have been unjustly accused, I forgive you because the sentence is the same in either case.’”
     I asked her what had made her laugh and she said, “You’ll kill me if I tell you.” I promised not to kill her, so she said, “Joanne has a charm bracelet, and one of the charms is a pair of dice. We were shooting craps.”
Later
     Mr. McDonald asked the class to write a theme “On Teachers.” Vonnie got hers back today and could hardly wait to show it to me. On it was an A- and the comment, “The sense and charm of your paper almost destroy my objectivity. One of your best.” We were so thrilled we grabbed each other and danced around the room.
     Ed, too, is a delight to my soul. That wonderful man made Dr. Meiss angry during a one-on-one conference this morning. After politely answering a number of questions, he began asking her a few. Psychiatrists are never supposed to get angry, but she didn’t like it when he asked her where she had studied and how old she was. She refused to tell him.
     “I just want to know if you’re qualified,” he said. “You look awfully young to me. Are you married? Do you have any children?”
     When she wouldn’t answer any of his questions, he declared that she must have some insecurities of her own.
     “I did find out one thing, though,” he said with a wicked gleam in his eye. Then he made a naughty comment about Chinese women that will be left unrecorded.
October 7, 1962
      Friday night Vonnie noticed that Tokay was not herself.  She was trembling and her tongue was lolling out as if she were thirsty.  "Mummy, she's going to have those puppies tonight, I'm sure of it."
     Ed was skeptical, but he carried the nursery into the living room and lined it with newspapers.  Tokay had made other arrangements.  Every time we let her out of our sight, she ran off to Kathie's room, where she had prepared a nest under the bed.  I didn't agree that one shredded Kleenex was adequate.  I hooked two of her leashes together and fastened her to my chair so she couldn't slip away.  By eleven o'clock she was very restless. I put her in the nursery and sat on the floor beside her, stroking her head and talking to her, woman to woman.
     At 11:30 the first baby arrived encased, as Georgette had been, in a transparent sac.  I sent Ed for a pair of scissors, but this time Tokay didn't need a midwife.  She snipped open the membrane with old hand expertise.
    Vonnie wasn't home, but Tim was out in the garage working on his car.  Ed called him in to witness the newly born miracle.  He inspected it, said "ugh" and went back to the garage.  I roused Mrs. White and we paced the floor together, waiting for a  brother or sister to arrive.  Ed was studying one of his flying books and said we might as well go to bed, Tokay was a one‑puppy poodle.  I bet him a dollar she was going to have at least one more.  Mrs. White agreed that she was in labor again, but when nothing happened by 12:00, she said, "I guess I'll go upstairs and read for awhile.  Call me if another one comes."
       She got as far as the kitchen when I called her.  Tokay was the mother of twins.
      "Mrs. Malley, that puppy isn't breathing," Mrs. White said.   I scrubbed the damp, motionless little body with a towel until it opened its pink mouth and took one tiny, choking breath.
     "You've got to do better than that, little one," I said, massaging the baby determinedly  "You've got to keep breathing for the rest of your life."
     Mrs. White advised me to pick the pup up by the heels and spank it.  "Isn't that what they do in the movies?" 
     I rapped those penny-sized hindquarters with one finger; the pup snuffled and gasped and then began to breathe.  Vonnie came in at 12:45, in time to greet puppy number three.  "Oh boy, I've won my bet!"  (She had bet a friend $12 in Monopoly money that her pet would have three.)
     Triplets!  Wonderful Tokay!  She had more than redeemed herself for producing only one the first time.  We transferred the nursery to our room and went to bed.  At 2:00 the puppies were making so much noise I couldn't sleep, so I decided to transfer the family to Kathie's room.  When I turned on the light and started to pick Tokay up, the reason for the commotion became clear.  The first three arrivals were being neglected for the fourth.
     Quadruplets.  Four healthy, hungry, squirming black rats.   Vonnie got up at the unheard of hour of eight o'clock and came in to see how the puppies were doing.  "One, two, three . . .four?"  Her face fell.  "Now what did she have to go and do that for?"
     Tokay is taking her large brood in stride.  When we go outside for a walk, she doesn't get frantic the way she did with Georgette.  She takes her time, knowing from experience that nothing is going to happen to her babies.
October 11, 1962
     I took the pups to the vet to have their tails snipped to the appropriate length.  I was eager to ask Dr. Kearns what sex they were.  Although I had studied them scientifically (with my glasses on and without), I couldn't see a whit of difference between them, except that one had a white spot on its chest like its mother's.  Recalling Vonnie's mistaken diagnosis of George‑ette's gender, I didn't want to get out the Name Book until we knew what we were naming.
     "What do we have here, anyway?" I said to Dr. Kearns.  "I'm darned if I can tell—they all look like males to me."
     Dr. Kearns picked them up one by one.  Then he replaced them in the shoe-box and said with a smile, "They are all males."
    I was staggered at the thought of all that masculinity in the family.  I thought of Vaughan and wished she were alive to hear this great news.  She was very disappointed when George switched genders on her.
     The puppies now have names, thanks to a suggestion from one of Vaughan's friends at the nursing home. The one with the white spot on his chest is Mark, the biggest is Matthew, the littlest  is John, and the other one is Luke.
     Ed says this is the first time in 20 years the males in the house have outnumbered the females.
October 12, 1962
     Ed in a bad mood this morning.  Says he doesn’t like these long weekends. 
     “I don’t know what to do with myself. I wish I could go to the office and do my various little chores and then play squash at the Union Boat Club and then go to Norwood for my flying lesson the way I always do.”
     Ah, there was the rub.  In the old days he would have been delighted to have an extra day to go boating, but ever since he got the flying bug, he can’t think about anything else. Flying, flying, flying.  If you could look inside his head, you wouldn’t find a brain, you’d find an instrument panel.
     I told him to go ahead and fly, it was all right with me.  I’d write a letter to Kathie and we’d drive down to Falmouth after he got back.
     “No, we’ll go boating,” he said morosely.  “I’ve already canceled my lesson.  Pack the suitcase and let’s go.”
     So I packed the suitcase, hid his birthday present (a set of nautical dishes) in the back of the station wagon, did a few other chores, and finally said, “Okay, I’m ready.”
     “I guess maybe I’ll go flying after all,” he said.
     This was one time when he guessed wrong, so here we are at the Falmouth Marina.  The Captain has peeled down to his shorts, is covered with grease from head to foot, and has been laboring over the starboard engine for two hours.  It seems that the Bendix gear keeps jamming.  And why does it keep jamming, I ask? 
     “Because I’m too blankety-blank impatient and push the starter too blankety-blank fast.” He has disassembled and reassembled the starter at least three times.                 
     “This just isn’t my Columbus Day,” he said.
     “But dear, you keep rejecting it,” I said.  “Why don’t we go over to the Island on one engine?  Think how exciting it would be, trying to pick up a mooring.  It would give me material for the Log.”
     Ed gave me some material for the Log that was unsuitable and returned to his labors.
    Poor Tokay—how she wanted to come with us!  When I got into the car this morning, she hopped into my lap and settled herself for the trip to Falmouth.
     “Why, Tokay!” I said.  “Have you forgotten your responsibilities?  You can’t leave those four babies alone all weekend, they need you.”
     She looked mournfully up at me as if to say, “I’m tired of being a slave to my children.  I’d like to go out and have a little fun for a change.”
     I sympathized with her, but such is the lot of females the world over.  I handed her over to Vonnie, and we went on our way.
Later:
     Just got back from a walk that took me, by happy chance, right to the door of the Harbor Fish Market.  The proprietor was selling hot boiled lobsters at 50 cents a pound out of the goodness of his heart and the broken down-ness of his pump.  I bought two and have been trying to tempt Ed with a morsel.
     “I don’t want any,” he says for the third time.  I’m beginning to think he means it.  “I don’t want anything to eat until I’ve cleaned off this grease and had a shower.”
      “But it will be cold by then,” I said.  “Why don’t you let me pop it into your mouth while it’s still nice and warm?”
     “Because I prefer to do my own popping,” he said.  Husbands are so stubborn.
     Ed worked on the boat all afternoon.  After his shower we drove to a delicatessen and bought one stick of butter.  While Ed made cocktails, I prepared the hors d’oeuvre, warming the butter in the frying pan along with pieces of lobster, tamale, and coral.  I glopped everything together with a fork and set the pan on the footstool between us.  Ummm-yummmm!  What a heavenly mess!
     The lady from the boat next door tapped on our window and asked if we wanted some bluefish.  The skipper two boats up the way had caught more bluefish than he could use and was giving them away.  Ed came back with two beauties, all nicely cleaned and filleted.  I told him about the cartoon in yesterday’s Herald.  “If I’m lucky,” the lady in the rowboat was saying to her husband, “maybe I’ll catch a fillet of flounder.”
     While we were having our highballs, Ed started reading for the second time a book on the subject of--well, is there any other subject?  It was called, “I’d Rather Be Flying,” and he tried to convince me that if I read a few pages, I might enjoy it.  This is like trying to convince a person who’s had nothing but corn on the cob for six months that she might enjoy a dish of corn chowder.
     I finally said, “All right, if you’ll read this “I Hate to Housekeep” article in the Journal, I’ll try your “I’d Rather Be (choke) Flying.”
      I have to admit Mr. Smith is an author of considerable charm and humor.  I have to admit it because try as I might to look bored, I kept losing control and chuckling at the man’s jokes.  Like, “The only trouble I had about flying in those days was with my wife, who was against it, mainly because, as far as I could figure, she seemed to think I was flying around in her mink stole.”
     Ed was revoltingly pleased with himself.
    At 7:00 he went below to change into his suit, since we were going out to dinner.  When he finished dressing, I took a shower and began thinking about what I would wear.
     “I just had a horrible thought,” I called to Ed.  “I don’t think I have a pair of shoes on the boat.  I’ll have to wear sneakers with my dress.”
     The question was, what dress?  The minute I opened the locker door and saw all those empty hangers, I remembered I'd brought my dresses home the last time we went boating. This was indeed a dilemma.  Ed laughed and laughed.  “Don’t worry, I won’t let you go hungry,” he said.  “I’ll go out by myself and bring you home something in a doggie bag.”
     "I think I can sneak by the doorman if I keep my coat buttoned.”
     The coat was an old Camel’s hair reefer of Kathie’s, with frayed cuffs and one missing button.
     “You never looked lovelier,” Ed said with a straight face.
     We didn’t have the nerve to go anywhere as elegant as Coonamessit Inn or the Flying Bridge.  We decided to try the Old Surrey Room, a remarkable restaurant we’d heard of that charges half the price quoted on the menu, regardless of what you order.  Filet Mignon is $2.75, Lobster Thermidor $2.50, Lamb Chops $1.75.  We had a delicious dinner, although I felt conspicuous—and warm—with my coat buttoned to the neck.  People stared, but after the second Martini I didn’t care.
Saturday, October 13, 1962, Falmouth
     “It’s too cold to stay on the boat,” Ed announced this morning.  “Let’s go home.”  I was opposed to going home, and we had the makings of a splendid argument until I remembered it was his birthday and gave in.  He said we would fly up to Colby for Ted’s football game.  And while he was at it, he’d show me how easy it was to operate the plane.  Maybe I’d decide I wanted to take some lessons.  Yeah, right.
     Have stripped the beds, emptied the galley shelves, cleaned out the bureaus and lockers.  Ed thinks we’ll be back again, but I’m afraid the summer is over. Goodbye, dear boat.  Sob.  
     But there will be other summers, and fall isn’t a bad season if you can ignore its proximity to winter.  There are football games and hot dogs and aerial views of the foliage. 
October 14, 1962
     The flight to Maine was bumpy because of the wind, and Ed alarmed me as we approached Barnes Airport by saying, “This ought to be interesting.”
     “Not too interesting, please,” I said, tightening my seat-belt.
     Here we go . . . the downdraft buffets us about . . . Great White Eagle steadies his wings . . . we sink to the runway.  The wheels touch the asphalt with no more jolt than a bicycle going over a curbstone.  “Very nice,” I say shakily.  We call a cab, and it’s on to Ted’s football game.
Cohasset, October 19, 1962
     Nancy Burns goes to Emmanuel College, which is next door to the building where Vonnie sees Dr. Meiss every week.  As we were getting out of the car on Thursday, Vonnie said she wished she could find her friend, but she didn’t know where to look.  We heard someone call to us.
     Nancy!” Vonnie screamed, and the two of them hugged each other and almost cried with joy.  We'd been parking regularly within a few yards of Nancy’s dorm.
     After the appointment the girls met outside and went to the dorm for a talk while I killed time in the drug store.  Nancy loves 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 drop.  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 drop?” I asked.
     “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, thoughtful, intelligent, generous, 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 solutions.  The fact that Ed and I don’t loathe each other must be discouraging.

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