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Sunday, July 23, 2017

I GAZED AT THE CHAOS CREATED BY FIVE COOKS (23)

Sunday, August 26, 1962, Bass River to Falmouth
     Ed and I had a swim before breakfast while Whitey snored on and Sal did the duty in the galley, according to prior agreement.  (“You’ll get the breakfast or you don’t get invited.”) The aroma of frying bacon reminded Whitey that his mouth was good for something besides making horrible noises.  He got up and took a swim but still looked ghastly when he sat down to breakfast.  I asked him what time he’d gone to bed, and he said he had no idea.  The Captain said he felt great and bragged to a sickening degree about the merits of good clean living.
     The men went ashore to get the papers and see what the Wilds were up to.  Turned out Jane had the table set and breakfast ready for us--cold melon, sausages and scrambled eggs--the works. It wasn’t wasted, though, not with eight or ten teenage friends of the Wild children sleeping wherever they could find a place to lay their heads.  Jane says she’s got to stop being so soft-hearted about the onslaught of youngsters “on the bum” and pull in the Welcome Mat.
     When the boys returned, they said our program for the morning was already decided.  The night before, Sal had expressed an interest in the “Viking Rock.”  The idea was, the six of us would pile into Ben’s skiff and travel up Bass River to see this famous site.  According to legend, hundreds of years ago the Vikings sailed their ships into Bass River and moored them in a fashion peculiar only to Vikings:  they drilled a hole in the far side of a large rock, attached their mooring line to a peg, and placed the peg in the hole at an angle.  If an Indian attack made it advisable to set sail in a hurry, they yanked the peg out and made a dash for the open ocean.
     The journey to Viking Rock was endless.  (If we ever show this Log to the Wilds, revise that to “endlessly fascinating.”)  Sal’s enthusiasm waned very quickly--the minute, in fact, that the six of us squeezed into that tiny boat.  The Happy Days was hardly out of sight when she began talking about the return trip.
     “Oh, we have a long way to go yet,” Ben said.
     “It’s a wonder the Vikings didn’t die of boredom long before they ever reached their silly old rock,” Sally sniffed
     The Vikings, of course, had sails; moreover they were not handicapped in their progress by signs saying “6 mph.”  If they had been, the Indians would have made short work of them, which would have been all right with Sal.
     “How much further is it?” she kept asking as we chugged along at a turtle’s pace, the sun beating down on our heads and water splashing over the bow.
     “Only a few miles now,” Ben would say from the dry end of the skiff.
     “My back aches and my feet are wet,” Sal said.
     Jane told her to be a sport and Sal said she didn’t want to be a sport.
     Suddenly Ben gave a shout and pointed ahead to a small natural beach on our port side.  There it was, the object which we had come so far to see and for which we had endured so many hardships--oh thrill of thrills--a rock!
     We all piled out to look at the hole allegedly drilled by those long-ago visitors to our continent.  It gave me an eerie feeling to visualize the peg and the ship and the men.  I felt as if ghosts were watching us.
     Whitey took a swim, Sal went wading; then we climbed into the skiff and headed back.  Stopped at Wilds for do-it-yourself crabmeat sandwiches.  Asked Ben how many crabs he had to pick to fill such a large bowl and he said, “About six cans.”
     At 2:30 we waved a last farewell to our hosts, called “See you at the Harvard-Yale game,” and started for home port.  Reached Falmouth around 5:00 p.m.
August 31, 1962
     Mrs. White slipped in the kitchen Wednesday night, twisted her foot, broke a bone; will have to wear a cast for two weeks.  She and Holly are staying with older daughter, Marty, until Tuesday.  To add to the confusion the dishwasher is out of order. Spent most of the week trying to keep up with the dishes.
Saturday, September 1, 1962, Falmouth to Oak Bluffs
     Still cool and overcast this morning, despite promises of weatherman.  Left Kathie in charge of her sister.  Drove to Falmouth, arriving at noon.  Cruised to Oak Bluffs, tied up at slip near grocery store.  Shared a king-size beer, read last Sunday’s papers.  Ambled down to the village for a snack---fried clams and a hamburger at Nick’s.  Walked to Ocean View.  Neil, Tim, Grace, and Gene were sitting in rocking chairs on the porch. 
      “Get up and give the Malleys your chairs,” Gene said to the boys.  They looked pained, so we said never mind, we’d sit on the railing.
     Told Tim about Mrs. White’s accident.  “Great!” he said.  “Wait’ll you see the laundry I’m bringing home!”  Accused me of not knowing how to run the washing machine.

     Rescued Ted’s shirt, which he had thrown on ground several days ago during a touch football game.  Tim complained that he had come to the Vineyard with 14 shirts, was going home with four. 
     After a great deal of prodding---we wanted their rocking chairs---Tim and Neil departed to load skin-diving gear aboard the Happy Days.  Another job they must tackle if they want to collect their pay:  cleaning up the den of iniquity they lived in this summer.  The cottage was a mess, Gene told us, but if they’d just tackle it, they could have it tidy in three hours.  “Wait and see. They’ll leave it to the very last minute.”
     Gene said the two loafers couldn’t understand why Dick, one of the other waiters, got so many more tips than they did.  “Dick didn’t do anything special, he was just pleasant to the guests.  Neil and Tim would nudge each other and say, `Look at that guy, talking to the people!’”  It annoyed the hell out of them because by their standards it was socially unacceptable to even smile.”
      Ed played touch football while I walked back to the Happy Days, put hair up on rollers, took a shower.
      Had very dry Martinis in Ocean View lounge.  Grace rushed down from the kitchen, very much upset.  “Gene, you’d better go check on Henry, he’s hacking that roast beef to pieces.” Gene came back a few minutes later and said he could tolerate the way the roast was being carved, but it was too bad it was half raw. 
     “Good,” Ed said, “that’s the way I like it.”
     Had half-raw roast beef for dinner.  Ed told waitress Jane he’d appreciate a bone-and-all slice if she could wangle it from the chef.  Bonnie Porta came along, regarded Ed’s plate, and said, “You must be a transient.”    
     “Why?” we asked.
     “The chef never gives bones to the guests--only to transients.”
     Went to movie at local firetrap:  Vivien Leigh in “The Romantic Spring of Mrs. Stone.”  Photography wonderful, plot better than average—our average being one movie every six months.
     Decided to sleep at Ocean View as Gene had offered.  Packed night clothes and toothbrushes in canvas bag, put Tokay on leash, walked to hotel.  Parking lot full, bar doing tremendous business.  No one at desk to give us key to room.  Ed went looking for Tim, came back shaking his head and said, “Follow me—there’s a sight you should see before you die.” 
     He led me through the kitchen to the boys’ cottage, located a few yards beyond the back entry of the hotel.
     “They’re out for the evening. Take a look at the way they’ve been living, if you can call it that.”

     Here was the scene of hour after hour of poker-playing, beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, and perhaps  occasionally sleeping.  On the floor:  hundreds of bottle caps, cigarette butts, burnt-out matches, beer cans, crumpled cigarette packs, empty tonic bottle cartons, candy wrappers, grimy towels, moldering heaps of clothing—among them, some of Tim’s missing shirts?  On the bureaus,  countless empty coke bottles, ranged in glassy symmetry on every inch of available space.  Hanging from a curtain rod: a dingy padded brassiere. 
     Grace gave us the key to Room 36.  Tokay curled up on the bed and went to sleep.  Ed and I read for a while, then joined Tokay.
Sunday, September 2, 1962, Oak Bluffs to Falmouth
     Weather continues to be cold and gray.  Had breakfast at Ocean View.  Sat on porch and read our books, waiting for the paper store to open.  Ed wanted to borrow the Opal and drive to the village, but I said, “Come on, let’s walk—the exercise will be good for us.”
        Met Gert Young on her way to store, wished her luck on her cruise to Florida with Clark.   Ed said, “How will the little monsters ever be able to start school without you?”
     “Oh, they’ll start, all right.  I don’t know what will become of them, but they’ll start.”
      Whenever I see Gert I remember the riddle Teddy innocently asked her when he was in her 4th grade class.  “Mrs. Young,” he said, “what would you rather be--a golf ball or an egg?”
     “Oh, a golf ball, I guess,” Gert said.
     “You mean you’d rather be played with than laid?” 

     Read papers.  Groused about the weather.  At 2:00 talked Ed into playing tennis for an hour.  Rained out in middle of second set.
     Decided to spend night in Falmouth.  Went to Nick’s and ordered fried chicken to go and a carton of Greek salad.  Arrived Falmouth Marina 5:00 p.m.  Ed took a swim in the rain.  Had salad with our drinks, followed by chicken heated in the oven.
     At 9:00 noticed strange couple lurking on dock and peeking in windows.
     “Is this the Happy Days?  Remember us, Martin and Mary Lindenberg?  We were observers on your friend’s boat a few years ago.”
     The Predicted Log Race—Alden came in 54th.  Yes, we remembered.
     We invited the Lindenbergs aboard.  They’re teetotalers.  They stayed for an hour and a half.  That was the end of the connubial evening we had planned, but maybe it was just as well to get a good night’s sleep instead.
Monday, September 3, 1962, Falmouth
     Another cool morning.  Ed said, “Labor Day is the worst day in the whole year.”  When we had breakfast at “Mary’s Dream,” he resented the gaiety of the foursome by the window. 
     “How can they be so cheerful on Labor Day?” he wondered gloomily.
     Cleaned up boat, which was beginning to resemble the boys’ cottage.  Split a can of beer.  Read.  Sun came out.  Took nap in sun.  At 3:15 Ed said, “Come on, kid, it’s time to get back to the big city.”  Stuffed laundry in pillow cases.  Turned off radio.  Woke Tokay and shut her in deck house to thwart her roaming inclinations. On our way at 3:30.
September 5, 1962
     By rights, yesterday should have been one of my better days.  I had a tennis date with Sally, weather permitting, and she had invited me for lunch and bridge in the afternoon.  What could be more frivolous and carefree?  Of course I had to plan dinner for eight instead of six, since Mrs. White would be hobbling in with Holly some time during the day, but that problem was solved with a pot roast that could simmer on the back of the stove while I was at Sally’s.
     After playing tennis in what grew from a sprinkle to a drizzle, we gave up and drove home to change our soggy clothes.  As I was getting out of the car, Holly came running out to give me a kiss.
     “How’s your mother?” I asked.
     “Oh, she’s fine.  It’s so nice to be home, Mrs. Malley!  I missed my kittens terribly.  I cried every night.  Did you know Linda and Wally are here?” 
     Linda and Wally?  Oh yes, Jan had said something about taking them to the movies as a last fling before school started, and Mom had said something about taking Jan to lunch.  Evidently they had already left in Jan’s car.
     It was almost noon.  I figured I had just time enough to rush upstairs and roll up my rained-on hair, rush down to the kitchen and set the pot roast to simmering in the Dutch oven, rush out to the laundry room and sit under the hair dryer for a few minutes, rush upstairs again and comb out my hair.  If my schedule went without a hitch I should arrive at Sally’s no more than fifteen minutes late.
     I encountered the first hitch when I walked into the kitchen.  There were six kids milling around, all in the process of fixing something different in the way of sustenance.  Some were having breakfast, some were preparing lunch, and one or two were just having a snack.  Linda was sitting in the middle of the floor, lapping a Popsicle and playing with the kittens.  Wally was at the counter, reading a comic book and eating a bowl of cornflakes.  Tim sat next to him, engrossed in Mad Magazine and a tuna-fish sandwich.  Vonnie was dabbing mayonnaise on a saucer of sliced tomatoes.  Holly stood in front of the stove, stirring a pot of tomato soup.  Neil was wandering around with a frying pan in his hand, looking into the cupboards.
     “Hi, Mrs. Malley,” said Holly.
     “Hi,” I said, gazing at the chaos created by five too many cooks.
     “Where’s the Wesson Oil, Mrs. Malley?” Neil asked.  “I want to fry a couple of eggs. 
     I showed him where the Wesson Oil was.  What I should have done next was to turn on my heel, drive to Sally’s, get a head-start on the wine, and pick up some cold cuts and potato salad on the way home.  Instead I took a despairing look at the clock, stepped over Linda and the kittens, and began putting away the milk, mayonnaise, bread, cereal, butter, etc.  It ws quicker to do the job myself.  If I left it to the kids, they’d spend the next hour pointing at each other and saying, “He got out the cornflakes, that’s his butter knife, she was the one who spilled the mayonnaise.”
     “Can I do anything for you, Mrs. Malley?” Holly asked helpfully.
     “No, I guess this is a one-man assignment,” I said.  “Are you going to bring your mother some of that soup?”
     “I’m waiting for it to get—“  At that moment the tomato soup boiled over.  The pot’s lid jumped and clanked as the liquid erupted, bubbling down the sides of the pot and into the burner, overflowing the catch-pan and spreading colorfully over the top of the stove.
     “Oh dear, I’m sorry, Mrs. Malley!” Holly cried.  “I’m so sorry!”
     “That’s all right,” I said, beginning to mop up.  “It was an accident.”
     If Vonnie or Timmy had been so thoughtless, I’d have had a different reaction, but with other people’s children I’m like those mothers you see on TV, a miracle of imperturbability.
     “Oh, thank you for not getting mad, Mrs. Malley,” Holly sais.  “You’re so nice!”
      I was nice.  God, what a mess!
     “Holly, what did you do?” Mrs. White called from her room.  “Did you let that soup boil over?”
     “Don’t worry about it,” I called.  “We”ll have everything cleaned up in a jiffy.”
     “Oh, Holly!” Mrs. White groaned.
     “Next time, dear,” I said kindly as I emptied the catch-pan into the sink, “instead of starting the burner on `high,’ put it on one of the lower speeds.  Then if you forget it we won’t be so apt to have another catastrophe, will we?”
     This was awfully good advice.  I wish I’d been listening when I handed it out.  Two minutes later I poured oil in the Dutch oven, put the burner on `high,’ and went to the refrigerator for the pot roast.  The kittens started winding themselves around my legs, so I took the hint and mixed up some cat food and milk in a saucer.  Turning back to the stove, I stopped in my tracks.  The Dutch oven was a mass of flames.
     Luckily, by this time I was alone.  If all those kids had been on hand to witness my folly, they might have panicked, or more likely, laughed.  I reached cautiously behind the blazing pot, shut off the burner, then dashed to the closet for the fire extinguisher which is always falling on my foot when I’m looking for potatoes but wasn’t there now.  I didn’t dare leave the kitchen to call the fire department or search for another extinguisher, as the flames were licking at the cupboard over the stove.  I stood there transfixed, hoping they would die down before the wood caught fire.
     Holly, who had gone upstairs with a tray for her mother, came down again.
     “Oh, my goodness, Mrs. Malley!” she cried.  “Do you want me to throw some water on it?”
     “I don’t think you’re supposed to throw water on this kind of fire.  Anyway, it’s beginning to die down.”
     “What’s the matter?”  Mrs. White called.
     “Nothing,” I said, carrying the pot over to the sink.  “Everything’s fine.  For a minute, though, I thought we were going to burn the house down.”
     “Holly, what have you done!” Mrs. White shrieked.
     I hastened to confess that Holly hadn’t done anything.  I was the guilty firebug—the lady with the good advice.
     I arrived very late for the luncheon, but the afternoon had its compensations.  Sally was serving pink champagne because it was Connie Barnard’s anniversary, and Salvador’s lobster sandwiches because she hadn’t had time to fix anything else.  And as top scorer at the end of the afternoon, I won the 75 cents.
     Back at home the fates were cooking up one final calamity to keep me in my place and remind me that there was more to life than pink champagne and double finesses.  I had just put dinner on the table when Kathie came downstairs and said the upstairs john had overflowed.
     Vonnie took the mop from my hand and said, “I’ll clean it up for you, Mummy.”  Never will I understand that most unpredictable of all species, The Teenager.

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