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Sunday, July 23, 2017

"QUICK, MUMMY, YOU'RE BURNING THE PANCAKES!!" (5)

(flashback)
November 26, 1951
     Timmy brought a drawing home from school and patiently explained it to me.  The big square was an old broken-down house, and the jagged red and blue scrawl in the center was a broken window.  A tilted post turned out to be a tree and the slanting black lines represented rain.
     “What’s this thing in the corner?” I asked, pointing to what appeared to be a croquet wicket.
     Timmy stared at me.  “It’s a boy!” he hooted.  “What did you think it was?”
December 15, 1951
     Last night Ed brought home a couple of small two-wheelers in the back of the Buick.  The children ran out to greet him, and I heard him snap, “Get right back into the house!”
     The next thing I heard were heartbroken sobs from Vonnie’s room.  I knew she didn’t understand why she had been yelled at, so I went upstairs and explained that Daddy had brought home a surprise for her for Christmas and didn’t want her to see it.  The skies cleared immediately, and Vonnie went downstairs to tell Kathie that Daddy had brought home a present for her.
     Ed, not realizing the havoc he had wrought, growled, “If you don’t behave, there’ll be no presents at all for you!”
     “Gee, honey,” I said, “Christmas is supposed to be a happy time for the kids.  I had her all cheered up and now she’s upstairs crying her heart out again.”   
       Ed didn’t say anything, but a few minutes later I heard him go into her room and there was some murmuring and Vonnie tried to hold out, but in the end the old Malley charm triumphed, and all was forgiven.   
      I’m writing this while the turkey is cooking and the children are playing with their Christmas toys.  I gave Kathie a hatbox with a plaid lining to use as an overnight case.  Inside, I tucked a pair of jodhpurs as an extra surprise.  Kathie zipped open the case and held up the jodhpurs. 
     “What are these things supposed to be?” she asked, puzzled.  Then she cried, “Horse-pants!” and flew across the room to hug me.
     What Kathie really wanted was a black stallion with a white star on his forehead, but she seemed thrilled with the compromise.  I have promised her she can take riding lessons next spring.
Later:
     The garbage disposal stopped working today of all days.  It took Ed half the afternoon to take it apart and figure out what was wrong with it.
     “I’m a fine plumber,” he sighed, picking up the wastebasket, which I noticed was half full of stuff that looked like wadded-up paper.  “Why did I ever try to put paper-Mache down the disposal?”
     “OH!” I exclaimed, suddenly understanding why he had been so uncomplaining all this time after blaming me for stuffing the machine with grapefruit rinds.  Then I looked at his perspiring face, streaked with black grease, and held my peace.  Ed went upstairs for a shower while I made gravy and asked Kathie to set the table. Teddy carried in the turkey.
     The children banged on their plates and shouted their requests for plenty of this and just a little of that and none of that awful cranberry sauce.
     “Ladies before gentlemen!” Vonnie crowed, while her father carved the turkey.
     “There are no ladies around here,” he said, “so that presents no problem.”
     Vonnie was off on another tack.  “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, take off your britches and slide on the ice!”
     Timmy joined in the second chorus.  I was too tired for a lecture about modulating voices, so I turned off my receiver and let them whoop it up.
     After dinner, Ed started rinsing the dishes off in the pantry and bringing them in to the dishwasher.  I figured he was avoiding the sink because he didn’t want any more garbage to go in the disposal, but I thought it would be all right to rinse off a few glasses.  Water poured out from where the disposal used to be and flooded the floor.
     Eddie explained that the sink couldn’t be used until the disposal was connected up.  Then he got out the mop.
     “Wives!  Children!” he said.  “Once I was young and gay and free!”
     “Christmas!” he said, warming to his subject.  “Bah!  Humbug!”  He pushed Teddy’s cowboy further back on his head and mopped.   
KATHIE AT 11, READS TO SIBLINGS
TO KEEP THEM OUT OF MISCHIEF.
February 21, 1952
     It’s vacation week, so I was annoyed when Kathie tapped on my door yesterday morning and told me it was eight o’clock.  (She has spoiled me by being a substitute mother so often, I'm prone to take her services for granted.)
     I got out of bed, dressed, and went into the boys’ room to rouse them.  Teddy lay breathing heavily, his eyes closed, but Timmy peeked roguishly from beneath his blankets.
     “Uncover me, Mummy!  Uncover me the way you always do!”
     I pulled back the blankets and discovered that he was fully clothed.
     My astonishment delighted Timmy.  “Uncover Teddy!” he cried, bouncing on his bed.
     I made a great show of surprise when Teddy, too, proved to be awake and dressed.  Now I understood Kathie’s eagerness to get me up.  She wanted me to see what she had accomplished so quietly and efficiently while I enjoyed an extra hour’s sleep.
     Vonnie, ever the actress, rubbed her eyes when I entered her room.  “Is it time to get up, Mummy?”
     “Yes, you lazy bones,” I said.  “The boys are already up and dressed.  Then Vonnie threw off her blankets and went into gales of laughter at my expression.
     I went through the same performance with Kathie, who was grinning at me in conspiratorial fashion from the other bed.
     While I brushed my hair and put on my face, Timmy kept tugging at me arm.  “Hurry up, Mummy, I’m hungry.”
     We all trouped down to the kitchen and at Timmy’s request, I plugged in the waffle iron.  When the first waffle had stopped steaming, the children clustered around me as I lifted the cover.  Their faces fell, as did mine, when the waffle tore in two as if glued to the iron.  I dug at it futilely with a fork, then said,  “Well, children, how about pancakes instead?”   Oh sure, they chorused, they loved pancakes.
      I put the burner on High, and with Teddy’s appetite in mind, added extra flour and milk to the batter.  I gave the first blackened batch to him, figuring he’d eat anything.  I turned down the heat, and the next three pancakes looked a little better.  Kathie agreed to take them off my hands if I’d let her leave the crusts.
     “I don’t like them that brown,” Vonnie said.  “I want mine a sort of golden color, like Kathryn’s.”
     “I don’t eat them if they’re brown,” Timmy warned.
     I made three more pancakes.  Vonnie allowed they were edible, but still not like Kathryn’s. Timmy, increasingly concerned, pulled up a stool to supervise his pancakes.
     “Not too brown, now,” he said, hovering over the pan.  “That side must be done—look, Mummy, the bubbles are coming through.  Kathryn says when the bubbles come through, that side is done.  Quick, Mummy, turn them over, you’re burning them!”
      I beetled my brows at him and said, “Listen, son, I was making pancakes before you were born!”
     He twisted around on his stood and peered into my face to see if I was serious.  “You . . . were . . . not!” he said.  “How could you?  How could I eat `em?”
      When Timmy’s cakes were done to his satisfaction, I offered to make a few more for Teddy.
     “No thank you,” he said politely.  “I’m awfully full.”  The household’s pancake-eating champion searched around in his mind for a tactful explanation.  “You see, Mummy, the reason I ate only three of your pancakes—well, they’re just as good as Kathryn’s, but they’re so much bigger.”
     “Oh,” I said.
     A few minutes later Teddy asked casually, “Mummy—did Kathryn ever go to cooking school?”
 March 15, 1952
     Our trip to Havana with the Remicks was a lot of fun.  Cuban men are fascinating.  They stared openly at Dottie and me (mostly Dottie, who is petite, very blonde, and very pretty).  They nudged each other and discussed us in rapid Spanish, assuming correctly that we could only guess at what they were saying.
     One afternoon we were lounging around the pool, and I decided to go to the Ladies Room.  Not wanting to become involved with a waiter on its whereabouts, I approached a woman who was having a drink at the pool bar.
     “The Ladies Room?  I have no idea,” she said.  She beckoned to a waiter.  “Qui es la dama?”
     “La dama?”  He smiled and pointed to me.  “La dama.”
     “Oh, no!”  The lady frowned and said aside to me, “My Spanish isn’t very good.”
      She tried again. “Qui es—Las Damas?”    
       “Oh—las damas!” the young man smiled.  He pointed to both of us.  “Las damas.”
       “No, no, no!”  The lady leaned toward him and whispered, “The Ladies’ Room, where is the Ladies’ Room?”
      “Ohhh,” grinned the waiter, “—the Ladies’ Room!  It's right over there, M’am.”
       On Tuesday, our last night in Havana, Ed and I decided to step out by ourselves, as the Remicks were tired.  Of us, perhaps.  Our taxi driver, a handsome fellow named Lorenzo, took us to several “dives,” including an open-air bar that sold rum drinks for ten cents each.  In spite of the reasonable price, Eddie ran out of money, which is a clue to our state when we got back to the hotel.  He left me in the cab while he went up to our room to get dinero for Lorenzo.
     Lorenzo had a soft rich voice and a charming accent.  He turned around to me and said softly, “Thees mon—eez he your hozbon or . . . eez he your fran?”
     I was tempted to reply that Eddie was my fran.  It seemed almost indecent to be night-clubbing in Havana with one’s husband.  Or perhaps I should say he was my father.  There were a number of young girls staying at the hotel with older gentlemen who were, I presume, their fathers.  However, I confessed truthfully to Lorenzo that my companion was not only the father of my children, he was also my husband.
     He stared at me in the half-darkness of the cab.  “I like you, Senora.  You are attracteev woo-mon.”
     “Er—thank you, Lorenzo,” I said.  “Uh—do you have a family, too?”
     “Oh no, Senora, I am bachelore.”  He leaned toward me over the back of the seat and lowered his voice.  “When you hozbon sleeps, you weel come weeth me and I weel make lov to you, yes?”
     Back in Boston, in a similar situation, I would have exited the cab in a panic.  But there is something about the air in Cuba and something about the men.  They are so serious, so sincere about their propositions. 
     “Thank you, Lorenzo,” I said, “but it is much too late and we’re leaving early in the morning.  And besides, my husband is a light sleeper.”
     He spoke softly, rapidly.  “I am passionate man, Senora.  You are passionate wommon, I can tell.  Come weeth me, I make you very hoppy.  We ask your hozbon eef he let you go, eh?”
     “My goodness!” I gulped.  “That—why that’s out of the question, Lorenzo.  My husband is extremely jealous!”  I drew an arc on my neck to make my point clear.
     At that point Eddie opened the door of the cab and my would-be lover addressed him.
     “Senor. Your wife, she ees attracteev wooman.  You let her come with me, I make her very hoppy—yes?”
     Ed said, “Certainly, if you’ll find a girl for me.”  I folded my arms and glared at him.
     “I weel find a girl for you!” Lorenzo agreed enthusiastically.
     “You’re too willing,” Ed laughed, paying our fare.  He unclenched my arms and pulled me from the cab.
     
     The children were no problem during the two weeks we were gone, Kathryn told us, although Vonnie started throwing up as soon as she saw us.  Too much excitement, I guess, because she was all right the next morning. 
      Kathryn is off today, and I find I am so rested and in love with my children that they can do no wrong.    
      “Why are you so nice?” they keep asking me. 
October 16, 1952
     Last night, after a trying day when Timmy and Vonnie had been particularly exasperating, Timmy put his arm around my neck and said, “I’m sorry for all the naughty things I did today, Mummy.”
     Then he looked thoughtfully into space.  “And I’m sorry,” he added, “for all the naughty things I’m going to do tomorrow.”
November 24, 1952
     Kathie continues to care for her horse with unfailing conscientiousness.  She has developed a unique way of getting herself going.  She doesn’t set the alarm for 6:30, she explains, because she’s so sleepy when she first wakes up, she’s afraid she’ll doze off again.  Instead, she sets the clock for 5:45; when it rings, she gets up, washes her face and brushes her teeth.  Then she sets the clock for 6:00 and goes back to sleep. At 6:00 she takes off her pajamas and puts on her underclothes.  Back to bed until 6:15, when she combs her hair.  At 6:30 she shuts off the alarm and is ready for her chores.  It’s a complicated way to start the day, but it works for Kathie.
     Before breakfast she feeds and waters Sugar, gallops him up and down the beach, then brushes him.  Ed and I had thought that caring for a horse might dampen Kathie’s enthusiasm, but such is not the case.  As my early schildhood nurse, Catherine Minton, remarked during her last visit, “She must have horses somewhere in her background, somewhere in your husband’s field of ancestors there must have been cows and horses, you see, so Kathie just naturally likes horses.”
 January 2, 1953
      I found a woman in Beechwood, Madeline Stover, who has two horses of her own and offered to board Sugar this month and next for $30 a month.  Kathie had been caring for him so faithfully and getting up so early that she was beginning to look peaked.  Now she goes over to Stovers’ directly from school, and I pick her up at 4:30.  She and Mrs. Stover are the greatest of pals, having so much in common:  Madeline would rather be with horses than do housework and Kathie would rather be with horses than do homework.
     As we drove home yesterday afternoon Kathie said, “You know, Mom, most of my friends are ambitious, they want to be singers or ballet dancers when they grow up.  Not me.  All I want to do is get married, settle down, and have a couple of horses.”
     Timmy tickles me, too.  The other night I must have told him at least 20 times to shut his little mouth and go to sleep.  Later, as his father and I were getting ready for bed, I cleared my throat.
     “What did you say, Mummy?” asked a wide-awake voice.
     “I didn’t say anything, Timmy,” I said.
     “Oh.  I guess it was just my conscience.”
February 27, 1953
     Vonnie tells me she is going to marry a rich man with a thousand dollars when she grows up.  They will live on a ranch in Texas, sit on a bench together and sing songs, ride horseback standing up in the saddle, and have four children.
     As for her older brother, he couldn’t be more unoriginal.  This erstwhile tousle-head who used to love a comb and brush the way a cat loves water, now sports a patent-leather hairdo reminiscent of Ramon Navarro.  All thanks to Vaseline Hair Tonic and a belle by the name of Jean Macdonald.
     In Teddy’s desk drawer is a card bearing the name Jean Macdonald and the legend, “I like Jean Macdonald because she is so pretty.” (I was tidying his room, not snooping.  I just happened to notice it in a back corner of the drawer.)
     We are forbidden to mention her name.  The slightest innuendo, the most innocent allusion is met by scowls and kickings of doors.  It’s amazing, though, how often Ted himself manages to weave the sacred personage of Jean Macdonald into a conversation.  He wouldn’t ever want to move to Florida, he tells me, because, well, how does he know he’d like the people down there?  Maybe the boys aren’t good fellows, maybe the girls aren’t as nice as. . .you know who, Mom.
     When I’m a spectator at dancing school, I love to watch Teddy dance with you-know-who.  He wheels her about, his cheeks flushed, his eyes glowing.  On the other hand, I cringe when he is obliged to dance with another.  His feet drag, his shoulders slump, he clutches the back of his victim’s dress for support, and his eyes roll upward in despair.
     Teddy is worried because he is two inches shorter than his ladylove.  This is an improvement on his favorite partner of last year, who was at least a head taller.  I used to watch him dance with this giantess and wonder what he saw in her besides her right shoulder.  I would point out various girls closer to his height, including Jean Macdonald, but he would have none of them.
     I reminded him of this the other day.  “How come you never wanted to dance with Jean last year?”
     Ted looked at me as if I’d said:  “Remember the time we had Eisenhower to dinner?”
     “Jean Macdonald wasn’t in my dancing class last year!” .
     “Oh yes she was!” I laughed.  “You were so fascinated by the giantess, you didn’t have eyes for anyone else.”

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