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Sunday, July 23, 2017

TIMMY WAS WRITHING ON HIS BED, BAWLING. (14)

December 14, 1959
     Busy though I am with holiday preparations, I must jot down some of the latest doings in our all-American madhouse. If these events aren’t recorded soon after they occur, they fade into oblivion, Cheshire cat fashion, leaving only the memory of a smile.
     Tonight Tim burst through the back door, ruddy-cheeked and beaming as he announced that he’d just bought my Christmas present. Then he tugged at his grandmother’s sleeve and said, “Come with me, Isha, I’ll show you what it is. Don’t you peek, Mom.”
     A few minutes later Tim returned to the kitchen, looking crushed. “Isha doesn’t think you’ll like it,” he said dismally. “I might as well show it to you before I return it.”
     Mom said, “Wait a minute, dear, don’t do that. Why don’t you ask your dad what he thinks? I’m just awfully afraid it isn’t something your mother would be likely to wear.”
     Tim glumly insisted that I look at his gift. Inside the case was a sparkling rhinestone necklace. Holding it up, I was about to exclaim that it would be perfect for New Year’s Eve. Then I saw the crucifix. If it had been Christmas morning I would have given him a hug rather than hurt his feelings, but since he could return the necklace, I knew he wanted an honest reaction. I explained as gently as I could that Isha was right, as a rule Protestants didn’t wear crucifixes.
     “But I thought—“Tim began, then turned and fled from the kitchen.
     “I told him the same thing,” Vonnie said. “It’s really nice, though. Hold it up to the light and look through here. See? The Lord’s Prayer.”
     “I’d better go up and comfort Timmy,” I said.
     Timmy was writhing on his bed, bawling. For a while there was no comforting him. “I don’t know what else I could get you that would be as nice. It was four dollars marked down from nine ninety-five.”
     Mother called up the stairs that she’d be glad to take him back to the store right now and exchange the gift for something else. Timmy mopped his face, asked anxiously if he looked as if he’d been crying, and set out with his grandmother. I heard him say, “I’m glad you told me, Isha,” which was manly of him, I thought.
     As soon as they drove off Vonnie said, “Come here, I want to show you something Isha did while you were away over the weekend.”
     “Oh, not now, hon, I’m too tired to move.”
     “Oh, please, Mummy, you’ve got to see it before she gets home. She worked so hard on it, I want you to tell her what a wonderful job she did.”
     She led me to the dining room and pushed aside the chair placed just so against the wall to conceal certain inelegant streaks. They were left on that memorable day when Timmy opened the door for Minxi and inadvertently admitted seven hot-on-her-heels admirers. Mom had been busy with her little paint pot and had camouflaged the faded areas. She had also renovated the wallpaper next to the telephone where the seam had loosened just enough to be as irresistible through the years as a peeling sunburn.
     “Don’t tell Isha I told you, will you! She’ll be much more pleased if you just kind of casually notice the wallpaper all of a sudden and say, “`Why, who did this, it looks wonderful!”
     I promised to follow instructions. Then Vonnie confessed she was feeling guilty because she had been grouchy to Isha yesterday morning. Margo had stayed overnight, and the two girls had resolved to stay awake until morning. They almost succeeded, and consequently Vonnie was displeased when her grandmother excitedly awakened her at 8:00 a.m.
     “There’s something wrong with the dishwasher. It keeps buzzing, and I’m afraid it will burn itself out. Come down and see if you can stop it.”
     Vonnie plodded downstairs and drowsily jiggled the knob a few times, having no idea what else to do. She had just gotten back to sleep when her grandmother yoo-hooed up the stairs again. Margo’s father had called and wanted her to come home because she had a baby-sitting job. After the girls dragged themselves out of bed, they learned the job wasn’t until noon.
      Mom was painstakingly working on the wallpaper when Vonnie came through the dining room.          “Oh, Isha, that’s good!” she exclaimed.
     “See to it that you don’t pick at it any more,” her grandmother replied absently.
     Vonnie found this remark irritating, coming as it did on top of everything else. It was true that in years past she had been a wallpaper peeler, but lately she hardly ever touched it. She said, “Ohhhh!” in an exasperated tone and stomped out to get her breakfast.
     “Then,” she went on, “I saw Isha going out to the car, and she was going to buy some ice cream for dessert, and when I saw her open the car door, oh Mummy, my heart—I thought of how hard she had worked and how grouchy I’d been and I thought, oh dear, I’m getting to that age and I rushed out and apologized and went with her to get the ice cream.”
December 30, 1959
     I had a little altercation with my niece a couple of nights ago. It was the first time she’d been anything but angelic, so it took me by surprise. Vonnie had had some difficulty getting her to go to bed the night before, but Monday Linda took such a firm stand, Vonnie gave up and brought her down for me to reason with.
     We were all sitting around the living room—Ed, Mom, Vaughan, Kathie, her boyfriend Leo, etc., so I had quite an audience when I sat Lindy on my knee and proceeded to talk to her as cajolingly as I knew how. When I finished, she said, “I don’t want to go to bed.”
     Beginning to feel self-conscious, I dredged up a few more arguments in favor of bed. The broken record stuck to the same old theme song. With every eye in the room on me to see what I would do now, I announced sternly: “All right, Linda, you may stay up just five more minutes, but if you don’t go to bed nicely when the five minutes are up, I’m going to be cross. You wouldn’t want Auntie Barbara to be cross with you, would you?” I inquired, cocking my head on one side and smiling winningly.
     Lindy’s pout changed to a look of distress. She reared back, flinging her arms wide, and I anticipated a repentant embrace. I was still smiling, therefore, when she hauled off and clobbered me.
     “I hate you!” she cried, and pow in the kisser again, while I sat sat there, dumfounded.
     “I hate you!” she repeated, winding up again, but this time, aha, I ducked. Throwing psychology to the winds, I swept Lindy up to her bed and left her howling. Five minutes later she was asleep.
     When I came down Ed said, “The poor kid’s so exhausted from all the holiday excitement, she’s punchy.”
     “You can say that again,” I said.
     Yesterday morning Mom asked Lindy if she was going to tell Auntie Barbara she was sorry she’d been a naughty girl.
     “No!” Linda declared, puffing her cheeks into an enormous pout. “I don’t know the words!”
     I knew how she felt. Even when you know the words, they’re awfully hard to say. Being the grown-up one, I told her I was sorry, and we kissed and made up.
     Just the same, next Christmas I’m going to give her a punching bag. Or buy myself a catcher’s mask.
January 24, 1960
     Ted is home for the weekend with Jan Moyer and John Tomlinson. Vonnie is practically swooning at the proximity of her real live football hero, but she’s shy as a hummingbird about approaching him. Vonnie tells me Ted helps by dragging her into the playroom when they’re watching TV, and that gives her an excuse to be with them.
     Yesterday morning the boys went off some place in Ted’s car. (“Where are you going?” “Out.”) Ted was communicative enough to let me know they wouldn’t be home for dinner. I wondered how the three of them were going to survive the trip in that microscopic front seat. I couldn’t believe it this morning when Vonnie said they had picked up Bruck Henkle. Ed and I took pictures of the four boys getting into the MG: Jan first, on the floor; John next, behind Jan, squeezing into the passenger seat; then Bruce, who wedged as much of himself as he could into the narrow backshelf—what was left over, one of his legs, chummily joined the gang in the front seat; and last, Ted wormed his way into the driver’s seat, which gives me claustrophobia even when I’m not surrounded by miscellaneous arms and legs. Obviously these adaptable lads are going to be right at home in a space capsule.
     Big Vaughan is doing amazingly well these days. Her aches and pains have subsided, and her only complaint is shortness of breath. This doesn’t keep her from making herself useful on the days Kathryn is away, scurrying around cleaning up after Saturday night’s bridge party, getting Sunday breakfast, etc. Right now she is readying a steak dinner for the boys before they go back to school. Clearly she is determined to die with her apron on—but not until she makes a hundred, she tells me.
Later
     Ted called to Vonnie and asked if he could take her record player back to Moses Brown. All right, she said, starting upstairs to get it for him.

                                    

     She stopped, aghast, outside her room. There stood all the boys, intently examining her bureau and bulletin board décor. Under the bureau’s glass top were snapshots of Jan, and tacked to her bulletin board was a newspaper photo of him with the 42 circled, as well as clippings with his name underlined and decorated with hearts. Sprawled on the bed was her Football Hero doll, the number 42 adorning his chest. Vonnie’s secret crush is no secret any more. She says she was never so embarrassed in her life.
February 3, 1960
     Today I learned that Ed has been right all these years about the closet door next to my bed. This door is not only a door when it’s ajar, it’s a lethal weapon.
     “Watch out for the closet door,” Ed would mumble from his bed when I got up during the night. Ninety percent of the time one of us was clever enough to close it before retiring, but it was the ten percent left over that he was worried about.
     He had decided he wanted to get up at 6:00 a.m. from now on. At that hour not a creature is stirring except Vaughan, so yesterday I asked her if she would tap on our door as soon as she got up. Last night we went to the professional tennis matches, and since we didn’t get home until 12:30, Ed decided to postpone the early-to-rise routine. I should have left a note for Vaughan, but I was too tired even to wash my face. I tumbled into bed, smeared mascara and all.
     No one is more conscientious about an assignment than Vaughan. If she had her way she’d have the beds made before anyone was up. It seemed as if I had hardly fallen asleep when there was a tap on our bedroom door. “It’s six o’clock, Eddie,” said Vaughan. Ed didn’t wake up, so I called “Okay.” Then I tried to go back to sleep. After a while I began to wonder why it was still dark out. I turned on the light, and it was 4:45—a certain black-eyed lady had misread her watch. Undoubtedly she would discover her mistake, and at 6:00 there would be another tap on our door. I lay awake anticipating this unblessed event, and sure enough, Vaughan was there a little ahead of schedule but as reliable as rain.      “It’s six o’clock, Eddie.”
     I didn’t want to startle Ed by shouting, “He’s sleeping late!” but I knew if I didn’t let her know, she would be Vaughanie-on-the-spot with periodic announcements of the time. I sprang from my bed, intending to catch her before she went downstairs for breakfast. What I caught was the edge of the closet door, which laid my forehead open and sent me reeling back toward my desk. I leaned on it with one hand and collected drops of blood with the other. “Where am I?” I said, or words to that effect.
     I managed to grope my way to the bathroom where I poured my collection of blood down the drain and began mopping my wound with a cold face cloth. Timmy, roused by the commotion, wanted to know if my head was bleeding. “Yes, it is,” I said bravely, whereupon he wanted to know if he could take a bath. No hand wringing, no expression of sympathy or even of interest. “A bath at 6:00 in the morning?”
     In his usual undaunted way he said he had washed his hair the other night and hadn’t got all the soap out. The only way he could get all the soap out was to take a bath and put his head under water.
     “For how long?” I asked, wringing out the crimson cloth and applying fresh cold water to the gash on my forehead. Not liking my attitude, Tim stalked back to bed.
     Dr. Landry stitched me up in the Emergency Room at the South Shore Hospital. Then he asked how I had injured myself, and I explained I had jumped out of bed in a hurry and collided with the closet door. I could sense the unspoken question, “Why the big rush?” and not wanting him to think I had an over-sexed husband or under-par kidneys, I went on to explain about Ed wanting to get up early and then not wanting to get up early, and about Vaughan, the human alarm clock.
     “Well,” he said, “you couldn’t possibly have done a neater job if you’d used a razor.”
     I didn’t let his praise inflate my ego. He probably says that to all his patients.
February 10, 1960
     This afternoon Tim talked me into taking him downtown in Ted’s MG and letting him drive it to the end of the driveway. He decided the seat wasn’t close enough to the wheel and man-like, promptly discovered the gadget that pushes the seat forward. I noticed that I had more difficulty than usual crawling behind the wheel after we changed places, but I thought no more of it until after I dropped Tim off and went on my way.
      Parking in front of the market I attempted to climb out of Ted’s four-wheel miniature monstrosity. To my dismay, I found I was wedged in as firmly as a shotgun shell in its chamber. How was I going to get out, short of blasting?
     I finally managed to open the door and by falling over sideways, got first one hand, then the other, on the pavement. Luckily, as a child, I was adept at doing the wheelbarrow, so from thereon I didn’t have too much trouble. I ended up on the sidewalk on my knees, clambered to my feet, and brushed off my hands. Ignoring the laughter from the man in the car next to mine, I retrieved my pocketbook, and with what dignity I could muster, walked into the market.
March 7, 1960
     Home, they say, is where you hang your hat. When Mom is away, home is where you don’t hang anything, you just drop it on the floor. Coming through the front door, I was faced with an obstacle course of scarves, various unmatched gloves and boots, a pair of snowshoes, pyramids of records, stacks of paperback books, wet parkas, and dirty socks.
     Negotiating my way as best I could, I climbed the stairs to my room. My room!
     Vonnie came in and stood sympathetically at my side. The reason I was still standing was that there was no place to sit.
     “Timmy and Neil slept here,” Vonnie said simply.
     Timmy and Neil slept here! If the places George Washington slept in are supposed to leave people awe-struck, they should see a room recently vacated by Timmy and Neil. “Believe It or Not” by Ripley would print pictures and nobody would believe it. I would become famous. I might even appear on television now and then when my keepers gave me the nod.
     Ed took one look at the state of our bedroom and summoned Timmy with a roar that started an avalanche of snow from the roof.
     “Clean up this mess!” he bellowed, and rather meekly, Tim proceeded to do so. His meekness made me nervous. I had a feeling that what he had been up to during our absence, we didn’t yet know the half of.
     “I knew there was a bed in there somewhere,” I groaned, crawling into it.
     “Uh—Dad— ” Timmy said with this unnatural and disquieting meekness of his. “You know the station wagon?”
     “Yes, I know it very well. What have you done, wrecked it?”
     “Oh no! No, I dug it out of the snow,” he said virtuously, “and I moved it.”
     “Tim, you know you’re not supposed to move the car when I’m not here,” I said.
     “Uh—well anyway, Dad, the next time I tried to start it, it wouldn’t go. The battery is dead or something.”
     Ed went out to investigate. “I found out why it wouldn’t go,” he growled when he returned. “Both the ignition and the radio were on, you donkey. That does it! You will never touch that car again. Never, never, never! Now go to your room and stay there.”
     “The rest of my life?” Tim asked morosely.
     A minute later he stuck his head in the door.
     “What do you want!” his father shouted.
     “I want to speak to Mom. Say, Mom, how much would you say it was worth to dig out your car?”
     “Get out of here!” Ed ordered.
     ‘Twenty-five cents? Fifty cents?”
     “Out, I said! We’ll apply whatever it’s worth to a new battery!”
     “Mom?”
     “You heard what your father said. I think we better discuss it later.” Timmy returned to his room.
     “Honey, you’ve done nothing but yell at him since we got home,” I said. “You can’t be too harsh with him.”
     “I can if you’ll let me,” Ed grumbled.
     Vonnie came in and said, “Did you hear Kathryn is going to quit on account of Timmy?”
     “What?” I yelled, sitting upright in bed.
     “She says she’s really going to do it this time. She’s giving notice tomorrow.”
     “Oh, she always says that,” Timmy called. “She’s forgotten all about it. I apologized, didn’t I?”
     “What did he do?” I sobbed, falling back on my pillow.
     “Well, I don’t like to tattle, but—” Vonnie began. It seemed that Kathryn had asked Tim a number of times to close the back door when he came in. The last time he thought he had closed it, so when Kathryn lit into him and sputtered, “I told you to close the door, close the door, close the door!” he replied sassily, “I did close the door, close the door, close the door!”
     “Oh, no,” I moaned.
     “Kathryn was furious. I cried and hugged her and begged her not to quit,” Vonnie said.
     “All right, Timmy!” I said, raising my voice to an avalanche-starting level. “For the next week you are to return to your room directly after supper. You may study, you may read, but you absolutely may not watch television for a week. I hope this will placate Kathryn, but if it doesn’t, and she leaves, you’re going to have so much work to do around this house, you won’t have time to watch television, ever!”
     Later I went to Tim’s room and said I didn’t know how we could manage without Kathryn. I asked him to apologize again and convince her that he meant it if he had to get down on his knees. He promised he would.
     Before he went to bed, Tim appeared at our door and said, “Dad, you’d better to something about the third floor window.”
     “What’s the matter with it?”
     “It’s broken. I don’t like to tattle, and anyway it was an accident, but Richard Jason was trying to get Ted with a snowball, and he missed.”
     “Where was Ted?” I said.
     “On the third floor roof.”
     This would have been a good time for Tim to tell me how he, too, was running all over the roofs and gables during some of these snowball fights. At least I think it would have been a good time. Tim, I gather, is waiting for the day he turns Catholic and goes to confession. But I have my spies.
 When I went up to say hello to Vaughan, she told me more about this episode. She was sitting up in bed reading, when she heard a commotion outside Kathie’s window. The big boys—Ted, Richard, and Bruce—were on the ground, and they had chased Timmy all over the roof. They seemed to have him cornered, but then he decided he was Tarzan and began leaping for the third floor gutter. He finally caught hold of it and hung there in front of Vaughan’s window.
     “Every once in awhile one of those big feet would swing in and bump the pane. I lay there holding my breath. He finally dropped down and ran off somewhere,” Vaughan concluded.
     The only adult who didn’t have something terrible to tell me about Timmy was my mother. She’s still in Florida.

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