Tuesday, August 1, 2017


February 26, 1956
     This morning I could feel a bad mood coming on. As my dear ones will testify, when I get in a bad mood I should be put in a padded cell for the duration. Recently, a more practical solution turned up in the form of some little pills recommended by Ed’s company doctor. He claimed they were helpful in relieving tension.
     Ed brought home a handful last month, and when my nerves began to jangle, I started taking two a day. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but they seemed to work. I became so gentle and patient with my children, they asked me what was the matter. My attitude toward Ed was one of such loving understanding, an outsider wouldn’t have believed we were married. I faced the usual daily traumas emergencies with unfazed good humor. To show his appreciation, Ed gave me a corsage of camellias on Valentine’s Day. Instead of wanting to know what he’d been up to now, I thanked him. There was no getting around it, I was much nicer than I really am.
     But now I lay in bed thinking black thoughts and refusing to resort to the Disposition Pills. Maybe they were habit-forming. It would be a terrible thing if I couldn’t be agreeable without taking a pill first.
     All I needed was a little sleep.
     I envied Ed the way he could sleep. The way that man could sleep when I couldn’t was intolerable.  I remembered my mother telling me that Dad sensed it when she had insomnia, no matter how careful she was not to disturb him. “What’s the matter, honey bun? I can hear you thinking,” he would say sympathetically.
     When I have insomnia I could use a little husbandly sympathy myself. To make it easy for him, I didn’t even try to be quiet.
     “Ho-hum,” I said last night when the town clock struck 2:00. I up-heaved my blankets and rolled over with a thump, hitting my head on the bookcase headboard. The door rattled along its track like the Toonerville trolley. Not a sound from Ed.
     “Ouch!” I said lonesomely.
     There was a soft snore from the bed next to mine, followed by a breezy sigh. He must be dreaming it’s his birthday and he’s blowing out the candles. Snore, puff, snore , puff, snore, puff.
     I turned on the light and shone it on Ed’s face to see if he was just pretending. Snore, puff. I read a few more chapters of Marjorie Morningstar. I reached the point where Marjorie was on the brink of an exciting career and losing her virginity. She was twenty-one. At twenty-one, where had I been? Out in the laundry, washing diapers for his children. What had my life been since then?  More children and more diapers, and anyone who calls that an exciting career is a man.
     I dropped Marjorie Morningstar on the floor and switched out the light. My exciting career was dreaming about girls. Sigh, wolf whistle, sigh, wolf whistle. I stabbed him in the back with my forefinger.
     “Humph, flumph, hunh? Wassa matter, cancha sleep?”
     “Aren’t you the perceptive one! I haven’t closed an eye for hours, if you’re really interested.”
     “Z Z Z Z.”

     I look forward to sleeping late Sunday morning while the children get ready for Sunday School. This morning I wearily focused one eye on the clock and tried to make out the time without waking up. I heard Kathryn call from the foot of the stairs that it was after 8:30 and breakfast was nearly ready. If Vonnie would remember to rouse Teddy from his ivory tower on the third floor, I could go back to sleep.
     The harrowing thing is, sometimes she remembers and sometimes she doesn’t. Remembering is only half the battle. Ted is like his father; he can sleep through anything, especially the hour before Sunday school. On Saturdays he’s up and dressed with no prodding; basketball practice starts at nine.
     I dragged myself from bed and called up to the third floor. “Teddy, are you up?”
     “Yeh,” came the sleepy answer.
     “Well, come down and get dressed right away or you’ll be late for Sunday school. Don’t forget to make your bed.”
     I closed the windows and crawled back into bed. I waited for the sound of bare feet pounding down the stairs. Ten minutes later I got up and called him again.
     “Yah, yah, I’m coming. You want me to make my bed, don’t you?”
     “Well, not from scratch, Teddy.”
     Back to bed. Bare feet pounded down the stairs and into Timmy’s room, where the boys share a closet.
     As time went by, I knew I’d better check on their progress. I rapped on the door and looked in. Timmy, in his underpants, was in the midst of a flying tackle.
     I blew my top. “Okay, you two, if you’re not ready to go downstairs in five minutes—teeth brushed, beds made, hair combed, faces washed—you’re both going to bed early tonight.”
     “Don’t we have to get dressed?” Timmy asked.
     “I mean it, now! I’m sick and tired of going through this same nonsense week after week, two big boys like you, what are you, babies? Well, if you’re babies, you can go to bed early like babies. From now on, either you kids are ready for breakfast at nine o’clock every Sunday or you go to bed early. Is that clear?”
     As I stomped out of the room Teddy mumbled something and Timmy said loyally, “She is not!”
     “I’m ready, Mummy,” Vonnie called virtuously from the bathroom, where she was polishing her shoes.
     “Oh, goody for you!” said Teddy.
     “Vonnie!” I scolded. “That’s not the right polish, look at the mess you’re making, what are you doing with Daddy’s polish?”
     “I like to open the can.”
     “Honestly, Vonnie, what a mess. You’ve got little bits of polish all over the floor. You’re stepping on it! No, don’t use the good towel! Put the can away and use the shoe polish in the bottle and don’t spill it. Besides, why are you wearing your school shoes instead of your patent leathers?”
     “Because my patent leathers don’t need polishing,” Vonnie said with patient eleven-year-old logic.
     “Vonnie, some rainy day you can polish all the shoes in the house. Now go put on your patent leathers, Kathryn is calling you for breakfast.”
     “Hey, Mummy, I can’t find any socks,” Timmy said.
     “There must be some in the laundry room. Take your shoes and go downstairs before your breakfast gets cold.”
     “I’m having cold cereal,” said Timmy, always ready for an argument.
     “Get going!”
     Ed was awake when I returned to our room. “Honestly, those kids of yours are going to drive me out of my mind!” I said, glaring at him.
     “Why don’t you take a tranquilizer?”
     “Take a pill? It’s not me! It’s those kids! They’re irresponsible, inconsiderate, lazy, careless—“
     I snatched open a bureau drawer and the handle fell off. “You see?”
     “Take a pill,” said Ed.
     Vonnie came in, carrying a pad of paper.
     “What now, Vonnie,” I sighed.
     “I want to show you the picture I drew of you. I think it’s the best picture I ever drew.”
     “Not now, go down and have your breakfast.”
     “It’ll only take a minute,” she said, leafing through the pages. “Here it is—oh no, that’s not it, I’ll find it in a minute.”
     “For heaven’s sake, Vonnie!”
     “Oh, here it is. It’s a picture of you. Isn’t it good?”
     “Very good. Now run along.”
     She gave me a hug and ran downstairs. I looked at the picture again. Under it she had printed: “My mother is a beautiful picture to me.”
     I put down the picture and went to the bathroom medicine cabinet. I took two tranquilizers.
     Breakfast might have been pleasant if I’d taken the pills sooner. I got our breakfast ready while Ed drove the children to Sunday school and picked up the papers. When he walked in, he threw his coat down on one of the dining room chairs.
     He does this every night of the week. When I’m not in a bad mood, my thought process is as follows: “The poor, tired boy! He works so hard at making a living for his family, he’s too exhausted to hang up his coat. What a privilege it is for me to hang it in the closet for him!” I put the coat away with a tender smile of understanding. (I know I’m sincere about this because I don’t wait for him to come downstairs and see how understanding I’m being.)
     When I’m in a bad mood, there’s nothing that irritates me more than this habit of throwing his coat on a chair. “For Pette’s sake,” I say to myself, “how am I supposed to train the children to be neat if their own father doesn’t set them a good example. Suppose we all threw our coats on a chair, wouldn’t the house look lovely! I’ll bet it takes him longer to walk into the dining room and drop his coat than it would to open the closet door and hang it up."
     This morning, while ostentatiously transferring Ed’s coat to the closet, I expressed these thoughts aloud. Ed looked surprised and promised to set a good example hereafter.
     Then there was the way he ate his grapefruit. Usually I don’t notice the way he eats his grapefruit because I’m busy tackling mine. But today I watched and listened with an air of distaste. Couldn’t he take a spoonful without that silly gasp? He went after it as if someone were going to steal it from him. After slurping up the last section, he squeezed the grapefruit over the bowl, which he raised to his lips, gulping the juice with the gusto of a parched water buffalo.
     “If you could see yourself!” I exploded. “Would you eat grapefruit that way if you were having breakfast with Marilyn Munroe?”
     Ed looked thoughtful. “No,” he said. “I’d have her feed it to me.”

     This afternoon when I found smears of liquid show polish on the bathroom rug, I summoned Vonnie.
     “Look what you’ve done now!” I said. “Didn’t I warn you not to spill it? No more polishing shoes for you until you learn not to be so sloppy.”
     “I didn’t spill it.”
     I asked Timmy and Teddy if they had been using the polish.
     “Not me,” said Ted.
     “Me either,” said Timmy.
     “Well, Vonnie? This rug didn’t get smeared by itself.”
     “I didn’t spill any, but—well—maybe it came off the bottom of my shoes.”
     “The bottom of your shoes?”
     “Yes,” she said, twisting one leg around the other. “I polished the bottoms.”
     Who but Vonnie would be inspired to polish the soles of her shoes? Wasn’t it Vonnie who chewed gum until her jaw got stuck and she had to go to the doctor? Who sealed her lips with Scotch tape and then asked her father for a kiss? And at the tense moment in the movie when the villainess dove from the float to recover the knife from her victim’s back, wasn’t it Vonnie who exclaimed, “She’s a good diver!”
     “You’re a character, Vonnie,” I said. Then I remembered something. I told her I loved the picture she drew, and I was going to have it framed.

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