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Thursday, August 3, 2017

(2) "AT FIRST HE WANTED TO PAW ME."

[flashback]
Fort Lauderdale                                      
April 19, 1976     
     We flew to the west coast yesterday to visit Ed's mother.  She was living, as always, surrounded by a clutter of packing boxes filled with things like draperies that date back to 1933.  Some day she may move into a place with a window the right size.  On the kitchen table was a magazine —Penthouse.
     "Oh, I picked that up down in the rubbish disposal area where people leave their newspapers.  I thought it was about condominiums, but it's the worst thing I ever saw.  I said to myself, `Edward should see this, he'd be so disgusted he'd never look at another woman again.'  They have pictures of women showing their heinies and everything!"      
     Of course Ed took the copy of Penthouse off her hands in order to see if what she said was true.   She told us about a poor little she‑bird she’d seen on the terrace.  A he‑bird came along and hopped on that poor little thing five times.    
     "I was just about to go out there and say, `Get out of there, leave her alone,' when he finally flew away.  She stayed there, looking around as if she were saying, `Thank goodness that's over.'"    
Ed:  "She was probably wishing he'd come back."    
Mimi, still talking: “And now she's built a nest up under the roof.  She's been flying back and forth with pieces of grass this long.  She's out there now . . . see? . . . sitting on her eggs."       
Me:  "Well, that's what makes the world go round, Mimi."              
Mimi, tsk‑tsking:  "Yes, even with animals."
August 30, 1980
     It was that time of year again.  My garrulous and feisty mother-in-law, whose relationship with me had remained unchanged despite my divorce, was coming up from Florida to celebrate her 89th birthday.  This time, however, instead of returning south, wafted on her way by sighs of released tension from her loved ones, Mimi was supposedly going to enter a nursing home.  That’s what she had told me again and again in recent letters. She’d been having dizzy spells and falls.
     I was on duty at my volunteer job at Samaritans when I received a call from a harassed man concerning a minor emergency.  It was Ed.
     “My mother missed the plane from Tampa and won’t be getting in until 3:30.  What the hell am I going to do for the next three and a half hours?”
     I offered to meet the plane after I left the office at 1:00, but he said no, the responsibility was his, he’d find something to do.  He just wanted me to know it would be late in the afternoon by the time he dropped Mimi off at 3A Motel in Hingham. 
     She had stayed at this motel for the last three years.  Not only was it a convenient midway point between Ed's North Scituate house and my condo at Weymouthport, but also the manager had befriended her, bringing toast and coffee every morning, calling her “sweetheart” and “honey,” and giving her a welcoming kiss when she arrived.
     “Right in front of his wife!  She’s a very nice woman, I wouldn’t want to hurt her, but I think I am falling in love with Tony.  I haven’t felt this way about a man since I fell in love with Edward’s father years ago, I never really loved Bob, I just married him for companionship.  At first he wanted to paw me and—you know—have intercourse, but I never liked that kind of thing.  Never! I didn’t like being poked and prodded and messed up the way men do when they’re after . . . you know.  Bob finally got the idea and left me alone.  I don’t think there’s many women that do like it, do you, Barbara?”
     “I do,” I said.
     Mimi was startled.  ‘You do?  I thought it was only women who were. . . you know. . . prostitutes, that liked having sex.  I could never see the point of letting a man paw you any time he felt like it.”
     She went back to rhapsodizing about Tony, so I couldn’t resist having a little fun.  “You know, Mimi, if things started getting serious between you two, he’d expect to go to bed with you.”
     “He’s never suggested such a thing!” she said, flabbergasted.“If he did, I wouldn’t like him anymore!”
     On the day she departed last fall, Tony kissed her goodbye and said he’d send her a Christmas card.  She sent him one, but her irresponsible swain forgot about his promise.  When Ed and I visited her in Gulfport last April, he picked up on something she said about not going to 3A Motel in the fall.
     “Did you hear that?” he said in an aside to me, while his deaf mother sipped her coffee.  “She says it wouldn’t be fair to Tony’s wife; she thinks she should stay somewhere else.”
     No question about it, Mimi was miffed.  There was only one way to mollify her and that was to convince her Tony was truly fond of her.  I went to see him, and he told me how pleased he’d been to get her card, and he was looking forward to seeing her again.  He’d keep the same room ready for her, right next to his office.
     I quoted Tony in my next letter, pouring it on a bit thick about how she had charmed him and how he loved that cute little twinkle in her eye.  (“You didn’t” Ed said.  I said,”Of course I did.  Where else could she stay that would be so convenient and inexpensive?”)
     Mimi wrote that she’d be happy to stay at the motel for a week or so before she went into a nursing home.
     On my way home from Samaritans, I stopped in Quincy to see Marion Marsh.  I told her Ed was probably meeting his mother’s plane at this very moment and admitted I was dreading whatever lay ahead.
     Ed had impatiently told me to stop worrying, what good did worrying do?  Well, if I was in his shoes I wouldn’t worry because I’d have me to protect me.  I’d always accepted the not easy task of relating to Mimi because someone had to do it. 
     “Hang in there,“ Marion said.  “It’s awful to be old.  Here, take along this frozen chop suey, it’ll make a nice lunch or supper for the poor old thing.”
     I was picturing the poor old thing conked out on her bed, exhausted after her long, trying day.  Far from it.  Her door was ajar, and there she sat, cane in one hand, purse in the other, all dressed up and ready to set forth again.
     “No, I’m not tired, Barbara.  I’ve done nothing but sit and rest all day.  I’d like to have some lobster.  Where was that place we used to go?”
     “Valle’s?” 
     “What?”  
     “Valle’s?
     “Oh yes, that’s the place.  Let’s go to Valle’s.”
     “Mimi, you’re younger and stronger than I am, I don’t feel like driving halfway to Boston.  I’ll find someplace nearer.”
     “What did you say, Barbara?”
     I shouted that I would try to find a nearby restaurant that served lobster. 
     "Oh, that would be nice."
     I told her I was going to go home first to put a friend's chop suey in the freezer and take a shower.  
     "What?"
     "I’ll be back soon, Mimi." 
     I phoned Ed from my condo. He’d had a harrowing time since his call to me at Samaritans.  His mother had flown in at 3:30, perky as a parrot and ten times as talkative.  He settled her in a wheelchair supplied by Delta, and off they went to look for his car.  The Toyota was not where he had left it by the No Parking sign.  It had been towed.
     “I’ve got to give my mother credit,” he said.  “She must have sat there for almost an hour, traffic milling all around her, while I went off to get my car out of hock.  She had her routine string of complaints about this and that—I was only half listening—but she didn’t give me a hard time about the delay.
     “One little fact filtered through all the chatter.  My mother doesn’t have the slightest intention of going into a nursing home.  She said she worked too long and too hard to save her money, she’s going to hang onto it, no one’s going to take it away from her.”
     “I knew it!” I moaned.  “I tried again and again to spell out that a nursing home would be expensive.  She kept writing back that she was scared to death of another fall and she’d be glad never to see Florida again.  What does she think she’s going to do?  Why have I been running around looking at Braintree Manor and all those other places?”
     “I’m not sure, but I think she expects someone will take her in.”
     I can’t take her in!” I said, aghast.
     “I can’t either.  But I can see that mind of hers working away.  She thinks that somehow she’s going to be able to keep her money.”
     I called several restaurants and learned that Thackeray’s, across the street from 3A Motel, was serving Baked Stuffed Lobster for $6.95.  Getting the loquacious old lady moving was the next task.  She wanted me to see her new dress—it cost her five dollars to have it shortened, wasn’t that terrible?  Then there were these two pairs of glasses that needed repairing. 
     “The ones I’m wearing are so heavy, they keep falling down on my nose, especially when I’m sweating.  This pair in the red case isn’t so heavy but they got bent.  The last time I had them adjusted they charged me fifty-eight dollars! I didn’t want to pay it but I had to or they wouldn’t have given me the glasses.  People are so greedy these days, all they think about is money, money, money, money.  What do you think of this permanent, I paid thirty-five dollars for it, do you really like it?  I think it’s too curly, I had to buy a big heavy comb to pull it through the curls, look at this comb, isn’t it enormous?”
     “Let’s go, Mimi, we can talk in the restaurant. I want to get there before the loud music starts."
     "What?"
     "The loud music.  It starts around eight o’clock.” 
     I handed her her cane and tried to edge her along toward the door.  She launched into the tale of Ed’s missing car.  “When he found out it had been towed, he was so mad he almost tipped me out of the wheelchair.  He bumped the chair into a curbing and I almost fell out, head over heels.”
     “He told me you were very good and patient about the whole thing.”
     “Yes, he said the same thing to me.  Now don’t rush me, I don’t walk as fast as I used to.”  She stopped at her bureau, picked up her room key, put it in her purse.  Then she peered up at me and said, “You’ve put on weight, haven’t you, Barbara?”
     “No, I always lose weight in the summer.  Every morning I go out to the pool and--“
     “Well, you look taller or something.  I’ve been on a diet and my corsets are hanging on me.  I want to buy some needles and thread and take them in.  I had a little sewing kit on my bureau, all ready to put in my suitcase and then I went and forgot it.”
     At last we were in the car (“Gotta get my heinie in first, Barbara”) and on our way to Thackeray’s, across the street.
     “Are we there already?  My, that was quick!”
     The waitress showed us to a booth, and I helped Mimi get her heinie in and hung her cane on the back of the seat.  All I could see across the table was her head and shoulders, as she had shrunk to the size of a child.  I asked her if she’d like a cushion to sit on.
     “What?”
     “Would you like a cushion, so you’ll be able to reach your dinner?”
     “Oh no, I can manage.  I don’t know why they make these seats so low, though.”
     The waitress took our orders.  “Make sure they put enough dressing on my salad,” Mimi said with her customary admonition.  “They never put enough on, I like the leaves to be coated, I like plenty of dressing.  No, I don’t want sour cream on my potato, I don’t like sour things.  I know you like it, Barbara, but I’ve never cared for it.  No, I’ve never tasted it, but I know I wouldn’t like it.”
     We ordered the Special, lobsters stuffed with scallops, and the waitress said she’d bring an extra pitcher of salad dressing.
     “The biggest mistake I ever made, Barbara, was not to take Vonnie’s house after she died.  I could be living there now very nicely.”
     “Mimi, it wouldn’t have been suitable for you.  There were stairs leading up to the front door, and the laundry was in the basement.  Anyway, Ed sold the house to get back the money he put into it.”
     “What about Vonnie’s insurance money?  Didn’t Edward get that?”
     “She didn’t have any insurance,” I said, “and if she had, it would have gone to Michael.”
     What about Jack, she asked in an apparent change of subject.  Had he ever sold his house?
     “I don’t think he ever thought seriously of selling it.”
     “Does he live in it?”
     “Of course he lives in it!” I said.  “Where did you think he lived?”
     “Oh . . . “ Mimi thoughtfully stared at a tomato wedge on the end of her fork.  “I thought maybe he had a room somewhere.”
     Boing!  Comprehension exploded in my head.  I began a rapid and somewhat shell-shocked explanation as to Jack’s peregrinations and where he fits into my life and my apartment. 
     “Well, of course Jack comes to visit me every week-end, the only reason I’m not with him now is because I’m with you, I’m always glad to see him arrive and glad to see him go.  It’s an awfully small apartment, Mimi, we’re always bumping into each other.  As much as I care about him, I’d never be able to stand having him live with me.  There just isn’t room enough for two people.  Isn’t this lobster delicious?  Want me to get the tail meat out for you?”

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