Friday, August 11, 2017


 March 25, 1955
     Minxi is in an interesting condition‑‑at least all her suitors from Cohasset to Quincy seem
to think so.  I got home from the market to find seven of them in the house.  They were leaping
and slithering after Minxi, my ladylike mother, Ernestine, was lunging after the dogs, and the children were bringing up the rear with shouts of glee or distress, depending on how they looked at it.  Vaughan did her best to help by standing by the front door and saying Shoo!
     Every time one of the dogs was collared and shoved out the door, two more would squirm
their way in.  We were getting desperate when Teddy, who knows more about the facts of life
than I gave him credit for, made the brilliant move of collaring Minxi and shoving her out.  The pack stampeded through the door in pursuit, each one giving a farewell salute to the new upholstery to show what they thought of our hospitality.  Timmy, the cause of it all, wailed that he hadn't meant to let the dogs in; he was only trying to let Minxi out.
August 17, 1959
     We took Vonnie and Timmy to the Cape for the weekend to visit Ed’s folks.  During the drive down we tried to impress on Tim that he shouldn’t nag, shouldn’t argue, shouldn’t complain, shouldn’t bicker with Vonnie—in other words, he should act as unnatural as possible.  He said uh-huh, uh-huh, but he couldn’t have heard a word we said.
     Saturday morning Grandpa organized a target-shooting contest:  children vs. parents, with Grandpa holding the binoculars and judging the shots.  When Tim and I came closest to the bulls-eye, the judge told us to shoot it off.  We darn near ended up shooting it out, due to Tim’s contention that we were a bunch of cheaters.
     Our first two shots had landed almost on top of each other.  Grandpa proclaimed the tie unbroken and invited us to try one more shot apiece.  Timmy proclaimed the tie was most certainly broken and demanded a tape measure to prove it.  According to Ed’s measurements, the shots were side by side on an arc at an equal distance from the bulls-eye.  
     I was inclined to agree that Tim’s was a fraction of an inch closer, but Grandpa was barking, “It’s a tie, it’s a tie,” and who am I to argue with Grandpa?      
     Timmy started to stomp off in a huff.  I grabbed him by the elbow and murmured, “Come
on, Tim, be a good sport, twisting his arm only slightly.  He was so mad he couldn’t see straight,
let alone shoot straight.
     When it was my turn he growled that I’d probably be mean enough to miss the target deliberately, just to pacify him.  When I wasn’t that mean, he was madder than ever.
      Ignoring Grandpa’s request to stay and help put the guns away, he stamped into the house.  As
I was coming up the cellar stairs I heard Tim answer Tina’s question about the outcome of the contest:  “Oh, they won by cheating, they’re all a bunch of cheaters.”
     That did it.  I chased him through the house and up to the second floor where I whacked him on his behind and shoved him into his room.  I told him he could join the rest of us when he was ready to stop acting like a sore loser.
     Timmy doesn’t give up easily.  His next move was to march downstairs through the living room where the rest of us were trying valiantly to enjoy ourselves, and without saying a word, continued on down to the cellar.
     “Oh my God, he’s going to shoot himself!” Tina said.
     Vonnie began to blubber.  Do something, do something!”
     Tina followed him down the stairs to see what he was up to.  Tim had found a pair of calipers and was measuring those two bullet holes scientifically.  According to his measurements, his bullet was a good sixteenth of an inch closer than mine.  Wasn’t this hullabaloo based on the truth or falsehood of his allegation that he was the winner of the shooting match?
     I had a feeling that when Grandpa heard about this final insult to his judgeman-ship, he would boot the four of us out and invite us back semi-annually, if at all.  To my surprise, he cocked his head on one side and said with a chuckle, “Y’know, maybe the kid has something there, at that.”
     Meanwhile Ed had banished Timmy to his room once more and told him not to come down  again until he was ready to apologize.
     About the time the lobster salad was placed on the table, I heard a plaintive whisper, “Mum-mee!”  Tim crept down to the front hall and sobbingly whispered he was ready to apologize.  However, he didn’t want anyone to say anything like “That’s all right, Tim,” or “Don’t worry about it, dear.”
     “You don’t know how hard it is to come down and face everyone,” he wept.  “If they just won’t say anything, I can do it.”
     I tried to track everyone down and give them the word.  Tina and Vonnie were in the kitchen.   Ed was in the cellar, but Grandpa had disappeared.  On my way up the cellar stairs I heard Tim set up an indignant bawling.  Grandpa had come in the back door, had been met by Tim’s apology, and had committed the faux pas of putting his arm around him and saying, “Ya poor kid.”
     Naturally the good man was bewildered by his grandson’s reaction.  “He’s gone back to his room,” he told me dazedly.  “I don’t know why.”
     There was a fresh torrent of tears from Timmy when I pointed out how unkind he had been to his nice grandfather.’
     “I don’t want to hurt Grandpa!” he wailed.  “Go down and tell him I’m sorry, will you?”
     Up‑down, up‑down; I'm sure I wore the varnish off that stairway by the time the six of us stumbled into the dining room.   We were all rather subdued as we applied ourselves to our lobsters  ‑‑ all except Timmy, whose enthusiasm  over the main course evoked the  sotto voce comment from his grandfather that apparently the kid  was gonna live.
January 24, 1960
     Ted is home for the weekend with Moses Brown buddies, Jan Moyer and John Tomlinson.  Vonnie is practically swooning at the proximity of her real live "idle," but she’s shy as a humming-bird 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 near Jan.
     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 Bruce Henkle.  Ed took movies 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 back shelf—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. 
     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.
April 10, 1960
     Last night I was reading while I waited for Ed's arrival with Mother, whose car had broken down when she reached Massachusetts.  The phone rang, and it was Kathie.  Yes, I said, it would be all right for Vonnie and Kathie to stay overnight in Amherst, only they'd miss a good roast beef dinner.  Then she said Vonnie wanted to speak to me.
     "Mummeee?" came a quavering little voice.  "Guess what?"
     "You miss me!" I guessed.
     "No, I mean yes, but that's not it.  Guess again," Vonnie squeaked.
     "You tore your new ski pants?"
     "No.  It's ‑‑ you know."  (An octave higher.)
     "You mean you ‑‑ you got your ‑‑ you didn't!"
     "Yes I did!  Honest!"  (Triumphantly.)
     "Oh, go on.  You're kidding.  April Fool."
     Then Kathie came on the line and assured me this memorable event had indeed taken place and that she and Priscilla and Vonnie had gone to the ice cream parlor to celebrate.     
      Ed finally showed up with Mother at 8:45.  After a flurry of greetings and hugs were exchanged, he carried her suitcases to her room. 
     "How was she when you picked her up?" I asked when he returned.  "A wreck?"
     Not at all, he said.  Ernestine was in surprisingly good spirits and had chattered away all the way home, undismayed by the pile of lumber stacked between them.  (The mother of one of Tim's friends had backed into Mr. McKenna's fence.)  Ed said the boards kept sliding over on top of Mom, but she just pushed them back without complaint.
      Ed was so dear and sympathetic and helpful about Mother and her troubles. 
      Saturday morning Mom asked me if Vonnie had taped the messages of welcome to her mirror.
     "I expect she did," I said.  "Were they printed?"
     She said no, they were in longhand.  It wasn't Big Vaughan, so who could it be?
     Curious now, I went upstairs and examined the notes.  One said, "We've missed you!' and the other, "Hi!  Nice to have you home!"
     The handwriting was unmistakable—her son‑in‑law's.

    The first I heard about the chickadees was from Neil's sister, little Bonnie Porta.  Bonnie had been threatened with slow death by torture (I learned later) if she breathed a word to me about Timmy's secret.  Naturally she was curious as to whether Timmy and Neil were just bluffing, so she phoned me the minute they were out of earshot.
     "Mrs. Malley, did you know Timmy has some chickadees?"
     I thought of my Timmy first.  Then I remembered Mrs. Porta  had a Timmy, so I said, "Isn't that nice, Bonnie.  I'll bet they're cute."
     "You mean you don't mind?" Bonnie said.
     "Then I thought of my Timmy again.
     "Do you mean my Timmy has some chickadees?"
     "Yes," said Bonnie, happy again.  "Six chickadees."
      "Six chickadees," I echoed.
      I wasn't sure what a chickadee was‑‑I had the impression it was small and round and  a frequenter of bird baths ‑ ‑but doubted that half a dozen chickadees were concealed somewhere in my house.
     "Do you know where they are?" I asked Mata Hari, Jr.
     "I think he said he was going to keep them in the playroom," she reported.
     "Hold the phone," I said.  I opened the door cautiously, half expecting to be assaulted by a gang of irate chickadees, but the playroom looked as usual.  A few candy wrappers on the floor, two empty coke bottles, a couple of dog‑eared comic books, the TV performing tirelessly and nobody home, not even us chickadees.
     "They're not in the playroom, Bonnie," I said.
     "I mean that playroom you have out in your yard," Bonnie  said.
      "Oh, the playhouse.  That's probably where they are.   That's where he hid the seagull.  By the way, where did he get the chickadees?"
     "I think he got them from Mrs. Hunt," replied my informant.
     "Well, I'll look into this, Bonnie.  Thank you very much for telling me about it," I said, figuring I  might as well stay on the good side of the little spy.  How else could I keep one jump behind Timmy?    
     I investigated the playhouse and found it exactly as Vonnie and Margo had left it two years ago:  one wall partly covered with red paint, another adorned with the slapdash legend, "I HATE TIMMY."  The cupboard was as empty as Old Mother Hubbard's.
     Before confronting Timmy, I had hoped to have something concrete as evidence, like a chickadee feather, but now I would have to use a more subtle approach.  When he got home from school I said casually, "Hey, Timmy, how are your chickadees getting along?"
     He couldn't have looked blanker if I had inquired after his chromosomes.  "Chickadees?  What
     "I understood you had some chickadees," I said lamely.
     "Where'd you get an idea like that?"
     "From Bonnie Porta.  She claims Mrs. Hunt gave you six chickadees."
     "Ho, ho, ho!" Timmy laughed.  "Six chickadees.  What a funny kid."
      It sounded so ridiculous I couldn't help laughing myself.   So I stopped playing detective and forgot 
about the incident until several days later.  It was the day before we were due to leave for Florida.   Mrs. Bursk called and said the Historical Society was having a benefit sale, and did I have one of those umbrellas that go through a table with a hole in it?  Yes, I admitted, I did have such an umbrella table stored  somewhere, and yes, I guessed I could find it, and no, it wasn't at all inconvenient, I said, being as civilized a liar as the next one.  I found the umbrella in the garage, tucked behind the freezer, but the table was better hidden.
     Feeling vexed about all the things I had to do besides oblige the Cohasset Historical Society, I headed for the barn.  Heidi whinnied for help as I went by.  She and Poky had been playing Go‑In‑ and‑ Out‑ the‑Window among the trees and had hopelessly intertwined their ropes.  I had to unsnap Poky's chain in order to extricate Heidi, who was tossing her head impatiently and eyeing me as if the whole thing were my fault.  I finally got her untangled and retied in a less jungly section of the yard.
     I headed for the barn again, this time with two missions:  to find the table and to find Poky.  Poky looked up from the grain barrel as I came in, fortified herself with two giant-sized helpings, then led me on a merry chase around the barn.  I finally captured her, shoved her into the stall, clamped the cover on the grain barrel, and paused to collect myself.  Oh yes, the umbrella table.  It didn't seem to be down here; maybe it was upstairs.
      At that moment I heard an ominous skittering and scuttling over my head.  It sounded like a community of rats holding a square dance while the cat was away. 
     I hated to go up those stairs and break up the party.  It would be such a killjoy thing to do – and besides, what if they didn't break up?  What if they sat up on their haunches and bared their teeth? 
     Perhaps I should call Mrs. Bursk and tell her I'd looked everywhere (well almost everywhere), but couldn't find the umbrella table.  Now stop being silly, I told myself, those rats are just as scared of you as you are of them.  I put one foot on the bottom step; then I stopped and listened.  The skittering and scuttling was still going on, and moreover I could clearly hear the creatures squeaking.  I started up the steps, singing loudly and stamping my feet in what I hoped was a frightening manner.   Midway, I stopped and listened again; the squeaking sounds were louder and nearer.  Then four big-eyed comical little heads peered down at me from the top of the stairs.
     They were cunning long-legged baby birds of some kind and as tame as could be.  I stuck my head cautiously into the loft  (their mother might not be as friendly nor as small).  What I beheld on the floor was not a wild bird's nest but a partly domesticated young scamp's cage.  Its door was open.  Nearby lay two lifeless little bodies.
     Four and two makes six ‑‑ Bonnie's chickadees were baby chickens.  The chicks fluttered down the stairs after me, cheeping hungrily.  Fearing they might wander out of the barn and into the jaws of the cat, I placed them one by one in Ted's rowboat, stored near the barn.
     When Tim got home from school he said, "Mom, I might as well tell you now, I've got some baby chickens‑‑" he began.
     "Timmy, I'm disappointed in you.  You didn't actually lie to me, but you deceived me."
     "I was gonna tell you.  I just wanted to wait a few days, that's all.  I figured you wouldn't let me keep them."
     "You figured right.  We have no way of raising chickens properly here, Timmy.  As it is, two of the poor little things are dead."
     "I don't understand why; I fed them every day.  Anyway, I wasn't planning to raise them, I was
going to sell them for Easter," Tim said.
        "If you haven't found a good home for them by the end of the afternoon, I'm taking them to the chicken farm."
       Tim tacked a sign at the end of the driveway, but there were no takers.  The man at the chicken farm said he had some chicks about the same size.  He picked them up by their feet, and off they went to join their brethren.
August 29, 1960
     When Kathie called last night to ask what was new besides her birthday, I didn’t feel up to telling her because I was in a still in a state of shock.  What was new was the Brewers’ $400 dollar outboard motor that Timmy borrowed with young Whitey’s permission while we were cruising with the senior Brewers.  He also borrowed their boat, to which the motor was insecurely fastened, Timmy says.    When he swerved to avoid a lobster pot, the outboard went plop into the harbor.
     When Ed heard what had happened he heaped the usual ten thousand punishments.  Timmy couldn’t use his boat for the rest of the summer, he wouldn’t get the promised outboard for his birthday, he was never again to borrow anything from anyone (“By the way,” Tim interrupted, “can I borrow a dollar?  Neil and I are going down to the Shack.”)  “No!” thundered his father, continuing his tirade.  (“Fifty cents?  I’ll just get a frappe.”}  “Not one nickel!” said his furious father.
     Later—about five minutes later—Ed decided he’d been too hard on Tim.  It was an accident, the kid hadn’t heaved the motor overboard just for a lark.  Moreover, we probably had liability insurance to cover this type of mishap.
     He suggested that I call Edgar Hill first to make sure we were covered, then call the Brewers
(with whom we had just had a friendly parting at the Yacht Club) and apprise them of the fate of their outboard motor and our intention of replacing it with a new one.
     A bit jittery, I dialed 1862 instead of 0662 and got Mr. Brewer on the line.
     “Oh—er—hi, Whitey!” I said.
     “HI, Babs, long time no see, ha-ha,” Whitey said jovially.
     “Ha-ha,” I said.  I explained with a stammer than I’d meant to call Edgar.   “I want to find out if we have liability insurance for your outboard motor.”
     “What’s wrong with my outboard motor?” Whitey said in a less jovial tone.
     “Oh—nothing—it’s just fine.  At least it will be if we can find it.  Ted’s going to dive for it tomorrow.”
     The Brewers took the news very well.  Sally even thought it was funny.  Edgar says we are covered for the expense, so now I think it’s funny too.

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