Tuesday, June 30, 2015


     Mother was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1893, the daughter of Ernestine Craft Cobern, an accomplished pianist whose personal ambitions were diverted to her children.  My grandfather was Camden McCormack Cobern, a Methodist minister and archaeologist.  Ernestine listened enthralled to stories of his latest expeditions in the Middle East and was proud of the books he published describing his discoveries.  She resolved that she, too, would be a writer some day.  
     As was the custom in those days, the family often gathered around the piano and sang.  The sweet, soprano quality of Ernestine's voice was unmistakable.  With her mother as teacher and accompanist, she progressed from simple songs in English to operatic areas in French, Italian, German, and Spanish gypsy ballads.  She had little difficulty in mastering these multi-lingual lyrics. 
     After hearing the performance of a famous opera singer, Ernestine changed her mind about being a writer—this was the career she wanted above all.  An audition was arranged with the star, who was amazed by the sixteen-year-old's upper range.  "There's no doubt of your operatic potential, but you need training.  You'll have to work very hard for a few years if you want to succeed."
     Thus encouraged, Ernestine began the arduous climb that eventually led to the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York.  But meanwhile, another life-altering event occurred.  Not long after her decision to become an opera singer, she met her future husband.  At twenty-nine, David Beyer was chief safety inspector for the American Steel and Wire Company.  From her sixteen-year-old perspective, Ernestine remarked to her parents that he was a very nice middle-aged gentleman. 
   In July of 1911, my grandmother wrote to her husband, who was preaching in another town:
         Mr. Beyer came over last night and took me for a short ride.  However, I had the church school lesson to write, so he and Ernestine went out for a long trip, and to her surprise, he proposed to her.  She told me all about it.  He said he would wait ten years if only at last he could have her.  He began by saying that he could not sleep the night before and along about four o'clock he got up and wrote a little chant.  Of course Ernestine wanted to see it and so she got out of the machine and read it by the light of the auto lamp.  She read it to me and it is beautiful.  She did not tell him anything definite—for it was so unexpected, she was stunned, but this morning she came to me with the shyest smile & said, “I could marry him.  I know it is the real thing this time.”  Well, and ah well, I am not sorry if she waits long enough to assure her own place.  But she is ambitious -- she couldn't help being -- and I never want her to feel like the last rag on the tail of a kite -- it hurts one's pride and keeps it sore. A woman of brains is at a disadvantage, as is proved by all history & the tugging at the rope by intrigue etc, when plotting was all that was open to females of the species.
       Ernestine told him she could never be content to be a housewife only and he said, “You will be free to pursue your singing.  We will be chums climbing the ladder together.”  She said today, I am going to work like everything—for three years! So that is the time she has set in her mind for her career.  She says, “I thought I liked Chuck, but now I know the difference between comradeship and love.”  They have corresponded for a year & seen each other only three times, but he said, “I have loved the eternal you first.  I decided I would never marry until I should find my soul's ideal, and I found it through letters.”  Romantic, isn't it?  Yet he has had a great life.  He was a Lieutenant in the Cuban war and has made his own way right along, and has gained a fine education and a good income by thirty years. I am so anxious for you to see him . . .          
      As both were occupied with furthering their careers, the couple saw little of each other for the next year but embarked on a lively correspondence.  David fell in love with her letters.  What innocent charm and humor must have flowed from Ernestine’s pen.   
      My mother and father were married the following year, on June 11, 1912.  True to his promise, he continued to support her goal to become a singer.  When he was offered the position of chief safety engineer for the newly formed Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in Boston, Ernestine went with him.  She began studying with the best teachers available, and five years later an audition earned her a contract at the Metropolitan Opera Company. At the time of her debut on January 15, 1918, America was at war with Germany.  Because the name Beyer had a Germanic sound, she was advised to adopt a stage name.  This she did, choosing the simplest one she could find from a list of flowery names.  As Maria Conde, she sang the role of Gilda in the opera Rigoletto, opposite Enrico Caruso, the Italian tenor, who played the Duke.
       The reviewers were lavish in their praise.  "Maria Conde," declared the New York American, "took the public by surprise when she soared into tonal altitudes beyond the normal range of coloratura sopranos."  The Evening Sun was likewise impressed.  "If she can support it with physical stamina, hers will develop into the voice of a generation."  (Decades later, the editor of Child Life would make a similar comment about her poetry.) 
       I was unaware until recently that Mother often toured in Europe.  When my ex-husband died in 2003, second wife Aliceann sent me a photo montage Ed had assembled featuring his mother-in-law.  Clearly, he was not only devoted to Ernestine but also proud of her two careers.  This text was printed under her photograph:                                      
Sings on WBET This Evening                                               
      Mme. Conde, a Coloratura Soprano, is a Former Member of the Metropolitan Opera Company and Has Recently Returned from Europe.  Her Recital Tonight on the Transcript Station Will Be Her First Radio Appearance Since Returning to This Country.
     Mme. Maria Conde will be the featured soloist to be heard this evening between 8 and 8 o’clock over Station WBET of the Boston Transcript. . .  Mme. Conde, who is a coloratura soprano, formerly was connected with the Metropolitan Opera Company, in which she sang the leading roles of “Rigoletto” with the late tenor, Enrico Caruso.
      In addition to individual recitals, Mme. Conde has appeared also in company with other distinguished artists and leading musical organizations of the country.  Besides her musical attainments, she has acquired a reputation as a writer of verse for music.     
     Appearing on the program tonight with Mme. Conde will be Philip Dundon, baritone, and Cyril Saunders, violinist.  The broadcast will mark Mme. Conde’s first radio appearance since returning from abroad.                                                     
      Completing my ex-husband's montage, in a small circle below the picture of Maria Conde, was one I took of  Mother in front of the hawthorn tree in our Westwood yard.  She is looking at her first published book for children, Happy Animal Families.

     As exciting as Ernestine's two seasons at the Metropolitan were, they required long separations from my father and their son Richard, who was born in 1915.  She made the difficult decision to leave behind her promising career in order to spend more time with her family.  In Boston, she became well known as a concert recitalist.
      My brother was six when I came along in August of 1921, followed by Janeth in 1924.  My siblings and I shared an early memory of our mother's way of exercising her vocal chords.  She practiced her scales in the bathroom, against a background of running water in the tub.  Up and down, up and down, her lovely voice would trill.  None of us would have dreamed of interrupting her.                Catherine Minton, the nursemaid we had as children, reminisced during a visit many years later:
    "I can see your mother just as plainly as if it was yesterday, so young, sitting at the piano and practicing her music after she sang at church.  Your daddy would pace up and down in the hall while she practiced.  He had a wonderful ear for music. Even though he couldn't sing himself he could always tell when something wasn't quite right.  If Mother made one little mistake, Daddy would stop her and make her sing it over and over and over until he was satisfied.  `Oh, Mrs. Beyer,' I would think to myself, `you're certainly putting all your heart and soul into that music.'  I would be out in the kitchen keeping you amused, Bobbsy.  You were just a little bit of a thing and you weren't allowed to be around when Mother was practicing her music.  And when Mother was going to give a concert, how Daddy used to worry about her getting a cold.  Well, he talked so much, sometimes I think he talked her into it.
     "I remember the night I had a frightening experience.  Your daddy had been in Pennsylvania on business, and your mother was supposed to meet him at the station.  I went to Mass and hurried home so she could go meet him and every light in the house was on.  Daddy never allowed lights on all over the house.  Even in my room the light was on, so I knew something must be wrong, and the first thing I thought of was a burglar.
     "I ran up the stairs, and there was your mother, lying on the carpet in the hall. I was so frightened.  I thought the burglar must have hit her and maybe he was still in the house.  I peeked in your rooms to make sure you children were all right, then I ran downstairs and got the nurse in the apartment below to come up with me.  She looked at your mother, but there was no blood on her head.  Then she sat up and told me she had felt faint and gone looking for me; that's why all the lights were on. Your daddy came home in a cab that night and Janeth was born a few weeks later."
      We children were allowed to stay up late on nights when our mother sang on the radio.  We were also permitted to attend her concerts at the Newton Center Women's Club. I must have been very 
small when I first heard the sound of applause because I remember being alarmed and offended.  Why were people making those spanking noises after my mother sang so prettily?  Catherine Minton, sitting next to me, spoke gentle, soothing words, explaining that this was how people showed my mother that they liked her singing.  The next time I heard applause at a concert, I turned around in my seat to tell everyone whose daughter I was. 
      Managed by impresario Aaron Richmond, Ernestine's career might have thrived for years if she hadn't frequently contracted a cold just before an important engagement.  Was her subconscious mind trying to tell her something?  Mother eventually concluded that the accident of possessing a voice had temporarily derailed her from her true profession—writing.  Even before she achieved success, she commented, "I like writing better than singing because I can now enjoy a cold." 

      Ernestine's writing career was not without its frustrations and disappointments. As she wrote to my father when he was away on a business trips in the fall of 1928:
 Dear Dades:                                                                                     
     Your telegram was delivered this morning to yawning, nightied me.  It is quite easy for me to believe you are having a lovely time at your conference.  My imagination paints such wondrous rosy pictures that I am weak in the knees with left‑outedness!  Such self‑discipline is good for the soul, but it is like all beneficial doses—nasty! and I screw up my mental nose mightily in the taking . . .     
     All my poems are coming back and back.  Each time it is like a kick in the stomach!  I know just how Dempsey felt when Tunney pummeled his bad eye.  I wish it didn't affect me that way.  I almost think I'll have to give it up, I get so blue.  And I feel so lost, as if I had nothing to do.  I lecture myself the way I used to Mother.  In fact, I do it so much, perhaps lecturing should be my vocation.  It is sad to think yourself a skylark, and find you are only a mud one!  It is really the cruelest form of torture, and I can sympathize now with Mother's longing to be a writer and her battered hopes and ambitions.  I do hope my children will not try to fly high.
     I am like those winged ants you see.  What good are their wings?  They do not fly!  But I suppose they think they will some day.
     Isn't this a tale of woe!  This is a glorious morning, not in the least a day to be blue, but I am so weary with child care.  The children have fought every minute for the last few days.  I told Dick I was going to wear a strap on my belt and treat them like wrangling dogs if they insisted on acting like them.
     I remember the "strap on my belt" remark.  I'm sure my eyes got very big.   
 My father's response:

Dear darlin girlie ‑    

    . . . About your verses—isn't it nice that you are in the same class as Josephine Peabody and a lot of others who have had to fight every inch of the way?  Some of your latest verses are among the best you have ever written -- so don't get discouraged—just do like your birdie who sang because he must or bust!  -- and sooner or later the public will stop to listen.

     With a kiss on your sweet mouth and a tight hug from your old crazy‑about‑you hubby.

     My mother saved the following letter from me, written when I was nine.  
 October 3, 1930
Dearest Mother,
     I haven't written to you yet and I thought I must write to you before you came home.  Every night it is so cold we have to have a fire.  I have been very good in school and the teacher says she wishes all the children were as good as I was.  I don't mean to be boasting but I just wanted to tell you.  I hope when you come home Agnis will have a good report for you.  Has she told you about her arm.  She had a little cut in her finger and while she was whashing Janeths sweater the dye ran into the cut.  It made her get blood poison.  Everybody was sorry about that of-course but I dont think they liked the ideia of having to do the dishes.  I am learning to sew pretty well now and Ive sewed dimpy quite a few clothes.  I can hardly wait till you come home though it will be funny to have you around.  Good night.  Your loving child, Barbara


                                                         THE CONCERT
                                    Yelchior, dressed in his black and his white
                                    Sat down on his skinny old shanks
                                    And sang, the old dear, without worry or fear--
                                    And, too, I might add, without thanks.
                                    Outlined on the rail by a bleary-eyed moon,
                                    He sang to a distant Maltese;
                                    Keeping time with his tail, he emitted a wail
                                    In eleven malevolent keys.

                                    When windows flew open and nightcaps leaned out,
                                    He was thrilled to his flattered old roots,
                                    And he took a deep bow when his mounting me-ow
                                    Brought a thundering salvo of boots.
                                   "They cannot but recognize genius like mine!"
                                    Thought Yelchior, dodging a shoe;
                                    "Since they all stay awake for my talented sake,
                                    I will now rend and encore or two!"

                                    All evening he sang, but as dawn staggered in,
                                    (Worn out by the concert, I guess),
                                    He finished content, and he thought as he went:
                                    "I am surely a howling success!"
     In 1949, Ernestine sent some of her verses to Sandie and Patrick Wells, of KWKW radio in Los Angeles.  They became enthusiastic fans.  Their program, "Love's Notebook," was heard three times a week and featured almost anything in good poetry form, including contemporaries among the immortals.  Sandie began writing breezy letters to Ernestine  that lifted her spirits.

October 31, 1949
Dear Ernestine,
    "Neat Mrs. Murphy" will make her debut over KWKW on Wednesday, Nov. 2, '49.  And bless her neat soul for the laugh she provokes.
     We delight in your poetry—your choice of words, your humor.  And we only hope our constant praise doesn't ruin your head size.  If all the verses of Solomon's Travels are as cute as the one you enclosed, please DO let us see it—even if it takes the whole fifteen minutes, I'm sure the audience would chuckle as we did over the four liner we saw.  I'm trying to get our appreciation across to you so that you can know—even before your first poem's to be read—that you have two staunch fans here in L. A. and will soon have many more.             
                When Mrs. Murphy scrubs the floor     
                And wants no foot to touch it,
                She nimbly leaps from door to door,
                In order not to smutch it.              
                When she retires, she snuffs the light
                To let the darkness soothe her—
                Then sits beside the bed all night,
                To keep the covers smoother.

     Before long, according to TV-Radio Life’s reports, listeners were "topping their list of favorites with Edgar Allen Poe, the Brownings, Ogden Nash, Richard Armour, and Ernestine Cobern Beyer."      
June 22, 1951:
Dear gay, mad, tipsy lil' Ernestine,
     (Well, now the cat is out of the bag, that's just how we talk about you around our house.)  It's funny the way I approach writing to you.  I'll be thinking -- ugh -- mail to answer, and then your tipsy little scrawl will peek out among the envelopes. And while no one's looking I'll sneak out your letter and answer it, feeling quite like we'd left a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and had sat down in the midst of chaos to have an extra cup of coffee and some conversation. 
     You asked regarding comments on Solomon.  Well, we have one letter here from a listener, which arrived the day after your program, and I quote from same: "We enjoyed your wonderful program last night, it was just perfect."  She didn't mention "Solomon" by name, but you were the program, my dear, so I don't know what else she could have been referring to.  Pat said even our engineer laughed aloud.  (We keep him as a gauge -- when we get him to chuckle, we figure it must be amusing because usually he grimaces or scowls at us.)
     When you get tired of Jeeves, perhaps you could will him to me.  He seems like a most invaluable little guy to have about!
     Such clever rhyming in "When Santa Got Stuck" -- "buoyance and annoyance," "hysterics and derricks," "adventure and censure." Ohhh, how things like that please us.
     Well, my dear, the truant officer just pointed a glaring finger at the stack of mail yet to be answered and so I leave ya for now.   Gleefully, Sandie and Patrick
[from "Solomon's Travels"*]
                But Solomon Solomon chuckled and crowed
                And read to himself with delight,
                            So he failed to perceive when his chimney took leave  
    And his roof sailed away like a kite!         
     Ernestine's financial state involved a continual balancing act, steadied now and then by loans reluctantly accepted and rapidly repaid.  "You have enough responsibilities, Ed dear," she would say to my husband.  "I want to paddle my own canoe."
(from Training the Subconscious Mind")
     Writing for children is pleasant work but not particularly remunerative.  Nevertheless, I continue at it because it is, I think, what I am supposed to do, what I am capable of doing.  The good Lord created the lark that soars and sings in the sky—and also, the cricket that chirps in the grass.  What matters most to me is that I often feel, as I take dictation from Jeeves, that I am in touch with something outside of myself. 
     “There is one mind common to all men,” said Emerson, who compared our individual minds to the inlets in an ocean of universal Mind. Edison, too, believed he got his ideas from a source outside himself.  “Ideas are in the air,” he would say.  Reading along these lines, I grow more and more interested in what I cannot see, touch, hear, smell and taste.   I am intrigued by what my five senses cannot tell me.  I ponder the mystery of man's mind, yearning to comprehend.  I guess you might say I am busy, trying to unscrew the unscrutable!
               A beauty beyond all believing
               Has startled my eyes:
               The sight of a falling star cleaving
               The slumbering skies.
               A flash!  Then the heavens absorb it.
               I sigh in the night,
               And think of my life's fettered orbit‑‑
                           And the wonder of flight!
     In October of 1951 I received a panicky letter from Los Angeles where Mother had gone to visit Sandie and Pat.
Dear Babs,
     This trip is jinxed!  First the rain!  Waited hours!  One trip canceled, another arranged.  Held up hours before they took off.  Arrived Chicago with 1 min. to catch second plane.  All day from 6 a.m. till the next morning all I had was coffee and a skimpy box luncheon.  I arrived here with my nerves jumping and twitching & my breath alarmingly short.  Heart thumping.   Couldn't sleep — not a wink.  I felt as murderers must.  O—to turn back the clock!  To wake up in Boston!  My stomach felt & still feels as if a fist were knotted in it. .  .. I ask myself do I dare stay a few days to see if I like it better—get over this awful loneliness, hatred of Calif  — do I dare or will I get sick.  If so I'd rather be sick at home than here.  Will see Sandie tonight—with me at the point of tears!  My nerve reserve is evidently small.  Alas that I should learn the hard way!   Darling!  I'm too far away from you!  It's awful!  But I'll work it out—probably will just come home....Mother   
To my husband, she wrote:
Dear Ed,
     The miles and miles of impersonal space oppressed me as I lengthened the distance between myself and those I love most in all the world—you and Barbara and your children, Janeth and little Walter.  I was panicked at first, and was so sick at heart with my first experience with home‑sickness that I was desperately ill—physically.  What power our minds have over our poor bodies.  I felt I must turn around and fly back or die!— literally die!
     But children sent off to camp suffer, I suppose, in the same way, then in a day or so, become adjusted.  Had it not been for the capers my heart kept cutting and for my sleeplessness, my common sense would have comforted me—the knowledge that I would adjust.  I was afraid I would be sick in bed in a stranger's house before that took place!  Adding to the situation was a feeling of fright since my money had dwindled alarmingly.  In panic I wired you, and you, dear Ed, answered with touching promptness.  I have now the wherewithal to make it possible to return—and that being the case, the panic is vanishing and healing, begun.  My nervous margin is small, I guess, and I was frightened to recognize a shortness of breath and tension which were fore‑runners of my break‑down a few years ago.  To be frank, I feared a second.  I assure you, however, that I'm all right now, and believe I'll have a marvelous winter.
     My landlady and I clicked immediately.  Isn't that nice?  As for Sandie and Patrick they are all I had hoped and more.  Sandie said "Wait till you meet my poets!  You won't have a moment to be lonely in!"  
       I rarely received a letter from Mother that wasn't accompanied by an entertaining rhyme.  One spring day in 1952 I was treated to "The Concert," a six stanza poem about a cat named Yelchior who spent the night serenading an unappreciative audience.
     "Dear Babs," Mom wrote, " I don't know whether this is any good or not, but it was fun writing it."
And what fun it was reading it, especially this stanza's tongue-in-cheek inside rhyme:  
                                 Outlined on the rail by a bleary-eyed moon,
                     He sang to a distant Maltese;                               
                     Keeping time with his tail, he emitted a wail
                     In eleven malevolent keys.
      Ernestine's sense of fun was accompanied by a sense of ambivalence about the meaning of life.  Who knew for sure, she asked herself in "Query Without Answer":
Is life a plan whose point we lack?
A dream—a blunder?
Why stretch the mind upon the wrack           
Of fruitless wonder?
Is death, man's enemy and friend,
Awaiting, grinning,
The unimaginable End
Of no Beginning?
     And yet at other times her poems expressed more confidence.  As the daughter, then mother of a preacher (my brother, Dick), she yearned for a faith in the hereafter.                                         
Limited Vision
          Once upon a morning    
          Not long ago, I stood 
         And marveled at the beauty 
         Of mountain-range and wood.
         Today, alas, the valley
         Is all that I can see.
         The mountains all have vanished
         That once looked down at me.                   
         But they are there, though hidden;
         They have not taken flight.
         A veil of mist surrounds them
        And shuts them from my sight.                  

        O learn, my soul, this lesson:
        God, like the mountain-range
        Will never, never vanish,
        His glory never change.                     

        If mists of doubt obscure Him,
        Let me not trust Him less,
        Nor let my clouded vision
        Hide His foreverness.

     In a letter written to Janeth, after attending the funeral of our Aunt Ruth, she let her family know how she felt about such rituals:
     "I am more than ever of the opinion that funerals, except for the truly great, border on the barbaric.  I want nothing at all -- no flowers -- no display of my hideous old overcoat,  nothing but a prayer from the family, and that inaudibly.  Of course, if darling Dick feels hurt by this, I'm willing for him to pray aloud -- only to the family.  No friends, nothing.  I will not be there.  Either I will be extinct or "on my way."  I truly believe in the latter idea due to certain experiences which (to me) furnish proof of further progress.     
      Whichever fate it is, I still want only a thought now and then in some loved one's heart."


       In January of 1953, the editor of Child Life, Ernest Frawley, wrote to Ernestine:  "There is no doubt that your talents in verse are truly outstanding.  I believe you stand a good chance of becoming the greatest children's poet of the day . . . ."
     The next two years were busy and productive.  Ernestine Beyer wrote several books for children, continued to appear in Child Life and other children's magazines, and was honored by awards from The National League of American Pen Women.   In the spring of 1972, she received first prize for a religious poem and was invited to a banquet in Washington, D. C.
     Ernestine described her trip to Washington in a talk she called “Thank-you, Jeeves.”
      . . . I spent the night of April 10 at the Mayflower Hotel.   In the afternoon, buses took three hundred Pen Women to the White House where attractive young ladies escorted us from room to room so we could see the entire lower floor with its beautiful portraits and famous mementos of the Presidents who have lived there.  At 2:30 p.m. we formed a line to meet Mrs. Nixon whom I had not seen before except on TV.  As I took her hand I marveled at her youth and beauty.  Moving on, I saw a long table set with exquisite taste.  We were served tea and many different kinds of cookies.  I thought it all utterly delightful.
     After the tea, we returned to the Mayflower just in time to dress for the Letters Banquet; and there I had the pleasure of meeting many compatible women, some of whom marched up to the platform to receive a prize.  When my name was called, I did the same.
    I had planned to return to Boston the following day, but as I was packing my bags, I noticed that the telephone was flashing red.  I thought there was something wrong with it.  When I picked up the receiver a voice informed me that Congressman James A. Burke wanted to speak to me.
     "There must be some mistake," I said.  "He must have me confused with someone else."
     "Don't hang up!" said the voice hastily.  "Here he is now!"
     I still felt sure there had been a mistake.  But Congressman Burke insisted he wanted to see me—wanted, in fact, to have me as his guest for lunch at the Cannon Building.  "I read the article about you in the Herald-Traveler. If I am delayed a bit," he said, "my assistant, John King, will look after you, and bring you to the dining room."
     Still perplexed, I accepted his invitation to lunch.  Congressman Burke sat on my left, John King on my right, and on his right sat Mrs. Burke, our gracious hostess.
     Congressman Burke talked to me about his son's interest in writing poetry.  He questioned me as to how I had happened to turn to writing.  From the article, he knew that in my early years I had been a singer.  I told him that after my husband passed away and many problems and trials confronted me, the "sing" had gone out of me. It was then that I returned to my first love, writing.
     I then told him of my discovery that the subconscious mind could be of great help to anyone engaged in creative effort.  "Just before I go to sleep, I ask my subconscious mind to work out a story or poem.  In the morning, I take dictation.  All I do is furnish the pencil."
     Realizing I was neglecting Mr. King on my left, I turned to him.  John King was one of the handsomest young men I've ever seen.  Not only was he tall and graceful, but he reminded me of a character in one of my stories.  Many years ago, I wrote about a spoiled little princess who had dimples at the corners of her mouth that appeared whenever she compressed her lips to say a word beginning with B or P.  It was useless for her to cry "Begone!" or "Piffle!" for those dimples popped out and turned the words into a compliment.   Mr. King had dimples exactly like that.
     "Have you any sons who like to write poetry?" I asked him.
     "I'm not even married!" he replied.
     "How did you ever escape?" I asked.
     Looking down at me, he said:  "I'm waiting for a girl who can sing and write poems."
     After lunch, Congressman Burke took me all around the building, introducing me to important people who run this country's business.  I met Wilbur Mills, Chairman of Ways and Means, Congresswoman Louise Day Hicks, Congressman Broyhill, and many others.  After I had made the rounds, Congressman Burke took me outside and asked me to stand on the steps of the Cannon Building and have my picture taken with him and John King.
     With many thrilling things to think about, I returned to Boston, believing the adventure concluded.  But it wasn't.  I was busy writing, one day, when suddenly a verse that obviously belonged in "The Pool" was given to me by Jeeves.  Evidently I had failed to take his dictation correctly!  What now appeared on my writing tablet was what should have been the closing verse of "The Pool."
     Yet even without this last verse, which so belatedly "came" to me, the poem had won an important prize, and had been accepted by Ideals Magazine.   I rewrote "The Pool," adding the new verse that I think closes the poem with a tender simplicity it didn't have before.  I mailed it to Ideals, and soon received a letter, saying this revised version would be put in the files.  It may be a long time before it is published, but I hope when it appears in print that my last version will have been the editor's choice.   I have to play fair with my good servant, Jeeves, who works so faithfully with no salary save the wages of my thanks.
      Ernestine was puzzled when she received a large volume of the Congressional Record after her return  from Washington.  Then she turned to the page noted on the cover and found a warm tribute.
[I tried to enlarge the printed test but got no cooperation.  Mom (or Jeeves), ever the perfectionist when it came to her poetry, amended a line to "luminously lie" in the quoted stanzas from the prize-winning poem.]
     Toward the end of Congressman James Burke's tribute to my mother, he says, "I am being serious when I say that meeting her yesterday made my whole day brighter, that much easier, and this is not a quality in a person that one encounters too often or forgets too quickly.  I hope that she is with us many more years and continues to share with us all her vitality, all her enthusiasm, all her spontaneity. . . ."
"My Isha" by Dr. Kathleen Malley-Morrison
      Throughout my childhood, my maternal grandmother, known as “Isha” to her grandchildren, spent her summers with my family.  She was a magical poet, whose clickety-clacketing on her typewriter drew me to her room like a magnet.  I often visited her in the evening to hear what she was working on and then went back in the morning to see whether Jeeves had helped her through whatever block was interfering with her progress.  She always made me feel that, like Jeeves, I helped her perfect her poems.  Hardly able even to talk without slipping into verse, she once wrote this poem about our collaboration:        

                         To My Granddaughter

Kathie's eyes are bright, alive, her manner, blithely charming,
And though her years are only five, her wisdom is disarming.
When she, at times, invades my room, I leave this peaceful place;
Astride Imagination's broom, I soar with her in space.

Within my own she lays her hand, and with a compass true,
She guides me to that happy land which long ago I knew.
Contemporaries, she and I! For though my hair is white,
Whenever Kathie passes by, she leaves me young and bright!
       From the late 40s to the early 70s, Isha's rollicking verses appeared in all the popular children's magazines.  She also became a regular contributor to adult publications like The Ladies' Home Journal. Except during my recalcitrant adolescence, we remained  close, and the summer after I graduated from college, she sent me a letter with the following remembrance:  
      I've been thinking of you as you used to be at ten -- my unsparing, always right little critic.  Heaving a story a second time you would state -- oh so truly -- "You spoiled it, Isha.  I liked it better before!"  And I remember a time when you lay on my arm, one long-ago afternoon.  No word had been spoken between us for quite awhile.  Then suddenly you said: "Isha, are you thinking about sheep?"  And I had been!  I'd been lying there, staring at the walls which roofed my bed, thinking that I'd like to have a fence painted with lambs going over it—little lambs to count as I went to sleep.  You had read my mind with utter accuracy!   So all these years you have nestled in my heart, having a most special place.  I yearn, now, for your success and for your happiness.  Any good that comes to you will be a good that comes to me.  Be sure to share what you can with me.  A joy shared is a joy doubled. . . . .
       As Ernestine grew older, it pained her when magazines accepted her verses, then failed to publish them for a year or longer.  Shortly before her death in December, 1972, she wrote to a magazine that had accepted a verse the previous winter. In reply to her plaintive query, the editor said:  "I am sorry we cannot publish your poem as soon as you would like, but we have to plan our layouts in advance."  The poet wasn't happy with responses like this.  "How long do they expect me to wait?  Do they think I'm immortal?”
      Ah, Mom, some of us do . . . Some of us do.         
 [from "The Pool," closing verse]
                                  Deep darkness falls.  I turn at last to leave,
          Pursued by dreams which I can not forget.
          I do not stay to meditate or grieve.
          I am at peace although my eyes are wet.
          For I have learned how like the pool am I—
          The pool which faithful to the distant sky,
          Still glows with gold although the sun has set.
June 5, 1977
to my sister Janeth                                                                                 
      I have started re‑reading P. J. Wodehouse's books.  He is such a delight that I feel thrilled, rather than overwhelmed, at the thought that I have seventy more to go.  His humor is timeless, his Bertie Wooster hilarious, his Jeeves priceless.   How could Mom miss with her own personal Jeeves working with her subconscious, helping her to extract its latent gems?  As I laugh aloud over The Inimitable Jeeves or Carry On, Jeeves, I have the lovely feeling that Mom is smiling over my  shoulder . . . .


October 11, 1960
          Mom’s book, Aesop with a Smile, is proving to be a big hit.  It was chosen by the Book Committee of the Child Study Assoc. of Americal to appear on its list of outstanding books of the year.  Mother has been interviewed on the radio by the Lady of the Bookshelf and has made a tape for another radio program called “Dimensions.”    She is so thrilled over these developments she tells me she can hardly sleep nights.  Success has a wonderful effect on her temperament.  In the past, when I was in my irritable time of the month and replied sharply to a question (How I wish I had never done this!) or an impatient grandchild hurt her feelings, she would go to her room to lick her wounds or to write a poem such as “Bringing Up Mother.”  Now nothing fazes her.
                                      My children don't purposely pain me
                                   They mean to be patient, I know,
                                   As gently but firmly they train me
                                   In the way that a mother should go.
                                   They say my illusions are many; 
                                   They smile at the things I believe.
                                   My reasoning process (if any),
                                   They laughingly label naive.
                                   Do you think I resent them?  No, never.
                                   I accept all the training they give,
                                   For I hope to be modern and clever
                                   By the time that I die -- if I live!   
 Circa 1960   
     In the interest of continuing peace and harmony, I recently suggested to Mom that we avoid a sore subject: politics.  Although Ed intends to vote for Kennedy, I had been adopting an on-the-fence attitude, planning to base my final decision on the debates.  Mother, having been a Republican all her life, has been trying to influence me by giving me anti-Catholic, anti-Kennedy articles clipped from the Christian Science Monitor (“Haven’t you always felt they were very fair and unbiased, Babs?”), urging me to read the latest fascinating issue of Time, and saying to Ed when he gave her a pro-Kennedy argument:  “Ed, dear, I’d give you every cent I own, but I will not sell my soul.”
     Of course, this was said half-facetiously, but nevertheless it implies that God is on her side and the Devil on ours, I mean Ed’s. I find myself digging my heels in and sticking up for Kennedy out of sheer contrariness.
     Moreover, now that I have seen the first two TV debates, I must say “our boy” strikes me as being stronger, more sure of himself, and more courageous and sincere than Mr. Nixon.  If I am wise, though, I will keep these sentiments to myself.  In a town like Cohasset, a Democrat ranks one step below a traitor.


     Ernestine was determined to paddle her own canoe, and paddle it she did, no matter how turbulent the waters.  There had been that December 24th in Coral Gables when Mother found herself without funds for a Christmas dinner. "It doesn"t matter, Mom," said Janeth, my teenage sister.  "Let's just have whatever's on hand."  Ernestine—or Jeeves, her name for her subconscious mind—came up with an ingenious solution: she bought canned goods at a market where she had credit, then returned them to another store for a "refund."  She would laughingly confess in the distant future, but at the time, Janeth had no idea where the windfall had come from.
From "Training the Subconscious Mind" by Ernestine Cobern Beyer: 
      Writing for children is pleasant work but not particularly remunerative.  Nevertheless, I continue at it because it is, I think, what I am supposed to do, what I am capable of doing.  The good Lord created the lark that soars and sings in the sky‑‑and  also, the cricket that chirps in the grass.  What matters most to me is that I often feel, as I take dictation from Jeeves, that I am in touch with something outside of myself. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015


     My younger sister and I had a sibling rivalry that extended well into our adult years. After a particularly painful disagreement, I said to her, “Janeth, it’s bad for our health to get this upset. Let’s stay away from each other for a while.“
     The first few months without my sister were so peaceful, I made no effort to contact her. The  months became swiftly passing years until a greeting from my niece appeared on my computer screen on January 1, 2007.  Linda asked if I remembered telling her about my biggest fear on my eighty-fifth birthday. “Mom has it,” she wrote. “The dreaded Alzheimer’s.”
     Suddenly the lifetime of disagreements with Janeth seemed unimportant in the face of what she and Linda were dealing with. I Googled the disease and learned that someone contracted it every seventy-one seconds. There were hundreds of thousands of cases just in Massachusetts. .
     I thought of the last-straw angry scene that alienated me from my sister. Maybe she would have no recollection of our falling-out. It would be ironic if she only remembered that she hadn’t seen me in years. If I were to call her, would she know who I was?
     I wrote a note, sealed it and put it by the door, ready for mailing. Then I stopped, reeling from memories of past misunderstandings. I could picture her interpreting any attention from me after this long silence as evidence that I was gloating over her plight.  She once startled me by saying she figured I was happy about the problems she was having at the time. I hoped and prayed that things would be different now, that she would accept my written message as deep-down sympathy and caring. I took the risk and sent it.
     Janeth called, and we had an hour-long conversation. She told me how much it meant to her to see the words, "Dear Sister." We soon found that aging had insulted us in numerous similar ways. She had shrunk 3 1/2 inches, I had shrunk 4 and 1/2. To avoid pain she had to bend forward when she walked and so did I. We hated the veins that crawled on our hands like blue worms on crinkled parchment.
     She described other trials and worries and misfortunes, including a fall that opened up a bruise that "popped like a grape" and began bleeding in the market. When it happened, she had the most important papers of her life in a little cart she brought everywhere she went. An ambulance came so promptly while she was pressing on the injury that she was carried off, protesting wildly that she needed her important papers. By the time she was delivered to the hospital, still wailing, she was diagnosed as delusional.
     She told me the papers in her cart included Ray’s old love letters, and she knew without question why things became so quiet every evening. The nurses had started reading the letters and were so fascinated, they kept reading. Her cart was returned when she left, "but the contents were in a jumble." I wondered how much of this was accurate and how much the paranoia that Linda and my
research had prepared me for.
     Janeth confided that she was practically a recluse because she didn’t want people to see how old her face had become with the awful little curl under her nose. Ray was loyal and helpful but had troubles in his own life.
     Clearly my sister needed a lot of in-person support that my niece couldn’t supply, what with her job as a social worker, the 3-hour drive from Maine, and her daughter Tiffany’s special needs. I resolved to do as much as I could to help.
     I saw my sister for the first time in eight years when I picked her up to take her to a doctor’s appointment. I hardly recognized the little person who emerged from her building. What had become of my tall, slim, stunning sister?  She moved towards me, pulling a folding cart stuffed with two satchels and a large black pocket-book.        
     “We have to bring this,” she said. “It has all my important papers. If I leave them in my apartment the snoops will sneak in and read them.” Together the two of us wrestled the cart into the back of my car. We got into the front seat. It had been a long, long time between hugs.
     We sisters must have been a quaint sight walking along the hospital’s corridors, with Jan very stooped, and I, too, unable to straighten up as much as I’d like to.  A pair of head-turners 40 years ago, metamorphosed by Father Time’s sorcery into squashed versions of our former selves.
     After Janeth’s appointment, we moved our conversation, which had become intensely personal in the doctor’s waiting room, to an area where we could talk more privately.
     “I have become ugly,” she said. “NO,” she held up her hand, “don’t say anything, I have a mirror.” She told me she worried a lot about her privacy, another reason she was so isolated and another reason why she took the cart with her on the rare occasions when she went out. She suspected a maintenance man invaded her apartment when she was away, ferreting out information about her past. Changing the subject, I showed her an old photograph with Jan on the left, Mother in the middle, and I on the right. We were young and blooming, Mom more than a decade younger than we were now.
      She looked, but I saw the sadness glinting in her eyes. For the first time in eight years, I very much wanted my sister in my life. I wanted to do everything I could to improve the Catch-22 existence that blocked pleasurable excursions we might have together.
     We used to have happy times, meeting for lunch or dinner, but no more. Janeth has been literally starving herself for years because of her strict avoidance of sugar, salt, and fat. On Thanksgiving, Ray took her to a buffet in a restaurant she had formerly enjoyed, “and all I could eat was an apple.” I didn’t see how she could go on living alone, subsisting on raw vegetables and fruit.
     What would she think if we tried to persuade her to go into assisted living? How would this ever be accomplished? What would such a place be like?


Alzheimer's is the cruelest of diseases and I am too old to be a caregiver. Maybe I've said that before. I'll say it again. I am too old to be a caregiver. A woman called me this evening, referred to me by Ted. She is going to come and vacuum and dust and polish and clean the kitchen floor. I'll pay her whatever she asks. I can't even dust because walking around is so painful. I do manage to keep playing Duplicate Bridge three times a week. Sometimes partner and I come in first; sometimes, like today, we are the lowest of the low. But the mental exercise will keep me from getting Alzheimers, I hope and pray. And I'm always comfortable sitting down. That's the one good thing about spinal stenosis..
     At the Stop & Shop today, I learned they had only two motorized carts, and a man was sitting in the unused one, working on his scratch tickets. In my head I was saying, get the hell out of there, I need the cart more than you do. By the time I got home I was whimpering like a whipped puppy as I unlocked my front door.
       I haven't seriously considered surgery before because I didn't see how my sister would manage during my recovery. Then I realized she could go into assisted living temporarily. A friend has recommended Advantage House in Hingham, ten minutes from Weymouthport.
        [Had surgery in 2002. By 2012 the stenosis had returned. At ninety-one, the only recourse is to ignore the pain, walk bent over as if I were impersonating an old lady, and take baby steps a la comedian Tim Conway. Very funny, Mr. Conway.]
        I call Janeth after I finish my supper. She tells me what a terrible day she has been having.
       “I can’t remember anything! The visiting nurse drew up a schedule for my pills and then I put an X in the wrong place and had to scratch it out. I couldn’t remember whether I’d taken my Risperdal or not. Finally I took one but then I thought I’d already taken one. I felt as if I should throw up and I did throw up a little.”
       Standing in my kitchen, I made sympathetic noises throughout this recitation, my heart aching for my sister and my back aching for gratis.
       “My mind is going, going, gone! It’s been going for years and now it’s gone. I’m sick, sick, sick! I don’t know what to do about anything anymore. I am DUMB!”
       I tell her she is not dumb. The forgetfulness isn’t her fault, it’s the fault of the cruel disease that has crept up on her. I don’t know what the answer is. Does she think it might be time to consider assisted living?
       “Oh boy!” This is the phrase my sister uses when she is not happy about something I have suggested. She tells me she spent the day going through papers and she is nauseated by what she reads.
       “My stabs at writing drafts of letters are full of crossed-out sentences and insertions and other corrections I can’t make head or tail of. Sometimes I’m writing to a friend who hasn’t heard from me for a long time, and I start out by saying I’m sorry I’ve been so negligent, bla bla bla. I’ve begun throwing out all the nauseating ones. Down the chute they go.”
       Later, I was at my desk when my sister called. “Oh dear, I had something I wanted to mention and now I can’t remember what it was.”
       “That’s all right. Call me back when you remember.”
       A few minutes later: “Now I remember. Tomorrow I want you to lift up my top and look at my spine. Remember how the doctor sent me a telegram warning that my squamus cell carcinoma could go underground?”
       “A telegram?”
       “Well, maybe it was a night letter. Anyway, he warned me that the cancer could spread through my body and kill me. When I was in the hospital, the emergency room doctor wouldn’t even look at my spine. He said there was nothing wrong with me and sent me home.”
       “Okay, I’ll look.”
       I arrive at Jan’s with our St. Patrick’s Day dinners and some groceries because she was running out of food. She has attempted to set up something hostessy, a folding table with cutlery and a napkin in front of a chair at one side of the room, and, on the other side, . . .we finally figure out what to do. A hassock makes do as a table in front of a stuffed chair.
       “That corned beef smells good, I’m starving,” she says. And this is the kind, upbeat attitude she has throughout our meal, which we have in opposite corners of the room. She says Ray thinks she should have a table in the middle, with chairs, but she can’t move the trampoline (trampoline?) because it is covered with stacks of papers. I don’t ask why the trampoline is there because I know the explanation will take too long and our meals will get colder than they already are.
       Our problem begins when I bring up the first order of business, her telephone bill. It says last month is past due, making the total fifty-nine dollars. She is outraged. She knows she paid her bill last month. She hates it when she gets double-billed like this. She works herself into such a state that I say, “Janeth, I’ll pay it. It’s not worth getting upset about.”
       She gets her checks out of the Christmas bag that’s in the blue canvas bag on the couch/bed and searches through the tiny writings that list the checks she has paid. She can’t find the evidence she is looking for.
       “Maybe they hadn’t received it at the time they sent the bill. Maybe you’ll get a credit next time.” I hand her my pen, and the check gets written. I give her their 800 Customer Service number, which she puts in tiny figures on a piece of paper she is holding.
       I forget just what it was that set her off next. I do remember that she had her face next to mine, yelling at me that she could eat like a pig and put on fifteen pounds but look, nothing would make her fat knees look any better. She is wearing shorts and points to the offense. No use telling her the knees look fat because the legs are so skinny. “I’m trying?” Janeth yells. “Haven’t you noticed? Didn’t I eat a lot of the dinner? Don’t I eat those whatever-they-are that come in the morning?”
       I say, let me help clear things up, and I go to her side of the room to get her plate and empty glass. The small milk carton is still half full. ”Are you thirsty?” I ask. “Would you like to finish your milk?” She doesn’t know. She’ll have to think about it. When I put the milk carton back in the door of the refrigerator, I am startled to see approximately twenty bottles of nail polish marching across the top shelf.
       Janeth sees my expression and says, “You’re the one who told me nail polish keeps better in the refrigerator. And you can use it when you start getting a run in your nylons.” I ask her when was the last time she put polish on her nails. Years ago, she admits.
       “Let’s get rid of them,” I say, as I start dropping them into a plastic bag.
       “You’d better be quick about it because the freezer will get full of frost.” I grab a few more of the bottles and close the door.
       Now Jan turns her back and lifts up her shirt. “Would you look and see if there are any cancers on my back?”
       “No, your back looks fine.”
       Next I suggest that we tackle her filing cabinet, one drawer at a time. In the top drawer in back of a pile of papers is a white pocketbook. Jan says it’s a shabby old thing that she keeps one of her wallets in. The wallet is a long black one that I’ve seen before. Okay, we’ll start with that, one section at a time. In the first are Walter’s IDS dating back to his service in WWII. Then more recent cards associated with his government work. An ID for Jan’s stint with the Waves. After half an hour’s discussion about the contents of the wallet, I find only one item she’s willing to part with. I don’t blame her for wanting to save these mementos, but I begin to realize what she means when she says it will take thousands of years to sort all her papers.
       “I give up,” I say.
       “Really?” she beams, delighted that I can see what she’s up against.
       I do make inroads on one small paper bag I had noticed on the couch/bed. It is full of empty phials for her medications. I read off dates that go back two years.
       “We can toss those, right?”
       Janeth is loath to toss them. “Suppose I’m at a doctor’s and he wants to know what medications I’ve been taking. How could I tell him?”
       “Tell him what you are currently taking. Lisinopril and Risperdal. I’ll write them down for you.”
       When I am leaving the apartment with the handful of clutter I’ll throw down the chute, Jan makes a statement: “I have eyes. I can see what everyone else sees. I know that this place is a mess.” I drop what I am carrying and put my arms around her frail, bony shoulders. I tell her I love her. She loves me back.
       Message left by distraught sister concerning Nell, the visiting nurse, who came this morning but stayed only twenty minutes because the Meal on Wheels arrived. Nell said she’d come back Thursday.
       "She's trying to tie up my whole life," Janeth tells me when I call. Then she shifts to another subject. She wants to have her hair looking nice for our second appointment with the lawyer, but can't find the curlers that are the right size.
       “They have disappeared into thin air. What could have happened to them?”
       I offer to buy more curlers. She says a bit testily that I don't need to keep buying her things.
       Then she says, “I've been thinking, isn't it foolish for an old lady to care what she looks like just because the lawyer is handsome?”
       “No, it's not foolish at all. I love to see you looking cute the way you do when you're fixed up and your amazing dark hair is shining and natural. How many old ladies do you see who have anything but white or gray hair?”
       “I don’t notice how other old ladies look.”
       Before we go to the lawyer's office, I decide I have time to tackle the issue of the trampoline and the clutter on its surface.
       "But that's how I get my exercise!"
       “At eighty-two, that could be dangerous, Jan.”
       She steps up on a part of the canvas that isn’t cluttered, says whoops, and manages to steady herself. She then says she's waiting for Ray to put some kind of railing around the trampoline for her to grab if she loses her balance.
       As for the extremely heavy suitcase parked on the trampoline, it’s full of papers, she says. Likewise the other sturdy leather carrying case. Nevertheless I accomplish a few things before we leave. I collect the abundance of plastic containers on her trampoline, promising I'll return any she needs in the future. She also allows me to gather up all the small Hoods cartons scattered in the kitchen except for one. She needs that to measure the eight ounces of water she is trying to drink several times a day. Empty yogurt containers are also confiscated, the total rubbish filling the bag I take to the trash room. I leave another bag by her front door for the plastic containers worth saving.
       When we are ready to leave, Janeth puts her valuables into her cart. I begin looking everywhere for the paper bag I had just placed by the door.
       "You see how things just disappear into thin air?" says Jan. At last I found it in her cart. We were off! Both of us!
       Off to see the handsome lawyer, trala. Then Janeth decides to go back for her lipstick, and while she’s at it, asks me to put some brown eye shadow on her eyelids. When we finally reach our destination, the way she flirted with the attorney was shocking.
       "I shouldn't have told him to cross his ts," she said. "I was fresh, wasn't I."
       “He was enchanted.”
       This evening Janeth called with the marvelous news that she is going to the dining room for the dinner I had read aloud when we were in the elevator: Chicken Cordon Bleu, mashed potatoes, broccoli, apple crisp for dessert.
       "I was able to make my hair look better, so I decided to go."
       "Call me later," I said. I wanted to know right away if the snoops took advantage of her absence again, rather than hear about it two days later. Her report: "I’m pretty sure that things in the filing cabinet were not lined up the way I remembered."
To: Linda Subject: Re: Black Humor
       I've been feeling guilty about the light tone I sometimes take when describing interactions with my sister. There is nothing funny about her plight. As I sought for the words to type in the Subject line, they came to me. Perhaps Black Humor has its place if it is interspersed with sorrow, sympathy, pity. I love Janeth; her life is a daily struggle through no fault of hers. Our beastly father made her what she grew up to be, a fearful, suspicious woman, and what she is now, clinically paranoid. Her voice can be heart-breaking when she has difficulty in expressing what she wants to say . . . a little sobbing intake of breath punctuating her phrases. I'm making myself cry, and probably you, too.
From: Linda
       There’s nothing to feel guilt about. It’s human nature to use defense mechanisms, and this one is demanded by our survival instinct.
       You may remember when I questioned you about my grandfather. I was beginning my work as a mental health provider and going to school . . . coinciding with my genealogy project. It suddenly hit me that I’d never seen a picture of him in my entire life, and considering all Mom’s bizarre behaviors over the years, I thought hmm.
       I asked you if there had ever been inappropriate sexual “stuff” going on, and your response was “Oh yes, with both of us!” I tell you, it has really made a difference in my attitude toward her and my childhood experience. This is one of those occasions that I think of as meant to be. IF I had never been recruited to do this work, and IF I hadn’t gone on to school, IF I had never started searching the family roots, nothing would have changed for me. As far as all that “BAD” stuff goes, I’m at peace, and the pattern of anger is not repeated in my childrearing. I’m a democratic parent, giving my children the freedom of their voice and creativity, only guiding them morally, with some financial education thrown in.
       So, getting back to what is meant to be. . . fate has put me on this track for a reason. Whew. Yes, I’m crying. . . for multiple reasons. Mom, me, my kids, my whole family, humanity. It also makes me think of Great Aunt Ruth, stepping into a shower her stepson was taking. Your father and she must have been molested as children too. How many generations? At least there is no more of that going on.
       Oops! I need to get to work. *K*K*K*

Tomorrow we’re going back to the handsome lawyer because the bank where he advised us to start consolidating her assets gave us (me) a hard time about the way the trust was expressed. Also, the woman wanted to be sure Janeth understood that the Trust gave her no check-writing ability. My sister looked puzzled, and I said, “I think Bella is telling you that you need to trust Linda and me because we could rob you.” Bella said, “That’s exactly what I’m saying to yez.” Which means both of us, I believe.
       I pick Janeth up at 10:30 and we set out for the attorney’s office. Get there in time for a stop at the Ladies Room, then are ushered into the lawyer's conference room. He has already revised the Janeth Black Trust to include changes that will satisfy the nitpickers at the bank.
       Janeth says she is starving. I tell her I’ll treat her to lunch at Barry’s Deli. Knowing my sister’s illness causes difficulty in making choices, I expect her to be buffaloed by the dozens of offerings plastered on the walls. Janeth is a wonder. She thinks the fish chowder sounds good, and so does the homemade beef stew. We order both.
       Last stop, Roche Brothers because Jan is out of milk. I get into a motorized cart and head for—where else—the Ladies Room. It is occupied, so Jan says she’ll stand guard outside the Men’s Room. I am lifting the seat up again and about to wash my hands when I hear a shriek, “No, don’t!”
       A gentleman is pushing through the door. “Oh, excuse me!” he stammers. As I make my exit I say, “No, it’s my fault. Actually it’s my sister’s fault.” I point a finger at her and say, “You’re fired!”
       Everybody laughs. Now I have the problem of backing my cart out of the narrow corridor, which has become full of other traffic. The traffic makes way, while I back into a man who is sitting at a table, eating a sandwich and minding his own business. He apologizes profusely, I insist I am to blame, and the counter girl shows me a way to get the hell out of there.
       Now we select a couple of bananas and a loaf of bread and a half-gallon of whole milk. I abandon the cart when we’re ready to check out, remembering I got stuck in the aisle the last time we were there. The checkout lad asks my sister if she wants paper or plastic. Jan looks at me in dismay and says, “I don’t know!”
       “Make it paper.”
       Janeth gets out a check, taking time to make sure it is the right consecutive number, then is told she has to show a license or other ID before they can accept the check. She unzips her tiny white purse and starts looking through various cards tucked in with some change and some folded bills. All she can produce is her Blue-Cross Blue-Shield card. The supervisor accepts it, probably because the line behind us is getting long and impatient.
       At last we pull up in front of Janeth’s building and I open the trunk where she has stored her valuables and her purse and a couple of paper bags. I’m hoping she will have room in her cart for all her possessions, old and new, so I won’t have to get out my cart and go up to her apartment with my back begging for a truce. In one of the bags I see an empty Vermont Bread plastic wrapper full of empty Meals-on-Wheels milk cartons and disposable plates.
       “Jan, I’ll throw this out for you.”
       “No, I have to look through it and see what’s in it.”
       I’m worn out, it’s getting late, so I say querulously that I don’t believe this, it’s just trash. Nevertheless, I put it back in the paper bag. After she is finally organized I say, “Janeth, why don’t we look through this stuff now, so I can get rid of it.”
       She gives me a fierce look and says it’s full of smelly things. I lose patience. “I don’t care if it smells like shit and pee, let’s throw it away!” Janeth grabs the trash away from me and says angrily, “No! I’ll take care of it later!”
       We take the elevator to the eighth floor, Janeth enters her apartment, and I hand her the bags from my cart. By now we are back to normal, whatever that is, and we hug goodbye.
       Later, back at my apartment, I am in my study, looking at my e-mails, when the phone rings. It is Janeth, and she is frantic. She can’t find the little white purse that had change in it, and cash, and what is she going to do? Linda is coming tomorrow and she’s going to need change if she plans to do a laundry. The people down there can be so mean, they can be very rude to anyone who isn’t a resident. Sometimes a daughter will be doing laundry for her mother and they’ll tell her she can’t use the machines; she has to be a resident. And besides, what will Linda use for change? You have to have quarters.
       I tell her I’ll call Roche Brothers, since that was the last time I saw the purse, and if it hasn't been turned in there, I’ll look in my car. If it isn’t there, I’ll call Linda and tell her to stop and get change.
       After the Roche Brothers call I take the stairway that’s nearest to my car. I search the trunk. No little white purse. I open the passenger side door. It’s dark, but what is this patch of white between the seat and the door’s threshold? Can it possibly be. . . my fingers tell me yes, it’s the little white purse.
       Now I wish I could run up the stairway instead of groaning up the stairway. As I open the door to the hall, I see that my neighbors have put up some pretty wreaths for Easter. Funny, I didn’t notice them before. I had left my door unlocked, I was sure, but when I twist the knob, it doesn’t give. Moreover, the name on the door isn’t mine. How did I climb to the second floor without the slightest realization that I had gone past the first? I am cautious as I go down the stairway, gripping the banister firmly. A thought that’s been going through my mind lately asserts itself again, “My sister is going to be the death of me.” If this happens, remember, I said it first (Black humor).
       Oh, how relieved Janeth is when I call her. I tell her I expect her to use the bills in the purse to treat me to lunch next time.
       “Love you, Janeth.”
       “Love you, too.” We exchange hugga huggas and my seven-hour assignment for the day has come to its happy conclusion.

        Janeth calls to tell me Linda has arrived and is working like a house afire. No, I don’t need to stop and get quarters, Linda seems to be all set. I pull up in front of Southern Artery Apartments and get out of the car, carrying the little white purse. Jan is waiting for me.
       “Is Linda up in your apartment?”
       “No, she’s in the basement doing laundry. Follow me.”
       Linda is standing outside the laundry room with another laundress, this one a white-haired resident. After we have exchanged hugs, the resident asks if Jan is my mother. The question must be a crusher for my sister, but she gives no sign that she is hurt. Maybe she didn’t hear it. Oh, I hope she didn’t hear it. She keeps smiling while Linda and I explain who is mother to whom and who is niece and who is sister.
       Regarding the plan for Linda to do a laundry, Janeth has thrown up various roadblocks. People are mean to outsiders. Only two of the machines are ever working. There is a sign, a very menacing sign warning outsiders not to use the machines.
       “Where did it go?” she asks worriedy, looking around. She wants me to see it. I find the sign posted inside. It says that it is against the rules for relatives of residents to use the machines for their personal laundry.
       “You see, Jan, it’s all right for Linda to be doing your laundry. She isn’t supposed to do her own.”
       She has an answer for that. “How do they know it’s my laundry she’s doing?” I joke that they probably don’t have detectives checking what’s in the machines.
       “Well, maybe Linda can get away with it today,” says Jan, sticking to her guns, “but on another day. . . “
       Back at home, I spend an hour trying to figure out how to fill out the form sent me by Janeth’s Blue Cross Blue Shield. It has something to do with the whopping bill she received (and I haven’t shown her) for the ambulance, when Beatrice insisted she go to the Emergency Room at South Shore Hospital because of her swollen ankles. I’ll call BCBS next week to get help with the form. My filing cabinet for my sister’s papers is a carton on the floor next to my bed. I’ve been thinking of all the boxes of writings, letters, etc. that I have stored in Kathie’s basement. My sister has no such resource and lives in an apartment that is tiny compared to mine. No wonder the paperwork got out of control.

Jan had one of her graphic dreams last night. She said it was so real, she expected to see a twisted sword in her hand when she woke up, a prop for a game she was involved in. At least she recognized this time that it was a dream.
       Today she again brought up the one in which she thought someone had broken the lock to her balcony door and opened it wide, chilling the room, then grabbed her and tried to smother her. When she first described this event, she said she woke up to a very cold room, went to close the balcony door, "and a hand grabbed my hand." This part of the story convinced me that it was a dream or a hallucination.
       I call Jan to ask her about her day. Clearly traumatized, she gasps out her story.
       “I have done a terrible thing. I lost the package that Beatrice had so kindly picked up for me at the pharmacy. I had gone down to the office with my rent check and thought I might have left the package there. I tried the office number over and over again and finally someone answered. It was Lois. She looked, said I hadn’t left it there. Instead of killing myself, I got on the phone and began calling every pharmacy I could think of to try to figure out what else might have been in the package besides my calcium prescription. I had the wrong number for CVS, finally got the right number, but they didn’t have a prescription for me on file.
       “Ray is coming any minute, bringing calcium pills. He didn’t want to do it. He said, `Remember the last time I got calcium pills for you? You’re so fussy, you said they were the wrong kind and sent me back to the store to get your money back.’ Beatrice was so sweet. After she gave me the package, she put her arms around me and kissed me. How can I face her after this? I can’t call her, the office is closed.”
       I sympathize: “Don’t these things always happen on Friday night!”
       “You are so calm. That remark is just what I needed. Yes, it does seem as if the worst things happen when you can’t do anything about them.”
       Jan calls back and says she found the package in the cabinet under her sink. Had no recollection of putting it there.

       It should have been an easy day. I found the place where I was supposed to meet Ted, All State Glass, arriving at the appointed time. He had said he might be late, and I said, no problem, I’ll bring a book. I circle around the parking lot, looking for an office door. Finally, I decide to park and find a place where I can sit and read. I grab my book, push down on the lever that locks the doors. I perch on a concrete slab on one side of the lot and start reading, but it’s cold. I decide to read in the car. I can’t get in. My keys are sitting on the driver’s seat. My Triple A card is in my wallet, my wallet is in my purse, which is in the car..
       I find the office. The secretary has just been on the line with Ted, who is on his way. When he arrives, I tell him what I have done.
       "Okay, do you still have a set of keys in your desk? We’ll go get them."
      I confess that my apartment keys are on the floor of the car. So Ted drives us first to his house in North Scituate, where he has a spare set, then to my condo in North Weymouth, where I retrieve my keys. I am thoroughly mortified to be so much trouble, but Ted never utters a word of reproach.
       He does give his emphatic opinion on what I should do about his aunt. I should contact Linda, tell her to come down with whatever help she can enlist, and put her mother in a nursing home or whatever. “You shouldn’t be taking Janeth here and there and ruining your health in the process. I’m not angry, I’m just passionate about what I think is the right thing to do.”
       I tell him Kathie and I have agreed that Janeth is too sane to be put in a nursing home or whatever. Suppose the same thing happened to him some day and Tim was the only one who could do the care giving? How would he feel if his brother moved him into a nursing home when he wasn’t that ill?
       “That would be fine. I wouldn’t want to be a burden to his family. I would go willingly to a nursing home.”
       After we pull up in front of All State Glass, Ted goes in to see if they can replace his windshield now. They can’t, so he says, okay, we’ll go to Weymouth Honda. After my blunder wasted an hour and a half of his valuable time, he is still going to help me replace my tired old auto with a new leased car. I am grateful to #1 son.
       There’s nothing quite like the prospect of a shiny, unblemished new car to elevate one’s mood. As we are leaving, the black manager who greeted us when we first walked in shakes Ted’s hand and says, “A pleasure to meet you, Brother.” Ted puts his hand on top of his brother’s and echoes the sentiment. Then the chap takes my hand, presses it warmly, and says, “A pleasure to meet you, too, Mother.”
        Ted holds the front door open, and I say to him, “I guess I’m really getting old. He didn’t call me sister.” It isn’t easy to make my older son laugh, but he turns around and repeats my comment to the manager, who also laughs heartily.

I call Janeth to see if Beatrice has assured her she could safely put decades-old papers down the chute.
       “Beatrice said the rubbish ends up in the basement where it’s compacted by a truck.”
       “That’s good news. Now you could get rid of papers without worrying about anyone being able to see them.”  My sister isn’t buying this.
       “It seems people forget what happened in November of 2006,” she says in what appears to be a non-sequitur but is rational in her mind, “when I was assaulted by an intruder on my balcony.”
       I say I haven’t forgotten; I remember her telling me about this frightening experience. “You said he was able to get to your balcony by coming up on the elevator.”
       “Nobody knows that for sure!” she says. “ The police investigated and they never came up with an answer. There was a tall ladder that almost reached to the 8th floor, but he would have had to be a gymnast to hurl himself onto my balcony. People saw him riding a bicycle and casing my apartment.”
       I sense that Janeth is determined not to go to pieces when she wisely concludes that we probably shouldn’t talk about this episode. I apologize for having upset her and leave to meet Ted.
       We go to Weymouth Honda to finalize the deal. Since we have to do a lot of waiting around for red tape procedures, we converse.   I tell him of Janeth's fear about putting things like outdated bank statements in the trash chute.
       "She's absolutely right. Identity theft happens all the time. I used to have my own shredder for such papers, but eventually there were too many to cope with. Now I save them in boxes destined for a professional shredder."
       I realize I shouldn’t be so quick to assume my sister’s anxieties are always nothing but paranoia.

Jan is convinced her paper situation is hopeless. When I suggested Ted could take bags of papers to be shredded at Staples, she said she didn't trust the Staples people. A shredder truck comes to her building, but it would be too public, and she believes this man, too, could get at her Social Security ID.
       Kathie comes up with the quaint, old-fashioned idea of burning the papers in her fireplace. I call Jan, hoping she can see how beautifully simple this solution is. But of course she worries. She hopes neighboring houses won't catch fire. She remembers having the idea over 30 years ago of burning papers in a basement furnace, but then she realized she'd have to shovel the ashes "and I didn't hanker to do that."
       When Janeth calls this morning, she says, “I'm losing my mind, bit by bit.”
       That’s the saddest thing about all this: she knows she has Alzheimers. I saw literature on the subject in her apartment. Another sad thing:  she did hear the woman ask if I was her daughter.
       "I didn't mind. I know you look younger."
       “If anyone ever says that again, I’ll whip off my wig and they'll see what a bald old hag I really am.”
       She says emphatically that I am not to remove my wig, ever. “It’s part of your appearance, like anything else a woman wears.”
       What could be more sweetly rational than that?
       I'm still trying to persuade her to give up the big suitcase full of papers and another large satchel, also stuffed, so the contents can go to Kathie’s house for burning.
       "The weather is going to be hot, how can they stand using the fireplace?"
       “Kathie said they had the heat on every day this spring, and would welcome a little more from the fireplace.”

       I received my first Peapod order today, a huge fifty dollars worth. I should have listened to Kathie’s advice a long time ago. All those heavy groceries, cartons of milk, bottles of apple juice and Schweppes tonic will no longer have to be hefted from the grocery cart into my car, from car to my own cart, and with a final groan, from cart to kitchen counter. No more getting irked by the man who sits obliviously in the one available Stop & Shop motorized cart, scratching his lottery tickets.
       “I don’t care what he’s scratching,” says Tim. “You should have asked him to move so you could have the cart.”
       “There are so many papers to be burned,” Janeth says, “Kathie’s house and the houses next door will catch on fire.”
       “She will burn them gradually. It might take a long time, but she and Frank will be able to do it.”

       I tell Jan it will be Mother’s Day weekend when Linda comes for her next visit.
       “Kathie and Frank are taking us out for a celebration on Saturday. First Linda will come and help you clean, and organize; then we’ll drive to Westwood or meet at a restaurant. We’ll work out the details later.”      
       Jan’s face is as sober as if I were describing a wake we were going to attend. I want to reach out and turn up the corners of her mouth.
       When I remark, "Your nephews might be able to help Linda," she cries, "My nephews? My nephews?" She says this three times, while I try to interpret her tone. Has she forgotten Ted and Tim or has she forgotten what a nephew is? I explain that I’m referring to my sons, and she says, "Oh no! They can't come in here!  It's too messy!"

       This morning I called Janeth from Shaw's parking lot to ask Jan if she wanted anything besides Teddie's unhomogenized, no trans-fat, no-salt, no-sugar peanut butter. She didn't, but she had a few things to say about her neurologist.  Ray took her to the appointment.
       “When the doctor gripped my leg during his exam, I screamed in pain. He said screaming that loud was part of my illness. I wished he could have felt what I felt. The pain was worse than childbirth or any other pain I'd ever had. Plus, I’m sure he had dirty fingernails and he’s given me an infection.”
       “I don't know what we can do about that.”
       "I could kill him," says Jan.
       "And then what?"
       "I'd bury him.”

       Jan is ambivalent about the idea of moving to assisted living. On the one hand, she concedes that her anxiety about the snoops may be dispelled when she's living at Advantage House. On the other, she still clings to her world of papers. Yesterday she gave me a couple of letters she had found, one from me to her in 1979, the other from Darrell McClure to me. She had written on the envelope "A family treasure—Please keep forever." I have copies of all such letters in Kathie's basement. I know Jan is trying to show me what might be lost when we cart off piles of papers to be burned.
       This morning she has a new dilemma. “My hair is greasy, but washing it is a difficult chore, and I really don’t want to do it.”
       “When you go to your appointments next Friday with Ray, one of them is for an EEG and you needs to have clean, dry hair for the test.”
       She says indignantly: “I didn’t know I was going to be dictated to like that!”
       “Well, you’d want to have it looking nice for Ray, anyway.”
       More indignation. “For Ray? The only person I’d ever do it for is you!”

       She continues to complain bitterly about being required to wash her hair. I have read that Alzheimers patients sometimes refuse to take baths or showers, and perhaps this is the stage my sister is reaching. It will be a relief for both of us when she is safely at Advantage House in the care of experienced professionals who will know much better than I what to say and do.
      I’m sitting with my head bowed in front of the computer keys. I’m not praying, I’m trying to remember everything that happened during the hours spent with my sister. If I can record them, I’ll be free to stop thinking about them.
       I call Jan to tell her I’ll be picking her up in twenty minutes.
       “Where are we going?”
       To pay a visit to Advantage House, I remind her, so you can look at an apartment.
       Her voice immediately turns frantic. “But I’m not wearing the right clothes! I’ve got on those pink slacks I’ve been sleeping in. . . .("I love those. You look darling in those.") . . . “they’re dirty, and my hair is greasy. It will take too long for me to get ready.”
       “Take your time; we don’t have to be there until noon. I’ll read my book until you come down to the car.”
       She emerges from her building at 11:30 with a clutch of papers and a plastic-wrapped muffin from Meals on Wheels.
       “When you look at the ingredients in the fine print, you find substances that are in gasoline or chemicals that repair engines, things that make a car roll or an airplane fly.” She wants me to read the list of toxic ingredients, but I say we have to get going; I’ll look later.
       I find a parking space near the entrance of Advantage House. As we enter, Janeth turns to me and speaks anxiously about the cost of living in a place like this.
       “Jan, you have scrimped and saved for years, and now it’s time to start spending your nest egg. On you. You deserve it.” She is looking at me dubiously when Connie, the Advantage House manager, appears.
       Introductions are made and Janeth departs with her guide. I can’t read my book because I am praying to God or the Goddess or Whomever that my sister will like Advantage House and its amenities. An old gentleman with a walker maneuvers himself into a nearby chair, takes his newspaper from under his arm and begins reading it. I try Positive Thinking, my mother’s standby.
       Jan returns, with Connie. I look at her expectantly. “Well. . .? What do you think?”
       She cocks her head. Wow. Not Wow-terrific but Wow-it’s-awfully big.
       She seems dazed by the prospect of such a radical change. “I don’t know what I’d do with all that space.”
       Connie thinks a minute, then says she can show Janeth the studio apartment of a resident who’s away and won’t mind. The verdict? My sister likes the way the resident has furnished her apartment, but the refrigerator is tiny.
       “They’re needed only for snacks,” Connie says. All your meals are provided.”
       Although I hoped that Jan’s move to assisted living would mean she’d enjoy having meals served to her in the dining room, I wasn’t surprised when she said to me later, “I don’t think there’s going to be anything on the menus that I can eat.”
       I confessed to Kathie, “I’m afraid I said, `Then you’ll starve.’”
       “Oh dear,” said Kathie, who would never say anything like that, even in jest. We had looked at a menu in the brochure a couple of weeks ago, and yes, for breakfast there were items like eggs and bacon and sausage—no-no’s for Jan—but there were also cereals and toast and fruit. As for the mid-day dinner and the evening supper, Janeth said unhappily that she supposed she’d just have to change the diet she has adhered to so carefully. I said the meals would be the kind that Kathie and Frank and I have been eating for years, and they haven’t damaged our health.
       She says, “What about . . . “ then stops. I know what she’s thinking. She’s thinking about my lumpectomy decades ago and the 30 days of radiation. I had no side effects except for irritation over the daily drive to Mass General. And I don’t blame Peter Pan’s Peanut Butter for the problem.
       When we return from our excursion, I ask Jan to show me the infection on her leg. She rolls up the pink slacks.
       “When I showed Ray what the doctor had done to me, he kept telling me to stop rubbing the spots so hard, but how else could I find where they hurt?” I see faint pink marks and say that it looks as if they must have healed.
       ”Oh no, the infection is underneath.”
       She tells me she has been working on memorizing Ray’s address. I ask if it’s in her address book.
       “I don’t have an address book. It would be an invitation to the snoops to find out more about my business and everyone else’s business. . . .”