Sunday, March 1, 2015


                                                                      Bringing Up Mother

                                                          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!
                                                                                            Ernestine Cobern Beyer

      My mother saved letters I sent her about her grandchildren’s antics, returning them in batches every few weeks. Excerpt Summer 1950: Timmy stopped digging in the sand and stared at a buxom newcomer to Sandy Cove. She unfolded a chair and sat down nearby. She had more cleavage than he had ever seen in his life, arousing his curiosity and prompting a question: “Lady, is that your bottom?”
­February 4, 1947
     Esther's day off is by far the most arduous of the week. l worry about my impending trial for the three days preceding it, and it takes three more to recover. Last Thursday was typical.
     At 6:45 a.m. I am jolted awake by my alarm clock. I hasten to throttle it lest it disturb my sleeping spouse. Routine requires that he must not arise until eight o'clock. This ensures his arrival in the kitchen at 8:25, just in time to drop Kathie at the bus-stop.
     I give Timmy his bottle after handing Kathie and Teddy their school outfits and shooing them downstairs, cautioning them not to wake Vonnie with their chatter. Nevertheless, weird noises float up from the kitchen. I rush downstairs and beg them to lower their voices. Experience has taught me that the presence of a
spirited two-year-old is of no assistance in preparing her two siblings for school. I tear upstairs again, bubble Timmy, change his diaper, brush my teeth, and then return to the fray in the kitchen.
     I get breakfast with one eye on the clock, the other on Kathie and Teddy, struggling into shoes and pulling on shirts. While the children are eating, I fix Kathie’s lunch and braid her hair. Then she must have her hands and face washed, bib off, leggings and boots on.
     If my timing is perfect, Ed walks in just as Kathie is putting on her jacket and cap.
     I kiss them goodbye, push them out the door, tell Teddy to finish getting dressed, and dash up to the third floor to get Vonnie up. Dressing her quickly, I hurry downstairs to help Teddy get his outdoor clothing on. His teacher blows the horn, and off goes another child for a few hours, thank heavens.
     Vonnie has breakfast while I squeeze Timmy’s orange juice and finish my chores in the kitchen. Then we go upstairs where I make beds and straighten rooms from nine to nine-thirty, when it’s time for Timmy’s orange juice, bath, and bottle. While I take care of him, Vonnie bounces on beds and unstraightens rooms.
     At 10:30 I prop up with a blanket what’s left in Timmy’s bottle and get his sister ready for her nap. I return to Timmy, bubble him, and put him back in his crib. Now I have one whole hour to myself. I have no laundry to do, no housework, yet already I am exhausted. So what do I do? I lie down for a minute and fall into a deep sleep, interrupted immediately, it seems, by the sound of an automobile horn. Teddy is home from nursery school, soon followed by Kathie.
    Once in awhile the weather is nice enough for the kids to play outdoors. Once in a very great while I am able to persuade them to do so. Ten minutes later, wet and cold, they pound at the door. Off come mittens, caps, boots, jackets, snow pants, and mufflers, everything sopping, zippers sticking, noses running. I promise them that if they are very good while I give Timmy his 2:30 bottle, we will do something nice. I cuddle Timmy and try to think of something nice and not too strenuous.
    When I return to the kitchen, the matter has been settled: I have a major role in cops `n’ robbers. For an hour I am killed and brought to life again by my indefatigable playmates. The game continues while I get dinner, as tricky a stunt as Eliza crossing the ice. I dodge fire-engines, duck airplanes, step over dead bodies, and still have dinner on the table by five o-clock. By 6:40 the children are bathed and ready for bed. Kathie is allowed to play in her room for awhile, providing she is quiet. She reads and talks to herself in a whisper.
     I collapse on the bench in front of my vanity table. A wild-eyed apparition stares back at me from the mirror. Summoning up my last few ounces of strength, I perform a miracle. When Ed arrives fifteen minutes later, I am showered and dressed, combed and brushed, perfumed and powdered.
    “Hello, honey, did you have a tough day?” he asks.
     “Kind of,” I sigh, sinking into the living-room chair.
     We have cocktails and dinner, I stack the dishes, and then I haven’t a thing to do until it’s time for Timmy’s bottle at 9:00. Goodness, it’s 9:00 now! Timmy is fed, changed, and tucked into bed. He is already asleep, and I wonder what made him so tired.
     There is just one thing I want to know: how did grandmother, who had six children, field hands, a husband to feed, and no help, ever get her chores done?
    At midnight I hear Esther’s car turn into the driveway. Doomsday is over.
April 22, 1947
    I’ve sent Mother a picture of the Malley family in Ed’s convertible. It's the first one ever taken of all six of us. In another picture, Teddy is loving Timmy, not throttling him, as it may appear. I never thought boisterous little Teddy would prove to be such a tender, gentle big brother.
     When Esther and her daughter Jacquie first joined our family, Esther asked Kathie why she called her grandmother "Isha."  Kathie looked at her in astonishment and answered, "Because that's her name!"
    Yesterday Esther asked Teddy, “Who’s that man getting out of the car?”
    “Our father,” he said.
    “Who art in heaven,” Kathie added.
    “He’s not in heaven. He’s married to our mother.”
    Thanks, Teddy.
    When Teddy’s nursery school teacher called for him this morning, she admired his new spring coat and hat. She was taken aback when he swept off his cap, bowed low, and said good-morning. He learned this gallantry in Sunday School last week.
November 6, 1947
    Teddy came down with chicken pox the day after Halloween. Vonnie got it the following day, and Timmy the day after that. The baby’s case is light so far, but Teddy and Vonnie are covered with red, itchy sores. The doctor said the only relief for the itching is baby oil. Vonnie cries, “Put the oil-it baby on me!”
    Sunday night Teddy came wailing to the head of the stairs.
    “What’s the matter, dear?” his father called.
    “I dropped the baby oil,” Teddy wept.
    “That’s all right, don’t worry about it.”
    “But I dropped it on my toe!”
December 21, 1947
    I enjoy eavesdropping on the children’s conversations; their young minds work so unpredictably.
    Kathie’s friend: “I have a puppy.”
    Kathie: “Oh, if it’s a girl, can I have a puppy when it grows up?”
    Friend: “I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl. If it’s a girl you can have a puppy. My puppy is white.”
    Kathie: “I like white horses.”
    Teddy: “Yellow is my favorite color.”
December 26, 1947
    My seven-year-old daughter loves “The Littlest Angel,” but Teddy won’t listen to it because it's “too sad.” Kathie told me some of the children in school say there isn’t any Santa Claus. She said with a patronizing laugh that when she was little, she didn’t believe in Santa Claus either, but now she knows better.
    This year I labeled two or three packages "From Daddy" and "From Mommy," so we wouldn’t be accused of failing to give the children any presents, as we were last year. I gave Kathie a Dy-Dee doll that drinks, wets, and blows bubbles. Kathie brought a wet diaper for me to see.
    ”I had to change her. I’m going to hang this up to dry. Of course it’s only water.”
    She repeated this observation at least three times. I think she was hoping I’d contradict her, but I had to agree it was only water.
    While Kathie was caring for her child, Teddy watched her impatiently. She had interrupted a game of cowboys and Indians, and they were both dressed in character.
    ”Don’t forget we’re cowboys and cowgirls,” he reminded her.
    “Well, I’m a mother, too,” said Kathie, her cowboy hat at a jaunty angle as she put another diaper on her doll.
January 12, 1948
Doomsday again.
    To start with, Teddy was grouchy and uncooperative about getting ready for school. I bribed him by promising him a surprise after lunch if he would cheer up. Then, on this day of all days, the nursery school teacher had car trouble and was an hour late. After rushing to get Teddy and Vonnie ready by 8:30, I waved a weak goodbye at 9:30. I bathed Timmy, put him in his crib, and made the beds while he rocked his head back and forth and murmured, "Mmmm, mmmm," his way of falling asleep.
    Before lunch I went to the hall closet to get some modeling clay for the promised surprise. The clay came in colored sections that looked like Tootsie Rolls. After their lunch I gave Teddy and Vonnie a piece to work with while I fed Timmy. A few minutes later a little hand tapped me on the knee.
    “Me doesn’t wike it!” Vonnie said.
    After breathlessly examining the box of clay and finding the phrase “non-poisonous,” I explained that the surprise was meant to be played with, not eaten. I took the time to model a worm for her.
    When Kathie got home she asked me what she could do to help, dear thoughtful child that she is.
    “How about straightening your room and doing a real thorough job of it?”
    “Couldn’t I polish the silver or vacuum the rugs?”
    If she truly wanted to help me, I said, she’d tidy up her disgraceful-looking room.
    “All right, all right, all right!” Her pride was hurt at being reprimanded like a two-year-old. “You don’t have to be mean about it. I’ll do my room tomorrow.”
    After supper I put the baby to bed and gave Vonnie a bath. Then I went to check on Kathie and Teddy’s progress. They were in Kathie’s room, mysteriously engaged behind closed doors. A sign warned: “BEWAR. DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT NOKING. DO NOT ENTER ANYWAY.” I knocked.
    ”Don’t come in!” they cried.
    “Why can’t I come in? What are you doing?”
    “Nothing,” said Teddy. “We’re not cleaning up the room, we’re messing it up more.”
    “You’d better not!” I said in my sternest voice.
    I returned to Vonnie’s room to read her a story and tuck her into bed, then called Kathie and Teddy to their baths. No answer. When I opened Kathie’s door, I found the room dark and soundless. Switching on the light, I gave a loud gasp—the children were in bed, sound asleep, and all that clutter on the floor had been transferred to the tops of bureaus and tables.
    “This must be magic!”I exclaimed. “Yes, that’s it! The fairies have been here and put my children under a spell and cleaned up the room. This is wonderful!  Now Kathie and Teddy will do anything I ask them to.”
    Carried away by the drama, I waved my arm and quoth: “Arise, children, take off your clothes and get into the tub.”
    Gleefully they sprang out of bed and threw off their bathrobes to reveal that they were ready for their baths. They doubled up with laughter as I gaped at the miracle. They scrambled into the tub with unheard of eagerness. Teddy asked me to wash his back.
    “I’d be glad to. I’d do anything for such wonderful children.”
    A few minutes later Kathie asked Teddy to pass the soap, please.
    “I’d be glad to, Kathie.”
    The bath over, Kathie was struck by a disconcerting thought. “Be sure to tell Esther about the fairies, Mummy. She might think we were being good on purpose.”
    I cleaned up the bathroom while the children got into their nightclothes. I wondered if I had gone too far in stimulating their imaginations. This world is such a difficult place for even an adult to understand, was it right to plant untruths in their trusting minds? A reassuring conversation drifted through the open door.
    Teddy, the Skeptic: “Does Mummy really believe the fairies did it?”
    Kathie, the Credulous: “Shh, of course she does. And tomorrow we can fool Esther, too.”
February 6, 1948
    My Purgatory yesterday was nearer heaven than hell. The children were unusually good, and their unintentional humor kept me entertained all day. However, a bad moment occurred in the morning. The nursery-school teacher had picked Vonnie up, and Kathie and Teddy were at the end of the driveway, waiting for the bus. It was snowing and very cold out, so when the bus didn’t show up after fifteen minutes, the children trudged back to the house.
    Afraid that the bus might come and go without them, I said, “You two march right back there and wait.” Then I added a desperate threat. “If you miss that bus, I won’t let you in the house. You’ll have to stay out in the cold all day.”
    They gave me deeply reproachful looks as they turned away, and I could see myself reflected in their eyes—Cinderella’s stepmother, the wicked witch, and the Dragon Lady rolled into one Monstrous Mom. I felt guilty and remorseful, but they arrived home from school in cheerful moods, the incident forgotten or forgiven.
    At bath time, as I collected clean clothes for the next day, I could hear Kathie and her brother playing a new game. Teddy, at one end of the tub, was America; Kathie was England at the other. A large pan was a boat that sailed back and forth carrying toys from America to the poor children in England. Teddy had a whistle he was using to announce sailing schedules.
    When the children got out of the tub they wanted to go into their rooms to get dry.
    “No, dry yourselves in here,” I said.
    ”Esther lets us!”
    “Well, I’m taking care of you today.”
    Teddy said. “Esther’s nicer than you are.”
    “That’s right,” said Kathie. Then she added kindly, “But you’re nice, too—in some ways.”
    Before Teddy went to bed, Kathie wanted to train him to be a soldier.
    “Do all boys go to war?” she asked me.
    “Most of them, if there is a war, and if there’s nothing wrong with them.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Well, if their eyes are all right and that sort of thing.”
    “Gee, Teddy, you’re lucky! You’ll be able to go to war. You’re not blind and you haven’t got a broken leg or anything.”
    “I don’t want to go to war,” Teddy said. “With all those guns I might get killed.”
    “Oh Teddy! You don’t understand.” Then she said uncertainly to me, “Right, Mummy?”
    Not understanding wars myself, my sympathies were with her brother. We decided to make a sailor out of Teddy, so Kathie could train him whether there was a war or not.
October 27, 1948
    Yesterday I took a walk to the village with Kathie and Teddy. When they sent out some feelers on the question of the Easter Bunny, I knew they were leading up to Santa Claus. We had a long talk, and I told them the truth. Instead of being disappointed, they appreciated my honest answer.
    Kathie said, “If I were an orphan, I’d want you and Daddy to adopt me.”
    “If you were an orphan, Daddy and I would be dead,” I said.
    “Well, I mean, if I had another father and mother and they died, I’d want you and Daddy to adopt me.”
    “Maybe we did,” I teased.
    “Oh no, Mummy, you laid us.”
November 22, 1948
    My trip to Fort Lauderdale did not turn out as I expected. The plan was for me to go down with Vonnie a few days ahead of Ed; then he would join us for a week. I had two reasons for taking Vonnie with me: one, Esther would have only three children to take care of during my absence; and two, I sensed that Vonnie needed the extra attention. Kathie and Teddy had each other to play with and fight with, while two-year-old Timmy was the petted baby of the family. I noticed that Vonnie was turning more frequently to sucking her thumb for comfort.
    One child, I soon learned, was almost a heavier responsibility than four. Vonnie depended on me for companionship, and her strident little voice assailed me constantly with questions, comments, and announcements. As soon as we were comfortably settled under a beach umbrella—I with my book, she with her pail and shovel—she would announce that she needed to “go johnny.” Life would have been easier if she’d still been in diapers. I couldn’t convince her that it was all right to go johnny in the ocean, so we had to cross Atlantic Boulevard and take the Illini's elevator to our apartment.
     Vonnie talked uninhibitedly with everyone she met—sales people, police men, tourists, passersby on the beach. We were in a taxi when she felt her chin and asked me if the bone she was feeling was a chicken bone.
     “No,” I answered, “that’s yours. All of us are made up of bones and flesh and blood.”
     “Mummy,” she said, “mothers and fathers make babies, but how do they do it?”
     Since we had been talking back and forth with the taxi driver, I was betting he enjoyed my dilemma.  I decided that regardless of what the books advised, I was not going to address the subject at this particular moment. I said something about a seed and changed the subject.
     Another time, after asking my third-born to be on her best behavior, I treated us to dinner at a posh restaurant. The lights were low, and dinner music played softly in the background as the hostess led us to our table.
     “What smells?” asked Vonnie in a loud voice.
     “Shh, it’s just dinner cooking,” I said.
     ”It smells awful!” she said.
     Having thus gained the  attention of of the entire room, we took our seats. I chose chicken croquettes for Vonnie, thinking this would be the easiest meal for an almost four-year-old to handle. As I cut into my steak, I glanced up and saw Vonnie spitting her chicken croquette back onto her plate.
     “Eat your dinner!” I hissed. “Don’t do that again!”
     The next time I looked up, Vonnie was eating her meal, as ordered—with her thumb and index finger holding her nose.
     While waiting for the check, I took out my compact and powdered my cross face. I thought we had provided quite enough entertainment for neighboring diners, but Vonnie watched me with her head on one side and then chirped, “See a monkey, Mummy?”
     I called Ed and told him not to plan on joining us monkeys; we were returning the next day to the zoo in Cohasset.
Thanksgiving Eve, 1948
     Here I am at my desk, alive and of sound mind after one of the most harrowing days I have ever spent. It was busy in the first place because I was getting ready for Thanksgiving. It was busy in the second place because Teddy was home with a mild case of German measles. I tried to keep him busy all morning, so I could get my work done without having him ask every two minutes, “When are you going to stuff the turkey?”
      I told him he could be a big help if he’d sort the laundry.
     This took him half an hour. He made several neat piles of towels and sheets, and spread-eagled the shirts on the floor. He was insulted when I stuffed his handiwork helter-skelter into the laundry bag. Then I said he could help make the beds with fresh sheets. After a lot of huffing and puffing on his side of the mattress, Teddy commented with six-year-old discernment, “You could probably get this done a lot faster if I just kept out of the way.”
     Teddy and Vonnie played “Boston Going” for awhile, whatever that is. I know it involves moving as much furniture as possible from one room to another because I’m the one who has to move it back.
     Kathie was home at noon, since it was the day before the holiday. I made a bargain with Esther: I would stuff the turkey and prepare the vegetables if she would take the four children for a ride.
     For the next two hours I pared vegetables, made stuffing, boiled and chopped giblets, and trussed the turkey. When Esther returned with my brood, we struck another bargain. I would take Kathie and Teddy for a walk while she made the pumpkin pie.
      At six o’clock, after the children were ready for bed, Esther and Jacquie rushed to get ready for the 6:40 train. As we started off for the station, I noticed that the leaf-burning fire made by Mr. McKenna’s gardeners had flared up. Before they left, they had smothered it, but the wind must have fanned the embers.
     When I got home I phoned the fire department. The children and I watched the firemen extinguish the flames.
     “You were the one that did it, Teddy,” said Kathie.
     “You did it, too, and anyway, it was your idea.”
     “Yes, but when I did it, nothing happened.”
     “What are you children talking about?” I asked.
     Both of them explaining at once, they told me the gardeners had put the fire out, but after they left, Kathie and Teddy blew on the leaves until it started up again.
     At least they were honest arsonists. . . .


December 1952
     I took the children in town to see Santa Claus.   The two older ones were indulgent lookers on, but Vonnie and Timmy anticipated the interview with a mixture of awe and anxiety.  Timmy wondered if it was necessary to tell Santa all the naughty things he had done.   In the middle of breakfast, he climbed down from his stool, pressed his sticky lips to my ear and whispered:  "Do you think I should tell him I— ” Embarrassed about admitting he has a habit of throwing things, he swung his arm a couple of times like a baseball pitcher.
     "Why don't you tell him you're naughty once in a while but you try awfully hard to be good."
     Timmy ventured bravely:  "Should I tell him I pick my nose?"
     " ‑‑er, well, you don't have to tell him everything," I  said.  "It would take too long."
     "If Santa asks me whether I've been good I'm going to say yes," Vonnie said, taking no chances.
     Santa Claus was a business‑like gentleman who dealt with the long row of children as if they were dolls on a production line.   Timmy came prepared with a detailed confession, but Santa merely asked him if he went to bed when he was supposed to.
     "Well, sometimes," he said unhappily.
     "I do," Vonnie told Santa.
     Christmas Eve Ed set up the wire recorder, hiding the microphone behind the draperies.  We thought it would be nice to have a recording of the children's voices as they trimmed the tree.  We pictured a Louisa May Alcottish scene—the loving family gathered around the tree, gentle voices exclaiming over the ornaments.  Thanks to the marvels of science, we would be able to treasure this scene in years to come, when the children had left us to grow old together.
     The machine recorded our children at their brattiest, starting with a progressively rancorous exchange over who would trim the high branches and who would trim the low ones.  Kathie thought she should do the high branches because she was the tallest; Teddy thought he should because he liked climbing up the stepladder.  Vonnie and Timmy wrangled over who would place the star when they finished trimming the tree.
     "Children!  Children!" I interrupted.  "This is Christmas!"
     They paused long enough to inform me that this was not Christmas, then returned to the fray.  End of reel one.
     We got the next reel going in time to catch a disagreement about the tinsel.  Should it be draped on the branch, piece by piece, as Kathie insisted?  Or should it be thrown on in bunches (Timmy’s method).
     As a peacemaker I was wrung dry; I groaned and wished the Three Wise Men would show up with some advice.  They would probably tell me I should have four trees.  Or no children.
     As Ed was shouting for order, the wire recorder suddenly gave a hiss and a snap and began spewing coils of wire like a distraught tickertape.  It was a clear case of a nervous breakdown.
     After the children had fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums and more expensive items dancing in their heads, Ed and I made several trips to the third floor, tiptoeing past the darkened bedrooms with our loot.  We filled the children's stockings, then stood arm in arm contemplating the cluster of gifts under the tree.
     Ed was worried. "Are you sure there's enough? It would be terrible if they were disappointed."
     "Oh, I think so," I said. "Of course, we couldn't buy them everything they asked for."       Uneasily, we went to bed.
     "Now just a minute, let's have a little system here!" Ed said, but no one was listening.  The children had discarded their stocking toys and were pawing through their presents.  Christmas sounds filled the air, the mad crackling of ripping paper and the screams of delight and bang bang, ding ding, honk honk and  Minxi racing around barking approval.
     Ed shook his head. "We gave them too much.  It's sickening!   They're absolutely sated."
     "Yes." I stared dazedly at the array of toys and games. "Much too much."
     "Why don't you keep them occupied while I sneak a few things back to the third floor?" Ed said.
     "Good idea."
     It wasn't long before Vonnie missed the very things we had stolen. Surrounded though she was by dozens of new toys, none of them appealed to her like the ones in the attic.
     "I'll bring them down some rainy day," I said.  "By then, you'll be bored with what you have."
     "I'm already bored with what I have," Vonnie said.
     When she was unable to wear me down, she put her chin in the air, crossed her arms, and said huffily:  "There isn't any Santa Claus, anyway!"
     By this time I was in no mood for a chat about Santa Claus being a spirit.
     "Good!" I said.  "Next year you won't expect so much, then!"
     Yesterday Vonnie came into my room and said:  "I wish I hadn't told you and Daddy there wasn't any Santa Claus."
     Busy changing beds, I said, "Well, you can still pretend, can't you?"
     "But you'd know I was pretending."  She sighed wistfully.  "I'd like you and Daddy to have fun thinking I believe in Santa Claus."
     "Never mind, honey." I gave her a hug.  "Timmy still believes—next year you can have lots of fun being one of Santa's helpers."
     She cheered up at that and ran off to play....
February 12, 1953
     Kathryn and I were chatting in the laundry room recently when we heard horrible shrieks coming from the kitchen.  I froze, so Kathryn rushed in and found Timmy holding a paring knife in one hand, a cardboard carton in the other.  He was dripping blood all over the floor.  He was trying to cut a face in the carton when the knife slipped and gashed the tip of his finger.
     I recovered sufficiently to drive him to the doctor’s, but he and I were both in a state of shock.  Between shrieks he asked me if he was going to die and I said distractedly that I hoped not, whereupon he bellowed louder than ever.  “No, no, you’re not going to die, Timmy, you’re just going to see Dr. Hinchliffe.”
     The doctor said it was impossible to take stitches in such a tiny area, so he pushed the partly severed piece back in place and covered it with a band-aid and several layers of gauze.
     He changed the dressing every few days and soon told me Timmy’s finger was healed enough to require only a glove finger to protect it.  Having just run out of glove fingers, I fashioned one from four or five band-aids that Timmy could slip on and off at will.
     “Just take it easy for a few days,” the doctor cautioned Timmy.  “If you play too roughly you may knock the tip off again.”
     Timmy is nothing if not cautious.  He is unable to empty his wastebasket, but on the other hand, quite well enough to go coasting with his buddies.  It is out of the question for him to take a bath because the band-aids might get wet, but if they are soaked as a result of snowball making, Timmy bravely suffers in silence.
     Finally it was obvious that the finger was completely healed, with only a small bump to show for his mishap.  But convincing Timmy of this was another matter.
     “Timmy, you don’t need that dirty thing anymore.   Let’s throw it away.”
     He clutched the band-aids to his breast and whimpered, “I do, too.”
     “Well, let me put a clean one on, anyway.”
     But no, he liked that one—greasy, grimy, ragged though it was.  He wore it like a Purple Heart and waved it in people’s faces if they didn’t notice it.
     “See my finger?  I almost cut it off and I have to be very careful of it.”
     Yesterday Timmy was invited to a birthday party, and I said firmly, “You are not going to any party with that moldy germ-trap on your finger.  I am going to throw it away, and I don’t want to hear any arguments.”
     I didn’t, surprisingly enough, until well after his bedtime, when Ed I were settled in the living room, drinking our highballs and reading our books.
     Mummeeeee!” came a plaintive voice. “I need a band-aid for my finger!”
     “You do not need a band-aid.  Now be quiet and let Mummy read her book.”
     “But the doctor said I should be careful of it,” Timmy cried pitifully. I was too tired to make any trips that were not necessary, so I tried to ignore the muffled sobs coming from the second floor.
     Half an hour later, all was quiet, and I began turning the pages of my book instead of reading the same paragraph over and over.
     Then:  “Mummeee” came a wheedling voice.  “Can’t I have just one little band-aid for my finger?”
     Ed joined our dialogue: “One more word out of you, young man, and I’ll give you something you really need!”
      “But Mummy,” Timmy persisted (he’s so afraid of his father), “you don’t know what rough games we play at school.”
     “You’re not in school now, you’re in bed.”
     “No I’m not, I’m at the head of the stairs.”
    “GO TO BED!” Ed ordered, stamping his feet threateningly.
     At 9:00 the patient was still wide awake and complaining, and neither of his parents had the energy to give him something to cry about.  Kathie came down from her room, where she had been engrossed in a book, to get her goodnight kiss.
     “Timmy’s crying in his bed. He wants a band-aid for his finger,” she said.
     “Is that right?” I sighed.  “Would you get him one, honey?  I guess it’s the only way we’ll ever have any peace.”
     “Sure,” said Kathie.  She went to the kitchen, found a band-aid and trudged upstairs with it.          
     Timmy continued to weep.
     “He says one isn’t enough,” Kathie called.  “Shall I get him another one?”
     By this time it was easier to give in than to argue, especially with Kathie doing the stair climbing.  I said all right, get him another one but tell him that’s all.
     Peace and quiet at last! But wait . . . is that a fresh outburst of sobs upstairs?  Really, this is too much!  I blaze up the stairs and wrathfully demand to know what is wrong with His Highness now.
     Kathie was having a fit of giggles and could scarcely tell me.  Finally she gasped:  “He held out the wrong finger!  He’s mad because the band-aids are on the wrong finger.”
June 20, 1954
     We have added to Malleys' menagerie a black kitten named Dizzy.  We can't decide whether Dizzy is the world's biggest show‑off or simply deranged.  All he needs is an audience of one or more, and he will start performing.  He stands on his hind legs and shadow boxes; he does somersaults; he demonstrates his gymnastic ability on the rungs of the kitchen stool.  Once, I would swear to it, he hung by his knees.
     Sometimes he lies flat on the rug, and reaching one paw in front of him, drags himself across the floor—just for the heck of it.  Dizzy has no fear of man or beast.  Fascinated by our cocker spaniel's straggly coat and dangling ears; he crouches down near her and watches her as if she were an oversized mouse, his tail switching, his eyes enormous.  Suddenly he takes a flying leap and captures one of Minxi's ears.  When she growls a protest, he retreats by bouncing sideways on all fours.  Most of the time Minxi endures his antics with stoic self restraint.  I think she is grateful for any kind of attention.
     Kathryn can't sweep the floor without the assistance of Dizzy, who hitches a ride and hangs on no matter how lively his steed.  Recently I lifted a mattress to tuck in the sheet and nearly had a heart attack when a black paw shot up through the bedspring.
     However, Dizzy does provide the family with constant entertainment. We enjoy his eccentricities even though we feel like hiding him in the attic when company comes.


November 19, 1954
     If a flying saucer were to land in Sandy Cove tomorrow, swarming with fierce little outer-space beings, I wouldn’t twitch an eyelash.  They couldn’t possibly be as fantastic, fiendish, and fearsome as the dozen demons three and a half feet high who invaded our home yesterday.
     The occasion was Timmy’s eighth birthday.  At noon I drove down to school to pick up his guests—five girls and seven boys, leaving out Timmy.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t leave out Timmy.  When I opened the classroom door, he asked the teacher if he could make an announcement.
     “Will all the children who are coming to my party please line up behind my mother,” he said, blushing.
     I was blushing, too, partly because of the novel experience of being lined up behind, partly because of the glum expressions shared by the twenty uninvited.
     Diana Remick looked the glummest.
     “Timmy,” I whispered, as he came to the head of the line, “didn’t you invite Diana?”
     “No,” he said, looking surprised.  “I hate her.”
     Shh!  Well, you’ve got to invite her.  You went to her party—“
     “—and she kicked me, remember?”
     “—and besides, her mother is one of my best friends, I said firmly, beckoning Diana.
     “When we get home, call your mother and tell her to bring my present,” Timmy scowled.
     After five minutes of Diana, I was ready to call Dottie and tell her never mind the present, just come and get her daughter.  Timmy is an excellent judge of character.   She wanted to open all his presents.  She called him selfish because he wouldn’t let her play with them the minute the wrappings were off.  When I tried to take pictures of Timmy opening his gifts, she kept jumping in front of the camera.
     The party was scarcely under way when I heard sobs, and there stood Diana, tugging at my skirt.
     “Mrs. Malley,” she wept, “Timmy knocked me down!”
     “Timmy, did you knock Diana down?”
     “She grabbed my football and wouldn’t give it back.”
     “Oh,” I said.  “Well . . . that’s too bad, Diana.  Timmy, you shouldn’t knock your guests down no matter what they do.”
     Diana, great tears still brimming in her eyes, tugged at me again.  “Could I call my mother, Mrs. Malley? I want her to come and get me.”
     So do I, I thought.  But I managed to sidetrack her by bringing on the ice-cream and cake.
     After the children had tired of throwing the refreshments around the playroom, we played Truth or Consequences.  That is, I played Truth or Consequences with one little monster at a time.  Those who were not “it” relieved their boredom by racing through the house, screaming as if it were on fire.  Timmy, I must admit, was the ringleader.   After I sent him to his room, the uproar was only half as bad. 
     When the party was over at last, I said, Never Again.  The phrase rang a bell, and I wondered where I had heard it before.  Could it have been on the eighteenth of November 1953?
I Know You're Out There, Timmy

it's no more bizarre than men walking around on the moon

no question a little boy named Timmy still exists.  Like Peter Pan  he never grew up:  was never a rebellious

teenager, never a flower child, never a confirmed bachelor

too strong a personality to be erased without an argument  hey Timmy usually won his arguments

standing on a chair next to the stove, coaching me:  turn them now, Ma 

(the only one to call me Ma).   "Kathryn says when the bubbles come through,

it's time to turn the pancakes.  Quick, you're going to burn them!"

Listen, son, I was making pancakes before you were born

Timmy, peering up to see if I am serious,

"You ‑ were ‑ not! How could I eat 'em?"

Timmy was‑‑is‑‑an unusually 

sensitive little boy.  Who else would come to his mother at bedtime. . . "Ma, I'm sorry

about all the naughty things I did today . . . and I'm sorry

 about all the naughty things I'm going to do tomorrow."     

Now Big Tim has done the ultimate naughty thing and

gotten a girl pregnant 

Smitten with Kathy, he  changed his mind about

bachelorhood, hopes for a girl

like winsome stepdaughter, Lauren while I

definitely lean toward a  flesh‑and‑blood Timmy jr

more huggable than the other Timmy who's out

there somewhere, I just know it, driving people

crazy and/or making them laugh

if you  see him, tell him

Ma still loves him.



November 11, 2013               
Please forgive this hodgepodge of recollections.  I'm afraid my advancing years are affecting my ability to handle the blogging business.  That and the move to Linden Ponds a few days ago.  Five or six huge cardboatd boxes remain unpacked in the living room and bedroom.   
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 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, continue 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 judgemanship, 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 sobblingly 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 and 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  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 and I took pictures of the four boys getting into the MG:  Jan first, on the floor; John next, behind Jan, squeezing into the passenger seat; then Bruce, who wedged as much of himself as he could into the narrow 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 d├ęcor.  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.  She 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, sounding 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 I 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 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 skittling 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


     "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 on Timmy.  He 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 because “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.