Thursday, January 21, 2010
Grandma and the Prince Part 14
I'm a writer. I make my living with words. But even I have to admit that there are times when pictures blow words right out of the water. Read on and you'll find out exactly what I mean.
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In the last installment from my Grandma El's audiotape (made in 1976), she was about to walk into the Annette Shop and apply for a job. She is 50 or 51 years old, newly widowed, and living in a small apartment with her brother Cass, his wife Arlene, and their five (yes, 5!) sons.
What follows is in her own words:
It was a small shop, very small. I walk in and there's a woman sitting on a chair by the door. It doesn't look good but I figure I'll take a look around. I went up to her and said, "How do you do? I'm here in answer to the advert in the paper."
She looks me up and down. "My husband's in the back room."
Not terribly friendly. I went into the back room. I feel very English. "How do you do?" I say to the bald little man.
"I've had three other applicants," he snaps back, "and they're coming in for an interview. What can you do for me that they can't?"
"Nothing," I say. "I have no recent experience. My husband died a year ago. I'd like to get back to work."
He begins to soften. ."I'm a funny store," he says. "I'm only open two days a week. I buy out factory extras, very good brands only, at one-third their cost. Only the best I tell you. I'm only Thursday, Friday, Saturday. Friday night and Saturday night you gotta work. Two nights nine-to-nine. One day nine-to-six. I have a little high school girl who comes in after school."
That's all. He didn't say he was going to take me on but I knew I had the job.
And it was a good thing. The extra money meant we could take the double apartment that came available over Tommy's Tavern and I could have some privacy.
Oh, the boys were devils they were. Good boys but devils. They used to play tricks on me. Bobby and Tommy put spiders in the bathtub, broke eggs on the floor. One night I came home--this isn't funny at all. I went out to New York with my friend Grace. We took Arthur Murray dance lessons, five hundred bucks, a lifetime thing. (I won first prize for the rhumba and the peabody. I love the peabody!) All widows. You go in the studio with everybody and dance. Oh, how I loved it. A man's arms around me again!
This time I went home late at night. I didn't turn on the lamp. I didn't want to wake the boys up. I'm sleeping on a cot in the corner of the room. I see a form in the bed. A man's form! I'm shocked. Guess what they did? They took two pillows and one of Uncle Cass's suits and stucks pillows in the pants and suit, put a hat on it, and put it in the bed. But it turned out it wasn't one of Cass's suits at all, it was Grandpa Bert's.
I went into the bathroom and sobbed my heart out. Cass heard me crying. I told him why. I couldn't help it. Next day my brother gave it to them. "Don't ever let me see you do anything like this again!" Arlene thought it was funny but it wasn't funny at all. Not at all.
Anyway, this new apartment comes available and I can have my own room. The new job made it possible.
So we took the apartment and we move in. I bought the maple set you have now in your kitchen. I was very happy. The kids had their rooms. Arlene converted the dining room into a den where she and Cass could be alone. Arlene still worked. She'd come home at night and she would get dinner ready. At night she would wash and iron for that whole big family. That girl did work hard! I worked until six on Friday. I'd get home twenty after, hurry up and set the table. I can still hear Cass say, "Leave something for Aunt Elsie!" You needed a boarder's reach to get your fair share.
One Saturday night Cass says to me, "Are you going to New York with Gracie?" And I told him, "Not this week." So he said why don't you come downstairs to Tommy's Tavern tonight. It was like a home away from home for all the Scots and English in the area. They would play piano and sing. Play shuffleboard and darts. We loved it. Cass sang. He had a beautiful voice. "Come on down tonight and meet the crowd," he says.
So I did. I sat there looking around. Cass was playing shuffleboard. Arlene was playing poker. Her doctor told her beer was good for her health . . . maybe too good.
Anyway Cass comes over with this very tall thin man. Nicely dressed but nothing special. "I want you to meet a very good friend of mine," Cass says to me. "He's in the same position as you, a widower. I think you two have a lot in common."
There were no sparks for me, Barbara. Not one. Les was just a very nice man in a good suit.
"Les," Cass says, "this is my sister Elsie Fuller. Elsie, this is Les Newton."
How do you do? How do you do. What can I say? Right away he fell for me. I'm not bragging. Just telling the truth. I don't know why but he did. He takes the seat next to me. Yak yak yak. He was getting it all out. Everything he thought and felt. It all came out of him in one big rush of words. And Ilistened. Very nice man but he didn't appeal to me physically.
We said goodbye and that was it for me. The next afternoon the doorbell rings. "Aunt Elsie!" one of the boys calls out. "There's a man here for you!" Arlene invites him in. He sits and talks.
"Are you doing anything?" he asks me. "Would you like to take a walk. I'll show you the neighborhood."
I told him I couldn't. I didn't want to. I had other things to do.
Monday he shows up at the store (I worked full weeks now, lots to do when the shop was closed) with roses. "I was at Bohack's buying my groceries," he says. "I found these."
There are no flowers in grocery stores! (NOTE FROM BB: of course, now there are.)
So every day he waits for me. He's everywhere. He lived right near the store, more's the pity. "Can I take you to the movies tonight?"
"Yeah, all right," I say.
"I'll pick you up at 7:30 or 8."
"Fine," I say. So we'll see a movie. And somehow it got to be a regular thing, calling me, showing up, dropping in.
One day he said, "I'll like to take you to something new. They call it a drive-in movie."
A drive-in movie? I'd heard of them but Les didn't have a car! So that night he pulls up in a big fancy Pontiac. "You have a car?" I ask him and he laughs. "I rented it for the night," he says.
So I get in the car and we drive out into the country first for dinner. The scenery in New Jersey is beautiful! The menu was the size of an encyclopedia. I ordered filet mignon because I thought I might as well get some good out of it. And he didn't turn a hair. Asked me all sorts of things. After dinner we go to the drive-in. The cars are all empty. "Where is everyone?" I ask and he laughs. "The cars aren't empty," he says. "The kids are necking. This is where they go to smooch."
He wanted to but I said, "Nothing doing! I came to watch the movie and I'm going to watch the movie."
The truth is I was going out with a few others at the time. Five men, actually. Four of them I liked physically. Bob--I met him at Tommy's Tavern too--he proposed to me and I said no. I wasn't living with Arlene and Cass any longer. I'd taken a room in a house with a girl from he store. She'd just had a baby and needed some money so I rented a room. Bob walked me home and Les showed up and he pushed Bob away. They got into a tussle. I just walked away with two guys following after me, each trying to push the other away.
"Goodbye, boys," I said at the front door and let myself in.
Turn off the tape, Barbara. [long pause] No, don't turn off the tape. You know about your Grandpa Larry and me. We had been engaged and now we weren't but there was still something there . . . something special.
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Here's a photo of Grandma El (my father's mother) and Grandpa Larry (my mother's father) on Christmas Day 1952.
Here's a picture of my Grandma El and my new Grandpa Les on their wedding day. Yes, the unhappy uncomfortable-looking couple on the left are the bride and groom.
And here's a photo of Grandma El and Grandpa Larry on my wedding day in 1968 - first time they'd seen each other in about ten years. My Grandma El was single at the time. My Grandpa Larry was married to Bess, who refused to come to my wedding because "That Woman" would be there. At the time of this photo, Grandma El was 68 and Grandpa Larry was 71. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you the sparks between them could have powered a small emerging nation
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I'm Barbara Bretton and you can find me here and here and also here at Tote Bags every month. Leave a comment and you might win a copy of CASTING SPELLS and LACED WITH MAGIC with my thanks for reading my Grandma's ongoing story.