Thursday, October 21, 2010

Grandma and the Prince - Part 22 - Barbara Bretton

ATTENTION: We have a winner! PETITE, I need your mailing address ASAP so I can ship out your prizes. Email me by clicking here or writing to barbarabretton AT gmail DOT com and I'll get right on it.

And one more thing: SPUN BY SORCERY will hit the shelves right around Halloween and I can't think of a better book to curl up with in between trick or treaters. I hope you'll check it out.
I'm running a BIG contest at my website: the lucky winner will receive a shiny new Kindle! Click on contest, and make sure you enter.

Now let's get back to my grandfather's story. Last month he met Teddy Roosevelt.

This month he meets the love of his life. Enjoy!

* * * *

It was the lowest part of the Lower East Side. Two buildings face each other across
the narrow city street. They are mirror images. A small apartment in a brick
building with fire escapes at the living room windows.

They didn’t call it the Big Apple back in the early 1930s. It was just simply the
hub of the known universe. Certainly the hub of Grandpa’s.

Sometimes I think the term “long hot summer” was invented to describe the hell that is Manhattan in August. It’s a dangerous time. Tempers are short. Grievances multiply. Desires hide close to the surface. The orphan boy from Kansas, the World War I sailor, is now a New York City cop. He’s with the mounted force. He always knew his riding skills would come in handy someday.

He sits at the window late at night and watches life on the streets, counts the
windows of the apartment building across the way, notices the patterns of light and dark, the shadowy shapes behind the filmy curtains and wonders. He wonders about the small, dark-haired woman in the third floor apartment. He sees her moving about each night, back and forth, graceful movements in the warm night air.

That night he is sitting there in the darkness, watching the way the lit end of his
cigarette glows metallic red in the dark. He draws a circle in the air then
notices with a start that the dark-haired woman across the way is mimicking his
movements with her own glowing cigarette. He draws an X. She draws an X.
Squares. Figure 8s. Elongated ovals.

She is there the next night and the next. The fourth night he takes the plunge.
He climbs down his fire escape, strides across the street, and walks into her
building. He finds her apartment on the first try. She opens the door and smiles
up at him. I’m Larry, he says. She holds out her hand. I’m Margie. She invites
him in for a cold drink and the rest, as they say, is history.

Margie was the second of Grandpa’s five wives. She was also his favorite, the
one he lost to death and not divorce. My mother often said she believed their
lives would have been very different if Margie had been able to beat cancer.
This is Margie at the New York World’s Fair in 1939, not long before she died.

(Grandpa’s fifth and last wife, Bess, looked enough like Margie to be her twin sister.)

Margie was an interior decorator for the big department stores of the day. She
also decorated the homes of the big department store owners. Her career took off
not long after she met Grandpa and they soon found themselves living on the snooty upper East Side in a fancy one-step-below-the-penthouse apartment. Imagine how it felt for my mother, a child of divorce back in the days when divorce carried a terrible stigma for all concerned, to leave behind the farm and outhouse in Maryland and arrive a few hours later in Manhattan where she was met by a liveried driver in a big black limousine. “You’ll be living here now,” my grandfather said to her at the train station. “You won’t be going back to Maryland.”

My mother told me she cried when she heard that and Grandpa grew very angry with her. Why wasn’t she happy to live in splendor instead of poverty? What was the matter with his ten year old daughter? My mother didn’t care about the splendor. She missed her mother and her friends and the pets she’d left behind. She missed her old life.

Margie understood that, however, and she set out to shower my mother with what she really needed: love. Margie welcomed Grandpa’s only daughter and his two sons into her life with a full heart. She was everything you could have wished for in a mother.

I wish I could find my notes about Margie and Grandpa’s apartment. My
mother to
ld me about the lacquered hunter green walls and the sleek furniture. She remembered every candlestick, every sconce, every vase, and throw pillow. She said Margie always wrapped her presents in shiny white paper and tied them with red satin ribbons. One Christmas Mrs. Saks (of Saks Fifth Avenue) sent her driver to the apartment with a back seat filled with presents for Margie and her family. My mother would come home from school to find a stack of dresses piled high on her four-poster and a note from Margie: “Pick whatever you like! You can model for me when I come home from work.”
Which my mother went on to do for awhile before I was born.

This is a photo of Uncle Budd and Uncle Jimmy. You can see Grandpa reflected in
the mirror. Margie was the photographer. Notice the clock suspended from a heavy cord. That clock hangs today in my living room. The dragon candlesticks rest on my mantel. The samovar inspired my 2003 book, SHORE LIGHTS.

See this picture of their dining room? Notice the table if you will. That table
is upstairs right now in my office. You might not recognize it with the copier and stacks of paper on top of it, but it’s there. That table came into my life in 1971 and has supported sewing machines, typewriters, computers, printers, fax machines, and copiers. Not a day goes by when I don’t look at that table and think of the woman it first belonged to.

Margie was dead more than fifty years when my mother shared her story but the pain of loss was still evident on her face and in her voice. I listened to her talk about Margie with Grandpa in those months before his death and I thought I knew the depth of her love for her stepmother. Truth is, I hadn’t a clue. It wasn’t until Grandpa died that I learned just how much Mom loved Margie.

She loved her enough to keep her secrets.

Margie’s death from cancer was long and heartbreaking and it coincided with the darkest period in my grandfather's life. He was recovering from a terrible riding accident when Margie was diagnosed and was caught up in his own pain and loss. (His horse fell on him, crushing his pelvis and causing catastrophic damage.) The stress on both of them must have been unbearable and near the end Margie made a terrible mistake. My mother was around sixteen at the time. She came home from school early one day and found a man in Margie’s bed. The bed she shared with Grandpa. The man was Margie’s first husband. My mother was shocked and she ran crying to her room. Margie slipped into a robe and followed her. I don’t know
exactly what she said to my mother but I do know she shouldered the blame herself.

She never asked my mother to lie for her. She never asked anything at all of my
mother except for love. Whatever you do, Margie said, I’ll understand.

Grandpa never knew of the incident. My mother held onto that secret until his

And now you know too.

* * *

How about another contest? Leave a comment below and you'll be automatically entered to win signed books and maybe a surprise or two. The winner will be announced next month.

And don't forget to visit my website and enter the Kindle contest. Good luck!


Alison said...

I can't wait for each new instalment of your family story. Absolutely fascinating. I do wonder about your mother's mother - how did she feel about having her child taken away?

host said...

Thank you for sharing your life stories with us. They are inspirational. Can't wait for the next one.

Joanna St. James said...

wow this is a very touching story, and am glad your mom understood even at a young age that people make mistakes.

CrystalGB said...

What an amazing story. Margie sounds like she was an incredible lady.

Atia Austen said...

Thank you for sharing your grandpa's story with us. I love stories like that.

runner10 said...

I enjoy seeing the old pics of your family.

cheryl c said...

Congrats on your win, Petite! As a previous winner of Barbara's contest here, I can promise you that you will be very happy when you get your prize! Thanks again, Barbara!

chey said...

What a great story!

Estella said...

Each installment of your family story makes me want to read more.

traveler said...

I am captivated with your story, the photos and your wonderful writing. thanks for this glimpse into a family.

Michele L. said...

Hi Barbara,

The photos of your ancestors are just wonderful! I can just imagine how much you treasure them.

Thank you for sharing with us your rich family history. I look forward to your blog each month.

Have a fun Halloween! I just love the cover of your new book! It certainly fits right into the Halloween theme. I can't wait to read it!

Lil said...

Margie sounds like a fascinating woman to have inspired such love and devotion...and with the mis-step, she sounds more human. I would have liked to have met her.

Mary said...

I've been loving reading each installment of your story and the old pics are so great.

Amazingrose said...

Great story!!!!

Virginia said...

Great story! I love your family stories, I would say we all have them we just don't write them down! I know there is a lot of stories in my family some I wouldn't even want to share. Thanks for sharing yours with us!