The house sits back from Linden Avenue, on the corner of Superior Street. There are flower beds in front, and in the spring hyacinths and tulips flower there — the sweet smell drifts upward so thickly I could smell it out of the upstairs window. I was a black-haired eager girl, living in the shadow of three older, stronger brothers, two of them twins (Paul and Walter), a stormy father, and a vigorous mother. On the south side of the house downstairs there's a verandah, glassed in for winter. Someday I would get married and escape this house, and punch would be served on the verandah. Upstairs on that side was the sleeping porch where Paul and Walter and I slept, off our parents' bedroom. My oldest brother, Richard, was always gone somewhere. I could hear the nighttime rages of my father on the porch, and I cuddled with my stuffed animals, so many that they took up three quarters of my bed. One was a red, white, and blue teddy bear with electric bulb eyes who became the other parent of my animal family. One night I loaned one stuffed animal to Paul who needed it. And during many nights I saw colored dots in the air on that porch; dust particles rising, falling, swirling, hovering.
The door near my bed went into the boys' room with metal printing on the bookshelves — "throw the rascals out" and other political mottoes. There was one bed, where Walter slept, and a big closet with everybody's extra clothes. And another small connecting closet opened into the parents' bedroom. When our mother couldn't get all her evening clothes fastened she vanished there to struggle. Across the hall from the boys' room was the North room, with twin beds used for guests, but mostly for Paul who needed a lot of space to dream in. One night he went screaming down the hall like a banshee in the grip of a nightmare about going over the hill to the poorhouse from a movie he had seen with Lillian and maybe Dorothy Gish. They took him to a doctor who said he had St. Vitus' dance. Now it's called Huntington's chorea. I huddled in my sleeping bag on the cold porch; it was made by sewing two comforters together.
A long corridor went to the back hall, and to the stairs that led to the attic (a whole other story) and two maids' rooms, a bathroom, and stairs going down to the kitchen and back door, where I came in and out usually. When I started to grow up, I got one of the maid's rooms overlooking the backyard, and I furnished it with green furniture, and organdy lavender curtains. By that time there was only the cook, a vigorous Finnish woman from the Copper peninsula, who drank a lot, flirted with my boyfriends and made food that was very good. In the hall my father embraced me, with more force than was strictly necessary and sometimes I felt tears in my eyes when he did that, although I tried to get away. One night I came home late and found a strange young man in my bed. "Who are you?" I said. "I'm Jimmie Farrell," he said. "Your brother, Paul, said I could sleep here and you could sleep on the porch. I can't sleep on the porch. It's bad for me." So I went and slept on the porch, wondering whether it was also bad for me.
When I went downstairs by the back way, there was a curve in the stairs and a little landing just before it turned. The stairs were bare and polished, and I often imagined that I would fall. The back door opened into a hallway with a big two-door refrigerator, packed with edibles raw and cooked. Even now I imagine a mysterious stranger coming through that back door and wrapping his arms around me.
Then there was a big kitchen and a counter covered with grey metal where the woman who came everyday to clean and do the laundry ate her breakfast — oatmeal and strong boiled tea after the long ride on the elevated from the city to Oak Park. Before I had to go to school I used to climb up to the counter and eat with this strong woman — it was all delicious. And one time when I was little I picked up some tar in the alley and it flowed all over my hands and I came into the basement with my mess and she helped me get it off with soap, hot water and turpentine and never told anyone. There was a room off the kitchen called the "maids' sitting room" with a lot of geraniums and next to that, an open porch and steps leading to a gravel play-yard. Boys introduced a hose into the sandbox and made rivers and moats with the water. Once I brought an acorn back from the Dunes and tried to plant it in the garden to make an oak tree. It was near where Paul had planted his acorn with a long tail ready to grow. He pulled mine up and threw it away because he said it was too close to his and would hamper its growth.
In the front of the house was a hall and a big living room and dining room. In the hall one day Paul heard the word "Manhood" reverberating through the house and ringing in his head. He said it sounded like Doomsday and he determined never to have anything to do with that idea.
I used to lie on the couch in the living room after school eating an apple and reading. Sometimes my father would find me there when he came home from work and fondle my thighs until I got up and ran away. I felt immobilized, powerless and pinned to the couch like a butterfly pinned to a cardboard. Then he would go upstairs to the bedroom to rest before dinner.
Mother said that he had had a tiring day at the office, and she often brought him a Swiss cheese sandwich on rye bread to have before dinner. He preferred white bread, he often told me.
In our parents' bedroom were two windows facing the street and overlooking the hyacinths. Stage left was a big bathroom, and a walk-in closet, full of medicines, towels and one gift bottle of Waterfill and Frazier rye. There were twin beds, with lamps overhanging designed by my father so no light, or anything else, could shine on the other bed, and there were dark blue and pink homespun bedspreads, woven by students at Berea College in Kentucky. I can see, even today, Paul and my mother having a big argument. Her admonishing him is so savage that he raises his fists to protect himself and assumes a schoolyard stance. "Don't you raise your fist to me, young man," she screams. Paul wrote in later life about his mother: "She was always a good hater."
I stand by, not a part of it, but not apart from it. I see myself now, bystandering my way through all the rooms of the house.
In the summer, our family used to go to an island called Neebish in the St. Mary's River about 20 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie. The little island adjoined big Neebish in the state of Michigan and was right on the border with Canada. Across a narrow branch of the big river containing the upriver channel was St. Joseph's Island in the province of Ontario, and the big ore boats (fore and afters) loomed upstream right in front of our cottage, empty and riding high in the water. They were on their way from Lake Huron up to the locks at the Soo and into Lake Superior to load up with ore, coal, and such cargo.
I remember Paul at Neebish, better than any other shadowy members of the family. And I remember myself — barefoot, in my brothers' pants, avoiding the household tasks promoted by my mother by climbing up into the rafters of our cottage, over the bookshelf, to read novels as soon as there were dishes to be done. I read Ishmael, (or In the Depths) and Self-Raised, (or From the Depths) by Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth. The breakfasts in the Old South were lavish and lengthy.
One night Paul and I were down on the dock; I believe we were cleaning fish that our older brother Richard had caught. Our mother cleaned most of the fish, and sometimes we helped, or cleaned up the mess on the dock after her, and Paul acquired these skills very early and did them very well. I liked to be with him so much that I was willing to do a tiny bit of work as his assistant.
We looked at the stars and listened to the water and Paul told me that this night was truly different from all other nights, because Sacco and Vanzetti were being put to death in Massachusetts — being electrocuted for a crime they did not commit. History would prove them innocent, he said, and then he told me about Bertrand Russell and "A Free Man's Worship." He said this essay had become the basis of his own philosophy — his consciousness was forged in the fire of unyielding despair. I did not know what this meant, although I was acquainted with despair, and the heaviness with which that word affected me, especially when I first woke up in the morning, about the way the word "manhood" affected Paul.
Paul said we would never forget this night — August 23rd, 1927. I was 14 years old, and Paul was 18, if I have the date of the execution right. When I think of this episode, I imagine myself much younger down at the dock, maybe 8 or 9, and Paul 12 or 13.
There was a big rock to the left of the dock coming down from the cottage, visible only in the low water, often well submerged in the river, to be avoided by the outboard motor boat. One time the water was very low and the big rock was visible as an island. Paul decided to cook breakfast there and invited me to go along. We got up very early and put our supplies in the boat. We rowed to the rock with the oars and unloaded food and wood, matches, a pan — and built a little cooking fire on the flat part of the rock, cooked bacon and eggs, had a wonderful time. I felt Paul was my real guardian, teacher and parent, teaching me about the world and how to survive in it.
Now that I am writing I can remember what I learned from Paul about food. Cooking and eating has always fascinated me, and I can remember meals, and processes, and tastes, all the way back to earliest years.
Paul made petits-fours one time in our big home kitchen, and I did the washing up. Our mother let Paul use the kitchen only when the cook was out, so Sunday afternoon was the only time for such a large project. I remember racks and racks, and metal trays to wash, after the cubes of delicate cake were frosted on all six sides, by turning and transferring and frosted again, then decorated, and so on, ad infinitum. They were very beautiful. I do not remember eating any, nor being very hungry after looking at all that icing and cake, and handling it all, and washing up afterwards. I never make choucroute alsacienne without thinking of Paul who explained the long cooking and flavoring of sauerkraut which made it much more edible and less abrasive than the usual methods. One time when the Ninth Street Center first began, Paul showed Philleo and me how to poach eggs and hold them so twenty or more men could be served perfect eggs as eggs Benedict at a breakfast. Since I did not believe it possible, Paul cooked one to prove his technique worked and gave it to Philleo, insisting that he eat it. "I'm not going to throw a perfectly poached egg away!" And another time when we visited Paul in an apartment in New York he made a shrimp omelet that I still have his recipe for — more like a soufflé, and starting with raw minced shrimp. It is extraordinary.
When we were adolescents Paul and I helped stage a benefit at a downtown theatre in Chicago for some left-wing cause — I think it was the International Labor Defense. I believe we were both students at the University of Chicago — he in a pre-med set of courses. I appeared on stage as the Spirit of the Haymarket in a white lace cotton dress, in a sketch about Governor Altgeld and the Haymarket riot — I guess based on Vachel Lindsay's poem, The Eagle That is Forgotten, but I do not remember how it went. We wrote John Dos Passos, and he agreed to come, and wrote a sketch auctioning off an unemployed man, played by Dave Scheyer. We had a group of black kids singing a song about the Scottsboro boys, and Horace Cayton, a sociology graduate student at the University produced a pistol, supposedly with blank cartridges (he had been a night guard in a jail in Seattle) for off-stage shooting noises. Some of the cartridges turned out not to be blanks — luckily he missed the Scottsboro boys, scurrying around backstage.
Paul made the refreshments for this Thirties benefit, at our home in Oak Park — iced tea in big washtubs, sold from the stage after the performance and canapes. These were rounds of bread, spread with flavored butter, a single shrimp set in the middle, covered with delicate fish aspic. The weather was boiling hot, so these little morsels were packed in ice to transport them downtown. They arrived in perfect condition and sold for fifty cents apiece. Our mother and father unwillingly contributed kitchen facilities and ingredients to this anti-capitalist cause, but did not complain unduly. Bill Browder came (Earl Browder's brother) and, as I remember it, he had some reputation for whisking proceeds away, so it may not have gotten to the Free Tom Mooney campaign.
I do not remember Paul as seriously involved in Marxist economic or political thought. I remember his studying and writing all night and sleeping during the day when he lived in an apartment on the south side of Chicago. He wrote a paper on the causes of war, which our father had typed at his office. I don't think I ever read it, but we read and discussed Freud, especially The Interpretation of Dreams. Sometime in there Paul went to medical school, gave up his unusual schedule, met and married Joan Maris who was a friend of mine, and started to become respectable.
One time Paul made the upper floor of their big house on the South side into a separate apartment and was about to rent it to a young unmarried couple. He told me that this living together would never do on their side, the south side, of 57th Street. They would have to marry. I was amazed, since up to this time, everybody Paul or I knew on the south side was living with someone without being concerned with gender, or with marriage.
Looking through recipe files, I cannot find Paul's for cold cream. Why did he want to make cold cream? I don't know, but it was very good cold cream, although you had to use it fairly quickly because it had no preservative and turned rancid if kept too long. When our daughter Sally got interested in making cold cream, she wrote to Paul and he sent her the recipe. She may still have it, and I will write and find out if she does. Our father used to make mucilage in the basement at home, because he thought the little jars cost too much, at 15 or 25 cents. The big open vats were such a hazard to walking through the basement, I thought it was worth much more than 25 cents just to contain the mucilage in a bottle. Maybe this was a background for Paul making cold cream. He wanted it to be without any perfume smell, which distinguished it from commercial cold cream.
My husband and I were living in a one-room apartment in Washington sometime in the 60s — our second time in the Nation's Capitol. Philleo had been appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the early days of the Kennedy administration. "The best job I ever had," he said, both at the time and afterwards. He travelled a lot, to the reservations, which he loved, and at first I was alone a lot, in an air-conditioned, tightly enclosed bedroom-living room space, suffering occasionally from sensory deprivation. Gradually I renewed my attachment to Georgetown Day School, a school we had helped start during World War II with some other parents and Aggie (Inglis, O'Neil). Our children had entered the school world there, and I always felt that if our home was full of parental lacks and mistakes, the school we had helped to create was a marvelous environment for children and could rectify.
The school was undergoing a crisis of leadership upon Aggie's retirement, and I was hired as a temporary director, to find a new director and hold the line on its becoming a frankly commercial private enterprise. Of course once I got into it with a passion for preserving its original atmosphere and ambition to do battle with the forces of conventional schooling, I stayed 15 years, and finally directed the school's development longer than Aggie had. So, in the early 60s, we were full of enthusiasm for our jobs and life. I felt released from my husband's home town where we had been living during the 50s. I remember the rush of excitement I felt driving the perfect drive to work — from southwest Washington where we lived, along the Potomac, past the wild roses and the Kennedy Center up Foxhall Road, ablaze with dogwood in the spring and crepe myrtle in the summer and fall — to take up my job in the morning. Power and responsibility competed in my head and I loved it.
One night a phone call came from brother Walter in Chicago. He asked if I would speak to Paul, who was very sick, and at Walter's apartment. He said he had left the private hospital in Des Plaines where he had been working as a psychiatrist and was looking for a place to light. Paul and Walter were twins. I talked to Paul who sounded very upset. "Can I come to you?" he asked. "I can't stay here."
"Of course," I said. "You're my brother." I only thought and said to myself, "You're not heavy; you're my brother," like the advertisement for Boys' Town.
I was, in fact, very worried about Paul's coming. I did not dare tell my mother. (Was she still alive at this time?) She lived in Oak Park still and probably Paul had not been in touch with her since he moved back from California and took a psychiatric job in Illinois where he was medically licensed. Philleo did not mind my recognizing Paul's right to come to us in an emergency; he knew Paul was the first person I ever knew. In college years they had been roommates for a period and friends from time to time.
We met Paul at the train. (Paul never liked to fly. After World War II when he spent a lot of time on Tinian in the South Pacific in the medical corps, he said he would never get on a plane again.) It was in the old Union Station, dark and steamy. It looks to me in retrospect like a movie scene from Anna Karenina, where she throws herself under the train. Paul got off the train, all bundled up with hat, muffler, and gloves, and looked like death. "Are you taking me to the hospital?" he said to me.
"Not if you don't want to go," I said. And we went home.
(This is the part where I always weep.)
So then we lived in the one-room apartment, in sight of the Washington Monument, near the Tidal Basin. We had a double bed and a flexible wooden screen to close off the alcove where we slept, and Paul slept on a couch in the living room space, in a corner. The first night I was really worried — would he still be there in the morning? But he slept quietly and was very quiet when he awoke. He stayed in his corner, went to the bathroom and back, ate our food when we ate, and repeated his sentence, "Yes, siree. Yes, siree." For years afterwards I could not remember this sentence, but in writing about Paul, it has come back to me. Gradually, he began to walk around the apartment and to say his sentence more quietly.
In a few weeks he felt better and ventured out to the store, a block away, bought food and prepared whole meals for us and occasionally for company. First he cooked work people food, since he had been working in an industrial cafeteria in California — like meat loaf with tomato sauce cut in squares. Later, for company, he cooked fried oysters, more like the old Paul. He would cook and serve the food, then retire to the couch and be silent for the rest of the evening. When Philleo was away on trips to the reservations, he talked to me. From about 4 p.m., when I got home from school, to 11 or 12, when I felt impelled to go to bed, he talked and talked and talked. He talked about his childhood, about our mother (he said he resembled her), our father (he said I resembled him), about his life in Chicago.
His wife, Joan, had planted bleeding hearts and impatiens on the walkway leading to their house on the south side to advertise that he was a psychoanalyst. I heard that the day he left his home, wife, and son in Chicago was Mother's Day. They had been out to Oak Park to see our mother. He drove home, took his sleeping son upstairs to bed, walked down the stairs and out of the house, and never came back.
First he went to Europe with some friends and finally to California. I had visited him there with our mother and so I knew something about his life there. I met a young man, his wife and kids, with whom Paul was living. He and Ronnie repaired cars together (Paul was very gifted mechanically, as was our father) and drank beer in bars. Our mother was appalled at the working class atmosphere of the place, but accepted it well, in fear of losing her changeling. Paul always said that he and I were the favorites in our family. Sometimes he said we were the "successful" members of our family. Paul had worked in a first-aid kind of hospital till the licensing requirement caught up with him, and then in a jail. He like the prisoners, and they trusted him. Again the prison required that psychiatrists be licensed in California and Paul left. I sensed that his work was turning into a more direct communication with people and a less psychiatric or psycho-analytic relationship.
Sometimes Paul talked about our psycho-analytic friends in Chicago. I knew his analysis with Dr. Alexander had been brief and formulary, although at one time it was a source of pride with Paul to be a big enough boy to enter analysis with a man, and a world famous one at that. His first and more therapeutic analysis was with Dr. Helen McLean, a motherly doctor, with the same first name as our mother. Paul and I were friends with Lionel Blitsten and his wife Dorothy, who remained a life-long friend of mine. Someone told me, probably Joan, that Lionel, who worked with Paul when Paul was a psychiatric resident at Cook County hospital, had urged Paul to go into "thin" psychiatry, take a job in a mental hospital, not try psycho-analysis in private practice — "too hard" he said.
What Joan did not say was that Lionel found her so competitive with Paul that he had to ask her not to come to their classes — interviewing patients at Cook County Hospital. Lionel, although unbelievably opinionated and difficult, (the most non-nurturing psychiatrist I ever encountered) was a brilliant man and a brilliant interviewer, and besides, I liked him a lot. Paul and I spent Sundays often, when we were in college, at the Blitstens. I was fascinated by their elegant and lavish lifestyle and often commented to Paul on the food. Once when we were twelve people at lunch, a platter was passed with half ducks set in a circle. After each person had served themselves, the platter returned for seconds, filled again. I couldn't believe it. Paul said, "What's so great about it? It's just like home." It didn't seem like home to me. Of course, no one at home listened to me all ears as they did at the Blitstens; and no one treated me like their prize protégée, as Lionel did.
As Paul felt better, I urged him to do volunteer work. He didn't like the idea. "What would I tell them? That I'm a psychiatrist and I want to watch kiddies at the playground?" He was going out more by now, to our friends' houses for dinner occasionally, and to Georgetown Day School where he made turkey salad for several hundred people for the Seder Lunch, the parent-student festivity in the spring that is built around the beginning of Passover.
Philleo knew Mary Switzer well, who was head of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation in the Federal government, and she offered Paul a job. A doctor connected with that office had gone to some Scandinavian countries to study various hospital and nursing facilities and had written a report that needed to be completely rewritten for publication. Paul's writing skills were unimpaired and he rewrote it in short order. Unfortunately, they could not accept him at the level he wanted to work, and insisted that he do psychiatric work — first reading case histories and then actually with patients. He found this idea threatening and left the agency soon after.
He was living with us up to spring vacation from college, when I asked him to move out temporarily because our daughter Sally was coming home for a week and found his presence intrusive, in that one-room space. He moved out to live with some friends he had met through me at the school. The man, a physicist, was a twin, and had great respect for Paul. He lived there although the wife was not as happy with him, until he found an apartment of his own near them.
I visited him at this apartment once or twice. He told me a funny story about his life there. He always opened the front door in the morning to pick up his morning paper without any clothes on, and every morning he said to himself, what would I do if the door shut and locked behind me? And one day it did and he was marooned on the front step, street level, with no clothes on. He rang the janitor's bell, but there was no answer. So he climbed in the open window next door, introduced himself to the man who lived there, and got a towel to proceed with. We both found this story hilarious.
He moved to New York, worked for the League for the Handicapped, bought a house in the west Village, and started a new life. Our mother died about this time. Later, Paul gave most of his inheritance to Joan in order to finally get a divorce. He began to be the kind of doctor, therapist, leader, and writer familiar to all the people he left behind at the Ninth Street Center.
When I wrote the "Story" about Paul and went through in my mind the house in Oak Park where we grew up, I described each room and area, and something important that happened there. But I never mentioned the dining room, the most important of all, the setting for the most meaningful events. This is where it all happened — the serving and the stuffing of food and drink, the arguments, the expectations and the disappointments, the competition for the presidency of the table, the smashing and the force of parental authority.
I found the succession of courses at the dinner table very depressing, and they killed whatever appetite I had by that time of day. The food was gorgeous, both well-bought, and well-cooked, and there was a lot too much of it. We had soup, always home-made, a roast or steak, potatoes, two vegetables, a salad, and an elaborate dessert. Everything was very nourishing, and the vegetables were a glory of crispness and green color, long before people learned to cook vegetables underdone. I know Paul introduced the cooking of vegetables in the Chinese mode to our household. Meat was cooked slowly at a low temperature after he got a pamphlet from the Government Printing Office that described this method. During the season for shad we had it or whitefish every Friday night, cooked perfectly in a broiler. Julia, who came every day all the way from the south side to clean and do laundry at our house, had to stay through dinner on the night we had fish to help the cook turn the fish over on the broiler, as it took four hands.
Paul and Walter never ate the fish, and rarely the vegetables or salads. They ate rare beef and potatoes, in quantity. I cannot remember what Richard ate, nor my parents. I was so reluctant to be hungry and to want all that food, that in the afternoon I stopped at the blind man's candy shop on Lake Street and bought two Tangoes, my favorite candy bar with nuts and caramel inside and chocolate outside, and ate them walking home. Then when dinner time came, I sat at the table in the protection of my satisfied self, mildly nauseated and watching the food come and go, and the family drama playing itself out.
The room was large and well-windowed. On the walls was a blue figured wallpaper, very intricate in design, with whirls and scrolls in a pale gold, giving a rich effect. I had never seen this pattern again until one day, at least 50 years later, I entered the ladies' dining room in the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C., and saw the same pattern, this time in gold, with brown whirls. The Cosmos Club is a men's club for those self-selected "distinguished in the arts, letters, or public service" to which my husband still belongs, although at a distance. Their main issue of recent years is whether to admit women or not, and it threatens to destroy the whole thing. It would amuse my father greatly, if he were alive today, to know that the dining room wallpaper was the same as the Cosmos Club's.
One time there was a doorbell ring just as we sat down to dinner. Paul was dispatched to answer the door and to get rid of any interruptions. He came back to the table rather crestfallen and said that whoever it was wanted to see our mother. She stopped carving and serving, went to the door and returned very annoyed. It had been someone selling something door to door. Richard giggled and made a slighting remark, that I cannot remember, about Paul's handling of the door. Paul picked up a glass of chocolate pudding and threw it across the table at Richard. He held onto the glass, it had a pedestal, and the solid pudding flew in an arc, sailed across the space, and hit Richard in the face. Richard laughed very loudly and started wiping the pudding off, eating it, and enjoying the whole comedy routine. Paul burst into rageful tears and ran upstairs to his room and slammed the door.
I can still see the pudding flying through the air and feel Paul's pain.
When Paul and Walter, Richard and I were growing up in the big house in Oak Park, Illinois, where there is a church on every corner (where most villages have a gas station), we celebrated Thanksgiving with a vengeance. All the relatives came from far and near. The children had a special children's table (greatly resented by me) with a favorite aunt. There were two enormous turkeys to be carved at each end of the big table, one with oyster dressing and one with chestnut, carved by my father at one end and an uncle at the other.
In later years family friends joined us, and one of them, Edwin Herbert Lewis, wrote a blessing to be read as a responsive reading that was very beautiful, very thankful, and did not mention God once.
Our mother was the queen of the occasion. Our father made the place cards, carved, and read the blessing, but his contribution paled beside the majesty of her hospitality.
Sometimes there were humorous skits performed in the sated afternoons, written by our clever aunts. One time the twins, Paul and Walter, who were apt to wear different colored ties so they could be told apart, sneaked upstairs and exchanged ties to confuse their adoring public. The afternoon wore on, later and later, and although everyone said they could never eat anything again, our mother began to get out the turkey, and the vegetables, the whole groaning board again for supper.
After this had happened several years, and was therefore a tradition, Paul announced that it was boring to eat the same food twice in one day, and he would make a special dessert for supper. Our mother did not really care for competition in meal planning, buying, writing menus, organizing the cook, and the two maids who served for this giant occasion. But he did it anyway and decided on grape pies. I had never heard of them, and was therefore fascinated by the idea — an exotic dessert.
Paul bought dark, dark blue grapes, bursting with juice, cooked them to extract the juice, and made a custard. Somehow I associate this with Mrs. Moody's cookbook, but it is not known to me today, although I have the book and still use it often. The wife of William Vaughn Moody, the poet, headed an organization at that time called the Home Delicacies Association, and Paul was so taken with her and her elegance from her cookbook that he went once to call on her. Then he constructed the pies, with a marvelous crust on the bottom and a careful lattice top. When supper took place, he produced three of these pies, and the accolade was immense. Paul had beaten Mother at her own game.
One time in Falls Church, Virginia, where my husband and children and I lived briefly during World War II, we invited a lot of people to the house for a joint Thanksgiving — everybody brought something. We did the turkey, and a whole pound of butter was used, although it was rationed and red points had to be saved for some time to get that much. Beef and butter used the same points, chicken and fish were free. One of our friends came out to the kitchen with all the bustle around her, and said, "You're just like your mother!" which hurt my feelings. I did not remember any open heartedness or excitement from that family Thanksgiving, only my mother's controlling hand, and her rejection of me and of Paul. I did not want to seem like her.
When Paul usurped our mother's role at home, I rejoiced and celebrated with him his greater competence in cooking and in nurturing.
Whenever I read about a train hurtling through the darkness on its way from St. Paul to the East or into the Middle West from some mysterious eastern location, I remember my first trip away from home. I had been to Girl Scout camp for a week or two when I was younger, I had visited my aunts on the South Side of Chicago, and I had been to California without my mother to visit other relatives. But going away to Vassar College for Women and living away from home for a whole year — just thinking about it still affects me with the terror and the joy that that dramatic escape opened up for me. "Free at last, free at last" are the words that come to my mind, in time to the wheels of the train, carrying me from slavery to freedom.
I quickly got used to the college. Mostly I remember horseback riding in the morning before class. The hills and the fall color of the eastern landscape were unbelievably beautiful after the flat prairie that I came from, and I remember the smell of my horsey clothes as I sat steaming in my first class. There was no time to change, and the other girls smiled and gently moved away.
I had one close friend. Once we went walking in the snow, so fresh it was clinging to all the branches, and we ate the snow off the branches and recited, "What can ail thee, knight-at-arms, so haggard and so woe-begone?"
So then it was Christmas vacation, and I came home on the roaring train and it all started over again — the sudden rages at the dinner table, the long, heavy meals, the angry yellings up and down the stairs, the grabbing and the force of parental authority. So we went, my brothers and I, to a speakeasy on Wacker Drive called the Toledo Wheelbarrow Company and the tenderness of the bartender whose name was John Morth enveloped and sustained us.
One night I was talking to John Morth and he asked me, "What are all those other girls at your school doing now that they are home for Christmas vacation?" And I told him that they were mostly coming out. "They been in?" he said. "What for?" I had to explain they belonged to a social world where, when daughters got to a certain age, their parents gave a big formal party and introduced them to all their friends, whether they already knew them or not. He wondered if I wanted a party like that, and I said my parents didn't belong to that world. "Oh, well," he said. "We could have a party right here." So he set a date and told everybody. All the regulars came, the reporters from the Tribune, and two of Al Capone's runners, who dropped in often to test the beer. My brothers and I had steak sandwiches on the house, and altogether it was a lovely party. Afterwards we drove John home, way out in Forest Park, and he showed us his garden in the dark. All I could see was petunias. Everyone at his house was asleep.
We all grew up and started homes of our own, in one place or another, as much like the Toledo Wheelbarrow Company as we could make them — lots of food and drink, a careful listener always in attendance, acceptance of strangers, the Law and the Syndicate together, and no one to tell you whether you were too young or too old or too rich or too poor, or not one of the right people. The speakeasy moved to 112 East Illinois Street from 69 Wacker Drive, and after that I lost track of it. I don't suppose John Morth is still alive or works as a bartender anymore.
The past unrolls in stages on a giant reel, sticking and jumping as it hits a break in the reel, gradually lying out flat to show what it was like to grow up back there in another country.