Category Archives: Women’s studies

NEVER EVER AGAIN

By Marguerite Quantaine 5.16.17

When I was five, we lived in a drafty, 1860’s, two story, white clapboard farmhouse, insulated with wads of newsprint dating from the Civil War, and a coal furnace to heat the water in our cast iron radiators and for our baths. It had a narrow, worn pine, painted brown staircase just inside the front door vestibule with nine stark steps heading straight up before winding left for three more and leveling off to a thirteenth step at the top.

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Facing directly ahead was a bedroom shared by my two sisters and me. To the left, at the end of a hall papered in remnant rolls of Depression era patterns, was a bedroom shared by my three brothers. And at the right, flushed with the wall, was a door to a closet containing a second, much smaller door leading to an exposed beams, no floorboards attic.

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“Never, ever, under any circumstance open the door inside the closet at the top of the stairs,” my mom instructed us, “because, if you do, you’ll fall through the ceiling.”  To be clear, she never added the words “and die” to the edict. So, I opened the door.

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It wasn’t that I was a bad little girl, or even an overtly rebellious one. I simply had a ferocious curiosity which challenged every easy, accepted, purported, and fabricated reason given to blindly follow orders. And, anyhow, it was all Alice’s fault — she being Alice In Wonderland from the animated Disney film that Mom had taken us to see when it came to our town in 1951. Our subsequent incessant playing of the film’s score from a set of eight, six inch, 78 RPM Little Golden Records ensured I knew every word and melody, making it Alice who implanted the lyrics to Very Good Advice in my mind as a mantra, and Alice who told me to open the door and search for a lavender and white striped Cheshire cat in a garden of talking flowers.

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But unlike Alice, I needed no key to unlock the door, nor mushroom to shrink myself for passing through, since even though the inner closet portal was half the size of a standard door, it wasn’t nearly as small as me.

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I might have opened it to a virtual sea of history if only I could read the papers packed in layers there. But since I couldn’t, my focus was on the solitary object sitting in the slanted roof room — a flat top, oak slatted, seasoned pine steamer trunk wrapped in one inch black lacquered tin ribbons, Moiré Metalique corner plates, and latches on each side of the lollipop-looking lock hanging open.

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My feet were smaller than my age and fearless. I scurried along the beams like a ballerina on a tightrope, reaching the trunk with ease. Opening it proved somewhat of a struggle, but the anticipation of releasing a fat lavender cat far outweighed the weight of the lid. I pushed it up and it plopped backwards as I fell forwards, landing on a black jacket with brass buttons the color of dirty mustard. Standing and stepping back out, I took care to balance on the beams as I reached in and pulled the jacket after me, dragging it across the crumpled insulation, out the Alice door, through the hallway door, and into my bedroom.

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The jacket was found fortune from a treasure chest. I marveled at the buttons, their background bumpy to the touch, with a spread winged bird standing atop a broken cross in it’s claws. I had heard the word ‘war’ without knowing what war was, could not conceive of what war did, and wouldn’t comprehend what the swastika signified for many years to come, so these beautiful buttons appeared as gold to me. I’d found gold!

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Certain my mom would feel as thrilled as I about my find, I put the jacket on and, with the sleeves dangling down long over my hands and the bottom of the jacket threatening to trip me as I shuffled along, I scooted down the stairs on my butt, one step at a time, shambling through the dining room and into the kitchen where my mother was standing at the long, white porcelain, wall hung cast iron sink washing breakfast dishes.

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She stopped, turned towards me, and stared as if stunned before asking, “Where did you get that?”

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“Through Alice’s door,” I beamed. “Inna trunk!”

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“Upstairs? In the attic?”

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I nodded, vigorously.

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After a moment she reached for my grandma’s black handled sewing scissors and approached me. Kneeling, she gently removed the jacket from my shoulders before sitting back on her bent legs and slippered feet, systematically cutting off each bird button. Upon finishing, she checked the pockets and found a folded scarlet band with the broken black cross imprinted inside a white ball. She scissors-shredded that, too, before doing something she’d also told us never, ever, under any circumstances to do.

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She descended the basement stairs, opened the heavy iron fire door on the coal furnace, and tossed in the buttons, the jacket, and the remnants of the band.

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The knob of her nose was red and her eyes were wet when she returned to the kitchen. “Go play now, honey,” she urged.

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I often wonder if a daughter remembers the first time she made her mother cry.

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Mine is of then and of there.

 

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.

Never Ever Again © 9.29.17

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IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true story by Marguerite Quantaine

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine

is due for release in October 2017 on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

 

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An Inconvenient Pink

IF I KEPT A BOOK OF REGRETS, my first entry would be that I failed to appreciate the wedding dress my mom made for herself.

She took such pride in it.

She loved it, so.

My Mom ~ September 20, 1913 ~ August 18, 2006

My mom looked and acted younger than 92 when her eyes took a sudden drift towards blindness and a fall the year earlier demanded she could no longer live alone in the town of her birth and lifelong residency. It broke her heart to leave her home, her two elder cats, and all of her possessions behind during her acquiescence to my sister Sue’s Texas ranch those last months of her life.

Among the few possessions she wrapped and packed with care was the dress she bought in 1969 to be buried in, and her wedding dress of 1938. Both of them, pink.

I couldn’t say if Mom intended for Sue, me, or our kid sister, Kate, to someday wear her gown, but I do know Kate and I had already declared by age eight that neither of us intended to marry. And, it must have been embarrassing (if not disheartening) for Mom when all three of her daughters so disdained Home Economics in school that none of us finished hemming even one dish towel to the satisfaction of Miss Merriman, the same teacher who’d first taught Mom to sew in 1926.

Nevertheless, I felt honored (and a tad smug) to be both Mom’s namesake, and heir to her love for the color pink, a pigment that looked best on her, and always brings out the best in me. I seldom wear any other color. I feel less poised when I do.

Mom wasn’t as obsessed with the color as am I, she being more of a fashionista whenever she left the house. But her outfits always included a splash of pink ,at very least, as an ornament in her hair, a bangle on her wrist, beads around her neck, a porcelain broach, or a cloth flower pinned near her heart.

Years ago, as I sat with sister Kate discussing Mom’s passing of a decade earlier, she brought out the wedding gown and conferred it to me for safer keeping.

“It is exquisite,” I marveled, after tenderly unwrapping the tissue.

Unlike modern gowns that average fifteen hundred dollars in apparel stores and run as high as ten thousand in bridal boutiques, Mom’s dress was an innocent, ultra sheer Heberlein organdy acclaimed for a crispness, yet light like gossamer.

The pastel pink fabric, embroidered with rows of one inch white flowers separated by rows of half inch white petals and stems, was perfectly cut as a single piece floor length gown, it’s mirrored left fold creased and sewn in matching pink thread up the right side with tiny hidden snaps under the arm, a flounce encircling the knee above the A-flared skirt, and puffy sleeves framing a single notch neckline.

“I’m ashamed to say I spent six years as a production control manager in New York City’s garment industry purchasing piece goods, and dealing with jobbers, cutters, designers, and sewers daily — yet never once, Kate, did I think to appreciate this dress by Mom.”

“Yeah. Well. That’s true. But it is a wedding gown after all. Why would we?”

“I know. Still. The pure, perfect intricacy of it blows me away. And that she chose pink! How audacious.”

“I don’t follow.”

“You know, it being 1938 and all. Her going against the catwalk code of wearing white.”

“That would be you, not her.”

“I get it from her.”

“But it’s not why she wore pink.”

I gazed up from the gown, puzzled. “No? Why then?”

“She’d been married before.”

Her answer stunned me. “Mom was married before Dad?”

“Uh-huh. We all knew.”

“All being…?”

“The rest of the family.”

“Have you known for long?”

“No.” She stopped to think. “Only about forty years. Maybe fifty.”

I sat, locked in a blank stare, feeling flabbergasted. “How come no one ever told me?”

Kate shrugged. “You’ve always seen Mom through rose-colored glasses. I wasn’t about to cloud them. Besides, it’s not as if we ever talked about it once we knew.”

Within weeks I’d found his name, his date of birth and death, his military record, a copy of their marriage license, the divorce decree with the listed grounds, his burial place, and a picture of his tombstone.

I’m still searching for his face, convinced that every writer’s DNA includes a need-to- know-the-ending of a story.

But wasn’t she brave? To marry and divorce and demand the court restore the legitimacy of her maiden name during a period of time when valiant women were demonized and divorcées were treated as pariahs?

My mom.

I took such pride in her.

I loved her, so.

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by Marguerite Quantaine © 9.20.2017
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IMOGENE’S ELOISE: Inspired by a true story, by Marguerite Quantaine is on Amazon in paperback and kindle.

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK, by Marguerite Quantaine is due for release on Amazon, October, 2017.

A RARE AND VALUABLE COMMODITY

FranCat

FranCat


While watching a rerun of The Antiques Roadshow broadcasting from Tulsa, I got a message from my friend, Frances Walker Phipps. It was sent to me from infinity and beyond, but arrived just fine. No dropped call.
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     Frances was a reporter for several Connecticut newspapers, the antiques columnist for The New York Times Connecticut Weekly, the author of several definitive reference books on American antiques and colonial kitchens, and the founder of The Connecticut Antiques Show (1973), touted as one of the five most prestigious such events in the nation. Renown as a barracuda among a tribe of elite dealers who vied for the chance to earn a space in her much envied function, Frances determined what could, or could not be displayed on the show floor; what was, or was not an authentic antique. Her strict vetting of merchandise on preview night was surreptitiously referred to as the Phipps ‘reign of terror’.
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     The Tulsa Roadshow featured a woman who presented a folk art doll for discovery. I don’t own a folk art doll, but I do have a folk art cat that Frances gave me from her private collection of antiques dating from the 17th and 18th century, like most of the chairs, tables, cupboards, beds, books and decorations in her Haddam, Connecticut home. Hand stitched from swatches of forget-me-not floral broadcloth and twisted black yarn to form it’s Queen Anne stylized eyes, nose, mouth, whiskers, and outline of front legs with four toes, the coveted cat is in remarkable condition, even with the two small tears near it’s right eye, and drops of dried blood near it’s heart. I suspect the cat is older and rarer than the Roadshow doll appraised at fifteen hundred dollars.
     The assessment made me smile — not for the price it garnered, but for what Frances said in my head: 
     “Bull.”
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     Frances was once an attractive woman with thick, wavy hair, a bright smile, a great mind, and a fervor for the preservation of Colonial Americana. 
     But by the time we first met she’d matured into an unpretentious, stout woman with a big bust, a fierce wit, an untamed tongue, rumpled clothes, a bad wig pulled down like a wool cap onto her head, and a folded over Kleenex stuffed behind the right lens of her black horn-rimmed classes to hide a socket ravaged by a malignant tumor.
     We were introduced by her ex, Midgie Donaldson, on opening night of the Connecticut Antiques Show in 1975 when I was the editor of a fledgling magazine, The Antiquarian, and she was the highly respected authority wielding power and influence over dealers selling to the rich and famous. 
     “So, you came here thinking I’d teach you all about antiques. Is that it?” she proposed.
     “No-o,” I counterpointed. “But I heard you have an eye for it.” 
     We bonded instantaneously.
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     Back then, those of us in love with another woman conducted our lives without a need for labels, or social acceptance. One simply knew by the level of trust demonstrated and access allowed who was, or wasn’t ‘in the life’ — and knowing was enough to make you relax your behavior to match the trust and respect given, or strengthen your guard wherever zealots loomed. The antiques trade has always had its share of both, but nothing interferes with doing business.
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     One summer morning a year later my Elizabeth accepted a lunch invitation to Frances’ beach house in Westport, about 90 minutes from our Huntington, NY home. After we’d driven the 29 miles of the Long Island Expressway, crossed over the Throgs Neck Bridge, exited onto I-95 and traveled another 30 miles towards Stamford, I glanced at the telephone number to call in case we got lost in Westport.
     “This isn’t a Connecticut number,” I noted while pulling an Esso map out of the glove box to search the index.
     “Whadaya mean?”
     “This area code is for Westport, Massachusetts.”
     “So?”
     “So? So? It’s another 150 miles down the road.”
     “Oh, like I was supposed to know that?”
     “You could have asked.”
     “I didn’t want to appear stupid.”
     “Oh, sure. I get it. As if accepting a lunch date in the morning from someone 250 miles from Huntington registered as smart. Uh-huh.”
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     It was after four when we finally dragged ourselves through the door of the beach house, but before I could offer an explanation, or apology, Frances hurled a cotton stuffed calico cat at me and smirked, “That’s for making the crack about my ‘eye’ for antiques!” 
     “Oh yeah?” I sputtered. “Well, then I’m keeping this ratty old rag cat!”
     “As intended, my dear. As intended.”
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     In April of 1986, on the morning of the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show evening opening, we didn’t find Frances in her Manager Only curtained cubbyhole at the back of the Hartford Armory auditorium.
     “She might still be at the hospital,” offered Midgie. “She’s not due here until noon.” 
     But a feeling inside me forewarned otherwise, so we drove down to the New Britain hospital and requested her room number. 
     “You can’t see her right now,” a nurse told us, visibly shaken. “She was accidentally given a double dose of chemo and the doctors are with her now.”
     “Will you tell her we’re here?”
     “Who shall I say . . .”
     “Marge and Liz. Tell her we’re right here waiting for her.”
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     Hours later, after the 3 p.m. shift change, a different nurse asked, “You’re here to see someone?” 
     “Frances Phipps.”
     “Are you family?”
     “No. Friends.”
     “I’m sorry, but only family members are allowed to see, or inquire about Miss Phipps. Hospital rules.”
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     By the time we left Hartford that night there was still no word from Frances. The gala went off without a hitch. It was well past midnight when we finally got home, and nearly noon before we heard the news that Frances had passed away. The obituary said she died of a heart attack at 62.
     Bull.
francatback
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     Here’s the thing: Our existence evolves through exchanges, most of it involving how we choose to spend our time in pursuit of whom, or on what we place the greatest value. 
     Just as the woman at The Antiques Roadshow planned to sell her ancestor’s rag doll in order to ensure her present, so did Frances Phipps plan on preserving her 200 year old calico cat in order to ensure her memory.
     Ultimately, life is calculated, not by what we let go of from our wallets, but by what we hang onto in our hearts.

     Rag doll: $1,500.00
     Rag Cat: Priceless.

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Copyright Marguerite Quantaine © 2016
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available on AMAZON, in paperback and Kindle. Please choose LOOK INSIDE
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ALMOST PARADISE

Marguerite Quantaine

Marguerite Quantaine


During the 27 years we’ve lived in Florida, we haven’t made any in-the-life friends. 
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It’s not that ‘our kind’ doesn’t exist in small towns here. (We do.) And it’s not that we’re ashamed. (We aren’t.)
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It’s that, excluding most metro areas, if you (a) want the police to respond to your call for help in a timely manner, and (b) you want to receive the finest healthcare when you’re injured, or sick, and (c) you want to keep your pets out of harms way, and (d) you want to keep your car from being vandalized, and (e) you want to live in an area where the neighborhood watch looks out for your home, and (f) you want the person working on your teeth to be gentle, and (h) you want to be able to make a living, and (i) you want to avoid having your license plate recorded when attending a Pride event — then you don’t risk outing others whom you think are kindred spirits by drawing attention to their personal lives, even in an effort to make friends.
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That’s why The Pulse in Orlando was a Mecca for resident and visiting gays alike. It provided a safe haven for fulfilling the need to feel an instant camaraderie accompanying the demonstrative joy of others.
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Truth be told, we’ve never actually been to a nightclub because, while there was a smattering of NYC lesbian bars during the 60s when we were young, the mixed genders of nowadays nightclubs with  multiple rooms, live bands, separate stages, decks and professional disc jockeys didn’t exist.
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What we did have (aside from a Seebring juke box at one-gender venues) were summertime tea dances at Cherry Grove and the Pines on Fire Island, mostly male, but with a sufficient showing of Coppertoned women to complement the communal glee being shared as disco music blared, connecting us to every outdoor dance floor.
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Nearly fifty years have past. You wouldn’t think it’s now imperative to note, in March, Governor Rick Scott’s HB 401 bill died in committee. 
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Had HB 401 passed it would have allowed doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, and hospitals to refuse treatment to lesbians and gays without fear of facing liability in Florida courts. Based on religious freedom to discriminate, HB 401 was to have taken effect on July 1, 2016.
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As a resident of Florida who’s been subjected to discrimination, misdiagnosed, nearly killed and double billed for it, I hesitate to ever seek help here.
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Which begs the question: Why do we live in Mother Nature’s perfect place among such people?
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It’s because we believe Orlando’s healthcare providers and facilities are better — so very much better — than disingenuous leaders and sanctimonious legislators.
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And because we believe the inherent good in people will always outweigh the acquired bad. 
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And because we believe when vice endeavors to infiltrate, virtue counters with massive resistance. 
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And because we believe, if deceit sits down on the dais, multitudes will arise to defy demagoguery.
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And, too, it’s because we know we shall weep before we sleep tonight, and intermittently weep again for weeks to come, or maybe months, or years — or through however many broken hearts it takes to prevail.
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But love will triumph.
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Because it must.

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and novelist.

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IMOGENE’S ELOISE: Inspired by a true story
by Marguerite Quantaine

IT’S ALL ABOUT HOW WE LOVE

Love Post2

How we find and lose love. How we hide and expose love.
How we seek and defeat love. How we suffer and celebrate love.
How we record and remember love. How we inspire and discourage love.

How we resist and grant love. How we legalize and criminalize love.
How we categorize and codify love. How we respect and disdain love.
How we treat and mistreat love. How we fund and squander love.
How we laugh and cry over love. How we accept and reject love.

How we name and number love. How we facilitate and foil love.
How we sense and ignore love. How we affirm and deny love.

How we use and abuse love. How we buy and sell love.
How we settle for love. How we treasure love.
How we let love go.

From Chapter 1 to Chapter 72, 
that’s all this novel is about:
the phenomena of love,
with 67 memorable LGBT characters,
Including you.

Because you are in this book,
as the person you were, are, or wish you’d been,
with people you know, knew, or wish you’d known,
all in the pursuit — and each
touched by the joy of
love.

~

IMOGENE’S ELOISE: Inspired by a true-love story
by Marguerite Quantaine
383 Pages
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INTIMACY MATTERS

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Intimacy, between those in love, is what you get to enjoy with one special person that you don’t share with anyone else on earth. It means, the partner you think of as ‘one in a million’ is actually 1 in 7.325 billion. It’s recognizing the state of ‘being in love’ as a blessing. It’s why falling in love feels destined.

If you truly want to grow old with the one person you love most, intimacy is sacrosanct. It’s not to be trampled on by others, or diluted through the disclosing of what makes you, as two, one.

Intimacy is being on the same wavelength. It’s how attentive you become when the other enters the room. It’s in how close you stand and sit. It’s in the tenderness of talk and the eagerness to listen. It’s accidentally-on-purpose brushing up against each, repeatedly, in the course of a day. It’s in the glances, the face making, the hand signals, the code spoken, the names given, the notes passed, the cards signed, the double intendre of places mentioned, music played, words whispered, initials added to wet cement, and carved in wood, and formed by toes in wet sand. It’s in hands held while falling asleep.

Intimacy is disguised as brooches, beads, bangles, bracelets and bands, accompanied by promises made, many of them etched in silver, or gold, and crowned with jewels.

And, as we age — especially those of us who are women without children — we begin to wonder, what’s to become of those tangibles?

No, not so much the house, or car, or investments requiring named beneficiaries early on — but the special gifts, the private collections, the photographs, the love letters, the anniversary and birthday cards, the journals, the trinkets, the lockbox keepsakes.

What’s to become of our rings?

Because these decisions, too, are intimacy matters, emblematic of what two people in love quietly cherished about each other.

Historically speaking, older gay men have shown the tendency to become involved with much younger men, paving the way to name their last dalliance as a beneficiary, and leaving single men in their 30s and 40s much better off (financially) than they might have been otherwise. It’s one reason given to account for gay men as having the highest rate of  disposal income in the nation.

Successful lesbians rarely adopt such pecuniary practices late in life. Instead, we tend to make the nieces and nephews we never knew, of siblings we seldom see, our beneficiaries. It might account for lesbians averaging the lowest rate of disposal income — in the world. 

I’d like to see us change that (sans the May-December gay tradition) by taking more of  an interest in the welfare of younger lesbians who are making an earnest effort in their struggle to get ahead .

Since knowledge of herstory is power, I’d like to think we’ll each donate our personal papers to the June Mazer Lesbian Archives, housing a century of lesbian and feminist artwork, manuscripts, books, records, and reference material for free access by researchists, historians, writers, feminine studies and interested parties.
www.mazerlesbianarchives.org

And, too, my hope is that more seniors will find and friend women who are 10-15-20-25 years younger; women who share our individual interests and personal values; women who demonstrate the kind of work ethic that proves a credit to our communities.

Mentor them, fund them, gift them with something worthy of being treasured, recorded, and passed on to the future generations of ‘us’.

The time spent needn’t be intense, nor the gift substantial.

It simply needs to be meaningful enough to remind both the giver and receiver that objects soaked in love should never be taken lightly, nor disposed of easily.

Because, ultimately, intimacy matters.

Most.

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Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine 2015


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