Tag Archives: friendship

CHARITY BEGINS ALONE

Charity

Some women choose other women for support, but many of our mother’s generation behaved like perpetual damsels in distress needing a man around to help them with the simplest things, catering to every male entering a room, putting their needs first and foremost, soliciting their opinions before making a decision, giving them the larger portions, the better chairs, the greater control, and endlessly feeding their egos.

Above all, they needed to be married to a man while encouraging every female within their inner circle to adopt their medieval mindset.

Elizabeth’s mom was like that, marrying three times after Liz’s dad suddenly died (although Liz ignores the nuptial that was annulled).

My mom was just as assiduous in promoting second-class citizenry, except for getting hitched again. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop her from relentlessly urging her daughters to marry, and dragging men into every conversation and situation.

Once, while leaving a Broadway show at the Palace theater in Manhattan, she grabbed the elbow of a man trying to maneuver the crowd outside the entrance and asked him what bus we should take to get uptown.

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“How the hell would I know?” he steamed at her. “Do I look like a bus driver for God’s sake?”

“Well!” she huffed.

“That was Don Knotts, Mom.”

“Where?”

“The man you just asked for directions.”

“Andy Griffith’s Don Knotts?”

“Yes.”

“He certainly wasn’t very polite.”

Okay, nevermind that I’d been living in the city for more than a year and had, single-handedly, succeeded in getting us to the theater from my upper west side apartment two hours earlier after reminding her I knew the way because I’d been to the Palace once before.

It was shortly after I’d won the Midwest Division of the National ABC Television Talent Hunt in 1965 and was chosen to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

I arrived in New York City on January 29, 1966 as a highly impressionable fledgling from a small Michigan town.

At the time, my older brother, Kit, was working as a stagehand with the musical, Hurray It’s A Glorious Day…and all that scheduled to open at the Theater Four on West 55th Street in March. The confidence he exuded pleased Mom, so they conspired to persuade me to don my Sunday best and meet him outside the Palace Theatre at 9:30 that night.

Let me say, I don’t know why I was still trusting Mom’s judgment of Kit. As kids he’d leave me holding the bag under the worst of circumstances, and lure me into the scariest settings. We referred to these dupes as ‘Kit tricks’ — like when he locked me in the basement coal bin minutes before a delivery was to be made. Kit has always been my bad habit dying hard.

Regardless, since my ‘best’ was a blue silk bridesmaid dress worn to a July wedding five years earlier, I felt peculiar standing there, fighting the dry cold wind with him, waiting under the marquee for the curtain to come down and the audience to emerge. Once it did, Kit ordered me to “just act natural” as we slipped under a purple velvet rope guiding a small procession of people invited backstage to greet the cast.

Once inside the stage door, Kit abandoned me to look for Polly, a woman he claimed was a friend he’d made while working summer stock the year before.

The backstage of the Palace Theatre is cavernous, with grips scurrying about in headsets, scenery on brails against brick back-walls, overhead catwalks several stories high and huge fresnel lanterns suspended from the ceiling.

Alone and afraid of being caught, I stood in the center of the chamber looking like a lost soul seeking flight when the alley door burst open and down the long steel staircase came Kit’s so-called friend, Polly, making her entrance while screaming, “Gwen, I’m here, Gwen, I’m here, I’m sorry I’m late, oh Gwen, I’m here, Gwen, I’m here!”

Upon reaching the backstage floor, she began barreling my direction. That’s when the redhead standing two feet away with her back to me pivoted on her black patent leather stilettos and asked, “Would you be a dear and hold my flowers so I can get a shot with Polly?”

As I accepted her large bouquet of scarlet roses, it finally dawned on me.

I was backstage, opening night of Sweet Charity, instantly cast as the unnamed flower girl in a publicity shot of Gwen Verdon and Polly Bergen.

Naturally, Kit was nowhere to be found — but something he’d said to me earlier proved my saving grace.

“No one will ask you who you are because they’ll think you must be related to someone important — and not knowing someone important would be too embarrassing for them.”

He was right. Nobody asked.

I waited until a bevy of friends gathered around the celebrated stars before quietly leaving the roses and fading away.

When I got home I called Mom and listened to her relate Kit’s version of the evening; of how Polly was a no-show so, after “I ditched him” he joined a group of the theatre grips and went downtown to the Red Lion to hang out.

I let it pass.

Now, in reminiscence, I often revisit my introduction to New York and say, “Hooray!”

It was, indeed, a glorious day.

And all that.

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by Marguerite Quantaine, Copyright © 8.31.17
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available AMAZON, in paperback , and on Kindle.
Her book of essays, My Little Black Dress Is Pink,
has a planned release date of October 3, 2017.

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Please select LEAVE A REPLY at the top of the page

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ONLY THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

The U.S.S Sequoia is currently in dry dock pending the outcome of a lawsuit over legal ownership.

Some stories never get old, such as the one told to me about my Aunt Betty being a Michigan gun moll during the rum running 1920’s when the vast majority of illegal liquor was smuggled into the United States on boats crossing the Detroit River from Canada. As a child, I didn’t know what a gun moll was, and since my ostensible relative was long gone before my birth, she remains somewhat of  a  mystery, similar to Cassandra’s friendship that Elizabeth and I made much later on.
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The thing is, we didn’t know Cassie was married to a goodfella until after we’d accepted her invitation to be part of the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration of vessels gathering in New York Harbor on July 4th, 1986.
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Granted, we should have suspected it when the wives arrived decked out in their patriotic best for the occasion of a lifetime, while their husbands donned those homogeneous black Robert Hall suits, black Wembley skinny ties, black Hanover oxfords, and black Dobb’s Fedoras contrasted by crisp white shirts and matching white socks for partying under a midsummer sky.
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But it wasn’t until the custom-made 44’ Cabin Super Cruiser (with it’s master stateroom, two guest bedrooms, three heads, dual galleys, a dining room, and helm reception area) had cast off  from it’s Long Island berth and began racing down the Sound to group-greet the largest assembly of international Tall Ships and an American Armada did his capo status become evident.
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That’s when Cassie’s husband, Carmine, appeared on a flybridge far above the main deck where we happily clasped our umbrella drinks while lounging in the open console on cushioned deck chairs. We looked up to see a long line of his soldiers on the steps to his tower, waiting for an individual audience, each honoring him by kissing the ring on his extended hand.
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“Doesn’t that look just like a scene from The Godfather,” Liz whispered.
“It does indeed,” I agreed.
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Wiser women might have jumped ship, but we had no wish to swim with the fishes. And besides, I couldn’t swim. So instead, I chose to acquiesce by placing my brand new Canon SureShot on a table with all the other cameras voluntarily surrendered, and drank up.
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The boat ride into Manhattan was otherwise unremarkable, but our arrival was exhilarating as we joined 30,000 spectator crafts gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lady Liberty. What’s more, setting anchor alongside the U.S.S. Sequoia Presidential Yacht seemed momentous.
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I’d only ever seen the Sequoia in photographs before then. Built in 1925 as a rich man’s cruiser, it was purchased by our government in 1931 as a decoy to patrol the harbor during Prohibition when black market booze was supplied to boaters trolling the bay. Any bootlegger rowing over to sell liquor to the Sequoia was immediately arrested.
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But during his final two years as president, Herbert Hoover began borrowing the Sequoia from the Commerce Department to utilize it as the Presidential Yacht for fishing trips. It quickly became a floating White House. Over subsequent years, every other POTUS found both political and pleasurable uses for it until Jimmy Carter sold the Sequoia as part of a cost-cutting campaign promise. Nonetheless, just knowing the history (coupled with our being up close and personal to it) felt daunting.
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That is, until we became sitting ducks when our yacht’s anchor couldn’t be raised. While all other vessels cleared the lane, we sat alone, moored to the river bottom, in the direct path of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier three football fields long, 192 feet high, 300 feet wide, and weighing more than 82,000 tons that began five-blasting it’s horn in an effort to make us move-move-move-move-move out of harm’s way as it barreled down on us.
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Let me say, not one of the 5,000 seamen standing at attention in their service dress whites on the carrier deck flinched while Carmine struggled with the controls to avoid our being sliced and diced. The other thirty-one of us strapped on lifejackets and remained calm, fixated on the humongous ship targeted to hit us, awaiting our fate.
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In retrospect, we might have been in shock, since I can’t remember any details of how Carmine got the anchor up. But I do recall the yacht rocking quite a bit from the bow waves hitting our accelerating stern, and the quiet that blanketed us as we gradually recovered from the close encounter.
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One thing is for certain, nobody made light of the incident, and during the following 4 years of our mostly-holidays friendship with Cassie before we moved to Florida, the Centennial trip was never mentioned again.
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Upon our midnight return to port, I went to retrieve my SureShot and discovered someone had poured saltwater over it before removing the film.
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A week later I received a package in the mail containing photographs of me and mine relaxing in lounge chairs aboard Cassandra and Carmine’s yacht. There was no return address on the envelope, no note enclosed, and no mention of my camera.
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Today I sent my brothers and sister each an email, asking what more they could add to the story of our mysterious Aunt Betty being a Detroit gun moll.
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While none of them claimed knowledge of the gun moll variation, there was talk of my grandfather being a Chicago gambler who was widowed with three very young daughters — one of them named Betty. To rectify his situation, he placed a mail order bride advertisement in the Tribune wherein he claimed to be single and childless. Receiving a reply, he promptly abandoned the three little girls to a Catholic orphanage on the way to marrying my grandmother, without revealing the truth to her, or ever returning to retrieve his children.
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So, technically, Betty was only my half-aunt — whom my sister remembers as being a paramour of a Chicago mayor, but my brother says was the mistress of the mayor of Detroit. 
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It never gets old.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her book, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available AMAZON, in paperback , and on Kindle.
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NEVER SAY NEVER, HOWEVER

by Marguerite Quantaine

I’ve never wanted to be rich or famous, and can honestly say I’ve truly satisfied my wildest dreams in that department. It’s not that I’ve lacked success, rather, I’ve lacked the desire to turn my success into a brand, or franchise whenever opportunity knocked.

That attitude stands at odds with the never-say-never person I perceive myself to be, in knowing there exists a slew of things I’ve never done.

To wit: I’ve never ridden on a roller coaster that wasn’t wooden — however, I only rode a wooden one once (Coney Island Cyclone circa 1971), and still shudder from the memory.

I’ve never smoked a cigarette, or joint — however, I did spend my youth in New York City during the flower power years where I inhaled lots (and lots) of second hand smoke.

I’ve never had a one night stand — however, I know I can always do that, but can never undo it.

I’ve never driven a car over 65 mph — however, I have been hit by one speeding at least that fast.

I’ve never won, nor lost an award for anything I’ve authored — however, I know if I’m ever willing to pay the application fee required to get nominated I might, at least, lose.

I’ve never grown a tomato plant that bore fruit costing me less than $5 per worm infested tomato — however, I’d gladly pay $5 for a tomato that tasted like the beefsteaks we ate hot off vine back in the day.

I’ve never run a marathon — however I did once win the fifty yard dash in 7th grade, marking the last time I ran anywhere, for anything ever again.

I’ve never chewed tobacco — however, I have crammed enough packs of Bazooka into my jaw at one time to make it look like a wad of skoal.

I’ve never cheated on an exam — however, I can’t play cribbage without crib notes.

I’ve never tried Spam — however, I was warned I’d flunk Spanish if I didn’t stop speaking it with a French accent.

I’ve never dissected a frog, nor mounted a butterfly — however, I did accept a ‘D’ in science rather than comply, back before it was against school board law to cop out.

I’ve never donned a little black dress — however, I do own a little black dress I’ll never wear.

I’ve never worked at a job I didn’t love — however, I have quit every job I’ve ever loved in due time.

I’ve never had my heart broken — however, I do wonder if I’ve ever broken one.

I’ve never eaten oysters — however, I have been (oy!) slimed.

I’ve never acted like a call girl — however, I did chat with Gwen Verdon, backstage on the opening night of Sweet Charity, after acting like I knew her.

I’ve never stayed for the length of a Major League baseball game — however, I did get hit in the head by a Tiger’s fly ball in the third inning of the only game I ever attended.

I’ve never learned how to swim — however, I did (at age 65) learn how to float upon being given ear plugs.

I’ve never eaten organic candy that could compare to a Clark bar — however, I’ve tried, and found it trying.

I’ve never spent much time with anyone from Canada — however, I did once spend way too much time with Canadian Club.

I’ve never tasted a praline I didn’t devour — however, I’m always up for the challenge.

I’ve never been to Paris — however, I did once duck for cover when the Concorde came in for a landing over our heads while we were stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.

I’ve never left food on my plate at a dinner party — however, I have pilfered a few cloth dinner napkins filled with food that wasn’t particularly appetizing.

I’ve never encountered a stray dog, or cat I didn’t rescue if it would let me — however, I have broken every promise I ever made not to rescue another stray ever again if please, pretty please can we keep this one.

I’ve never ridden a horse up a mountain — however, I was thrown by one down a hill.

I’ve never been an extra in a movie — however, I have starred in a nationally syndicated television commercial.

I’ve never seen a shuttle launch — however, I did risk being arrested to slip under the rope and sit in the John Glenn Friendship 7 Mercury space capsule at the Kennedy Space Center.

I’ve never simply said ‘yes’ upon being asked by a waitress if I’d like a cup of coffee at the end of a meal — however, I do always say, “Only if you’ve just now made a fresh pot, otherwise, no.”

And, I’ve never made myself a bucket list — however, this could probably pass as one.

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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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IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU (TOO)

Marge & Mike

Marge & Mike

Were I to write my epitaph, it would read, “She lived a charmed life.” Those who have only known of me might not agree — but those who’ve known me well, would.

Consider this as evidence of that.

August often stifles New York, as it did forty years ago, with temperatures so high and rain so scarce a brownout swept over all five boroughs, leaving the city sweltering in virtual darkness from dusk until dawn.

We were living in Bensonhurst by then, renting the upper two floors of a 1925 three story duplex; a stucco, fort-like house located on a tree-lined street between Avenues O and P, not far from a rumored underboss residence. It was a neighborhood where no one locked their doors at night and old-country madonnas garbed in basic-black sat in fold-out lawn chairs on cement sidewalks, waiting for the intense fragrances of Sicilian sausage, fennel seed biscotti, and basil-based sauces to waft through their kitchen windows, signaling meals had simmered to perfection and were ready for serving.

Our home’s private entrance had four steps up to the front door. Once inside there was another seven steps up to the hallway landing leading to a bedroom, living room, dining room, and bathroom, with a second flight of stairs to two more bedrooms. A doorway leading off the dining room opened to an eat-in kitchen. Another opened from the living room onto a second floor veranda stretching 25 feet long and 15 feet deep, with a 4-foot high wall leveling off just below the treetops.

We loved that place and porch, especially in August when sleeping outside beat the heat of the house by thirty degrees, and the starlit sky with its dreamsicle moon overhead was about as romantic as any heart could wish for, or mind could imagine.

It was after 10 one night when we were out there, lying on army surplus canvas and wood framed cots, listening to the neighbors battery operated radios synchronized to Casey Kasem naming, And I Love You So, by America’s favorite barber as “holding at 38” on the Top 40 charts when we heard a knock on the door and Liz called out, “Who’s there?”

“I’m looking for Marge,” came a baritone response.

“Who are you?”

“Mike Kelly.”

“Are you Irish?”

“I am.”

“Then the door’s open. Come on up.”

At the time, I was still recovering from a crash that left me chronically disabled the year before. As predicted, I’d regained my ability to walk, but still needed a wheelchair or walker, occasionally, and a cane, always. As I struggled up and into a lightweight, summer robe, Liz donned hers and, with a Coleman lantern in tow, greeted the fellow, leading him out onto the porch, and offering him a seat at the fold-out card table stationed there for Canasta and Hearts competitions whenever family or friends visited. Then she excused herself to get us all some iced lemonade while I tried to read his face by candlelight.

I liked what I saw. Mike Kelly had a crinkle-eyed smile plastered to his super-sized mug, with a pencil mustache complementing his noggin of silky grey hair.

“I’m sorry to bother you so late,” he began, “but you never contacted us. I had to take the Long Island Railroad from Port Washington after work and two subways — then got lost while walking here from the El.

“Why should I have contacted you, Mr. Kelly?”

“Mike, please.”

“Mike.”

“Didn’t you get our telegram about winning Publisher’s Clearing House?”

I laughed out loud. “Come now. You can do better. Although, I must admit, I’ve never heard that line before.”

He grinned. “Darn. I wish I’d thought of it before I got too old and too happily married for come-ons to matter anymore.”

“What’s so funny,” Liz chimed in, sliding a tin tray of refreshments onto the table.

“I was just telling Mike here about my last encounter with Publisher’s Clearing House.”

“You had one?”

“Sort of. While I was partially paralyzed for a few months last summer I passed the time by answering all those ridiculous Cosmos questionnaires before playing wastebasket wad-ball. I confess. One of the wads was a Publishers Clearing House entry.”

“She’d ordered a photography and a camping magazine,” added Liz.

“True, but I figured I’d never be going camping again, and wouldn’t be anywhere interesting to shoot photographs for a while — so I wadded it up and made the basket.”

“Well, that explains that,” chuckled Mike.

“What?”

“Your wrinkled entry.”

“But I didn’t . . .”

“I did,” Liz interjected. We both turned towards her. “I took it out of the wastebasket and smoothed it out the best I could and mailed it in. Whenever a magazine came in the mail I hid it. I thought I’d give them all to you on your birthday. I guess I was hoping, by then, maybe, you’d feel like camping and taking pictures again.”

I turned to syrup inside.

Mike Kelly beamed. “This is where I tell you – again – you’ve won Publisher’s Clearing House.”

I’ll end this on that high note — but not because there isn’t more to tell about the trip around Manhattan included with the monetary prize; our suite at the Waldorf Astoria, the nights on the town, dinner at the Rainbow Room, orchestra seats to A Little Night Music, the yacht ride to Port Washington, the catered brunch, a tour of the PCH facility, the awards ceremony, the photographer and limousine at our disposal for the weekend, the parties, the clubs we closed, the new friends made, the fun and the fanfare. It’s just because — you really had to be there. (And I’d rather not ruin the surprise.)

Receiving the 1973 Mystery Prize check from the President of PCH.

Receiving the 1973 Mystery Prize check from the President of PCH.

The following year I agreed to make (what I was told was) the first televised commercial for PCH. It ran between 11:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. on all three of the only networks back then. If you were watching television in December of 1974 and saw a news program, soap opera, game show, sports event, or family favorite like The Rockford Files, The Waltons, Kojak, Medical Center, Mash, and Chico And The Man — yep. That was me saying it could happen to you (too).

There’s no drawback to the entire Publisher’s Clearing House experience except in one, small respect, and that is — no matter what I’ve done with my life, who I am, where I live, whom I love, what I’ve accomplished, or contributed — each time I meet those from my very distant past, the first thing they mention is that I won Publisher’s Clearing House, followed by the implication that my life has been “easy” because of it.

And, I always let it pass.

Because — even though the $17,500.00 was before taxes were deducted, and the balance went in one lump sum to pay off past-due medical bills — I’ve led a charmed life.

I know it.

And for this I am, truly, grateful.

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Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 2013.
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THE LOOK OF LOVE

Image

I’m a 9th generation American homosexual.

Either that, or there’s an amazing coincidence in the inordinate number of bachelors and spinsters in my ancestry. I count two or three in every generation on both sides of the family for the past 340 years.

Perhaps that’s why the stigma attached to being single wasn’t an issue in my upbringing. My father’s sister never married. And even though the topic of why wasn’t openly broached, my maternal grandmother divorced after her second daughter was born. She spent the balance of her life as single, in the close company of women.

I suppose you could misconstrue this as proof that it’s possible to be raised gay, or that I was. But you’d be wrong.

I wasn’t raised to be sexual at all. Like so many of my generation, the subject of sex was taboo in our home. And even though I grew up with two sisters and three brothers, we never shared conversations of an intimate nature until we were all well into our 40s. Even then, the talks were strictly casual between just sisters.

My father was as distant as mother was demonstrative by nature. It was she who showed us how happiness flows from doing good.

We learned to be courteous, courageous, curious and kind. We were exposed to music, literature, art and theater. We were trained to respect language through oratory and debate. And while exploring the works of William Shakespeare, my mother implored us to hold dear the line, “To thine own self be true.”

So don’t think it took some long struggle with my sexual identity before I spoke the words, “I’m gay” to my mom. Nor was it her fear of hurting my feelings that kept an exchange from happening between us before she reached 89.

It’s simply — believe it or not — most lesbians don’t consciously categorize themselves as being gay, per se. I don’t. I never have.

True, I avoided dating while in high school and remained chaste until halfway through my 23rd year. By then the family phone fests had my younger sister convinced I’d become some sort of recluse, while my older sister swore I must be on something (or should be).

So, when I called home from New York City that glorious March day in 1970 to tell mom I’d be bringing a friend back for a visit, she was delighted. She didn’t question what the friendship entailed or which gender it involved. All that mattered was I’d finally connected with someone.

No one has questioned it since. Elizabeth remains the only love of my life. For the past 47 years we’ve lived under the same roof sharing the same bank account, abiding by the same moral compass, collaborating in the same businesses, and demonstrating the same affections for an array of pets.

We’ve never been apart in all those years. Never taken separate vacations or even wanted to. Never appeared at gatherings alone. Never accepted an invitation unless the other’s name was included on the envelope. Never sent a birthday card, letter, or holiday greeting without our joint salutation.

We aren’t provocative or particularly political. There’s no role-playing, recognition-dressing, or exhibitionism. And even though our choice to remain reserved is based on a nothing-to-hide-nothing-to-share ideology, you can’t exactly classify us as closeted.

The fact is, a rare few have ever asked us, “Are you gay?” Instead, we’ve been treated like any other two people who graciously appear as an extension of the other.

But then, at age 89, my mom finally brought it up.

“Why now?” I asked her during our daily long-distance chat.

“I watched a biography on television last night about two men who had this great devotion for each other,” she recounted. “And I marveled, how wonderful it must be to know that kind of love. It made me think of you and Liz.”

My eyes welled.

“But they led such tragic lives in many ways,” she continued. “I hope no one’s ever been mean to you like that.”

I recognized a question masked in those words.

My mom and I were always close. She was a role model for the independent spirit I became, a mentor of uncommon good sense. But there are things I’d never confided — mostly because they all occurred to me in retrospect, long after I’d missed the meaning of the stone thrown.

I had just turned 15, fresh from being voted the wittiest girl in my class and slated to become editor of the school paper, a forensics champion, thespian, and most photographed person in my senior yearbook. Plus, some considered me cute to boot.

And yet, I was never a team player. I rarely attended sports events. I avoided pep rallies. I didn’t spend  spare time with classmates. I resisted temptation and defied intimidation. I refused to follow the crowd. And I simply did not date.

Not that I lacked opportunity. Indeed, my primary pals were male. But I was careful to keep boys at bay, preferring platonic relationships restricted to school hours, or clustered occasions.

Because my mind wasn’t functioning in the immediate present back then. It was clouded with illusions of running off to Greenwich Village to live as a Bohemian poetess and consumer underachiever.

Then one afternoon while stopping to pick up books for history class, I noticed a word scrawled sideways down my hallway locker with letters the length and width of the door: Q-U-E-E-R.

It was 1961, a time when queer hadn’t yet become generically derogatory in small-town, Midwest America and graffiti was an anomaly. I pondered the purpose of the scribbling only a moment before shrugging, grabbing my books and jamming the combination lock closed.

Then I glanced toward the far end of the hall. There stood my best friend in the company of girls belonging to the most popular class clique. They’d been watching me. Watching as I approached my locker. Watching as I read the message on the door. Watching while I prepared to leave. They seemed insidious standing there.

So I did the unexpected. I waved, and smiled, and walked away; oblivious. Because right then, I hadn’t a clue the day would dawn when I’d look across a crowded room and fall in love with a woman looking back at me.

But apparently, they knew — those cowards with pencils mightier than swords.

“No,” I said to calm my disquieted mother. “No one ever hurt me.” It was such a long time ago, and such a well-intended little lie.

But I think about it more often now that she’s passed on and I’m getting older. How the heartsore hasn’t healed much in 340 years since the first of my ancestors sought freedom here from religious persecution. How men are still mauled and murdered and women are ridiculed and raped in righteous retribution for being gay.

What has changed is an emergence of people demonstrating compassion, acceptance, and moral courage — most of them parents, friends and relatives enlightened by genetic codes.

I know there will always be conflict between those who flash a swagger as their badge of honor, and those who flash a swish.

But I’m thinking, someday, there might be three key categories from which to choose: Heterosexuals. Homosexuals. And people who love each other.

The last one?

That would be me.

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This freshly updated essay by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in The St. Petersburg Times, fifteen years ago.  (Copyright by M. Quantaine © 2002/2013/2017)

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