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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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I’m all eyes and heart.

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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
For a free read of several chapters before buying.
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wfyaInterviews: Marguerite Quantaine

Author of  Imogene's Eloise

Author of
Imogene’s Eloise

Q: Have you had a lot of rejection?
A: I have not. But then I haven’t submitted much of what I write to very many places. However, when I have submitted essays, I have had my writing rejected.

Q: For example?
A: A friend once told me that humor written by women is almost always tossed when submitted to The New Yorker for their Shouts and Murmurs column.

Q: You don’t aim low, do you?
A: Big dreamers never do. Anyhow, after hearing this I got on my high-horse one Saturday night and submitted a Shouts piece, thinking it would be at the top of the editors mailbox for consideration on Monday morning.

Q: And?
A: I got an instant — and when I say instant I mean within seconds — an instant rejection, followed by an email from the desk of Bob Mankoff offering me a subscription to The New Yorker at a discounted rate, the magazine’s shop to browse and books to buy.

Q: Ouch.
A: Actually, I burst out laughing and immediately thought about contacting Guinness to see if it set a world rejection record. 

Q: Have you?
A: No. But the thought is still percolating. More important is, it put the magazine into perspective for me. It finally makes sense as to why The New Yorker is dying a slow death.

Q: Because?
A: Because writers are readers first and foremost, and when you alienate a writer — even a bad writer — you lose a reader.

Q: You stopped reading The New Yorker?
A: Except when someone gives me a copy, yes. But to be fair, I never understood most the articles or all the cartoons. Many a night, when suffering from insomnia, a story in The New Yorker has put me right to sleep.

Q: How about Imogene’s Eloise? Was that accepted right off?
A: No, it was rejected right off.

Q: Seriously?
A: Yes — and let me stress — thankfully.

Q: Can you elaborate?
A: I thought I knew one of the owners of a publishing house whom I regarded as a friend. I wasn’t really looking for a contract so much as a nod.

Q: Approval.
A: More like, I hoped to be told ‘it appears promising, but at 150,000 words it’s too long, resubmit it when you’ve edited it down by half’ — something of that nature.

Q: And you got, what?
A: After following the submission guidelines, I got a sloppily composed and executed email thanking me for my short story and saying they had no interest in it.

Q: You’re kidding.
A: I am not, but like the email from Bob Mankoff, I have greatly benefited by the rejection.

Q: Are you and the publisher still friends?
A: No, but not because of that. 

Q: Because of…?
A: It’s not really relevant.

Q: It’s an interviewers prerogative.
A: Yes. Yes it is and I do so love the word, prerogative. Okay. A third party had told me she’d decided not to submit to my friend’s publishing house because she wanted to be represented by a suit.

Q: A suit?
A: Someone who always looked spit-shined and ironed and successful and worthy of her writing rather than disheveled and wrinkled and as crumpled as this publishing person had appeared in public. So, when the topic arose between us, I said I was privy to something that I thought would be beneficial for her to know, but made her promise not to tell, or ever identify me, should she choose to bring the issue up for discussion. When she agreed I related the impression her partner’s sloppiness made, and that I thought it valid for a writer to expect her publisher to always look professional.

Q: And she told?
A: Yes, but it wasn’t that she told. It was that, after she betrayed my confidence she lied to me about betraying me, repeatedly, until she finally admitted she lied, but in doing so, justified the betrayal and the lying, then compounded the lie by being deceitful about another author whom she decided had crossed her. I cut ties with her for that and it cost me the loss of at least 9 of her colleagues.

Q: Surely, that bothered you.
A: No it did not. I’m far better off because of it, and I believe it’s what people who allow themselves to be bullied don’t understand. Whatever you think you might lose in the short run, you gain in the long term, and the people you end up with are so much more valuable than those who turned away. 

Q: Food for thought? Or, preachy?
A: My sisters would say preachy, and I’m certainly no stranger to bandwagons, but I’d prefer to think of myself as someone who sets an example by my actions speaking even louder than my words.  

Q: That’s a perfect segway back to role models. What do you think of the way women are portrayed?
A: In?

Q: LesFic books and movies.
A: If you mean lump sum, all genres, that’s really too sweeping a question. Even then I’d be limited to the books I’ve read and the movies I’ve seen.

Q: Most movies are based on books, so let’s start with the movies. 
A: I have trouble finding myself in them, of my experiences as a woman, as a friend, as a lover, as an employee, as a person. 

Q: As opposed to, what? Finding yourself in straight movies?
A: Not really. I mean, I could see myself in the character of, say Norma Rae, when I was younger and involved in fighting for change, and in Kissing Jessica Stein, to the extent of her wanting something different than what she was being offered. Except for the opening, I enjoyed that film immensely by the way.

Q: The opening?
A: A leading female character having backroom sex with a man before she seduces a woman. It’s like a stamp of approval for all lesbian films — that, the film is only worthy of attention, or more worthy because a man staked his claim first and foremost.

Q: How about the L Word ?
A: I watched it for the first year but, again, couldn’t relate. Like 90% of Americans who feel there’s no one in Congress speaking for them, I think the vast majority of lesbians feel the same about movies. What’s on the screen bears little resemblance to their every day lives and much deeper emotions. It might be a gender gap trap to even say so, but I often think boomers represent the last great generation of romantic music and gestures, before nameless hookups and STDs became the norm.

Q: Do you miss that time?
A: I can’t miss what I’ve maintained for myself, but I miss it for younger women who never had a opportunity to experience it, or make an informed choice in favor of it over the fragility and transience of relationships now.

Q: Do you think younger women would be interested in the world of your youth?
A: I’d like to think they’d embrace the good of it and — like the remake of great songs by younger artists — choose to establish a romantic lifestyle for themselves.

Q: Your book, Imogene’s Eloise, is primarily a reminder of where we were isn’t it ?
A: No, it’s not just about where we’ve been. It’s about how we got to where we are in a patriarchal, primarily Christian identified, mostly divided society where women are now in the majority. It’s about discovering where our minds and hearts were then, in contrast with how our minds and hearts of today interpret back then. It’s about how our ‘in the life’ world within the overall world has changed dramatically. 

Q: Through the journey of a single love affair?
A: Actually, there are many love affairs going on of varying intensities between numerous people. It’s about recognizing the differences between love and lust and understanding the degrees of friendship.

Q: Sex? 
A: Romantic without being explicit. It also teaches history without the drudgery, and is entertaining without it having been written strictly for entertainment value. 

Q: What do you think is most appealing about Imogene’s Eloise?
A: Readers decide that on an individual basis. But the intent is to expose the commonalities we share pertaining to those we love and how it’s what everyone, at some juncture in their lives wishes for — and is told they cannot have. I’m telling the reader — you can have it — and that on some level, to some extent you are in this book, and someone you know, and someone you want to know, and someone you long to meet is in this book. There are emotions you’ve felt, and thoughts you’ve had, and answers you seek to questions in the back of your mind. And, just like life, you’ll applaud some, and resist others, and ponder the rest.

Q: Any reactions?
A: It’s a new release and marathon read at 431 pages, so the reviews will trickle in as people cross the finish line. But so far, applause.

Q: How about your beta readers?
A: I didn’t employ beta readers. I’m not certain I believe in writing as a team sport, but I did offer a peek to blog followers before I edited the book down for a final time.

Q: And?
A: Generally supportive. Except, ten months ago I had a person, I wish I could remember her name, she sampled the first ten chapters of my book and said — and I’m paraphrasing here — “The characters are weak. I only read books about strong women.” So, I thanked her for her opinion and moved on. But I wish, now, I’d reminded her that women weren’t born strong. It wasn’t a given for us. We didn’t have parents, or siblings, or magazines, or movies, or advertisements to encourage us, or fictionalized characters toting guns and giving men karate chops as our pacifiers.

We grew strong in spite of naysayers and obstacles. 

And the women coming of age in the 50s and 60s — those women who grew up being denied loans and credit cards, denied the right to buy a house without a male co-sign, denied the right to sell inherited property without a man’s permission, denied jobs advertised as help wanted male, denied justice in our courts, denied protection from violence, denied entrance to colleges and clubs, denied the right to run for political office, denied the right to be heard, denied advancement in the workplace, denied equal pay, denied consideration or equality under the law by both government and religion — those women of a that second class American society who fought to guarantee your first class American citizenship — they’re the strong ones. Those are the characters that should serve as your role models. And until you understand that — honey — you haven’t a clue as to what the meaning of the word ‘strong’ truly is.

Q: You published on Kindle but not in paperback. Why?
A: Two reasons. First, 81% of all books sold are on Kindle or other electronic device. And Amazon now offers a free app that turns every computer, tablet and phone into a Kindle. So that’s a big incentive.

Q: To earn more money?
A: To reach a wider audience. Imogene’s Eloise is nearly twice as long at half the price by comparison to other books for Kindle readers.

Q: Will it be out in paperback?
A: That’s the plan.

Q: The genre is romance.
A: More because Amazon and Bowkers require it.

Q: Given more of a choice?
A: It’s a dramedyherstoryromance.

Q: Imogene’s Eloise is subtitled as inspired by a true-love story. Tell me, how much of it is true?
A: All the best parts. 

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ENTIRE INTERVIEW AVAILABLE ON PDF FILE VIA EMAIL

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