I’m going to re-open the blog with a reprise of the opening post from last year. I hope it will remind old friends what was on my mind and will lead new friends back to the start via the links at the right.
With My Weight on My Elbows
When I was twenty, I got married and got some good advice at the same time. My mother had a friend, Marie, who was a widow. Her husband had been an engineer and had died in the Gobi Desert. Marie was probably two decades older than my mother and when I recall her now she is in my mind something of a combination of Mary Worth and Marie Dressler, for those of you reading this of a certain age. Marie had been a widow as long as I had known her and I think she had come down in the world a bit. My only evidence of this was that she was my mother’s friend and, for all my mother’s desires for things to be otherwise, we were just working class folks.
But Marie had a small house in our neighborhood in Shreveport, Louisiana, and it was full of items picked up over the years by her and her husband. I liked visiting her and when she called and told my mother that I should come by and pick up the wedding present she had for me, I had a certain anticipation. I walked over on a Sunday afternoon and Marie offered me coffee against the December chill. There was a gift, a silver server of some sort, wrapped. I would take it and my parents would bring it with them to Kansas City where the wedding was to be; Marie would not come so far just to see me married, of course, and so this meeting, or so I thought.
Marie asked about the girl I was going to marry “up there” and how we were to live in my final semester of school. She praised my good looks and my mother’s job of raising me and my father’s industriousness. And then she looked at me very seriously and said:
“My real present to you is not that silly silver thing. I want to give you some advice that will make your marriage easier. I learned two things from my husband about marriage and I want to share them with you. My husband was a fine, fine man and what he knew was correct. The first thing is that you should never go to sleep on an argument. Never go to sleep with something unresolved between you and your wife. If that means one of you must compromise, it means that you must, since it’s not likely that she will know this. But you can tell her; it might help.”
I had no idea just how idealistic such a proposition was; it sounded sensible to me but neither did I realize how essentially true it could prove in practice, if it could be done.
This had been delivered as Marie sat well back on her small sofa, a handkerchief in her hands, as was the style for women in her day, of her age. But then she leaned toward me and looked at me intently. “And here is the second thing, the most important thing along the way, really. You must remember this: a gentleman always keeps his weight on his elbows.”
Now, I’m not going to try to fool you into believing that I had any idea what she meant at first. I just sat there, really, and tried to look like I understood. And then Marie laughed and put both hands on her knees to kind of leverage herself up off the couch and stood there across the coffee table from me. I do remember just how she looked. Her straight dress was a kind of very pale purple and there was an embroidered flower on the left shoulder, a magnolia, I think. The waist of the dress was cinched up high, under her bosom, with a thin, black patent leather belt and the sleeves were short, a little puffed at the shoulder. Her hair was, as you might guess, a bluish white and she had on pearl earrings, the kind that clipped on (I think women in her day, nice women, didn’t pierce their ears. My aunt Juanita had pierced ears and my father, usually the most accommodating of men, seemed very upset by that fact), and a necklace of pearls. She wore some makeup and only a small amount of lipstick. I wanted nothing more than for her to think that I had understood and valued her advice, but she smiled at me all the way to the door, into my coat, and out onto the porch.
“All right, Chris,” she said as I stepped down onto the walk. “Tell your momma I said hi, but don’t tell her about that advice, y’hear?”
“Yes ma’am, I will—I mean, I won’t. ‘Bye.”
I did “get it,” after about a block on the way home. I mean, I was not stupid, just maybe a little slow on the uptake. Let me give you an example. About six months earlier, I had come home from school a day sooner than I had planned. I had called ahead when I knew that but Mom and Dad had promised to go over to East Texas to visit my dad’s brother and wouldn’t be home until the day I had originally planned to arrive. So they said come on anyway and they’d leave something for me to eat at the house. Well, when I got home, there wasn’t anything to eat but there was a note in the kitchen that I should go down to the Shreve’s Landing Club and Orlando would feed me.
Orlando Hawkins was an old friend of my dad, from back when we had lived in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, and Dad and Orlando worked at the glass plant in Henrietta, about fifteen miles southwest of there. They had not been friends very long, but they were close pretty quick and one day got the idea to run a crap game in the plant parking lot on Fridays after work. Dad was a small stakes gambler, by and large, adept at dice and cards and betting the horses and the dogs. I never knew whether he won or lost much but once he won a 1950 Jaguar XK-120 roadster, bright red, in a crap game and he claimed to have won the 21-foot cabin cruiser he kept on Cross Lake in a poker game. I do think he was a pretty good “mechanic,” a card dealer, and he was in demand to deal in big games mainly because he was, as far as I ever knew, as honest as the day was long. Once some big money men flew him from Shreveport to Hot Springs, Arkansas, to deal a two day game. He got some percentage of each pot, but I don’t know what that was.
Anyway, Dad and Orlando kept this crap game going until one Friday a car pulled up and two men got out. They watched the game for a while but they made the guys uneasy and the game broke up pretty quick. I don’t know the exact word for word content of the conversation that ensued, but it turned out that these gents weren’t policemen looking for a little graft. No, they were representatives of a man in Tulsa, fifty miles or so to the north, who had heard of the game and it worried him that he had not been asked if were “OK” to have such a game in Henrietta. Dad and Orlando were given a choice of closing up the game or paying some percentage of their take, a goodly percentage it would seem, to this fellow up in Tulsa. The men promised to be back the next Friday for an answer, and for some money, perhaps.
That was where Mom drew the line. Actually, she drew it when Orlando came over to the house with a gun and a permit and asked Dad if he wanted to carry the gun or the permit. So Dad bowed out and left it to Orlando, who tried to make some accommodation with the men from Tulsa but that didn’t work out and the game closed and Orlando left town. It was maybe ten years later that we all ended up in Shreveport at the same time. Orlando had left the glass factory grind and was running an expensive bar-nightclub down in the old “Bottoms” for some out-of-town money while Dad was still cutting glass, now at the Libbey-Owens-Ford plant on Jewella Road, and Mom was teaching deaf kids in one of the schools near our apartment. Mom hadn’t finshed college, though she had started a couple of times (one of those times is what caused the trouble that made us leave Okmulgee, but more about that later), so she was trained by a couple of women who advocated a “deaf-oral” approach to the education of very young deaf children and she was allowed to teach the pre-schoolers. Years later we would move out to Los Angeles so she could study more of it out there, which is where the other trouble came up so we had to move back to Shreveport, but more about that later.