(Why this mouse? (1995) “One of our cats caught one. Brought the poor trembling thing home and I had the cat drop it and it scrambled for safety and probably to write of the close -call to his relatives.” It was written in this letter and I just (2009) searched for an animated running mouse and found this one and followed it with a paragraph from the letter. Apropos? I think so).
… Thursday, Oct.12, 10:30 A.M. Hello, again, dear aunt Alice:
It's another lovely day. The geese have calmed down since their blatant attempt to scare away a shaky and sweaty meter-reader man. The unwary fellow had advanced on them after getting out of his truck perhaps to chase them away but that's like chasing a plague. Damien (my gentle, Merle Great Dane who just stood by and barked) as I rescued him. Poor, misguided, meter-reader thought he could scat them away but with our schizoid Snow geese , chasing them would be as chasing the black plague! I felt unsettled, not because I had to literally sweep the crazy birds away but by the man’s profuse ‘Thank you’s” that spewed from his mouth as he rushed back to the company truck without reading my meter!
When I told my youngest son about this incident, he snapped back: “Mom, I keep telling you, why don’t you get ride of them! “Why don’t you stuff and shove them in the oven!”
“Oh, Joe, they’re not so bad. Remember when they tried to save me from Nella, our goat?”
I think you’re making that up, Mom!”
"Well, it was something like that. Besides, your father likes them as much as I do. Maybe more.”
“Mom … Roast, fry, bake, boil, steam, call ASPCA, Shaw’s, Hannaford’s … Call a veterinarian for a mercy killing, call a priest! But, get rid of them. They attack everyone!”
“Maybe we can fence them in.”
“They fly, Mom!”
Aunt Alice, I acted upon your suggestion and did contact my ‘unofficial’ aunt Agnes. She was taken aback hearing from such an unexpected person who just dug herself up from buried and forgotten family secrets yet, listened attentively as I explained the impetus for the phone call: Would she be willing to look at some copies of my maternal family photos and, to the best of her recollections, providing it wasn’t upsetting to her, address some questions had been stored in the neurons of my brain about my family and hers, in particular, a brother. Our nervous breaths intermingled over the phone-wires during a prolonged pause in our conversation.
I detected a slight defensive reaction, like a twitching at the corners of her mouth that might of sounded like slowly crushed cellophane paper, and I became extra cautious in how I expressed my rationale for calling. What as the trigger for her guardedness? My maiden name? Still, she graciously consented to see me.
Saturday noontime, Sept.30, Woody and I visited Agnes and her petite and talented daughter, Alice Irene, my 1st cousin and three years older. I understand that Alice was named after her mother's sister who had gotten the name from a boat her father, Bartley, particularly admired. He had worked as a longshoreman on the Portland docks for many years. Most likely the boat had been anchored at the pier where he worked unloading cargo and might of been the Schooner, ‘Alice S. Wentworth’ as was mentioned by Agnes during our visit.
The ultra neat home on Broadway Street, South Portland, is a handsome place. Not a speck of dust to be found, hardwood floors and furniture glow from deep polishing. Alice and Agnes must be determined cleaners as nothing looks like it's had much wear though many pieces look antique. Each room laid-out and decorated in almost mathematically precise order and color harmonized. Two beautiful oil paintings by Alice (two of many) compliment the walls as do her intricate needle-point work compliment several pieces of furniture.
Alice is a creative woman with a beautiful voice for operettas that has sung often in local musicals at respected theatres. I sense, however, that this sweetly devoted daughter has never been able to fully evolve into her true self because of stronger forces that has circumstantially bound her to her mother and to God and the principles of her faith which has sustained her. She appears resigned and satisfied to be what she is – a Catholic, a devoted daughter, an artist, a singer, an aunt. Still, I sense an incompleteness as if a painting was missing an important component and has been left on the easel for later, for too long. The subdued adventures in her life and those younger exciting day-dreams that uplift the spirit like a deeply inhaled breath of ocean air, are now but the subdued longings of a silenced heart and of this impression I am certain of.
Now, Agnes, another Irish aunt but from a rockier coastline, strikes me as a woman of a tougher nature that’s kept sheathed within the suede leather of a capturing Irish spirit.
She's as tiny as the second hand on a gilded mantle clock but I had the distinct feeling she could become a forceful personality to reckon with if taken to task. And this time without any pause, this rock of Erin, more granite and sandstone, took to task my probing into family affairs like a fierce Leprechaun would in guarding his pot of pyrite gold!
We had gone through all the photos I had surprisingly been able to coax out of her from a box of loose pictures and one album, and still had turned up nothing that could have yielded me an opportunity to directly ask her my question which was the reason I was there. I felt her Irish coastline, not too different than mine, Aunt Alice, and, despite my discouragement, was more grateful for her time than disappointed. It was then, motivated by Woody's obvious nodding of his head, that I brought up my alleged father, Frank J., for it is his name that is on my birth records. It is his name that you and aunt Exilda finally had revealed to me, the name morally owed to me from my mother and never given.
A loud no, no, no!" careened from Agnes’ drawn lips. The rock had struck!
"Your mother’s family tried to blame my brother, Frank, but it wasn't him! Frank told me so! He swore to my mother, to all of us, that he had nothing to do with your mother! Why would he lie? He went to church - He belonged to the Knights of Columbus. No, he’s not your father!”
… In the background, from the dinning room, I could hear a clock ticking … First in measured rhythm then in less and less movement as if time was coming to a stop, turning, and backing up … A handsome policeman had come to our door; the house was on the busy corner of High and York streets and I was very little. In this policeman’s hand was a gift wrapped in pretty paper and with a bow so outstanding as to forbid touching though my eyes caressed it’s every fold and flow of ribbon. I gasped as my stern grandmother sent him away, with his gift. Twice, after that incident he visited again but only when I had been outdoors on the steps playing and both times crouched down to my height and embraced me. His words were in English; I knew only French yet, somehow, I felt a sadness from him along with a lovingness that felt real but confusing. I never saw him again until viewing Agnes’ scattering of pictures. Years, later, following our last encounter, I learned, as you know, that he was the first law enforcer of father’s brothers, the one the newspapers referred to as, “the singing policeman’ …
Woody quickly stepped in to set her at ease and assure her that it really didn't matter as the reason I was there for was to inquire about my bloodline and that all I wanted was information; not confrontation.
She softened and from that point on, was very cooperative and gracious although she did manage to repeat and insist that neither Frank, or officer Bill had ever been associated with my mother. How was that possible? My mother’s brother was the husband of Agnes and father of her two children (Alice Irene and Joe, jr.) and when Joe and Agnes would go out to a movie, to shop or attend a function, it was my mother who would be asked to babysit. Downstairs, resided Agnes’ mother and Frank, who was 31 years old; my mother had turned 19 and still very timid, dared not tell her family of his seduction and her resulting pregnancy - least of all, her brother, Michael Joe!
… Hate me not for the breath of my unwitting sin - For responsibility denied by an unsolicited lover who cursed me to bear this new life scorned and chagrined -
Too bad; so sad, “What can one do with this mademoiselle”? Said he, Raise the child or give it away – It’s not my doing – Not my concern for her dismay - Ask my family, I’m a good man so I’ll just be going but, do have a good day.
Uncle Michael Joe died from an accident while working for the Maine Gas Company, at the South Portland gas storage tank facilities, and financial compensation was paid to Agnes’ for her terrible loss which could never bring him back. But, now with Michael Joe gone, my mother Irene, and our entire family were increasingly scorned and belittled by these Irish relatives and with the same fervor cursed by my grieving mother’s French family who had lost a son and brother and, dignity, for how my mother had been treated and her child denied. No decency. Not even meager compensation for one tear or diaper! Now, some say that I resemble my father’s mother, Catherine. Others say that I look like my great grandmother, Georgianna who was part Quebecois French and part Metis. Both embraced by me with open arms and with a tic-for-tac’’ gene inherited from which one, I couldn’t tell you, but that gene awakens whenever the Irish raise their clubs and the French Indians go on the warpath as their blood flows in me in equal parts and non existent am I timid.
Halfway through our second cup of tea, Woody slips me a subtle look that indicates that it’s time to go home. The timing is right – the subject of my father had been sweep under Ages’ rug and pleasantries and laughter had replaced discord. To my surprise, we were invited to visit again which cousin Alice Irene insisted that we do so. I think, aunt Alice, that should we visit again, I’ll not mention Frank, or my mother … that window is closed not by heavy drapery but by pieces of a patchwork quilt from an old spindle bed that light can still pass through. I wish that you could see me smiling, aunt Alice, because your predictable words were noticed walking in slipper’d feet across my thoughts.: “Well, now, all’s well that ends well.”
The drive home to New Gloucester was unusually quiet. Woody and I hardly spoke. It is probable that I am my father’s daughter and a drop of blood would confirm that once and for all time. Would it really matter? Make it make everything alright? I wonder why he never married - Becoming an alcoholic and dying from that awful disease with just his family and closest friends to moan his passing. I wonder why his brother, Officer Bill, visited me three separate times? Other than you and Aunt Exilda and uncle ‘Frenchie’ the rest of the family stayed mum as if saying my father’s name aloud would bring pitiable souls from hell to castigate both families for their tribal offenses against eachother.
Before reaching North Gate Shopping Center, Woody spoke so low as to sound like whispering” “It’s too damn bad your mother couldn’t, or wouldn’t ,take your feelings in account. I remember one day when we were at her home you asked her about Frank and she bit off your head, "Don't ask me about that rotten man or his damned family! ... Don't ever ask me about them. Ever! I mean it!” “Remember what that did to you?”
That night sleep was fretful. I was restless and felt very cold so covered up to my ears then sweated … And dreamt:
… I was in a very huge and mystical, primordial cathedral with enormously high ceilings that disappeared once it reached beyond a wraithlike reflection that had risen in circumference of where I stood. There was a chill in the air and yet a warm dampness seeping into my pores. My straining ears pushed against an unrelenting silence that hummed as muffled energy from a flood light filament. Gulps of air burned in my throat as if I'd been running to exhaustion and was rendered breathless and parched. In the vastness of this cathedral, this holy place, there were no Stations of the Cross fastened any wall to stimulate prayer and penitence from quivering lips. No confessional in sight. No pews, or benches other than bundled hide skins as if scattered on the marble floor to accommodate pardon-seekers from an absent god. But I saw it as a place more suited for the lost and disenfranchised traveler … and, for escapists.
Overhead, festooned with clusters of grapes a corkscrew shaped chandelier hung suspended from nothingness. Threaded between the grapes were letters, bloodied, that read, “Do not litter! Do not litter!” My first thought was to be aware not to litter and behind this thought, a baby cried.
From the corner of my eye, a distraction glistened in a fallen tear. I turned and saw three small, lowly altars, one each at the ornate entrances of this ethereal place, I’d not noticed before. The crafted wooden doors revolved slowly allowing a sporadic breezes to fan my cheeks. However, in doing so, they caused countless of lit candles on all three altars to flicker and smoke creating black, distorted shadows to undulate against any object in their path. My pulses quickened like a ticking clock beating ahead of its time and I felt panic … Dare I trust this place? Had God given up on it? I tensed, stretching my eyelids wide and wider, focusing to see if there was someone, something, standing where the recent breezes had come from. And I knew like sensations of pain that the breezes were expelled breaths from spent bodies.
Cautiously, I walked to the closest alter to me, each footstep feeling as if my shaky feet were balancing on rubbery stilts. Then, one by one, the flickering candles extinguished and an engulfing blackness, thick and dense, that had captured the images of the candle flames, reflected back those images of orange and white and stabbing yellow light like paired fireflies on a moonless summer’s night … And the fireflies became eyes and the eyes repeatedly blinked as if blown with ash.
My head turned upwards, pulled by the shadowy radiance that had risen above me earlier. And, a dome opened like the thumbing of pages in a thickset book admitting a light that increased in reach and brightness until it flooded the entire cathedral. "Oh!" I exclaimed excitedly, “It’s the Book of The Ages!” It wasn't. My vision – my hope, had yet to adjust from one extreme to another to an adjustment …
Abruptly, I awoke from the surreal realm of my dreaming. Dawn was just beginning to brush the tree-tops with the colors of pewter and blush. Would I get up and watch the shaping of a new day from the rim of a hot cup of breakfast coffee? I didn’t need to think about that!
The strange dream keeps returning to me like the return of bad penny. Could it have some significance? What do I make of it? I don’t know … What comes to mind is a quote from Descartes: “I think, therefore I am; or I am thinking, therefore I exist” … (“therefore what matters not who my father is but who I am” thinks AliceMary”) With that statement, I’ll move on, dear aunt.
One day, three weeks ago, while doing research at the Franco-American library in Lewiston, I paused to listen to a priest talking to a woman who was writing down information from a book that he had recommended to her from the shelves.
"Each time I work on genealogy I marvel at the continuum in every ancestral line and I'm certain that someday we'll be able to follow our ascendance right to our biblical Adam and Eve, and from there, to our Creator and Father"
It is wise and better, dear Aunt Alice, that I refrain from interpreting the meaning of my dream … It doesn't matter who my father is whether he's Frank or a passing Planter's Peanut salesman. What matters is that I am a life and that life is mine with each day a new beginning.
Well, dear hearts, the end of the letter comes. I wish it hadn't taken so long to finish it. Today is Sunday, Oct.15. This morning, I attended church - Woody is working all day till evening so when I got home, I tackled some of our stored winter clothing. Mid-afternoon, Chuck and his family visited bringing cider, and a large bag of apples they picked at Herbie Thompson's Apple Orchards. Next week, I'll bake pies.
Joe, and the singles club he belongs to at his church, put on a wonderful program after church services – lunch, speakers, music, etc.
Bob and Debbie and the children, Carissa and Kyle have gone for a nice day's drive to New Hampshire. I'm glad the weather complied with their plans for an enjoyable few hours.
Dear Steve and Fran and Ray are always in my mind and heart. Please keep them in your prayers … I miss them so much.
All my love to each one of you ... Take care and know that no one has ever been more of a family to me than you, my aunt Alice, and cousins …
God keep you well and safe ... Prayers and much love … Alice and Woody and Family.