Category Archives: Essays

WITH GRACE AND GRATITUDE

Won't You Be My Honey

The first time I spotted the alligator in the murky waters of a man-made lake framing luxurious condos on one side and a city park on the other, I worried aloud for the safety of the mallards, Muscovy, and white, waddling ducks, the snapping turtles, giant goldfish, flock of pristine egrets, and wading blue heron, making their homes in the marshes there.

“And, the kids who play in this park,” my sweetheart added.

I didn’t respond. Not that I would ever want a person of any age to be harmed by an alligator, but there was no imminent danger in that. Only the nature-preying-nature lurked.

The lake is more for show and tell by realtors looking to justify pricey units with a view. There’s no swimming allowed, and since it’s illegal to feed wildlife in Florida outside of a reserve, observing nature in this park is mostly done from a deck built 15 feet above, and stretching 20 feet out over the water, where picnic tables are placed for brown baggers wondering what so many thieving sea gulls are doing there, some sixty miles inland.

At first, all I saw were the mammoth marble shaped alligator eyes, trolling the lake’s surface, leaving innocent ripples of water in his wake.

“Or,” she said when I pointed out the marauding eyeballs, “it’s a submarine.”

“No, hon, I’m pretty certain it’s an alligator.”

“But, I’m thinking…”

“It’s a gator, okay?”

“I’m just saying what it could be,” she persists, as the tire-like tracks on it’s back emerges. “Or, maybe one in camouflage to look like an alligator, so no one would suspect.”

Really, who am I to say otherwise? I thought.

We only visit this particular park once a year, in September or October, depending on what date the High Holy Days fall.

I won’t expound on the significance of these 10 days for those of you who aren’t Jewish, but I will share the custom of casting bread upon the water (tashlikh) as a symbol of one’s transgressions being disposed of. Unlike other religions, Jews don’t believe in original sin. Instead, we’re born pure, acquiring our indiscretions with age, intent, or ignorance along the way.

But, if we’re sincere in saying “I’m sorry” to those we’ve wronged, and have done good without expectation in return, and made an earnest effort to mend fences, the sin slate gets wiped clean on Yom Kippur, giving each of us another chance to get life right, and do it better.

The disclaimer appears in the setting of the sun, symbolizing the closing of the Book of Life, when even skeptics (secretly) want their names, and those of their loved ones inscribed therein — although no one learns who makes the cut until the High Holy Days roll around again the following year. (Because only those remaining in the here and now know if they were inscribed back in the then and there.)

For the record, I’m very disorganized about organized religion, to the point of anti-it.

But I do like everything about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the culmination of 10 days of introspection, taking stock of one’s life, offering amends, being grateful for whatever cards have been dealt, making promises and looking forward while witnessing the sun sink behind the trees, or beneath the ocean, or into the hills.

Of course, I’m pulling for more than family and friends. I want my pets to be included in that Book of Life, too, and mercy shown for all the animals on earth. I want children to be protected, and hurts healed. I want every woman to fall in love with the person who has fallen in love with her. My list is long. I ask a lot. It takes me the full 10 days to catalog all the hope in my heart.

“Watch out,” we were warned by a couple dawdling nearby. “The flora and fauna police are on duty.”

I glance over at the retiree in khaki shirt and shorts, feeling powerful on his unpaid patrol.

“I’m prepared,” I assured them. “I filled my pocket with stale bread, pre-pulverized in my Cuisinart to melt any evidence upon impact. Would you like a some?”

They showed me their cut up crusts of kosher rye. “No thanks. We’re good.”

As the sun began its steady decline, I confidently hurled a handful of crumbs to flutter like tiny confetti into the water below — forgetting that the brass ring  containing the keys to the car, our home, my sister’s home, the metal license tags of our dogs, and a silver kitty charm carried for good luck was also in that pocket.

It went with.

“I’ll be,” she said, looking down at the unintended snack. “It is an alligator!”

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To paraphrase a verse in a song from the original, Broadway cast album of The Unsinkable Molly Brown: Your prayer was answered, the answer was ‘no’ — She heard you all right.

Most of you who follow me here, or are a friend to me on Facebook know that I lost my kid sister in May of 2015, 77 days after she was first diagnosed with everywhere-cancer.

What I haven’t shared as much is, in that brief period (and since) I’ve also lost both of my dogs, Buzzbee and Sparky, and a Russian Blue, tamed-to-my-touch, feral cat, Sneaky, twin brother to Pete.

When the last loss happened, I recalled the words attributed to Virginia Woolf upon being asked by her niece why the bird she’d found had to die. Woolf answered, “To make us appreciate life more.”

I’m not sure I concur. I don’t think I could appreciate life any more than I do.  My gratitude is fierce and deep and never falters — even when the answer is, indeed, ‘no’.

Because I see, and hear, and recognize the loss most others endure, daily, is so much greater than my own; the worldwide despair and hunger of millions in the dark of every night, the destruction of homes by flood and fire, the assault on nature by ignorance and greed, the ongoing slaughter of innocent and innocence, the intentional harm inflicted on the undeserving.

It doesn’t lessen the depth of loss I feel, but it does lessen the length of time I spend, struggling.

The High Holy Days come earlier this year and I’m on tenterhooks about it, to the point of being mindful of the fact that the ritual of tashlikh is to happen on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, not on Yom Kippur as I’ve always chosen to observe it.

We’ll be returning to the man-made lake, regardless — this time with an entire loaf of challah for the alligator.

We hope the reptile was written into the Book of Life.

We hope we all were.

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This essay was first published entitled See Ya Later Alligator in 2015 and continues to be revisited each year at this time in memory of those who have passed, and with hopes we all continue to be written into The Book of Life. ~ 

Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.  Copyright, © 2015-2018

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AND THE REST IS MYSTERY

Souvenir of True Friendship

I’d nicknamed her AK-57 for the year she was born, a moniker that wasn’t lost on Amanda Kyle Williams who fostered an irreverent, self-deprecating sense of humor about herself, the world at large and, oh yeah, serial killers.

We were wired (as I believe everyone is) through happenstance.

In 2012, I was asked by a mutual friend to add my name to a list of those vying for a chance to win a free copy of her recently released hit novel, The Stranger You Seek, even though I’m an irremediable romantic who avoids most media pertaining to violence. In fact, I’d never read a mystery — not even In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, whose other written works are all favorites of mine.

So, I was a tad taken aback when Amanda friended me on Facebook to say I’d won a copy of her novel and asked me to provide shipping information to Bantam Books.

I immediately confessed to my disinterest in reading mysteries — but ended up agreeing to making her the one exception to my rule after learning we had more than wordsmithing in common. Big things, like our love for animals, rescuing dogs, and the feeding of feral cats. Little things, like the linoleum of her entryway being the identical pattern to that on the kitchen floor of the first apartment I’d ever leased. And other things, like how she’d signed with the same literary agency that rejected my query, we both had a Pekingese named Bella, we’d both been private detectives, and we each had a cat that threatened us within an inch of our toes and nose on a daily basis.

She’d requested my brutally honest opinion of her book, so I gave it: No, her account of Atlanta didn’t make me want to visit . Yes, her description of the Carolina coast tempted me to move there. I’d warned her that I prided myself in using my chess expertise to predict plots ahead of endings. She humbled me by proving I hadn’t a clue as to who the killer in Stranger was until being astounded during the final pages.

But our lives were seldom similar otherwise. She had difficulty reading because of dyslexia; I am a voracious reader without afflictions. She lost a parent at a young age following her mother’s slow decline. My mom passed instantly as I turned sixty. The love of her life succumbed to a malignancy after their twenty years together. My love affair still flourishes at nearly fifty.

Yet we both understood how it felt to lose a cherished sibling after providing steadfast care during their inevitable demise, just as we both knew my combat against heart failure is pure child’s play compared to her valiant fight against cancer  — truly, life’s most insidious serial killer.

Amanda Kyle Williams lost her battle on Friday morning, August 31st, two weeks after turning 61.

And, although we never actually met face-to-face, eye-to-eye, shoulder-to-shoulder, or toe-to-toe, we existed as tongue-in-cheek and heart-to-heart kindred spirits for six remarkable years.

Losing her saddens me.

Deeply.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.
And The Rest Is Mystery © 9.2.18
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I value your opinion and appreciate your sharing of this essay with others. Please select LEAVE A REPLY by clicking below the headline to express your thoughts on this post. I’m all eyes and heart.
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Crying Girl and her Doll

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Happy-Dance Occurrences

Swift's Pride Soap

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I NEVER LEAVE MY FINGERPRINTS on any surface other than pants and shirts, not necessarily my own. Call it obsessive compulsive disorder (because that’s what it is), expediency is key to me cleaning my hands. If something foreign gets on one, anyone standing near me can expect a spontaneous pat on the back.
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A compulsion to keep my hands clean has been with me since kindergarten when I refused to finger-paint without a brush. Chaos erupted when all the kids wanted one. It christened ‘fastidious’ as my Star of David to bear (personally and professionally) ever since.
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As an art and antiques columnist for a string of east coast trade papers during the late 70’s and early 80’s, I was commissioned to do an article on 19th century Commonplace Books. These oversize tomes were maintained by women in lieu of journals, decorated with pressed flowers, calling cards, idioms, autographs, photographs, news clippings, and exquisite chromolithographed die-cuts of animals, birds, bouquets, angels, hands, hearts and holiday images — no doubt the forerunner to modern day scrapbooking.
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In hopes of gaining a personal perspective, I tried keeping a Commonplace Book, but failed miserably. At the time I claimed it was because I feared damaging the vintage die-cuts I’d collected. But truth be told? Elmer’s Glue-All did me in.
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After several frustrating attempts, an editor suggested I settle for substituting one daily commonplace occurrence of joy, instead. I never actually completed the assignment, but I am still keeping the book.
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These are randomly selected happy-dance (commonplace) occurrences.
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May 9, 1976
Elizabeth’s mother doesn’t drink alcohol. She said it makes her elbows weak.
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February 20, 1983
Mom recounted her search to update her wardrobe today. “I saw a dress and the tag was $700.00, and I said to Jesus — did you see that?”
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April 20, 1985
On the way home from Hartford after midnight, it was pitch black overcast and we were lost. I insisted we stop at a closed down, boarded up gas station on a tiny triangle of land in the middle of a forked road so I could locate the North Star (which, it turned out, I couldn’t find if it was sitting on my nose). But wouldn’t you know, there I was, standing on top of our VW Bus — bothering no one by the way! — when a cop car pulls up, lights flashing, sirens screaming, and an officer gets out to ask me what I was doing. “I’m looking for the north star so I can get back to New York before sunrise,” I condescended. He calmly pointed the beam of his flashlight to a sign indicating we were five feet from the entrance to I-84.
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March 30, 1991
Working as a team we simultaneously set off all the talking and musical stuffed toys on display at Walgreens tonight. (Some came running.)
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September 22, 1996
It’s Sunday and still pouring sheets of rain, as it was when we went to pick up the papers and I spotted a poor old dog lying hurt in the gutter at the edge of the Methodist church parking lot. It enraged me! The mere thought that, even though the parking lot was packed with worshiper’s cars, there wasn’t an indication anyone had stopped to help that poor dog. I loudly denounced the depraved indifference of people in general (and this group in particular) as I jumped out into the deluge, only to discover the dog was dead and drown to boot. I make no apologies for the blubbering that overcame me as I dialed 911. They promised to send an officer immediately. In the interim, we dashed home (4 blocks) to get a clean, dry burial blanket to wrap the dog in, and returned just as animal control pulled up. After conversing briefly with the officer — a kind and sympathetic man who recognized (even through the blinding rain) how distraught I was. I gave him the blanket before I kneeled down into wastewater and petted the mongrel, apologizing for the cruelty of mankind, and blessing it’s soul and spirit, asking that I might be the best of it. Between sobbing and the downpour I was pretty much waterlogged by then, making it a struggle to get up before motioning to the officer that it was time. As he leaned over to drape the blanket, the mutt jumped up and ran away.
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June 19, 2000
Before heading back to Michigan today, my mom hung a pair of her underwear on the pink room’s doorknob to dry, along with specific instructions. “Leave them there because I have plenty of panties at home and I’ll know right where to find them on my next visit.”
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December 22, 2003
Elizabeth spent an hour tonight making me a gift by putting 3 pieces of rounded wood together with staples, tape, string, nails, and no logic whatsoever. To her finished “triangle tree” she wound some gold yarn, spacing it here and there in an attempt to create goddess-only-knows-what. It was touching to watch her engaged in earnest endeavor. Tiny tributes to the endurance of love are cemented within stolen moments such as these.
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Okay, I guess there’s no sense in my trying to deny it.
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These tidbits have my fingerprints all over them.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.
Happy-Dance Occurrences © 6.3.18
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I value your opinion and appreciate you for sharing this essay with others. Please select LEAVE A REPLY by clicking below the headline to express your thoughts on this post.
I’m all eyes and heart.
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IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true story by Marguerite Quantaine is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.  PLEASE DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK before selecting the Look Inside option over the cover illustration to read the first few chapters for FREE.
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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine is due for release all of a sudden on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

A Joy To Stand The Test Of Time

Birthday Greetings - Woman in White Dress, Flowers

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While individuals of a certain age are asked for their secret to longevity, couples remaining together for decades are urged to reveal their recipe for happiness. And even though both invitations are staged before cameras producing edited soundbites, the one thing participants agree on out of earshot of the press is that the quality of time is the essence of both.

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After learning that 60% of society is younger than age 50, we realized we’ve been in love longer than the majority of Americans have been alive. (Egad, did I just type that out loud?)

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No matter. The fact remains that the quality of  joyful longevity depends on a continuous curve following life as the lesson of the day and — like history — whatever isn’t learned is doomed to be repeated with someone else.

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Here are 48 things we’ve learned in 48 years of being in love.

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1. Sound sleep requires laughter lastly.

2. The favored parent is emulated, eventually.

3. Lose at fault-finding.

4. Compliment a meal before adding salt.

5. Whatever is collected will someday be hoarded.

6. Think romantically.

7. Please and thank you are bff’s.

8. Holding hands while arguing is a hearing aid.

9. Listen with your entire body, inside and out.

10. Fight rhymes with flight.

11. Neither caress less, nor roar more.

12. A simple touch is apology enough.

13. Lower expectations except of self.

14. Have music playing in at least one room whenever home.

15. Speak softly and turn a deaf ear.

16. Think kindly about things remembered.

17. Don’t keep score.

18. Never hurt intentionally.

19. Tears have deeper meanings.

20. Leave sentimental notes in unexpected places.

21. Be both the best of you and the best of others.

22. Always ask what is needed, first.

23. Giving what you want is taking.

24. Offer your own opinion last, or not at all.

25. Pets make us better people than people can ever hope to be.

26. A single child will never share as readily as one raised with siblings.

27. Serve coffee with a kiss.

28. It’s not life, it’s living. It’s not death, it’s dying. It’s not fear, it’s fearing.

29. Levity is imperative.

30. Two televisions are better than one remote.

31. Be of mirrored ethics.

32. One comfortable bed in a home is enough.

33. A cloth table covering, cloth napkins, and a fresh flower, nightly.

34. Gush gratitude.

35. Make here the better place to be.

36. Slow dance under every full moon.

37. Send a card by snail mail a minimum of monthly.

38. Keep a joint journal.

39. Sleep in the buff.

40. Insolence provokes anger.

41. It’s neither the lie, nor the cover-up. It’s the enabling.

42. Say what you mean the first time.

43. If in doubt, don’t.

44. A know-it-all never is.

45. Keep a path cleared down the middle of the room.

46. Love is sacred.
 Belittling it is blasphemy.

47. Yes or no questions need one word answers.

48. You’re not 1-in-a-million. You’re 1-in-7.3 billion.

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.
A Joy To Stand The Test Of Time © 9.26.18
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I value your opinion and appreciate you for sharing this essay with others.
Please select LEAVE A REPLY by clicking below the headline
to express your thoughts on this post.
I’m all eyes and heart.
.
IMOGENE’S ELOISE : Inspired by a true story by Marguerite Quantaine is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.  PLEASE DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK before selecting the Look Inside option over the cover illustration to read the first few chapters for FREE.

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine is due for release in August 2018 on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

 

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. It had a coal furnace to heat the water pumped into cast iron radiators for warming in winter and bathing year round, wafer thin linoleum covered floors, and a narrow pine brown painted staircase just inside the front door vestibule with nine stark steps heading straight up before snaking left for three more and leveling off to a thirteenth step at the top.

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Facing directly ahead was the bedroom I shared with my two sisters. To the left, at the end of a hall papered in remnant rolls of Depression era patterns, was a bedroom for my three brothers. And at the right, flushed with the wall, was the entry 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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I sincerely value your opinion and appreciate your sharing this with others.

Please select LEAVE A REPLY  from below the headline

to tell me your thoughts on this post.

I’m all eyes and heart.

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

is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

.

MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine

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

 

An Inconvenient Pink

Mom again in dress

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

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 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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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
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