Category Archives: HERSTORY

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

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MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK by Marguerite Quantaine

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

 

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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.

WHEN BAD REVIEWS HURT GOOD AUTHORS and what can be done to change that

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Imagine you are Meryl Streep sitting in the audience, nominated for a Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes and Mia Farrow’s name is called instead of yours.

It doesn’t matter that a vast majority of the general public and international acting community think — make that know — Meryl Streep is the finest actress to grace a screen since the talkies. And, it doesn’t matter that her performance far outshines that of any other actress on the planet.

She must sit and smile and be grateful just to know that she’s the superior actress, even when saddled with being lesser so, by those who are not as talented, or as accomplished as she.

(And by ‘she’ I mean those of ‘you’ still up there in my opening line, imagining yourself as Meryl Streep.)

The point is, being the best at what you do is never enough to win the acclaim of those around you.

Indeed, the chances are good it will elicit exactly the opposite results, regardless of your profession. Because that’s the nature of awards and winning and — especially for the craft of writing — book reviews.

I say ‘especially’ because book reviews and letters to the editor are the two areas of the media where everyone, regardless of their intent, intelligence, or lack thereof, can participate as an authority.

And, because of this, both (along with the installation of the five star system) have become the weapon of choice for malcontents.

The question we all need to ask ourselves is simple: Am I complicit?

The answer is YES if you:
(1) Write a good review for your friend or relative, simply because she is your friend or relative, not because her/his book is as good as the review you’ve given.
(2) Award a five star rating to a book because it was authored by a friend or relative, not because her/his book is as good as you’ve rated it.
(3) Issue a bad review for a book you haven’t read.
(4) Issue a bad review for a book you haven’t read because you carry a grudge against the author, or you have a friend who carries a grudge.
(5) Award a low star rating for a book you haven’t read.
(6) Award a low star rating for a book you haven’t read because you carry a grudge against the author, or you have a friend who carries a grudge.
(7) Sabotage an author whose publisher is in competition with your publisher.
(8) Sabotage an author for revenge.
(9) Sabotage an author out of jealousy.
(10) Sabotage an author because you can, and that ability gives you power.

About now you’re wondering how this essay became about you instead of those so-in-sos who gave you a bad review.

That’s the thing.

When it comes to writing — just as when it comes to all other areas of life — it is never about what is done to you.

Rather, it is always about what you did to help create an atmosphere where such injustices flourish.

And, by ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, and ‘us’, and ‘we’.

Like every journey, this one takes one step by one person at a time.

It takes resolve.

It takes a decision by each of us to (1) refrain from giving credit where credit isn’t due, and (2) refrain from sabotaging those we don’t like, and (3) choose to learn from those whom we consider to be more talented, more creative, or more accomplished, and (4) mentor all who are receptive, in an effort to improve our craft and our writing community.

It isn’t necessary to like every writer. But we must try to respect every person who makes the effort, takes the time, and risks the rejection that results from writing a book, regardless of its caliber.

And, if we can do that, we will know
our own worth.

And, if we can do that, we will rejoice
in the success of others.

And, if we can do that, we will accept, as a burden,
that there will always be those whose low self-esteem,
jealousy, envy, ego, or anger won’t allow them
any other recourse
but to lash out.

And if we can do that, we’ll realize, as a blessing,
that the next essay, article, story, or book we write
will be better because of it.

And if we can do that, we will each,
we will all, know what it’s like to be
Meryl Streep.

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by Marguerite Quantaine © 2015

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IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU (TOO)

Birthday Greetings - Woman in White Dress, FlowersWere 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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