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A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

Six Weeks in Nevada Divorce CourtsI was once sued by the Town of Huntington, NY for 7 million dollars, plus interest since 1797, and a sentence of one year in jail for refusing to surrender documents to the town historian, Rufus B. Langhams, who alleged, under oath, had been stolen from the Town by a colonial-era employee and kept hidden by his ancestors for 195 years until I was consigned to auction the papers off along with the contents of the family estate.

Prior to the lawsuit being heard before New York State Supreme Court Justice William L. Underwood, Jr., I was vilified in print by The Long Islander and Newsday, shunned by former friends, slandered by candidates and their political operatives, chastised by churchgoers, and kept under surveillance for nearly a year — only to be threatened by an assistant town attorney hiding in the bushes of my front yard after midnight, incessantly meowing until I ventured out, then backing me up against my front door while brandishing a knife-like object in order to serve me with court papers.

I share this to demonstrate my profound respect for Christine Blasey Ford’s anticipated testimony before Congress pertaining to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States.

She is courageous.

Few can imagine the resolve it takes to risk one’s life and livelihood in order to ensure justice be done on behalf of the majority who will not seek it for themselves, nor for the benefit of another, nor for the good of a nation — because the fear of retribution makes stepping up perilous.

I suspect Ford does not want to testify. But as a competent citizen with a conscience compelling her to intervene, she knows her freedom of speech is denied the moment she chooses to silence herself, and — like all rights guaranteed by our constitution — free speech was granted as an individual’s responsibility to protect.

It is not an entitlement.

The fact that her testimony involves exposing intimacies secreted by shame engineered by patriarchal societies to silence women for centuries makes her testimony all the more ominous — and her decision to testify all the more valiant.

Our demand for her to be heard should be deafening.

Our cry should be, “Can you hear us, now?”
~

They sent three lawyers with the Huntington town historian to admonish me for costing the taxpayers nearly a million dollars to wage a year long war against me, arguing the merits of their action of replevin. They called for my incarceration, demanded to be rewarded all the original Town documents in my possession, urged that I be fined, and asked that I be assigned all legal fees and court costs.

I stood alone, without consul, in Propria Persona, as evidence of my innocence.

I presented a book on special loan to me from the reference section of the Huntington Public Library, authored by Rufus Langhams. Published a decade earlier, it contained photographs of every document I harbored that he’d sworn had been stolen during colonial times, with captions confirming the originals were in his possession, kept locked in the archives of the Huntington Historical Society, to which he had sole access.

I presented letters from several museums attesting to many of those same original documents being sold to them by Rufus Langhams, while acting in the capacity of town historian as directed by the Town of Huntington.

I listed names, addresses and phone numbers of other Town residents who were coerced into surrendering copies of inherited documents to Rufus Langhams when he showed up at their homes and demanded them, citing the New York State Property Tort of Replevin as his legal right to confiscate heirlooms.

I contended the documents I held were copies from 195 years passed, not the originals of documents that Langhams sold to profit himself over his many years of incumbency as the Town of Huntington historian.

Supreme Court Justice William L. Underwood, Jr. immediately dismissed the charges against me, with prejudice, thereby barring the Town from ever bringing an action against me on the claim again, and granted me sole property rights, before assigning all expenses incurred, court costs and attorney fees to the Town.

I was then excused. The town historian and three town attorneys were ordered to stay.

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Newsday and The Long Islander never published a retraction, nor did they do a follow up story.

There was no public acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the town historian. The spurious charges in the action lodged against me were never revealed. There was no further discussion of the papers in question.

I was never offered an apology.

Eventually, a friend within Town government told me that, in lieu of no one else wanting the job, Rufus Langhams would remain as town historian, but would no longer be trusted with unaccompanied access to historic documents, and a full accounting of the archives had been ordered.

Eight years later, the town historian died of a heart attack. His obituary read, in part: “Rufus Buford Langhams of Huntington, L.I., once went to England seeking to collect $15,000 in Revolutionary War debts from the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was not successful.”

~

I was once a force to be reckoned with.

Christine Blasey Ford is one.

Shouldn’t we all be?

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist, author, and animal rescue activist.

Find her on Amazon. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her @ margueritequantaine.com.

A Force To Be Reckoned With © 9.22.18
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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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CHARITY BEGINS ALONE

Charity

Some women choose other women for support, but many of our mother’s generation behaved like perpetual damsels in distress needing a man around to help them with the simplest things, catering to every male entering a room, putting their needs first and foremost, soliciting their opinions before making a decision, giving them the larger portions, the better chairs, the greater control, and endlessly feeding their egos.

Above all, they needed to be married to a man while encouraging every female within their inner circle to adopt their medieval mindset.

Elizabeth’s mom was like that, marrying three times after Liz’s dad suddenly died (although Liz ignores the nuptial that was annulled).

My mom was just as assiduous in promoting second-class citizenry, except for getting hitched again. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop her from relentlessly urging her daughters to marry, and dragging men into every conversation and situation.

Once, while leaving a Broadway show at the Palace theater in Manhattan, she grabbed the elbow of a man trying to maneuver the crowd outside the entrance and asked him what bus we should take to get uptown.

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“How the hell would I know?” he steamed at her. “Do I look like a bus driver for God’s sake?”

“Well!” she huffed.

“That was Don Knotts, Mom.”

“Where?”

“The man you just asked for directions.”

“Andy Griffith’s Don Knotts?”

“Yes.”

“He certainly wasn’t very polite.”

Okay, nevermind that I’d been living in the city for more than a year and had, single-handedly, succeeded in getting us to the theater from my upper west side apartment two hours earlier after reminding her I knew the way because I’d been to the Palace once before.

It was shortly after I’d won the Midwest Division of the National ABC Television Talent Hunt in 1965 and was chosen to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

I arrived in New York City on January 29, 1966 as a highly impressionable fledgling from a small Michigan town.

At the time, my older brother, Kit, was working as a stagehand with the musical, Hurray It’s A Glorious Day…and all that scheduled to open at the Theater Four on West 55th Street in March. The confidence he exuded pleased Mom, so they conspired to persuade me to don my Sunday best and meet him outside the Palace Theatre at 9:30 that night.

Let me say, I don’t know why I was still trusting Mom’s judgment of Kit. As kids he’d leave me holding the bag under the worst of circumstances, and lure me into the scariest settings. We referred to these dupes as ‘Kit tricks’ — like when he locked me in the basement coal bin minutes before a delivery was to be made. Kit has always been my bad habit dying hard.

Regardless, since my ‘best’ was a blue silk bridesmaid dress worn to a July wedding five years earlier, I felt peculiar standing there, fighting the dry cold wind with him, waiting under the marquee for the curtain to come down and the audience to emerge. Once it did, Kit ordered me to “just act natural” as we slipped under a purple velvet rope guiding a small procession of people invited backstage to greet the cast.

Once inside the stage door, Kit abandoned me to look for Polly, a woman he claimed was a friend he’d made while working summer stock the year before.

The backstage of the Palace Theatre is cavernous, with grips scurrying about in headsets, scenery on brails against brick back-walls, overhead catwalks several stories high and huge fresnel lanterns suspended from the ceiling.

Alone and afraid of being caught, I stood in the center of the chamber looking like a lost soul seeking flight when the alley door burst open and down the long steel staircase came Kit’s so-called friend, Polly, making her entrance while screaming, “Gwen, I’m here, Gwen, I’m here, I’m sorry I’m late, oh Gwen, I’m here, Gwen, I’m here!”

Upon reaching the backstage floor, she began barreling my direction. That’s when the redhead standing two feet away with her back to me pivoted on her black patent leather stilettos and asked, “Would you be a dear and hold my flowers so I can get a shot with Polly?”

As I accepted her large bouquet of scarlet roses, it finally dawned on me.

I was backstage, opening night of Sweet Charity, instantly cast as the unnamed flower girl in a publicity shot of Gwen Verdon and Polly Bergen.

Naturally, Kit was nowhere to be found — but something he’d said to me earlier proved my saving grace.

“No one will ask you who you are because they’ll think you must be related to someone important — and not knowing someone important would be too embarrassing for them.”

He was right. Nobody asked.

I waited until a bevy of friends gathered around the celebrated stars before quietly leaving the roses and fading away.

When I got home I called Mom and listened to her relate Kit’s version of the evening; of how Polly was a no-show so, after “I ditched him” he joined a group of the theatre grips and went downtown to the Red Lion to hang out.

I let it pass.

Now, in reminiscence, I often revisit my introduction to New York and say, “Hooray!”

It was, indeed, a glorious day.

And all that.

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by Marguerite Quantaine, Copyright © 8.31.17
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available AMAZON, in paperback , and on Kindle.
Her book of essays, My Little Black Dress Is Pink,
has a planned release date of October 3, 2017.

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MY DAY OF DALI-ING

me.young.2.

 

I’m sitting in my office at Fuller & Smith & Ross on the 36th floor of a forty story Fifth Avenue Manhattan skyscraper known as the Top of the Sixes. It’s the summer of 1967, shortly before our advertising agency’s media acumen is chosen to put Richard Nixon in the White House. I’ve been working here since 1965 when I was hired as a lowly media clerk for several months before skyrocketing up the ladder to become the Manager of Purchasing, Interiors,  & In-House Printing.

I’m listed as a corporate executive because this is FSR’s corporate headquarters, with branch offices in Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. That sounds like I should be sophisticated, but I’m not, not by any stretch of my imagination no matter how well I dress. Instead, I am 21 going on 33 professionally, but privately naive.

I’ve met every person on the two floors occupied by FSR because they’ve all been in need of office necessities in the course of doing their jobs and I’ve made a protocol of personal delivery. That is, except for Mr. Mahoney, the Senior Vice-President Creative Director whom I’ve only seen in passing (once) as he exited an elevator, leaving a waft of Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage in his wake. We’ve not yet met because he’s never requested anything.

Until  this morning. He has summoned me to bring him a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencil.

I suspect it’s a ploy to get me behind closed doors.

My wonder is, why?

Mr. Mahoney is as dapper as Cary Grant, almost as tall, but not nearly as handsome. He has thick, perfectly styled and parted silver, Vitalis laden hair and meticulously manicured hands. He’s old money schooled and bred; a gentleman who, although married with children, is rumored to be light in the loafers. He’s a nasal sounding enunciator and an elitist. The remarks made behind his back aren’t crude, rude, or meant to be mean, though unnecessary in pointing out the obvious.

His office is locked behind perpetually closed doors on the south side of the building with windows that would have overlooked East 52nd Avenue and Schraft’s Restaurant if he hadn’t had them paneled over to create a chamber of solitude and quietude.

“Come in,” he answers to my almost inaudible tap, “and close the door behind you.”

I do and am abruptly taken aback.

The room is pitch black except for Mr. Mahoney sitting in a George Mulhauser Mr. Series molded chair behind a twelve foot long, custom made, Giuseppe Scapinelli Jacaranda wood desk I recognize from admiring examples of them in catalogs and at trade shows.

But it is the painting illuminated on the wall, inches above him and behind him that renders me mute and motionless. It measures exactly as long as the desk, by maybe four feet high — a cropped variant of St. John of the Cross that ends just below St. John’s bowed head, and just above his spiked hands, framed by the very edge of the wood cross blending into the painting’s narrow slat frame.

Except it isn’t St. John of the Cross I see, but the spiked, bleeding crown of (I presume) Jesus Christ, with the head of Christ in the painting centered perfectly above that of Mr. Mahoney’s.

“What do you think?” a voice from the darkness asks.

“I’m not sure,” I stammer. “It’s like my eyes  are glued to it. I can’t seem to move.”

I realize I gasped and finally exhale.

“You were right,” comes the voice.

“You can go now,” says Mr. Mahoney.

In pivoting to leave I see the faint outline of a man in a cauliflower white vested suit and Havana hat sitting with his legs crossed on a couch against the back wall. He’s otherwise invisible, until I open the door to light streaming in from the hallway. I glance over to notice how pale his face is, and how pretentious his long, skinny, black waxed and twisted upwards mustache appears. He is eerily exotic.

I will never see the painting, either in a photograph, or coffee table book, or art catalog, or hanging anywhere ever again.

But I do see the man in the cauliflower suit later that day. He’s standing alone in Paley Park, admiring the water fall. I am planning to buy a cup of coffee from the small concession there, but instead I spend my time leaning against a honey locust tree, watching the man watching the water.

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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and novelist.
Copyright © August 21, 2017
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LAST RIGHTS

 

 

The last three words my sweetheart and I speak to each other before hanging up the phone are “I love you.” We say the same in public places whenever going our separate ways, when exiting the house either alone or together, and before falling asleep each night. Sometimes I even say them when leaving her to tidy up the kitchen as I head upstairs to write. The words are always heartfelt. Never flung. Never forgotten.
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I learned to say “I love you” from my mom who thought we should say it to our siblings whenever one of us walked out the door. We didn’t, although the words were a given between me and her, and similarly exchanged between my kid sister, Kate, and I.
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Otherwise, I’m reluctant to express them.
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I don’t recall my father ever saying “I love you” to me or my sisters except in a tickle poem he mostly used to torture Kate. He was a misogynist when it came to his daughters and a misogamist due to our unwanted births. For certain, I neither felt, nor uttered the sentiment to him.
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It’s no secret that my father wanted six sons, having cast himself as too virile to spawn females, so I can’t speak for my brother’s relationships with him. Besides, the three boys were all older, during a period when practicing sexism thrived. They’ve remained distant for most my life. Not as antagonists, mind you. There’s no ill will. Indeed, our communications are always engaging. But we’re more like friends with certain secrets kept than family with skeletal closets closed.
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In fact, I doubt they know, immediately after returning home from a forced 48 hour stay in the mental ward of Foote Memorial Hospital (tethered to a bed by brown leather straps with gray metal buckles), I tried to kill my father with a salad fork. Where I found a salad fork is baffling, since salads were never part of any meal plan when we were young, save for the Waldorf variety when Michigan Macintoshes were plentiful. Admittedly, patricide by salad fork seems tame by today’s road rage comparison, but in 1962 small town, midwest America, even the hint of such news would knock the kid washing his duck in the kitchen sink off the front page (or at least lower it below the fold).
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I was sixteen, five-foot-one, and weighing in at 75 pounds to his five-foot-eight at twice the weight. He quickly overcame me with a grip from behind, but I chomped down on his left hand until I reached the bone of his index finger. Tossed off and aside, I spit blood when warning him to never touch me or Kate again. He never did. We steered clear of each other after that.
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I’ve never cried for my father, nor regretted my actions, remaining reticent about the motive behind my foiled intent of fifty-five years ago. I cannot talk about the details even now.
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And, really, what would be the point? My brothers, who saw no need, nor made an effort to protect their sisters from him in the past might doubt me now, as then. They have their own cemented memories of my father. My older sister grapples with hers, still.
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But no one talks, unless you count my father whose callous and cunning correspondence to my brothers bemoaned his life, made excuses for his failures, alluded to addictions, transferred infidelities, and emulated martyrdom while praising his sons before claiming his redemption. Letters that were copied and given to my Kate as — what? Proof of his greater goodness and professed regret?
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She left me the copies with a not-so-cryptic note attached, written in her own hand, confident I’d understand how it felt to be lost in a world where forgiveness is sometimes the fad, and forgetting is always the fallacy.
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No, no. It hasn’t made me bitter.
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Just weary.
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My mom said my father was watching the Detroit Lions trounce the Cleveland Browns on television when his eyeglasses fell off. While reaching down to retrieve them he suffered a massive heart attack. Before the thud, she heard him curse.
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My father’s final words were, “God damn it!”
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My mom’s final words were, “I know you do.”
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Kate’s final words were, “I love you.”

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by Marguerite Quantaine Copyright @ 2017
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her novel,
IMOGENE’S ELOISE: Inspired by a true story
is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.
Choose LOOK INSIDE for a free read prior to considering purchase.
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Marguerite Quantaine’s book of essays,
MY LITTLE BLACK DRESS IS PINK
is due for publication in paperback and Kindle on Amazon
October 3, 2017.

ONLY THE NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED

sequoiaSome stories never get old, such as the one told to me about my Aunt Betty being a Michigan gun moll during the rum running 1920’s when the vast majority of illegal liquor was smuggled into the United States on boats crossing the Detroit River from Canada. As a child, I didn’t know what a gun moll was, and since my ostensible relative was long gone before my birth, she remains somewhat of  a  mystery, similar to Cassandra’s friendship that Elizabeth and I made much later on.
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The thing is, we didn’t know Cassie was married to a goodfella until after we’d accepted her invitation to be part of the Statue of Liberty Centennial Celebration of vessels gathering in New York Harbor on July 4th, 1986.
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Granted, we should have suspected it when the wives arrived decked out in their patriotic best for the occasion of a lifetime, while their husbands donned those homogeneous black Robert Hall suits, black Wembley skinny ties, black Hanover oxfords, and black Dobb’s Fedoras contrasted by crisp white shirts and matching white socks for partying under a midsummer sky.
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But it wasn’t until the custom-made 44’ Cabin Super Cruiser (with it’s master stateroom, two guest bedrooms, three heads, dual galleys, a dining room, and helm reception area) had cast off  from it’s Long Island berth and began racing down the Sound to group-greet the largest assembly of international Tall Ships and an American Armada did his capo status become evident.
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That’s when Cassie’s husband, Carmine, appeared on a flybridge far above the main deck where we happily clasped our umbrella drinks while lounging in the open console on cushioned deck chairs. We looked up to see a long line of his soldiers on the steps to his tower, waiting for an individual audience, each honoring him by kissing the ring on his extended hand.
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“Doesn’t that look just like a scene from The Godfather,” Liz whispered.
“It does indeed,” I agreed.
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Wiser women might have jumped ship, but we had no wish to swim with the fishes. And besides, I couldn’t swim. So instead, I chose to acquiesce by placing my brand new Canon SureShot on a table with all the other cameras voluntarily surrendered, and drank up.
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The boat ride into Manhattan was otherwise unremarkable, but our arrival was exhilarating as we joined 30,000 spectator crafts gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lady Liberty. What’s more, setting anchor alongside the U.S.S. Sequoia Presidential Yacht seemed momentous.
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I’d only ever seen the Sequoia in photographs before then. Built in 1925 as a rich man’s cruiser, it was purchased by our government in 1931 as a decoy to patrol the harbor during Prohibition when black market booze was supplied to boaters trolling the bay. Any bootlegger rowing over to sell liquor to the Sequoia was immediately arrested.
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But during his final two years as president, Herbert Hoover began borrowing the Sequoia from the Commerce Department to utilize it as the Presidential Yacht for fishing trips. It quickly became a floating White House. Over subsequent years, every other POTUS found both political and pleasurable uses for it until Jimmy Carter sold the Sequoia as part of a cost-cutting campaign promise. Nonetheless, just knowing the history (coupled with our being up close and personal to it) felt daunting.
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That is, until we became sitting ducks when our yacht’s anchor couldn’t be raised. While all other vessels cleared the lane, we sat alone, moored to the river bottom, in the direct path of the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier three football fields long, 192 feet high, 300 feet wide, and weighing more than 82,000 tons that began five-blasting it’s horn in an effort to make us move-move-move-move-move out of harm’s way as it barreled down on us.
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Let me say, not one of the 5,000 seamen standing at attention in their service dress whites on the carrier deck flinched while Carmine struggled with the controls to avoid our being sliced and diced. The other thirty-one of us strapped on lifejackets and remained calm, fixated on the humongous ship targeted to hit us, awaiting our fate.
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In retrospect, we might have been in shock, since I can’t remember any details of how Carmine got the anchor up. But I do recall the yacht rocking quite a bit from the bow waves hitting our accelerating stern, and the quiet that blanketed us as we gradually recovered from the close encounter.
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One thing is for certain, nobody made light of the incident, and during the following 4 years of our mostly-holidays friendship with Cassie before we moved to Florida, the Centennial trip was never mentioned again.
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Upon our midnight return to port, I went to retrieve my SureShot and discovered someone had poured saltwater over it before removing the film.
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A week later I received a package in the mail containing photographs of me and mine relaxing in lounge chairs aboard Cassandra and Carmine’s yacht. There was no return address on the envelope, no note enclosed, and no mention of my camera.
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Today I sent my brothers and sister each an email, asking what more they could add to the story of our mysterious Aunt Betty being a Detroit gun moll.
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While none of them claimed knowledge of the gun moll variation, there was talk of my grandfather being a Chicago gambler who was widowed with three very young daughters — one of them named Betty. To rectify his situation, he placed a mail order bride advertisement in the Tribune wherein he claimed to be single and childless. Receiving a reply, he promptly abandoned the three little girls to a Catholic orphanage on the way to marrying my grandmother, without revealing the truth to her, or ever returning to retrieve his children.
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So, technically, Betty was only my half-aunt — whom my sister remembers as being a paramour of a Chicago mayor, but my brother says was the mistress of the mayor of Detroit.
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It never gets old.
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Marguerite Quantaine is an essayist and author.
Her book, Imogene’s Eloise : Inspired by a true-love story
is available AMAZON, in paperback , and on Kindle.
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