Were 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?”
“Are you Irish?”
“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?”
“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.
“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.)
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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