SO NOW another obituary that makes me stop and reflect ...
Mae Murray, 75, is dead. She's an old-time movie star who became famous as 'The Merry Widow" in 1926. This was a glamorous picture and she was a glamorous star. Mae Murray was perfect in the part and she continued to live that role long after her beauty and her money and her way of life departed.
I met this woman only once in my life-and I cannot forget it.
Our meeting took place in San Francisco eight or nine years ago, I guess. I was on vacation, staying at the old Palace hotel and she was an overnight guest there in route to the East.
It is the policy of the Palace to give special treatment to special guests and Mae Murray rated as one of the VIPs. Ordinarily, she would have been wined and dined with hotel executives fluttering around her in the manner she required, even though in these last years of her life she'd been "down on her luck," the Salvation Army found her wandering and dazed in one city, and in another city she said she'd been sleeping three nights on a park bench ...
The Palace always treated her as the star she once was-and she doted on that attention.
But, on this particular visit, she had arrived at an inopportune time - it was the opening night of the opera season and the Palace Court was booked solid by ancient dowagers in their multiple jewels with their young grandchildren in their first formal outfits. Every old-name San Francisco family dined at the Palace Court on the opening night of the opera season-it was THE thing to do, and the Palace brought out the gold service and all the meticulous details of gracious dining, including white-gloved waiters, that are seldom seen any more.
Only the most formal of attire was permitted in the Palace Court that evening. And when Mae Murray appeared at the entrance of the Palace Court for dinner, she was not wearing an evening gown. She had not brought one with her. She wore a plain black dress with a low movie-star-type neckline-and a big Merry Widow hat with a small plume.
The hotel executives were in a tizzy. They did not want to hurt her feelings by not permitting her to dine in that formal setting, they didn't even have a junior executive to be her host, they couldn't return her to her room to wait for dinner a la room service-they really were on a spot! And on a Spot like that they screamed for Lucy Nunes, who was in charge of their public relations office then.
Lucy took the situation in at a glance-and solved the problem. First she rounded up a group of junior hotel men and shepherded them - with Mae Murray in the middle-into the hotel bar and ordered champagne all around. Then she got the famous, temperamental headwaiter to one side and explained the problem. He was of the "old school" who knew how to uphold Palace hotel tradition-and he remembered the Mae Murray as she had been in her prime.
He ordered a special small table set up in a palm-shaded corner-IN the festive occasion but not OF it. The table was set with all the glamorous trappings, and two gold chairs with red velvet cushions were placed beside it.
Then Lucy rang my room and said, '”I’m desperate! You MUST do me a favor. Don't ask questions. Just come to the Palace Court in 10 minutes wearing whatever you've got that will make people think you're going on to the opera. I KNOW you didn't bring an evening gown with you but fake it, honey, fake it. Bring a pencil and notebook, and PLEASE-for my sake-act like a newspaper reporter who is simply DYING to interview Mae Murray!"
WHO? I asked.
"TEN MINUTES!" Lucy yelled in my ear and I knew this was no rime to ask questions. I put on a black suit, hung the neckline with several necklaces caught with a rhinestone pin, and covered everything with a royal blue velvet raincoat which had often doubled as an evening coat on rainy nights. It wasn't raining this night-but it was no time to quibble.
I ran for the elevator ...
That's how I met Mae Murray, pretending to be overcome with her glamour and wanting to interview her for a palpitating public. I need not have worried. Mae Murray didn't pay any attention to women.
She answered my questions after a fashion as we sat on the red velvet cushions on the gold chairs beside the little table with the royal china and heavy silver-but she never once looked at me again.
Her glance roved the room. She preened and postured, turning that Merry Widow hat this way and that way, any way to get any man - waiter or guest or bus boy-to look in her direction. She thrived on male attention, giving no attention at all to the food or the wine.
She seemed to be starring in a private dream of her own.
I remember one of the courses-a creamed chicken dish-was served on a small pink linen napkin placed on the plate, a symbol of old-fashioned elegance. I remember also that Mae Murray wearing her trademark, that Merry Widow hat, was gowned in a dress so shabby that the back sleeve seam was split and there were food stains on the skirt. She, too, was a symbol of faded elegance.
Then came that moment of magic that I shall never forget. It is one of those perfect moments that occur once in a lifetime ...
The orchestra began playing the Merry Widow Waltz, the theme song of Mae Murray's glory. Even while I looked at her, the years dropped from her shoulders like an outworn shawl. Her eyes brightened, her smile softened and she became-in a way-a radiant young woman with Broadway at her feet.
She sat there, erect and queenly. at that little table under the palms in a corner of the Palace Court in the midst of a formal dinner party. As the entrancing melody played on, the orchestra leader turned and smiled at Mae Murray. A soft pink spotlight came out of the ceiling and enfolded her in its romantic aura. I leaned back into the palms, into the shadows. This was her moment not to be shared.
Slowly the old-name San Francisco patrons of the arts, dining there as they had always done on the opening night of the opera, turned to look. There was no applause, no recognition of this former star. I held my breath, waiting for whatever was to come next because surely it could not end on this semitragic plane.
And then it happened. An elderly gentleman, in white tie and tails, arose from his table and walked slowly across the thick carpet, as the Merry Widow Waltz permeated the air with old-fashioned sentiment.
The elderly gentleman paused before Mae Murray. He bowed, slowly, formally. She nodded, regally, and held out her hand.
He bowed over her hand, kissed it, and said, "I shall never forget how lovely you were the first time I saw you on the stage, my dear-as lovely as you are tonight."
For one unforgettable instant, Mae Murray had her dream come true. As one who looked on this scene from the shadows, I dissolved into tears-and they had to take me out later on a sponge!
March 25, 1965
OCCASIONALLY a story has a special kind of tilt that gives me a special kind of a lilt. Here's what I mean ...
Robert Barth, Dayton businessman, vacationed this summer where his family has been vacationing for many, many years. It's the Fountain Point resort at Leelanau, Mich., where everybody knows him.
That's why, when it came time to check alit and pay the bill, he had no trouble when he told the proprietors that he had come off without his personal checks. "Use one of ours," said the resort owners, offering him a blank check without a second's hesitation.
So Robert Barth carefully scratched out the name of the bank, the name of the city and state printed on the check. Carefully, he substituted the name of his own bank, town and state and wrote a four-figure check drawn on his account at the First National Bank of Dayton.
The check was accepted without question by his friends, owners of the resort. The Barth family, having paid its bill in full for a long vacation, returned home.
The check was returned, too. Going through regular banking channels, the validity of the scratched-over check for four figures was questioned by the Federal Reserve Bank of Detroit. They double-checked the annual bank directory listing all banks in the country. They found no First National Bank of Dayton. They returned the check to the resort owners marked "No Such Bank."
The owners reluctantly mentioned the matter to Robert Barth. He snorted. Naturally, the teller at the Federal Reserve Bank of Detroit who had consulted the current bank directory found no listing for the First National Bank of Dayton and for good reason!
The bank directory was printed at the beginning of the year. The First National Bank of Dayton came into existence on May 28 AFTER the directory was printed! Up until that time, it was the National Bank of Dayton, a solid institution listed in the directory.
Robert Barth didn't argue. He simply sent his friends, the resort owners, another check-a new personal printed check drawn on the First National Bank of Dayton. He hopes the Federal Reserve Bank of Detroit has an up-to-date listing when his new check is presented.
The tilt that provides the lilt?
Robert Barth is president of the First National Bank of Dayton.
Sept. 15, 1966
WHEN IT CAME TIME to bring out the Christmas decorations this year, I unpacked each one as it was lifted down from the tiny attic and held it in my hands for a moment. Each little ornament and bauble was more than a scrap of velvet or ribbon, more than a trinket with a trace of wax from a candle that had been lit long ago.
There, in the cup of my two hands, was a continuing Christmas story, a sentimental intertwining of loved faces and heartwarming memories that stirred anew in my thoughts ...
The two small wreaths for the two small windows in the back door ... shiny dark green leaves with pine cones and red velvet bows. The small nails on which they hung-one at the top window and one at the bottom-were still there in the door. As I settled the cherry wreaths in their accustomed places, I saw again the strong, skilled hands selecting the right spots to hammer in the nails ... and heard the happy barks of a small cocker spaniel as he joined in the delight of wreath-hanging. When he looked through his own wreath on his own little window in the door, Buff was a Christmas card come to life.
The carolers and their tiny lamp, all three singers no higher than two inches. And the fat little boy holding a big fat candle in his arms was so small, his candle was really a miniature birthday one. These two china ornaments-the carolers in the snow, and the tow-headed little boy-went to their special places on the mantel as if they had never been away.
Once they had been ornaments on top of chocolate candy squares, expensive trinkets in an elegant store window on the first Christmas a young couple celebrated together. Pretending they were persons of great wealth, the young couple entered the rarified atmosphere of the exclusive shop and selected with great care the chocolate candies with the favored ornaments. The fact that they squandered in one sentimental gesture their grocery money for the next week was of no concern. All of this first married Christmas and its joys flooded my thoughts as I looked again upon the carolers and their little chubby friend ...
The small pink velvet tree made of three sizes of funnels strung on a dowel, covered in pink velvet, decorated with gold butterflies. This is always a Christmasy brightener in the little pink dressing room where it makes me smile in spite of myself. Once it stood, as an unlikely token of festive cheer on a friend's very practical office desk-and I keep it now in memory of Merab's blithe spirit ...
The cookie tree, that plain lovely gift of love one busy Christmas
when I needed something special to display cookies on a buffet table - and the man in my life disappeared into his workshop and soon came forth with exactly what I had in mind except I didn't know how to say it. He did-with three circles of plywood, small to large, threaded on a piece of broomstick, sprayed with green paint. With white lace and red ribbon, and a Christmas star on top, it was the most beautiful tree for cookies I have ever seen, then or now.
This year, the cookie tree is painted white with red and green ball fringe to edge the shelves. It holds instead of cookies some tiny fragile animals once collected for a Christmas farmyard under an old-fashioned Christmas tree ...
The bells in the doorway rang softly as I tied bright ornaments in their accustomed places. Suddenly, it was all too much to bear alone - these cheerful holiday mementoes of other times and places, so full of memories of those who are here no more to share the joyful season. I cast about for something to stop the flow of sentimental tears.
I remembered a new ornament I'd bought this fall-bits of colored glass leaded into the shape of a Christmas tree, like a cookie-cutter. But where had I put it three months ago so I'd be sure to find it again this Christmas? I hunted high and low. I'd lost it somewhere in my house ...
Frustrated, annoyed with myself, I sat down suddenly and tried to think where I had stashed that ornament. Concentration blotted out everything else in my mind. I put aside all the tears and self-pity and sadness that had sprung unbidden to my thoughts when I had held again the Christmas decorations of years past.
For an instant, there was nothing-an emptiness resulting from the dismissing of all the old notions. Then, suddenly, with a rush, the new came tumbling in-the bright memories, the happy times, echoes of shared laughter, those lovely moments of life well lived that death cannot tarnish, those lovely moments of life that we sometimes forget when we are so full of what we lack instead of what we have ...
Then I cherished each Christmas trinket of the past for its gift of happiness shared-and I remembered, too, where I'd tucked away the little green and gold glass tree. It hangs today in a Spot that catches the light and reflects it all about as a symbol of happiness remembered and contentment now ...
Dec. 25, 1965
A Debt Is Avowed
THERE'S a quotation in the play, "A Man For All Seasons," that has stuck in my mind ever since I saw this drama on Broadway several years ago. It goes like this:
Sir Thomas More: But Richard ... Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one.
Richard: And if I was, who would know it?
Sir Thomas: You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public that. , .
The quotation came to mind again the other day when I sat on a platform in the Stratford House ballroom and looked out at an assembly of teachers belonging to the Dayton Women's Education association. I had a few minutes to myself at that point-since my hostess, Jean Booker, outgoing and incoming president both, had turned aside for a bit of pre-program business, and the members were pleasantly engaged in their own conversations while they confronted--or were confronted by -a remarkable dessert, a modern melba with peach slices on a cake base, topped with ice cream, raspberry sauce and whipped cream.
Ordinarily, I would have searched in my handbag for a cough drop, surreptitiously glanced at my notes, and taken another sip of water. No dessert for me when I'm on a spot like that-it sticks in my throat when it's my turn to speak.
But when I glanced down into the audience, I saw Mae Jennings - and, though I rummaged for the cough drop, my mind was far away, back at McKinley school on Haynes street-and that IS a great distance in time and space since fire eliminated the school building years ago and now progress is wiping out the street.
I realized anew how much influence teachers had on me in those young years when my whole life was being shaped for good or ill ... I know I am punctual because of that stern disciplinarian, Teresa Corcoran, who was McKinley's principal from my kindergarten days to eighth grade graduation ... I hated fractions and anything in arithmetic more complicated than the multiplication tables but Onda Cassell was so gentle and so intensely wanted me to understand that I tried hard-and learned-for her sake, not mine ... I thought it was truly noble to sell cream-centered caramel rings at the candy table in the corridor at noon and come out even with candy and money because Gladys Mygatt told me it was a very important responsible job ... I can't run for sour apples but when Nellie Janke told me how much she counted on me to do well in the 1 DO-yard dash, I got into my gym bloomers and white middy blouse and ran in the cindered alley next to the McKinley schoolyard until my tongue hung Out ...
I know the value of an apology when it is necessary to right a wrong because Victoria Souders had the courage to apologize to an eighth grader for a misunderstanding a year before in the seventh grade ... I know the wonder and excitement contained in the written word because Mabel Ryan pushed book after book in my direction and said I had to read them "for my own good" even when they weren't required reading ... and I know I tried a little bit harder to get my lessons well because Mae Jennings did not look kindly upon pupils who did not put forth the effort to try!
Now, here it was, years later-and Mae Jennings has retired. But when I saw her there in the audience, the years dropped away like magic. She was the teacher and I was the child hoping I had done well enough to merit her approval. She took my hand in a crowded ballroom and said, firmly, "Why, Marjorie, you're just the same little girl who used to go to McKinley school ... "
For that instant, I was.
I wonder if teachers really know how very much influence they have on the young lives they help to mold ...
April 30, 1966
ANDY at three years old was a living doll with golden curls that made every woman want to pat him on the head. Andy suffered this indignity as best he could. He didn't say much but you knew he wasn't too happy about it.
When it came time for the Christmas pageant at his church, of course every woman on the committee wanted Andy to play the part of the baby, Jesus.
Andy shook his head. The ladies coaxed. He said no. They pleaded.
Andy would not co-operate.
Finally, one woman knelt down to Andy's size and said, "Andy, honey, don't you want to be the Baby Jesus?"
"Hell, no," said Andy, "I want to be a ball player."
ONE NEVER knows exactly when a special kind of moment is going to occur. It is never planned in advance. It just is-like that, when one least expects it. That's one of the many reasons why it IS a special moment-a bright clear interval in time that has nothing to do with the clock.
It's a separate complete entity that is a part of the whole day but is set apart by its quality ...
Sunday afternoon was quiet and comfortable. Instead of music, there was silence within the house. Instead of conversation, there were thoughts of many things. The warm air was freshened by the morning rainfall and the breeze came through the open windows bearing snatches of bird song.
It was a thanksgiving kind of day ...
Then came a tingling ring of the doorbell. And two bright shining faces, twin faces smiling. The young Mulder twins-alike from their blond hair to their bare feet, and both young girls dressed in red shorts and red blouses-each holding a tiny kitten.
They brought their five-week-old twin kittens-son and daughter of Missy, their family cat-to visit. No special reason. They just thought I might like to see their kittens.
And I did. I hadn't known I wanted to see their kittens but when I saw those four little faces at my back door, I knew that's exactly what that lovely Sunday afternoon needed.
Did you ever sit on a soft summer Sunday afternoon on your back-steps with a lapful of kittens, fur as soft as thistledown, tiny pink tongues? One all white with not one dark hair anywhere. The other black and white with a beautiful marking over his head ...
"You know that big white tomcat that walks through your yard sometimes," asked a twin. "He's the father."
His tiny daughter, as snow-white as her parent, snuggled against my arm. Her brother, marked like his mother, tried to chew Snowflake's ear but decided to take a cat-nap, too.
A twin slipped away, to return shortly with the mother cat who lay limply content across my lap, her tail twitching now and then when a kitten, energized by the quick nap, decided to play with it.
Sunshine, dappled by the heavily leafed trees, spread itself across children and kittens, back steps and graveled drive like a benediction. A blue jay, darting in to the feeder beneath a tree, was surprised by the presence of cat and kittens so close to his sunflower seeds. He flew higher in the tree and scolded. The kittens didn't understand. Their mother looked lazily up at the bird but didn't move a muscle ...
We talked quietly there in the soft summer Sunday sunshine ... I learned about church camp the twins are attending this week ... and how the kittens arrived when the twins were away ... and about the puppy they're going to get soon ... all very important conversation when you sit on the back-steps with a lapful of purring contentment ...
The twins put the kittens down in the grass and we watched them play with the grass stems that must have looked like a forest to them. Morhercar Missy lay quiet, accepting the stroking of her fur as her just due.
After a while, the twins shouldered their furry friends-kittens for one twin, mothercat for the other-and said they'd have to be going. Bare feet scuffling along in the warm grass beside the graveled driveway, the Mulder twins waved good-by and went along home ...
A special kind of moment, made for a quiet kind of Sunday afternoon, a moment set apart by its quality of contentment ...
July 20, 1965
A VISITING dignitary assisted the pastor in serving the sacramental wine at a communion service at a Piqua, O, church-thereby giving Lola Hill of the Piqua Daily Call one of her favorites stories ...
Participating for the first time was a class of young members who had just been confirmed. Seated with them was a visitor who was not eligible to participate, but the visiting rector was not aware of this.
He held the tray with its small glasses in front of the girl, expecting her to take one. She didn't. He motioned it closer to her and indicated she was to take the glass.
"No, thank you," said the girl. "I don't drink."
How To Say It?
HOW do you thank a friend-for just being a friend?
The plain word "thanks'l-e-even with variations on the theme - sometimes cannot convey the depth of feeling one wants to put into words. We cannot underestimate the importance of the simple thank-you in our daily living, yet sometimes it isn't enough for the one who is saying it.
After all, we have been trained to mind our manners and say thank-you when a stranger holds open a door or does some other polite service. We say thank-you when we ask directions of a person on the corner, or ask the operator for a new number, or when the check-out boy puts the groceries in the car.
All of these thank-yous are necessary and we are glad to use them in such a manner.
How, then, do we use the same words to convey our gratitude when the kindness done by a friend is a thousand times more valuable than a stranger's holding a door for us? If we try to embellish the plain thank-you with some adjectives or emphasize it with a tremolo in the voice, we run into something I ran into a while back when I tried to thank a friend for something I thought uncommonly friendly and I wanted her to know how very much I appreciated it.
Thank you-thank you VERY much, I am so grateful for this, I DO thank you ...
"Well, let's not get sticky about it, shall we?" she said, very matter-of-factly and seriously. And, of course, I had to quit the mush right away. I am sure she understood what I meant but I felt as if I had not made myself clear enough!
Frankly, I couldn't exist without friends ... and there are so many who do not know how much they help me, inspire me, challenge me and give me comfort, sometimes just to know they're there if I need
Some friends I see nearly every day, some now and then, and some only once in a blue moon. But each of them contributes something very dear and necessary to my existence. Every now and then, the need to let them know this is very strong in me. Then's when I get tongue-tied.
How, for instance, can I express my gratitude to the young couple who turned up in my driveway last Sunday morning with a load of kindling for my winter fires? They said they wanted to thank me for something and they'd taken the pains to check around my place one day when I wasn't there to see what I needed ...
Kindling is like gold-when you don't have it. When you DO have a supply of kindling, you're richer than Midas.
Each time I build a fire, I'll think of them, and their young son who helped unload the kindling and stack it in the garage for me. "
And how to thank a friend, for instance, for the thoughtfulness of remembering?
This one was frying chicken in her kitchen last Sunday when she remembered how much I liked the white meat. The next thing I knew she'd sent her husband over with a big piece of fried chicken wrapped in foil-and if you went past my house and saw me sitting in the sunshine on my back steps with a man, a piece of chicken and a Coke, you know I was enjoying to the fullest an unexpected picnic on a beautiful November afternoon ...
How do you thank a friend-for just being a friend? Is there a chemistry that permits one friend to know what is in the heart of another when the only words said are a plain thank you? A rhetorical question! I KNO'W this to be true.
But, once in a while, I kinda wish there could be some words halfway in-between a plain thanks and an elaborate mush sentiment to express a warmth of feeling.
How do you thank a friend-for just being?
Nov. 7, 1964
THERE was a lot of technical talk on TV about the spaceship and the astronauts. But the best explanation of the whole lift-off operation was given by Gregory, S, who told his sister, Janan, 2, what was going on.
The children sat before the TV screen while the countdown progressed to zero.
"Watch now," said Gregory. "When they turn loose of that string, the rocket will go up."
By golly, he was right!
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