24. September 2015 · Comments Off on Throwback · Categories: NMM.Trajectory.

Muriel hands me the phone.  It’s Howie.


Doreen!  I’m Howie.   You know, your cousin’s cousin?

Oh of course!  What a surprise!

Never thought I would get a call from him, of all people.

When I was still in high school, he was at a college in New York.  It was from his letters and the music records he sent our cousin that we got the latest raves and college fads.

I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, a hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap, barrel and a heap and I’m talking in my sleep about you, about you…

Funny how a voice on the phone can evoke a catchy song heard years and years ago.

Howie is doing a stint as city editor at a Pittsburgh newspaper.   There he saw a photo of me dancing with a young man in an ad for a school benefit.

I meet his wife Lana and their infant son at their apartment.

Talking about college life, I say I am not doing as much dancing as you might think from that photo.  I posed for that ad with someone I didn’t know, to benefit a student organization I don’t even belong to.  They asked, and I was just doing my bit.   Truth is I have very little time for dances.

I tell them that I was at a girls’ college in Ohio where I had a four-year scholarship.  There I had all the time I needed to keep up with my courses as well as big sister luncheons and daisy chains and performing with my choral group.  The college was fine, but there were other, personal reasons that made me suddenly decide to transfer.

It was too late in the year to apply for a new scholarship at this university.   Now I’m working my way through.   I stay with friends in the suburbs, and I work as a part-time waitress.

Howie rolls his eyes.   Working as a waitress?   Don’t you know that you have to die first?

That is a throwback question from a world so remote to me now it may as well be the Byzantine Empire.

Howie is teasing.   This is insiders’ gallows humor.   We laugh hard.   And yet, we are still whistling past a graveyard.

We knew only too well men who failed to save their businesses and fortunes and found the loss of face so devastating that they chose to kill themselves.  They thought it was more tolerable to leave their children to the charity of rich relatives.

I think of the first time I stood in a restaurant waiting to serve a customer.  By then I had done my share of serving meals at Grailville.   I took serving for granted.

But as I stood there, about to serve the public for pay, something rose up from my gut.   I knew instantly what it was.

Don’t you know you have to die first?


That was a gut reaction from the dark side of my upbringing.   It was like some secret buried treasure we knew when to dig up and use to save face at any cost.

I suppose everyone has a way out.   We just happen to have the pride and vainglory of old money buried deep.

But I am not that girl in my grandmother’s world anymore.  That throwback moment never happened again.

Listen, Howie, you were the first one to give me the idea that in the U.S.A. it is okay, even admirable, for anybody to do manual labor.  Remember how you said that lots of boys in your college worked like that?   I think you mentioned unloading trucks or something?

I guess he might have joined them for fun and maybe for being one of the guys.  Howie did not need money.  He is an heir to one of the largest fortunes in Hong Kong.

At the moment he does not seem to miss that grand lifestyle he always knew.  Their apartment is modest.

He says he is standing his ground in a family dispute.   Good for him.

When I tell Muriel that Howie is my second cousin from Hong Kong, she wants me to invite them for dinner.   Bring the baby, of course.

Muriel loves to meet people from foreign countries, but I can see that the prospect of having a baby to fuss over, even for one evening, excites her.

I don’t really want to invite Howie’s family.   What would they have in common with Muriel and Bill?  Besides, McKeesport is a little steel town quite a long drive from Pittsburgh.   I’m pretty sure they won’t come anyway.

Still, I promised Muriel that I would invite them.  So I ask Howie and Lana, but not before explaining that Muriel and Bill had lost a son and all that.  I even joke that Muriel’s cooking is similar to hospital food, and they should not come for the food.  I make it easy for them not to accept.

They accept.  They will bring their baby too.

I do what I can to help Muriel with the cooking while resigned to humming que sera, sera.

Actually, it all goes quite well.

Muriel carries the baby upstairs to the extra bedroom where she and Lana change and fuss over the little prince.   It makes Muriel’s day.

I even got rid of one or two misconceptions that I didn’t know I had about spoiled super-rich Hong Kong boys.

Afterwards Muriel says what a lovely couple.  Whatever keeps them apart from Howie’s family will be reconciled.   He is the only son, and now he has the only grandson.

You don’t have to read tea leaves to predict a felicitous outcome.

As Muriel foresaw, soon Howie’s father called him and said something like you’ve had enough fun, come home.

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