Sunday, September 24, 2006

The “Beautiful Bouquet”

Bea is sound asleep today, exhausted after two days of conversation. I take the down time to sift through some of her papers and discover what appears to be the beginning of a memoir:

“This is the last week in the year 2000. I am now 91.

The important fact in my life is that my husband, Count Paul Alexandrovich Grabbe, died at the age of 97 ½.

I tell myself that people do not live forever. I think of St. Francis saying, ‘Grazie Signore, per la morte, nostra sorella corporale.’

But I do not want to identify my remaining days with the inevitability of death but rather to have the pleasure of recalling special moments of joy in my life. I like to think of the circumstances under which I met the man I married.

It was wartime. Paul had been offered a job at the Office of War Information because someone liked the book he had written with visual aids called, We Call It Human Nature. The way I met him was – and is – important in the story of my life ...

NOTE: The narrative continues on the next page of the spiral notebook, but Bea's mind seems to have jumped back in time.

... Because I had worked for CBS Radio before the days of TV and because I had been fired by the grotesque head of the Department of Education, Sterling Fisher. (Oh, he was a sterling fisher all right but did his fishing in the Bronx where he took up with little girls, eager to sleep their way up.)

NOTE: IN THE MARGIN BEA HAS WRITTEN that a refusal to sleep one's way up led to being fired.

After college I wanted to do something in the field of education, and so I had taken a summer course at the NYU Radio Workshop. That had led me to qualify for the window-dressing department at an otherwise strictly bottom-line section of Bill Paley’s CBS.

My salary was ridiculously low, $30 a week. I was proud to get a raise to $35. With this sum I was able to support myself in NYC. I lived in a rather crumby section in a walk-up apartment, costing only $50 a month. I took it over from Selden Rodman.

So many years later I like to think of this early self-sufficiency. Sometimes I was a little embarrassed to be delivered there by such people as Deems Taylor …”

The narrative stops here. So often Bea did this, start a memoir, then leave the reader wondering what happened next. I find clues elsewhere. This statement my dad wrote on a pad, for instance: “Man’s greatest problem is coping with women in his life – his mother, psychologically, and later his mates. The problem is to find a woman who will make a man whole, free him from his mother and release his pent-up creative energies. The sexual act is part of the problem as a stimulus to creation.”

Hmmm. Not very romantic.

Digging for more information, I come across Chapter V (marked “or VI”) of a novel Bea never finished:

“They had meant to spend the afternoon at Dumbarton Oaks, but the park was closed. They proceeded quietly along the wooded path. Here in the seclusion of the trees, some of the tension left her. After a while, they came to a large clean oak log and sat down.

He was telling her about his early life – some of the things she wanted to know. She wasn’t eager; she knew they would come eventually. And she had half guessed some of them. But it was good they came so soon in the relationship.

It was a story she had heard before, the one about the rebellious child who befriends the servants and finds a bulwark in them against parents who do not have the time nor the flexibility to understand …

Sara had decided that his absorbing interest in clarification was an unconscious expression of his own inner psychic need. She was pleased and surprised though, to hear him say that he had even considered seeing an analyst to find out what sort of a blockage might be causing it.

She felt a lift in her spirit at this evidence of insight and quietly remarked that it always seemed to her wise for people interested in psychology to get themselves analyzed. He said it was not psychology he was primarily interested in.

She knew she was on dangerous ground now and spoke slowly: “No, not psychology exactly. But your interest was reflected in the book you wrote. Besides, anyone concerned with anything bordering on psychology does well to avail himself of all the new values that analysis turns up.” Then she spoke about some of the ways it had helped her.

He said perhaps it would be wise for him to be analyzed so that he could be more able to love her. She felt as if he had handed her such a beautiful bouquet that she could hardly reach out her hands and take it …”


Blogger Karyn said...

What a gift. My grandmother left similar writings on scraps of paper tucked in an ancient envelope for me and my cousins. Her life was missing the travel to exotic lands and hobnobbing with persons of note and the independent youth your mother seems to have enjoyed... but it's still the best thing she left us.

6:17 PM  

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