Thursday, April 24, 2014
ON THE EDGE
I’ve waited 52 years to write this true Christmas story, one that is more Seinfeld than O. Henry. I waited until everyone save two were dead and gone to save them the embarrassment of seeing it in their hometown newspaper.
They were prominent citizens right here in beautiful downtown Waterville. French Catholic, solid Republican citizens, a family who, in their hundreds of years in Maine, only had one black sheep. Me. It is our story, a sort of keepsake to leave our children.
This is exactly the way it happened.
It was 52 years ago. It was Christmas in Manhattan, a snowy week before the big day. She, a proper Catholic university educated actress, had fallen in love with a semi-educated, semi-Catholic boy actor from far away. On our third date, in September of that year, knowing I was never going to get this lucky again, I proposed.
Today, that would mean instant moving in. But in that time, that was out of the question. No matter how late, or how cold it was outside, each night I had to walk back through the snow across Central Park to my own tiny, cold, drafty apartment.
But come the first week of December, she softened and said I could move in. There were rules: There would be no “fooling around.”
That’s French for “not until the wedding.” I had to sleep on the floor in a far corner, and no one was to know about the arrangement until she had time to explain to her very Republican father, the late Judge Cyril M. Joly, why she was making such a mistake. So there I was on the floor this cold winter’s morning, fast asleep, she, warm and cozy in her bed out of sight. All above board. What could possibly go wrong?
The door buzzer that never buzzed suddenly buzzed like a midnight scream. It was 7 a.m. Who could it be? I sat there stunned, wrapped in a blanket, as she pressed the voice button. On the other end, down five flights of stairs outside the lobby door, Judge Cyril M. Joly was on the line. He had decided to surprise her, do some last minute shopping and escort her back home.
The rest is right out of a sitcom. “OMG,” she gasped.”It’s Daddy.” I had yet to meet “Daddy,” and I didn’t want to meet him at 7 a.m. wrapped in a blanket. Yes. Seinfeld.
I grabbed my clothes, pants and shoes, no time to put them on. She stalled as long as she could and then buzzed him in. As the judge slowly trudged up five flights of stairs, she dumped everything masculine in the bathroom into a bucket and stuck it in the shower.
“The fire escape,” she hissed.
“It’s snowing,” I hissed back.
“Up to the roof, I’ll stall him.”
“Roof? Are you nuts?” I hissed again.
“Move,” she re-hissed.
Wearing only St. Patrick’s Day shamrock boxers and socks, and clutching my clothes in my arms, I opened the kitchen window and made my way up the fire escape to the roof.
Far across the courtyard, facing us, was a big apartment building that we knew housed show girl dancers, and assorted “working girls” and “ladies of the night” who were at that moment in their bathrooms getting ready for bed. I could see that there were three floors of brightly lit windows full of semi-dressed “ladies” who were looking out. They spotted me. The shouts began:
“Hey baby, hubby come home?”
“Better run, sweetie before her old man catches you.”’
“Oh honey, you’re so busted.”
“Love the shorts.” Seinfeld. Yes.
I waved and motioned to them to be quiet. I made it to the room where I knew the roof door was always unlocked. It was locked. I stepped over to the next roof where the door was open. Getting into my clothes I sat and waited until I thought it was clear, and made my way down the steps, checked the street and waited. After what seemed an hour, the judge and daughter walked out and into the Dew Drop Inn on the corner for breakfast. Blackout: Roll credits.
Everyone in that family passed to Jesus without ever knowing the truth of that morning, and I’ve never written about it to this day. Our life began with an adventure. I hope it ends with one. Merry Christmas.
Coda from She: This is a true story. Burn this after reading.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.