The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Wait for It… August 5, 2013

I mighta known that the woman who ‘reminded me of Queen Elizabeth’ in the previous post was not in fact, Marylou Whitney, as I had declared her to be. I chose to ignore the tiny voice that kept nagging this woman just doesn’t seem glamorous enough to be Marylou. And in addition to that hunch, this woman’s silhouette actually looked slightly familiar. The photo I had tried to enlarge showed instead Jane Wait, and son Charlie (president of the Adirondack Trust Company) sitting beside her. Jane was on the board of my father’s Festival of Baroque Music for years. I too was on the board with her. In fact, Jane Wait figured prominently In the summertime world of the Conants for over a decade. She did everything from pen checks to the Festival to help arrange tea and cookies for the intermission refreshments. When I was young, I didn’t see Jane in the larger, social scale of our town. She was just a kind, older woman who showed an interest in dad’s music.

Some memories, unrelated bits of the past come back to me… I remember attending a party at their lake house once, where I met actor John Houseman. I remember he wore a purple jumpsuit and kindly gave me an autograph. I remember learning that Mr. Wait had died in a fire in that house not many years after. I remember that Mrs. Wait also had a daughter my age with whom I got together a few times. I was never able to get into a groove with the girl, in spite of feeling as If I had given it my very best (and the distinct feeling that she had not met me half way). They had a summer house just a couple miles down our road. And I remember I once played piano for Caroline and her mother at their place; it was a blues tune of mine with a little hook in the chorus and a repeating, catchy riff. They insisted I didn’t write it, they both insisted that they’d heard it played before. As an adolescent girl I didn’t have the language to articulate that they were mistaking the form and style for the song itself. That this, being a blues song, shared a common structure and tonality with other blues songs. The moment even got a tiny bit confrontational. My emotional take-away is that Mrs. Wait just knew me to be lying. It changed the feeling in the air between us all. Hey – to be fair, they might not have thought about it another second, but for me, it was insulting, and it showed me I’d been diminished somewhat in their eyes. That afternoon may have been the last time the young Wait and I hung out. We were fundamentally different people.

And today, the Wait’s world and ours intersect in only the very tiniest of ways. Knowing Jane to be ‘getting up there’, I wrote her a Christmas card last year just to reconnect, and to let her know that while dad is losing a bit of his short term memory, he was still very much himself and retained that certain, recognizable twinkle in his eye. And that he sent her his warmest greetings. Jane, as a wealthy pillar of this community is something of a local celebrity, so I didn’t expect to hear back – but at the same time she’s also a real person whose day might be cheered to hear news of an old friend. It made me feel like I’d done something kind; sending the letter warmed my own heart.

Now I can replay the memory of Jane and son Charlie on Friday night, waving from their carriage to the throngs of onlookers, and it makes sense. They are a much more conservative-looking duo. And then when I saw the super-wide brimmed hats trimmed in flowers in that other carriage on the front page of the Saratogian, I got it. Yeah, now that’s Susan Lucci. Now that’s Marylou. And man, they look great. Good Lord, Marylou is 88! (Ms. Lucci, 67). “Hey dad” I said, pointing to the photo of Marylou on the front page, “this woman is your age!” My mother reacted with great agitation. “No she’s not!” she said, almost angrily. Then she began her version of ‘math out loud’… “eight from ten is two….” Sheesh. I looked at her, waiting for the punchline. “Your father is seven years older than me, and I’m 78” she said, her tone still vaguely angry. She clearly thought she was imparting new information. ?? “Yes, I know” I said, still confused. “Marylou was born in 1925!” she emphasized. Still confused. “She’s three years older than your father”. “Yes, I know that too.” I answered, still not seeing her point. “So yeah,” I continued, “she’s about his age. We’re talking three years’ difference.” She went on to demystify her emotional response…”You’ll come to to the point in your life one day when every year counts. You want to be given credit for each year you’ve made it.” She went on to explain with a smile on her face (I just hate it when she smiles when she’s clearly very upset. Ich, it makes me queasy) that when you’re a young child or an older person you cannot make such generalities about age. “When you’re your age, it’s ok. But not when you’re older. Absolutely not.” There was a distinct tone of martyr in her voice, as if she meant to impart that she’d worked and suffered on this planet for seventy-eight years, goddam it and she’d paid her dues… It was rather fascinating to see my mom get so worked up about such a seemingly tiny thing. Hm. Interesting. I’ve been called any number of ages with a good two decade spread, and don’t find it offensive either way. Why mom should find offense at this tiny generality was news to me. “I just mean she looks damn good. That’s all”. (Yeah, and now she looks three years better! I thought to myself.) I shrugged, indicating dad with my eyes. In his pajamas for the umpteenth day in a row, I’d hoped Marylou’s image might serve as motivation for cleaning up a bit. But this is a tired, old and oppressive household. No one’s putting on their Sunday best anytime soon.

I look back at the two beautiful faces on the front page of yesterday’s paper. Honestly, it’s hard to believe their ages. I’ve been told it’s all about the fillers – you know, the tiny injections to keep faces inflated… and man, if the technology exists to create such quality results, sign me up. I admit it, I’m one vain-ass woman, and I don’t wanna be an old lady! After a recent mid-life battle over ‘to color or not to color’ I think I can just end that discussion right here and now. Color. And filler up, too while you’re at it. Do what ya got to do. I realize I may not have the bankroll for the job, and my life isn’t exacatly fodder for the society pages. So I probably shouldn’t hold my breath. But I probably won’t go the conservative, poofy old-lady hair direction of Jane Wait either. I’ll probably end up somewhere in between. But that’s still a ways off. I can wait…

 

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