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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

September Song

A Cronicle of the O'Malley's in the Twentieth Century

Family Saga (Volume 4)

Andrew M. Greeley

Forge Books


September Song


"I told him that I wouldn't work for him because he is a vulgar, corrupt redneck."
"Chucky, you didn't!"
"I did!"
"He's the President of the United States!"
"Of America ... there are also United States of Mexico and of Brazil and Indonesia."
"Regardless!" I waved my hand in protest, one of my favorite gestures in dealing with my husband, especially when he's showing off how smart he is.
"I'm sorry ..."
"I should hope so!"
"That I didn't tell him that he was a lying son of a bitch."
I had been waiting for him in our suite at the Hay-Adams Hotel, across Lafayette Park from the White House. It was a suite because I had made the reservation. If my husband, Charles Cronin O'Malley, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Federal Republic of Germany, had made them we would have been in a double room with a double instead of a king-size bed. He would never get over the Great Depression. I've always had a little money, though I've paid a heavy price for it.
He sprawled on a chair, raincoat still on. Despite his pose of nonchalance, he was upset, a little boy whose candy had been stolen from him by a bully--a bully almost a foot taller--in this case from Central Texas. He didn't want the candy anymore, but, as I would say, regardless, it had been taken away from him.
My husband will always be something of a little boy, which is one of the reasons I am dizzy in love with him, sawed-off little redheaded runt that he is.
"Woman," he said wearily, "I want me tea!"
Most men recovering from an encounter with Lyndon BainesJohnson would have wanted a drink. But Chuck doesn't drink, save for the occasional glass of wine at meals. I don't drink at all because I'm a drunk. So we brew tea late in the afternoon instead. Rather I brew it because Chuck, perhaps because of his partial South Side Irish heritage, is content with popping a tea bag into a cup of boiling water.
("Mommy," asked my daughter April Rosemary, "why don't you drink like the mothers of my friends do?"
"Does that bother you?"
"No, I'm glad you don't drink. Some of them act real silly."
"I did too before Daddy stopped me."
So soon had she forgotten!
Daddy was sweet and funny and adorable. And took real good pictures. But he never did anything really important.
"Daddy," I said firmly.
"How did he stop you?"
"He told me if I drank again, he'd make me take care of all you kids by myself!"
That was close enough to the truth. Actually he would have taken care of the four little monsters--that was before the fifth came along--by himself.
"He did NOT."
We both laughed and she hugged me and we loved and trusted one another till the next crisis of growing up came along.)
"Let it steep," I instructed him as I placed the teapot--ordered up from room service--on a coaster.
"Yes, ma'am ... Rosemarie, that West Texas hillbilly is going to send a 165,000 troops to Vietnam before the year is over!"
"Central Texas," I corrected. "West Texas is west of the Pecos, you know Judge Roy Bean's territory."
Chucky's eyes twinkled. Most men would resent such an interruption from a smart-mouth wife. For some odd reason he enjoyed them.
"He's forgotten about Korea!" I went on.
"I've been telling people for years that he is too shrewd a politician to make that mistake." Chuck reached for the plate of cookies I had brought out.
"Not till the tea is ready," I admonished him.
"Yes, ma'am." He sighed. "And the stupid generals who have no idea how to fight a guerrilla war will mess it up. It could go on for a decade. The Vietnamese have nothing to lose but lives. Good Communists never worry about such things. Bourgeois morality."
"Our kids ..." I gasped.
"In ten years"--he rubbed his hand over his eyes--"the boys will all be of draft age ... If we didn't have the damn draft, we wouldn't fight land wars in Asia. Your friend over at 1600 wouldn't have 165,000 men to send into the Asian jungles."
Paying little attention to what I was doing, I poured the tea.
"Dear God, Chuck ..."
"God's pretty unpredictable, but I'd trust him more than I'd trust that lying redneck."
"Deus absconditus, a God who has absconded," I said in an automatic reference to St. Augustine.
In our marriage, Chuck and I trade citations. I usually win. Also I have to stay at least one book ahead of him. He says he doesn't want to fight it or I won't sleep with him, which isn't true.
(Some of my women friends tell me that my husband is oversexed. I don't know whether he is or not, but I tell them that's fine with me because I'm oversexed too.)
"Good tea, Rosemarie," he said, "not that it is a surprise."
"Tell me more about LBJ."
"He starts out by telling me that I have to help him get out of the mess in Vietnam, like I'm the only one in the country that can do it. I say that he should get rid of all the Kennedy holdovers and surround himself with Texas politicians who think the way he does. I didn't say Texas hillbillies because I was still being civil. He says that he thought that they were all my friends. I say that they are, but he still ought to have his own people in place."
"You were right of course ... And he said?"
I had paid no attention to politics before we went to Germany. I had learned a lot on the subject since then, more than I really wanted to know.
"Changed the subject. Complained about Adlai up at the UN. Had to get someone else. Good man, but too much of an egghead. Soft as shit, an interesting mix of metaphors. I was supposed to rise to the bait like most of those people over there would. I didn't say athing. He said he needed me back at Bonn for a couple of months, and then we'd see about the UN. I said I was submitting my resignation. Wanted to go home to Chicago and raise my kids. He said that he was the commander in chief and that he had to order young men to go to Vietnam and die for the country and he was ordering me to go back to my post as Ambassador to West Germany."
That sort of order would cut no ice with my Chucky.
"And you told him that you'd already done your military service and you were going home?"
"How did you guess? ... Then he asked me why and I told him what I thought of him. So he pulled his bathroom trick, door open, flushing toilet, and all ... At least he flushed the toilet ... So I silently rode off into the sunset. Only when I left the Oval Office did I regret that I hadn't called him a liar. He's escalating that war and not telling the public about it."
"The public doesn't want to know, Chuck."
He pondered that.
"You're right, Rosemarie my darling, you're right. But when they find out, they'll say that LBJ and his advisers lied to them. I don't want to be one of those advisers."
"Then what?"
"Then I went down to see Mac Bundy and told him what happened and he said they would need people like me around in the difficult times ahead and that he was sure that the UN appointment would come down by spring and I said that I didn't want it if it came down tomorrow."
Chuck had put aside his career as a photographer to enter public service during the Kennedy years like so many enthusiastic young Americans. "Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you." For one so young he was awarded a big prize, Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. There had been moaning and groaning from the press (including the sainted New York Times) and the Republicans that despite his dissertation (on the Marshall Plan's economic impact on postwar Germany) and his photography books about Germany after the war he wasn't old enough or experienced enough for the job. The Embassy staff in Bonn were horrified. One of the senior staff resigned and a couple of others requested transfers. Everyone soon learned that with hisquick wit, his quicker smile, and his even quicker tongue and his enormous charm my Chucky Ducky was a natural diplomat. Like he said, "when you're a sawed-off punk with red hair, you gotta be charming."
The Old One, Konrad Adenauer, the Chancellor of West Germany, who rarely smiled, had met Chuck in Bamberg when he was in the army of occupation and simply adored him. His face would light up in a happy grin whenever Chuck appeared.
"Ja, Ja, Herr Roter!"
"Ja, Herr Oberburgomeister!"
Adenauer, the frosty old democrat of whom even the Nazi were afraid and who, more than anyone else, was responsible for the political and economic revival of West Germany after the war, was terribly proud that he had been the Lord Mayor of Cologne since practically forever. Chuck, never one not to push his luck, suspected that he secretly liked the title, though officially--and Germany is a country where everything is official--he was Herr Reichkanzler. The marvelous old man beamed.
So Chuck merely had to pick up the phone and call his private line, as he did during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the spring of 1962. "Herr Reichkanzler, the Russians have missiles in Cuba. President Kennedy wants me to bring the pictures over to you. Now."
Adenauer knew from the use of the official title that this was serious business. He saw Chuck within a half hour. West Germany was the first country to sign on to the "boycott" of Russian ships, for which Chuck received considerable praise, even in the New York Times, which never really likes Irishmen, especially mouthy ones.
Those were scary days everywhere, especially in Bonn, because almost everyone feared that the Red Army would arrive at the Rhine in twenty-four hours. Chuck dissented. "They're in as bad a shape if not worse than our army is. Their machines will break down before they get through the Harz mountains."
Fortunately we never had to find out who was right in the argument.
I knew a fair amount of German and Chuck could cover up his mistakes with his usual infectious grin. We sent our four oldest to German schools instead of the local American one which also won us points. It was sink or swim for April Rosemary and her threebrothers. Being O'Malleys, they swam of course. Being clowns like their father, they took great delight in imitating the seriousness of German teachers and students while at the same time entertaining them.
I stayed sober and played the grande dame, shanty-Irish style, got my picture in the papers almost as much as the local media stars, and sang German songs on every possible occasion. We both wore PT 109 pins.
We had, in other words, a great time and represented the United States of America with considerable grace, if I do say so myself.
It all fell apart for us on November 22, 1963, when Jack Kennedy was shot. As Pat Moynihan said we thought he had more time and so did he. Camelot, as people would later call it, was over. We were asleep when the first phone call came. We wept in each other's arms and then woke the kids and said the rosary with them.
"It's all over, Rosemarie," Chuck whispered to me. "The magic is finished."
We didn't know then how completely over it was.
Neither of us had any illusions about Jack Kennedy. We knew that he was a sick man and, like his father, an incorrigible womanizer. We also knew that he was the only one in Washington who, with some help from his brother, kept the missile crisis from turning into a nuclear war. He was witty and graceful and charming and Irish (though not Irish like the Chicago Irish) and we told ourselves that his sexual behavior was none of anyone's business.
He liked me and treated me with infinite respect. I guess the passes were reserved for movie actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Angie Dickinson. He probably realized that I would clobber him--literally--if he tried to hit on me.
At the time of his death the State Department told all its envoys to stay at their posts to reassure our allies and our enemies that America would weather the crisis. We ignored the rule and flew on one of the new Pan Am 747s from Frankfurt to New York for the wake and the funeral. Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State, a nice man but persnickety, was furious at Chuck, and told him so.
"Fine, Dean," my husband said. "You can have my resignation tomorrow morning if you want it. We Irish Catholics go to our friends' wakes."
Rusk backed down.
It was a terrible weekend. I have often thought that if I didn't get drunk then, I never would again.
Chuck never liked LBJ. On the way back to Frankfurt he told me he would resign immediately and we'd return to Chicago. I talked him out of it. He had to stay until the election next year. Johnson would push Jack's Civil Rights Bill through Congress. He kept all of the Camelot staff. We thought that perhaps some of our dreams might be salvaged. LBJ had words of high praise for Chuck when he visited Bonn. "Bullshit," my husband had whispered. The trial balloons went up that Chuck might go to the UN. We were both elated. The Camelot spirit of government service still drove us. We might yet make the world a better place; American ingenuity and enthusiasm were still alive and well.
Then we heard about the plans to escalate in Vietnam after the election. The public didn't vote for Barry Goldwater because they were afraid that he would start another war. Johnson and his advisers, the so-called "best and the brightest" and the military were secretly planing to do just that.
My husband decided it was time to sign off.
"And what did Mac say to that?"
"He seemed surprised. That whole crowd figures that they can keep Jack's ghost alive by working with LBJ. They're wrong, the dead refusing to bury the dead."
Pretty grim and gloomy sentiments from my cheery little leprechaun.
"More tea?"
"No thanks."
Chuck almost always wanted more tea.
"Another cookie?"
I waited to hear Gabriel blow his horn to indicate the world was about to come to an end. Chucky Ducky always wanted another cookie.
I curled up at his feet and took his hand in mine.
"Shitty," I said.
"Sure is." He sighed. "What was it that Pat said?"
"We'll laugh again but we'll never be young again."
There was a dinner party scheduled that night. Chuck wanted to skip it. We belonged in Chicago, not this sick place, he insisted.
And I insisted that the Irish go out with smiles. I won, like I usually did when the issue was something important. In fact, generally when it was unimportant. So I dressed up in one of my sexier dresses and made Chuck wear a tie.
He whistled as I dressed. I told him not to be vulgar. He's seen me so often slightly naked, nearly naked, and totally naked, I don't know why it's such a big deal. He likes my little show, however. It's a wife's job to keep her husband happy.
I love my husband (madly), I enjoy sex (usually), I am always modest (appropriately), and I'm delighted (generally) when, after all these years, I note that my husband is gaping at me.
"Isn't that a dress from our honeymoon?" he asks.
"Certainly not!"
"Same size though?"
"Regardless!" I waved my hand.
He likes to make the point when I tell him you can't give birth to five children and still be erotically attractive.
I retied his tie. He has never learned how to do it right and probably never will as long as I do it for him. He kissed me gently, a ceremony which always concludes the tie ritual.
At least I don't have to tie his shoes--very often.
The party was at a charming old home in Georgetown, all chandeliers and mirrors and crimson hangings and shining china and crystal. The guests were some of the last-ditch veterans of Camelot, witty, sophisticated, in-the-know, and almost as bright as they thought they were.
As usual we were the center of attention, not because I was beautiful, which I was not, and not even because Chuck was funny, which he was even in his grim mood, but because he was considered a marginal member of the "best and the brightest" and because the UN rumors were on everyone's lips.
"Are you looking at an apartment in New York, Rosemarie?" a woman with too much makeup asked.
Actually the Ambassador to the United Nations lives in a suite in the Waldorf Apartments.
"We have a nice home in Chicago," I said firmly.
Dead silence.
"You're really leaving the administration?" a very important journalist (whom Chucky and I both thought was a pompous fool) demanded.
"I'm going back to Chicago where I belong," my leprechaun said grimly.
Silence around the table.
"May one ask why?"
I was afraid that Chuck would repeat his line about LBJ being a corrupt and vulgar redneck.
"The administration," he said somberly, "is bungling into another land war in Asia. I want no part of that policy."
No longer Mr. Life of the Party.
"Surely we have to stand up to the Communists in Southeast Asia if we are to maintain our credibility," another journalist said as if that were as certain as a statement of papal infallibility. Later this jerk became a leading critic of the war. They all did.
"Our credibility to whom?"
"Well ... World public opinion."
"There is no such thing."
"Our allies will say that we can't be counted on."
"Maybe our allies should learn to take care of themselves."
Gasp around the room. Even the second-string members of the "best and the brightest" shouldn't talk that way.
"We have to stand up to the Communists." One of the least intelligent women at the table repeated the line.
"We stood up to them in Greece and Turkey," my pint-sized lover replied. "And with the Marshall Plan and in Iran and in the Berlin airlift and in Korea and during the missile crisis. Isn't there a statute of limitations?"
"You sound like an isolationist!" she cried in alarm. "Didn't we stop them in Korea?"
"It cost us forty thousand lives! That's a small number compared to what we will lose in a guerrilla war in a jungle! And we won't win it either."
Someone changed the subject. Ambassador O'Malley was clearlywrong. The United States of America could do anything it wanted to do.
In the car returning to the Hay-Adams that night, he sighed loudly, and said, "I don't belong at a party like that, Rosemarie. You do, because you're a bright elegant woman. I'm a little punk from the West Side of Chicago who stumbled in by mistake."
When he's very discouraged, Chuck puts on that West-Side-punk-stumbling-in-by-mistake persona. The worst part of the act is that he half believes it, sometimes more than half.
A light snow was dusting the narrow streets of Georgetown. It fell on the living and the dead and covered the graves of our hopes.
"Don't be silly," I reply, as the scenario demanded. "You're a very distinguished American diplomat."
"Yeah, and I was an all-state quarterback too."
He was not all-state. In fact, he was fourth-string on a team that had only three strings. By a fluke he scored the touchdown which beat Carmel and enabled us to go on to take city. Chuck became a legend. He was never able to understand that myths transcend facts.
"Even the New York Times thinks you did a good job over there."
"The professional foreign service people didn't."
"What do they know."
He had said to me once that for someone like him, who had to rely on wit and charm to get by, being an Ambassador was easier than being a precinct captain for the Dick Daley organization.
Regardless, that was no reason to doubt his obvious intelligence--obvious to everyone but himself.
"I'm not the only one who has his doubts about Vietnam. Dean Rusk is the only one who has no questions. McNamara goes along because he thinks it's what the president wants. Mac Bundy tries to play a mediating game. The generals naturally want another war."
"That doesn't sound like an analysis that a stumbling punk would make."
He ignored my point.
"There's lots of doubt at the next level down--George Ball, John McNaughton. We're going to have half a million men in there for a five-year war before the American people even know that there's a war going on."
"I think we'll be lucky to be out in ten years--1975."
"Yeah, I know, Rosemarie. It's all hard to believe. LBJ has heard those estimates. He doesn't believe them. He thinks he can control the military once they have a big army in the country. He's wrong ..."
"You have no choice but to quit if that's what's going to happen."
"I know."
"Don't give me bullshit that you don't belong here, not if you can predict exactly what will happen."
"No points for being right five years early, Rosemarie my love ..."
He put his arm around me and began to hum the music from Rosemarie as we turned off Connecticut Avenue. I knew what would happen to me when we were back in the fading opulence of the Hay-Adams. My husband is a very shrewd observer of people. As a red-haired runt he's had to be. There is nothing about me he doesn't know. When I stop to think about that, I feel totally naked. That's so embarrassing that I try not to think about it. Some of the time.
There is nothing in my sexuality that he hasn't figured out. Since the first time he kissed me at Lake Geneva when I was ten I have been mush in his hands. He knows when to leave me alone and when to seduce me and what kind of seductions to use at which times. He insists that all lovemaking is a kind of seduction, which I suppose it is. The result is that he can do to me whatever he wants whenever he wants--that is, if I'm ready for it.
I don't like that. Well, I don't dislike it either. However, I resent his confidence that he knows all the things to say and all the buttons to push and all the places to kiss and caress. It should be difficult for him, should it not? What is left of my dignity and independence when I act like a pushover? I tell myself that someday I must have it out with him. I must insist that I'm not a pushover.
Then I see the glint in his eye and the confident smile on his face and feel his fingers as they unzip and unhook me and his lips as they explore me. He has no right, no right at all to take everything away from me, all my secrets, all my defenses, all my modesty, and turn me into a pile of pliant mush.
Except that I like being pliant mush.
In the early stages of his assault I want him to go away and leave me alone. I am a drunk. I am an addictive personality. I am a neurotic.My father abused me sexually. My mother beat me, almost killed me with a poker. I am a terrible mother and an inadequate wife. I have had five children and am no longer beautiful. I have no right to sexual pleasure. I am a lousy lover. I don't say any of these things because I am incapable of saying anything. I need him, I want him, I must have him. I've wanted him to make love since he came back from the White House. I'd been aroused ever since. No time for night prayers today. Love is a prayer, Chucky argued long ago. Oh, take me, Chucky Ducky. Please love me, even if I am not worth loving. Push into me, fill me, drive me out of my mind, let me be love, nothing but love, love exploding in and around me, all over me, love tearing me apart.
Love for this man who is everything for me. I want to give myself completely to him. I reach for the gift. Suddenly it's there. We both shout for joy.
Then peace.
He's always very satisfied with himself after he's made love to me. He knows that he's done a good job and that I have been conquered again and loved it. That upsets me a little, but not very much because I am so complacent, so satisfied, so happy.
This time he says, "You're sensational, Rosemarie, more so every time."
I almost give a smart-ass Rosie answer, "You'd better say that."
Instead God makes me say, "You make me better, Chucky," and burst into tears.
He nurses me gently back to solid earth and sings to me. I lay my head on his chest and, undone again, pleasured completely, and filled with love, fall off to sleep.
Damn it, he should go to sleep first, but he never does.
For a few minutes of unbearably sweet ecstasy, I do not doubt myself.
"President Kennedy was always very fond of you two," the ethereal woman in black whispered as though we were at the gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery instead of in her flawlessly furnished drawing room in the Maryland hunt country. "He said that you Chicago Irish were different from the Boston Irish."
"Better," Chucky said with his most charming grin.
She laughed softly, something she didn't do often these days.
"He was very proud of your work in Bonn," she said, the mask of sadness slipping over her face again. "He said you were in the top ten of his appointments."
"Five," Chuck insisted.
She laughed again.
"Of course ... I know he would understand the reason you're leaving government service. I merely wanted to tell you that."
I had never been able to understand her relationship with the President. I had figured she liked being first lady and tolerated his infidelities as a necessary price for her role. Now I did not doubt that she had loved him and that her grief was real. Maybe in the world in which she grew up Jack Kennedy's screwing around was accepted as the sort of thing husbands do. I had warned Chuck that if he tried that sort of thing, I'd kill him. He had replied that probably that was the reason he became impotent every time he was tempted.
"Lyndon," Chuck said, "will do a lot for the civil rights movement. I support that, not that my support matters very much."
"It's the war," I said with a sigh.
"Yes, I understand. President Kennedy often said to me that he would pull our troops out after the 1964 election."
Now he was dead and we were sending more troops in. I hoped that God knew what He was doing.
Both of us were silent.
"I want to thank you both for your friendship and loyalty," shesaid, rising from her couch, like a queen from a throne. "I hope we will meet again sometime during better days."
Her eyes flooded with tears as she led us to the door.
"Life," my husband said, his voiced choked with sadness, "is too important ever to be anything but life."
"Oh, yes," she agreed.
We drove back to the Hay-Adams in driving rain. I was at the wheel because, as I had established, I was a better driver than he was. I think he let me win that argument because he found it easier not to drive. I turned on the local station that specialized in rock music, the Beach Boys singing "I Get Around" and the Beatles doing "I Feel Fine" and "Love Me, Do."
"Well," my Chuck murmured, "a little touch of royalty is nice in our society, isn't it?"
"We'll not see her like again," I countered, usurping one of his lines.
"I guess not." He sighed. "Rosemarie, do we have to listen to that noise?"
"You know the rules. The one who drives the car gets to pick the station."
"I can't remember voting on that rule."
"You didn't."
Chuck, like his father who knew Louis Armstrong and the other jazz greats of Chicago forty years before, was a jazz aficionado. Rock and roll music he told me was an effort at musical orgasm and I liked it because I was oversexed. That made me a little nervous because April Rosemary was in love with the Beatles.
"I know as well as you do what the word 'jazz' means."
"It's different."
"It just is."
Then, shifting emotional gears, I said, "I worry about A.R.'s obsession with the Beatles."
The three boys, growing into tall, rangy Black Irishmen who could be a junior unit in the Irish Republican Army, ignored rock and roll completely and concentrated on their horns, which they blew on every possible occasion, thus making our residence in Bonn soundlike a school for retarded musicians. Moire, as in all things, strove to imitate her big sister.
"Music never ruined anyone," Chuck said, his mind elsewhere. "Not unless people use drugs with it."
That sent a chill through me. I was an addictive personality. What if my older daughter were too?
"I could have stayed in Bonn for Lyndon," he continued, "if it wasn't for this damn war."
The impulse to public service of the Kennedy years does not die easily. Perhaps that's why so many of his people stayed on with LBJ.
"Are you sure you have to quit?"
He sank deeper into his seat in the car and closed his eyes, as if to blot out the Beatles, the rain, and the sad lines on a widow's face.
I didn't fully understand his opposition to the war. Everyone in Washington was saying that we had to take a stand in Southeast Asia to stop the spread of Communism. You'd think from the hindsight history written later that the people who wrote the history had been wiser than Lyndon and his staff and opposed it from the beginning. That's bullshit. People who thought like Chuck and George Ball were few and far between. Mostly they kept their mouths shut.
The O'Malleys had a long history of military service. His father had collapsed on the parade ground at Fort Leavenworth the day the war in Europe ended, a victim of the Spanish Influenza, and was almost buried alive. His grandfather had enlisted for the Spanish-American War, though he was, thank God, too old to be sent off to Cuba to die of malaria. His great-grandfather, the original Charles O'Malley had joined the Union Army as a raw immigrant boy at the age of eighteen. John Evangelist O'Malley (Chucky's delightful father, aka "Vangie"), having survived the flu, served in the Black Horse Troop National Guard unit between the two wars. He was called up two weeks after Pearl Harbor and was destined for the jungles of New Guinea. Chuck, then fourteen, somehow managed to persuade our local congressman to have him sent to Fort Sheridan. And Chuck himself had served in the Army of Occupation in Germany after the war, with considerable bravery as some of his friends from that era had whispered to me.
"Military service, yeah," Chuck said to me, "but none of us ever had a gun fired at them in anger."
"Except you in that black market roundup outside of Wurzburg."
"That doesn't count ... Too many people I know died in Korea."
One person in particular, I thought--Christopher Kurtz, the best male friend, maybe the only male friend, Chuck ever had was killed leading his platoon of Marines out of the trap Douglas Mac-Arthur had sent them into at the Chosin Reservoir. Chris was killed attacking a Chinese machine-gun nest. As usual, in that strange core of the real Chucky Ducky, the arguments were always personal and local, no matter how good he was at articulating more sophisticated arguments.
"Not our kind of people," Chuck said, breaking a long silence.
"No," I agreed.
"Didn't have a neighborhood."
"Neither of them ever did."
"Well," my husband concluded the conversation, "we do and we're going back to it. That's where we belong. We'll stay there."
That it was where we belonged I did not doubt. However, my husband was a restless soul. I did not take seriously his vow never to leave the neighborhood again.
There were many layers beneath his quick-talking, pint-sized redhead persona, not that the top layer wasn't authentic. Chuck was a gifted artist, deeply sensitive and compassionate, incorrigibly romantic (he'd freed the magic princess from the tower and then ravaged her much to their mutual delight), and tough as they come when he had to be (as he had to be with me). He was also shrewd enough politically to be a precinct captain in Cook County and intellectually smart enough to turn down an appointment at THE University as we called it. I can't describe what the inner core of the man is because I don't know. However, down there in the subbasement of his soul is the reason why I love him.
Maybe. If he is, like I say, so am I. That's why back in our suite at the Hay-Adams that terrible afternoon we buried ourselves in one another in yet another passionate obsequy for Camelot. The rain, driven across Lafayette Park by a fierce wind, beat mindlessly against the windows.
It was also raining the first Sunday in March in our sprawling and comfortable Dutch Colonial house on New England Avenue in Oak Park, technically beyond the boundaries of St. Ursula parish, but still our parish because Chuck's father John Evangelist O'Malley had designed it.
(We also maintained an official voting address in Chicago in the basement of an apartment building I owned on the east side of Austin Boulevard. We had no intention of working for the city, but we figured it was our legacy to vote in Chicago elections. The tiny basement apartment was furnished so that it could be used as an occasional getaway from the kids.)
Moreover, the house was quiet in early evening, which it almost never is. Our daughters were over at the Antonellis' house listening to the Beatles no doubt with Carlotta Antonelli. Carlotta's mother Peg is my closest friend in all the world and incidentally Chuck's sister. The boys were watching a basketball game upstairs on color television, something of an innovation in those days. Chuck was reading some dreary economics journal--he hadn't picked up his camera or visited our darkroom since we came home. I had thrown aside Herzog in disgust at Saul Bellow's narcissism and picked up William Golding's The Spire. We were both obviously in a bad mood. I longed for summer and Long Beach.
Earlier in the morning, after we came home from Mass and while Chuck was eating his usual breakfast of bacon, eggs, waffles, cereal, and what he called his "Sunday breakfast steak," I had read the New York Times magazine article about him. We both knew it was coming. My husband pretended to be indifferent. I did not.
"How is it?" he asked casually.
"It's okay," I said, with equal aplomb. "They think you left the ship because of grief more than because of the war, but they have some good quotes about the war in there too. They also praise the work we did at Bonn and lament that perhaps principles that are a bit too lofty caused you to leave government service."
"Hmm," he said, soaking his already soggy waffle with syrup. "Lemme see."
I pushed the magazine in his direction. He glanced at the pictures, scanned the text, and placed it carefully next to his plate while he inhaled the waffle.
"Who was the Ambassador to the Federal Republic at that time?" he asked, his lips quivering with suppressed laughter.
"You were, dear."
"Most of the pictures are of my 'breathtaking' wife and my 'handsome' children. It would appear that they were responsible for the success of my work."
"You noticed?"
"I was busy with my lofty ideas and they wandered around charming the Germans."
He picked up the paper again.
"They don't mention my dissertation on the Marshall Plan, but they are obsessed with the clothes this breathtaking woman wore."
"Gee, what would they have said if she was really beautiful and not the worn-out mother of five children?"
I threw the book review section at him.
Then we both laughed and dissolved into each other's arms.
"Isn't this a bitchin' picture of me?" April Rosemary stormed into the kitchen, waving a second copy of the Times that had somehow found its way into our house. "Daddy, you look kind of funny in this picture, don't you?"
"Daddy always looks that way, dear," I corrected her. "People call it cute, not funny."
"Yes, Mom," she said with a giggle.
Then the family poured in--Vangie, the good April, Peg and Vince and their kids. For an hour we were young again and happy again, despite Pat Moynihan's mordant predictions. All of us argued that Chuck's presence at Bonn had been unnecessary. He took the position that the assertion was absolutely true. His "breathtaking wife" and his "handsome" children had snatched the bacon of the United States out of the fire. He continued to eat bacon and butter English muffins with raspberry jam as the festival roared. It ended, as all O'Malley family festivals did, in song, the last of which, as usual, was "Rosemarie," as it usually is.
I loved seeing him happy again. I didn't mind the bias of the article. Fuck the New York Times!
Except I am not breathtaking. No way.
Then, when everyone went home, we settled down in front of the fireplace with our books and our memories and our grief.
Then the phone rang. Chuck ignored it. I picked it up.
"Rosemarie O'Malley," I said primly.
"Are you watching Judgment at Nuremberg on the tube?" asked Peg.
"We've had enough of Germany."
"They've broken into it with pictures from Alabama. The red-necks are murdering Negroes down there."
I dashed over to the TV and turned it on.
"Chuck!" I shouted. "Look!"
"We are replaying this incident," said Walter Cronkite, "because we believe it is a historic event in American history. Some six hundred civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, are preparing to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River and to march on to Montgomery fifty miles away. They are about to march two by two across the bridge, led by Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and John Lewis of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. They intend to protest the denial of voting rights to Negroes in Alabama. Across the river [the camera cut to the other side] Sheriff Jim Clark's mounted posse awaits them, accompanied by scores of state troopers."
As we watched, the Negro group marched onto the bridge. Someone ordered them to halt. They kept on marching till they were face-to-face with the white lawmen. They knelt to pray. Then there was an order to disperse. They did not move, then a voice--later we found out it was the Sheriff's--shouted, "Get those goddamned niggers!"
While the whole nation watched, the lawmen charged, swinging clubs, cattle prods, bullwhips, and rubber hoses. They pushed into the crowd, and amid Rebel yells, beat men, women, and children. They rode their horses into people and drove them off the bridge into the river. Clouds of tear gas drifted across the river. The crowd broke up and ran. The police continued their pursuit, smashing heads, trampling over bodies with horses, beating them with bullwhips.
The TV cameras caught the expressions of orgasmic satisfaction on the faces of the white cops and the pain and fear on the faces of the marchers.
"In Selma, Alabama," Cronkite went on solemnly, "the rule of law is Sheriff Jim Clark's order--'Get those goddamn niggers!'"
"My God," I said, "in the United States!"
Chuck was grinning.
"Lewis and Hosea got what they wanted," he said happily. "Now the whole country knows what the South is like! Sheriff Clark doesn't know what television can do."
"I have to go pack," I announced, tossing The Spire aside.
"Pack?" Chuck was still staring at the screen.
"I'm going down there. We'll teach those rednecks who won the Civil War."
"Lyndon will federalize the National Guard," he said still bemused. "It's all over. The Negroes will be voting in the next election."
"I'm going to be in the next march!" I yelled, charging for the stairs.
"Then I guess I'd better be too," he said, still confused.
"With your camera!"
Then, for the first time since he walked out on LBJ, my husband came alive.
"Hell yes!"
At Selma I realized that I was a radical, always had been a radical. I had a hell of a good time. I also understood, without Chuck telling me, that I could become a dangerous woman. I discovered that being a radical gave me an adrenaline high. When the white cops who looked and acted like they were characters out of a Faulkner novel shouted obscenities, you yelled back at them that they were redneck trash. When they clutched their batons as if they were going to club you or threatened to turn loose their guard dogs, you snarled that we were going to turn Selma over to the Negroes and drive them into the swamps where they belonged with the other animals.
Well, I said that. It was perhaps too literary an insult. Moreover, Peg, who was with me at all times to make sure I restrained my tongue, absolutely forbade me to use any obscenity.
"You must not sink to their level," she insisted.
"I didn't go to Rosary College," I told her, "so I don't know how to be a lady. I don't even wear gloves when it's not cold."
Peg ignored me as she always did when I said something stupid.
"Besides, you shouldn't shock these poor boys who are gritting their teeth and protecting us," she said, gesturing toward the teenagers of the Alabama National Guard, who were now under federal command.
"With the stars and bars pins on their uniform! They're as bad as Sheriff Clark's bozos!"
"They now work for the United States government," she insisted, "and they're obeying orders, no matter how hard it is. We should respect their integrity."
That's Peg for you. She was becoming more and more like her mother, the good April, a woman who thought benignly of everyone, even if they were not Irish, because after all, it wasn't their fault they weren't Irish. Occasionally I reflected that we were now older than the good April (Chuck's mother) was when I adopted their family--thereby as my shrinks have insisted saving my life. Just as I had deteriorated through the years, Peg had grown more lovely, a slender elegant symphony in brown just like her mother. I explained the contrast between us by the fact that she only had four children and I had five. Chuck once claimed that we were two forest animals, she a sleek timber wolf and I a prowling cougar. Now she was a grand duchess like her mother and I a shrewish, shanty-Irish fishwife--no matter what the New York Times said about my performance in Bonn.
When I announced to her on the phone that Chuck and I were flying to Selma to finish what the Civil War had not finished, she replied that she and Vince were coming with us, he to protect Chuck from being beaten up again like he was in Little Rock and she to help me keep my big mouth shut. "You must not call those poor people white trash," she had insisted, "it's just as bad as calling Negroes niggers."
The four of us were obviously crazy. Nine cousins in our two families--my five and Rosie's four--and we were going to Selma. There was no one in the crazy O'Malley family to tell us not to fly to Atlanta, rent a car, and drive to Selma. Father Ed O'Malley, my husband's youngest sibling, was organizing a group to respond to Martin Luther King's plea to people of all faiths to rally around those who wanted to march through Selma and on to Montgomery in support of the voting rights bill President Kennedy had pushed for. As the good April said, "Well, if Father Edward thinks it's all right, then it must be all right."
Lyndon, to give the devil his due as Chuck said, had delivered a powerful speech. Selma, he told the nation, was not a Negro problem or a Southern problem. It was an American problem. It was deadly wrong to deny anyone in America the right to vote. He ended by telling the people of the country in his rich Central Texas accent, "We shall overcome!"
He federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers and those who had come to support them. Now it will be safe, I told myself. Then I repeated the reassurance to my husband, who was having second thoughts.
"That," he replied, "is what the man said on Fort Sumter."
As we were departing the elder O'Malley house--having left thenine cousins in charge of their grandmother and grandfather, Chuck's doubts became more serious, surely because of his memories of Little Rock. He would go and the rest of us would stay at home. We vetoed that suggestion.
The cousins didn't mind a few days away from their parents. Grandma April spoiled them rotten and they knew it. Only April Rosemary had her doubts. "I wish you wouldn't go to that terrible place, Mom," she said as she hugged me, tears in her eyes.
I was too caught up in being part of a great turning point in American history to understand. You see, Chuck had been at the Mc-Carthy hearings and in Korea and in Little Rock. All I had ever done was to smile at people in Bonn. It was time for me to become part of the action.
The Kennedy wake and funeral, for some reason, didn't count.
Peg's marriage had been rocky at first. When Vince came home from the prisoner of war camp in Korea, he had been a real problem--sorry for himself and angry that no one else seemed sorry for him. Well, I had straightened him out in my best shanty-Irish-shrew style and that was that. I never had any problems with Chuck ... How could I? He had a hell of a lot of problems with me until I sobered up.
The atmosphere in the Negro section of Selma as we do-gooders swarmed in was unbearably exciting. The Negroes (as they were then called) could hardly believe that we white folks had come to support them. We could hardly believe how poor and oppressed they were. We hugged and kissed and sang "We Shall Overcome" all night long. I hardly saw my husband. He was scampering around, clutching his Leica (which Trudi, his German love when he was in the Constabulary, had given him) and blazing away fearlessly. No wonder the thugs had got him in Little Rock. He seemed to think that because he was short and boyish and innocent, the rednecks wouldn't see him. Twice, Vince later told me, groups of good ole boys closed in on him, with booze on their breath and murder in their eyes. Then they saw Vince, in the same shape he was in when he made All-American guard at Notre Dame, and reconsidered their options.
"Where were the soldiers?" I demanded, suddenly afraid.
"They can't be everywhere. The orders are that the marchers shouldstay on this side of the river till tomorrow and the white folk on the other side. Chuck figures that because he's press, he can go wherever he wants."
The adrenaline drained temporarily from my bloodstream. I wanted to go home.
Chuck was indeed press. His friends at the New York Times had commissioned him to do a photographic essay to be called "Selma!"
"There's nothing to worry about," he reassured me. "I talked to Bobby this afternoon. Lyndon has persuaded Governor George Wallace to keep his big mouth shut and, just in case, he's put on alert a battalion of Marines at Camp Lejeune. Bobby doesn't think we'll need them."
Where, I wondered, had my exhausted and shivering husband found a line on which to talk to Bobby. Then I realized that Bobby had found him.
We huddled in a sharecropper's barn outside Selma the night before the march to Montgomery. It was cold, not as cold as Chicago in March but plenty cold. We sang most of the night. Some of the northern whites were drinking to stay warm, not plastered by any means but, as the Irish say, a bit of the drink had been taken. A few of the kids from New York were smoking pot, the first time I had ever seen that.
"Bobby has cut a deal between Dr. King and the cops. Only a hundred and fifty of us will actually cross the bridge with him tomorrow, most of them will be local Negroes plus some church people from the north, those two Corondolet nuns from St. Louis, up in the first row with him. Eddie will be right behind them. The rest of you will drive or bus down to Montgomery and meet us in front of the State House."
"What's this 'you and us' stuff?"
"You can't come," he replied, "because they don't need any shanty-Irish faces in the crowd and I can come because they need a photographer with an international reputation for courage under fire."
"You're not scared?" Vince asked.
"Terrified," my brave knight admitted.
"Why the small crowd?" Peg asked.
"Easier for the troops to protect on the march. To the TV camera,a handful of people crossing the river looks like a mob. Then in front of the State House, they'll open up the lens and everyone can see that there are thousands."
Then and there I made up my mind that I would be in the march. I had never walked fifty miles in my life. Well, it was time to try.
The next morning was cold and gray. At the car, where SCLC marshals were trying to line up the convoy to Montgomery, I kissed Peg and hugged her big lug.
"If I don't make it, take good care of the kids," I whispered, and then dashed away before they could talk me out of it. No way was I about to let Chucky Ducky have all the fun.
That shows how immature I was. I thought it was a movie and we were the good guys.
No one tried to stop me as I joined the band of marchers at the bridge. I found Ed in his Roman collar and one of Chuck's Ike jackets from Bamberg.
"Need a broken-down Irish housewife to walk with you, Father?"
He grinned at me, "I would have bet all the money I have that you'd show up ... And I reject the adjective and the noun."
As Ed has matured in his priestly vocation, he has become talkative, not like Chuck, of course, but he has the flair even if he is less outrageous. He thinks I'm someone special because he claims I gave him good advice when he was thinking of leaving the priesthood. All I did was listen ...
"Scared?" I asked him.
"Sure am ... You?"
"On a high ... I hope you or my pint-sized husband or someone is around when I come down off it."
Then Dr. King began to speak, his deep baritone voice drowning out the wind. I don't remember what he said. The important thing was that he said it. Then we joined hands, sang "We Shall Overcome," and marched onto the bridge.
I was sky-high. I wondered briefly whether my high was anything like getting drunk. I promised God that I would never permit such a high again--a promise I did not always keep--and asked him to take care of my husband and children.
It never occurred seriously to me for a moment that my husband's life might be in danger, much less my own.
The situation was scary. Sheriff Clark and his mounted police were lined up along the riverbank. The State Police were right behind them, their dogs-poor-white-trash dogs, I thought--were straining at their leashes. On the main street of the town, crowds of angry whites were shouting obscenities. Protecting our line of march were these poor kids in the National Guard, obeying their orders like good soldiers, though they probably would have been much happier if they were swinging their riffle butts against us.
Shut up you bitch, I told myself. They're brave young men doing their duty.
So far.
What if the strain was too much for them? What if the cries of the white crowd, the barking of the dogs, the singing of a hymn they must have hated, the determined march all proved too much for them? What if they broke ranks and joined the mob?
Where the hell was Lyndon's battalion of Marines when we really needed them?
Then I was off the bridge and on the street. We were marching through Selma!
"Smile for the camera, lady!" a familiar voice cried. "You too, fadder!"
"Charles Cronin O'Malley, act your age!"
"Yes, ma'am ... We'll call this one 'priest marches with beautiful woman!'"
And off he scampered, like an organ grinder's little monkey.
Take good care of him, I instructed the Lord. What would I do without him.
I imagined that I heard a voice saying, don't worry!
I did just the same.
We managed to get through the town and out on the highway. The tension eased. Jim Clark's people had made their point and went home, unaware perhaps that the South, their South, would never be the same. The marchers were protected on all sides by the troops, State Police, the National Guard, and federal marshals--jeeps in front of us, jeeps on either side of us, jeeps behind us. Bobby meant business. He was not about to permit a single incident to plunge the march into bloody chaos.
This was after all, the United States of America, a hundred years,almost to the day since Appomattox Court House. I wanted to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but I figured that Dr. King would not approve.
Fifty miles is a long distance, longer than I would have thought possible. By the time our bedraggled band joined the huge throng in front of the State House, I was numb with cold and exhaustion and my voice was hoarse. At some points along the march only Dr. King and I were singing. I was ready to collapse. Indeed I would have collapsed if Ed had not grabbed me.
"I'm fine, Ed, just fine," I said bravely. "How many days have we been on the road?"
Chucky bounced by me and kissed me quickly.
"Proud of you, Rosemarie my darling." He hummed a few bars from our song and then dashed up to the podium. Somehow the soldiers knew that he should not be stopped.
He had to be twice as tired as I was. More adrenaline, I told myself.
"We'll take care of her, Ed," I heard Vince Antonelli say. "Could we give you a lift back?"
"I should stay with Dr. King," he said firmly. "Thanks anyway."
Peg and Vince supported me on either side. A lot of people talked. The crowd replied as Negroes did in church, "Oh yeah! You're right! Tell it like it is."
We sang hymns again. Astonishingly my adrenaline cut in yet again. My high surged back. I shouted and screamed as loudly as any Negro.
Then it was all over and, still supported by my best friend and her husband, I stumbled back toward our Hertz car. I almost fell on my face as I stepped over a low concrete barrier. A young guardsman reached out to grab my arm.
"Thank you, soldier," I said brightly. "Thank you for everything."
The kid's face split into a wide grin.
"Yes, MA'AM !"
"See, Rosemarie," Peg, like the good April, had to make their point, "some of them are nice boys, just like he is."
Chuck was waiting at the car.
"What took you so long? I have to get this last batch developed!"
He swept me up in his arms.
"Rosemarie, you're wonderful!"
"I just want to sleep for forty-eight hours and soak my feet in water while I'm sleeping."
I promptly went to sleep in the rear seat of the car, still in Chuck's arms.
Thank you, I told the Lord in my last waking moment. I am really an idiot to leave five kids at grandma's house and come on this crazy adventure. Thank you too that it's all over.
My final gratitude was premature.
I heard a sharp whine, something hit the window of the car and shattered it. Then there were several more whining sounds. The car leaped forward as though it had a turbocharger.
"They're shooting at us," Peg screamed.
"Hang on," Vince shouted.
My husband, who never swears, cried out a string of angry expletives I didn't think he knew. But this is a dream, I told myself, so it's all right.
There was one more whine but it didn't hit us.
"Peg?" Vince asked, a choke in his voice.
"Covered with shattered glass, but all right," she murmured, her voice small and unsteady.
More fearsome obscenities.
"This is a nightmare." I sighed. "So I won't tell the good April the terrible things my husband said."
When they all laughed nervously in response, I realized it wasn't a dream.
"Well," I said piously, "God didn't let them hit any of us."
I curled up and went back to sleep in my husband's brave arms.
Two people died on that road the next day.
I was exhausted the next morning, but my high was back. While Chuck worked in his makeshift darkroom, I bounced around the Negro quarter hugging people and singing with them, a weary Peg trailing behind me. Then she borrowed a Negro's fiddle and we went into our usual act to the delight of the locals.
Vince found us later and said that Chucky had finished his work and wanted to leave at once so he could begin producing prints. SuddenlyI wanted to be home. Now. Back in peaceful Oak Park in my own Dutch Colonial home with my own children. Enough history for a while. Chuck was still riding high.
"Rosemarie, this will be a book, a historic archive for the peaceful triumph of the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement. The Negro problem in our country is over. Martin Luther King is one of the great Americans in the whole history of America. An American Gandhi!"
Chucky Ducky doesn't usually get grandiloquent
At the airport the man wanted to know what the fuck we'all done with his car.
"Some white trash shot at us," I told him before saner voices could be heard. "Almost killed us."
"Serves y'all right for not staying up North where you belong."
"You didn't hear what our Southern president said the other night?"
"Who's goin' to pay for what y'all done to my car?"
"It's Hertz's car, you redneck asshole, and their insurance company is going to pay for it because I didn't initial the waiver. I didn't figure it was safe riding down your focking white-trash roads."
"Rosemarie!" Peg snapped.
"I'm sorry, sir," I said, putting on my humble-pie face and voice. "You get shot at in the night, you get a little edgy."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, "I surenuf can understand that. Praise the Lord that none of y'all were hurt."
"AMEN to that," I replied fervently.
"He done delivered y'all from the valley of death."
"And keeps us under the shadow of his wings."
"Chucky Ducky, where did you find this babe?" Peg asked.
"She used to hang around with my sister when we were kids."
Chuck worked on his negatives on the flight back to Chicago.
"Make the prints tomorrow and then ship them off to New York. They may want to use them next Sunday or the Sunday after."
We were met at the airport, like conquering heroes, by Vangie and the good April. Of course there was a celebration at their house with the usual crazy O'Malley songfest and drinks all around, save for me and my husband, who sipped Lapsang Souchong tea. The nine cousins cheered us and sang with us. Poor little Moire of the flamingred hair hugged me, and said, "I saw you on television, Mommy. You were singing and you were really pretty."
Her big sister did not share her enthusiasm. I was going to have a problem there. Did she resent our risking our lives? Or perhaps leaving her and the others alone for a couple of days? There was no telling what the crazy and very risky adventure might do to a sensitive fifteen-year-old's head.
Tomorrow, I told myself. Tomorrow.
I woke up at least a dozen times that night. The rifle shots continued to whine by my head. I finally slept for a few hours and woke up, groggy and confused, about ten. I poured my morning cup of tea. Then suddenly it hit me. I had taken a reckless chance with my life and the lives of my friends. If it had not been for me, they would not have gone to Selma. If they had been killed, it was my fault.
I glanced at the newspaper and sipped some more tea.
The Marines had landed that day at Danang--the other side of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
I would not tell Chuck until the prints were finished.
I confessed my insanity to him as he worked feverishly in our darkroom.
"St. Crispin's Day," he muttered, as a print came up in the tray.
"You know, Prince Hal, men abed in England ... Selma will be our St. Crispin's Day for the rest of our lives. We were mad do it. But thank God we did it."
"And that we came home alive."
"That too!"
"You're not going to send that print of me and Eddie to the Times, are you?"
"No! Your picture's been in there too many times this year. I'll save it for the book."
"Well, at least I have all my clothes on."
Chuck suspended his frantic work for a moment.
"That really doesn't make any difference, Rosemarie, my darling."
I left, lest I get into another silly argument with him.
April Rosemary, in her plaid Trinity High School uniform, cornered me in my Edwardian, oak-paneled office where I was workingon notes for my next conversation with my shrink. (Chuck had once insisted that it was more expensive than the Oval Office.)
"I want to have a very serious conversation with you, Mother."
When I'm mother I am generally in deep trouble
"Of course," I said with equal formality.
"Do you and Dad realize what you are doing to us?"
Oh, boy.
"Suppose you tell me."
"All the kids at school make fun of us because they say our parents are weirdos."
"The boys too?"
"Mother, that's not the point."
"And what is the point?"
"Why do you and Dad have to be different from everyone else's parents?"
She wasn't angry about the risk to our lives. She was angry because we were different.
"Do they make fun of your cousin Carlotta too?"
Carlotta was Peg's daugther and April Rosemary's "best friend."
"Mother! You know Carlotta is an airhead. Besides, her parents weren't on television yesterday like you and Daddy and Uncle Ed."
"You're embarrassed because we were on television yesterday ... I'm sure we weren't on for more than a few moments, were we?"
"Mother, you don't understand! You're on television all the time!"
I thought about demanding to know what other times, but decided against it.
"Kids make fun of you because we're on television?"
Tears welled up in her eyes, tears of anger.
"Why can't you and Daddy just be like everyone else's parents?"
I bit my tongue. She was new in Trinity and different from the other kids, none of whom had spent almost four years in Germany. A few jerks were trying to put her down. At her age in life that meant that the whole world had suddenly turned cruel.
Little bitches. I hated them just like I hated those who made fun of me twenty years ago.
"Daddy is a very great man, April Rosemary. He doesn't quite realize it and he doesn't act like he's great, but he is. You have to let him be who he is. Maybe you could even be proud of him."
"I just wish you and Daddy would understand what his greatness is doing to my life!"
"There were very bad things happening down South, dear. Daddy felt ... we all felt ... that we ought to do something about it."
"Why couldn't the Southerners do it themselves?"
Tears were now pouring down her cheeks.
"The Negroes can't get their rights by themselves. They need our help."
"Why should you help them? If they can't help themselves, isn't it their fault?"
Ah, the little bitches were racist and had racists for parents.
I struggled to contain my temper.
"Jesus said that whatever we do to the least of the brothers and sisters we do to him."
"Did he also say that you had to make your children feel like fools!"
Angry sobs shaking her body, she jumped out of her chair and dashed from my office.
Selfish little bitch!
She would get over it.
Yet I had lost her. I went over my words. Was there anything I might have said that would have helped? Probably not. She wanted to punish us. And she had.
Not since I went sober had I thought that I might be an embarrassment to my children.
I sat silently in my chair, paralyzed. I felt like one of the bullets fired the night before last had hit me. I could not even cry.
Then a mass of red hair appeared at the doorway to my office, followed by the face of Moire as she peered around the corner.
"Morgen," she said in German. "Wie gehts?"
Our youngest had absorbed the German language more completely than the rest of us. Imp that she was--a womanly Chucky without any of the hangups--she loved to pretend that she knew no English. Unlike the Trinity girls, her first grade classmates thought she was hilariously funny.
One of her tricks was to enter a room with a fierce scowl as though she expected to fight someone and then, after giving the scowl time to have its impact, her face would light up like the Palmolivebeacon on the top of the Drake Hotel and she'd rush at the nearest available lap.
In this case, mine was the only available one.
"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!"
"What dear?"
"Can I be with you on television the next time!"
I tried to explain to her that there wouldn't be a next time.
Chuck dashed into the office, a large, neatly wrapped box propped up against his chest. He swooped down to hug and kiss his youngest child.
"Off to the airport to put this on a plane to New York," he said. "See you when I get back."
Everything Chuck did was neat. In reaction to the relaxed condition of his family life he had become almost compulsively fastidious. We had problems over this in our early days together because, in addition to being a drunk, I'm also a slob. I tried to get my act together, and I did improve. Then one day he said, "Rosemarie, there's no reason why you should be as compulsive as I am. I wish I could be a slob."
So of course I relaxed and improved considerably--I was about as neat as the good April and Peg, not very neat by the Polish American standards of "Missus" our wonderful housekeeper.
These thoughts did not distract me from the conviction that I had lost my daughter and might never get her back.
Then the boys and Moire erupted back into my office--the poor little tyke trailing behind them but running to keep up. Their teachers thought I had been wonderful on television and praised me for my courage. April Rosemary's problem was unique.
No, there were probably jerks in the grammar school too, racist kids with racist parents, but boys would simply laugh them off.
April Rosemary's problem was unique among our kids because of age and gender and sensitivity. Unique so far anyway.
I had lost her. It must be partly my fault.
I made some more notes for the shrink, a new one since Dr. Stone had moved to Boston.
Our dinner that night was typical--as many conversations as there were people. Except for April Rosemary. She sulked.
Later that night, I waited naked in bed, the covers folded down at my waist for Chucky to finish his work in the darkroom.
Finally, my husband ambled into our bedroom, so tired that he could barely walk a straight line. He closed the door softly.
"I am a mere shadow of my former self," he said, standing over me and smiling, "and the woman wants to make love."
He touched one of my breasts lightly. I winced as the electricity of desire rushed through my body.
"Ah," he said appreciatively, "the woman needs to make love. I should perhaps tease her ever so gently."
"You can do whatever you want to me, husband mine, but I must tell you about the conversation I had with your daughter this afternoon."
I told him as he undressed, slipped into bed next to me, and folded me into his arms.
"I've lost her, Chucky. I know I've lost her."
"She's trying out her role as an adult, Rosemarie," he said softly. "We're the first ones around to oppose. It's part of growing up."
"It will never be the same between us." I found that I was weeping, though I had sworn I would not. I did not want to spoil our bout of love.
"In a way you're right, Rosemarie. If we're patient with her, however, and love her no matter how much of a little idiot she is, we will develop a new relationship with her which will be much better. You've been wonderful with her so far. Now we both must learn to be patient."
Where had he picked up all this psychological mumbo jumbo? Doubtless he'd read a book.
"She hates us."
"For the moment. Someday soon she'll celebrate our St. Crispin's Day memories with us."
"How soon?"
"I don't know, Rosemarie. Maybe real soon. Maybe not for a long time. We have to believe in her and the faith and love we've had for her all her life."
"It's probably my fault because I was a drunk when she was a kid."
"I don't think so, Rosemarie. She loved you till last week. She'llwork it out eventually. God gives us children to take care of for a few years, then He expects us to give them back to Him."
"She's too young."
"It will do us no good to try to push her. We never have."
"Maybe we shouldn't have gone to Selma."
"Don't say that, Rosemarie. Don't let her blackmail us."
"Where did you get all this wisdom?"
"Picked it up on the run, I guess ... You still want to make love."
So we lost ourselves in the deep well of passion. I slept soundly after. No more rifle bullets whining by my head.
The next morning I woke up worrying about my daughter, about all my children. Would they all have to leave us?
I also worried about my husband. He was as worried as I was about our kids. Since I am a neurotic and a drunk, he had to pretend not to worry.
That wasn't fair.
"Rosemarie, how many pounds have you gained since the last time we spoke with one another?"
I had spilled out to my shrink the madness of our Selma excursion and my terror over April Rosemary. She responded by asking me about my weight.
"Five pounds?" I suggested.
Her gray eyes twinkling, she shook her head, a mother superior with a dishonest but amusing novice.
Dr. Ward shook her head again as if the novice, however appealing, was chronically dishonest.
"A pound and a half," I admitted, feeling very guilty.
She sighed patiently.
Her office was a tiny room overlooking Harlem Avenue, and a park across the street struggling to emerge from a Chicago winter. Two chairs, a desk, and a shelf with books and a few snapshots were the only furniture, save for the photos, a perfect setting for my novice mistress. Or confessor.
"I thought we had agreed, Rosemarie, that, attractive as you may be when you look like an escapee from a prison camp, your physical and mental health require that you weigh ten pounds more than you do."
"I think I can remember that." I granted her point.
"You could at least snack on the way while you're rushing madly about."
"That's the way people my age get fat," I argued stubbornly.
"Shall we worry about that bridge in the unlikely event that we come to it?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"And, Rosemarie, I am not a mother superior even if sometimes I may sound like one."
"Yes, s'ter."
Margaret Mary Ward Keenan was a small pretty woman with long auburn hair and big gray eyes which seemed to burn with sympathy and warmth, a good fairy assigned to take care of me. Dr. Stone, who had been in charge of me when I had gone on the wagon, had betrayed me by taking an appointment at the Harvard Medical School.
"I strongly recommend Dr. Ward," she told me. "She is a psychologist and not a medical doctor. She is very unorthodox, but you, my dear, need someone very unorthodox."
I rebelled against this decision. Naturally. However, Dr. Ward's maternal smile--though she was my age--melted me. I needed a mother to take care of me.
Unorthodox she was. Somehow or the other we had agreed that I was regularly underweight because of low self-esteem. Some women hide their low self-valuation by putting on weight. Determined to be different from everyone, I did it by not being heavy enough. I would therefore put on weight, even if it meant a daily visit to Petersen's ice-cream parlor, a luxury of which I had often dreamed.
She and her husband Jerry Keenan lived in the parish just west of us. So I encounter her at various social occasions. She's not embarrassed by such meetings, but I am. Once I introduced her to Chucky.
"Dr. Ward, this is my husband Chuck O'Malley."
"All the good things she says about me are true," he said, "and all the bad things are false."
"Why, Mr. O'Malley ... or to be proper, Dr. O'Malley, what would ever make you think we talk about you?"
My husband turned purple and laughed, "Touché!"
Later he whispered to me, "I hope that child doesn't have any male patients."
"What do you mean?" I turned on my thunder-and-lightning frown.
"Most men wouldn't be able to keep their hands off her ... I would, of course, because I have such long practice at self-restraint, but ..."
I shoved him with my elbow.
"Regardless! You have the dirtiest mind in the world," I told him.
"I don't know who keeps the list."
"I do and you be quiet!"
"Yes, ma'am." He giggled, content with himself.
In her office that day after Selma, I was trying to find an excuse for avoiding Petersen's.
"Well, I've been terribly busy ..."
"Do we not have here," Maggie Ward (her real name), "Rosemarie, the perfect metaphor for your complex? I have given you license to indulge in your passion for malted milks, and you reject the license."
"I enjoy sex," I said defensively.
"Not as much as you might."
That hit home. I had admitted to her that there were times when Chucky and I were making love that I resisted the ecstasy that I might have enjoyed. I was afraid of what might happen. Moreover, I didn't deserve that much pleasure.
"Now," Dr. Maggie Ward said to me, "let us talk about your trip to Alabama."
She was silent for a moment, as was I. That meant I was supposed to say something.
"Well ... It was a crazy risk ... Wasn't it?"
"I thought we expected such behavior from the crazy O'Malleys."
"We could have all been killed."
"You weren't."
"I was responsible for Peg and Vince."
"Surely they have minds of their own. Indeed as you describe your sister-in-law to me she is a paladin of common sense."
"Well ..."
"You would, of course, do it again, wouldn't you?"
Unfair question.
"I might not take so many chances ..."
"One would hope not."
"I loved the excitement, the adventure, the adrenaline rush ..."
"Which is to say that you are Rosemarie Helen Clancy O'Malley."
"I could have died ..."
"We all die someday, Rosmarie."
"I know that."
Maybe after I was dead the demons racing around in my skull would leave me alone.
"All your life you have been taking risks, high risks, in defense of your selfhood. Have they not paid off?"
"We've been through this before, haven't we?"
"I believe so. Does it not seem possible to you that wise, if high risks, are your grace?"
"Like my karma?"
She grinned. "If you wish."
I didn't like this crazy Clancy broad who was good at taking wise if high risks.
"You'd probably be dead now, Rosemarie, if you hadn't taken a lot of risks when you were younger."
"What about April Rosemary?"
"What about her?"
"Am I going to lose her because I'm just a little crazy? Or maybe a lot crazy?"
"Do you expect your daughter to be just like you even if she looks like a clone?"
"Well ..."
"Should she be fighting with the nuns and the other young women the way you did?"
"No ..."
"Has she not grown up in a home where her parents loved one another and her?"
"You tell me, Rosemarie."
"You always say that!"
She nodded and waited for my answer.
"She'll have different mountains to climb?"
"A nice metaphor."
"Actually a little trite, but it makes the point ... Maybe I should say she'll have to swim across different bays with different sharks to avoid."
"Another nice metaphor, quite revealing actually."
"Will I lose her?"
"What do you think?"
"Maybe ... I know what I'm supposed to say next. I'm supposedto say that I have to give her enough freedom so I might lose her if we're ever going to be adult friends."
"No one has ever questioned your intelligence, Rosemarie. Loss is always a risk with our children."
"Will I lose her?"
"No promises, Rosemarie."
Those luminous gray eyes turned sad. There were hints of some great loss in her own past. On one corner of the shelf behind her desk there was a frame with two pictures, one of a pathetically young sailor in World War II uniform and the other of a cute little girl baby.
"There can't be any promises, can there?"
"Time, Rosemarie. Stop at Petersen's on the way home."
I did. I discovered that a single malt was not nearly enough.
After supper, the boys were down in the basement blowing their horns. I found April Rosemary huddled over papers with her sister.
"I'm helping April Rosemary with her homework," the little redhead informed me proudly.
Big sister looked up at me and winked. Apparently we were friends again.
"Daddy and I are going over to Petersen's. Can you keep an eye on April Rosemary for me?"
"Yes, Mommy."
Big sister made a face as if she really didn't approve of such romantic nonsense from her parents, but she winked again.
"Don't worry about the boys," she said. "You know what they're like when they're making noise."
I pulled Chucky out of his darkroom. "Leave Selma alone for an hour and take your date over to Petersen's."
He put aside his magnifying glass and a stack of negatives and bounded out of his chair.
"Can I neck and pet with her like I used to?"
"Act your age, Charles Cronin O'Malley!"
"Yes, ma'am."
"And put on your Fenwick jacket. It's still April."
"Just like I was eighteen again!"
"I haven't noticed much change in you since 1946."
"I hope not."
Despite my warning that he act his age, he held my hand as we walked over to Chicago Avenue.
We were always welcome at the ice-cream parlor, the best on the West Side of Chicago as Chucky always said. Then he would add, "Nothing on the South Side even makes the cut."
The manager rushed to the door to shake hands as we entered. He reminisced about the good old days when we were teens and the Clancy/O'Malley duet used to burst into song like the ice-cream parlor was the set for a musical comedy.
So he prevailed upon us to do a bit of our old act, which meant singing songs from South Pacific. Actually it didn't take much persuasion. I wondered if some of the teenagers, the real ones that is, who stopped eating their ice cream long enough to stare at us, might be classmates or friends of April Rosemary. We were embarrassing her again. However, the applause was still favorable.
"Are you really April O'Malley's parents?" a wide-eyed blond kid asked us.
"No way," Chucky said. "Do we look old enough to have a daughter that's almost fifteen? My date is her big sister."
General laughter.
"Bitchin'," said the blond.
"Is that good?" Chucky asked, his hand sneaking up under my skirt.
"Charles Cronin O'Malley," I protested insincerely "And yes, it's a compliment."
"You must have had a good interview with your gorgeous little shrink today," he suggested.
"I'm in trouble. I haven't put on the ten pounds she wants me to put on. So I have to come here more often."
"With me?"
"Not necessarily."
His fingers were approaching an area where, in my present horny state, I might react inappropriately
"With who?"
"Regardless." He waved his hand, imitating me.
However, his fingers had stopped their exploration.
"With anyone I want. Usually by myself, if there's no one around the house who can fit me into his schedule."
I gulped down the last sip of my malted milk.
"Charles Cronin O'Malley, finish your malt and take me home and make frenzied love to me."
"Really?" he said, faking surprise.
So we went home. I checked on the children. Moire was in bed, the boys, dark-haired kids who looked like they might in a couple of years ride the Shenandoah Valley with Phil Sheridan, were still blasting away on their horns, April Rosemary was puzzling over an algebra problem. Despite my high level of sexual excitement, I said to her, "Some of your friends were over there."
"Hmm ... Did you sing for them?"
"A little."
"They liked it?" She didn't look up from her algebra.
"They seemed too."
"Bitchin' ..."
You never can tell.
As I entered the door of the master bedroom (which Chuck insisted on calling the mistress bedroom) I shed my blouse and reached for the hooks on my bra.
I would show that witch Maggie Ward that I could, sometimes, give myself over completely to pleasure.
Which I did. Up to a point.
That summer all our hopes for the political future were obliterated. The casualties in Vietnam were increasing, but they were still low, just as they had been in the early days of Korea. Each death of a boy from our neighborhood caused a stir of unease. We did not, could not, comprehend that such deaths would soon become routine. However, Chuck and I found some reassurance in the rapid progress of the Civil Rights Movement.
The Voting Rights Act passed on August 10 in 1965. My husband was exultant. "The race problem in America," he told me confidently, "will be solved. The Negroes will come to political power, the Democratic majority in the South will be stronger, racial peace and justice will emerge at a steady, gradual pace. Selma was the turning point."
Chucky Ducky was rarely so pontifical. However, he was telling me and especially himself that the bright promise of the Kennedy years had not ended with the rifle bullet that had crashed into the President's brain in Dallas, Texas, two years before.
The very next day, Chuck's predictions about the solution of the Negro problem were proved wrong.
We were at our House on the Lake, which I had missed desperately in Bonn and which had become my favorite place in all the world, a place of peace and serenity and rebirth. I love it there, warm, drowsy days and cool, moist nights which soak the tensions out of my body and make me sink into a glowing pond of peace. And love.
"Rosie," my father-in-law had said, "I have the perfect house for you. It's a higgledy-piggledy, topsy-turvy place. You'll love it."
He knew that I wouldn't permit any external modifications on our house on New England Avenue in Oak Park because I insisted that its middle western copy of Dutch Colonial should not be violated. He also knew that I wanted to have a place I could do interesting things to.
"It's just down the Lake from us," he continued. "It needs a lot of work ..."
Which was music to my ears.
"I don't know, Vangie. Will Chuck like it?"
"Your son, my husband."
"He doesn't get to vote."
The house was perfect. Once it had been a simple beach house, the outlines of which were dimly visible within the now sprawling and disorderly collection of additions, bedrooms, bathrooms, screen porches which had been incorporated into the house and new screen porches and galleries, and frequently improved electrical and water connections. And a cupola on the roof.
"Perfect," I had said to Chuck. "We can do wonderful things with the place."
"I'll get lost in there," he had said dyspeptically.
"You don't get to vote."
"I understand."
"You can advise, however. No consent permitted. You'll love it."
"Yes, ma'am."
I knew he'd love it because he loved me.
Anyway, I was buying the house. I had inherited money from both parental families. My father's money was dirty, so I gave it all to the Church. Mom's grandfather had owned about half of what is now the South Side. Wisely invested, it had survived the Crash and was now all my responsibility. I had set up some foundations and established trust funds for my kids which would provide for their education--even to graduate school--and their first home. I suppose I'm rich. I would have traded in all the money for a different family life when I was growing up. However, I never had that choice. I feel guilty about the money. I'm not an aristocrat. We live comfortably. I could live like an aristocrat (and that makes me feel guilty) but I don't and won't.
Chuck claimed that he had grown to love the place. "There's so many dead ends and alcoves in which I can trap you for my lascivious purposes," he argued.
He had learned that a little bit of tickling sent my body chemicals rampaging. Clever little imp that he is, he sensed when the chemicals were ready to rampage anyway.
The House at the Lake had become for me a place of new beginnings of second chances.
John Raven argues that our God is a God of infinite second chances. We always have the opportunity to start over again. At the Lake I could pause and reflect on my second chances. The O'Malleys had accepted a rich waif into their family. Chuck had married me despite my warnings that I was bad news. He made me stop drinking. That was a lot of second chances for one woman. How many more would I get?
So at the Lake I was more peaceful, more grateful, and more vulnerable.
The cupola had become Mom's Tower. Like Mom's Study at home, the door was always ajar, which meant that anyone in the family with a good reason (their call) could come in. This included at the Lake Moire, who burst in several times a day to hug me and tell me how much she loved me and then dashed out at full speed.
Often that love made me cry. I didn't deserve it.
Mom's Tower was also a place where I could indulge in my secret vice. It was not sexual, at least not explicitly so.
I write. Stories. Lots of them. I have not shown them to anyone. Not Chuck, not Peg, not Maggie Ward. Not anyone. I never will. Nonetheless, I love writing them.
It was one of those sleepy humid days in August when everyone was pretending that summer would never end. The boys were blowing their horns down on the beach. As usual they had attracted a crowd of local urchins, some teenagers who liked their beat, and a few curious adults who thought they might be hearing a new sound. Also as usual April Rosemary was sulking. Her brothers were embarrassing her with her friends. They were decidedly not cool. In fact they were "space cadets."
"Complain to your father," I said, now weary of April Rosemary's endless embarrassment. "He turned them on to Louis Armstrong."
Chucky didn't like rock and roll. Believing, more or less, in letting his children develop their own tastes, he did not try to forbid them to listen to the "jungle music" as he called it. Rather he lurked silently in the background and awaited his opportunity to play the jazz card.
The opportunity came while we were still in Germany. The Louis Armstrong recording of "Hello, Dolly!" swept the Beatles temporarilyout of first place on the charts. April Rosemary thought it was "totally gross."
"Dad," asked Kevin, then twelve years old, "who is this Satchmo person?"
"Actually his friends call him Pops," Chucky replied, not even opening his eyes on the couch.
"You know him?" James, age eleven, demanded. "He's famous!"
"Gramps and he are great friends from the time that Pops was playing early Chicago jazz in speakeasies in Chicago during the nineteen twenties."
"What's a speakeasy?" ten-year-old Sean asked.
Somehow I had never worried about my sons until the Vietnam War started. Even as kids they seemed sensible and stable. They treated me with grave respect, the way Chuck did. He was simply the oldest of the kids and hence one of them. All of them were or promised to be rangy, Black Irish young men, with deep, dark blue eyes, low hairlines, and bright smiles. They all looked like one another and like Colonel Brian O'Brien, my mother's grandfather who rode with Phil Sheridan during the Civil War, a giant bearded man with long black hair, a wicked smile, and hypnotic eyes. Despite his good looks and his trim cavalry uniform, he had managed to keep out of trouble during the war and after, though legends about his success in love and politics swirled around him.
I figured that if my sons had those genes, at least they wouldn't get caught.
Kevin, the oldest, was the leader, the planner, and the plotter. If I didn't know what they were up to, I would demand an explanation from Kevin.
"What are you three troublemakers up to now?" I would say.
"We're going to buy horns, Mom," he would say, the soul of innocence.
"Horns that make noise?"
"Not loud noise, Mom," he said with an impish grin that always won my heart. "We figured that the O'Malley clan is short on wind instruments. So we'd provide the wind."
They ended up with cheap and battered instruments, a trumpet, a trombone, and a sax (which I told them was not a wind instrument). Kev had not told me the truth. The noise was loud, very loud, to thedismay of the staff at our home on the Rhine. Each one of them seemed to be able to play by ear. They taught themselves how to play and seemed to concentrate on John Philip Sousa. The United States Marine Band they were not.
James, the second of the "Irish triplets" as they were often called, was the sensitive, affectionate one. He realized that Giovanni Batista Antonelli (Gianni) felt left out of the band when they came back to America and signed him on as the "little drummer boy."
Once he asked whether, "Dad was always like he is now when he was our age?"
"He hasn't changed much," I said, hugging him.
"He was a cool kid?"
"Coolest kid in the neighborhood."
"He really hasn't grown up much, has he?"
Aha, a delicate question.
"Well, he has graduated from a university and is a successful photographer and fine Ambassador for the United States of America, but he's still the coolest kid in the neighborhood."
"Great!" he whooped, and ran off with what he interpreted as good news.
I couldn't keep the conversation a secret from my husband. He did not seem surprised at either the question or my response.
"Not everyone realized I was cool," he said judiciously. "Indeed the adjective didn't have that meaning when we were their age. In fact, I was, however, the coolest kid in the neighborhood."
Seano was the clown of the group, like his father always ready with the quick quip. "Mom, can't we buy the neighbors earmuffs so they don't have to listen to us?"
They were a fun threesome, good kids, normal kids, got along fine with everyone, played at all the required sports, did well in school. The music, at first anyway, seemed a sideline.
I'm sure it started that day in Bonn when Chucky explained jazz to them.
"It's a mix of African and American music. It began with dancing and singing in a place in New Orleans called Congo Square where the slaves were free to be themselves for two hours on Sunday afternoon.Spread up to Chicago when Pops came up the Mississippi. It keeps changing as time goes on, yet it's always the same. It requires absolute mastery of the instruments and the ability to give form and structure to the music with improvisation. It's America's unique contribution to world music."
"Yucky," April Rosemary snorted, though she had listened carefully to Chuck's lecture.
"Do you have any of his records around?"
"I might have. I'll look for them tomorrow."
He knew exactly where the records were.
The triplets listened with rapt attention for several hours.
"Cool," they sighed in unison.
"Do you know him too, Dad?" James asked.
"Sure, when his band played in Cologne, your mother and I went up to listen and have a word with him. He recognized us immediately because your mother is so beautiful ..."
"He recognized your father's hair."
" ... And he remembered the times when both your grandfathers used to come to listen to him in a speakeasy on Oakley Avenue during prohibition."
"Is he famous?" Seano asked, eyes wide.
"He's the most famous jazz musician in all the world."
"He shaped both instrumental and vocal performances," I added. "Jazz is what it is because of Louis."
"If he's famous," Kevin wanted to know, "how come he knows you, Dad?"
In his own country and among his own people ... I'd let Chucky Ducky field that one.
"Because I'm Gramps's son," he replied gently. "Gramps is a famous architect and painter."
"Oh ..."
"Your father is the Ambassador of the United States of America," I said with a touch of pride. "And he's published a lot of picture books."
Those accomplishments cut not a bit of ice.
Gradually, Chuck indoctrinated these three innocents into the theory and history of jazz with musical illustrations. They listened tothe Duke and the Count, to Dizzy and Bix, to Miles Davis and Johnny Coltrane. Their education, after we came home, was supplemented by visits to Gramps, who spun wondrous yarns and produced old thirty-five-millimeter films of Pops and Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday.
I was astonished at my sons' fascination with jazz. They were only kids, basketball- and baseball-loving punks who constantly pushed each other around and were never quite free of trouble in school.
I guess they had been born with genes that demanded sound. Jazz provided the sound for them.
So that catastrophic day in August, they were down on the beach serenading the community. Kevin's trumpet, always off-key, had the sound of Satchmo in it--still tentative, still youthful. Yet he was hearing the music, the way it ought to be heard.
Maybe I had a jazz trio on my hands.
Dear God, I prayed with a shiver, let them all live to develop and enjoy their talent.
I was lying on the porch under an umbrella in a bikini that was considerably more modest than those which my daughter's generation affected. I had put on five of that witch Maggie Ward's pounds, which made me figure I wasn't too skinny.
Chuck was taking a nap. For someone who is as hyperkinetic as he is, he has a damnable habit of being able to nap whenever he wants to.
With or without sex.
I was considering the possibility of complaining about the absence of sex on this perfect summer afternoon, when I heard him scream from inside, "Rosemarie!"
Always prepared for the worst when someone shouts my name that way, I hooked my bra and dashed into the parlor.
"What happened!
He gestured at the old black-and-white television, which we both agreed was fine for the beach.
Young Negroes were rushing the streets of what looked like a quiet suburban neighborhood with respectable single-family homes. They were burning cars, throwing gasoline bombs, smashing store windows, hurling rocks at the police.
The camera zoomed in on a kid no more than fifteen with an angelic face just as he threw a fire bomb at a passing car.
"Burn, baby, burn!"
"Chicago?" I gasped.
"Los Angeles ... A place called Watts!"
"There was a rumor that the police beat a pregnant Negro woman. Apparently it wasn't true, but they started throwing rocks at the police last night. Somehow the cops were not able to restore order. Now it's totally out of hand!"
The TV people interviewed Negro "experts" Stokeley Carmichael and H. Rapp Brown. It was the end of "Uncle Tom" activism they both asserted. The black (first time I heard that word) kids in Watts had taken their destiny into their own hands. They were telling "whitey" that either America would give them what they wanted or they would "burn it all down!"
"Dear God, Chuck," I murmured. "What must Dr. King think?"
"He's probably as horrified as we are. They didn't understand anything he taught."
A "black" expert said to the TV camera. "Nonviolence doesn't work. So we're taking to the streets."
"But, Chuck, it looks like they're burning down their own neighborhood and looting their own stores!"
"Television is turning mass looting into a political statement. I don't understand it."
"It attracts people to watch, even if it does become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
As we watched a fire truck pulled up to a blazing television and appliance store. Men and women of every age and size were dashing out, appliances piled into their arms. The teens threw rocks at the fire truck. Gunfire rang out. The firemen wisely turned and ran.
"Whitey ain't no good," one rioter informed the national television audience. "His law and order don't be my law and order. Burn, whitey, burn!"
"Aren't you destroying your own neighborhood, your own stores?" an interviewer asked a bearded youth clad in an African costume.
"Those be Jew stores. Jews been exploiting us folk, you know. We're chasing Jews out of our community. Let them exploit someone else."
"Who will build new stores?"
"Don't matter none, you know. Jews be gone, you know! Whitey be gone too!"
"Anti-Semitism too," my husband groaned.
Not only was Watts burning; so too were the last ruins of the JFK Camelot dream.
Both of us were Democratic liberals, albeit of the Irish Catholic Chicago variety, Chucky by birth, I by conversion and conviction (and flaky, ex-drunk enthusiasm). We believed in racial and religious integration. We believed in peace and prosperity and American knowhow that could create both. Our world was being torn apart.
Many of the Chicago Irish did not. They were racists and anti-Semites like my poor father. In the O'Malley house attitudes on race and religion were not a big deal. Chuck often told the story of how he had soaped the windows of a Jewish dry goods store up on Division Street with anti-Jewish slogans. He came home and bragged to the good April of his accomplishment. She ordered him to return to the store, apologize to the owners, and clean off the soap.
"They are as good as we are, Charles Cronin O'Malley. Better because they work harder and are smarter. You go up there this minute and apologize."
So he did. With the usual Chucky Ducky charm. They hired him to work at the store part-time. When he told the story to our kids, the explicit point usually was that you lose nothing by saying you're sorry. However, the other theme got through to them too.
"Just like Grams," April Rosemary said with admiration. "Be nice to everyone because people are people just like us."
That was not a very pure form of ideology. But it was enough. Chuck and I believed in it. During the early sixties we thought that it was where our country was going.
"Turn it off, Rosemarie." My husband sighed. "We've seen enough."
I flicked the switch on the television.
"We were wrong," he said grimly, face in his hands. "We underestimated the hatred and anger that a couple of centuries of oppression created. The Civil Rights Movement is finished. Black Power is the new way to go. Without people like us along for the ride."
"They can't win without allies, can they?"
"I don't see how."
"What happens next?" I sat on the couch next to him and put my arm around his skinny shoulders.
"More Watts!"
Appropriately a thick thunderhead moved in over the beach and temporarily extinguished the light of summer.
"If Jack Kennedy had lived ... ?"
"Who knows." He sighed. "Now the crazies are running things."
"I hope you're not thinking of going out there with your camera?"
He looked up at me in surprise.
"What good could I do?"
Young Americans were dying in Vietnam. Blacks were burning down their own neighborhood and spouting anti-Semitism. We were both in our mid-thirties, yet our world was dying, just like summer was.
It took five days and sixteen thousand cops and National Guardsmen to bring peace back to Watts. Thirty-four people were dead, most of them Negroes. Two hundred and fifty buildings had burned to the ground. Martin Luther King was heckled by the young radicals when he suggested that they help rebuild the neighborhood, their neighborhood. Watts never was rebuilt, despite all the federal money which was poured into it.
After I had clung to Chucky, I walked out on the deck. Against the chill wind I put on my robe. Down on the beach the sun was shining again. My sons were still blowing their horns. Mostly it was cacophony, but there were exciting moments. Little girls, including our Moire, were dancing together on the sand. Their mothers stood on the fringes of the crowd. Somehow they seemed to approve of the jam session. Perhaps because they could be sure where their kids would be when the Crazy O'Malleys, as the group called themselves, appeared. Even April Rosemary and her nearly naked bikini-clad gang watched some at a safe distance, enthralled despite themselves. I noted with transient pleasure that my child had the best body of them all.
Earlier in the summer she had praised me when I had appeared for the first time in my own, as I say far more modest, two-piece swimsuit. (Not, however, pathologically modest!)
"Mom," she said, eyeing me critically as we walked down the long flight of steps to the inviting sand, "you really are a beautiful woman!"
"I think I'm blushing, April Rosemary."
"That makes you even prettier. No wonder Dad loves you so much."
"He'll love me when I'm old and not beautiful anymore."
"You'll always be beautiful," she said definitively. "I suppose you and Daddy make love a lot?"
Ah, the question about which every teen worries, but lack the nerve to talk about.
"We are deeply in love, April Rosemary, as you can easily tell, so we do, though not anything like several times a day."
She giggled at that.
"Not enough privacy with us around ... More than most of my friends' parents, I bet?"
"Probably," I said cautiously.
"I hope so."
She flounced off down the beach to her bevy of friends.
What was I to make of that exchange! It didn't fit any of the books I had read about adolescents and parental sex.
I told Chuck about the conversation in bed that night as we were both slipping into sleep.
"Hmm ..." he replied.
"Is that all you can say?"
"Well, you did of course tell her that you weren't beautiful but a broken-down drunk!"
"Charles Cronin O'Malley! I'm serious!"
"I thought that was your standard response when someone tells you you're beautiful."
"You're scoring points against me and I'm trying to talk to you about our daughter!"
"Oh ..."
"So what do you make of our conversation!"
"I think I'll have to take a lot of shots of the two of you together this summer. In fact, I'll even do a formal portrait of mother and daughter in alluring swimsuits!"
Chuck was doing formal portraits that summer. He had even built a small studio in one wing of our summer home.
"I'll never pose for it!"
"She'll be delighted to pose for it, so you will too."
"No way!"
I knew I would.
"Can I go to sleep now, please, ma'am?"
"You didn't answer my question."
"I did too."
"You did not!"
He sighed loudly.
"I implied that your daughter strongly identifies with you, which is no great secret, and indeed adores you. She's also trying to figure out how she can keep on adoring you and still become her own person."
"You read that in some book."
"It will work out all right but there may be a lot of heartache for both of you."
"So long as it works out ..."
However, my husband by then was dead to the world.
I thought of that conversation on the day of the Watts riots as I looked down on the beach. Poor little Gianni Antonelli was pounding away on his drum, the only one of the gang who had any sense of tempo. The tune they were killing was, I thought, the "Notre Dame Victory March." It was kind of hard to tell.
Love flowed into me, love for my kids, for the joys of youth, for summer, for the Lake, the beach, everything. If only that moment of youthful fun could be preserved forever. If only I could protect them against the darkness which lay ahead for all of us. Perhaps if I were not a drunk and a neurotic I might be able to save them. As it was I could only watch in horror and tears.
Sunlight faded away on the beach. A front was coming through.
The future would be a lot worse than I expected.
"How many of you men have ever been married?" I demanded. "How many of you have ever lived with a woman or slept with a woman?"
A couple of laymen put up their hands. The rest of the group--bishops and theologians and a few captive laity--stared at me in silence. Next to me, my red-haired husband grinned happily. Clancy lowers the boom, he was thinking.
"Then how the hell can you claim to tell us married women what sex should mean in our lives?"
Dead silence. Packy Keenan, Maggie Ward's brother-in-law, was grinning. My shrink ought to be here instead of me. She wouldn't make a mess out of it like I would.
We had read Judge Noonan's book on contraception on the way over and realized that the Church had begun to make a really big deal out of birth control in 1930. In the previous century priests had been urged not to "trouble the consciences of the married laity."
"What do you think sexual love means to a married woman?" I continued my tirade. "Do you really think it's a debt I pay to my husband when his passions get out of hand? Do you actually believe that I could survive in my marriage if I gave up sleeping with my husband? Do you think that when a woman makes love with her husband she's actually hoping for another child when she already has five of them?"
We were at a meeting of the commission Pope Paul VI had established to advise him on the subject of birth control. On a hot June day we had assembled in a religious order retreat house a few miles outside of Rome. The nuns in charge had assigned priests and the laymen to one section of the stuffy building and the few women to another part. What right did women have to talk to bishops and priests about marital sex?
I had shouted in protest on arrival. I would stay only if my husband and I slept in the same bed. The other married couples hadjoined, somewhat hesitantly, in my protest. My husband had beamed his approval but remained silent.
"You didn't need me," he had argued when at last we were in our cramped sticky room, one with a bed designed at best for a large male retreatant. Or prisoner.
"Shut up, O'Malley," I had told him. "If you think I went to all that trouble to get you in the same bed with me and then would let you escape without making love you're crazy!"
I had pushed him back on the bed and fallen on top of him.
"I can't remember," he giggled, "that I had expressed any intention of denying you the marriage debt."
There were wide differences of opinion about what the commission was for. Some of the folks from the Vatican suggested that it was merely to confirm the existing Church policy on birth control. That's what commissions did in the Church. They told the Pope what he wanted to hear, certainly not what he needed to know. Others argued that, like Pope John, Pope Paul wanted a way out of the birth control crisis in the Church and the commission was supposed to find the way out for him.
Most of the theologians and bishops and cardinals on the commission were conservatives on the issue. The Church could not change its teaching on birth control, because it was the teaching of Jesus. When I asked them where Jesus had said anything on the subject, they mumbled nonsense about the "deposit of faith" and the "sacred tradition" and "the Pope as infallible teacher."
A few people, however, thought that the conservative tilt of the commission was a typical Pope Paul strategy. If those in favor of change could persuade men like London's Cardinal John Carmel Heenan that change was possible, then we would have persuaded everyone.
Chuck and I were in Bonn when Vatican Council II began. At first we were astonished by the headlines on the front page of the Paris Herald Tribune. What was happening to the Catholic Church? Were cardinals and bishops from around the world actually taking power away from the creeps in the Roman Curia? While we were living in Oak Park, we were involved in something called the Christian Family Movement, a moderately liberal (you couldn't be anything more in Oak Park in those days) Catholic discussion groupwhich seemed to hint very vaguely that the laity might actually be the Church and should have something to say about what the Church taught, especially about marriage.
"Rank heresy," my husband muttered as we walked home on a chilly November evening from such a meeting. "What do the lay people know about marriage?"
"Or theology," I agreed, going along with his gag.
"Or anything else."
"All they should do is contribute money and obey the orders of their pastor, right?"
"Keep their mouths shut," he continued, "and their wallets open. It doesn't matter how much education they have, right?"
"Chucky Ducky, they really think that way, don't they?"
"I'm afraid so, Rosemarie my darling. They're going to have a lot of trouble in the years ahead if they don't change their minds."
It would turn out that there would be a lot more trouble than anyone could have imagined back in the days when Eisenhower was still President and Pius XII was still Pope.
For the laity, the big question was not an English Mass or making nice-nice with Protestants or how to interpret the Bible, but married sex since it happened at least once a week and sometimes (as in our case) more often. We really didn't expect a change. I had made up my mind that the Pope didn't understand anything about marriage but God did. I loved all five of my kids. I loved the fifth one especially, though there was so much to do that I could not find time to love the elfin little redhead the way I wanted. And I had help around the house, which is more than most young Catholic mothers with five kids had. I could not imagine that God wanted Chuck and me to give up love. So I said to him. "I'm with you and not with them." I assumed that he would understand. Most of the couples in our CFM group assumed, one way or another, the same thing, especially after The PILL went on the market.
Anyway, when we were in Bonn and Jack Kennedy was still alive, we read that one of those eastern Patriarchs in the funny clothes had said something like that on the floor of the Council and then some of the bishops, mostly from the third world countries, agreed. My husband and I decided to take a long weekend and sneak down from Bonn incognito to see what the hell was going on.
We arrived at St. Peter's at noon just as the session of the Council was breaking up. Under a clear blue sky a great crimson wave seemed to pour out of the Basilica as the bishops of the world, men of every hue and color under heaven emerged from the big, ugly church. Occasionally someone in a strange oriental robe would be swept along by the tide. It was quite an impressive show, the world leadership of the Church careening into the Piazza. My husband typically pulled a camera out of his jacket pocket and began to blaze away-in this case the Kodak I had given him when he left for the Army of Occupation in Germany, which he used for colored film.
I removed from my purse Trudi's Leica, rewound the Tri-X film, and replaced it with Agfachrome. When he had finished with the Kodak, he extended it in my direction without looking at me. I exchanged it with the Leica. He continued to fire away, not for a moment doubting that I had put in color film.
Since I had more or less conned him into his photographer's role, it was appropriate that I be his assistant.
"Marvelous!" he exclaimed, as the scarlet wave ebbed. "Someday I'll do a book on priests."
"If anyone up at that Vatican palace knew what you were up to," I told him, "they'd send out the Swiss Guard to confiscate that camera."
Puzzled, he glanced at me as he rewound the Kodak. "You think those guys looked funny?"
"I'm not sure Jesus would have approved of the successors of the Apostles parading around in those gaudy clothes."
Before he could answer, a young American priest joined us. "Ambassador O'Malley."
Chuck went through his act of glancing around to see if there was someone else to whom the priest might be talking.
"How could anyone think, Father," I said to the priest, "that a little redhead with a camera in his hand could be an incognito Ambassador of the United States of America."
"Father Regan from the Catholic Conference in Washington," the priest put out his hand. "Good to meet you Mr. Ambassador. Welcome to Rome."
"You don't work for the Swiss Guard, do you?" Chuck said with fake anxiety as he shook hands with the priest.
"Hardly, sir. I'm a peritus, an adviser at the Council."
"What are you guys doing in there to our Church?" I asked with my most appealing smile. "Tearing it apart and remaking it, I hope?"
"Not exactly, Mrs. O'Malley. To quote Pope John we're just letting in a little fresh air."
"I'm Rosemarie and he's Chuck because we're both incognitio. If we buy you a cup of espresso, maybe you could tell us about it."
We found ourselves an open table at one of the sidewalk cafés along the Via Concilliazione, the wide street which ran from the Piazza down to the Tiber. There was a lot of heavy conversation going on among journalists and priests at the cafés.
"This is a really big deal, isn't it?" My husband began our conversation. "Are the bishops really pushing out the Curia?"
"Biggest deal in five hundred, maybe a thousand years," the young priest said, his face glowing. "We're updating the Church. The Pope calls it an aggiornamento because modernization might scare some people. The bishops are overwhelmingly in favor of change. As long as they're in Rome, the Curia can only play crooked games behind the scenes. The bishops are running things. When they go home ..."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"What will the Church look like in five years?" I asked.
"Different. The Mass will be in English, we'll be on good terms with the Protestants and the Jews, we'll endorse religious freedom and the new ways of studying the Bible. Local bishops will have a lot more power. We'll look a little more like a democracy. Priests might be permitted to marry. There's even some talk of women priests."
"They already run the Church now," Chuck insisted, "especially if they're Irish. Might as well ordain them. It wouldn't add much to their power."
"Chucky!" I protested in vain.
"Birth control?" I asked lightly.
Father Regan hesitated.
"I'd say that there's a general sense around here that there's likely to be a change on the Pill. The Pope has set up a commission of advisers to look into it. Everyone says he wants to find a way to change."
"Father Regan," my husband asked, "do they sell chocolate ice cream in these stores?"
Chuck knew they did. He had told me often that when he was in Rome after the war the Italians had already produced the best gelato chocolato in the world. I went to buy us some.
"It's extremely exciting here now," Father Regan continued when I returned. "Nothing is certain. Every day the Curia tries some new trick. So far they've been beaten back, but everyone is worried about the Pope's health. He's a great old man ... Would you like to meet him?"
Would we ever!
Father Regan must have lots of clout. Two days later we were in the Pope's office. Only Monsignore Capavilo, his secretary, and Father Regan were with us. The Embassy in Bonn, with considerable protest, had sent us a copy of Chuck's book on Germany after the war. (They hinted that we were engaging in unauthorized diplomacy with a man who was reputed to have pro-Russian, even Communist sympathies.)
Since I hadn't brought any black clothes from Bonn, I had to go on a shopping spree the day before, lest I violate Vatican protocol. I was strongly tempted to do that, but shopping overcame ideology.
The Pope was like Santa Claus, a jolly little old man, with a happy face and simple charm. He leafed slowly through the book.
"Very great talent, Excellency," he said, raising his fingers and rubbing them back and forth. "God has been good to you."
"That's what my wife tells me, Holy Father!"
Always Chucky Ducky!
The Pope laughed and smiled at me.
Then he turned to the picture that was captioned "Fidelity." It was a picture of a grieving woman waiting at the train station in Bamberg for her husband to return from Russia.
The Pope muttered something in Italian.
"Poor woman," Monsignore Capavilo translated for us. "One presumes he did not return?"
"Some stories have happy endings, Holy Father," Chuck said, suddenly dead serious. "He did come back. He is now the rector of the University in Bamberg."
There was a lot more to that story, one of Chucky's more gracious adventures.
The Pope smiled happily.
"So," he said, "you want to take my picture too?"
"If I may."
"Of course ... Though I am not as good a model as that woman."
He glanced again at the pathos of the picture of Brigita and closed the book.
We shot with available light, only a half roll of Tri-X. The result is one of the most famous pictures of the Pope, one in which he looks very much like Santa Claus.
As we were walking out into the Belvedere Courtyard, Father Regan asked, "Could you do us a favor?"
"Name it," Chuck said in the best Chicago political style.
"Could you send a private note to your friend JFK and tell him that the Pope is not a crypto-Communist like some of his foreign service people are telling him."
"Consider it done. I'll send him a copy of the best of my shots."
And so it was done.
The good old man died in the spring. The next Pope, Paul VI, was more timid; my Hamlet, Pope John had called him. The Church unwisely began a slow retreat from the excitement of the Council, one that continues as I write this collection of memories.
Anyway four years later we were back in Rome to meet with the papal commission on birth control. I don't know how we got on the list of participants. Whoever made that mistake doubtless paid for it.
I wrote Peg a letter before my big explosion, which explains my mood at the time. A paper saver like her brother, she saved it and lent it to me.
Dearest Peg,
This is a terrible place, sticky, stuffy, humid, and uncomfortable besides. Most of the people here are priests, only a few laity around to represent those who are most likely to be affected by the decision. You don't want laypeople to decide about their own marriages, do you? Priests, bishops, and cardinals decide for them.
No one is wearing purple buttons, not even the creeps from the Curia. You can tell who the creeps are, however, because their body odor is worse than that of the rest of them. They are also the ones who looked the most shocked when I show up in a blouse with short sleeves.
Your brother, the man I sleep with, is up to something. So what else is new? He is buttering up the bishops and the theologians like he used to butter up the nuns at St. Ursula and the priests at Fenwick and, I suppose, the officers when he was in Bamberg. His eyes are shining with mischief. I'm glad he's having a good time. I'm the one who has to carry on the fight. I don't understand the language much though one of the nuns around here translates for me sometimes. It's pretty clear that she disapproves of me.
Even when I understand the words, I usually don't know what the words mean. There is great concern about whether the marriage act is completed naturally, whatever that means. Apparently these men who have probably never completed a marriage act in their lives and probably couldn't if they had to think they know what is natural.
I gather that they have now decided that the Pill is just another form of contraception, as if that is going to change the minds of any of us. Those who favor change in the birth control teaching itself think that it is strategically wise not to settle for merely a victory on the Pill. Doesn't sound like a good idea to me. But what do I know about married love? One of these meetings I'm going to explode.
I wish I knew what Chucky Ducky is up to!
Love to Vince and the kids.
At the next session, I went into my tirade
"I hear some of you saying that we must beware of the danger of unbridled sex!" I ranted on. "Don't you know that the real problem for us married folk is too much bridled sex. Sexual pleasure is necessary to heal the hurts and the pains of living together. It renews and strengthens the love between man and woman. Can't you get it through you're heads that we're not libertines, but simply people trying to keep our love alive!"
I would have gone on but my ineffable husband began to applaud. The whole conference room joined in, except of course for the smelly creeps from the Curia, many of whom were sound asleep anyway.
Apparently the people there who wanted to argue that a change in the birth control teaching was possible were waiting for an opening.They promptly took control of the meeting and began to outline the reasons for a change--the experience of the married laity, the world population problems, the health of women and children, the decline of infant mortality rates. Astonishingly the votes seemed to flow to their side. The Curia creeps shut up completely, figuring I guess that there was no point in fighting in this venue. They would save their arguments for the Pope himself.
Cardinal Heenan, good and pious man without much intelligence, kept worrying about how shocked the laity might be if there were a change. I told him that the men and women I knew would be shocked if there wasn't a change. He didn't get my point.
Meanwhile, the explanation for Chucky Ducky's game became clear. He was now scurrying around taking pictures. No one seemed to notice. He was such a sweet boy married to such a terrible woman, why not let him take a few pictures? Even the Curial creeps were happy to pose for him.
"So that's been the scheme, has it?" I accused him as we were strolling in the cool of the evening with the sickly strong scent of flowers all around us, the smell I thought, wrongly as it turned out of the old Church, which was dying all round us.
"I'm going to do a book someday called Priests. These guys are wonderful models."
"For a book of horrors?"
"We'll find some other types too. Actually some of those theologians are rather impressive-looking guys."
"If only they'd take showers more often!"
"Besides you don't need me to change their minds," he said in mock innocence. "I thought I would try to do something useful."
"I think I know what Dr. Frankenstein felt like."
The "majority" as it now called itself produced a very strong report. If Pope Paul wanted excuses which would legitimate a change in the birth control teaching, now he had them.
"Did we win, Chuck?" I asked him as we drove back to Rome and the swimming pool of the Rome Hilton up on the Monte Mario.
"We won the battle all right, with a lot of help from your lowering the boom. The war? I dunno. Some of those guys who never said anything, like that white-haired American Jesuit, reminded me of our friends on the West Side."
Which in Chicago talk meant the Boys, the Outfit, the Mob.
"They had the look of men who had decided to fight elsewhere, didn't they? Why are they so interested in dominating the sexual lives of people like us?"
"What's the point of having power unless you use it to control others?"
"Do they really think they can keep our report secret?"
Only the majority had submitted a report. Cardinal Heenan had not signed it. He told everyone, however, that he was in sympathy with it but worried about shocking the laity.
"They believe they can, Rosemarie. They don't understand that nothing is secret anymore. Your good friend Cardinal Heenan will go back to London and spill the beans by telling everyone that they must prepare the laity for change lest they be shocked when it happens."
Which it turned out is exactly what he did.
The next day we went down to the Vatican to meet the Pope. This time I had brought along my papal black clothes, economizing as I almost never do.
He was a charming and gracious little man, with bright eyes and a wonderful smile. Alas, he was as agonized as Pope John had been cheerful. Try as he might, Chuck was not able to get a good picture of him--just like later he would be unable to get an adequate shot of Richard Nixon.
He thanked us for our work on the commission. It was, he said, a very difficult matter with enormous implications. As Pope he had to worry about the whole church and about the shock that a change would cause among the simple faithful. One had to balance so many different problems. He raised his hands in an almost despairing motion of a man trying to maintain a balance.
I could not help but like him. I even felt sorry for his heavy burden. Yet I also remembered the heavy burden of women who had too many children and whose health had been ruined by too many pregnancies. I also thought of the marriages that were being eaten up by the stress and strain of trying to cope with the birth control teaching and still salvaging their love life.
So I opened my big, shanty-Irish mouth again and said that Ithought men and women I knew would be shocked if there wasn't a change.
He sighed and raised his hands again in the balancing motion.
"What do you think, Chuck?" I asked my husband as we rode back to the Monte Mario.
"We gave the poor little guy what he wanted and he's scared stiff of it."
"I hope you're wrong."
"So do I ... Rosemarie." He put his arm around me. "You were absolutely sensational at that meeting. I was never more proud of you."
"I'm just a loudmouth, shanty-Irish fishwife," I said sadly.
"You don't believe that," he insisted.
But I did.
Well, at least I half believed it.
Finally, as we would later find out, birth control and married love would cease to be the issues, to be replaced by the issue of the authority of the Pope. The hard-core conservatives on the commission--the handful of Italian cardinals and bishops and a couple of their house theologians--would lose the argument about married love. They would win the argument about papal authority.

Copyright © 2001 by Andrew M. Greeley