(Dodging Shells gave you Tommy’s letters to his sister, from the front. Kathy’s response from Toronto reveals more family scandal.)
…..“No question about it. That brood of Fran’s was a handful,” Aunt Bella went on. “It wasn’t always easy for her. Her husband died when she was in her thirties, and the kids grew up unruly. Then, when she was about thirty-six, I think it was, she took up with one of Pearl’s discarded beaux…I think he was only about nineteen at the time.”
…..“One of my mother’s boyfriends?” I couldn’t even pretend not to be shocked. “Gran?”
…..“Yes…I thought you knew….”
…..“What did my mother do?” I tried to keep the squeak out of my voice.
…..“Oh, she didn’t care. She was quite finished with him by then.”
…..“So….” I struggled to stay calm. “What happened?”
…..“Why, Fran married him, of course! That was Lorne Marshall…your ‘Grandpa’ Marshall. Didn’t you ever notice that he’s a lot younger than your Gran?”
…..“Yes…of course…I knew that Grandma Marshall had been married before,” I stammered. “But I didn’t know….”
…..“That Lorne had been Pearl’s fellow first? Well he was. I told you Fran was greedy.”
She went out to the kitchen to make tea.
…..Aunt Gertie leaned over toward me and whispered, “Don’t mind Bella. She’s a bit bitter toward your Grandma Marshall, dear…even after all these years.
…..“You see, Pearl’s wasn’t the first beau Fran took a fancy to. She stole Bella’s fiancée away, too, when they were young. And Bella wasn’t done with him yet. Fran got tired of him eventually. But Bella could hardly take him back, could she? She never married….”
…..“That’s a shame.”
…..“Oh, I don’t know…she’s had a pretty good life. And who’s to say she hasn’t avoided some heartache after all? But she never really forgave Fran.”
…..“It was Lorne Marshall who introduced Pearl to your father, you know,” Bella told me when she came back. “Fred was a charmer, and loved a good time…happy-go-lucky. He was a bit too fond of his liquor, even back then, but Pearl wasn’t likely to object to that…she’d sown her own brand of wild oats, I’m sure. They hit it off right away.
…..“Did you know Lorne was stage manager at Shea’s Hippodrome in the 1920’s? It was a vaudeville theatre back then – one of Toronto’s largest. All the big names appeared there. Bob Hope played there.
…..“Fred picked up extra cash sometimes helping Lorne out. One night they were presenting one of those English stage plays…you know…all Lord this and The Honourable that with their ever-so-devoted servants and nobody in between. Well, one of the actors didn’t show up at the last minute, and they needed a replacement butler in a hurry. Fred was there and he had the right accent…so they stuffed him into a swallowtail coat and sent him onstage.”
…..“Oh, Fred was a good-looking man!” said Aunt Gertie. “He still is. He looked perfect for the part.”
…..“He had only one line,” continued Aunt Bella. “He was to enter…very dignified, you see…and say, ‘Milord, the carriage awaits without.’
…..“Well, it was Saturday evening, and nobody had noticed that Fred was already three sheets to the wind. He veered out onto the stage, politely stifled a belch, and drawled, ‘My God…the hack’s outside!’
…..“Nobody ever knew whether it was just drunken stupidity or whether Fred had decided to improve on a shop-worn script, but it brought down the house! Red Skelton was in the audience that night. The line was so successful that he asked Fred if he could use it in one of his skits.”
…..Makes you feel kind of proud, doesn’t it, Tommy? Our dad is getting a slice of fame as inspiration for a ‘drunk’ skit. Well, why not? It’s more than most get, after all.
…..“When you come back, dear,” Aunt Bella said, as I was leaving, “try to bring Tommy with you. We haven’t seen him in ages!”
…..“But I told you, Aunt Bella. Tommy has been overseas for over three years…he’s fighting in Italy.”
…..“Oh, really? Well, tell him to take care of himself…we wouldn’t want him to get hurt.’
…..Too late. “I will.” I wonder how much of what she remembers is actually true
…..You may have already heard some of these jewels, but I figured since you have a lot of time on your hands right now, they’d bear repeating. Some fragments of family history you just can’t hear often enough!
…..Wait! There’s one more!
…..Until about ten years ago, Great Aunt Gertie, that wizened little sparrow of a creature, was married to a one-eyed sailor named Jake, who died of natural causes. (I only mention it because in this family…well, you never know.)
…..Jake was a fun-loving fellow and, like all sailors who touch land in Toronto, Jake loved the CNE. One day, after a particularly vigorous ride on the Ferris wheel (god only knows what he was doing up there) Jake disembarked without his glass eye. Being a no-nonsense kind of guy, Jake bellowed an offer of ten cents to anyone who could to find something closely resembling an eyeball…made of glass. In no time at all, one of the urchins who are always hanging around the Midway claimed the prize. (Only one dime was paid out, as no more than one glass eye was ever located. In case you wondered.) Jake carefully wiped it off with his pocket handkerchief and popped it back in where it belonged.
…..The Ferris wheel operator puked.
…..I don’t know whether this is where Gertie met Jake. He had attracted quite a crowd.
…..And what about Great Aunt Bella? Well, until she came to live with Gertie a few years ago, she worked as housekeeper to some of the wealthier families in Toronto. There must be some good stories there, too, but they’ll have to wait until I get a chance to talk to Grandma Marshall. I’m sure she’ll be eager to resurrect any skeletons that may be hidden in Bella’s closet.
…..Thanks for (finally) filling in some of the huge gaps left by the disgracefully brief little notes (they were barely postcards) that you sent me while you were in England. But didn’t you visit any family at all while you were there? What aren’t you telling me?
Your faithful family historian,