People love you. People really love you when you pay them.
– Theodorus Webb to Archibald Macleash
“I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28
I’d admittedly forgotten some vague dots over the years until a tiny ember (resembling my aging mother’s voice) leaped through my firewall. She read to me an obituary of one Ms.
Daisy Polé the sole daughter and heiress of the late Mr. Raleigh (Buck) Polé. Ms. Polé, an unmarried woman and Mr. Polé, a widower since 1941 moved to Gilroy in the Santa Clara Valley in 1964 and accepted administration of the family’s lucrative portfolio of land ownerships including the keystone of Santa Clara, the Sebastiani Vineyard among others. In 1916 his parents, M. Benoît-Pierre Polé of La Rogue Gageac, France, and his fiancé Miss Caroline Agnew of Tippah County, Missouri, entered into a 99-year periodic tenancy of the 4,467 acre vineyard of Mr. Samuele Sebastiani. This agreement allowed Mr. Sebastiani and his heirs to farm the land autonomously for a share of each yield. In a statement issued by family attorneys: “In the margin of the original will Ms. Pole noted in her own handwriting which was witnessed that “Upon my death and by free choice, it is my wish that all landownership be dissolved immediately and set free; all the land returned to heirs of Samuele Sebastiani (as well as Banshee, R. Strong, Paradise, and Truett-Hurst).” According to the Santa Clara County Recorder of Deeds Office, Ms. Polé’s gesture is the largest periodic tenant return in Santa Clara County, and is reportedly valued at $110 million.
It was back in 1963, one of a dozen sunny and bitterly cold Mid-November mornings. It was that particular mid-November day in 1963 that Mr. R. Polé and Miss D. Polé, and Mr. B. Bleddstone were exiled from my memory. That was the day my Mother (then a deeply discounted, cash only housekeeper) exploded. Her honesty while certainly noxious was also injurious and fatal to the futures of three adults and one child.
When I was five my single-parent Mother whose career as a deeply discounted, cash only personal Housekeeper was forced to dress me, pack her lunch, pack my lunch, check our bus fare, and one last-minute cross-check of her self supplied and professionally preferred cleaning products deftly loaded into her briefcase (a doubled National Foods, brown paper shopping bag) and haul us to her four daily housekeeping jobs. And though she never said it, my waving-hand-hello’s which greeted the Mrs. of the House always – except today elicited the friendliest responses in the form of an angelic smile, pat on the head, brief tickling episode, or my favorite, an invitation to (one of my Mother’s strictly forbidden breakfasts) sandwich cookies and milk!
We never suspected the degree of turmoil Mrs. Daisy Bleddstone had deflected on a weekly basis for my Mother’s tardiness. On this intense and nippy Mid-November morning, I stood shivering and whispered under my breath, “C’mon, it’s just a ring of keys in a car coat! Jeez!” I paced as I grew impatiently colder watching my Mother plunder her car coat like a determined cop ransacked a suspects coat for contraband. At wits end, she threw the coat to the ground, checked her Timex and proclaimed, “Holy Jesus, it’s a quarter past!” then dropped to her knees and began twisting and tearing and rifling through her proudly self-purchased woolen car coat which eventually puddled, ruined and lifeless, before her. Then my Mother in a strained, ironic voice peppered with diabolic laughter quietly confessed, “They’re on the kitchen counter!” (Again we were rushed, determined to avoid another condescending explanation of the value of her employer’s time, which is, by the way, priceless!) “And fifteen lousy minutes to someone with all the time in the world cost me the only coat I’ve bought for myself in six years.” And as we knelt there staring at the woolen carcass, the immense front door (resembling the Wizard of Oz’s deterring, massive and inadmissible portico) opened and Mrs. Bleddstone stood there like an over starched shirt. She said in hushed tones, her voice quivering unnaturally, as though a crook was poking her ribs with a cold snub-nosed .38 ordering, “Get rid of them or I will for permanent!”
Mrs. Bleddstone, in a breathy, desperate whisper said, “Buddy’s looking for his shirts!” “Oh Holy Jesus,” my Mother blurted flying past Mrs. Bleddstone and beelining it for the kitchen. saying over her shoulder to the Mrs.,, “They’re in the fridge staying cold and damp ready for me to iron them.” When my Mother finally emptied the Fridgedaire, the door slammed shut unexpectantly and barely missed my Mother. On the other side of the door stood Mr. Bleddstone, dressed for work except for a shirt. Mr. Bleddstone chortled, “Do you expect me to wear a wet shirt to work?” Then he began to mumble, inaudibly at first, then tightly restrained; a “can’t two damned women figure out how to iron . . . someone’s to blame and she’s going to pay, Christ! She’s going to “Daisy,” Buddy asked casually (while he studied, carefully recalling this whole fucking debacle: ‘Which one’s really to blame? Which of the two bitches made a patsy of me? And in front of the god-damn kid!), “At what time do we begin paying our laundress and her little thimble?” “Eight o’clock Buddy, but . . . today’s an exception . . .” My Mother, hopeful that after watching eighteen months of Daisy’s acceptance of denigrating sexism and impolitic adultery, Daisy would finally go chin to chin with him.
Then Wham! Down came his fist like a butcher’s cleaver!
And again; Wham! But this time the noise and crushing impact caused Daisy to retreat to the nook next to the broom closet; as though she’d learned to protect some of her body. Buddy, without breaking his stare at Daisy, whipped his hand to within inches of my Mother’s face; yet she didn’t flinch (having been a “Daisy” years before). Buddy yelled at Daisy, “Those folk don’t get exceptions, they are exceptions! Damaged, cracked, and “hopeful’s” waiting on a dusty shelf, propped between bookends; on one side alimony and child support and on the other side a line of suitors waiting their turn . . . that is until they spot her little anchor. The kid is competition for privacy, intimacy, and affection. He’s a nuisance; one more rain-check, yet another rain-delay; stood-up because of a kid’s runny nose. Finally he gets it: Every suitor is enchanted by the promises of a lonesome blonde with ripe, plump strawberry lips. Eventually every suitor becomes disenchanted by ignored or forgotten promises of affection and boundless hours of sex. Every suitor was embarrassed that a few well-placed promises led to her mockery of the suitors understanding, forgiveness, and patience. Eventually it became clear that her primary attention and affection was toward the kid and every suitor had the leftovers. This was her way of giving the kid a daddy ’cause she knew nobody wanted to be daddy to some little bastard!”
I heard it but never saw it. The sound resembled a bat cracked during a ballgame on the radio. And Buddy stood there stupefied by the burning sting of a Housekeeper’s hand (a fucking Housekeeper’s hand) which hung, opening and closing quickly like the mouths of caught fish. Slowly Buddy shook off the shock, steadied himself off the ropes, his chest began to swell signaling an apoplectic eruption.
But before Buddy had the chance, my Mother, with years of staggering physical abuse; years of self-denial, of crushed hope, of denigration, of inhumanity, and the pestilence of rotting promises; finally, Catholicism’s orthodoxy of eternal damnation if she divorced a cruel and punishing bigot; and her character decaying as she endured (out of fear) the self-important icy hands (also fists) which stripped then roughly rummaged beneath her clothing. My Mother, her eyes locked on Buddy said, “Well, a damp shirt is more dignified than one streaked with cheap lipstick. It’s so cheap in fact, that one day one of us “Housekeepers,” will climb the basement stairs where we’ve been scrubbing lipstick longer and with more determination than I scrub the grass stains from my boy’s dungarees. All that effort so your wife (and all the other wives that I’ve worked for) won’t face the humiliation of infidelity and worse, your cruel and bemused recklessness knowing she’ll notice it, deny it, admit it just as the last drop of dignity rolls down her cheek. Daisy’s fear of life alone and the weight of the word divorcee keeps you here to be beaten like a farmyard dog; beaten when it’s convenient for him!
“Good luck, Daisy,” my mother said in whispered tones; “I hope that one day you’ll have the courage to stand-up to this cowardly bastard!”
Buddy spun around as quickly as a toy top, his fists clenched tightly and stood inches from my Mother’s face. His fists shook and clenched tightly like a school boy’s first after school fight. Daisy reached out to Buddy’s shoulder hoping to detour his anger. Which it sure did! The interruption lit Buddy’s fuse and subsequent explosion! First was a painful back-handed slap which spun Daisy around; then bare-knuckled fists which accurately landed painfully and repeatedly at Daisy. It was then, right then as Buddy was preoccupied with torturing his wife that Buddy yelled, “you’re fired so get the fuck out of my house!”
My Mother grabbed our coats and mittens and never looking back, led us quickly to the back door. Upon opening the door my Mother and I ran smack-dab into Buck holding a plate of Danish. “Isn’t it a bit early for you and your boy to be leaving?” Buck asked. My Mother replied, “Today’s not a good day for us and it’s probably not a good day for you.” She practically ran down the sidewalk dragging me behind and didn’t slow until the Bleddstone house disappeared behind a wall of Junipers. She kneeled and looked deeply into my eyes as though she wanted to bury something deep inside of me; something that I’d likely to forget, yet it would somehow be something that would shape my life: “Bruises aren’t tokens of love. And that first yellow and green and blue and nobility purple resemble badly applied make-up and doesn’t streak down your cheek with the tears. But, you realize, the bruise is deeper, a place that can’t be wiped away but is absorbed like the deep pile carpeting of your marriage. And as your shivering fingers deftly touch it you hear his voice, “Want one more? Another helping?” And the next morning you awaken early and study your portrait in the bathroom mirror: the accolades about your beauty just a few years ago: “Priceless, gorgeous, the face of perfection!” But this morning you realize the beauty is counterfeit. And while closing the bathroom door so he doesn’t stir, out they come sob after sob after sob after sob all fueled by unutterable recollections.
The moment Buck stepped threw the door he saw Buddy slap Daisy so hard that she’d spun, landing face down and splayed across the kitchen table. When the plate of Danish shattered as it struck the kitchen floor its sound broke through Buddy’s madness, leaving him out of breath and surprised by his degree of destruction. Buck calmly walked to Daisy, scooped her into his arms and began to walk out of the kitchen, when he suddenly turned to Buddy, “I assume you’ll be here after Daisy’s packed a few things and is sitting in my car. I think we’ve got a thing or two that requires immediate intervention. Don’t you?” Buddy stood motionless then began crying. “You know,” Buck said, “In twenty-eight years I never, not once, laid a hand on her.” Then Buck climbed the stairs with Daisy cradled in his arms.
“She wrote to you, didn’t she?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, “Right after Buck passed away. She said they never talked about it. Not once for all those years.”
“Never?” I asked.
“Just once,” she said sadly, “When Buck knew time was running out.”
“So?” I asked quickly.
“She asked me not to discuss it with anyone, any-one, until she passed away,” my Mother answered.
“And?” my curiosity leaped ahead of my manners.
My Mother paused, then answered, “She mentioned only two things: She said that while sitting in Buck’s car she swore a wrecking ball was demolishing the kitchen.” Then my Mother paused and in that silence I knew she was fighting back very painful memories and the tears which soon follow. Continuing, she spoke quietly, “She said while sitting in Buck’s car and for the rest of her life, that she never found an answer to this question: ‘How can love as deep as mine look like this?”