Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mimi, A Tragedy

    Mary was her name. How she came to be Mimi to all who knew her I never learned. In our early school years, we were class mates. Too young for anything as complicated as an infatuation we were simply class mates who grew to like each other. One day she to asked me to visit her home to play a game of Monopoly.

    Her father was one of the dentists in our small town. Their home was on the top of a hill just outside the town. Looking north from her front, tree-filled lawn the town filled the panorama with all its landmark structures, the tall smokestack outside the Anchor Packing department of the asbestos plant, the elevated water tank on struts nearly as tall as the smokestack, the church on the town square with its steeple clock easily visible but too distant for the time to be read.
    The railroad tracks running east and west through town near the factories were visible in the foreground and depending on the time of day, a steam locomotive could be seen shifting railroad cars to and from the industries, empty cars out, loaded cars in. Once the crew had finished their work in town, they assembled the cars into a train and moved east toward the next town to complete the shifting operation in that town repeating in every small town along the way on their return to Reading. Further in the distance was the manned fire tower in a clearing along the Horseshoe trail meandering over the hills far north of the town.

    In one of her trees lived a squirrel who would make an occasional appearance dashing across the yard, warily in the presence of non-squirrels, seeking whatever squirrels seek on a warm summer afternoon. Mimi told me the squirrel's name was Nicky. She explained that there was a nick in one of his ears. She surmised that Nicky had survived a hunter's assault but suffered the nick from narrowly escaping the full load of shotgun pellets. Flitting about as he did, it was not possible to get a closer look at the nick so her plausible assumption became the accepted explanation.

    The bicycle ride to her home was easy until the last quarter mile which required me to push my bike up the steep hill. Reaching the top of the hill I was rewarded with the restorative coolness of the shady grove and a gentle breeze and usually some lemonade prepared by her mother. On my first visit I was struck by the sight of a wall bookshelf filled from floor to ceiling with books of enough variety that the study might have been used effectively as a mini-library. She ushered me to a table in the adjacent sunroom where we would begin our game.

    She sat with her back toward the windows which allowed the sunlight to filter through first the trees and then through the curly strands of her neck length curly blonde hair. She had a fetching smile as of one who was comfortably confident going in to this game of the afternoon.

    Her confidence was not misplaced. Though I had played monopoly many times with my buddies and had come out on top once in a while I never, ever won a game with Mimi. In fact, I was so bad that she set up a Curtis fund for me. Every time I passed 'Go' she'd throw a dollar into my fund for later use to keep me from going bankrupt.

    We repeated these game afternoons often and I looked forward to the visits. As time went by her father grew fond of me and offered to let me borrow books from his library to be returned on my next visit and traded for another. I believe I read every Hardy Boys book published to that time. The Hardy Boys and their detective father, Fenton, became almost real to me as if I had met them and become one of their companions helping them unravel whatever mystery they were helping their father with.

    During these visits I came to know that Mimi had two older brothers, James and Robert if I remember correctly. Both had graduated from Oberlin college and that is where she would eventually go after graduation from high school. Sadly, she told me that all three of them had inherited a recessive gene which would ultimately kill all three. In the 1940s, not much was known about treating leukemia.

    I knew nothing about leukemia. I knew that people die. To hear her calmly tell me that she would not live long enough to have a 'normal' life was a shock I wasn't prepared for. Ultimately her brothers died and she continued on as though she wasn't affected even though she knew she was. We passed through our pre-teen years and at some point, she transferred to another school that would, perhaps, offer her a better preparation for Oberlin. I lost contact with her but learned from people who knew her that she graduated from high school and went on to college. I also learned that she had married while in college. From that point on I know nothing.   

    Over the years I have thought often about my superior Monopoly opponent with her curly blonde sun-lit hair and remember how precocious she was. Reading Salingers short story "For Esmé - with Love and Squalor" set in a tea shop in Devon, England in WW2 reminded me of Mimi. Esmé, too, was precocious and near Mimi's age the last time I saw her.

    Theodore Roethke's "Elegy for Jane" provided me another reminder the first time I read it when he speaks of Jane's neck curls while he mourns her deadly fall from a horse summing up that [He has] "no rights in this matter, neither father nor lover".

    The smokestack is gone, the water tower is gone, the trains no longer go to Reading, both her parents are gone and Nicky's dead, too.
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  1. I love your writing style. I felt as though I were able to see a snapshot of you and Mimi sprawled languidly in a patch of sunshine on the library rug, Monopoly board between you.

    Keep it up!