Table For One-Part two

At that young age I initially pretty much accepted what Theda told me about Alvin—since in every other aspect of her life and personality she seemed perfectly normal for a person in her circumstances. But after several story-telling sessions I began to wonder and while dining at Schraff’s with Marie one afternoon I casually mentioned Theda’s comments abut Alvin.

Marie was your archetypal, old maid retired school teacher—a little too concerned with propriety, convention and dignified comportment—but at the same time, sometimes capable of being quite candid.

A very long moment passed as Marie put down her fork and pondered her choice of words. It was very apparent she did not appreciate my indelicacy—unintentional though it was.

“Theda…never really got over Alvin’s death…” Marie offered. “It’s not normal of course. We don’t know why she couldn’t let him go…

“And she has for many years been so very lonely—especially these last 15 or 16 years,” she continued, “…and depressed…even though she has friends …”

“We tried—Lucky and I, and others—to get her to go out and see people—do things…” and her voice trailed off.

Her manner became somewhat defensive—almost brittle. Looking back all these years later I can’t decide if she was feeling put upon by my clumsy curiosity, guilt at her failure to find some way to help her sister or resentment at having a close family member who had probably been an embarrassment. It was probably all three.

“Please try to understand—and not be judgmental or amused,” she went on. “She loves you and your father very much—it’s just her way of dealing with her life. You must be discreet.”

Despite the awkwardness of the exchange I felt relieved at having some clarity about the situation. I said I understood, would listen respectfully to Theda and not speak of this to others. I would have done that anyway.

One evening three or four days before I was due to leave for North Carolina, Theda and I were sitting, reading in her living room when I looked up and noticed she was looking through an old photo album. I really never liked looking at old photographs but I thought it would be a nice thing to do—to ask about the pictures. Everybody wants to show off their pictures—especially old people.

She showed me page after page of old, black and white prints held to the paper by those old, little, black glue-on corner mounts—many of them fallen away. Lots of images of young men and women dressed in depression-era clothing, then WW-2, then ‘50s—the evolution of cars between the 30s through the 50s was faintly interesting. The pictures of my dad and Alvin did hold my attention—Theda flipped back and forth to compare pictures of Alvin and dad at the same age to show how much alike they looked. She had a portrait of me taken for my high school yearbook I guess my dad had sent her. That portrait of me—taken in1963—was the latest picture she had. Her collection of photos stopped in the late ‘50s.

One image in particular stopped her browsing. It was a photograph of several people seated at a restaurant table who were black silhouettes against the bright light of a large picture window. The view through the window was of water—a vast expanse extending to the horizon with a sunny clear sky above.

I noticed her staring at it and asked if it was taken at the beach.

“That’s Lake Huron,” she smiled. She pointed to the silhouettes and identified the people even though no features other than outline were discernible. It was apparent the people in the picture were young.

“That’s Georgie Darus and the girl he was dating—I think her name was Sarah,” she explained. Nice girl—don’t know what happened to her. Georgie did came back from the war—with no legs.”

“And that’s Alvin  and that’s me,” she indicated—still smiling.

“What’s the name of the restaurant?” I said—just trying to make conversation.

“Shumacher’s,” she said. “It’s in Port Huron—right on the Lake shore—about 2 hours from here—it’s still there.” She explained Lucky and a friend had stopped there several months before. The photograph documented the last time she and Alvin ate out—a few weeks before he left for the war—the same day the portrait had been made.

“Different people own it now,” she concluded, “but it has the same name and except for adding onto the kitchen, looks the same.”

She flipped through several other pictures taken on the same occasion but returned to the first one—quietly studying the ancient image. We both spoke at the same time,

“Let’s go there,” we both said simultaneously.

End Part two

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