Friday, August 7, 2015

Mrs. Trump

I was thinking about Donald Trump today. Not that there's much to think about, except to wonder how he could possibly be a frontrunner among Republican Presidential candidates.

But the name made me think about Mrs. Trump, who was no relation to Donald, but was our neighbor on the other side of our block when I was a kid.

She was an old woman even then. Ruth Trump. My mother had grown up with her daughter, Elizabeth, which will give you some idea of how old Mrs. Trump was. Her husband, Ernie, had served in World War I and had been injured. I don't remember what kind of an injury it was. All I remember about him is that he was always sitting in the same easy chair and rarely spoke. We were afraid of Ernie, for no particular reason - just in the way that kids are inclined to be afraid of old men who sit speechlessly in easy chairs. He died when I was still very young, such that I can just barely remember him.

Mrs. Trump was alone then, and seemed more natural that way, as if Ernie had always been some kind of an anomaly, just there, and then gone.

Every time my brother and I walked around the block, Mrs. Trump would tap on her kitchen window and ask us to come in for cookies and milk. Honestly, that's why we walked around that side of the block to begin with. The woman had an inexhaustible supply of cookies and milk, which just happened to be always set out on the kitchen table in glasses and on plates.

Her house was huge, and quiet as a grave. It was a very old house that had been built in the days when people had servants, and there were special hidden staircases for the use of the servants, weaving unseen behind the walls like secret tunnels.

We used to stay at Mrs. Trump's house when we were sick and our mother was away, or when my parents went out to a party. We stayed in the den, where there was a TV and a grandfather clock. She would make the sofa into a bed and you would have to lie there, ever so lonely, counting the ticks and the tocks. It seemed always an eternity before my mother returned.

If we had to sleep overnight, she would put us in a room upstairs. The entire house was paneled in dark wood, like mahogany, and furnished in the same manner. The bedroom was so spacious that it seemed to yawn and sigh like a sleepy giant. Next to the bed was a crib and in the crib was an old style porcelain doll. My brother called it "Baby Moses". I don't know why.

It happened, one night when we stayed in that room, that we had just come from a watching a horror movie called Hush, hush, Sweet Charlotte, with Bette Davis. I had been particularly frightened by the movie - more so than my brother, who was two years older than I. To make things worse, as older the brothers sometimes will, he kept reaching down next to his side of the bed to rock Baby Moses' cradle, despite my tearful requests that he desist.

It is dark and deathly silent in that yawning room, except for the intermittent creaking of the cradle - and then suddenly, we hear footsteps on wood, and the closet door creaks open, just like in a real horror film, and the vague, thin figure of a woman with blue hair emerges. No joke, then. No rocking cradle. This was real, and we both screamed in terror.

Well, of course, it was Mrs. Trump, having used one of the hidden service staircases as a shortcut. But I was sure, and my brother was sure, in that critical moment, that it must be Bette Davis herself, probably carrying a knife or a meat cleaver.

One time when Mrs. Trump had us in for cookies and milk, she sat down at the table as well, which was unusual. It was raining outside, cats and dogs, as they say, and the sky was a classic Oregon gray and the windows were blurry with the constant downpour.

"I want to tell you boys something," Mrs. Trump said, "and I want you to listen, and I want you to remember."

Wondering whether we had done something wrong without knowing it, we put our cups down, stopped chewing our cookies.

"I want to tell you," she said, "that you have the best, the kindest mom and dad in the world. I want you boys to know that and never forget. That's all.

She smiled, then, and went back to work in the kitchen, and I suppose that my brother and I exchanged a glance and a snicker.  But you know, I never did forget, not even for a moment, ever in my life, not once to this very day.

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