Sunday, January 18, 2009

Have I Ever Explained About My Bill?

That's how I refer to him - "My Bill".

Bill is one of Frankie's two best friends.

I have mentioned him plenty of times in passing here, but I don't think I've ever explained. When people ask me how many kids I have, I respond "Two. And two extras" Bill is one of my extras.

In the summer of 2004 there was one kid who slept over more than most. Bill. It wasn't hugely noticeable because there were always kids sleeping over. That's just how Frankie rolls. Then September comes and everyone starts sleeping at their own houses because school has started.

I didn't talk to Bill much. Bill just doesn't talk much. I knew in passing that Bill's mother had passed away and that his father, who had a little drinking problem, liked to settle arguments with the back of his hand.

One night, a few weeks after school started, the phone rang after midnight. Frank beat me to the phone. He spoke with the caller for a few moments and then he hung up. He turned to me and said "Bill has to come sleep here tonight." Keeping in mind what I knew about Bill's home life, I just said OK, threw some bed linen on the couch and went back to bed.

So Bill slept on the couch that night.....and the next night.....and the night after that.

I had no idea what the right thing to do was. I was completely perplexed. Bill's father never came looking for him (he lived less than half a mile away). He never called or came to speak to me - make sure I wasn't a bad person and I didn't run a crack house.

Bill's paternal grandmother (his maternal grandmother had died young just as Bill's mother had from the same illness) never talked to me either, but she was a huge help behind the scenes. She lived across the street from Bill's house, in the house she had raised bill's father in. She sent down baked goods and stuff. It seemed she was some mad shopper because several bags of clothes came down to the house from nice department stores. This was big because I also had Frankie's other best friend Danny with us. Dan's father was deceased and his mother had a substance abuse problem. So the boys shared clothes and food and stuff. Now before you think I am some great humanitarian......I didn't invite this situation. I didn't consciously choose it. I just couldn't get out of the way fast enough. I am no great shakes as a parent. I was divorced and worked 50-60 hours a week. All I could guarantee was that there was food in the fridge, a roof over your head and while I might yell at you for being a mutton and throw a wooden spoon, I never hit anyone in anger (although one day I did run from my front door, across the street, into the Coop, into the ballfield and tackled Frankie at the waist for mouthing off at me - he was defenseless with laughter along with all his friends.)

At the six week mark I was having a conversation on the phone with my ex-husband. I told him I didn't know what to do. Every night I could hear Bill walking around, sleepless. Frankie mentioned Bill's frequent stomachaches. I didn't know if Bill had a doctor or health insurance. John agreed it was quite a predicament. Then he said Bill's father had always been a jerk.

"You knew Bill's father?" I wasn't really that surprised, my ex had been born in the house next door to where we lived. I was the one who was only here for a little bit in the summer as a child. Funny how I ended up here permanently and he ended up in Virginia.

"Well, I didn't know him as well as I knew Bill's mother."

Now I was confused. I knew Bill's father had lived in the house across the street from the house he was born in.....but I didn't realize his mother was also local.

"You knew Bill's mother?"

My ex laughed. "You knew Bill's mother......Patty."

I. Was. Floored.

OK, let's flash back for a minute.

In the former summer community where I live, people bought cottages in waves related to family, friends or coworkers buying cottages. For example, in the 70s where was a wave of policemen and firefighters who bought cottages after this one cop, George bought his. One guy goes to a cook-out at George's cottage and then he buys a cottage, then his friends come down and like it and buys cottages. And so on.

In the 50s there was a wave of printers. My grandfather was a printer. He worked for more than one company, but at the time he worked for Tichnor Brothers. His best friend and coworker, Mr. White (his first name escapes's steroid day) bought a cottage on Oak Street. My grandfather was godfather to Mr. White's younger daughter. My grandparents rented a place or two before settling on the one they bought in '54. It was four doors up from the Whites.

My mother ran with the White's younger daughter.

I remember visiting their cottage frequently with my grandmother. They had a great yard swing.

When I was in my teens it became more noticeable that I was only there for a short time, usually two weeks in July. By the time I showed up all the cliques were settled as most of the other kids were there for the entire summer. But Mr. White's granddaughter....the oldest daughter of his older daughter Ginny would come down and get me when I showed up.

She was incredible. She was tall and thin and blonde and she didn't walk, she glided like a model. I was so awestruck, I couldn't be jealous. If I had to describe her in one word, it would be languid. She was very popular and so I was in-like-Flynn as they say. I thought she hung the moon. Many of my favorite summer memories are about hanging with her. Mama Kelley used to remark on how Patty and I were the 3rd generation of White's and Kelley's hanging out. My grandfather and Mr. mother and Betty.......Patty and I.

When we hit our late teens I started spending more time back in Charlestown. She started spending more time with friends from school as she lived there year round. Then I married. I heard she married as well.

Then I heard he was kind of a jackass - Mama Kelley and my mother still visited Mrs. White and her younger daughter.

Then I moved down here year round and I thought I thought I should look her up. I never did, I was wrapped up in my own life.

Then in '02 I heard she was ill. I got updates from her aunt and sister. I thought I should try to contact her. I never did.

Then she passed in January of '03 - breast cancer. I regretted never acting.

OK, are you still with me? Now we're back to October of '04. I'm on the phone with John and he tells me I knew Bill's mother....Patty.....Mr. White's granddaughter.

I was really choked up. My ex laughed "How did you miss that? I thought you knew who he was."

I drove home and when Frankie came in I excitedly explained about his great-grandfather and Bill's great-grandfather and Bills' mother and I. "Bill can stay as long as he needs to. I will always take care of Bill. Anything Bill needs."

Frankie listens, nods and in typical "Frankie-fashion" says "Well Bill could really use five bucks."

I laughed "Here's a ten, you bastid, get going."

Then Bill came in and I talked about it to him, he nodded and said "OK".

SB called that night and I told him. I explained that I now got to return all Patty had done for me by taking care of her son. I got to make up for never getting in touch with her when she was sick. "Maggie, this doesn't make you responsible for this boy." I laughed and used one of his own favorite sayings in reply "You can't unring a bell, SB!"

A few nights later I was sitting watching TV, Bill came in and sat on the couch. At the commercial break Bill said "This thing with my mother is a big deal to you." I smiled "Yes Bill, it is." The show came back on. At the next commercial, Bill said "And I'll get it when I am older?" "Yes, Bill, you will." He got up and left the room.

I tried a few times to share some memories with Bill. One night "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney came on the radio. I told Bill that his mother and I loved that song and it played constantly in the summer of '73. Another time I told him that the first person to take me down Dead Man's Trail (a popular teen hangout where Frankie and Bill often went) was his mother. But Bill never really responded and I worried I was just stressing I stopped.

Eventually Bills' father met a woman who made him stop drinking and Bill moved home. He's still here at least once a day.

So why am I thinking about this now? Well this past Tuesday was the 6th anniversary of Patty's passing. It's a tough time for Bill.

Bill, understandably, hates hospitals. Jordan most of all.

But Bill came to see me while I was there.

I had the hardest time not crying. Must have been the meds.

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