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Trips with mother often had a surreal quality, and I sometimes thought that a demon danced in front of her offering up comic possibilities. In Athens the elastic in her bloomers broke, and they fell just as she entered the Parthenon. In Vienna, she left a jeweler with a diamond bracelet on her wrist. Not until she was having lunch did she discover it, and not until she returned did the shop discover that it was gone. On a train in Switzerland she was taken for a jewel thief because while the police searched the train, she was in the lavatory, the only place they hadn’t been able to search. When she came out a large crowd had assembled. In Florence, on a carriage ride to San Miniato, she wore a knit hat that had small gold bells around the brim. These tinkled as we went along, causing passersby to applaud.

In fact, the chance of something precipitous happening in mother’s company created about her a nimbus of excitement. I think Bill knew this as a very small boy, and he used to hum to himself “ Ti-ta-de, da Garney, da Garney”. (Hence the name, Garney.) When Bill was five she and he drove into a field and turned over. As they got out, Mother said, “Bill, watch out for the poison-ivy.” She may have been one of the few people to crash her car both in through and out through a closed garage door and also into the car of her insurance agent; drive unmindful about on front lawns when showing me Cape Cod; fall out the door of Ted’s car onto the Meritt Parkway, unhurt because she landed on her new fur coat (“So fortunate that I had on my fur coat”); when standing in front of the Hotel Connaught have a taxi pass so close that it took a folded sweater off her arm; and in her old age, fall and fall—off porches into shrubs, into snowdrifts, in the night—with never an injury. (“Wasn’t it lucky that I wasn’t hurt.”)

On a later trip to Florence, we left the city on the morning of the great flood, just hours before it started. I had the evening before walked beside the Arno and noticed that it was absolutely dry. Our pension was just beside the river, and during the flood the waters reached twenty-feet up—to its second floor. Automobiles were, it is said, rolled and tumbled down the street by the floodwaters. Mother had bought me some antique garnet earrings on the Ponte Vecchio, paying with a check. When her check was returned, it was covered with mud, and when, some years later, I went back, the shop-owner told me that.” nothing in the shop was saved. He said, “Wasn’t it lucky that you came on the day you did.”

One Response to “Garney”

  1. Bill says:

    Ah, I remember the car-rolling incident well. We were driving down one of the narrow, tree-lined roads near Marion when we noticed that the odometer was about to change from 9,999 to 10,000. Since our attention was fixed on that momentous event we failed to notice the stopped school bus in front of us until it was too late to stop, so Garney turned the car to the left, we crossed the road and slowly sank into the ditch. As we entered the ditch the car tipped gently onto the passenger’s side. In my memory it all happened quite slowly and gently.

    The warning about the poison ivy was much appreciated since I had no idea what poison ivy was, let alone what it looked like.

    Now I think of Garney whenever the odometer in my car turns over.

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