Thursday, April 7, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 57.2 (Toni Morrison)

Beloved by Michael_Kelleher
Beloved, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Morrison, Toni

This copy belongs to Lori.

The mystery surrounding the inscription in yesterday's book (Jazz) has been solved. I wrote an email to three of the Mulhollands, who all confirmed that the handwriting belonged to their mother. Tom wrote that the due date was probably written for me when I borrowed the book. As in: please return my book by 7/23/93. I felt a little pang of guilt over never having returned it, especially since Edie is no longer with us.

Late in high school, Tom and I became fast friends and soon thereafter he introduced me to his large, Irish-Catholic family (there were seven, including his parents). I remember the first time I met them all at their 41st St. home in Washington. Everyone was sitting around a table in the kitchen or the dining room -- I think the dining room. There were always people at the house, and they were always sitting around one of those tables. Children, grandchildren, friends, cousins, uncles, neighbors.

They asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. I said yes.

Tim, the eldest, asked, Cream and Sugar?

Both, I said.

Clean spoon or dirty?

I froze, not knowing what to say. Before I could get a word out, the whole family erupted in laughter. I was treated like a part of the clan from then on.

(Two Corrections: First, Tim is the second oldest -- I forgot about Mary Kate. Second, either before or after Tim asked me whether I wanted a clean or dirty spoon, Michelle Mulholland leaned in and asked, So, you are into artificial stimulants, eh? I remember feeling like, Wow, did Tommy tell these people about my drug habit?)

The Mulhollands were a kind of second family to me during high school. Not that I came from a broken home or anything, but it was not always filled with happiness. Our family life was pervaded by a sense that we should be bettering ourselves and that happiness was to be distrusted because it might lull us into a state of complacency over our aspirations, the effect of which was that I always felt I was being judged against those aspirations. And I was always falling short.

Edie Mulholland was that rare person who was openly, effusively, generously and, I believe, genuinely happy. When I think about her, I remember her happiness most clearly. She was happy with her family, her kids, her life. She was happy for everyone around her, and her happiness made everyone around her feel happy. Once she decided you were one her team, you could feel safe that she would never judge you. She made me feel so good that I used to go over to the house just to see her -- even if Tom wasn’t home!

When I’d arrive, she’d ask if I wanted coffee and I’d say yes and she’d tell me to go put on a pot and I would and then we’d light up cigarettes and talk in the kitchen. I used to like smoking with her. I don’t think our smoking together was important to her in and of itself. It was important to me, however, because it made me feel grown up to be able to smoke openly in front of an adult. That was pretty much all I wanted as a teenager -- to be treated like an adult. And that was how she treated me.

I quit smoking for a couple of years during college, but she kept on smoking. Then she quit right around the time that I started again. Eventually, we both quit for good. I don’t miss smoking, but I do miss smoking with Edie.


Michele Mulholland France said...

Lovely. Thank you Michael.

You need to add in how you were drafted as a bartender at an epic Mulholland wedding (newly sober) on a freezing night ... 23 December 1988 ...

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Funny, Michelle -- I don't think I got sober until February 1989 -- I may have still been drinking at your wedding.

Niveen said...

If I was good with words, I'd write something poetic to live up to your style. But I am not, and that too was OK with Edie. Truly an accepting matter what your faults were.

Gerry Fallon said...

As another person who has been adopted by the Mulholland Clan,or adopted the Mulholland clan, I must say you have written a most telling and accurate description of Edie. She was a queen among women. Like all who knew her, I wish she was still here with us and that there could be a hell of a lot more out there like her and other people could be as fortunate as us to share in such joy and happiness. .