Monday, March 22, 2010

Cynthia Jackson: School Street Surprise

Back in the sixties, Rothia Fleming operated the only taxi service in Randolph, and her well-known rooming house at One School Street sheltered many a weary soul. In 1969, the Jackson family acquired the old house, built as a rectory in the heart of downtown. The location—and the connection to Rothia—made for some interesting encounters. Cynthia Jackson remembers one of them here. Cynthia, who has been with the Hale Street Gang from the beginning, is a writer of many moods—you never know from one week to the next whether she is going to move you to tears or laughter. Jack's portrait captures her mischievous side; this excerpt hints at her affinity for the absurd.

It was a Saturday morning in April 1970, and we had been living in Randolph for almost a year. Johnny had gone downstairs to the kitchen, Mindy was still sleeping, and Chris, contrary to his usual Saturday morning habit of sleeping late, was still out, having gotten up at 6 a.m. to learn his buddy’s newspaper route so he could fill in for him at some point. I was in the upstairs bedroom getting dressed when I heard the front door slam—Chris getting back, I thought. Then he proceeded to thump up the front stairs loudly enough to awaken the dead. Mindful of the still sleeping Mindy, I grabbed a robe and whipped out of our bedroom door, shushing as I went. Whoa! What to my wondering eyes should appear but a ragged old man with a wooden peg leg, bent nearly double as he struggled up the steep stairs toward me. At each step, he first stomped up with his good foot, then, grasping the peg leg behind the knee, swung it clear of the edge of the step and dropped it down with a jarring thump.
After a moment spent trying to recover my ability to speak, I told the raggedy man who I was and asked him what he wanted. He stopped his laborious climb and, looking up to see the source of this unknown voice, fixed me with a rheumy glare.

“I’m just going up to my room. My room is up here.” He spoke firmly and unhesitatingly but his voice was raspy and inhibited by his lack of teeth.

“Oh, I’m sorry. This isn’t Rothia’s Rooming House anymore.” I hoped I spoke firmly, if hesitatingly, and in a tone that expressed both sympathy and ownership.

“I just want to go up to my room. It’s always been my room,” he asserted.

“I’m sorry. This is our house now; we’ve lived here almost a year. Rothia doesn’t own this house anymore.”

“This was always my room. I’ve been away, but I always come back here. Where should I go?”

Well, after a few more similar exchanges, I finally convinced him to go see Rothia at the Hollyhock Inn around the corner, assuring him that she would have a place for him. I held my breath as he negotiated a turnabout on the stairs, then watched as he thumped his way back down to the hall and, listening as he opened the front door and slammed it behind him, heard him as he headed across the porch and thumped down another four or five steps to the entry walk. Had that really happened? How long had that taken? Where was everybody? Thank heaven I had gotten my robe on all the way.

I felt as though I had been sealed off in a world alone with my unexpected visitor. We almost never used the front door ourselves, the driveway being on the opposite side of the house, handy to the kitchen door. I had been surprised to hear Chris coming in that door, but of course he was on foot. Then I was irritated at his making so much noise, which emotion had quickly morphed into surprise and a moment of fear followed by total engagement as I worked to get the unexpected (and unsuspecting) visitor out of the house and figure out a possible next move for the poor man I was about to dispossess of his Randolph lodgings. Finally, I did feel confidant that Rothia would be able to find him a room in one of her many houses. She owned several properties around town and haply rented out rooms while she put in such improvements as copper plumbing and fresh paint. The copper plumbing seemed an amazing expense; the paint was amazing in a different way: The whole inside of our house had been a most awful shade of green that I had dubbed “gangrene.”

I headed back into my bedroom and resumed getting dressed. And now, I thought where IS that Christopher?

1 comment:

Kelly Green said...

Funny, funny Orange County story accompanied by a terrific photo of a stunning woman!