...it is to have a loveless parent.
I was feeling somewhat disloyal at having told the truth about my father, the truth exposing him as less than a giant among men, or even among dwarves, his having turned out to be self-serving, self-loving and self-elfing whatever else are the unfortunate truths about most men, and a lot of women, too, probably, except for the few noble ones we are likely to encounter in these lifetimes, which I think we should regard as more precious than we do. Basically, as they say a lot in California, we would all like our forebears to be heroic, so when they turn out to be less than inspiring, we are disappointed, or, in the case of those of us who have words to make concrete our perceptions, pissed. In the case of my mother, one of the most colorful creatures to have impacted on my cowering lifetime, I forgave everything because she was so original, though as she said to Liz Smith, who I am pleased to note is still sharp and unforgiving in her 90s, when she read THE MOTHERLAND, probably the best of my novels, Helen, my mom, wrote Liz that she "regretted not having committed infanticide." Not many could have had that colorful a framework for their lives to unfold against.
Fortunately she married Puggy, a great gentleman who was surprised at how well he had come off in my novel of which he was the center, simply because he had been smart and kind, two reasons to love any character, whether in life or a book. I am not sure if our lives are divinely guided, but it would seem I had been very fortunate in my mother's choice of partners, no matter how temporary. When I had my great success my Junior year at Bryn Mawr with the show I mostly wrote and performed in, and I told Miss McBride, our formidable college president that I was leaving college because Bryn Mawr had taught me all it could, and "the theatre neede me," she drawled to me in her Hepburnesque tones: "Well, Gwen... Try to be back for exams."
When I told my mother I was leaving college, she cried "They told me this would happen in the beauty parlor," and locked me in my bedroom. But Puggy, coming into my room, pointed to a painting on the wall, and said "There's your reason to stay: all art will show itself in its time. Don't rush the calendar."
Well I certainly haven't.
I have this big birthday coming up and it has struck me for the first time in a very long lifetime that I must give up my dream of getting my musical on Broadway, my greatest ambition since I was a girl, all other talents and energies. the many published novels, the movies, seeming to me incidental and beside the point. But seeing now what there is on Broadway, and having survived what is arguably the worst winter of my life, I realize how very lucky I am simply to be breathing and able to escape this dreary, dark, unloving city and having the option of someplace else to go. Now, I must decide where.
Lew the Mayor, as Mel Brooks called him, having left me only my own resources to sustain me, either imagining I was rich in my own right or not giving a shit, has suitably embittered me so I would be prepared to tell the whole truth about him if I thought anyone was interested, or that he had any of the true stature or inner magnitude of Puggy. But he was a small man in spirit, and deed. When I had a friend who moved to Tucson when Lew was mayor, was suicidal in her loneliness, and asked him to give her a helping hand, he said, having become a Republican(huh?) "I'm in the midst of trying to unseat a councilman." Priorities. How they do spring up in the minds(?) of men.
When I was accepted to Bryn Mawr, he said "The University of Arizona is a better school." That's because it would have been free for him to send me there. So, again, how sharper than a serpent's prick, especially when it's small. Thank God for Puggy, and his sending me to Bryn Mawr.
I am disappointed with myself at still having this much anger in me, even after a long lifetime where Lew consistently walked away when the bills were due. I suppose I fantasied that when at very long last (as my favorite handsome friend Cary Grant said: "Hate will keep you alive longer than love will,") the virulent Selma, the woman to whom my mother introduced Lew, hoping, I think, that Selma would kill him, since she had cut her first husband's shirts into a hundred pieces each, finally died at 97, there would be some kindness and succor sent my way. Not to hold one's breath.
I remember when I wrote my novel about Billy Rose, whom I called Harry Bell in The Pretenders, Sue Mengers, who had dated him in real life said: "I only hope there is an Afterlife so he can see how much he was hated." I do not hold that thought for Lew the Mayor, as I don't suppose he could have helped how small he was, coming himself from an unloving father correctly named Adolf, but I am still sad for little Gwen, the four year old who seems still to live inside me, that she is disappointed in her father. I imagine that had he been the fine fellow I would have loved to have for a dad my creative output might have been less, just as if my mother had not been so colorful, there would have been a smaller slew of novels. She wrote, when Liz Smith congratulated her on The Motherland, that reading it, she "regretted not committing infanticide." As it turned out, she lived long enough to forgive and ultimately enjoy and be kind to me, and life being stranger than fiction, I do truly miss her. And, as close friends know, I have made her into a musical, which may never see the light of orchestra, but brought me some joy and a few recordings by Rosemary Clooney, the wonderful singer now better known as George's aunt.
The weather has turned truly foul but those of us who had forebears who left us someplace to take shelter have reason to be grateful, especially if the father who seemed ultimately a success by American standards consistently let us down even in the Afterlife, whether or not there is one, and stood tall only when having his picture taken. How funny that I am still so disappointed. I mean, if you like your funny with irony on top.