Last week before the lilac fell and Gwen, my neighbor who knows something about just about everything, brought her chain saw over to lay waste both to the tree and to any fragments of male chauvinism in this neighborhood of powerful women, I had written a series of politicizing, sermonizing, sarcasmizing blogs posts which prompted my friend Mary-Ellis to complain. Maybe complain is too strong a word. She politely inquired, “When are you gonna blog about something funny, or ordinary, or ordinary and funny which you’re so good at?” by which I gather she meant stuff like how much time I waste on Facebook or about finding cat hairs in the cream pitcher or how the cat vomited a hairball on me in the middle of the night. I could write a post about that but there’s nothing more to say except that the cat vomited a hairball on me in the middle of the night. In any case, one should be careful about wishes:
When we were at Whitman College my friend acquired the title of “The Very Miss Mary-Ellis Lacy.” I believe this came about because she had a Junior League demeanor belied by frequent eruptions into the girl-energy of a fifth grader at camp. I loved this about her. She projected calm and maturity making the contrast so much starker when she jumped on a table and belted “I ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” in a spot-on Elvis impersonation complete with jousting knees and rotating hips.
We sometimes called her “Mellis” for short. There was one friend, Kurt, who, impervious to how much she disliked it, called her “Smell.” But Kurt put a cow pie in my crock-pot. I found it when I set out to make split pea soup one fall. That was Kurt. You couldn’t control him.
When I stayed with Mary-Ellis at her childhood home in southern California the year we graduated, I found the progenitor of that junior league demeanor. We rolled out of bed and in our pajamas with our hair sticking to our heads, encountered The Mater, Mary-Paul, at the breakfast table. She presided impeccably over the formal coffee service and counseled us about our plans for each day.
“Mary-Paul’s titillating tours,” Mary-Ellis murmured on our way out the door our first morning.
We were so young, just the word titillating made us snicker.
On that particular visit, we headed out to Palm desert, bought date shakes at Hadleys, and found Elvis Presley’s house. And you guessed it, we roared past bellowing “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound-dog.”
That was a fun trip. I drove to California from Walla Walla with two other classmates, Gail and a guy we called Mr. Perfect. Mr. Perfect told us that the center crack in the pavement of I-5 was the San Andreas fault. We were so young, we believed him. We dropped Mr. Perfect off in the Bay area and continued to southern California for Hadleys date shakes and Mary-Paul’s titillating tours.
Mary-Ellis moved to San Francisco the next year for a job at the St Francis hotel. She and I explored San Francisco by bus during my many visits to her. Off the top of my head: the Sutro baths, Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate bridge,the Castro district, Ghiradelli Square, Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, North Beach, Lombard St, Chinatown, the Presidio, Telegraph Hill, Barbary Lane, Gumps. We were so young we went into Gumps primarily to snicker at the name of the store. We could afford to buy anything. Mary-Ellis took me to an exotic coffee shop near Union Square called the Caravansery. In those days, coffee shops were not at all common and I thought my friend was the most adventurous person I had ever known.
Mary-Ellis lived in an apartment building owned and managed by two elderly ladies who were clearly suffering from dementia. They would leave the building, get confused and lost, and show up hours later in a taxi, uncertain of what had happened. More than once Mary-Ellis bailed them out of some scrape, made phone calls to their families, paid off taxis. We called them the Minkies. We were so young we could shriek with laughter at the situation.
Mary-Ellis had an Aunt Maudie who I met on one visit. She told me a story about a little girl in the family, maybe three years old, who was observed one day sitting at the piano in her little pink dress, playing piano keys with her fat little fingers and warbling away in free-association about something, making up the song as she went along. When Maudie got close enough to hear the lyrics, she heard, “kiss my ass, kiss my ass.”
Mary-Ellis swears the story wasn’t about her. Fair enough. But that little Junior League Wanna Be in her pink dress was the muse and the spirit of my friend, the Very Miss Mary Ellis Lacy.