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Legends of the Glynns
KNEW MARGOT AND MARTHA well, but I hardly knew their parents, Andrew and
Rosetta, at all. At the time, I wouldn’t have said that, though.
I supposed that I knew everything there was to know about them, because
everyone in Babbington had an anecdote or two to tell about them, and I
had heard quite a few of them. The Glynns were artists, Babbington’s
only artists, as far as I knew.
Artists. What can I say? What should
I say? I could write a book about the ideas about art and artists
that were current when I was a boy, ideas that had their inevitable effect
on me, on my ideas, on my art—but this isn’t that book, and I have another
story to tell, and for the purposes of this story it will be enough to
say that Andy was a painter and Rosetta was a poet. As artists, they
were regarded as eccentrics, colorful characters. The anecdotes told
about them had a common theme: their blissful detachment from the minutiae
of everyday life, the very things that loomed so large in the lives of
normal Babbingtonians, like my parents. There were also titillating
rumors about Bohemian goings-on, rumors recounted in whispers too low,
alas, for me to hear. Among the stories I did hear were the one about
Andy Glynn’s forgetting to wear shoes in public (or a belt, or a shirt,
or pants, depending on the storyteller), the one about Rosetta’s becoming
so entranced with the appearance of a bin full of cauliflower at the market
that she bought all of it, every head, and fed her family nothing but cauliflower
for a week and a half, and the one—well—I’ll tell it to you as my mother
told it to me one night, after we had been visiting some friends of ours,
Visiting was rare for us. My parents didn’t
have much of a social life outside the family, but now and then someone
would give a little party, and sometimes there would be a gathering that
included children, as this had. My parents left the Fishers’ in high
spirits, a little tipsy on beer (or maybe it was highballs or old-fashioneds),
but higher, I think, on the idea that they belonged to a fun-loving set.
I was a little intoxicated by that idea, too.
“So long, so long,” my mother called to Mrs. Fisher.
“We had a wonderful time.” She was right. We had had a wonderful
“I hope we remember the car!” called my father.
The group on the front steps, waving us off, roared.
I supposed that they were laughing at the very idea of my father’s forgetting
to drive our car home. It was such a preposterous idea that I laughed,
too, without realizing that I was laughing only at the comic surface of
a story with a slightly malicious center. My father performed a little
business of starting to walk off, hands in his pockets, like a man who
thinks he came on foot and doesn’t realize that he’s leaving his car behind.
My mother joined in the fun by snagging his coat and dragging him back
to the car, where he registered slapstick surprise at its being there.
I didn’t know what my parents were up to, but I loved seeing them indulge
in comical behavior, whatever its point might be. I wanted to be
part of it, so I started walking off, in the way my father had, hands in
my pockets, whistling. I got a laugh, too, almost as good as the
laughs my parents had gotten, but I didn’t know what I was doing, because
I didn’t know the story behind it. I didn’t realize that my father,
in his performance, had been alluding to one of the legends of the Glynns,
invoking it to get a laugh, and he had gotten the laughter he’d hoped for.
“Oh!” my mother cried, settling onto the front seat,
closing the door. “That was hilarious. You were very funny,
“Thank you, my dear,” said my father. The
voice he used wasn’t his own, and I understood that he was still playing
his adopted comic character, whoever that might be.
“And you, too, Peter.”
“Thank you, my mother,” I said. I was good
at picking things up. “But I don’t really get the joke,” I admitted.
“Oh!” cried my mother. “That makes it even
funnier!” She and my father broke out in laughter again.
“It’s about the Glynns,” said my mother after she’d
gotten herself under control. “Mr. and Mrs. Glynn.”
“Well, they were invited to the mayor’s for dinner.
It was Clam Fest time, and the mayor was having one of those big dinners
he gives for important people. Everyone wears a tuxedo, you know.
The men, that is. It’s all very fancy, and they eat French food.
Little canapés on rounds of colored bread—green, yellow, red.”
“Where did you hear that?” asked my father.
“Oh, it’s in all the magazines,” said my mother.
“The mayor’s parties are in the magazines?”
“No,” she said. “Of course not. They’re
not that famous—but the sandwiches are.” She laughed, and she looked
at my father quickly, moving her eyes but not her head. “I’ve seen
them there. The canapés. On little rounds of colored
Her tone was odd, plaintive. She seemed to
be making a plea. (If I could hear this tone, I must have been growing
up very quickly in those days.) It seemed to say, “Please don’t contradict
me, Bert. Maybe I’m making some of this up. Maybe I don’t know
anything about the canapés at the mayor’s parties, but please accept
my little invention. It makes sense. It fits the story.
Please just let me have this little thing of my own.”
“Little rounds of bread,” she said again.
She made a circle of her thumb and forefinger. “Green, yellow, red.”
My father looked at her for a moment, then turned
his eyes back to the road. “Oh,” he said. “Sure. I see.
We ought to do that.”
“What?” she asked.
“Make some of those sandwiches and give a party.”
I think my mother and I were equally astonished to hear him say this, but
for different reasons. To me, it suggested that my father might like
to have a good time, but when I hear my father speaking now, in memory,
and see the wonderful little smile on my mother’s face, the surprise in
her eyes, “Make some of those sandwiches and give a party” sounds like
one of the most romantic things my father ever said.
“Maybe we should,” said my mother. She squeezed
his arm. “So, anyway, there they were, Mr. and Mrs. Glynn, at the
mayor’s party. And of course they were having a wonderful time.
They were talking with everyone, and laughing, and drinking champagne,
and eating the canapés. Then there was dinner, a long dinner,
served in courses, everything from soup to nuts, and more champagne of
course. And then, oh, I don’t know, maybe someone played the piano—of
course, someone must have played the piano—and there was dancing, and more
“Ella,” said my father.
“Well!” she said. “Probably.”
My father said nothing.
“By the time midnight rolled around,” my mother
went on, “the Glynns were a little high. I’m sure their heads must
have been spinning—what with all that champagne, and meeting all those
important people, and the dancing and everything. So, when they were
leaving, they said their good-byes to the mayor and his wife and they went
down the steps and started off in the direction of home. Their home.
Calling out, ‘Good night!’
“And the mayor called out, ‘Good night!’
“And Mr. Glynn called back, ‘A fine night!
A fine night.’
“And off they went.
“Well, the party began breaking up. People
began leaving in little groups, making their good-byes. And just
as the last people were leaving, while they were standing on the porch
saying good night to the mayor and his wife, along came Mr. and Mrs. Glynn.
Walking along, arm in arm.
“Everyone stopped talking. The mayor must
have wondered what they were doing there. He probably thought
they’d decided to come back for more champagne.
“So he called out to them, ‘Did you forget something?’
“And Mr. Glynn said, ‘Yes.’” Here my mother
began to giggle. “‘We forgot our car.’”
We all laughed. As the laughter subsided,
a pleasant fatigue came over us. I slumped into a corner and yawned.
My mother leaned against my father and rested her head on his shoulder.
He drove at a slower pace. None of us spoke, but if we had, we might
have thanked the Glynns for the nightcap they’d given us.