Memories 13 : Deepening Domesticity, Part Three

Memories, 13

Deepening Domesticity

Part Three of Three

 

While attending classes at the organization in London around 1960, I came across an older fellow who’d told me how he’d given a present of a Corgi bitch puppy to Mary Sue and how happy she was to have the dog. The dog, Vixie, no longer a puppy, was there when I arrived at Saint Hill. She spent most of her day with the children. They rewarded her partly by finding a way to tease her when she was eating. One of the children would get down on all fours and pretend to want to eat from the dog’s bowl. Vixie went out of her mind, and the children loved it. Well, Vixie became really bad-tempered especially around her food, and generally when she was stressed.

One day, the children were playing in the drive in front of the house, a car passed by them, and Vixie was seemingly hit by the car. The children were beside themselves and in panic chased poor distraught Vixie indoors into a corner of a room near the Manor’s back door. They were hysterical. I went into the room but had no clue of how to deal with the chaos. Mary Sue must have heard the children’s cries from her office rather far away. All at once, she swept in, immediately filling the room with her calm and determined presence. Before I could blink she had the children quiet and was soothing Vixie, in complete control of the situation—and I had not even begun to remind myself that I could start collecting my wits. Vixie was not badly hurt, after all.

 

The children’s Nanny, a local woman who was a Scientologist, cleaned their bedrooms as part of her duties. I didn’t have a lot to do with her, as the children seemed slightly out of my field of direct responsibility. However, she herself was within it, being part of the household I was supposedly in charge of. The Nanny had Sundays off and, I think, Saturday afternoons. One Sunday when I was standing in for the cook who was having the day off, I became aware of a strange sound coming from the children’s bedrooms. The children themselves were outside in the grounds.

I realized that someone was scrubbing the stained floorboards around the carpeting in the bedrooms, and that that someone was Mary Sue. Whatever the Nanny had been doing up there she had been working away without any interference or supervision from me. It seemed to me likely that the Nanny had been using the new-fangled spray polish on the exposed floorboards but without dusting them first. Mary Sue had noticed and was on her hands and knees, scrubbing.

Kitchen duties demanded my attention. At the same time, it was upsetting that Mary Sue had to be scrubbing floors. Further, I knew well how formidable Mary Sue could be when she was aroused, and how disrespect to her children would rile her.  I wanted to help put things right for Mary Sue but since I couldn’t leave the kitchen for long, I couldn’t scrub the floors myself till later. The energy she was putting into her scrubbing told me she wanted a result now, and if all I could do was to tamely say “Let me do it later”, or worse, “I’ll have the Nanny do it tomorrow”, it would not wash. There were other questions rattling around. Did I really want to tackle Mary Sue in her energy? Not readily. Was she scrubbing as an outlet for some other matter that had destabilized her? Was she glad to have the chance to do something for her children that her executive duties made it difficult for her to take on? I really should have spoken with her then or as soon as possible thereafter. Stupidly, I dithered, and left her to her scrubbing. She deserved better of me than that.

 

Mary Sue had a Christmas practice that truly intrigued. I wondered if it were an American practice, or from the Southern states specifically (she was from Texas), or from her own family traditions. She arranged that the children would get the greater part of their everyday clothes and supplies for the year to come—under the Christmas tree. Each Christmas that I was in the house, Mary Sue would be up all night, perhaps two nights, wrapping the children’s gifts, and she would put them in four distinct piles under the tree. Parents and children opened their packages all together.

I had to wonder how the children must feel, spending a couple of hours, along with their parents, undoing these attractively wrapped Christmas gifts, to find themselves neatly piling new underwear, socks, shirts, trousers, dresses, blouses, skirts, shoes, hankies, hats, coats, school supplies—and of course plenty of the usual gifts of something really fun and different. They could have happily played Shop for a fortnight. It was such an efficient, business-like Christmas, along with the love that provided so well for the children.  I, the youngest of three, knew how blessed two of them were for being free of those endless hand-me-downs.

My Scottish Victorian grandparents had done their Christmas duty (and in wartime scarcity, too) by lighting a fire for my older brother and me to open a few presents in front of, and leaving us alone to do it.  That was the beginning and end of our celebration. Try as I might, I couldn’t get myself into the head and heart of Mary Sue as she presided over this family protocol with obvious satisfaction at the excellence of her work.  The style of a  post-Victorian Christmas in a small, remote Scottish village in the forties was rather far from that of Mary Sue’s home in Texas, USA, in the same period; she was born there less than nine years before my birth.

Not my work, however, to judge in the matter; Mary Sue had every right to be Mary Sue and to organize her Christmas exactly the way she saw it as needed and wanted. If her family were harmoniously happy, and they seemed to be, what would I be doing, moving into complain mode?

In fact, I had come to have plenty of respect for Mary Sue Hubbard for who she was and for what she was doing with her life both as mother and wife.

 

© Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017

 

Memories, 12 : Deepening Domesticity, Part Two

Memories, 12

Deepening Domesticity

Part Two of Three

 

 

Living en famille with the Hubbards as I did, I saw a fair amount of their parenting. The children’s father seemed content with his stable, watchful, patient, and benign family dictatorship . He and their mother spent an hour or so with the four children every evening after dinner without fail. They seemed mostly to watch television, but since I left their sitting room after serving the parents’ coffee (the television being on) and did not return I don’t know what-all they did there together.

I did hear LRH speak to Arthur, the youngest, one evening after dinner, following I don’t know what disciplinary action he had taken on the boy, who would have been four or five years old. The father was saying, “It’s not that we don’t love you, Arthur, but we must have order.” Arthur made no response that I saw or heard. Much later, I heard on the domestic grapevine that LRH had frightened Arthur out of his pants when someone had found the boy playing with matches in the Manor basement; the story, told quickly and in passing, didn’t say what LRH did or said to his youngest. I didn’t worry about Arthur, as I felt the father would have been firm enough to enforce his points without putting him through unnecessary trauma, of which there was no sign that I saw.

None of this seemed too much out of the ordinary to me. I noted of course that neither father nor mother were abusing the children verbally, emotionally, or mentally (according to my standards at the time), but this I expected and then took for granted, given what I knew and had experienced of the practice of Scientology. Indeed, I never saw the Founder of Scientology anything but pleasant and cheerful with his children. And although LRH was somewhat remote from them he occasionally let everybody at Saint Hill know that he kept an eye on his children from where he was.

He spent all morning and much of the afternoon sleeping; when he got up he spent most of his time at his desk or about the Saint Hill offices. I was glad he was doing his work for the sake of so many people beyond Saint Hill Manor, and since I saw no suffering on the part of the children from the way he ordered his days, during which they had less contact with him than they might have, I had no reason to fault him on his apparent distance from them. They played happily around the house. There was never any ruckus from them in the house, whether from the schoolroom or elsewhere. He was not playful with them or overtly affectionate but this was no different from most other fathers I’d known.

I saw that he cared about them and for them; he cared for their mother; he confidently left her to do her mothering her own way, and solidly supported her in that role.  No question that it was, on the whole, a happy family, as far as I, a fairly intimate outsider, could tell. The overriding  impression was that the children were in excellent parental hands.

One might suppose that the parents distanced themselves from their children to some degree since they employed others to take care of the latter’s routine needs. And it is true that they had distinctly different hours from the children’s. Notwithstanding these facts, it was observable that Mary Sue gave her children’s well-being the highest priority in her living and would have intervened like a lightning strike had she seen the need to, no matter the hour or the circumstance. Just like most mothers. Also observable was the watchful fatherly eye of LRH, and again, his latent determination to be up and about to handle any unmet urgent need of his children (or of his wife); in such a case, he would have been up and at it, grasping the situation and loosing off multiple bolts of lightning to get things under his required degree of control.

 

Diana, the eldest child, perhaps about twelve years old at this time, wanted a piano. Her father asked me to take her to London to choose one. He gave me no instructions as to price. Diana and I went up to London by train and I planned to take her to a number of different dealers. However, the first one we stopped at, Bechstein’s in Mayfair—on Curzon Street if I remember correctly—was the last. There, Diana found a piano she declared was to be hers. I asked the shop to deliver it; the man quietly offered me a commission but I declined, only to realize later that I could have accepted it and given the money to LRH. The price: 500 pounds sterling, a hefty amount in those days.

When I went to LRH that evening to let him know that his dinner was ready, he asked me about the piano. I told him that Diana had chosen one. “How much?” he asked. I told him. He looked slightly rueful, as though he’d suspected I’d see to it that he would pay through the nose for a good instrument. Diana had her piano in her bedroom. She played it a great deal and obviously loved it. She was a highly gifted and unusually beautiful young lady with many talents; she could certainly have made an outstanding career for herself in music or ballet, or both. Life, however, had other plans for her, for her piano and her ballet.

 

Mary Sue played a much greater part than LRH in the children’s lives. One of the regular family activities, for example, took place every Saturday afternoon, when Mary Sue would drive the children into the nearby town of East Grinstead for a couple of hours. I supposed that they spent some time in a café but they obviously did some shopping as the children would come back with small goodies of different kinds. Any matter of pocket money was arranged without any reference to me as Household Officer; it would have been thoroughly characteristic of Mary Sue to be teaching them the handling of money. From the way they piled into the car and came tumbling out on return, one could easily imagine that these Saturday trips with their mother were the highlight of their week. And of hers, too.

I have no recollection of the children ever being sick or injured at the Manor, although Suzette, the younger daughter, once made a fool out of me when I let her take her own temperature after she complained of not feeling well. At that moment, I wasn’t able to stay with her to supervise the thermometer and so Suzette took the temperature of a radiator and put the thermometer back in her mouth as I returned. At the alarming result (something like 103) I went immediately and stupidly to her father who said I’d better call the doctor. He, when he came, took her temperature properly and was not at all pleased with me. I made sure I was a long way from the front door when the time came to show him out.

 

(c) Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017

Memories, 11 : Deepening Domesticity, Part One

Memories, 11

Deepening Domesticity

Part One of Three

 

Without any conscious effort on my part, and with no action on hers that brought itself to my notice, Mary Sue and I established a relaxed relationship. My presence in her home and family extended itself without any upset or abrasion that intruded into my awareness, and thus my equilibrium strengthened and broadened. Our friendship seemed to develop quite naturally and without any undue expectation or demands on either side—not that our relationship was anything beyond everyday routine. Mary Sue was unquestionably and fiercely loyal to her husband and his cause. Her growing acceptance of my role in his domestic life as well as in her own told me that the two of them were all right with who I was and what I was doing; when it came to thorns in the side, each was quick to stand by the other.

In fact, I found that Mary Sue began taking me under her wing in one particular way. Perhaps she had been looking for a means to indicate that she had reconsidered her first impressions of me but didn’t want to make it too obvious that she might have had to revise her judgment. At any rate, she found a place for me in her brood of acceptable chickens.

 

Mary Sue was financial controller of the Saint Hill operation including both its business and domestic aspects. No money was spent without her prior approval. The Housekeeper did the shopping and submitted her accounts to Mary Sue. I would also have some business with her now and then with regard to household bills and wages and she was always attentive to my needs in this regard. She established a personal involvement between us as to my own wages in a way that she could easily have left to the normal administrative channels — which were perfectly adequate for the purpose. The personal involvement had to do with bank holidays in which staff were entitled to the day’s holiday or a day’s pay in lieu. As the cook always took the holiday, and as I was the one to stand in for the cook, I usually forewent my day off in order to cover for the cook. So, I would apply for and get the extra day’s pay.

Mary Sue took this arrangement and raised it to the status of a friendly ritual that would play itself at the dinner table. When a bank holiday was coming up, Mary Sue, while I was serving, would ask me what arrangements I’d be making, and when I said I’d be standing in for the cook and not taking a day off, she would make a point of reminding me to be sure to apply for the day’s pay. She was doing something to look after me, and I was happy to go along with it and with the kindness in her attitude.

The ritual led to a tragi-comical event. To tell about it, I need to divert any non-Scientologist reader’s attention to a Scientology term, the ‘withhold.’ A withhold is something one is carefully not doing or not saying, or both, because one doesn’t want it known and talked about. It’s an important matter in the practice of scientology because having a withhold can cause one to behave irrationally and often destructively; Scientologists are expected to work well together and that means either not doing things one would want to withhold, or, if one does those things, to un-withhold about them by telling about them honestly. The enervating implication of a withhold is that it invites criticism and sanction when discovered or uncovered after having been kept hidden.[i] It’s an embarrassment, the pain of violating a code of conduct one has agreed to adhere to. One can’t relate with colleagues—or others—easily when one is withholding something from them that they really ought to know for the sake of their own performance in the group. Of course the principle applies in any kind of relationship.

 

Mary Sue and I went through our little number just before the bank holiday at Easter, which in those days in the UK was a four-day weekend. So there were two holiday days involved. When Mary Sue mentioned it at the table I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, having something else to take care of at the moment, but she and I agreed that I’d get the two days’ pay in lieu. In the event, I took one of the days off and applied for the one day’s extra pay. When I got my wages for the period, I realized that I’d received an extra day’s pay I wasn’t entitled to. It was simpler just to work the next holiday day than to refund the money. Being busy, I didn’t bother to write Mary Sue to report the error, she busy enough herself. Having settled it in my own mind it didn’t occur to me to speak to her about it as we passed during the day and I wasn’t going to think about it at the table if she didn’t bring the subject up.

On schedule, the next following bank holiday having come around, Mary Sue reminded me to put in for the day’s pay. At once I told her that I had mistakenly received a day’s pay last time and wouldn’t have to put in for extra this holiday. She accepted my explanation silently; it occurred to me that perhaps I should have told her beforehand so that I didn’t have to tell her about the mistake in front of our boss. He, however, put his finger in truly masterly fashion on the nub of the situation. I, about to serve him some vegetables, heard him utter, to my amazement—and to utter with idiotic pomposity: “Thank you for getting off the withhold”!

For a second, I froze in horror, and for another second considered the prospect of handing him his veggies in his lap. Here he was, accusing me of swindling a day’s pay then thinking the better of it and confessing my sin! And dragging my ‘confession’ into his dinner! I couldn’t help myself throwing him an astonished and angry look but he did not or would not meet my eye. The veggies somehow took their place on his plate. I knew Mary Sue had observed my unvoiced protest. Able to read the situation accurately, she must have got a quiet chuckle to herself out of my predicament as I made a dignified departure from the dining room. Withhold, indeed. Humph to that. This great man has some things to learn. But I had erred too in not taking care of the matter on the usual administrative channels and had initiated that awkwardness during the meal.

 

On some other occasion, I was cooking for the day. I took the main course into the dining room. Mary Sue suddenly asked me in a cheerful voice, “Is the cook off today?” I said that she was. “Ah”, she replied, throwing a glance at her husband, “We always know when Ken is cooking. The food tastes so clean.” So, she and LRH had had a little conversation about the first course. He gave no response to her or to me. What Mary Sue said was nice to hear, but how much nicer would have been “The food tastes so clean and so good.” But there we were.

Mary Sue had called attention to disturbing questions about the regular and professional cooks. But since no-one was forcing me to figure out how to get the already-trained cook to clean up her cooking — and to do so without inspiring her to give notice — the task didn’t add itself to my daily list. Besides, when I cooked, while naturally not thinking of putting dirtiness into the pots and pans, I simply cooked, paying no attention to particularities of cleanliness. If there were any technique to master regarding cleanliness of taste in the food on the plate, that technique was firmly beyond my untrained understanding. And trying to teach it to a self-professed, comfortable-with-self cook, beyond my patience. In truth, the issue need never have raised itself in its corner of my mind: although never fully dismissed, it never came to a head.

(c) Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2017

 

[i] To be fair to the Scientology I used to know, and perhaps to some or much of Scientology today, we had many people able to deal with others’ misdeeds in a firm but friendly manner, helping to put things right without making anyone feel wrong or bad. LRH could be very good at that. Others thought they had to bear down hard, and LRH could do that too. I refer to the Scientology group up to the later sixties After that, LRH seemed to decide that bearing down hard was the best way to go and the majority followed his guidance on it; those in the Sea Organization had little or no choice. When the basic goodness of Scientology is applied, no-one has any fear of divulging a withhold because basic Scientology makes it always safe to speak up. Moreover, the safety in divulging any departure from the expected standards makes it easy for the group member to know when he or she should be speaking up about errors and failures. Name me six global organizations in which this holds true. In my opinion, the current Church of Scientology would not be one of them, if there are any. Would you expect it to hold true of a government?