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