This type of writing is difficult — historical narrative? I’ve never done it. Please bear with me.
Anyway, this is the draftest of drafts while I’m still combing sources and making time-lines. Bleh.
There are things you do for love, for money, for family and things you do merely to survive.
And then there are things you do for a necessity beyond that, for pride and claiming what is yours - yours beyond the smeared ink on a piece of legal paper or whispered promises too easily broken.
These are things you do because you have to.
Like when a little boy would ask about the ripped remains of a letter with a Pasadena, CA postmark, pulled from the trash, and Mary would shake her head at her son and say, “we’ve taken enough from that man.” And she’d think on her father, who sent letters and paid for her education, but once tried to prove in a court of law that she wasn’t even his in order to save the family name from the stain of a poor Irish immigrant he had once claimed to love.
It certainly wasn’t what Ellen Mahoney was expecting, when she started working for the Pollocks as maid in their West New York home in 1883, when she was 20 years old. She had little education and no money, but her face was honest and strong – she had come alone from Ireland when she was only eighteen.
Early in her employ, she must have met the household’s patriarch, Alexander Pollock. Who knows if he looked twice at the her plain, ill-fitting clothes and young face – who knows what he thought of the woman whose life he would be set to destroy in less than ten year’s time. Who knows what she thought of the man’s stern eyes and opulent living when she herself barely had two coins to her name.
Ellen was to work for the Pollocks for four years. It was there she met Edward, Alexander’s 17 year old son.
Sources: (so far)
New York Times Sept 26, 1884
New York Times April 8, 1982
New York Times June 22, 1893
We happen to be in Sturgis, SD for the annual Biker Rally. It’s us and thousands of motorcyclists, we barely find a hotel with an open room.
From the east coast onwards, at least one or two bikes accompany us all the way across the barren dark roads of the wide American plains. There are older men, weather-wizened with long grey beards and beer-bellies, leathered skin and leather jackets. Women with laugh-lines and long hair pulled back and tattoos faded with age. Younger folk, all laughs and beers and snapping photos of Mount Rushmore.
The parking lot at every place is all cycles, almost no cars.
A grinning man in studded biker boots kneels on one knee before a tattooed bleached-blonde girl in front of the monument of Crazy Horse. He asks her to marry him. She screams and cries, and everyone claps. She shakes her head, shrugges her leather-clad shoulders. “Oh, fuck, honey you have NO idea what you just got yourself into!” He removes his cigarette before he kisses her.
As we continue west, the bikers dwindle down, most stay in Sturgis as the rally goes on after we leave, but we run into some stragglers headed east at a diner as we leave the Dakotas.
We share a diner with two stereotypical, braided-bearded Harley-drivers.
Josh and I end up at the register at the same time as they do. One of the men peers out at my white Subaru Forrester, Connecticut plates, caked with the dirt and bugs of eleven states, filled with boxes of all my possessions.
I’m on my way to my senior year of undergrad at my college in Los Angeles, after having spent a year abroad. Josh and I are moving into an off-campus apartment together. Josh is beginning his first year of grad school in physical chemistry at UCLA.
“Where are you off to?” the man asks, raising a grizzled eyebrow.
“California,” Josh answers.
“I’m going to be a movie star,” I say, eagerly, widdening my 20-year-old, bright-green eyes as wide as they could go. I twirl my one bleached-blonde streak around my finger.
Josh puts his arm around me. “We’re running away together.”
The man looks between the two of us.
“Good luck, kids,” he finally says.
He waves as Josh carefully backs the car out of the lot and we hit the road.
“We won’t need luck.” I say, opening my window.
It may have been during one of Josh’s visits while I was living there, 2002-3. But something tells me it was one of the many visits Josh and I made to Tokyo together during the years that followed.
It’s one of those restaurants that you sit right up to the bar and you order directly from the sushi chef. Josh pointed to the menu, and mumbled in broken Japanese. “uh.. kore onegaishimasu?”
The man grinned at Josh, pointed at him with a chopstick. “Hai! Harry Potter-san!”
Josh blinked blue eyes from behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “Huh?”
“Harry Potter-san mitai, ne?” The sushi-chef, a thin middle-aged man with a wide-smile and bright brown eyes framed by an abundance of lashes looked at me for confirmation.
I laughed as hard as I could, both at Josh’s flustered, blushing face and the sushi chef’s smug smile. His blunt, casual speech reminded me of my host sister’s cousin, Aki-chan. Everything that girl said she punctuated with a swift decisive nod that allowed no room for disagreement.
My then-boyfriend’s hair was sticking up every which way from the winter cap he had taken off as we entered the restaurant. I don’t really think he resembled Daniel Radcliffe much, but he did look a little like the Harry Potter of Rowling’s book world - at the time.
“Un,” I answered, nodding, pushing Josh’s shoulder, lightly. “Harry Potter, deshou.”
After we had eaten our fill (the chef busy with other customers that had been slowly filling the well-lit beacon of a restaurant as the night continued to blanket the city in darkness all around us), we waved good-bye. “Gochisosama!” I called.
He answered a polite thank you and goodbye, winked, and picked up a chopstick, flourishing it just like a magic wand, right at Josh.