LC Van Savage
Liberation, Ice and the Martini Boys
This cold weather we’re experiencing is making me remember one equally cold winter of my youth. It was on Staten Island in 1947, when I was nine and I got to see the Lord of the Manor, the Ruler of the Roost, aka my father Stuart, have to abruptly face the unthinkable fact that his patriarchal world had collapsed because women, starting on that freezing night, were stepping from their place, taking a stand, and he did not much cotton to it.
It wasn’t a huge cataclysm that night back in ’47, but it was mighty in its smallness. It was just one tiny inroad, a small crack in the walls of the old ways of things, a microscopic fissure at the tip of a smoldering, ages-old volcano.
On that frigid night my father’s wife Isobelle, theretofore obedient, in her place, and always accommodating, actually shouted, "No!," and she had the effrontery to do that before all his pals, the good ol’ boys who met every Sunday afternoon to settle the world’s problems, my father’s esteemed "The Martini Boys."
The icestorm that weekend had been horrendous. Electricity on all of Staten Island blinked out and homes went dark and cold. Ah, but my father, a prescient man, had been the only member of TMB to purchase a generator, a big, green, deafening and stinking monster that could magically warm and light a few portions of our home; the kitchen, livingroom and a couple of bedrooms.
So, with the phones still working and without asking Isobelle, dear Dad invited The Martini Boys to gather at our home before a huge crackling and hissing fire for the duration of this emergency, to give them shelter. They quickly arrived, carrying very few provisions, but at least a tun of gin between them. This grizzled group of businessmen sat down comfortably and waited out the crisis by guzzling their "martins" (they thought it ever so funny to call them that) and playing poker, while Isobelle emptied the freezer, noted their special dietary needs, prepared bedrooms and bathrooms, worked and ran and behaved the way a good 1940s wife should. Not one of the old chaps once looked up from their cards or martins to thank her.
But they did occasionally glance up to say, "Iz dearie, we could sure use another food platter," or, "Coffee heated in the fireplace would be nice about now, Izzy," and "You do know I’m allergic to feathers Isobelle, so I’ll have to have a foam pillow tonight."
Izzy ran about making sure the menfolk were warm, fed and stroked. I never did know where their wives were, but no one seemed to care much. She attended their needs, ignoring her own exhaustion. The generator roared, stunk and worked. The lights flickered but the poker game persevered while The Martini Boys got sozzled and loud, and demanded more. And more. Trees exploded outside, the temperature dropped frighteningly, and the wind screamed hideously.
And finally, so did Izzy. She viciously slammed the final tray of sandwiches down on the poker table when Mr. Oxenbach, without looking up from his hand, asked her if she’d mind trimming the crusts from the bread this time, because he found them a "touch stale."
"NO!" she shouted. "Do it yourself, Charlie! Make your own @#%$# coffee and food. All of you get up and do it! In fact, get up and get the hell out of here! Go tell your wives to wait on you! Starting now, my servant days are over. Forever!" and she whirled and glared down at my father.
The Martini Boys were stunned and didn’t play any more poker that night, not having the heart for it, stealing the occasional glance at my mortified, ashen and rigid father. Isobelle flounced into a chair and calmly read LIFE, and after that and forever, nothing was ever the same again at our home.
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