Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Abortionist in the Basement, Part I

Morning Coffee

One of the interesting things about growing up in a house where there was staff, as Reggie did, was the relationship that one developed (or didn't) with the individuals so employed.  As I have written before, there were times in my boyhood that I spent more of my hours in the company of the Annas, Ninahs, and Henrys in my parents' service than I did with my own mother and father.  I'm not complaining, mind you, Dear Reader.  I'm merely stating a fact.

Just as today it is difficult to find and retain reliable household help, so it was in the early 1960s when my mother, MD, was responsible for staffing and running the various houses among which we divided our time.

MD was always on the lookout for a good maid.

One day, when speaking with one of our neighbors in Washington, D.C., MD learned that a maid at the Guatemalan Embassy was looking for a live-in position in domestic employment.  Apparently she wanted to leave the embassy because the hours were long and the wages were low.  She could be had at a very attractive rate.  MD jumped at the opportunity to hire a maid who was trained at a level of service expected in a Washington embassy.  And so into our lives came Marta.

Today's Embassy of the Republic of Guatemala in Washington, D.C.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Our house in Cleveland Park was a commodious, rambling structure that contained several servants' rooms.  One of those rooms was in the basement, with its own separate entrance, as our house was built into the side of a hill.  This afforded whoever lived in the room a degree of privacy that she would not have otherwise had, as she was free to come and go without disturbing the upstairs occupants.  It was in this room that Marta came to live.

Our house in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
The door to Marta's room can be glimpsed in the
bottom right corner of the photograph, under the plate glass windows.
(Note: Young Reggie is pictured standing, to the left, next to the
front steps, possibly on a very early PDA.)
Photograph likely taken by MD around the time Marta came to live with us

Marta quickly made herself indispensable.  She was a diligent worker.  She cooked and cleaned like a dervish, served at table beautifully, and had a good nature and jolly sense of humor.  First thing every morning, Marta cooked and fed a hot beakfast to me, my siblings, and my father.  She then walked me and my sister Hermione the three blocks to our nearby school, Beauvoir.  After the return walk, Marta would wake my mother by bringing her a cup of hot coffee and the morning newspapers—to consume while propped up in bed—before MD would rise for the day.

MD, who was not a "morning person" (to put it mildly), was in Heaven!

Not long after Marta entered our employ, she asked MD if she could bring her teenage daughter, Telma, from Guatemala to live with us.  A month later Telma arrived and moved in with her mother.  Telma was probably thirteen or fourteen at the time, only spoke a few words of English, and was soon enrolled at the nearby public school.  She was a nice, well-mannered girl.  After school and on weekends Telma helped her mother about the house, where she quickly made herself a happy fixture.

It all seemed too good to be true!

And—as it turned out—Dear Reader, it was . . .

Several weeks later my mother received a telephone call from one of the neighborhood ladies.  The woman called to ask MD if she was aware that a large, black Cadillac limousine was routinely parked overnight on the side street next to our house.  Did MD know that a man would emerge early most mornings from the basement door of our house and drive away in the car?

MD was flabbergasted.  She had no idea what this caller was talking about.  But that's not all that surprising, Dear Reader, since she usually didn't rise much before nine in the morning anymore, given her morning coffee-and-newspaper-in-bed routine made possible by the oh-so-helpful Marta.

The next morning MD asked Marta about the neighbor's inquiries.

After a certain amount of hemming and hawing, Marta admitted that she was, in fact, seeing a man who worked at the Ecuadorean Embassy as a chauffeur, and that he would "occasionally" visit her at our house, but never during the working day, and only for a several hours at a time, and certainly never overnight.

"But Marta," MD asked, "why is it that Mrs. Westerfield said that she sees a man leaving your room through the door almost every morning?"

"It is not true, Señora.  I would never allow such a thing.  I am a good woman!"

"Well, Marta, I was concerned when I heard this, particularly since Telma is living with you downstairs.  And for now I will take your word for it.  But, please, Marta, I don't want to hear any such stories again.  Am I very clear on this?"

"Yes, Señora, you have my word."

And for the next several weeks the limousine was no longer seen parked on the side street next to our house.  All was quiet and in good order.

That is, until my mother received a telephone call one afternoon from the police with the news that Marta had been arrested.  Would my mother please come to the station and bail her out?

Next: Woodward & Lothrop & Trouble . . .


  1. Why do you waste time on your day job when you should be working in Hollywood as a scenario writer? I of course am breathlessly waiting for Part Two.
    --Road to Parnassus

  2. Ah yes, Marta & Telma. Don't forget to include Big Daddy in the tale. Affectionately, Frecky.

    1. Big Daddy wll feature prominantly in the next episode, be assured, dear brother! RD

  3. Dang! You should be screenwriting!

  4. Oh!Wow wonderful and excited story!I appreciate your writing and i want more.

    shot for slim

  5. I love the way you write, the stories all the most fascinating because they are true.
    Can't wait for the next installment.

  6. I am also enjoying this story. You write very engagingly! I am going to follow this blog.

  7. You DO have the best stories! Don't make us wait too long for part two, please.

  8. Too good. Scintillating. Can't wait to read the next installment.

  9. Please dont make us wait Reggie

  10. I still remember fondly the day Marta and Big Daddy drove you, me, and Telma in the limo to Rehoboth Beach. Sun, sand, taffy, hotdogs, big crowds. A complete contrast to our usual beach trips to Nantucket, or Maine.

    xox, Hermione

  11. This is more intriguing than any of the best sellers stacked by my bed and I have to wait a whole week for the next chapter!!!!! Hurry back
    from the city. Yours is definitely the best blog around.

  12. Shocking. Utterly Shocking. Hurry, Reggie, and get to Part II!!!!!!!


  13. As exciting and suspenseful as the "Family Secret" series. I feel like I'm sitting around the radio waiting for the next installment ( a reference your younger readers will not understand).

  14. Reggie, you really are a big tease, keeping your loyal readers on tenterhooks. I'm sure all will be revealed soon though. Wonderful story telling.

  15. Those were the days before a Neighborhood Watch. Wait a minute what am I talking about. How many of us know our next door neighbors exchange keys and phone numbers these days Mrs Westerfield You are the best. Actually when the family relocated to my neighboor hood (sort of ) classmates of my daughter --this mom I think had a maid, previously, as her children--- the matteress was on the floor for the three in Florida the backwards south no need to keep up appearances What is it about culture shock.

  16. Reggie, you've done it again, I'm hooked!
    You are such a gifted story-teller.

  17. I do hope you intend to write a novel. I want more when I read your words. It sounds like another time and place and your words take me there. Far away. I love the escape.

  18. Sounds like J. Edgar's boys trained under Mrs. Westerfield-and I do smell a rat as Frecky is quite eager to direct suspicion towards Big Daddy!

  19. LOVE your stories! Big Daddy? Can't wait. . .

  20. Oh those were the good old days!
    I am so happy I have a place to tell real and honest stories about "the help" who were so instrumental in my life! Edna Mae; her uncle 'Melvin" who was a chef at "Brennan's" in New Orleans.....and my stepfather hired him and his family to move to Pasadena California! Holy Cow!

    "Ivory"; The "butler"! He was one of my favorites! He said; "Don't you ever let those hands touch a dishcloth!!" (I was drying the dishes Edna Mae had washed when she was telling me about "sex"!) I was 12!

    Great stories!!

  21. Good day Sir;
    you made me grin - and smile. Thanks! All the best from a sunny Germany.

  22. Reggie, you really are a big tease keeping your loyal readers on tenterhooks until the next installment. I, for one, cannot wait.

  23. Oh, your story (insofar as we've read it) reminds me of an anecdote my father tells about his mother (whom I, also, knew well).

    In our very small, Tennessee town, my grandmother came to an arrangement with a young woman who paid a token rent to live in the upstairs apartment (with its own entrance) in exchange for doing a lot of things for my grandmother such as grocery-shopping, carrying out the trash, etcetera. Both were perfectly happy with the arrangement.

    Two years into the arrangment, a gaggle of neighborhood church ladies paid a concerned call. I should emphasize that my grandmother was definitively NOT a church-goer. They himmed&hawed for a while before she finally flat-out asked them what they actually wanted to discuss. Many were the pious murmurings of "Oh...we KNOW you wouldn't know, but...", "Well, it's just so awful I don't even want to MENTION it, but...", and "Now, normally I would NEVER say anything, but...".

    Turns out (and, actually my grandmother didn't know this) that the young woman had a boyfriend who occasionally spent the night. He parked his car behind that big, old house. Of course, all the church ladies HAD noticed.

    My father (who was about twenty at the time and, hearing the guests, had simply stayed in the kitchen) heard my grandmother affect shock over this dreadful news....the very idea that such a thing would happen in her house! The church ladies clucked and offered their sympathy......and then, according to my father, my grandmother (who was nobody's fool) suddenly said, in a very frank and loud voice, "I do have to tell you ladies one thing....she pays rent to stay here, and she always pays it in-cash and on-time...and I'm grateful for her help around the house....and if she wants to CARRY COAL IN THAT THING, then that's HER business...not mine, and not yours. Have I made myself quite clear, Ladies?????"

    The church ladies all scattered and never again visited my grandmother (who lived for another thirty-some years). The renter stayed for several more years, until she married (a wedding which my grandmother attended, of course).

    In any case, I've always loved the "carry coal in that thing" comment.

    Level Best as Ever,

    David Terry

  24. on the edge of my seat. Hoping there is a book in your future

  25. I eagerly await the next installment, as well as the family memoir I hope you write someday.

  26. Oh lordy. I have GOT to start reading my favorite blogs with regularity. This is juicy. little white hooded PDA-er.

  27. Oh Reggie-
    When I first saw the title I was shocked! I turned quickly away and would NOT allow myself to read A WORD

    until I prepared myself some breakfast and sat myself down properly at the big computer for a good, slow read.I knew this was going to be especially good, as indeed it was.
    You never fail to disappoint, dear Reggie.

    p.s.: a few of the other comments have led me to believe tomorrow may not bring the next installment! Could this be true? If so I shall need to emotionally prepare myself for an extended wait.....

  28. What a great tale, I can't wait to read more.
    It's funny, I grew up with staff too but feel quite ashamed to admit it nowadays, all of my old friends did too, but my husband comes from a different background and whilst he is fine with it, his family are quite disgusted by my background - no wonder i don't see them anymore.

    I am full steam ahead for The Carlyle and then Nantucket for my 49th next year - I really hope that you and Boy will be available for cocktails at some point!

  29. Reggie!
    Don't keep us in suspense any longer--I've been checking for 3 days.

  30. You have an amazing way to tell the stories to your readers! this is an excellent post! Thanks for the share!


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