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Cary Grant

Chapter Three

ow my father, on the other hand, since he respected the value of money, because he worked hard and long hours to get it, took me to a less pretentious, less expensive, though larger, cinema called the Metropole; a drafty barnlike structure in those days with hard seats and bare floors on which we could stamp at the villain and keep our feet warm at the same time. It smelled of raincoats and galoshes, and no tea or pastry forks. Yet it was, of the two, my favorite place.

Our weekly visit followed a regular routine. My father stopped at his favorite little bacconist's shop and bought his favorite pipe tobacco, because men could smoke at the Metropole, and then, at the next shop, a few of our favorite apples, either russets or Morgan Sweets, and an occasional small bag of white round peppermints; or, if I was on my most winning behavior, even a bar of chocolate. Then on to our favorite film: a spellbinding weekly serial, entitled The Clutching Hand. Honest. It invariably would up with the hero or heroine in dire danger, in order, I guess, to tempt the customers back for the next episode. We lived and loved each adventure, and each following week I neglected a lot of school homework conjecturing how that hero and heroine could possibly get out of the extraordinary fix in which they'd been left. I wonder why movie houses of today don't show a weekly serial. Even television series are hardly in serial form; each episode has a complete plot rather than a continuous story. I like to think life continues, no matter how hazardous.

As I grew older I was permitted to stay up longer. There was no radio or television when I was a child, only a plethora of homework which didn't appeal to me at all. Indeed, I dreaded it and, though I'd begun studying for a scholarship to enter a better school, my head seemed stubbornly set against the penetration of academic knowledge.

My piano teacher, an unhandsome irascible woman, came to the house specifically, I think, to rap the knuckles of my left hand with a ruler. Curiously, although I was left-handed my interpretation of the bass notes was decidedly weak. If my bass hand were as strong as I suspect my base nature to be, I'd be a virtuoso; but my piano playing has evidently not improved over the years, because, after about one and one half minutes of bored attention, my friends either leave stealthily or resume their conversations.

I was not turning out to be a model boy. It depressed me to be good, according to what I judged was an adult's conception of good, and matters around me were not going well. The First World War was imminent and the relationship between my mother and father seemed steadily to grow unhappier. My father came home tired at the end of each day's work and went early to bed, and one weekend when I came home from school my mother wasn't there. My cousins told me, or rather on inquiry led me to believe that she had gone away to a local seaside resort. It seemed rater unusual, but I accepted it as one of those peculiarly unaccountable things that grown-ups are apt to do. However, the weeks went by and when mother did not return it gradually dawned on me that perhaps she was not coming back at all. My father seemed to be in correspondence with her and always told me she sent her love, which of course, I always asked to have returned. There was a void in my life, a sadness of spirit that affected each daily activity with which I occupied myself in order to overcome it; but there was no further explanation of mother's absence, and I gradually got accustomed to the fact that she was not home each time I came home -- nor, it transpired, was she expected to come home.

A long time later I learned that she had experienced a nervous breakdown and been taken to an institution in a nearby quiet country town to recuperate. I was not to see my mother again for more than twenty years, by which time my name was changed and I was a full-grown man living in America, thousands of miles away in California. I was known to most people of the world by sight and by name, yet not to my mother.

It was only recently that I recognized a clue to the cause of mother's retreat within herself. Some years prior to my birth my parents had another child. Their firstborn. A baby boy who, alas, died of some sort of convulsions after only a few months of life. My mother, I learned, sat beside his cot night and day, loving, caring and praying for him, until she was exhausted; and one night, after the doctor ordered her to bed for a few hours to avoid a collapse, her baby died as she slept. Perhaps such a shock, the suppression of such a memory, was the reason for her ultimate withdrawal from the world.

Today at eight-six my mother is well, very active, wiry and witty, and extremely good company. Sometimes we laugh together until tears come into our eyes. She is a small woman, and looking at her, I often puzzle how I grew to be 6'2". She shops tenaciously for small antiques and local dealers have learned either to put up the price in advance so that they can pull it down later, or, if they're lucky enough to see her coming, pull down the shutters and close the doors, to protect themselves from the impact of her charms and the honesty of her age. She does her own marketing and every bit of her own housework -- in a house that, by provincial standards, is by no means small -- and whenever it's suggested that she get someone to help her she avers she can do it better herself, dear, that she doesn't want anyone around telling her what to do or getting in her way, dear, and that the very fact of the occupation keeps her going, you see, dear. All of which is undoubtedly true.

I first found out about the birds and the bees listening to a youthful corner slouch one summer evening under a streetlamp at the end of our street. I didn't appreciate the information, nor was I sure it was correct, and something about the young man's smirkingly patronizing manner while doling out the details made me heartily dislike him from that moment on. His information proved to be correct, as I later found out; though it was many years before I had the courage to put it to a test. It turned out to be a workable and pleasurable theory, and civilization's certainly go hold of a good thing there, but I still haven't forgiven that young man.

During the war we were issued ration books for our food, and unless one was a relative or gushingly familiar with the local grocer, there was little hope of obtaining either sugar or butter, and absolutely no chance for importations of any kind. I grew accustomed to drinking my tea without sugar, and still do not use it in either tea or coffee. However, at that time I didn't appreciate the beneficial quality or the taste of margarine. I missed butter very much. Today I eat margarine again.

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