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My father, .H.E.S. Skimpole, arrived in New York City in September, 1932. No one knows from whence he came, including himself. He arrived in the company of one Mrs. Anholt Stein aboard a ship making birth from Ireland. Is he, are we Irish? He, we, have no idea. We do know that my progenitor was an orphan, six years old and bound to Mrs. Anholt Stein by a promise made his mother before she died. My grandmother, foreseeing her death and having the acuteness to anticipate that her son would have no means of support, begged Mrs. Stein to deliver the boy to her cousin, Charlotte Lovelace, in Delancey St., New York City. Mrs. Anholt Stein did, upon her return to New York City, bring my father to the address given. She found the house empty of anyone who knew or indeed had ever heard of a Charlotte Lovelace. Mrs. Anholt Stein, being a woman of common sense and uncommon charity, brought my father to live with her on Sutton Place.
The arrangement between Mrs. Anholt Stein and my father was a peculiar one, issuing from the fact that my grandmother's relationship with Mrs. Stein was itself, also peculiar. My grandmother, it seems, made all of Mrs. Stein's most favorite gowns. While summering in Dublin, Mrs. Stein had employed my grandmother as a seamstress. Very fond was Mrs. Stein of my grandmother's needlework and the alacrity of her mending and darning. When my father pressed Mrs. Anholt Stein for more information, she confessed she knew little about his mother, and returned to the subject of the lace she had netted, or the embroidery she had applied, or the gown she had mended. Often, Mrs. Stein would dash from the room and bring to my father a table runner or a pair of gloves that his mother had worked on. But of my grandmother’s ancestry, or prospects – or of my own grandfather, Mrs. Stein knew nothing – or refused to say.
Mrs. Stein used my father as a houseboy and a manservant for many years. She was not over-fond of him, nor was he of her. The arrangement persisted because my father had nowhere to go and because Mrs. A. S., being a woman of common sense, not to say uncommon charity, needed someone to fetch her laundry and make her tea and arrange her tableware and figurines.
My father was not well educated – nor did he learn much during his employ at the home of Mrs. Stien. He knew how to read and he could work out simple sums - this much Mrs. Anholt Stein required of him as houseboy. Later, when he took over management of her household, he learned some history and a little French from a maid who worked in the neighboring establishment. That maid, the beauty known as Josette Rousseau, is my mother.
My father, being an American by accident, and Josette Rousseau, being a maid and French by both ancestry and passion, did not have a tremendous deal to say to one another. My father loved her, I believe, but she did not speak English – and he did not speak French, and so gestures being their own real means of communication, their romance advanced quickly to marriage and the conception and birth of one six pound baby boy named, as my mother unintelligibly insisted, Joel Ulysses Quinnones Tilney Skimpole. To be fair, I believe my beautiful mother intended for me to be a girl – and for my name to be, thusly, Joelle Ulla Quiana Tierney Skimpole. My father, naturally, intervened.
In fact, were it not for the intervention of my late father, H. E. S. Skimpole, much worse might have become of me at the hands of my beautiful mother. Not being naturally disposed to parenting, much less motherhood, she was a rather indifferent guardian – the unoffending little stranger known as Joel U. Q. T. Skimpole was almost from the moment of his birth, a most tiresome companion for her. My father removed me from her care and she removed herself from the marriage and the unoffending stranger known as Joel U. Q. T. Skimpole. She lives, now, I believe, in Brooklyn, with a number of ladies in a house frequented such gentlemen as might be expected to appreciate her variety of feminine delicacy.
She is, regrettably, a woman of easy virtue – and therefore nothing what-so-ever like my esteemed landlady, the venerable and virtuous and conspicuously pious Mrs. Annasheika Ward.
I see her now, as I sit in the upper window and take my tea. She descends the steps – this evening all in green - lovely springtime green, save for her darling white gloved fingers and the black patent leather of her dainty handbag. Tonight, my goddess goes to church, where she will spend the entire night praying before the altar at Our Lady of Perpetual Agony, in honor of the Catholic tradition of First Friday.
Dare I hope, reader, that the Almighty will lift the veil from her eyes? That the truth of my suitability as a mate – not to say rent-stabilized tenant – will be revealed to her by way of hours of silent prayer?
I do. Mrs. Annasheika Ward, deedholder of 505 East 2nd St., leaseholder and mistress of my heart, I dare. Let us hope together– you – me – we – for the purification of her heart, for the enlightenment of her so far intractable mind. For if hope fails, who can tell what I, Joel U. Q. T. Skimpole, unoffending stranger from the moment of his issue, will be forced to do?