Mother Was a Girl
"No," he said. "I've never been
in Cleveland. But my mother came from
there." How long ago was it? He couldn't remember. He hadn't thought
about it in a very long time.
Mr. Howitt looked interested. "You
don't say. Your mother came from Cleveland. What was her name? I knew
everybody in Cleveland in those days. Made a point of it." His tired
eyes waited for the information.
For a moment, Robert couldn't
remember his mother's maiden name. She had always been Josephine Shaw.
That was how she signed his report cards. Mrs. Shaw was what everybody
called her. He searched his mind frantically while he grinned at Mr.
Howitt foolishly, his fork motionless on his plate. What was his
"Josephine Davenport," he said
with relief. "That was her name." He took a drink of water.
Davenport," Mr. Howitt said.
"Her father was in the coal
business," Robert said helpfully. It occurred to him that his mother
coming from Cleveland might help him. It might make the
"Coal," Mr. Howitt said, and
rubbed his broad forehead.
"She had a brother Burgess
"Jess Davenport," Mr. Howitt
cried. "I knew it. We went to school together. Graduated high school
at the same time." He looked pleased. "By God. Jess Davenport. Of
course I knew him. And his sister, Josie. Sure, that would be Josephine
for short. But no one called her anything but Josie."
Robert had an uncomfortable
feeling that Mr. Howitt was making it all up. Somehow he couldn't
believe that Mr. Howitt really knew his mother and his uncle. He kept
his eyes respectfully on Mr. Howitt's bald head.
"Isn't that something," Mr. Howitt
grinned. "Haven't heard about Jess and his sister in thirty-five years.
Why, we all went out together that night after graduation. Josie was
with a fellow called Ralph Woods. Mr. Howitt had a secret, far away
smile on his face. "Josie Davenport. What a swell girl she was. Always
had a funny answer for everything. If we wanted things lively, we
always said to Jess, 'Ask Josie along.' And that night after
graduation, I kept dancing with her, and she had me laughing the whole
time. And she was pretty, too. I think I kissed her while we were
dancing. Lord," Mr. Howitt sighed. "Josie Davenport." He stared at his
plate of ice cream.
What nonsense, Robert thought.
Pretty and always laughing, and being kissed at a graduation party.
Where was his mother in all that? Where was the woman he had seen last
"Josie had a tough time
afterwards, too," Mr. Howitt said, eating his ice cream thoughtfully.
"I remember Jess telling me how she wanted to go to business school to
study something or other. But her father said she had to go to work.
Jess said she had an awful fight with her family, and she was going to
leave home. But he convinced her to stay. Jess said he had an awful
time convincing her. But she stayed. Guess she settled down." Mr.
Howitt looked at Robert. "But imagine, you're her son. You're Josie
Robert managed to smile.
"Who did she marry?" Mr. Howitt
asked. "Does she live in New York?"
Robert nodded. "She met my father
after she came here with her family to live. He was a druggist. He died
three years ago." The words sounded stilted in his ears. Who was this
person Mr. Howitt was talking about? And why should it upset him? So
his mother had been young once and unmarried like everybody else. Was
that so strange? It was just that he had never thought of her being
young like that, or fighting with her family. He played nervously with
his water glass.
"I'd sure like to see Josie
again," Mr. Howitt said. "God, she'd be surprised to see me. Give me
her number. I'll call her up tomorrow. And you tell her that Wally
Howitt is in New York. Think of it. We've been living in the same city
for years and never known it. What's Jess doing?"
"He lives in Philadelphia. He's in
the insurance business. He's got three married children."
"My God," Mr. Howitt said.
"Jess with three married children." He stared at Robert without seeing
Automatically, Robert wrote his
mother's telephone number on the back of one of his business cards.
This is luck, he told himself. This will lead to things. But his mind
was jumping around so, he hardly saw what he wrote. He handed the card
casually to Mr. Howitt. He paid the check without noticing what change
As they left the restaurant, Mr.
Howitt said, "We'll talk about cars another day. Now don't forget to
tell Josie Davenport I'll call her tomorrow." He smiled, and for a
moment lie let his hand rest on Robert's arm. Then he turned and went
briskly down the street.