Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Miss Eve and Miss Edna  Milam---whose invitations and most mail, unless an individually-addressed note, were addressed to The Misses Eve and Edna Milam---were two getting-there maiden ladies who kept cats.    They were the only people in Paxton with THE in front of their names, and the only nearby one was The Right Rev. at the Presbyterian in Expedia, the next-town-over.

The ladies and the myriad cats and one old lump of a dog lived over by the Methodist, in a small gray house with a little porch.   There were quite a few bird-feeders around their house for the amusement of the cats, and the ladies had had Havlon Bright in to bump all the windowsills a foot out into the room and stretch indoor/outdoor carpet on the boards, so that all their kitties would have ringside seats to all the activity out in the yard.   On any day of the year, a group of little faces were aimed at the bird-centers, and at twilight, the still silhouettes outlined against the lamplight of that tall thin house with the two little chimneys caused many of the town’s young folk to call it The Halloween House.

Miss Eve was tallish, a spare, lank woman in print  shirtwaist dresses cinched with a matching belt and nearly-always-matching shoes.   She’d always leant toward pretty wedge-heels, and had a pair of canvas ones in almost every color she could find.   She knew her looks were nothing to boast, but she was proud of her beautiful shoes.  On most other women, the bright canvas shoes would have connoted a snap of gum and big chunky plastic earrings, but shoes were her only vanity.

Though she had not a flirtatious bone in her body, she had a way of sliding her feet way forward under her big metal desk at the Mayor’s office, so that her peep-toes would, indeed, peep out just a little bit in their neat charm.  But lately, the sevens she’d always bought seemed a bit snug and tottery, and she was veering into unknown, frightening territory---squarish lower heels, size 8½. 

    Her iron-gray perm waved to the left, for she was left-handed, just as her sister’s stiff, lighter-gray shingle-bob waved off her face to the right, and both ladies’ oyster-blue eyes gazed gently out at the world through thick glasses framed in clear pink plastic.

School Secretary through four principals and more than three decades of pupils, Miss Edna was a shorter, stockier woman, with no apparent vanities at all---given to solid colors in dark jumpers and pinaforish garb, for her own job entailed dealing with countless small hands and notes-from-home and excuse-pads and mimeograph drums and handfuls of go-show-the-principal-what-you-brought-to-school-THIS-MINUTE, Young-Man!.   And her own shoes---she seemed to have gone straight from little hard-soled Buster Browns to the big-heeled lace-ups favored by nuns and nurses. 

 Miss Edna could be glimpsed out in the yard every day at 5:40 a.m. and almost the same time of the evening, standing patiently looking cloud-ward with her back discreetly to the street, her glasses smeared and her dress creased into a gentle wedgie, as  she waited for the chunky old dog to do her business.

The two ladies were ladies in the sense of decorum and modesty---they referred to “limbs” and “powder rooms” and “expecting,” even in their own conversations at home, and were equally modest in even their bedtime baths and robings.   They never sat in the living room in their night-attire, but changed into loose, comfortable smocks as soon as they got home from work, and wore them through Wheel of Fortune andJeopardy and on into the evening til the clock chimed nine.   

After nine, there were only the hour-long dramas, mostly unfit for good folks to watch, so that was it for the day.   (There WAS that year that the premiere of Rich Man, Poor Man came on for the first chapter at eight o’clock, and they were hooked.   The mere TIME of it made it watchable, and even with the shocking moments, they enjoyed it immensely.   They followed it to the end, and when the teenage Nick Nolte held his dying mother and murmured "I've got cha," they both fished in their pockets for their hankies and sobbed quietly.

 Miss Eve was the Town Clerk, sending out the Water Bills, balancing the books, and collecting the wadded dollars from the procession of folk filing through on the First and the Third, when their checks arrived.    Her modest salary and their modest needs coincided nicely, and Miss Edna’s School Check was equally sparing. Their small existence, with that houseful of cats and their little church activities their only outlets, was pitied by all but the Banker.

Only he knew of the bonds and the Savings and most of all, the Serena Chase Scholarships, named for their late Mother, and benefiting students anonymously for thirty-some years, and then the good-sized Trust left to continue when they’d both passed on.   Miss Edna's daily proximity to all the students gave her a deep knowledge of which were the most deserving candidates for their help.   Not the best grades, nor the most activities, which seemed to be the criteria for all other awards, but which of the young people, by character and behavior and promise, deserved the impetus and the boost offered by the assistance.

 The house, reeking of CAT, was eventually sanitized and sold, and the money put into the Trust, with the cats parceled out to anybody that would take them.

There are almost two generations of young folks whose educations were mightily encouraged and enabled by those two quiet, unobtrusive ladies, and not until that new young woman at the bank meddled where she shouldn’t be and let it slip at the beauty shop, did anyone learn of it.

I’ve read that it’s one of life’s niceties to do something good in secret, and be found out by accident.  

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