“Mrs. Millicent Mauberley”
by Paul Saevig, ‘67
Mrs. Millicent Mauberley wore bright yellow latex kitchen gloves to open the FedEx package from her son in law in Tiburon, and lifted a box of sterile surgeon’s masks. A thoughtful boy. Her cook did the grocery shopping but Millicent liked to go and pick out fruit and a nice piece of meat for her husband Edwin. In a while she was dressed in a smart navy dress her daughter Marcie helped her select at Neiman-Marcus, with a fine off-white sweater and matching flats. She called for her cook’s grandson Marvin to bring the Continental around, and they rolled onto Valencia Mesa and west to the new supermarket across from the old cemetery. He still used the offensive preparation on his hair, but it was cut short now and he was a nice young fellow with a wife and family.
The second week of social isolation had begun, which reminded Millicent of World War Two when Edwin practiced law in the Chapman Building and their oldest son Walter was a B-17 pilot stationed in England. Their daughters were at USC and their son Rick at Stanford, so it was an anxious time for the Mauberleys.
She blamed the Red Chinese for their negligence in spreading the virus. Not that there were no refined Chinese, for she knew half a dozen Chinese couples at her church, doctors and engineers mostly. But this was a terrible thing and now her great grandchildren were kept out of school.
There was plenty to worry about but Millicent kept a stiff upper lip. She had been president of her sorority when the stock market crashed in 1929, and within a week, three men back in Fullerton had taken their own lives. Her father taught her to be a leader, and she calmed any number of her house sisters. Today she regarded the COVID-19 virus as a nuisance, a regrettable state of affairs, and she hoped to find a good ripe Crenshaw cantaloupe.
From the moment Marvin parked and led Millicent to the shopping carts, where she could proceed by herself, she saw a variety of shoppers she’d known for years and years. They greeted her and she remembered their mothers when they were expectant, their grandmothers, the homes along Brookdale and Fern Drive and Grandview and Union where they lived, before Sunny Hills was even developed. Ordinarily some of them would have kissed her cheek or clasped her hands gently in their own, but these were unusual circumstances. Millicent took in what each woman wore, the extent to which her outfit and makeup became her, whether they looked robust or pallid, cheerful or melancholy, and she smiled genuinely and greeted every one by name.
The sudden chill inside the supermarket annoyed her as always, but she’d complained to the company headquarters with little avail, a somewhat coarse USC ’86 man in Van Nuys, with insufficient tact and a vaguely insolent manner. There was no used asking Edwin to intervene. Of course she preferred Model Market, and who didn’t? But those days were gone already long ago.
She pushed her cart toward the produce department, past shelves of meretricious items only the unrefined would consider. She would also see about Bartlett pears and Hass avocados. The place was neat and clean: Millicent gave them that. She taught second grade to darling Mexican children while Edwin went to law school: pretty little girls with liquid brown eyes and tiny brass earrings, frisky little boys with sweet expressions on their angel faces. Every week Millicent brought them soap and shampoo purchased with her own money, and sometimes ground round and lamb chops, as well as tissue and toothpaste. Edwin chuckled and called her “Florence Nightingale”. They lived in South Pasadena then and her water broke one Saturday morning while she played tennis at the Hunt Club. She’d never been so embarrassed, and Walter was born in four hours: seven pounds, nine ounces. They’d been glad to return to Fullerton although Millicent missed the little tykes in second grade.
When she came around a corner within sight of the milk cartons on their refrigerated shelves, there was Dr. Patrick Slattery, MD on his day off, lifting a sixth gallon of milk onto his cart, by her count
“Cad!” Millicent thought. “Hoarder!”
Of course she said nothing, and drew back to escape his attention. He wore tan slacks, a green sport shirt and a handsome black sports coast with an orange weave that complemented his jet black hair, now sprinkled with gray. He still looked a good deal like Tyrone Power, as Millicent decided when he first came to St. Jude years ago. He'd been her obstetrician-gynecologist since then, performed her hysterectomy, delivered all four of her daughter Priscilla’s children, and all her women friends went to his office in Sunny Hills. He’d even been dashing then, thirty-five years ago, and when they scheduled her hysterectomy, Dr. Slattery walked her out to his receptionist and held her by the waist along the way.
“I’ll make you like a little virgin again, Millicent!” he told her, the charming rogue, and she couldn’t help but giggle at the time.
Six gallons of milk for a widower living alone on Richman Knoll! Millicent flushed inwardly and was appalled. When he turned to walk to the cashier, she stepped forward to watch him. His effrontery was brazen. He had one fewer patient now, and fewer still if she had her way.
She chose her Crenshaw melons, her Hass avocados and Bartlett pears in a distracted manner, and selected a far bigger filet mignon than Edwin was allowed these days. Outside, Marvin waited and with her groceries in the Continental trunk, he drove her home where she took off her dress, shoes and slip to lie down for a nap in her master bedroom by the patio to the pool. When she awakened, long shadows fell across her terrace.
Over the next six weeks, half of Dr. Slattery’s patients left him. The next month he announced his retirement, and Millicent felt the satisfaction of justice done. When her daughter Catherine in Santa Barbara mentioned him casually on the phone, Millicent told her he’d be gone soon.
“Oh, he was so sweet when he fitted my IUD!” Catherine remembered. “He made me put it in and take it out twice while he watched.”
“Don’t be common, Catherine.”
“Well, he cared about his patients, Mom.”
“Be that as it may,” Millicent replied, and changed the subject.
By late summer the COVID-19 crisis had abated somewhat, and citizens were free to leave their homes at will. No one Millicent knew had died. Her cook Mrs. Banks brought her breakfast on the patio one morning and remarked:
“I see Dr. Slattery’s mama died. Lord, she was ninety- eight years old.”
“Pardon me, Grace?” Millicent replied, for she’d grown quite hard of hearing.
“Dr. Slattery’s mama,” Mrs Banks repeated, and pointed to the newspaper obituary on the patio table.
“Oh,” Millicent said and her voice trailed off as she read.
SLATTERY, MILDRED ANN COCHRANE, born January 23, 1920 in San Francisco. Died August 29, 2020, Fullerton, CA.
Mildred was the fifth of eleven children born to Dr. Eugene G. Cochrane, DDS and Eleanor Maureen Naughton. She was educated at St. Therese Convent in Oakland and graduated from the San Francisco College for Women. She married Dr. Theodore (Ned) Slattery, MD in San Francisco in 1939.
Mildred was a woman of deep faith and charity. When her children were grown, she taught adults to read in downtown Santa Ana, and mentored unwed mothers in childcare for many decades. She volunteered in Pediatric Oncology at LA County-USC Medical Center in East Los Angeles two days a week until she suffered a stroke in 1986. She read hundreds of books on tape for the Braille Institute. Reading was her passion, especially Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor and her one-time friend, Jessamyn West. Her great joy were her grandchildren, who she hosted often at her home and her beach home in Corona Del Mar. She also found time to bake at least three cakes a week for sales at her church, and for her family and friends, her own unique Lemon Meringue Pie with coconut shreds.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Ned Slattery, her son Michael of Princeton, New Jersey, her daughter Victoria of La Canada, her son Samuel of Malibu, fourteen grandchildren, six great grandchildren, as well as her twin sister Mame of Fullerton and her son Patrick.
Solemn High Mass will be at 10 AM, Saturday, September 9, 2020, St. Ignatius, San Francisco. A reception will follow at her daughter Dorothea’s home in Pacific Heights.
Mildred would be pleased if friends remembered her by donating to the Crittenden Home for Unwed Mothers, Fullerton, CA.
While Millicent read, she forgot to breathe and trembled, out of breath. She needed a moment to restore herself, and tried in vain to remember Dr. Slattery’s mother or aunt. She pushed the newspaper away and picked at her soft-boiled egg. She had no appetite, and Mrs. Banks came to remove the old lady’s breakfast.
Millicent used a walker now to stroll to one end of her patio where she could see a wide arc of Fullerton between her old alma mater, Chapman Elementary School, and the buildings on Harbor. Only the green trees seemed familiar and the few remaining houses with green tarpaper roofs. All her Ebell Club friends were gone except one, and all her USC classmates except two in Newport Beach and five in Pasadena, people she cared little about now. People in town remembered her because their own mothers had, or their grandmothers. Edwin had congestive heart failure and three heart attacks already. Her own son Matt, who’d always had a vulgar streak, had told her daughter Catherine that their father Edwin was “hanging on by his fingernails”.
She came back to sit on a couch outside her living room, where Mrs. Banks brought her warm blanket, and it used to be from here she could see the ocean and Santa Catalina on a clear day.
Her purse lay beside her and in it, her checkbook and a pen. Millicent wrote a check with the deliberate care of someone who cared about beautiful handwriting. She called for Marvin to come and take it, and address an envelope to take it down to the post office right away.
“Yes, Miss Millicent,” he said in the gracious way she liked.
She was alone. Edwin liked to sleep late, and upon waking, he still shaved himself with a straight razor. Sometimes she worried he’d cut himself accidentally and bleed to death right there in the bathroom off their bedroom. Or he might not wake up at all.
Her feet went to sleep and then her legs in an agreeable way, and she sat there on the couch. At last Edwin joined her, with pink cheeks and his gait slow. He held her head to kiss her, used his hand to dust a place to sit, and joined her on the couch.
“What’s new, Millie?” he asked her, in the same phrase he’d used for three quarters of a century.
She told him about Dr. Slattery’s mother, Mildred Cochrane Slattery of San Francisco, and he nodded in the sure way all lawyers learn.
“I heard he took care of her and his aunt,” Edwin said. “Well, that’s a shame.”
“He’s selling his practice,” Millicent added.
“Yeah. Moving up to Pebble Beach, I heard,” he replied.
Mildred wanted very much to cry, and not because of Mildred Slattery. She pressed her lips together and looked down on Fullerton. The morning was warm but a breeze was coming up and she’d have to go inside soon.
“I sent a check for a charity, in memory of Dr. Slattery’s mother,” she blurted, and looked to see Edwin’s reaction. She expected him to ask her how much.
Instead, he nodded pleasantly and closed his eyes to nap.
“$25!” she confided.
“That’s nice, Millie,” he said softly.
A big crow landed on the lawn below the terrace and Millicent heard it caw. She watched it hop around, and then she looked away and in a while she and Edwin went inside.
That evening, she would serve him steak, and she might try to bake a lemon meringue pie. It would be her first in many years.