So, Who's Bill Reynolds?
by (Ms.) Harol Marshall
"When in doubt, tell the truth."
My parents met in the 1930's in an evening art class in mid-town Manhattan. My handsome father was a Pharmacist's Mate in the Navy, stationed in Brooklyn. He'd joined the Navy at the age of fifteen with the approval of his parents, who, with his eight siblings, welcomed the extra income.
My mother came from a different world. Her parents emigrated from England shortly after her twelfth birthday hoping to reap the benefits of America’s more egalitarian society. When the New York City trade unions prevented my grandfather from securing a job in his craft, he and my grandmother found work as the butler and nanny for a Park Avenue investment broker.
As a kid, I pestered my mother with questions about life on Park Avenue, eventually ferreting out two important details -- she attended the same private school as the family’s children, and she hated mealtimes when she ate with the family while her father waited the table.
“I was embarrassed for my father,” she confided, in response to my badgering.
“Was he embarrassed, too?”
“No. He was too dignified to be embarrassed and besides, he liked the family.”
“Did you like them?”
My question went unanswered except for a hint of friction with the family’s teenage daughter. I suspected jealousy since despite her father’s wealth the daughter must have felt threatened by the arrival of a beautiful, smart, dignified teenager with an upper crust British accent. Perhaps there was another explanation, but knowing my mother’s sweet demeanor, I can’t imagine a relationship of hers being anything but cordial, unlike the boisterous, argumentative relationships among my father's family members.
The best part of her life at the time, or at least the part she enjoyed discussing, appears to have been the English Club. There, she socialized with friends, played field hockey and tennis, and dated English boys, quite a number if her photo collection was any evidence. By the time my mother turned eighteen, her parents had saved enough money to return to England and retire thanks to their employer who also managed their investment portfolio.
Funds in hand, my grandparents announced their intention to leave the U.S., much to their daughter’s dismay. She refused to return to the country of her birth because she had a boyfriend, a young Englishman by the name of Steve Mercer, who worked for an Australian company with offices in New York City.
My mother quit high school in her junior year and from the age of sixteen worked as a secretary and clothes model for a British import-export company. Once my grandparents set sail for England, my mother moved into an apartment with Dorothy, her best friend from the English Club.
Within two years, Steve and my mother announced their engagement. Shortly afterward, Steve's company transferred him to Australia where he promised to find a place to live and send for my mother once he’d settled in. Instead, Steve fell in love with the daughter of the company’s owner and broke off the engagement. In my opinion, he couldn’t have made a worse decision for himself, or a better decision for me.
However much my mother must have been heartbroken over losing Steve, she never shared those feelings with me, shrugging off my curiosity with statements like, “think if I had married him, you wouldn’t be around today.”
“Fate,” I’d reply.
“God’s will,” she’d say, correcting my theology.
“Did you have a boyfriend when you met Dad?”
“I was dating a couple of English boys, but nothing serious.”
“So tell me about meeting Dad.”
“I was taking a painting class at night and your father joined the class. We both lived in Brooklyn, so we rode the same subway home.” I could see the warm glow in her eyes as the years flooded back. “One night he said to me,” she stopped and grinned at the memory, “are you following me or am I following you?”
What a great line. I silently congratulated my father on his savoir-faire.
One summer, my mother's English friend and former roommate Dorothy, came for a visit with her husband. They stayed for the weekend and called my father ‘Bill,' which wasn't his name. At least, I’d never heard of this nickname and inquired about it once our visitors departed. Taken back by my question, my father deferred to my mother.
“When your father and I first met,” she said, “he told me his name was Bill Reynolds. He never let me know his real name until it came time to sign our marriage license. You can imagine my surprise since I was expecting to become Mrs. Reynolds.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said. “Why would he do that?”
My diplomatic mother avoided the question although she admitted to having a difficult time switching to his real name once they left New York and moved to my father’s hometown where no one including his family, knew who she meant when she mentioned Bill.
At some point I confronted my father with the question.
“Sailors have a girl in every port,” he replied with a grin, “and I had a couple of different girlfriends when I met your mother. I needed to keep out of trouble if one of them called the Navy Yard looking for me, so I gave them different names. That way I knew who was on the phone.”
I was incensed at his duplicity, and insulted on behalf of my mother. “And you did that to Mom?” I said, unable to temper my accusatory tone.
He gave me a quizzical look and shrugged. “Well, I didn’t know she’d be your mom at the time.”
Years later, on my first visit to England to meet my mother’s sister, she showed me the telegram announcing my mother's wedding. “Married Bill today,” it read. My aunt grinned as I rolled my eyes, neither of us needing to say more.
Harol (notice the missing 'd' ) Marshall is a reformed academic turned compulsive writer. Over the past five years, she's published three short stories and four mystery novels, has two books in the warming pan and three more on the burner. When it comes to writing, she follows the lead of her police officer father an inveterate story teller who avoided the unvarnished truth whenever possible. As he once pointed out, a good story depends less on the truth and more on the varnish. For more about Harol, including how to contact her, visit her website at: http://www.harolmarshall.com.