A novel about the death of President James Garfield in Long Branch, NJ - 1881. Historical characters interact with fictional characters - with a supporting cast of Roscoe Conking, James G. Blaine, General Grant, Susan B. Anthony, and the Garfield family.
In August, 1947, I traveled by train across the country with my grandmother. The telegram had come two days before. Mollie Brown was dying and calling for Gran, her oldest and dearest friend. Gran was going, willy or nilly. She made it plain and clear, seventy-nine years old or not, she would not deny Mollie’s last wish. But Uncle Henry was adamant: No seventy-nine-year-old mother of his would travel from Pittsburgh to Pasadena by herself. Since I had six weeks till college started, I was dispatched. It was a free trip for me, and I had never been West before. Uncle Henry had originally suggested that we fly to California, and I was thrilled! But Gran said she would walk first before flying in the air, so the train it was. Besides, Gran always had a fondness for trains, she claimed.
She was anything but frail, and except for a few aches and pains and the reading glasses that she resented bitterly, she could have deducted ten years or more. I was happy to carry the luggage and hail the taxicabs. I considered it a long overdue vacation, and besides, I had never been far from home before. For four long years after I graduated high school, I worked in the office of Uncle Henry’s tool and die plant. His business was considered essential to the War effort, and Uncle Henry insisted he needed a smart gal to handle the paperwork that never ended. I wanted to go away to college, mainly to get away from living with my mother, but Uncle Henry said he needed me, and he promised that once the War was over and the men came home, I could go to college. He even said he’d pay for it, although I had my trust fund money from Daddy, and from my Pittsburgh Paint grandparents. Money wasn’t the problem: manpower, or perhaps I should say “woman power” was. Anyway, true to his word, I started school in the fall of 1945, and Uncle Henry was footing the bill. He told me to keep my money for a time when I might need it. Twenty-three wasn’t so old to be in college in 1947; thousands of young men my age were going back to school. Hal – Major Harry Brown – was twenty-seven, and he was back in school. Hal was Mollie Brown’s grandson and an unexpected benefit of the trip to bury Gran’s friend.
I had heard about Mollie Brown on and off all my life. Gran and Mollie had been friends since they were twelve or so. She was Mother’s godmother; Gran was godmother to Mollie’s son Rudy. In more than fifty years, they had seen each other only once or twice a decade, since Mollie had moved to California back when Theodore Roosevelt was President. But hardly a month passed that long letters didn’t cross in the mail, catching them up on each other’s lives. And every child and grandchild and great-grandchild in our family received a monogrammed silver cup from Tiffany’s when they were born - from Mollie Brown. The same, by the way, was true for Mollie’s family: monogrammed silver cups from Tiffany’s from Gran. The only difference was that Mollie preferred script, and Gran chose block lettering.
I remember the five silver cups lined up in my mother’s china cabinet: hers, mine, my two sisters’, and the brother’s who died when he was two. Cups had been sent to my sisters a few years ago – for Gran’s great-grandchildren. Uncle Henry’s side had cups – so did Uncle Walter’s. Quite a collection of Mollie-cups, as we called them. Now that Mollie was dying, there would be no more cups for my nieces or nephews on the way. Both my sisters were expecting again.