A Visit With Barbara McDermott October 8th 2007

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A half hour before setting out, Gare Maritime's own Lesley puts a curse on me by jokingly intoning "You're going to get a rental PT Cruiser" three times.

I arrive at the rental agency, where the desk clerk punches a few keys, looks at the screen and says "How about a PT Cruiser?"

I text Lesley a vile and threatening text while still at the desk.

She immediately texts back that she hopes I get the REALLY cool-looking one with wood-grain sides. I leave well enough alone, lest she curse me again, and do not respond.

As it turns out, this being a holiday weekend, there IS only one car on the whole rental lot. A snow-white, 4 door, Cruiser.

I pop a CD into the player, push back the moonroof, and the winds whistles across where my hair used to be, as I pick up speed.

....by the time I clear the airport complex, the gas needle has already moved! My long-term refusal to rent these Art Deco Retro cars stems from the fact that they get worse gas mileage than the forklift I drive at work, and for no apparent reason.

I floor it, and barrel off towards Hartford, the engine sucking down gas like Lindsay Lohan at a Margarita bar at happy hour. I hit a good traffic pattern and make the 83 mile drive in fewer than 70 minutes. Soon my friend Tim Yoder, fresh from the THS Convention in Springfield, and I are ensconced at a booth in a Klimpies Family Restaurant....

Michael: Alright, alright, so you don't like Klimpies....
Lucile: I...Hate... Klimpies. I wish I still had money. I'd buy a Klimpies just to burn it to the ground.

...where we play catch-up til an ungodly hour. The Klimpies Blackberry Lemonade proves to be as tart as battery acid.

And the following morning we are off to visit Barbara. Traffic is light, and my rental vehicle downs three gallons during the 30 mile drive.

Barbara greets us warmly from her couch. Casey, the family watch dog, who greeted us with an impressive show of dog pyrotechnics as we walked across the lawn, soon joins us. We make small talk with Barbara, light friendly catch-up chat, and Casey picks up Barbara's remote control caddy and remote control, and sits expectantly in front of Tim holding it. When Tim goes to remove it, Casey mutter just enough under his breath to make it seem like a bad idea. Repeat 3X. Casey sets down the remote, and Tim quickly picks it up and returns it to the proper place.

Barbara decides that she wants to go to Friendly's, not Klimpies, and we agree that seems like a good choice. Casey returns to the room, carrying one of Barbara's pretty pink face-cloths in his mouth. He sits down in front of Tim, again, wearing the same cheerful "Hey buddy, let's play" dog look. But, each time Tim tries to retrieve the towel, Casey mutters under his breath. He lies down at Tim's feet with the towel on the floor between his paws - a defiant "I dare you, pal" gesture if ever we've seen one. Tim distracts him, and I hook around from behind the win the round. Casey departs to plan his strategy, and we leave for Friendly's.

Now- the reason for the rental PT Cruiser is that last year we used my Saturn SC-2, and the difficulty we had getting Barbara into it was nothing compared to the difficulty we had getting me out of the backseat upon arrival. My legs had locked and I was jammed at a weird angle from which I could not extricate myself, making it necessary for Tim to pull me backwards out of the car. And making me appear less spry than Mrs. McDermott until circulation returned to my legs. Few things are more visually striking than a 94 year old woman offering a 40 year old man, who is about to topple over, her arm for support.

The Cruiser is roomy, and so we arrive physically intact. My pride is restored- Barbara does not have to help me into the restaurant.

It is a holiday. The restaurant is swarming with children and the decible level is such that the term "foretaste of hell" pops into my mind... but I digress...

Our conversation rambles most pleasantly, for more than an hour. We speak of Captain Rostron and the evening he hosted Barbara at his table on the Mauretania's Christmas 1919 crossing. We speak of mutual friends - Mike Poirier, Cliff Barry, Mike Findlay, Shelley, Bob Bracken- and of fond memories of past get-togethers, and of how glad Barbara is to have kind people in her life who go out of their way to be nice to her. And, of course, we speak of May 7, 1915, and of Barbara's mother, who survived the disaster only to fall ill and die while in England.

Our waitress is exceptionally nice, but due to the prison-yard like crowding, our meal takes longer to come than the total time invested in all of the above conversations. Barbara comments, "You know...I'm starting to get REALLY hungry..."

We speak of Tim's travels abroard. We speak of my first meeting with Barbara at the 2003 TI Convention in Newport. We talk of Cliff's successful effort to track down the place where Barbara's mother and infant brother were buried. We talk of the weather. I read the unabridged War and Peace aloud to Barbara, from cover to cover, after she voices interest. Tim drives to Klimpies for take-out, and we eat it while waiting for our food. We speak of the morality of the Lusitania disaster. We talk of our respective religious upbringings. I share details of the new article Mike Poirier, Cliff Barry and I are putting together. Tim, who is a flight attendant, departs, does a round trip (with layover) to London, and returns just as our food arrives. It comes to the table hot, and is actually quite delicious.

"There ARE a lot of children here...aren't there?" Barbara asks. Or perhaps she asks "Do either of you care for root beer?" It is hard to tell through the excited chatter of young 'uns.

We decide to pass on dessert.

Back at Barbara's home, we settle down in the living room, and the conversation swings back to mutual friends. One can look around the room and see traces of Barbara's favorite people everywhere. The doll Shelley had constructed from a childhood photo of Barbara keeps watch from atop the piano. Postcards Mike Poirier sent from the QM2 Maiden Voyage and other cruises are carefully arranged on the china cabinet door, along with cards from many other friends and well-wishers. The May 1915 photo of Barbara with Assistant Purser Harkness, who saved her, that Cliff located, is framed and hangs in a place of honor beside her front door. And photos of her children, grand children, great grandchildren are hung or displayed all around the room...

Barbara is a great optimist, and our conversation for the day wraps up with a discussion about God and Providential Blessing.

We agree to get together again, soon. Barbara has always been a dynamic hostess ~ her "Researchers Only" Barbecues have been a long-time summer highlight~ and as we leave, I find myself pondering a theme for our next meeting. Something more personal than a restaurant, but at the same time something at which Barbara can just sit back and relax. A few ideas begin to fulminate....

And we race back towards Hartford, in exceptionally fine moods, as my car does its part to deplete the world's gasoline supply and that annoying "Before He Cheats" song plays for the 60th time since noon, settling like a musical miasma over us.
Hi Jim and all others,

I feel privilaged to be the first to respond to this excellent posting, unless someone else is doing the same thing and gets to hit the post button before me.

A brilliant report from you young Jim, so vivid that it seems like I was there myself. Great to hear that Barbara is in good health and very good of all of you to call on her and take her out, although doesn't sound like Casey was very happy with you.

I am sure you all had a very memorable time.

Well done to all.

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