My Mother Was a Girl
By Sheldon Kranz
"No," he said. "I've never been in Cleveland. But my mother came from
there." How long ago was it? He couldn't remember. He hadn't thought about
it in a very long time.
Mr. Howitt looked interested. "You don't say. Your mother came from
Cleveland. What was her name? I knew everybody in Cleveland in those days.
Made a point of it." His tired eyes waited for the information.
For a moment, Robert couldn't remember his mother's maiden name. She
had always been Josephine Shaw. That was how she signed his report cards.
Mrs. Shaw was what everybody called her. He searched his mind frantically
while he grinned at Mr. Howitt foolishly, his fork motionless on his plate.
What was his grandfather's name?
"Josephine Davenport," he said with relief. "That was her name." He
took a drink of water.
Davenport," Mr. Howitt said.
"Her father was in the coal business," Robert said helpfully. It occurred
to him that his mother coming from Cleveland might help him. It might make
"Coal," Mr. Howitt said, and rubbed his broad forehead.
"She had a brother Burgess Davenport."
"Jess Davenport," Mr. Howitt cried. "I knew it. We went to school together.
Graduated high school at the same time." He looked pleased. "By
God. Jess Davenport. Of course I knew him. And his sister, Josie. Sure,
that would be Josephine for short. But no one called her anything but Josie."
Robert had an uncomfortable feeling that Mr. Howitt was making it all
up. Somehow he couldn't believe that Mr. Howitt really knew his mother
and his uncle. He kept his eyes respectfully on Mr. Howitt's bald head.
"Isn't that something," Mr. Howitt grinned. "Haven't heard about Jess
and his sister in thirty-five years. Why, we all went out together that
night after graduation. Josie was with a fellow called Ralph Woods. Mr.
Howitt had a secret, far away smile on his face. "Josie Davenport. What
a swell girl she was. Always had a funny answer for everything. If we wanted
things lively, we always said to Jess, 'Ask Josie along.' And that night
after graduation, I kept dancing with her, and she had me laughing the
whole time. And she was pretty, too. I think I kissed her while we were
dancing. Lord," Mr. Howitt sighed. "Josie Davenport." He stared at his
plate of ice cream.
What nonsense, Robert thought. Pretty and always laughing, and being
kissed at a graduation party. Where was his mother in all that? Where was
the woman he had seen last night?
"Josie had a tough time afterwards, too," Mr. Howitt said, eating his
ice cream thoughtfully. "I remember Jess telling me how she wanted to go
to business school to study something or other. But her father said she
had to go to work. Jess said she had an awful fight with her family, and
she was going to leave home. But he convinced her to stay. Jess said he
had an awful time convincing her. But she stayed. Guess she settled down."
Mr. Howitt looked at Robert. "But imagine, you're her son. You're Josie
Robert managed to smile.
"Who did she marry?" Mr. Howitt asked. "Does she live in New York?"
Robert nodded. "She met my father after she came here with her family
to live. He was a druggist. He died three years ago." The words sounded
stilted in his ears. Who was this person Mr. Howitt was talking about?
And why should it upset him? So his mother had been young once and unmarried
like everybody else. Was that so strange? It was just that he had never
thought of her being young like that, or fighting with her family. He played
nervously with his water glass.
"I'd sure like to see Josie again," Mr. Howitt said. "God, she'd be
surprised to see me. Give me her number. I'll call her up tomorrow. And
you tell her that Wally Howitt is in New York. Think of it. We've been
living in the same city for years and never known it. What's Jess doing?"
"He lives in Philadelphia. He's in the insurance business. He's got
three married children."
"My God," Mr. Howitt said. "Jess with three married children." He stared at Robert without seeing him.
Automatically, Robert wrote his mother's telephone number on the back
of one of his business cards. This is luck, he told himself. This will
lead to things. But his mind was jumping around so, he hardly saw what
he wrote. He handed the card casually to Mr. Howitt. He paid the check
without noticing what change he got.
As they left the restaurant, Mr. Howitt said, "We'll talk about cars
another day. Now don't forget to tell Josie Davenport I'll call her tomorrow."
He smiled, and for a moment lie let his hand rest on Robert's arm. Then
he turned and went briskly down the street.