Thursday, June 19, 2008

Effie, Part 2

My Aunt Anne flipped open the phone book and found Effie's listing yesterday. After a couple of rings, Effie answered. Anne identified herself as Paul's daughter.

"Paul was my baby!" Effie exclaimed.

They chatted for a long time, and Effie shared many stories about her days with my grandfather, his mother Eleanor and step-father, Dr. McGuire. They hung up with a plan to get together soon, and it is our hope the whole family will come together to meet her.

Effie had worked for Eleanor at the family's summer house (eventually lost in the hurricane of '38), and then traveled to Springfield to care for my grandfather, before moving back to New Haven upon Eleanor's marriage to Dr. McGuire. Effie then worked as Dr. McGuire's office manager, as the article stated.

Effie's role in my grandfather's life was not limited to that of his nanny. She was a close family friend. His friendship with her inspired my grandfather to go to Chicago in the '40s and work in what eventually became the Civil Rights movement. Upon his return to New England, he met and married my grandmother.

After Dr. McGuire died, Eleanor went into a deep depression, and the formerly straight-edge lady of good upbringing drank herself to death in the Douglas Orr home on Forest Road they had built in the 20s. She died a despondent woman, heartbroken over the death of her husband and deeply attached to the house she was forced to sell, because Dr. McGuire had left her penniless.

"You know in those days people didn't go after their patients for money, and Dr. McGuire would never charge," Grandma said. "Effie always scolded him, 'You should make your patients pay you!' But he rarely did." Most of his patients were the children of the depression, and of war brides--and war widows.

The closing of the house happened just a week or so after Eleanor's death, and the new owner--another doctor--naturally wanted to move in as soon as possible. At this point, my grandmother and grandfather lived in East Haven with their four children, of which my mom is the oldest.

"I remember we would get a sitter every night, and your grandfather and I would pick up Effie, and the three of us would go to the house to clean it out. Every night for weeks we did that," Grandma said. "Effie was right there with us, going through all of Eleanor and Dr. McGuire's things. It was emotional for all of us."

Grandma and Effie exchanged Christmas cards for years, but more than a decade or so ago, they stopped. "I don't know why," Grandma said. "We just stopped, that's all."

Just months ago we were talking about Effie, and Grandma naturally assumed she was no longer alive. To say she is delighted that Effie is alive is an understatment. This is important to Grandma, especially in light of her illness and all the things with which she is trying to find closure and understanding. In fact, this simple thing is big for all of us. Effie has long been a part of the family lore. To meet her is to find a real link to our history, something human and tangiable and beautiful. It's something more precious than the antique rugs, old silverware, or the 100-year-old wicker rockers salvaged from the long-gone beach house and enjoyed to this day on Grandma's porch.


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