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XI. The Innocence of Morning

When I lived in Colorado, I knew a woman named Alice Marie. Since her initials were A.M., I called her Miss Morning. I first had known Morning in her college days in Cincinnati years ago. She was a small youngster, not much taller than the famous model Twiggy, and not much bigger. She had amazing long black hair that hung to the small of her back. Her eyes were as dark as her hair, cold black eyes. She had a photogenic face, so perfect it did not look real. She had a light airy soprano voice and sang Deanna Durbin tunes about spring being late this year and the turntable song for the gang down at Joe’s, or softly Ave Maria, sounding much like Deanna. She wrote poems that reminded me of Sarah Teasdale.  She had a radiant mind and the gift of an artist; so much so that I thought she would go down the yellow brick road toward Chrystal City. When she had earned at the big university on the hill at Cincinnati a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude, she chose the road most travelled by. I would encounter her years later as an unlikely small-world surprise, when I lived in Colorado.

I had found her again because she had married a handsome older man from Boulder who was a wealthy donor to a college far out on the Colorado plains in the town where he had grown up. The tallest building in his home town and also a street had been named after him. I knew his Boulder lawyer who had handled the divorce. He confided in me that Alice Marie had gone through a marriage made in perdition because the Very Important Person she had wedded was self-tormented. He had knocked her around and left bruises where nobody would see them. She knew what it was to get kicked down the stairs. He had a mean person and a good person inside him. The mean one would show up to have his way, not often, but sometimes badly so. After a couple of girl babies, upon whose care she had come to anchor her life, she had left her abusive VIP by the time I ran into her in Colorado. An alimony settlement he had sullenly honored, harassing her with small vindictive acts for a year or so. Fortunately, he did not want to own the children, for she needed them as much as they needed her. She did win a property settlement, a cabin in the foothills near Arapaho Mountain. It had been a summer camp they had seldom used. She and her two girls lived there. It was a decent cabin, capable of winter. It faced the sunrise on the great eastward plain that could be so beautiful in the Colorado blue that it brought tears to her eyes. I know all this because when I lived in Boulder I had her attention without intention for a few dinners and lunches and an avuncular status of a man she trusted and talked to. Now and then, I was invited to the cabin on the hill as a special sign of trust. As far as desiring Alice Marie, I was gently rebuffed by innocent Morning in a way that matched Groucho Marx’s reply to a question about a Caribbean cruise he had taken with a girlfriend. “Jamaica?” No, but I tried. However, I had tried politely and we stayed friends.

Alice loved dogs, almost too much. I remember the Malamute she kept at the cabin one winter. She called him Al. I never knew at the time that the name Al was short for Alaska. I recall watching Miss Morning doing winter sled rides down the hill and Al racing after her, knocking her from the sled every time to wrestle with her in the snow. When she had to leave the hill for shopping or whatever, she would try to leave Al in the cabin. That only succeeded a couple of times until Al caught on and stubbornly stayed free, roaming away for a day or two at a time. Finally Al was lost and gone for the rest of a summer.

I would see Alice Marie, not often, but now and then over coffee cups or run into her on the street. One such meeting I remember well. On a sidewalk, I witnessed a scene in downtown Boulder involving the Malamute and Alice Marie. On a fall day, she was driving her station wagon with her two girls in the back seat. She came to a main intersection in town and saw Al there in the middle of the wide street among the cars. The dog recognized her voice calling his name. He leaped in through the front window into her lap and licked her face. She started to cry and the two children cried too at finding their lost Al. By Christmas that year, Al died of a tumor on his heart. Morning called me about it and said to me, “When you get a dog, you get a tragedy.” Later I would hear George Carlin make that sentence famous. The philosopher Santayana had told me much the same about humans. He was getting at it in his sonnet that begins, “As in the midst of battle there is room for love . . . .” He called it the great disaster of being born. Knowing the talent for happiness in the way that Miss Morning lived, I could fancy that Santayana could have meant her when he mentioned how the morning, with a ray of tender joy, hides the truth. Alice Marie had a joyous way of things.

Of course, I lost track of her, the way we lose track of people, even of some we care about greatly. She married a strange young man her own age. He knew a lot about mountain climbing but never seemed to have a job. She said any man was a fool to marry a woman with two kids, but she would have been his bargain with twice that many. They were tight on money. To augment the alimony, Miss Morning worked as a waitress in a hotel diner at the Harvest House. I would stop in for breakfast and leave her a tip the size of the bill until she told me to stop doing that. They built a barn behind the cabin on the hill. Her second husband, who by all accounts excelled as a house husband parenting the two girls, created a vineyard toward the sun, and was good with gardens and chickens. A big wind blew the roof off the barn and they used the insurance for more urgent things and could never afford to fix it. The sight of that crazy barn on a hill, visible for miles, seemed to me like a smile with a missing tooth. Her new man had the conventional husband’s territorial concern, so never again did I have a cup of coffee with Alice Marie, though now and then the phone rang and she would visit a few minutes by voice, or now and then I would take the four of them to dinner. The two little girls called me Mister Uncle.

One day, unexplained and without a word of goodbye, that family I loved went away into the farther West, I know not where or why. Since then I have wondered about the lyrical woman I called Miss Morning, who wrote poems as good as Sarah Teasdale and could sing like Deanna Durbin and did watercolors that astonished the eye. What inner voice had she heard that took her across the mountains toward California or some other destination than Crystal City?