My Mother Was a Girl
By Sheldon Kranz

part 4

"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 the difference. 

"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 Davenport's son." 

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. 



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