J.W. Cowart

Ok, so I'm liberated,  but I'm still old fashioned enough to come  out of town to have it done.

No way am I going to tell my mother. She'll never know. Who needs that hassle?

And Mark. He's so tied up with the Tournament of Players Championship being at Sawgrass this week, he probably doesn't even know I'm gone. While I'm here in Baltimore, I'll bet he's practically living at Ponte Vedra Beach with his golfing buddies. Making contacts. Getting to the top  -- brown nosing is what it is. He doesn't even like golf.

A junior partnership is what he lives for. That and nights with me -- or afternoons. Or mornings.

But not life.

He's not ready for a life commitment. I'm not sure I am either when it comes right down to it. He's fun. He's more or less secure. He's healthy. And in this day of AIDS, what more can a woman expect?

My mother. of course, thinks he's ruining me.

Oh, she's over the stage of regarding me as a scarlet woman. But her tight-mouthed silences are as bad as her hurt pouting was last year.

Being around her is like walking with a candle through  a room full of little firecrackers. You never know what's going to set her  off, or whether the explosion will be the big one with everything popping at the same time, or just another little annoying Pow.

I mean, when we drive over to her house, I go trying to think of a harmless subject to talk about. But what's harmless one day may be explosive the next.

Any remark can set her off.

Like that time, Mark mentioned Annapolis. How was he to know that back during World War II she'd been in the WAVES and is still touchy about what the Navy did to her?

But anyhow, my business is  my own. I don't have to get anyone's permission. And I don't have to talk it over with either one of them. I have to decide what's best for me for now.

And this is the best thing...

I think.

At least I thought so till this morning.

When I visited the crazy lady.

Mama asked me to visit Mrs. Gregg while I'm here. She knows I'm in Baltimore for a week or ten days but doesn't know why. My job takes me here and there so neither she nor Mark think it's unusual for me to be out of town.

And this trip has been scheduled for months so they don't suspect anything. I mean I was supposed to come here to present the Maxilliofacial brochure to The Johnson & Johnson people but when I mailed them the proofs they bought the whole package right off.

I don't have to make the presentation because the contract's already signed and I really didn't have to come here -- not for the company anyway.

So I had the free time. And my reservations at the Omni International and for the flight from Jacksonville were already confirmed, so I came ahead here. I phoned beforehand to make the appointment with Dr. Matlock and she can see me Thursday so I flew up Sunday night just as I was scheduled to and then I had four days to kill.

If it were not for the extra time I had to knock around, I probably would have made some excuse to Mama for not having time to see her friend.

She always asks me to do some perfectly reasonable but horribly inconvenient thing every time I go off.

There was no reason for me to avoid visiting Mrs. Gregg. But I put it off just on general principal. I knew that visiting an old friend of Mama's would be a drag.

To kill time I spent Monday seeing the sights. Fort McHenry. the Constellation. The Walters Art Gallery.

Talk about sore feet!

But there was this little shop down on the wharf near the Constellation where I bought a pirate sword for Mark. It's a rusty old cutlass with deep nicks in the blade where you can tell it's been hit against another blade.

              think I'll give it to him with a card about being a gay blade or on the cutting edge of things. Or maybe it'll be a gag card about your blade is getting rusty.

Come to think of it a sword is a pretty phallic gift. It had better not be too long for my suitcase!

I just thought of that.

And how do you get a sword through airport security?


Maybe I can get the thing wrapped and send it by UPS... but then he'll open it when it gets to the condo. He's like a child when it comes to packages in the mail even if they're addressed to me. Once, in the elevator, he popped open a sample pack of tampons some company had sent me.

I bought Mama another teapot for her collection. Thank God for small favors. She's easy to buy for; just pick out another teapot -- one without a chipped spout.

Maybe all gifts are phallic?

Anyhow, the tea pot reminded me of Mrs. Gregg. She collects teapots too. That's how Mama got to know her. They both write letters to the editor of some teapot magazine. Then they got to writing to each other and once exchanged visits to see each other's collections.

I suspect that in the back of Mama's mind she hopes to get the old lady's collection when she dies. Mama wouldn't admit anything so mercenary but that might have something to do with her urging me to visit the old lady while I'm here in Baltimore.

Mrs. Gregg lives in a condo on Bay Street. From the hill the place sits on you can see ships moving out in the Chesapeake.

I called from the lobby phone beside the door and she buzzed me in. She lives on the tenth floor and I took the elevator up with an old man who clutched an aluminum walker.

Her thin nervous hands are the first thing you notice about Mrs. Gregg. They never stop moving. They flutter and twist and rub together constantly like she's wringing them over some ancient grief. Like Lady Macbeth's hands would have done if she'd grown old.

 "Come in. Come in, my dear. I'm so happy to see you," she said. "You're such a pretty thing. Such lovely hair."

She wore jeans and a bright flowered apron which she kept twisting.  It was clean and crisp but worn. The right corner of it was frayed from the constant twisting.

She led me through the foyer into a sunny living room which would have been spacious if it had not been crammed with floor to ceiling shelves filled with teapots. It reminded me of my mother's place.

Right off I recognized a Worcester blue and white with the "Bamboo Root" pattern, circa 1750. A small chip marred the lid, which is a shame because in fine condition this teapot would set you back a good $1,600 in today's market. See, you don't live 26 years as a collector's daughter without some of the mania  rubbing off.

I've picked up enough of the jargon to talk a little about lemon, flower and crown finials; about saltglaze, Bottger glaze or Rookwood standard; or about ear-handles and S-Scroll handles. In silver, I can see the difference between John and Thomas Settle's work and R & W Wilson's. But that's just  enough to keep a conversation going with a collector for a little while.

And I know what to admire and what's just filler in the collection.

Of course to the true collector like Mrs. Gregg and my mother nothing is "just filler". Each teapot has it's own charm or memory connected to it. True collectors like Mama treasure  even the little Japanese ceramic with "Souvenir of Elko, Nevada" decal on the bowl, or the novelty pieces with two spouts, or those shaped like dragons or camels or clusters of grapes.

But even with my background, I can only talk teapots for so just long before I flounder. And even a true enthusiast like Mrs. Gregg can only sustain a teapot conversation with a novice so long.

Eventually our conversation had to run in other channels.

That's when I realized she was crazy.

I don't mean wild-eyed, teapot smashing crazy. She can function in society; obviously she's been doing so for years.

Her's is the quite crazy that you know about yourself. The kind that lives alone in an otherwise empty apartment on a Sunday afternoon when there's nothing on TV but football. The kind of kink that only terrorizes the person who has it -- and those to whom she chooses to reveal it.

 She served tea (Constant Comment out of an exquisite Imari Pearl, circa 1810) frittering about her tiny kitchen.

We spoke about the view, my job (of which she hadn't the slightest comprehension) and about Jerry Falwell, whom she ardently admires.

Then it happened.

"Are you married; any children?" she asked.

"No. That's still far in my future," I said.

"I was married once," she said. "Let me show you my baby."

She drew a velvet-covered photo album from a shelf and sitting down beside me on the sofa flipped it open with practiced ease.

"This is Gerald. Isn't he cute?" she said.

"Just look at those rosy little cheeks," she said turning the page.

"And that dimple," she said, her hands fluttering from one old black-and-white snapshot to another.

Each photograph curled, yellowing with age. Little black triangular corners encased each picture of the tiny baby.

On some pages, light brown squares showed blank spaces where long ago some picture had been removed.

It was a cute baby. He lay still on a satiny cushion.

Each photograph was a closeup.

You could see the edge of the bassinet, or something, in some of the pictures.

Each photograph presented the same pose.

In each his eyes were closed.

He never changed position.

I felt uneasy. "How old is Gerald now," I asked.

"He's just three weeks old. Isn't he such a big boy?" she said.

"Coochie Coochie Coo," she said fingering a photograph. Over years of doing this, her repeated action had worn a ragged hole in the paper.

"When was he born," I asked.

"January 15, 1939. I remember it so well. His father drove me to the hospital all in a dither. Just like a man. And Doctor Cornstern met us at the door. It was snowing that night and he was worried that we couldn't get through the drifts.

"I hurt so bad. You wouldn't think it now, but I was a delicate little thing. Mr. Gregg could put his two hands all the way around my waist when we first married.

"I hurt so bad. If I had not been so little... I was in labor over 30 hours. The ether gagged me so they couldn't use it. And I hurt and hurt.

"Then it was over. And I had Gerald. My own. My very own baby." she said.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Happened? Why, nothing happened. My baby's healthy. Nothing's the matter with my baby. We came home from the hospital. Me and Mr. Gregg and my baby; we came home. Mr. Greg died in November 22,1963, the same day they shot the president. But I have my baby. I'll always have my baby. Nothing can happen to my baby. Nothing. Not ever. Nothing."

She patted the album.

She smoothed the cover.

She worried the frayed edge of her apron.

She poured more tea.

I made my excuses and finally got away.

Crazy old woman. Her and her pictures of the still baby, never moving all these forty years.


Ghoulish to take pictures of a child in its coffin.

Mother-love? Bonding?

Maybe so.

Some people can't let go.

I wish I’d never meet her.

My appointment with Dr. Matlock isn't until Thursday.


Thank you for visiting  
I welcome your comments at John’s Blog!
You can E-mail me at
Return to John’s Home Page
              You can view my published works at