The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Muriel Cheeseman Syndrome

by Tricia Dower

It’s nurture, not nature, that prevents me from getting to the point right away, that causes me to duck down alleys and open windows and doors into subplots tenuously connected to any story I start off telling. I call it the Muriel Cheeseman Syndrome, a condition I developed listening to my father’s meandering tales at the dinner table during the years I lived at home and his protracted telephone calls after I moved away. Allowing for vagaries of memory as well as poetic license, one phone call I particularly remember went something like this:

Dad: A terrible thing happened to Muriel Cheeseman today.

Me: Who’s Muriel Cheeseman?

Dad: You remember the Cheeseman brothers. They lived around the corner on Milton when we were on East Grand. What were their first names? George? Al? I seem to have drawn a blank.

Me: Can’t help you with that. I don’t remember them at all.

Dad: Sure you do. You walked past their house every day on the way to school. One of them was always out front working on something. Painting the porch, putting storm windows in. A big guy, tall, big shoulders. Didn’t have a job as far as anyone could see. The other brother supported him; Muriel, too. Not one of the three ever got married. Anyway, we figured the one out front was either lonely or nosy. Stopped everybody who went by so he could jaw at them. He used to give you candy which annoyed the heck out of your mother.

Me: That doesn’t sound familiar. Maybe Lillian got the candy.

Dad: I could've sworn it was you. Anyway, the one who supported them — why can’t I remember his name? Edgar? — worked nights with me at the pilot plant before I moved into Accounting. He was a corker. Cooked up that prank we pulled after Tom Dewey lost to Truman. We made an effigy of Dewey — I think that’s the right word, effigy, if you’ve got a minute, I’ll look it up. Oh, never mind, I’ll do it later. This is my nickel, right? Anyway, it didn’t really look like him except for the moustache and even that was more like Groucho’s. We laid him out like a corpse for the day shift to find. Thought we might get in Dutch for it but the company actually sent a photographer over, ran a little story in the employee newsletter. Both brothers are dead, now, by the way.

Me: Muriel was the sister?

Dad: Yes. Funny thing about that moustache. One of the Roosevelts, Alice maybe, certainly not Eleanor, said Dewey looked like the little man on a wedding cake. She made him look foolish. Might have cost him the election. Reminds me of the time the traffic light was out on St. George’s by the old Girl Scout house — you know, they do tours there now, we should go next time you’re here, it’s supposed to be haunted. Anyway, the light was out and a cop was directing traffic. I thought he had signalled for me to go but turns out he hadn’t. He went apoplectic, waving his arms and blowing his whistle until I stopped. “You made me look foolish,” he said. I’ll never forget that. Funny about pride, isn’t it?

Me: So what happened to Muriel Cheeseman?

Dad: Oh, some rough kids grabbed her pocketbook right on Main Street as she was walking home from church. She tried to hold onto it and they knocked her down. There’s a bad element in town now. It’s not like when you were growing up and we did all our shopping on Main and Cherry, before the mall. The mayor’s trying to attract business back, but the town’s been dead too long. Such a shame. It’s not safe to walk around anymore. Especially for women and old people.

Me: That’s awful. Was Muriel hurt?

Dad: No, she’s fine. Just feels a little foolish.

Photo taken in a chemical plant at Merck and Company, Rahway, NJ: My sister Lillian searched through the trunk on her back porch for this old photo. Thanks, Lili! Our father is the handsome one on the far left. The year was 1948 when Harry Truman won in what is considered the greatest upset in U.S. Presidential history.


Blogger Anne C. said...

Muriel Cheeseman, is that what you call it?

Tue Sep 26, 07:30:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I'm still smiling! My father-in-law meanders like this when he comes over, always reaching his point when we're at the front door and we're ready to wave them off. I'm not complaining, though. Never. A beautiful, well-crafted post, Tricia.

Tue Sep 26, 08:14:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Tony. I can relate to your father-in-law. Don't know if that style of story telling comes from losing your original intent or from finding every thought that goes through your head just so darn relevant.

Yes, Anne, if you catch me doing it, just say, "I found a bit of Muriel Cheeseman in that story."

Tue Sep 26, 12:23:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

This is splendid, Tricia! I'm still smiling, too. I wonder if a lot of writers come from such a background. My maternal grandfather, and my mother, have similiar tendencies. I'm sure I do too ;)

Tue Sep 26, 01:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Tamara. Yes, I'm sure there are many of us with Muriel Cheeseman tendencies.

Tue Sep 26, 04:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I have MCS.

Wed Sep 27, 08:36:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

So sorry to hear that, Andrew. I'm afraid there's no cure yet and no one is funding research into one. We shall have to develop our own 12-step program.

Wed Sep 27, 01:12:00 pm GMT-4  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hahahaha, I had some Murial Cheeseman's on my block too - I think, but I'm not sure; maybe on Maple Street - you remember them.


Thu Sep 28, 10:34:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

I love your posts, sooo wonderful, I have to remember MCS...I love it..thanks Tricia, and lovely photo!

Thu Sep 28, 11:42:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hey Diane, Hey, Patricia, thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed it.

Fri Sep 29, 12:25:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

OHmigoodness - my mom tells these stories ALL the time.

Finally, I have a name for them.

HIlarious Tricia!

Mon Oct 02, 12:43:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Craig. My condolences re your mother.

Mon Oct 02, 03:36:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Finally I get to this post and thank goodness....I saw that you used the acronym at Tony's place the other day and I missed the reference! Great post, Tricia!

Tue Oct 03, 09:30:00 am GMT-4  

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