Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the American short story writer, O.Henry
Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment :
The substance of this tale, the details of which were recently related to me, is worthy of the great American short story teller O. Henry. Or, hopefully, it will be in that ball park by the time I get done with it. O. Henry, for those who do not know, made a literary career out of short stories, stories about working people and other down and outs of society in the early 20th century and putting a little twist, ironic, sardonic or tragic on them, the stories that is, although now that I think about it maybe the people too. Probably the most famous one, The Gift Of The Magi, is, as I recall from the distant past, about a young down and out married couple at Christmas time who are so broke they can’t put two dimes together. But they are in love and love has this funny habit of making you do, well, off-hand, off-the-wall stuff, praise be. In their case they sold what was most precious to each (she, her big hair, he, his watch) in order to buy each other Christmas presents (she a chain for his watch, he a comb for her big hair). Nice twist, right? I hope I can hit that mark here:
I have spent reams of cyberspace telling one and all that I grew up and came of age in old-time New England textile mill working class Olde Saco up in Maine at a time when, unfortunately for my father, Prescott, those mills were heading south (and from there, uh, off-shore) in the 1960s American night. No question as the mills headed south, ironically in my father’s case, that was where he was from originally before World War II got in the way, after he enlisted in the Marines, saw his fair share of bloodshed in the Pacific, and subsequently was stationed at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Naval Base just down the road from Olde Saco mother’s home, it left a huge gap in the local version of the American dream. Left a very big hole in the Breslin American Dream as we (all five of us) moved downward in the housing spiral eventually winding up in a small cramped Olde Saco Housing Authority apartment. The price poor Prescott Breslin paid, paid for being an unskilled textile worker, in a world where such skills were being greatly discounted.
For those three people who do not know what “the projects” are (forget that formal name) I will just tell you they are places, public housing, good, bad or indifference, but mainly in the long haul, bad, at least for my family and some others that I knew of, for the poor, the working poor and the drifters, grifter, and midnight sifters of the world to “make due” in. The particular one that I grew up in started out as a stepping stone, kind of a half-way house, for returning World War II veterans like my father who couldn’t afford that little white house with the picket fence of post-war dreams without some help. That was the idea anyway, if not the reality. But enough said of that, I will speak of that another time, because this is not really meant to be a “treatise” on class injustices and societal indifference but a “love story.”
The love story part, just like in O. Henry’s The Gift Of The Magi could have happened to rich or poor alike, although perhaps the circumstances for the rich would work out differently. I have never been close enough to that social class and their predilections to make any definite comment here. What I can comment on is that “projects” boys, and in the case of the subject of this story a “projects” girl, have as much right to dreams of getting out from under as anyone else. Literature, great literature and pot-boiler alike, is filled with dazzling tales of such escape by the timely presence of a “prince charming,” or some other good fortune. And so it transpired here.
The way that the story came to me is that our “projects” princess, Cathy, just graduated from Olde Saco High, somehow caught the eye of a rich gilded youth, Robert, from the other side of town, the other side of the tracks, from the famous (locally famous, anyway) textile family, the MacAdams', who made a ton of money during World War II on government contracts and were now mainly heading south. Apparently (I am a little sketchy on the details, but no matter) this young princeling was so smitten with his “princess” that he wanted to buy her expensive gifts to show his devotion. One of the first things in his seemingly endless arsenal of gifts was to present her with a bottle of Chanel No. 5. Not the toilet water or eau-whatever stuff but the real stuff, and a big bottle of it as well. Not bad right?
Now I don’t know much about perfume and I prefer, much prefer, not being put in a situation where I have go into a store and buy such an item but as a fellow “projects” denizen this is a young man that I would not give the air to out of hand. No way. And if Cathy had asked my counsel I would have said the hell with poverty, go for it. But our fair working- class maiden was betwixt and between on this, and we will leave her that way for a moment.
Why? Oh I “forgot” to tell the other part of the story. Oops, sorry. Seems our Cathy had another boy, a poor boy, Jimmie, who was “courting” her as well. Not a projects boy but a kid (young man actually since he also had just graduated from Olde Saco High as well) whose father toiled on one of the hard scrabble lobster boats that worked out of the nearby harbor. Poor though. So while our young prince was showing his love with barrels of gifts her poor boy was hard pressed to give her a simple Woolworth’s 5&10 cent store bracelet. This was definitely a “no-brainer.” Order the tuxedos and gowns for the royal wedding now. Robert and Cathy together sound right, right?
But wait just another minute. What if I told you, as was told to me at an earlier time and that I have related elsewhere, that that poor boy, that mad man Jimmie, that cheapo bracelet- giver had shown his love in another way. And suppose I told you that this was the very guy who in that other story I called “bicycle boy” and that he actually swam across a dangerous river channel, against the odds, to be with his “projects” princess. Well, now all bets are off. Throw that ne’er do well, grasping, shallow, callow gilded youth Robert to the sharks in that channel. And his cheap jack Chanel No. 5, 10, 15 or 20 too. Bicycle boy it is. And guess what, although that love was a long time ago and, in the end, nothing came of their love, our “projects” girl, through thick and thin and in honor of that long ago flame, and his deeds, still has that bracelet snuggly wrapped around her wrist. Take that, O.Henry.