Great to Be Home

WILLIAM EDMAN MASSEE was engaged in editorial work and writing before spending a year in France. He is now editor of the Red Cross Magazine. This is his first appearance in the Atlantic.


MY brother wrote its warning it would happen, and it did. “Nobody cares about your trip — you are just people with enlarged memories,” he said. “Some people won’t even know that you’ve been gone. Forget it.” So we decided we wouldn’t say anything until somebody asked, but we didn’t like it.

After all, we brought back five bottles of Chartreuse for presents, and some gargoyles from Notre Dame, and a glass ball with the Tour Eiffel and snow inside. When you give somebody a present from a foreign land, you’d think that would provoke some questions, even if only “How much?” Curiosity killed a cat, Aunt Harriet used to say, but she never failed to ask me where I’d been, and with whom. People don’t seem to be as interested in things as they used to be.

As the boat was docking, we agreed not to say a word unless requested, and then only something like “It was lots of fun.” It didn’t seem fair to go on with it unless somebody really wanted to know. Anyway, we counted a lot on the Chartreuse, so we weren’t worried, really, just careful.

We had dinner with my cousin the first night, and she told us all about the water trouble up in the country — how the water table was dropping just as she’d always said it would, and the well digger in Croton was going to charge her six dollars a foot, but over in Danbury they had to go through solid rock, and it was only four dollars a foot. Not a word about us, or where we’d been. It was almost as if we’d just got out of jail and she was avoiding the subject so as not to hurt our feelings.

After dinner we presented her with a bottle of Charteuse Verte, and leaned back. I cleared my throat and nodded at Dorothy, smiling. My cousin patted the bottle admiringly. “Oh, I love this stuff. Let’s have some right now.” Then she told us about the applejack she used to get during prohibition. “You can’t get real applejack any more,” she said, and she gave us some recipes for marvelous cocktails made with the applejack you can’t get any more.

The next afternoon we went uptown to a cocktail party — people we hadn’t seen for a year, good friends, who used to want to know what was the matter if a week went by without a phone call. After all, you see cousins quite often, and you get to tell them, sooner or later. But we took along a bottle of Chartreuse, just in case. Jaune, this time.

“It’s 90 proof,” I said, handing our hostess the bottle. “The green is 110 proof, but you always said you liked yellow.” She said, “Down in Puerto Rico you can get rum that’s 125 proof, and some people say it’s 140. What do you know about Fort Sill, Oklahoma?”

I said, “Not much,” and she told us about her Army brother-in-law in Panama, who was going up to Fort Sill and probably ride horses, and then she told us about all the trouble they had packing. Dorothy sat up straight, because we used big fiber sample cases that were too heavy to lift, but our host leaned forward and said, “I don’t know what is going to happen to New York. The traffic is worse, and the Sun folded, and they still haven’t fixed our leaky faucet. Drips twelve times a minute, plonk, plank.” Then somebody else began telling about a faucet that went plink, plonk, and how the two ought to get together, and we went home right after that.

The next day I called up a friend in the magazine business and he said he had just got back from Jamaica and the rum was 140 proof. By this time I had no pride left. “I’ll listen to you telling about Jamaica if you’ll listen to me telling about France,” I said. “Hell,” he said, “I’ve had to write about the lovely Caribbean all week, I only want to know one thing. Do you say ca-rib-ion or cara-bee-un?” I said I said the first, but was probably affected, what with just having got back from France, where they have no viehyssolse. “Everybody knows that,” he said, and hung up.

That afternoon Dorothy went up to the country with some ash trays we bought in Paris, mostly saying things like “Don’t make love on Saturday because you won’t have anything to do on Sunday.” The sayings were in French, but the ash trays were made in Italy, and people who live in the country always need more ash trays.

When I went up Friday night, she told me about Bob, the carpenter, and his wife, Ann, who described how sick she’d been all winter and how their daughter had skipped a year and was taking her pre-med course now. And Dorothy told about Helen and Tib, who raise apples, and explained about their European trip twenty years ago. And then Dorothy told about Dr. Smith, the dentist, who got two thousand rat heads in the mail last year and did research on them all winter, but now he was studying some hamsters, and did she know that if you give rats doses of magnesium they become motherly, and if you cut out magnesium they lose all their mother love, and Russia has lots of magnesium, which is why they want to be the mother of us all, maybe.

And that’s the way it’s gone. We find we’re drinking more than we’re used to, which is not good for us because wine is so much lighter, alcoholically. And smoking more, too. Wine came up once, in a conversation over cocktails, but everybody looked at us and began talking — fast.

I guess we’re just too late on the whole tiling. Anybody want to hear about, helping French girls climb trees in Aix-en-Provence, or the corky bottle at Laperouse? How about the time we had everything but the entree at La Pyramide? Or that little incident about the vitamin pills at Zenna? You’ve switched brands again? What kind are you smoking now?