Today I tried walking as a means of getting to the supermarket and found out how soothing it can be. On the way home, right before the dry cleaner on Newtown Lane, I vividly remembered Corine Griffith, the best friend I’ve ever had on this earth. Corine worked as a domestic in the household of my Uncle Charlie where I was lucky to spend much of my childhood. Uncle Charlie wasn’t especially rich but he had a cosmopolitan mindset and lived large. (Later in life he traveled with King Saud as the royal taster).
During Corine’s time, the staff included a caretaker and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Vitezy (he looked exactly like Albert Einstein), a baby nurse and Corine who did housework, washing and ironing. We were living on Bradley Blvd near the Chevy Chase, Md. border in a big house with two living rooms, a carriage house in back, a garage with an apartment over it, a lily pond and a covered pavilion with an outdoor phone jack that at the time was a big deal. The other big deal was a false panel in one of the halls that hid a safe.
Powder laundry starch was popular in those days and Corine would pop clumps of it in her mouth as she ironed. It would make her thirsty. “Go on down to the store and get me a grape soda,” she would say. I did it. Corine was from Little Rock. She was barely out of her teens, thin and wiry and had troubled wooly hair that was seldom combed. One day she told me that her aunt had taken her to a doctor who wanted to remove her uterus so she wouldn’t get pregnant. She fled to Washington, D.C. to her friends Fanny and Flento and never looked back.
Her big mission was to give me a big shove and move me along in life. She instructed her boyfriend, Tootsie, to tell his boss, a purveyor of meats and poultry, to invite me to a party. Even though I looked smashing for my date, Tootsie’s boss knew I was underage and took me home early.
Corine was confident that she knew the ways of the world and our family was both crazy and ignorant. Her signature phrase was I ain’t studyin’ you,” which meant that even though you were her boss and paid her a salary and housed her, she was not about to compromise one iota of her personality or behavior to please you. If I got bratty, she would say, “I ain’t studyin’ your Uncle Charlie, I ain’t studyin’ your Aunt Gloria and I sure ain’t studyin’ you.” The thing she said that I liked best was: “I ain’t studyin’ that crazy Tootsie. He’ll be drivin’ that ole chicken truck when you and me is in New York, gurl, having ourselves a time.”
I ended up in New York but without Corine. Corine’s life became complicated. Aunt Gloria told me she had come home one day and found Corine giving birth on the kitchen floor. They hadn’t even known she was pregnant. A quick trip to the hospital and mother and baby were fine.
I’ve looked and looked but I can’t find Corine. I love you Corine wherever you are. You would like the way I turned out.