Thursday, April 14, 2022

Portrait of Miss Emmalee, A 5-Part Serial – Part 3 blog post #545

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Jorge sounds intriguing, doesn’t he? Will he hurt or help in pursuing the solving of the secret behind Miss Emmalee’s slight frown? Perhaps we’ll find out in this installment of the story.



                                                         PORTRAIT OF MISS EMMALEE

Man, I’m having trouble getting this story out. I keep getting side-tracked, but it’s things that you ought to know about me. Like, while I’m definitely gay—lots better than queer, isn’t it—I don’t advertise the fact. Right or wrong, I stay firmly in the closet. That said, there are some things I won’t do to protect my reputation. I have lots of women friends, but not one of them is a lover or a beard. They’re friends—some of them good friends—and acquaintances, but I don’t think any of them harbor the misconception I’m going to up and fall in love with her someday.

That is not the case with Jorge. I don’t believe he’s gay. Bi, maybe, but his eyes go to dancing when a pretty girl comes around. Given his appearance, they all want to mother him, and do so up until the time they find him doing what he does so well. Someday, I’ll lose him to a gal, and I’ll be sad when it happens. But I won’t try to stop it, nor will it endanger his job at the shop. He’s a damned good auto body man. Of course, he’s a damned good lover too, but every man has the right to determine his own future.


With some unaccustomed spare time on my hands, I renewed my interest in Miss Emmalee Vanderport. Like everyone in town, I knew about the Vanderport family from the old Colonel James Wilson Vanderport having a hand at founding our town, although he didn’t favor it with the Vanderport name, something he did with every other thing he touched. We ended up being named Sidney. Not a terribly distinguished name, but okay, I guess. Sidney, Oklahoma had a certain ring to it… at least to me.

Anyway, the old Colonel opened a logging mill alongside a railroad track, and then history took over. We’d grown from simply a sawmill to a lumbering and farming town in our corner of the state. And along the way, the Vanderports had become rich. Filthy rich, my dear old dad used to say with a sneer. He seemed to have a bone to pick with our town’s foremost family but would never say what it was.

When the Colonel died, the town almost came to a full stop with grief. Maybe that’s not a good word. Trepidation may be more apt. What would happen with the demise of Sidney’s rock… Colonel James Nelson Vanderport. Nothing, turned out to be the answer. Elder son Wilson James Vanderport took over the business and the town survived. He didn’t. James Nelson Vanderport died a few years after his father, and Charles Sidney Vanderport, the second son, picked up the yoke and handled things very well.

Charles Sidney? Maybe the old man did name the town after the family. The long and the short of it is, the Vanderports had been around as long as Sidney, Oklahoma had been around, and Miss Emmalee was the torchbearer for the distaff side of the family. And she had done a fine job of it, as well. Of course, plebians like me always wondered why she hadn’t married and raised a houseful of children. My sainted mother had always equated success for females as marrying well and turning out a brood of acceptable tots. Why hadn’t she married? She’d been a beauty up until the day she died two months ago.


My curiosity led me to the town’s newspaper. I’d have said the newspaper’s morgue, except that pretty well described the entirety of our Sidney Weekly Journal. Miz Myrtle Bailey, who’d been reporter, editor, printer, and janitor of the Journal ever since I could recall, didn’t have copies of the newspaper on modern things like computers or even microfiche, but she did have a printed copy of every edition. With nothing to guide me to specific articles, I started wading through them one by one. Some member of the Vanderport family appeared in virtually every paper. Far from being bored, I found myself fascinated at the unfolding saga of this proud family.

The old Colonel had a past. The title had been honestly earned in Havana during the Spanish and American War. He was nearly cashiered when he fought a duel with one of his fellow officers over some young woman, but his foe survived his wound, and the Colonel survived his commission. Of course, he’d married a very proper Boston debutante and settled down to logging in his native Kentucky. What drew him to Oklahoma, I could never discern.

His two sons were drags, so far as being newsworthy was concerned. The only attention they received was as captains of industry—or what served as captains of industry in our little town. They grew up, married, and in turn, ran the mill before dying unspectacular deaths. None of their progeny was interested in carrying on the family business, so when the younger son, Charles Sidney died about eight years ago, a national corporation acquired the large mill and the remaining Vanderpark kin took the money and ran. All except Miss Emmalee. She stayed on and carried the family name forward in little Sidney.

She was a staple in the Journal, especially after the remainder of the family vamoosed. The articles about her sponsoring this charity or opening this ball—balls in Sidney, Oklahoma? More likely dances—or donating to that cause. That kind of thing. Nonetheless, I began to see her as a woman in her own right. I found something admirable about the gentle way she gave time and money to shaping and molding the young people in our town. Heck, I’d been the beneficiary of some of that largess without realizing it until I saw photos of Mom and myself with her at some camp for youth she’d sponsored. I also learned I’d gained my interest and expertise at the shop she’d built for the local school.

Then she disappeared from the paper’s pages. When questioned, Miz Baily said she’d taken a world cruise. Roamed all over the world for almost a year and a half. Skipping a bunch of issues, I located Miss Emmalee’s triumphant return to the place of her birth. The faded photographs in the paper’s yellowing copies seemed to show an older, more mature woman. But it was undoubtedly Miss Emmalee waving to the photographer or in deep discussion with a town dignitary or two.


My searches at the Journal did nothing but fan the flames of my developing obsession with Miss Emmalee. Some of the facts I’d uncovered stirred up memories. Connections, I guess you’d say. The Vanderports had played a bigger role in our family history than I’d realized. Some of the old photos kicked off vague memories of Miss Emmalee visiting our home. Chatting with Mom or bringing little presents. Always with mom, not when Dad was home. I could vaguely remember sitting on her lap a time or two when I was just a little kid.

A thought hit me in the head so hard, I about fell off my chair. Visiting with Mom. Never with Dad. My thoughts slid to Jorge. It couldn’t be. My mom and Miss Emmalee? Was it possible? But if so, and my dad knew, it explained a lot about his reaction when I confessed to being gay. That thought set me back on my haunches. Did they even have lesbians back in those days? I laughed aloud at my stupidity. Of course, they did. Human beings were human beings even back then with all their strengths and faults firmly in place. Jeez!


I don’t think this is going the way Richie thought it would. Has he discovered a liaison between his mother and Miss Emmalee? It would explain his father’s attitude, wouldn’t it? And maybe lend a little credence to Richie’s own leanings.

 Until next week.

 Stay safe and stay strong.

 Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say… so say it!

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 See you next Thursday.



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