ATWELL: Minnie Undrowned Again


Minnie Undrowned Again

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lived in Cooperstown, now resides at Woodside Hall.

Grandma hung up the telephone. “Mrs. Halpine from down the street. She’s forwarding a message from your Grandpa and Uncle Tom.”

“They’re standing on the pier with boat hooks snagged in Minnie Frederick’s coat collar, holding her head above water. She’s screeching protests.”

Grandma gave a snort. “I’d say, let her sink! Minnie puts on this show every November. Well, let’s see how she does without an audience!”

That’s a long time ago. I’m 82 now, and was maybe 14 that particular year. I say “maybe” because Minnie raised that same ruckus every year, for about 10 years running. Her costume and script never changed.

Minnie was always dressed in an ankle-length mink coat and battered cloche hat, both from the Salvation Army. And, except for galoshes, that was all that Minnie wore.

I mean that inside the mink coat, the two-hundred pound Minnie was naked – starkers.

During some day each November, Minnie carefully plopped her galoshes down her family’s concrete front steps and set her regular course: across the intersection with the top of our street, Taney Avenue.

Only a block long, Taney sloped down past a dozen houses, among them #11, my grandparent’s house, and just below it and built on the same lot, ours.

Taney ended with a low concrete wall breached at one spot by an entry onto a sturdy 60-foot wooden pier.

To that pier were tied a half-dozen of one-lungers oyster boats, so called because each was weakly powered by a single-cylinder engine that shoved the boat along with consumptive coughs and starts.

Pride of the dockage, however, was Grandpa’s cabin cruiser, built in our back yard across several years and finished out with handsome brass portholes, mahogany bunks, and even a pump basin and flush toilet.

The cabin cruiser, 32-feet long, rode high along one side of the wooden pier, dominating the small flotilla.

But never mind the cabin cruiser. The mink-clad Minnie who had clopped down the sloping street and onto the dock had come there solemnly bent on a single goal: her own suicide.

Please, don’t ask me why. I have no answer now, any more than I did scores of years ago. But I can put your mind at ease a bit. Despite years of repeated attempts, Minnie has yet to succeed in offing herself. In fact. I wonder if she really means to do it.

Just maybe, the excitement for Minnie is in the attempt! And in being thwarted, yet again! And then planning ahead to next November!

All right, I’ll admit I’m fascinated by Minnie, this caliban, this leviathan! And I’ll be writing more about her.

But not just now. But stick around.

3 thoughts on “ATWELL: Minnie Undrowned Again

  1. Dee Sheets Mayfield

    Lovely to read your writing again, my friend Jim. We knew each other way back when at Anne Arindel Community College… and you were my Mom, Bertie Sears’ friend as well. I often think of you and your wife in NY.

  2. Thomas Ryan

    My dear, old friend, Jim; my mentor in many ways, in manners of music, yoga, spiritual thinking, (more, searching), and literature. I am Tom Ryan, with a few hats bearing a number of monikers, the more enduring of which is, simply Tom Ryan. (However, I graciously allow that you may remember one of my less-memorable, but perhaps “catchy” aliases as Roy Boy, from our institutional time together avec Les Freres des Ecoles Chretienne?) But, I digress! I am alive and well, though the insistence of years intruding on my youthful energy, handsome looks, and, may I say, humility, have softened, mellowed and enraged my ego. I would so much like to talk with you!

  3. Eileen Capshaw Tydlacka

    Dear Jim,
    I think about you so often and always with love and gratitude. You were so good to speak at Fred’s memorial, making that long drive to Philly and back in one day. I will never forget the phone call I made to you when I was at such a low point and you knew just what to share so I could go on. And I did. I’ve been happily remarried for 16 years and have 14 grandchildren who are such a joy. I am so happy to see that you are still writing so beautifully. I look forward to hearing more about the adventures of the mink clad leviathan!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Prove you're not a robot: *