During January of 1925, I watched Mim bloom again. Soon after she lit Ephraim’s birthday candle, she returned to work at Double-J Printers. Both children were in school by then, and now she was freer to pursue her typography.
It was a double victory for women that January, too, with Nellie Ross and Ma Ferguson taking office. Mim was well enough to rejoice. Nellie Ross became the first woman governor in the United States after her husband, who’d been the governor, suddenly died. Maher real name was Miriam Amandabecame the first woman governor of Texas. Her husband was also a former governor, and politically dead. He’d been convicted of some crime, I don’t remember what, and wasn’t allowed to hold state office. Well, we women had to start somewhere.
Frankly, I was never as excited about women in politics as Mim was. I remember 1925 as the year Harold Ross and Jane Grant started their new magazine. The New Yorker. It was delightfully sophisticated. I’d never have left Mim to live on the East Coast, so The New Yorker brought the “big apple” to me. Did you know we called it the “big apple” even then?
I did leave Mim for Paris that spring, though. She refused to come, saying she wasn’t well enough.
“Your parents would be thrilled to see you,” I told her.
“I’d rather just correspond,” she said, which I thought was honest of her. “They have their own life to live, Florrie.”
Apparently Kenton had his own life to live, too. Paris is for lovers, they say, and so I asked him to join me there. Our relationship was fraying at the edges by then. Kenton made up some excuse and declined. That man was becoming impossible.
Still, Paris was glorious. The city was hosting the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. That’s how we got the name “Art Deco.” Oh, it was grand! Everyone who was anyone in the modern art world was there. Thousands of visitors came for months and months. At night they lit up the Eiffel Tower. This was much bigger that the exposition we had in San Francisco in 1915, and it was all about art.
I was in seventh heaven until I saw Mim’s parents. Mim had written to her mother that I was coming. (This was just before transatlantic telephone calls.) Lillian and Julius lived on a tiny street off rue Saint-Honoré near the Tuileries Gardens. They had a third-floor apartment with a lot of charm and not enough heat.
Lillian looked fabulous. She had a stylish bob and wore an elegant drop-waist dress that barely covered her knees. Paris had treated her well.
Julius looked horrid. When he looked up from his chair, I nearly cried. There before me sat an emaciated old man with sallow skin and bloodied handkerchief. I knew without an instant’s hesitation: consumption. These days, you’d call it tuberculosis.
We shared a glass of sherry and talked about the exposition. Julius seemed concerned that Hitler was gaining power, and he told me that Ephraim was right to worry that Germany would go to war again. “I won’t live to see it,” he whispered, after a coughing fit. “I tell Lillian to go home but she will not listen.”
Lillian had no intention of returning to the States. She told me so later as we strolled through the Tuileries. “I’m happier than I’ve every been,” she said. “Julius enjoyed his first years in Paris, too. It was the right move for us.”
“Why didn’t you tell Mim how ill he is? She would have come with me.”
Lillian shook her head. “Julius doesn’t want her to see him this way. Stubborn man. I have to respect his wishes, Florrie.”
And Mim’s wishes? I’ll be frank. As much as Lillian loved her daughter, she had always favored her son Danny, and she was devoted to her husband.
I was back in Berkeley by July 11, Mim’s birthday. Mim looked less skeletal and seemed more like her old self. Over cakewith candlesshe told me about John Scopes and his trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution, which was against the law in his state. Tennessee, I think. Mim also said that at the end of June an earthquake had damaged much of Santa Barbara.
There was not the trace of anxiety in Mim’s voice when she told me about the quake, which gave me the courage to tell her what I knew she’d want to know. I waited until the day after her birthday, when we were alone. Then I said as gently as I could: “Your father has consumption, my dear. He’s dying.”