I had been a widow for three months after my Air Line Executive husband dropped dead of a heart attack at age 52. I was still in the throes of depression. Alternating from manic activity to taking to my bed in tears for days at a time. The insurance money had not been sent yet and I was existing on the good will of the President of the Oakland branch of Bank of America. Candace Banducci was a fellow member of Sequoia Country Club and often a golf partner of my husband. He also served on several of the same charities as my husband and me, so we often socialized together. I had taken the numerous insurance policies to him and made him aware of their existence. He was able to flag my checking account and personally permitted the overdrafts to my account. I was able to continue to write checks for our living expenses. I had five children, the youngest had not turned five years old yet. “Candi” ask me to call him and alert him to any large checks that I might have need to write. Which I gratefully, agreed to do.
It was a warm day and I was still in bed, my eyes swollen from another night of weeping. I only allowed myself a sleeping pill every third night and this had been a sleepless, pill less night.
My grief was over whelming. My emotional pain was so intense it manifested itself physically. The pain was one of fish hooks in my belly and an elephant standing on my chest, crushing the very life and breath from me. I lost all sensation in my left arm for a time and even went to the Doctor and had an EKG test. Fearing I was having my own heart attack. I was in such shock the first weeks that I lost my short term memory and had to carry a note book around to record conversations and events. I could not remember what had taken place two hours prior. My Doctor, years later said I may have suffered a small stroke. I don’t know if that is so. I do know that when one speaks of a “broken heart” it is a very adept description. For I felt that my heart was shattered. The small, sharp splinters cutting into me. At times I felt as though my heart was bleeding and sometimes hemorrhaging uncontrollably. The pain was excruciating. The nights were the worst. I seldom got more than four hours of sleep at a time. As a result my weight dropped and I went from normal to very fragile looking.
My dear friend Shirley Frank would call me every day or so to check on me and see what faze I was in. It altered from hyper activity to not answering the phone and staying in bed in a fetal position, crying until my head ached and my stomach wretched.
When she couldn’t reach me on the telephone she would drive the few blocks from her house to mine to see if I was abed. This day promised to be a very hot day, my bedroom was already becoming uncomfortably warm as she entered my darkened room. She opened the drapes and raised the windows and walked through the dressing room to the bath and filled the tub with water, adding some Sardo Bath Oil. She went to the telephone and dialed the Mira Beau Restaurant. She told John Hamilton; the Maître D’ that she was bringing me in for lunch at one O’clock.
All of this before saying hello to me. She was a real take charge person and hopefully everyone that goes through a terrible grief has a friend like Shirley to help mend the broken person. After my bath I dressed in the clothes she had laid out on my bed and she proceeded to drive me to Artist and Models Beauty Salon on Piedmont Avenue. There she had my regular hairdresser standing by to do my hair and manicurist and make-up girl to do their magic. By the time we had coffee and a Danish, shared a few bits of funny gossip and local news, I was feeling better.
The Mira Beau was a very elegant French Restaurant located on the top floor of the Kaiser Building overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland. My late husband had been President of Global Assc. before going to work for the airline. Global Assc. had their offices on the same floor as the Mira Beau.
Therefore, the restaurant was a very familiar place for me and I kept a house account there for years. John Hamilton had alerted some of the people from Global .. most of whom my husband had hired and worked with for many years, that I was having lunch there. Several of them came by our booth and visited and had drinks with us. Our lunch which started at one o’clock ended at four in the afternoon. A more than tipsy, Shirley and I proceeded across the street to I.Magnin’s exclusive store. We had decided at lunch to buy me a new wardrobe, as all my clothes were hanging on my newly shrunken frame. We proceeded up the to the second floor to the better dresses department. I tried on several out fits and selected a few. We drifted over to the fur dept. and started trying on mink coats. Between giggles and some prompting from Shirley I decided to buy a full length to the floor black ranch mink coat. Being the practical person I was and this being my very first mink coat I decided to have them put two zippers in it. The first one zipped off leaving a lovely street length coat and stole. The second one zipped off leaving a nice jacket. This gave me three coats in one. I was very pleased with my creativeness. Even requesting they embroider my signature in the lining. Then Shirley pointed out that my three coats would all be the same color. With that inebriated reasoning we proceeded to try on White and Brown mink jackets. I could not decide which one I liked best so I said to the delight of the sales woman that I would take both the “Truffle Brown and the Snow Mist” jackets as well as the full length black mink coat.
Then I went to write the check and remembered my promise to Candi Banducci. So I said to the manager of the fur dept. “I am writing this check for the mink coats and clothes but there is no money in the account. But don’t worry, I will place a call to the President of the Bank and he will okay this bum check. Her face fell and the look of astonishment was indescribable, as I reached for the phone and placed my call. I am sure she must have been thinking of calling security next.
I told Candi I was on a shopping spree at I. Magnin’s and had gotten a bit carried away and felt that I should alert him to this check I was writing. I then put the manager on the phone. She gave him the check number and the amount then handed the phone back to me, saying that he wanted to speak with me. He said; “That is quite a spree you are on I hope you are finished for the day. I do have to account to San Francisco for outstanding daily overdrafts and with this check I will be considerably over the normal amount.” I assured him that I was finished for the day. I handed the phone back to the woman and she mumbled, “Thank you, Sir”. Hung up the phone and said with look of disbelief , “He said; Okay”.
The story must have spread through out the store because from that day forward until the store closed many years later, every time I entered I. Magnin’s the sales clerk in the cosmetic dept. which was located nest to the front door would get on the inter store phone and telephone the second floor clerks that; “Mrs. Smalley is in the store”. By the time I got off the elevator there would be three clerks standing at attention ready to serve me. My feeling is they didn’t get many people that purchased three mink coats with a bum check.
Shirley and I walked out into the ninety degree hot sunshine afternoon with the mink jackets casually draped over our shoulders. Leaving the full length black coat behind for the alterations. We giggled all the way back to the Mira Beau arriving in time for cocktail hour.
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