Sissy Day stood at the microphone under the arbor of Dot Backson’s home on Rosemary Beach. The sprawling Key West style two story had been selected by the Florida Grey Gardens Society of Women for its first annual conference “In Defense of Freedom: An Examination of the Lives of Big and Little Edie Bouvier Beale.” On this late Friday afternoon in September, Sissy was waiting for the conference attendees to settle, to get their drinks and snacks and find a chair. She was opening the conferences bedecked in a white floppy sunhat, the style worn by Big Edie when she sits on her bed in the disintegrating home in East Hampton and sings “Tea for two” in the documentary film Grey Gardens. She also wore the 1940s style swimsuit Big and Little Edie both wore when they sunbathed on their porch. And she wore a kaftan tied around her waist in homage to Little Edie’s fashion flair and the Grey Gardens’ fashion principal that clothes designed for an intended purpose are not functionally confined to the original purpose.
Mimi Carroll looked on approvingly at the costume. She had also chosen to start the conference wearing something very much of the sensibility of Little Edie, especially, and found it a relief since losing her hair with cancer treatment, she could don a teal linen swath of fabric on her head, the tail of it going down her back like a ponytail with a matching strand of yarn tied at the nape of her neck. She had been told by the others upon their arrival that it set off her brown eyes. A long articulated gold earring pierced through the fabric just over her right ear moved in flowing, serpentine motion and flashing in the light of the setting sun. She wore the big round glasses Little Eddie wore when she sunbathed.
Jules Carpenter, Mimi Carroll’s assistant, was a little less impressed with the women adorned like street people when they were so much wealthier than she was. “White people,” she thought, as she took note of shirts worn as skirts and pinned with costume jewelry pins, white block heels with bathing suits, head costumes that could have passed as religious head coverings and yet there was no religious reason for them and except for Mimi, they were not a cover for baldness. She was given to understand that all of these fashion quirks and more on display before her were a part of the sensibility of Jackie Onassis’ aunt and cousin who became destitute after Phelan Beale, husband of Big Edie, father of Little Edie, abandoned the house and the women. Even the film subject seemed very white: How a mother and daughter became poor and destitute and crazy. It was a little more than that, though. This pair had rich relatives. So maybe it was a commentary on how these two could have stooped to this level when their family was so rich and famous. It was hard to figure. Yet the women at the conference seemed to embrace the poor, crazy pair. Jules was going to try to sneak out to pick up her whiskey at a liquor store she spied in town. Note to self, she said to herself.
The only person the first speaker Sissy Day knew from her small home town was Grace Alan. The meeting had been arranged through social media and most of the ladies in attendance were from Orlando. “Whore,” thought Grace Alan of Sissy, watching her tap the mic under the arbor of sea grapes, trying to get everyone’s attention. She hated her guts. Sissy had slept with her best friend’s husband. Nothing had come of it, but Grace’s friend had cried when she found hints of the affair and Sissy’s late night texts. But Grace loved Grey Gardens too, and she had once loved Sissy as a best friend can love. And she had been in Sissy’s Bible study, but certainly that was over. People found out. But probably most people here didn’t know about her, guessed Grace, probably no one does. We’ll see what happens she said to herself, maybe something will have to be made of it here, and she adjusted the pin that held the fabric of the sweater she had made into a skirt.
Within a short walking distance of the thirty ladies or so that gathered on the veranda and front lawn of Dot’s Rosemary Beach home breathed mother ocean, the tides advancing in maternal interest and care and receding with the aloofness of maternal unfeelingness and self centered old age. Advancing to love and caress the shore, receding to let the shore dry in the sun abandoned and malnourished. Big Edie had used her maternal power to keep Little Edie dependent and Little Edie gave up her dreams of pursuing Broadway. That is, at least, one version, the gravitational pull version, the force of the moon mother on the tides of behavior version.
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