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Closing the Whorehouse
In the fall of 2000, my
wife and I happened to attend a local theater group's performance of
"The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas". You may recall that the first
act ends with a raid on a house of ill repute, and the second act contains
an oddly sentimental scene in which the sheriff calls on his friend of
many years, the madam, to tell her she'll have to close the house.
As we left the theater,
I commented to my wife that while many plays with absurd situations left
me feeling old and jaded - surprisingly often I'd been in those absurd
situations - this author had topped me: I had never been caught in a raid
on a whorehouse. My wife said, "Oh, I figured this show was really
old hat to you, that one of your family stories was more outlandish."
"Huh?", I said. "Well," she said, "surely you recall telling of the
time the Chief of Police called on your mother with an official court order
ordering her to close her whorehouse."
"Yes," I admitted. "And you recall," my wife
continued, "that when the Chief arrived to serve the papers, he discovered
that he walked right into the middle of a Girl Scout meeting."
Yes, I did recall. And in a way, the story does bear out one idea of the
Broadway musical –that, left to their own devices, small town
police are sometimes a little more delicate in their touch than those in
a big city.
When my mother was a child in Boston,
her parents, like many immigrants, had a succession of small businesses,
some successful and some not. During most of her childhood, they
had a small pawn shop. During the depression, in fact, the pawn shop
did rather well, and they bought the small building in which it was located.
In a practice common among that immigrant generation, my grandfather carefully
divided his assets so that if the business failed, the family would not
lose everything. He recorded title to the building in his young daughter's
name. Without, of course, telling her.
to 1935. When Prohibition was repealed, my grandfather was able to
obtain a license for a liquor store, but in a different neighborhood from
the pawn shop. He sold the pawnshop business, but kept ownership of the
old building and rented it to the new shopkeeper.
Forward a few more
years. My mother graduated from college, married my father, and they set
up housekeeping in the small New England town of Salem, Massachusetts,
where my newly graduated father set out to establish his law practice.
And my mother set out joining all the organizations that a young lawyer's
wife ought to join, to get to know people who might bring him business.
Since she'd been a summer camp counselor for a few years in college, she
soon found herself being a leader in the Girl Scouts.
The Girl Scout governing
board included many of the most respectable ladies in Salem. It met each
month in one of their usually large and elegant homes, but eventually it
became the turn of the new young member to host their monthly meeting in
her rather tiny newlywed apartment. Unfortunately, this happened during
the month that the Boston Police discovered that the building that had
once been her parent's pawnshop was now being operated as a whorehouse,
and the appropriate summons and legal papers had to be served on the owner
of record - my mother.
a small enough town that people knew each other. The papers had to be served,
but the police chief was prepared to be polite about it. He knocked on
the door, my mother answered, and he said, "Mrs. Ordman, I
have some papers for you. May I step in?" "Yes," she said, "but...".
He stepped in and suddenly realized he was right in the middle of
a tiny living room crowded with several of the most respectable older women
Luckily, he recovered
well. "Oh, I'm sorry, ladies. I have some, er, papers for Mrs., er,
um, Mrs. Ordman ‘s husband, the lawyer, and thought I could
leave them here. Mrs. Ordman, I have to give you these papers. I, well,
really, you don't have to look at them, especially not while you're busy.
I suggest you just put them aside and give them to your husband when he
gets home, he'll know what to do with them."
My mother was by no
means the only one of my relatives of her generation to get caught in this
kind of situation. But more stories can wait for another day.
(C) Edward Ordman 2000