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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.
          Jump forward 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  When Prohibition was repealed, my grandfather was able to obtain a license for a liquor store, but in a different neighborhood from the pawn shop.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.
           It was 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 in town.
         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