Bartlett House by Patricia J. McLean and Duane Poncy ©2004, 2010

Will’s small two-bedroom apartment was located on the third floor of a nineteenth century building in the old section of Portland that lies between the Willamette River on the east and Chinatown on the west, north of the Burnside Bridge and south of the Steel. It was floodplain, or had been before the river was diked and dammed. A small brass plaque declared that originally, his building had contained a carriage house on the street level and professional offices, lawyers, doctors, dentists occupied the upper floors out of the range of high water.
     Most apartments near the river were out of his range, river views being at a premium. But other, taller buildings stood between his and the river, so Will was able to afford this one. It had high ceilings and generous windows, worn wood floors, ancient and temperamental plumbing, and steam heat that was delivered through radiators in each room. He had moved in just before Fall Term, put all the boxes he didn’t feel like dealing with in the spare room, and closed the door. He planned to make it into a home office when the apartment started to feel like home, which hadn’t happened yet.
     His second wife, Barb, had been unfairly reasonable throughout the divorce. Her main concern was that he didn’t become a complete derelict, which she maintained was the natural conclusion to the way his life was turning out. Mainly, she wanted to avoid contact with Will if possible. “I don’t hate you, Will, I just can’t be around you.” She accepted the judge’s decision denying spousal support. She had always earned more than Will anyway. Barb let him have almost anything he wanted from the house, which made none of it seem worth having. He took everything from his office, sweeping books and piles of papers into boxes without sorting through it or attempting to make sense of it. Consequently, it took Will several hours to find the books for Emmy. He started after dinner, at first opening, rifling, sneezing at dust, not getting sidetracked. But then he decided since he was going through the stuff anyway, he might as well organize it. When he finally went to bed, it was after midnight. Flattened boxes leaned against the hallway walls, books were stacked roughly by subject, and there was a garbage bag full of junkmail. He was completely weary and a little happy.
     Stumptown Cafe was a few blocks from Will’s apartment. It was accommodating and too near the soup kitchen to be trendy. So, it got just enough business to stay in business and not enough to ruin it. As long as you could handle the conservative rhetoric the owner, Howard, liked to needle his favorite customers with, it was a good place to find a comfortable level of background noise to make you feel a little less lonely.
     Will had arrived before Emmy and laid claim to a battered wooden booth by the windows, which gave a sweeping view of the southern ramp of the Steel Bridge. He laid the books, along with an old syllabus and reading list on the table, ordered a cup of coffee and stared at his transparency in the window. The window gave a dark and worn image of him. He noted the curling gray hair at his temples. Time for a haircut.
     “Professor.” She slid into the booth across from him. She already had a cup of coffee in her hand. She had come in and ordered without him noticing. I must be half dead, he thought.
     “These them?” Emmy ran her slim hand over the books. She picked them up, one by one, and read off the spines, “Six Months in Moscow, by Louise Bryant, Ten Days that Shook the World, by John Reed.” She looked at Will. “That’s a short one. Let’s see. The Queen of Bohemia. Odd title for a book about a communist. I mean, the reference to monarchy and all that seems out of synch with revolutionary politics. Anyway,” she smiled broadly, “I hope it wasn’t any trouble for you to find them. I really, really appreciate this.”
     “It was no problem, Emmy. Gave me a reason to get my office halfway organized.” He wished he hadn’t laid the books on the table. Too easy for her to just pick them up and walk out after a little polite chitchat.
     “My friend, Lucy, says that John Reed is buried in the Kremlin. Was he killed in the Bolshevik Revolution?”
     “No. He died of typhus a few years later.”
     “Typhus. Is that making a comeback like TB?” she sipped her coffee. “Consumption killed Kafka. How romantic, we could all die like Reed and Kafka.”
     “That’s something to look forward to.”
     Emmy laughed.
     “So what’s this connection with your great-grandmother and these moldy old reds?” Will asked.
     “It was in a letter to her from someone named Edwina. I brought it with me, I thought maybe you’d like to see it.”
     “I’d love to.”
     Emmy reached into her backpack, and pulled out an envelope. Will turned the yellowing paper over in his hand, and examined the ornate calligraphy. “Catherine Elizabeth Bartlett, San Francisco, Calif.” It was from Edwina Phillips, Philadelphia, Penn. Will carefully opened the brittle covering and gently unfolded the delicate piece of history. The letter was dated November 29, 1917. It read:


My dearest Catherine,
     Isn’t it exciting! I still can’t believe it’s all true. Louise and John Reed have gone to cover the events. There’s so much headiness among our friends here. I went to Greenwich Village last week and some of the comrades want to send Louise around the country to rally the masses. Of course, she will go to Portland.
     Catherine, do you remember the days at Louise’s studio on Yamhill St? Those were days to remember. But not more so than these times.
     So, have you had your little revolutionary yet? I’ll bet she will be a handful. Ha Ha! Well, I must go. Don’t forget to write, you naughty girl.
     From the city of brotherly (and sisterly) love,
Your Adoring Friend,
Edwina

     “This is an interesting piece of history, Emmy,” Will was impressed.
“Maybe Catherine Elizabeth Bartlett is in one of those pictures,” Emmy said, indicating the old photos which covered the walls of the coffee shop – a random representation of the evolution of the city from its early days as Stumptown to the Vanport flood following World War II.
     “So, are you one of those genealogy buffs?” Will asked.
     “Those? You mean like someone who buries themselves in social security death indexes, and pores over passenger ship lists? Not yet. I haven’t really gone beyond Catherine Elizabeth. All I know is that the family was wealthy and had something to do with the timber industry. It’s not like I want to join the DAR. I don’t have the discipline to look that far. Wanting to know about Catherine’s life sidetracks me. What she thought about. What was the world like for her? What did she discover, dream of? Who was this Sojourner person she was married to?
     “Sojourner? An unusual name. The only Sojourner I’ve heard of was Sojourner Truth.”
     “Yes, but that was Grandma’s maiden name. Emmaline Sojourner. Grandma didn’t know anything about her father. I don’t know anything about mine, either.” Emmy rose and began examining the pictures on the café walls, as if she were going to find something there that would illuminate the answers to her questions.
     “Actually, that’s not true,” Emmy continued. “I have an obituary for my father. At least, I think he was my father. It was in a box of things my mother left for me. Could have just been a friend.”
     Who were those men who abandoned their daughters, Will wondered. What kind of man just walks away from his child?
     He looked at this slip of a young woman who wore her black hair beneath a dark blue beret and dressed in what appeared to be Salvation Army khakis and a ragged wool sweater. It could have been thirty years ago. He could be in graduate school. That’s how timeless the scene appeared. Her young body, so supple and full of life, drew his eyes to it, caused his heart to murmur.
     Emmy came back to the table. She was finished with her coffee and set the empty cup down without sitting down herself.
     She’s leaving, he thought.
     “I’m giving a lecture at the Oregon Historical Society tomorrow night about the social movements in early Portland. I’ll be touching on your topic of interest. If you’d like, I can get you in free.” Will hoped that it didn’t sound as desperate as he thought it did.
     Emmy picked up the books. “Sure. That sounds like fun.” She made a face.
     Will grinned, relieved. “Great. Meet me at the front door at 6:45.”

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