The Final Enlightenment Of Mrs. Yates
By John Porcelli
My last two years at Yale were spent happily ensconced in the 2nd floor back bedroom rented to me by my highly eccentric landlady, Mrs. Yates. I had a girlfriend Farida who came up on weekends from Sweetbriar, whom Mrs. Yates accommodated with the small front room at the other end of the hall. We had developed a ritual. When Farida and I came back from wherever we had been on Saturday night, usually about midnight or 1 am, we made sure to make sufficient noise entering the house and pounding up the stairs to let Mrs. Y know we were there. Then Farida entered her room, and I mine. And waited. Some 5 minutes or so later Mrs. Y, also making sure she was making enough noise to let us know she was coming, came up the stairs and knocked on Farida’s door.—“Oh, my dear, did I remember to leave you fresh pillowslips?” Or some such thing. Farida would feign a sleepy response, “Yes, thank you Mrs. Yates,” while I would then make an appearance at the other end of the hallway, “Oh, it’s you, Mrs. Yates.” After Mrs. Yates retreated down the stairs, Farida would then of course slip quietly down the hall to my room. Thus honoring, at least in appearance, the Mrs. Yates Anti-Cohabitation Ordinance.
As I said, those were happy times. Filled in part with the legends and stories of other Yates house residents through the years. One of my favorites was about the midnight marauder. Kitty-corner to our house was another residence, in which an attractive female grad student had moved into a garden apartment. Someone was stalking her and would slip into our backyard to a vantage point from which he could watch the grad student. Mrs. Y was outraged. She tried calling the police, but they always arrived too late, or too noisily, and the marauder would slip away. So, Mrs. Y came up with her own solution. In the backyard where the stalker normally positioned himself, she dug up and built a pit, filling it with mud and water, interlaced at the top with cords on which she replaced the sod. She then alerted the police ahead of her intention to catch the marauder that night. And settled in by her phone to wait.
Sure enough, about 11 he slipped into the back yard. Mrs. Y made the call, but as she was trying to explain the situation, she was interrupted by a ruckus at her front door. Yelling into the phone for the police to come NOW, she then went to and opened the front door and found two men there arguing, one of them naked. Seeing her appear, the other man tried to calm her down: “Don’t mind him, ma’am, he’s drunk.”
“Well, I should hope so!” Mrs. Yates shrilled. At this point a policeman appeared, but instead of asking him to arrest the naked man at the front, Mrs. Y began trying to explain that she needed him in the backyard, where the marauder was. Shouting encouragement, “Constable! constable! do mind the law!”, Mrs Yates sent the cop into the backyard where, however, hearing all the shouting, the marauder had made his getaway without falling into the pit. But the policeman, chasing after him, tumbled in. While the two men at the front of the house also took their absence.
Now this story was before my time, but I know it is true because two long-time residents of the house told it to me, and they were there. At least, I think I remember they told me they were. And it so fits in with all the other stories.
I should mention again that the Yates household, adjacent campus, sat between Skull and Bones, where the Bushes and the Harrimans and others of their ilk plotted the overthrow of governments and the Cabal, or New World Order. While on the other side of the house, particularly pertinent to this tale, sat the residence of the Episcopal Ministry, the church to which Mrs. Yates belonged and where her two ministers lived. And, of course I could repeat the brief tale of the Night of the Aluminum ladder when, during a rainstorm Mrs. Yates, fearful that the aluminum might rust, had climbed the ladder at 5 am from the base of her house to the 2nd floor bathroom window of the ministers’ home as one of them, preparing for matins, had just emerged from the shower. That might also have particular relevance to the continuing story.
In any case, after leaving New Haven, I had moved on to Chicago where I had joined The Revolution. Three years later I received notice from my old housemates that Mrs. Yates was failing. She was no longer living at the house, but in a residence for the elderly. If I ever wanted to see her again, I should come soon.
I caught an Amtrak to New Haven, and a cab to her residence. Entering the communal bedroom which Mrs. Y now shared with seven other LOL’s (little-old-ladies), I quickly picked her out and went to her bedside: “Hi, Mrs. Yates, it’s John, I came to visit.”—She looked at me briefly, then turned her head away.
I tried again: “You know, John who used to live with you.” I was wondering if her memory had begun to go. She turned back toward me: “YOU - are NOT - JOHN! John did NOT have a beard!” Taken aback, I tried to clear my throat, preparatory to trying to explain when I might have grown a beard, but before I could get anything out, she continued: “And if you ARE JOHN, I do not approve of your attempts to dig a tunnel under the city and blowup Mayor Daley!” - Uh, well, no, that was not exactly what I had been trying to do in Chicago, but, um, — she pushed herself halfway up — “There is only one thing I can say to you! Go see Mr. Pitt!”
Who was Mr. Pitt? Maybe, William Pitt the Elder? I really didn’t know much British history. I made one or two more attempts to communicate, but Mrs. Y remained obdurately turned away.
Finally giving up, I turned and headed toward the door, then turned back as out of the corner of my eye I observed Mrs. Y push herself up into an almost fully erect position in her bed. Then her words rang out up and down the ward: “IT WAS A SEX CRIME, WASN’T IT!!!”
Well, existence is a sex crime, isn’t it? I returned to Chicago. Some months later my New Haven friends shared their stories of Mrs. Yates’ final days. One of them had been with her when one of the two Episcopal Ministers, had come to visit. He had not been able to say much before Mrs. Y started talking. She thanked him profusely for a situation in which he had counseled her. He tried to interrupt by telling her it had not been him on that occasion, but she swept on past his weak protests. And went on and on to one occasion after another, attributing to him a plethora of virtues and a series of stories of his benevolent intercessions in her life. Finally, she drew to a close: “But most of all—I need to thank you—for being nothing at all—like that AWFUL Father Frank.”—Of course, it was Father Frank she’d been talking to.
It wasn’t just me and Father Frank. With all of her visitors, Mrs. Y had discharged her grievances. My friend told me that two weeks before her end, she had stopped talking and spent her time humming scales: “la-la-la-La-LA-LA-LAH-LAH-La-la.” But in the last few days she had lain in bed, eyes closed, her mouth half open: “ommm mm mmmmm—“. Before her death, Mrs. Yates had achieved enlightenment.
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