Would you like to hear a funny story? That picture in the middle above was taken on the Grand Staircase of the Grand Hotel in Taipei, Taiwan, on a festive evening in 1976 when our little party of travelers attended a very posh party at the hotel. We had been invited on short notice by an artist friend of mine to a gala attended by Nationalist China's most elite. Maude fretted that she had nothing to wear. We scouted the hotel boutique and came up with samsong dresses by the score, but none of them struck her as right. I mentioned that traditional Chinese costume for ladies often looked more like pajamas than a dress. "Aha!" she cried. "I have it!" Thus it was that she appeared on the Grand Staircase that night in the negligee and nightgown you see above, which she had bought at I. Magnin's, an upscale department store in San Francisco. We went in to hobnob with the rich and powerful of Taiwan. One woman in particular was most attentive to Maude. She was an elegant beauty herself, fabulously gowned and bejeweled. Halfway through the evening, my artist friend came to me and asked in a conspiratorial tone, "The lady would give anything to know where Maude got that exquisite dress!" Suppressing a giggle, I whispered, "That's a little number she picked up at Balenciaga's when we were in Paris last year." I could hear the artist suck in his breath with admiration for Maude's taste and style. "Who is the lady, by the way?" I asked in return. As the artist scurried away to transmit my answer, he tossed over his shoulder the words: "A cousin of Madame Chiang Kai Shek's, and one of the richest women in Taiwan!" A couple of years later in Honolulu, Maude bought the stylish muumuu you see in the picture above on the right and wore it to a luau. Looking around at all the ladies clad in similar loose-fitting, long gowns, she made a remark that sent us all into gales of laughter: "I think that Chinese woman stole my idea and opened up a string of nightie shops in Waikiki! I should get paid!"
At school in Switzerland in 1913-1914
Maude was the first person ever to use a telephone from a moving train, an honor bestowed upon her in Europe by its inventor, family friend and great visionary Dr. Lee De Forest, whose cathode ray tube made television possible. When he told her that someday images would be transmitted from a great distance to a box in her living room where she would see them as moving pictures, perhaps with color and sound, she laughed, "Doctor, you are a most distinguished scientist, but, really, you are quite mad!"
Piazza di San Marco, Venice, 1914
Maude and I were close friends and nearly constant companions for twenty years through thick and thin (my thick and her thin). She was the daughter of a fashionable New Yorker and a brilliant Viennese émigré who established himself in the cosmetics and wig industry and owned a chain of beauty schools across the country, many of which are still in business although he sold out some years before his death. Maude adored him. I remember one evening over dinner together at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, tears began to trickle down her cheeks for no apparent reason. She made no response to my worried questions as to why until, a few minutes later, she daubed at her eyes with a hankie and said: "Today is the anniversary of my father's passing. Fifty years is a long time not to see someone you love." She herself has been gone for little more than a decade, but in thinking of her now, I both feel and understand the sentiment prompting her words.
Another time, at her apartment on Nob Hill in San Francisco, I watched her rummage through a drawer in search of something when she ran across what she termed her "most treasured possession," the elegant, surprisingly small, handsewn gray kid gloves her father had worn when he married her mother. Maude and I traveled in Europe, Asia and South America together, always with a small group of friends as she went to great lengths to preserve her dignity and to avoid any appearance of impious behavior. She considered it a sacred duty to her connection with the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts. Nor was she hypocritical in this. She lived close to the tenets of her religious beliefs. Her attitudes and church testimonials presented such a model of piety and purity, belying what people perceived primarily as a worldly, immaculately groomed woman, that she made enemies unawares in her church associations. She understood and worked daily with metaphysical principles against envy and jealousy. Her relationship with me came under close scrutiny in 1968 because we were seen so much together. Secret, damning letters were written about her to church headquarters in Boston. I offered to withdraw from the scene. She wouldn't hear of it. The church, aware of her great success in the healing work, took note and advised her to "pray" even more assiduously to protect herself from the "malicious animal magnetism" that sought to destroy her. She went through the whole fray with equanimity and poise and, once cleared, sought no revenge upon the known culprits, but, rather, devastated them with charm and generous invitations to lunch - with me at her side. We weathered a few storms, my friend Maude and I. She was responsible for so much good that came my way I shall never be able to recount it all. She was the most perceptive metaphysician I ever encountered in my peregrinations around the world. I met her when I picked her name at random from a Christian Science Journal on an evening in late 1966 when a tiny kitten named Percy lay dying in my lap. The other two cats in the household had already died of distemper. The party who gave them to me had told me falsely that they all had their distemper shots. There lay sweet Percy, crying to me to save his precious life. The vet wanted to "put him away." I called Maude, and she talked it over with me for two hours. By the time I hung up the phone, Percy was romping with the dachshunds. He was well. I realized I had found in Maude a great treasure. And so, we began. Although a Christian Science practitioner devoted to her large practice, she was never overbearing or a zealot and remained proud that she was "of Jewish extraction," as she so exquisitely phrased it. Maude was beautiful and kind and could converse intelligently on a wide variety of subjects in English, French and German. She was the epitome of glamour and good taste, but she could call a spade a spade. Once, when I spoke of the seemingly perfect match of a husband and wife, she offered, in vaudevillian Jewish-immigrant Newyorkese: "Vaht makes you so sure, Cholly? Vahss you sleepin' unda duh bed? Even it looks good, mebbe it ain't!" A woman of flawless diction and New York society drawl, she often turned comical to make a point. In that instance, she happened to know privately that the "happy" couple was headed for divorce due to incompatibility. Of course, she did not reveal their secret, even to me. A woman of profound integrity, Maude was, perhaps, the most trustworthy and honest person I have known. She was also a lot of fun. I never knew her to snub anyone. She was as comfortable with a taxi driver in Brasilia as she was with a princess in the show rooms at Christian Dior's in Paris. I saw her in action with both. She and her daughter were my companions on a jaunt to Mexico City in 1974, a story told as a vignette in the Fourth of July section of "The Aztec Gypsy and Other Holiday Tales" on my Web site www.pisgahweb.net/brox/. Maude's only offspring (shown below between her daughter-in-law and son, circa 1978) is an immensely successful businessperson with a distinctive presence much different from her mother's, but equal to Maude's in grace and style. She, too, is blessed with an independent spirit which has served her well in carving a fulfilling life. Maude's grandson, her daughter's only child, carries much of Maude within him and had the good luck and good sense to marry a ravishingly pretty girl with a firm grip on reality. A talented musician, he has structured his life in an academic environment where his kind nature and solid character must surely exert a benevolent influence on those in his sphere. Were I to be asked what is the most meaningful of the legacies Maude has left behind, I would have to say it can be found in the faces of her two great-grandchildren, shown here as they looked in 1990. I am told that both manifest her intelligence and many elements of her even disposition. Beyond their physical handsomeness and beauty, look at the joie de vivre lighting their eyes! That was my Maude. How proud she would be of them, as I hope they are that their bloodline of descent includes a woman as extraordinary as she.
I introduced Maude to Mark Fleischer and his mother, Dorothy, at the Jack Tar Hotel (now the Cathedral Hill Hotel) when they came for a visit to San Francisco in 1968. Despite Mark's confinement to a wheelchair, they traveled extensively. I had met them when I lived in Mexico, and they had later visited me in Fort Worth, Texas, and in Paris. Mark had contracted polio at the age of 18 while a Marine in South Korea during the Korean Conflict. Falling ill on the battlefield, he disappeared in a mass of wartime confusion and red tape. His frantic mother, misinformed of his death by military authorities, never gave up hope that he was still alive. Her search for him and the extraordinary circumstances under which she found him, literally buried alive in an iron lung in a backwater military hospital in Japan, are high drama which I hope to write someday. Mark and Dorothy figure in a vignette which appears in "The Aztec Gypsy and Other Holiday Tales" at the beginning of the Easter section.
© 2000 Brockman Morris