My son Hugo had no wife. Not only that, Hugo Mandle, at forty, had no thought of marrying. Not that there was anything austere or saturnine about Hugo. He made you think, somehow, of a cherubic, jovial monk. It may have been his rosy rotundity, or, perhaps, the way in which his thinning hair vanished altogether at the top of his head, so as to form a tonsure. Hugo Mandle, kindly, generous, shrewd, spoiled his old mother in the way in which women of seventy, whose middle life has been hard, like to be spoiled. First of all, of course, she reigned unchecked over the South Park Avenue flat. She quarrelled wholesomely and regularly with Polish Anna. Alternately she threatened Anna with dismissal and Anna threatened Ma Mandle with impending departure. This had been going on, comfortably, for fifteen years. Ma Mandle held the purse and her son filled it. Hugo paid everything from the rent to the iceman, and this without once making his mother feel a beneficiary. She possessed an infinitesimal income of her own, left her out of the ruins of her dead husband’s money, but this Hugo always waved aside did she essay to pay for her own movie ticket or an ice cream soda. “Now, now! None of that, Ma. Your money’s no good to-night.”
When he returned from a New York business trip he usually brought her two gifts, one practical, the other absurd. She kissed him for the first and scolded him for the second, but it was the absurdity, fashioned of lace, or silk, or fragile stuff, that she pridefully displayed to her friends.
“Look what my son Hugo brought me. I should wear a thing like that in my old days. But it’s beautiful anyway, h’m? He’s got taste, my son Hugo.”
In the cool of the evening you saw them taking a slow and solemn walk together, his hand on her arm. He surprised her with matinee tickets in pairs, telling her to treat one of her friends. On Anna’s absent Thursdays he always offered to take dinner downtown. He brought her pound boxes of candy tied with sly loops and bands of gay satin ribbon which she carefully rolled and tucked away in a drawer. He praised her cooking, and teased her with elephantine playfulness, and told her that she looked like a chicken in that hat. Oh, yes, indeed! Mrs. Mandle was a spoiled old lady.
At half-past one she always prepared to take her nap in the quiet of her neat flat. She would select a plump, after-lunch chocolate from the box in her left-hand bureau drawer, take off her shoes, and settle her old frame in comfort. No noisy grandchildren to disturb her rest. No fault-finding daughter-in-law to bustle her out of the way. The sounds that Anna made, moving about in the kitchen at the far end of the long hall, were the subdued homely swishings and brushings that lulled and soothed rather than irritated. At half-past two she rose, refreshed, dressed herself in her dotted swiss with its rows of val, or in black silk, modish both. She was, in fact, a modish old lady as were her three friends.