Malinda's Table

1946 – 1952

Alice Hofmann had six babies in five years: three boys, Frances and Richard in succession after Malcolm, and twin girls, Ida and Agnes, two years after Richard.
“I’m done,” she told Frances, as she moved her belongings into a spare bedroom of the twenty-six room house he had built for her during her last, disastrous pregnancy. The house was a brick and stucco English Tudor with decorative half timbers exposed on the exterior and interior of the house. It had steeply pitched roofs and parapet gables, with rows and rows of rectangular windows designed to let the sun into the generally dark space of a Tudor. Both the kitchen and the living room had massive stone fireplaces, which were never used, as far as anyone knew. In years to come Malcolm would point to the house as evidence of his English descent, hinting that he was of Queen Victoria’s lineage. No one in the family ever ventured out of America to visit their German or Scottish relatives and neither Alice or Mary had any contact with their father after leaving Scotland. America was their place and they were going to take advantage of everything it had to offer. For Alice, Frances was her ticket to American society. She had given him what he wanted –sons – and now he would have to give her what she wanted.
When World War II ended, Malcolm was almost two. He had outgrown his infant ugliness and had become a cute toddler, with blond curly hair and sandy blue eyes. His only troublesome feature was his pale skin, which led bratty elementary school classmates to call him Casper, after a children’s storybook about a friendly ghost. In his earliest years, Malcolm toddled around the house behind Mrs. Reilly, the first of the many nannies responsible for feeding, diapering, and disciplining him. Always before bedtime, he was brought before his adored but remote mother for inspection. Mary would check his little body for cleanliness and remind him daily of how dangerous germs were. She insisted he stay away from animals of any kind, particularly the dogs and cats that many of their neighbors possessed. As an adult, he avoided shaking hands with anyone for fear a deadly disease would be transplanted to his palms. He disliked all animals and cats especially.
Frances thought Mary’s notions were nutty. “You’ll make a girl out of him,” he said, in the ultimate insult to his wife’s femininity and the two daughters he had no time for.
The second boy in the Hofmann family was named for his father, which immediately made him Frances’ favorite son. Frankie, as he was called, was better looking than Malcolm and therefore attracted more attention, especially from his sisters, twins Ida and Agnes, who liked to decorate Mr. Potato Head with him, his favorite toy. He had a blanket of curls as dark as the black taffy candy his sisters shared with him, and emerald eyes that reminded Alice of her drowned mother, Malvina, a combination destined to make this child a prince in the family. As the boys grew up, Malcolm became chubby and clumsy while Frankie got tall and lean and expert at racing his Schwinn Phantom around the neighborhood, letting go of the handlebars and pedaling wildly to scare the hell out of his mother while making her laugh at the same time.
Richard, the third son, got attention because he was clearly the smartest of the bunch. Shorter than his brothers, with straight brown hair and faded brown eyes, he would not have been memorable if not for a keen memory for facts he absorbed by reading from a set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s that Fred had purchased for the family. When Fred built a factory for manufacturing the windows he needed for his projects, it was Richard who told him about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911. He warned Fred, “A hundred and four young women died that day, Dad, so you better be sure to have fire alarms and an easy way out of that new building.”
“All Jews,” Fred said, disdainfully. “That’s why we have fucking unions, that factory fire.” But he heeded the warning. More because he wanted to be known as a quality builder than a desire to protect his tenants. It was Richard’s math ability that would one day enable the family to avoid paying federal or state taxes after they made millions.
Try as he might, Malcolm could not come up with a strategy that might attract Alice’s attention nor could he instigate any of the love from his sisters that they had for Frankie.
While the birth of Frankie had a troubling effect on Malcolm, it was the appearance of the twins that most influenced his psyche. When he was almost five, and not yet emotionally separating from his mother as kids that age starts to be, Alice left him. She went into labor two months early with the girls but doctors misdiagnosed her back pain as a kidney infection. By the time they realized the births were imminent, Alice was hemorrhaging. An emergency C-section led to a severe abdominal infection, which necessitated more surgeries and a hysterectomy. She was in the hospital for five weeks during which time Malcolm cried every day, calling out “Where’s Mommy?” Frances told his little boy, “Mommy is sick and might not be coming home.” He said, “Stop crying. Be a man.” By the time Alice came home, where she lay ill in her bedroom for another month, Malcolm had stopped crying. The loss of her during this time was a deep wound to his sense of self and he never trusted her or any woman again to be true to him. He became insecurely attached to his mother, upset when she left him, as she eventually did when she returned to her daily routine, but emotionally unresponsive when she returned home at the end of the day, in effect punishing her for betraying him with her absence when she was sick and after she recuperated. This would be the pull and push relationship he would eventually mirror with the three women he would desire, pursue, wed and discard as an adult. While there was no way a young child could understand the events that took his mother from him, he had internalized the experience of love and loss and felt this hole in his soul his entire life. Without a mother to help him identify his feelings and develop empathy as a child he grew into a man who had no control of his emotions and no ability to put himself in another’s place. The insecurity and self-doubt that comes from a sense of mother-loss became the source of his narcissism and the key to his eventual ruin.

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