This is an excerpt from the unpublished novella Mata’s Story. I imagined what would happen if I could sit down with Otto Kerchner’s sister Mata and have her relate what happened to her and Otto over the years in her own words and from her point of view. I also imagined interviewing Mata last year, when she was 90 years old. Each chapter of the book covers a month of the year and her memories of them. I hope you enjoy this New Years gift to you, and I hope you enjoy it. Happy New Year, one and all!
(Note that the opinions expressed by Mata are strictly hers and not mine. You know. ; ^ ) )
Mata talks about what happened to her in January, 1953:
I always liked New Years. Every year it signals for me as a person, wife, mother, sister and daughter, as it does for so many people, a new beginning, a fresh start, and a chance to begin over again. Now, I’m not one to be much on resolutions—I have certain “projects” I’m always working on through the year, as Otto would tell you if he were giving this interview but he’s not so he loses out on his chance to give you his version of things. And so you’ll get my version. And he does have his version, as we all do, but this is my show, so to speak, so I’ll just continue. You must get tired of my endless babbling on—you’re a very patient man, aren’t you? I can tell—I’ve been around men all my life, and I think I understand them pretty well. I think women understand men better than they understand us—it’s just how we are, and the good Lord created us like that—different, you know, and we need to honor those differences. I haven’t told you this, but my granddaughter Marion “came out”—is that what they call it?—last year, and that was just fine with me. She said, “Aunt Mata, do you still love me?”
Well, I teared up and hugged her and said, “Of course, you silly goose. You’re still the little girl I first held in my arms so many years ago. You were my Marion then and you’ll always be my Marion forever and ever, amen!” Can you believe there are people who reject their children because they’re different somehow? What fools! Excuse my strong language, Mr. Verner, but I’m sure you have known a few gay fellows and women in your time. Didn’t you say your wife was a church musician? Churches across America would have to shut their doors if there weren’t any young fellows and girls to play the instruments and conduct the music. We wouldn’t want that, now, would we? I thought not. I’m sure you agree with me, and you’re no fool from what I’ve seen so far. You might prove me wrong, but we’ll see.
You’d think the New Years I would remember best would have been one I celebrated with Pete, my first husband. I’ve talked so much about him, I’m sure you’ve gotten tired of hearing about it. But the New Years with him, while special in their own way, are not among those I treasure the most. I do think of them and of him often, but the New Years that I cherish most was the first I spent with my second husband, Tom Durham. He was the FBI agent who broke Pete’s murder case wide open. We grew close during the investigation, and he later bailed Otto out of some serious trouble in South America a few years later while Betty and I were not speaking to him. So in a sense I owe having my brother around to Tom. But I digress, as usual.
Tom proposed to me in the most romantic way as we went walking in the snow after Christmas Eve services in 1957. When he asked, I was so happy! He got down on one knee and I remember thinking how absolutely gorgeous he looked with the light from the house shining in his eyes. I of course said “Yes” immediately and went to hug him before he got up and we both went sprawling! Betty didn’t say that she saw that (she was watching through binoculars from the house, much to Otto’s chagrin) or she was too polite to mention it. Anyhow, we recovered quickly and spontaneously started dancing right there in the snow. I didn’t feel the cold, and I could have stayed out there forever. We came back in and everyone was so excited and full of congratulations. Christmas was certainly special that year.
I still had a warm glow from that evening when New Years rolled around a week later. Betty and Susan (Tom’s sister) and I had spent the day shopping in St. Paul after Otto flew us down there with Tom as co-pilot. He was taking flight lessons from Otto, and wanted some cross-country experience. We had dinner in a nice restaurant downtown and were home by ten. We played Monopoly with the girls (they were allowed to stay up after midnight for the first time that evening) and rang in the New Year with ginger ale toasts and the singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” I have to tell you, Otto is the worst singer you have ever had the misfortune to hear. Everyone else went to bed shortly afterward, but Tom and I sat up with some coffee and talked about our dreams and plans before the declining fire. We fell asleep and kept each other warm the whole night, awakening only when Betty got up to put coffee on the next morning. Now, nothing happened then, and didn’t until we got married, thank you very much. I’m certainly not that kind of woman. I think you know that. If you don’t, maybe you are dumber than you look, and I shouldn’t be wasting my time talking to you. Remember what I said about proving yourself. You’re still on trial here, mister, and this judge has not rendered her verdict.
So, as you see, this special memory is much like so many of my others. It was a simple evening but one filled with such warmth and affection I will never forget it. I hope you have had such evenings yourself. You must know how rare they are, as are the people are we share them with.