Hank Phillippi Ryan: I know there’s love at first sight, if you believe in it and I might.
And you know, there may also be “friend at first sight.” If there is, then it happened when I met Tilia Jacobs at Crimebake—was it last year? We instantly had everything in common. More than I can even describe or retell—but it was quite amazing.
I knew I’d love her writing and I do.
But when I invited her to come visit at the Femmes, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew her new book is just out, WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME—an intelligent, page-turner of an adventure—so I figured it might be about that.
Paris when it Sizzles
by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs
I've never worn this, although I expect it would fit me.
Pale blue blouse, full-length sleeves, cross-hatching pattern of darker stripes in green, brown, and darker blue. The label says, "Saint Clair Paris Made in France 38."
It must have been my mother's; and maybe she got it in the 1950s when she and my dad were crazy in love and living together in sin on the Seine. My parents met at a sidewalk café in Paris. Really. (I cherish a fantasy that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were at the next table.) They fell headoverheels in love and set up housekeeping in a rancid little apartment on the Left Bank.
The flat was dark and cramped, so they and their friends painted it in Frigidaire white. Years later Dad still crowed about how that coat of paint brightened the murky rooms.
The landlady hated them, however, and the feeling was mutual. She was prone to capricious hikes in rent, and they were prone to being broke. This made life difficult. La Landlady appears to have been cast in the Granny De Farge mold. To hear my parents tell it, the only two creatures on Gods’ green earth who could abide her were her two Dachshunds, both of whom had asthma and wheezed in counterpoint as they followed her around on her nefarious errands. Dad always said he loved Paris, hated the Parisians.
To be fair, though, the City of Lights was under stress when my parents lived there; she had been through a lot in her recent past. For Paris, the late fifties was still a time of recovering from the Nazi occupation. But Paris loves couture, and those years might well have been when Mom bought the blouse.
Mom left us too soon. She died when I was a teenager. And I never saw the blouse until after my father died, twenty-two years later. My brother and I were clearing out Dad’s house to sell it, and found great mounds of stuff, silver and jewelry and old, decaying clothes that Dad must have been nutters to keep.
We took turns poking holes through the brittle fabric of parkas that had fit us when we were eleven and fourteen, laughing hysterically. But some of the items were in very good shape and quite wearable, which made us rather piqued at Dad. More than once I pointed out that it would have made sense for him to have given us this stuff so that we could have enjoyed it. Mom’s jewelry. Mom’s dresses and maternity wear. Instead it sat in closets and dressers for over two decades.
More than once my brother pointed out that he agreed with me and that I needn’t clobber him with the obvious.
The blouse is one of the items in fine shape, bearing no stain and trailing no thread. Since it was my mother’s I can’t throw it away and I can’t quite bring myself to wear it. But I expect it has stories in its weave.
"We were all finding ourselves," said Sylvia, one of their friends from that era—indeed, one of the cadre who had helped paint the apartment. Sylvia was visiting from her homeland in Germany, and my husband and I had quickly invited her to our annual Summer Solstice party. (We are not so Jewish that we can't have a big ol' pagan hoedown twice a year when the days and nights grow to their mightiest.)
Now, fifty years after the apartment and the blouse and the watching my parents fall in love, Sylvia was standing in our back yard talking to me and my cousins and my father's sister. They had never met her, and were hanging onto her every word. "That was what the Americans called it: 'Finding yourself.'" I briefly wondered what you did with that person once he or she had been found. Was it a catch-and-release program?
I rather doubt that my mother found herself in Paris. She was not prone to introspection. But she did find my father and they did find love. And the blouse must have looked lovely on her. Did she wear it with slacks for those drizzly Parisian autumns? Or with a high-waisted, swinging skirt, so popular in the fifties? Either way, I expect she gave my dad whiplash as she walked by.
Or Mom might have bought the blouse when she and my dad returned to Paris almost twenty years after their original sojourn. It does have a rather seventies look to it, with collar points a bit larger than is currently fashionable. My brother doesn't remember this trip of our parents’, as he's three and a half years younger than I and was therefore small and blobby at the time; but I do, because it was a Thang.
We did not accompany them. They were away for a week or ten days, and baby sitters were arranged round the clock. When I was a teenager I asked my dad about that trip. "But wasn't it depressing," bear in mind I was a teenager, "seeing how much everything had changed?" Dad smiled, a wistful one that nonetheless held glints of a grin of unexpected joy from decades before. No, he assured me, it was the opposite.
Because when they stood outside their old apartment building, holding hands and sighing, the door opened; and out stepped their poisonous old crone of a landlady, walking the same two asthmatic wiener dogs that had plagued them when they were young and in love and living in Paris. And, perhaps, shopping for pale-blue blouses with cross-hatching stripes of darker colors.
Maybe I should wear it some day.
Tilia Klebenov Jacobs holds a BA from Oberlin College, where she double-majored in Religion and English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Following an interregnum as an outdoor educator with the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia, she earned a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Secondary School Teaching Certification from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Despite lacking the ability to breathe fire except in the strictly metaphorical sense, Tilia has taught middle school, high school, and college. She has also won numerous awards for her fiction and nonfiction writing. She is a judge in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition, and she teaches writing in two prisons in Massachusetts. Tilia lives near Boston with her husband, two children, and two standard poodles.
When Tsara Adelman leaves her husband and two young children for a weekend to visit her estranged uncle, she little dreams he is holding several local children captive on his lavish estate. Mike Westbrook, father of one of the boys, kidnaps her to trade her life for the children’s. Soon Tsara and Mike are fleeing through New Hampshire’s mountain wilderness pursued by two rogue cops with murder on their minds.