Bobbie Conklin

by Carmen Mason

When I met Bobbie Conklin she was a petite make-up free austere suit-wearing remarkably plain-looking sixty-year-old from New England. She’d moved with her lifelong partner, Margot Hartnett, from her provincial New England hometown to a rambling apartment on Riverside Drive, joined the NYC Board of Education and become a librarian at Evander Childs High School on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx.

Bobbie sought me out because I was the literary/art editor of Evander’s The Bridge. She ran The Book Explorers’ Club and wanted me to be its president. I was thrilled because my best friend Barbara and I religiously attended Bobbie’s Friday afternoons in the cramped back room of the immense library, its walls wrapped round with J.M. Newell murals inspired by Diego Rivera. There she’d stage scenes or readings from great or little-known literary works for a packed audience not just comprised of nerds. Students of all grades and levels, jocks and social rejects, Arista members, shy freshmen, big shots and hangers-on entered that room, initially to devour her homemade brownies, Ritz crackers thick with peanut butter, both piled high on china plates, and cups of Coca Cola. Yes, dozens of foragers and faithful entered Fridays at three-sharp for the goodies, but none left until dark as Bobbie would quietly and quickly shut the only door right next to her make-shift stage where everyone would see you if you bolted.

She’d invite all to sit and give out the scripts she’d typed up each weekend to the club members – perhaps a group reading of Benet’s John Brown’s Body, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s love and political sonnets, fiery scenes from The Raisin in the Sun, hilarious ones from You Can’t Take It with You, Japanese tankas and haikus. (I will never forget Basho’s haiku: For a lovely bowl/let us arrange these flowers/ since there is no rice.)

Bobbie always gave a short, impassioned introduction to the programs and invited all there to be part of future Friday presentations if they wanted to be. Sooner or later the listeners became hooked by the poetry and prose of great masters presented by kids they’d sat with in class or passed by in the halls, often without recognition or hellos until after that magic Friday afternoon.

For years afterwards Bobbie invited all the past officers and most still local members of the club to a December dinner at her apartment. There, at a twenty-foot-long dining table, she served a scrumptious four course dinner of roast turkey with the unique and finest trimmings one might find at a Julia Child or Martha Stewart repast. But first, as we all settled down in their antique, art and book-filled living room to talk about our high school and college memories, our varied professions, the thrilling theatre and films we’d seen, the countries we’d travelled to, exploits we’d dared, loves and losses. And there, before dinner was announced, Bobbie and Margot served us all two or three icy orange-hued Side Cars in the finest crystal rimmed with granulated sugar. And I’m willing to bet not one of us ever claimed to have had that drink – invented by an American in Paris during WWI – anywhere before or since unless it was in that magical apartment on those transportive wintry afternoons.

Carmen Mason has been writing poems and prose since she was five. She has won several short story and poetry prizes throughout the years, been published in magazines and online and is completing a book of her poems. She enjoys sharing her writings with anyone who’s interested.