The obituary for Patience Muffet mentioned that she was survived by her “longtime friend and housemate, Mary.” Though Mary had nothing to do with the possibility that Patience was a fabled life, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I discovered that she was still alive and living with her niece. It was a two day drive, but I uncharacteristically arranged a visit. She was not surprised that someone wanted to talk to her about Patience Muffet, was very generous with her time, and allowed me to record our conversation. The transcript below represents a small portion of a long interview. I’ve edited out some of the extended tangents, for which Mary can be forgiven. She was 93 when we spoke. Six weeks after we met, she passed away. It was a Wednesday.
Ametus: Thank you for talking with me Mary. It’s very nice to meet you.
Mary: Well, I had no other plans today. I was going to sit and enjoy the sun. I can talk at the same time.
Ametus: As I mentioned to your niece when I called, I have been doing some research on Ms. Muffet…
Mary: Oh, don’t ever call her Miss. She won’t allow it.
Ametus: Okay, Patience then. She led quite an interesting life. I am fascinated by all she accomplished.
Mary: Of course you are. She was a remarkable woman. Remarkable.
Ametus: Yes. When I read her obituary I noticed that you were described as her longtime friend and housemate.
Mary: All true.
Ametus: I was just… well, I’m just curious about what that means. Unless I’m mistaken, you met when you were both still relatively young. She was in her early thirties…
Mary: I am younger, was younger, by a few years. I guess I’m older now, by a few months.
Ametus: Please, if this is none of my business or you don’t want to talk about it, I understand.
Mary: It is none of your business and I do want to talk about it.
Ametus: Right. So, what is it you want to talk about?
Mary: You tell me. You brought the microphone.
Ametus: Were you and Patience Muffet lovers? Were you gay?
Mary: I think I’m still gay, not that it matters. Hell, yes, we were lovers. I’m not at all fond of that word gay. I’m a lesbian. Patience was too. She like the word, “lesbertarian.” She was so funny.
Ametus: I appreciate your being so forthcoming.
Mary: What do you mean? I can’t be arrested anymore. Years before Patience died we were living out in the open, in front of God and all the Baptists, as a couple. It wasn’t always that way, but for the last twenty years, maybe longer, we didn’t give a damn. I mean, we didn’t go around kissing in public or anything, but we stopped trying to hide anything around the time that prick, Reagan, went to the White House.
Ametus: But what about when you met, what was it like then?
Mary: A different time. Everything was different. But it seemed easy with Patience. She came to my boarding house. The landlord hired her because we were having a problem with mice. I couldn’t believe it, a woman working as an exterminator. When I found out she owned the company, I just melted. I mean, she wore her sleeves rolled up and, first, I fell in love with her forearms. I really did. Patience came back to my room after she was done and said she was looking for a secretary. I had told her I was in secretarial school.
Ametus: So you became her secretary?
Mary: She didn’t need a secretary. She needed an office manager and then she needed someone to run things. We ran the business together, then the dairy. That day Patience showed up, my plan was to move downtown and get a job in the typing pool. At the Lancaster building they had a typing pool that took up an entire floor, a sea of women typing like mad.
Ametus: When did you move into her house?
Mary: You mean, when did we start having sex. I can tell you about our first kiss. I’d been working at Muffet for, I don’t know, weeks I think, but it might have been longer. Back then, it was just me and Patience and her cousin, Andy, and we worked out of the barn on her property. Andy hadn’t built the stairs yet, so I was still climbing a ladder to get up to the office they had built in the old hay loft. Patience and I would usually leave work together, part ways as we passed her back porch, and I’d go on out to the road and walk home. The goodbye at her back porch just got longer and longer, just talking. We talked about everything, but never men, not really. Then one day I just kissed her. I was just as surprised as she was.
Ametus: You kissed her?
Mary: I know. You would think it would have been the other way around, but it was me. It was my first kiss. Every day the kisses got longer and longer. We had to move into the mudroom just in case someone wandered around to the back of the house, then into the kitchen, then eventually upstairs, and then one night I didn’t go home. But it took a long time, months of just kissing in the kitchen. Years later we talked about that time and both had the same thought. We had been trying to figure out if it was all real or if the feelings would fade. They never did. Still haven’t.
Ametus: When did you move in?
Mary: Well, it didn’t take long. My landlord wouldn’t have me being gone all night. It wasn’t unusual for two women to live together. Patience’s brother, John, had moved out and she was living alone. We had the business to run. I suppose people suspected, but nobody would say anything, not back then. After a few years my mother stopped asking if I was seeing anyone. I think she was a little sad, but I was clearly happy, and my parents had some bohemian blood. That’s how they came to describe me and my life and why I named my garden Bohemia.
Ametus: I am told your garden is famous. The property is still in the Muffet family and people come by to see the garden all the time.
Mary: It got so bad at one point we had to post visiting hours. I never understood it. The garden was so personal to me, more of an art project, I think. There are just as many wind chimes, seashells, and rows of goddess statues as there are flowers and plants. Probably more. I never imagined that other people would want to visit. I think it was like visiting something eccentric, like the world’s largest ball of string. I didn’t mind, as long as they didn’t ask me why I did anything. The answer was always the same. Because that’s how I wanted it. It eventually grew to be over half an acre. Now it’s a landmark.