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Thurber Connection
written by Gazette Publisher Tom Thomson
November/December 2017

Labor Pains

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Does art imitate life? Or is it the other way around? Life imitates art?

In James Thurber’s case there seems to have been a large amount of both going on. He portrayed many of the ironies of life in his drawings. That’s art imitating life. The hatchet-faced ferocious females intimidating the baffled and befuddled males. When baby Rosemary Thurber rode into this world, it was on the winds of a hurricane. The muse of art had returned the favor – with a vengeance.

Just hours before Rosemary saw the light of day, her father and mother had engaged in a shouting match of Wagnerian proportions. No. More than that. It was much like a street brawl. Nasty. No holds barred. All the dirty linen trotted out and used as ammunition. What were they screaming and raving about? Who knows? They were back in New York City then, having returned from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, a short time before. During the summer, they had spent some vacation time there and in a moment of compassion – or weakness – he had bought an attractive little Colonial bungalow on 20 acres. By all accounts they were actually sleeping together, and that hadn’t happened very much during the entire rocky course of their marriage. Thus, Althea’s pregnancy.

But there was a fly in the ointment. He wasn’t one hundred percent sure that he was the father of the expected child. Sound familiar? This was probably part of what the fight was about. Seems he had a fixation about some guy that Althea had met on the beach that summer, a “chinless wonder,” he called him.

So, on the night of the big brawl, Thurber stormed out into the night, left Althea, “big with child,” alone in their little flat. He hit some of his favorite bars, called his old flame Ann Honeycutt, went bar-hopping with her and got totally slushed. Returning to the apartment, he went on another rampage that resulted in his knocking a vase of flowers off a piano and ramming his hand through a glass door. A little later he showed up “dazed and bloody” at the apartment of Jap Gude and his wife.They managed to calm him down, bandage his hand, and put him up for the night on their couch. What had set off this terrible night of self-destructive behavior? We will never know for sure, but the scenario running through his head might well have been something like this: If not the right baby but the wrong father, perhaps the right baby, but the wrong mother. More likely the latter. At any rate, the horrible night was over, disappearing on time’s horizon like a dissipated tropical storm. And, how did Althea spend the rest of the night?

She was experiencing labor pains so she checked into Doctor Hospital. where Dr. Virgil “Duke” Damon, an OSU grad and former fraternity brother of Thurber’s, delivered her baby without any complications. The next day, when a bedraggled and hungover Thurber heard the news, he made his way to the hospital where he viewed the new arrival and apologized to Althea for his behavior.

Years later, in a syndicated article, Althea was quoted as saying: “He looked dreadfully (sic), and as he walked around the bed I saw one of his hands was covered with blood, and then he said he had been in some sort of a – he had been out all night and had been in some kind of an altercation, and put his hand through a taxi window, and then the nurse came on duty and they took him out.”

By the way, once they had a look at the baby, friends and acquaintances alike said that there was no doubt that the baby was Thurber’s.

Reprinted from the June 2005 issue.

©2017 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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