Kitchen Privileges

Kitchen Privileges

4.4 17
by Mary Higgins Clark

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Angela’s Ashes comes home to the Bronx in a brilliant, touching, charming, and bittersweet account of a childhood during the Depression from America’s Queen of Suspense.

Mary Higgins Clark’s memoir begins with the death of her father in 1939. With no money in the house—the Higgins Bar and Grill in the Bronx is failing and in debt, and


Angela’s Ashes comes home to the Bronx in a brilliant, touching, charming, and bittersweet account of a childhood during the Depression from America’s Queen of Suspense.

Mary Higgins Clark’s memoir begins with the death of her father in 1939. With no money in the house—the Higgins Bar and Grill in the Bronx is failing and in debt, and worry about it is one of the things that has killed her father—Mary’s indomitable Irish mother (she devotes a chapter to her “Wild Irish Mother”) puts a classified ad in the Bronx Home News: “Furnished rooms! Kitchen Privileges!” Very shortly there arrives the first in a succession of tenants who will change the lives of the Higgins family and set the young Mary on her start as a writer, while bringing to them all a dose of the Christmas spirit that seemed to have vanished with Mr. Higgins’s death.

Full of hope, faith, memorable characters, and warmth, Kitchen Privileges brings back into sharp, nostalgic focus the feeling of growing up poor, but determined to survive, in a vanished Bronx that was one of white lace curtains instead of a slum, and at a time when everybody was poor and either needed or offered a helping hand.

Editorial Reviews

Paul Evans
There are two things you're likely to encounter in any American airport: long security lines and the novels of Mary Higgins Clark. Since hitting it big in 1975 with the mystery Where Are the Children?, Clark has written more than thirty bestselling books, which have sold fifty million copies in the United States alone, earning her the title "Queen of Suspense." In April 2000, she signed a five-book deal with Simon & Schuster worth an astonishing $64 million. At the age of seventy-four, the woman is an industry, the publishing world's equivalent of Dunkin' Donuts in her zest for turning out product. It isn't just Americans who can't get enough of her. Clark is an international star whose books have been translated into thirty-one languages. The inscrutable French government has accorded her its Grand Prix de Literature, though the ghost of Voltaire would likely find this maneuver droll. Even Pope John Paul II knows her name: A few years ago, he bestowed upon her the title Dame of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.

So there's some anticipation for her new memoir, Kitchen Privileges. Certainly the author of such dramas as Moonlight Becomes You, The Plot Thickens and The Cradle Will Fall must have a dramatic story of her own. And while only the naive would assume that Clark herself might be as entertaining as her relentlessly plucky heroines, there's little that could prepare fans for what they'll find in her memoir. Crack open the book to most any page and you'll encounter passages like this: "I'd had a Saturday job at Lord & Taylor selling coats. The pay had been five dollars a day, but the real perk was the 30 percent employee discount.... I'd keep an eye on a dress or suit that I wanted, sure that at some point it would be reduced, then track it until the final reduction and buy it with my 30 percent discount."


It turns out that Kitchen Privileges is one of the most yawn-inducing autobiographies in recent memory. While Clark is of course entitled to an ordinary life of everyday joys and pathos, we do hope for some interesting meditation on her extraordinary career, whether it's straight talk about her writing and success, some tips of the trade, the inside skinny on publishing, a few anecdotes about how she contrives her plots. This is an author, after all, who's spun tales about everything from parapsychology to politics, cruise ships to the death penalty, child molesting to haute couture.

The book begins with Clark's nostalgia for her blue-collar, Depression-era childhood in the Bronx. We don't get much about girl Mary other than a collection of stock answers and platitudes. Her "Emerald Isle" ancestry gave her the gift of gab; her mom was a saint. Clark does write affectingly, if briefly, about her relationship with her father, who died when she was ten, only to barrel ahead once again into minutiae.

We learn a bit, but not much, about her stint at an ad agency; we're told about the glamour of her years as a Pan Am stewardess, but we're never shown what made the job so glamorous. Infatuated with the fiction in Ladies' Home Journal and Redbook, Clark begins to write around the time she marries her first husband, Warren, in 1949 (she does write convincingly of their romance). Nothing if not dogged, she works six years before selling a story, for one hundred dollars, to a magazine, but we're not privy to the details of her struggle. Leaving five children behind, Warren dies in 1964; Mary perseveres, rising daily at 5 a.m. to write. She publishes her first book, Aspire to the Heavens, a biographical novel of George and Martha Washington, in 1969. With booksellers mis-shelving it as an inspirational guide, the book bombs. Less than a decade later, her second suspense novel, A Stranger Is Watching, sells for a million dollars.

There's a pretty great story here—a kind of Horatio Alger saga of overcoming adversity with grit—but we never find out how her work went from the rejection pile to the bookshelf nearest the cash register. Her yarns about her apprenticeship writing radio programs aren't very revealing, and when she lets us in on the one great bit of advice she received from a New York University writing instructor—"Ask yourself two questions, 'Suppose?' and 'What if?'"—we're left to wonder: That's the secret? In the end, Clark bafflingly sticks to a sort of laundry-list narrative—flat gossip about house buying, vacations, firing maids.

The memoir leads us up to the sale of Where Are the Children? and then abruptly flashes forward to an epilogue crammed with teasingly intriguing stuff—her return to school (to study philosophy at Fordham!), a second marriage (on which she expends exactly thirteen words), and a third marriage (which we're pleased to learn is blissful, although we're not sure why).

By adamantly failing to tell us much of anything about her inner life, Mary Higgins Clark makes it impossible for us to care much about it. A shame, then, that the one tale this veteran storyteller blows turns out to be her own.
Publishers Weekly
Clark, author of 27 bestselling novels, has shifted gears and written a memoir that speaks directly to readers. The touching collection of anecdotes begins with a Depression-era childhood in the Bronx lacking in money but rich with love. The author's mother, who told everyone, "Mary is very gifted... [she's] going to be a successful writer," supplemented her income by renting out rooms with "kitchen privileges," and raised her children with selfless heroism, proving a shining example when Clark became a young widow, left to bring up five children on her own. The book proves particularly engaging when Clark tells of her writing group and the professor, William Byron Mowery, who taught her to think "what if" and "suppose" as a way of devising interesting plots. She conveys her courtship with her first husband sensitively and humorously, and writes of his death in honest, understated prose. Clark charts her literary road frankly, pointing out the numerous rejection slips and the failure of her first book, Aspire to the Heavens-the love story of George and Martha Washington-due to a misleading, uncommercial title. It's typical of her optimism that she considered it a triumph ("I knew... I had what it took to actually write a book"). Ranging from stories of illness and struggle to her happy 1996 marriage to Merrill Lynch CEO John Conheeney, this memoir shows what can be done when someone pursues her dreams, remains action-oriented and fights to overcome enormous obstacles. Photos. Agents, Eugene Winick, Sam Pinkus. (Nov. 19) Forecast: Clark's many fans will be clamoring for this, and although it's not a self-help volume, it offers concise, valuable tips for aspiring authors, which could open it up to an even wider audience.
Library Journal
With a sharp eye for detail, keen intelligence to understanding reality, and her inquisitive nature to create stories, best-selling author Clark meditates on the hardships of growing up during the Depression in Bronx, NY. Though not dismal about experiences with family and friends, Clark recounts many characteristics of Irish American culture that had a strong hold on her life. Her voice is soothing, giving the impression that a senior adult member is explaining her life. When her father died, Clark's mother opened their home to boarders with the sign, "Furnished Rooms, Kitchen Privileges." Similarly, following the untimely death of her beloved husband, Warren, Clark pursued a career writing stories to support her five children and was propelled into scriptwriting for a radio show. She reminisces about the wonders of youth, taking the listener down a lane full of cultural and historical lessons. Highly recommended for public, academic, and school libraries.-Bernadette Lopez-Fitzsimmons, Manhattan Coll. Libs., Riverdale, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

My first conscious memory is of being three years old and looking down at my new baby brother with a mixture of curiosity and distress. His crib had not been delivered on time, and he was sleeping in my doll carriage, thereby displacing my favorite doll, who was ready for her nap.

Luke and Nora, my father and mother, had kept company for seven years, a typical Irish courtship. He was forty-two and she pushing forty when they finally tied the knot. They had Joseph within the year; me, Mary, nineteen months later; and Mother celebrated her forty-fifth birthday by giving birth to Johnny. The story is that when the doctor went into her room, saw the newborn in her arms and the rosary entwined in her fingers, he observed, "I assume this one is Jesus."

Since we weren't Hispanic, in which culture Jesus is a common name, John, the first cousin of the Holy Family, was the closest Mother could get. Later when we were all in St. Francis Xavier School and instructed to write J.M.J., which stood for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, on the top of our test papers, I thought it was a tribute to Joe and me and Johnny.

The year 1931, when Johnny made his appearance, was a good one in our modest world. My father's Irish pub was flourishing. In anticipation of the new arrival, my parents had purchased a home in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx. At that time more rural than suburban, it was only two streets away from Angelina's farm. Angelina, a wizened elderly lady, would show up every afternoon on the street outside our house, pushing a cart with fresh fruit and vegetables.

"God blessa your momma, your poppa, tella them I gotta lotsa nicea stringabeans today," she would say.

Our house, 1913 Tenbroeck Avenue, was a semidetached six-room brick-and-stucco structure with a second half bath in a particularly chilly section of the basement. My mother's joy in having her own home was only slightly lessened by the fact that she and my father had paid ten thousand five for it, while Anne and Charlie Potters, who bought the other side, had only paid ten thousand dollars for the identical space.

"It's because your father has his own business, and we were driving an expensive new car," she lamented.

But the expensive new car, a Nash, had sprung an oil leak as they drove it out of the showroom. "It was the beginning of our luck going sour," she would later reminisce.

The Depression had set in with grim reality. I remember as a small child regularly watching Mother answering the door to find a man standing there, his clothes clean but frayed, his manner courteous. He was looking for work, any kind of work. Did anything need repairing or painting? And if not, could we possibly help him out with a cup of coffee, and maybe something to eat.

Mother never turned away anyone. She left a card table in the foyer and would willingly fix a meal for the unexpected guest. Juice, coffee, a soft-boiled egg and toast in the morning, sandwiches and tea for lunch. I don't remember anyone ringing the bell after midafternoon. By then, God help them, they were probably on their way home, if they had a home to go to, with the disheartening news that there was no work to be had.

I loved our house and our neighborhood. Mine was the little room, its window over the front door. I would wake in the morning to the clipclop of the horses pulling the milk and bread wagons. Borden's milk. Dugan's bread and cake. Sights that have passed into oblivion as surely as the patient horses and creaking wagons that teased me awake and comforted me with their familiarity all those years ago. A box was in permanent residence on the front steps of our house to hold the milk bottles. In the winter, I used to gauge the temperature by checking to see if the cream at the top of the bottles had frozen, forcing the cardboard lids to rise.

During the summer, in midafternoon, we'd all be alert for the sound of jingling bells that meant that Eddy, the Good Humor Man, was wheeling his heavy bicycle around the corner. Looking back, I realize he couldn't have been more than in his early thirties. With a genuine smile and the patience of Job, he waited while the kids gathered around him, agonizing over their choice of flavor.

All of us had the same routine: a nickle on weekdays for a Dixie cup; a dime on Sunday for a Good Humor on a stick. That was the hardest day for making up my mind. I loved burnt almond over vanilla ice cream. On the other hand, I also loved chocolate over chocolate.

Once the choice had been made, the trick for Joe and John and me was to see who could make the ice cream last the longest so that the other guys' tongues would be hanging out as they watched the winner enjoy those final licks. The problem was that on hot Sundays the ice cream melted faster, and it wasn't unusual for the one who made it last the longest to see half the Good Humor slide off the stick and land on the ground. Then the howls of anguish from the afflicted delighted the other two, who now had the satisfaction of chanting, "Ha, ha. Thought you were so smart."

Eddy the Good Humor Man had lost the thumb and index finger of his left hand up to the knuckle. He explained that there had been something wrong with the spring of the heavy refrigerator lid, and it had smashed down on those fingers. "But it was a good accident," he explained. "The company gave me forty-two dollars, and I was able to buy a winter coat for my wife. She really needed one."

The Depression didn't really hit our family until I was in the third or fourth grade. We had a cleaning woman, German Mary, whom we called "Lally" because she would come up the block singing, "Lalalalaaaaa." Years later, she became the model for Lally in my second book, A Stranger Is Watching. Back then, she was the first perk to go.

We always had two copies of the Times delivered each day. One copy was saved, and I delivered it to the convent on my way to school the next morning. In those days the nuns were not allowed to read the current day's paper. But as times got increasingly tough, they were out of luck. Mother had to cancel the delivery of both papers. I guess when you think about it, the delivery guy was out of luck, too.

I wrote my first poem when I was six. I still have it because Mother saved everything I wrote. She also insisted that I recite everything I wrote for the benefit of anyone who happened to be visiting. Since she had four sisters and many cousins, all of whom visited frequently, I am sure there must have been regular if silent groans when she would announce, "Mary has written a lovely new poem today. She has promised to recite it for us. Mary, stand on the landing and recite your lovely new poem."

When I was finished thrilling everyone with my latest gem, my mother led the applause. "Mary is very gifted," she would announce. "Mary is going to be a successful writer when she grows up."

Looking back, I am sure that the captive audience was ready to strangle me, but I am intensely grateful for that early vote of absolute confidence I received. When I started sending out short stories and getting them back by return mail, I never got discouraged. Mother's voice always rang in my subconscious. Someday I was going to be a successful writer. I was going to make it.

That's why, if I may, I'd like to direct a few words to parents and teachers: When a child comes to you wanting to share something he or she has written or sketched, be generous with your praise. If it's a written piece, don't talk about the spelling or the penmanship; look for the creativity and applaud it. The flame of inspiration needs to be encouraged. Put a glass around that small candle and protect it from discouragement or ridicule.

I also started writing skits, which I bullied Joe and John into performing with me. I served as writer, director, producer, and star. I remember Johnny's plaintive request, "Can't I ever be the star?"

"No, I wrote it," I explained. "When you write it, you get to be the star."

Mother's unmarried sisters, May and Agnes, were our most frequent visitors and therefore the longest suffering witnesses to my developing talent. May was eleven months older than Mother and, like her, had been a buyer in a Fifth Avenue department store. Ag, the second youngest in the family, fell in love at twenty-four with Bill Barrett, a good-looking, affable detective, fourteen years her senior. There was one fly in the ointment: old Mrs. Barrett, Bill's mother, who spent most of her life with her feet on the couch, had begged Bill not to marry until God called her. She was sure her death was imminent and wanted him under her roof when her time came.

Months became years. Everyone loved Bill, but from time to time I could hear Mother urging Agnes to ask him about his intentions. They had been keeping company for twenty-four years when God finally beckoned a Barrett, but it was Bill, not his mother, who died. At ninety-five she was still going strong. Her other son, who'd been smart enough to marry young, shipped her to a nursing home. Guess who visited her regularly? Agnes.

At seven I was given a five-year diary, one of those leather-bound jobs with four lines allotted for each day and a tiny gold key which, of course, locks nothing. The first entry didn't show much promise. Here it is, in its entirety:

"Nothing much happened today."

But then the pages began to fill, crammed with the day-to-day happenings on Tenbroeck Avenue among friends and family.

When Mother's sisters and cousins and courtesy cousins came to visit, the stories would begin around the dining room table, over the teacups.

Nora, remember Cousin Fred showing up for your wedding?...

Mother had sent an invitation to some remote cousins in Pennsylvania, forgetting that Cousin Fred had a lifetime railroad pass. He and his wife showed up on her doorstep the morning of the wedding, their nine-year-old grandson in tow. The lifetime pass included the family. Mother ended up cooking breakfast for them and having the kid running around the house while she and May dressed.

Nora, remember how that fellow you were seeing invited Agnes to the formal dance and Poppa was in a rage? "No man comes into my house and chooses between my daughters," he said.

I loved the old stories. The boys had no patience for them, but I drank them in with the tea. As long as I didn't fidget, I was always welcome to stay.

Our next door neighbor, Annie Potters, often joined the group. Charlie, a chubby policeman, was Annie's second husband. She'd been widowed during the flu epidemic of 1917, when she was twenty years old. That husband, Bill O'Keefe, rested in her memory as "my Bill." Charlie was "my Charlie." They married when both were in their late thirties.

"I was so lonesome," Annie would reminisce. "Every night I'd cry in my bed for my Bill. But nobody wants to hear your troubles, so I always kept a smile on my face. They called me the Merry Widow. Then I met my Charlie."

Charlie died many years later, at the age of seventy, and two years after that Annie married "my Joe." When God called him to join his predecessors, Annie began looking around but hadn't connected by the time she was reunited with her spouses.

A woman with a jutting jaw and dyed red hair, Annie had one of the first permanent waves ever given in the Bronx.

Unfortunately, when the heavy metal coils were removed, 60 percent of her hair permanently disappeared with them. Nevertheless, when she looked in the mirror, she saw Helen of Troy and conducted herself accordingly. Annie was the model for my continuing character, Alvirah, the Lottery Winner.

At home, the money situation grew tighter, and my father was looking more and more exhausted. His routine had been to sleep until eleven, have brunch, go to "the place," as he called the pub, come home at five o'clock for a family dinner, then go back to the place until three in the morning.

As he had to let one bartender go, then a waiter, and finally the extra bartender, he began to get up earlier and earlier to take over the ordering of supplies and the other details that his employees had formerly handled.

The problem was that in those days people ran tabs. They charged drinks, they charged their dinners, and then they couldn't pay their bills. If credit was refused, they simply went somewhere else where new credit was easily granted in the hope that payment eventually would be made.

Mother said that the people who were lucky were the ones who worked for the government — teachers, firemen, policemen. Maybe that was the reason that when I reached dating age, her prayer for me was that I'd marry an Irish Catholic with a city job, so I'd always have a pension.

But things were tight even in the city government. Mayor LaGuardia disbanded the Policemen's Glee Club, of which Charlie Potters was a charter member. That meant that

Charlie was back directing traffic and could be heard muttering about how "the fat little midget bastard in City Hall was destroying the city's culture."

Annie's father, Mr. Fitzgerald, lived with his daughter and her husband. Known on the block as Old Man Fitz, he'd sit by the hour on the divider between our stoops, puffing on a pipe, his skinny behind protected by a thick pillow. Every so often he'd moan, "Oh, my God," which if you happened to be passing by was a touch unnerving.

Mother decided that if she rented the little room, my room, it would bring in extra money, and so we took in a boarder. We could not know then that our first roomer was but a preview of coming attractions. She was a slender lady of uncertain age, with pale skin, limpid eyes, and wispy hair that she wrapped in a loose chignon.

Her wardrobe was sufficient to clothe a convention of similarly sized women. Her effects began to arrive the week before she joined us: a steamer trunk, suitcases, hat boxes. I wondered if she thought she had rented the whole house.

Then she arrived, and a problem soon became evident. She began her morning toilette at 5:30 A.M. Back and forth from the little room to the bathroom she flip-flopped on backless high-heeled sandals. The tub roared. The sink gushed.

She flushed the toilet at two minute intervals. It was Joe's theory that she was giving individual pieces of Kleenex a ride through the sewer system.

The bathroom shared a common wall with my father's bedroom. Daddy was already sleep-deprived, so the last thing he needed was our new tenant. She lasted only one week, so I got my little room back again, at least temporarily.

Saturdays we went to the movies. Ten cents bought an afternoon's entertainment consisting of a double feature, previews of coming attractions, a cartoon, Movietone News ("The eyes and ears of the world") and a Lone Ranger serial.

On the way home, we went to confession, hoping to avoid Father Campbell, who could have headed the Spanish Inquisition. I remember trembling as I confessed that I had looked up a bad word in the dictionary.

The word was "damn," and my curiosity had been aroused by the difference between the damned who were going to hell, and Mother telling Daddy to "give up the damn place before it kills you."

Father Campbell didn't ask what word I'd looked up. He lectured me on using my eyes for sinful purposes.

Johnny fared a lot better. When he was mad at me and sprinkled sugar over my baked potato, Mother told him to confess because it was a sin to waste food.

He was smart. He went to Father Breen, who was a doll.

"What did Father say when you told him what you had done?" Mother demanded.

"He laughed."

There were three girls on the block who were my constant companions: Mary Catherine, Caroline, and Jackie. One day we decided to start a club. Mary Catherine was elected president, Caroline vice-president, and I became secretary. That meant that by default Jackie was the only nonofficer.

Seeing the disappointment on her face, I suggested we hold a new election. Unfortunately I didn't present my full plan, which was that we elect Jackie treasurer and then recruit two younger girls, Joan Murphy and Cookie Hilmer, as dues-paying members.

We had the new election, and I became the only member without a title. At the age of ten, I learned that sometimes we can be too altruistic.

In the meantime, the money situation worsened. The generous household allowance my father gave my mother had to be tightened, and then tightened again.

I don't remember a single night of my childhood that my father was home for an entire evening, except for the Friday evening in May when he didn't go back to work. He said he wasn't feeling well.

The month of May was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The nuns suggested that it would be nice if good Catholic children, especially the girls, made the sacrifice of going to Mass on Saturday morning. That was why on Saturday, May 6, 1939, I was returning from the seven o'clock Mass when I turned the corner on Tenbroeck Avenue and saw a police car outside our house. My father had died in his sleep.

He was scheduled to go into court on Monday. A judgment had been issued against him for an overdue liquor bill. My mother had begged him to call the supplier, ask for more time, explain that no one was paying him. His answer had been, "Nora, a gentleman pays his bills." He was fifty-four years old.

I'd always been a "Daddy's girl." On Cape Cod, the early settlers called it the "tortience," that special bond which often exists between a father and daughter. My father had been born in Roscommon, Ireland, and came to the United States in 1905 when he was twenty-one. I have the record of his arrival at Ellis Island that states he had five pounds in his pocket. Ten years later he became an American citizen. In those days he had to swear that he was neither an anarchist nor a polygamist and that he renounced his loyalty to George V, king of England.

The time I had with him was all too limited. Looking back, I'm glad that I had severe childhood asthma and frequently missed school. When the attacks came, I'd spend a good part of the night wheezing and gasping for breath, but in the morning the asthma would ease off, and I'd go downstairs to share brunch with him.

A certain scent still reminds me of his shaving lotion. Phrases of songs he sang to me, off-key if my aunt Agnes was to be believed, still run through my mind. "Sunday night is my delight..." That's all I can remember. The rest of the words are gone.

My memory of his physical appearance remains vivid, as I see a man just under six feet tall with thinning hair and a strong face. He had a quiet voice. " 'Tis, dear," was the way he would answer my questions in the affirmative. Like the brother and sister who came to the United States within a year or two of him, he did not have a brogue, just a few expressions and a lilt in his voice that was the gift of his Irish ancestry. Years ago I met an elderly cousin in London who had been raised in Ireland. He was the son of my father's oldest sister. "I looked like Luke when I was growing up," he explained. "And as your granddad got older, he would call me Luke. Your dad was his favorite."

My father always intended to go back to Ireland, but he never made it. There was never that much time to get away from the bar and grill.

On Sunday afternoons, he would come home to take us for a drive, and, further proof of our relative early prosperity, we had a summer cottage in Silver Beach Gardens, a small enclave on Long Island Sound at the tip of the east Bronx.

The way to Silver Beach passed St. Raymond's Cemetery. He would point out the flower shop adjacent to the cemetery. It had a small porch with an outdoor table. "And there, my dear," he would remind me, "is the place where the ransom note for the baby was left."

The Crime of the Century. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. The first tangible clue, the ransom note had been placed beneath that table.

We did have one memorable outing when I was five years old. My cousin Veronica had decided to become a nun, and we went to visit her in Tarrytown at the convent where she was a postulant.

It was a snowy day, and the convent was at the top of a steep hill. The road was slick with ice, and the car started to slide backwards, weaving from side to side as it meandered with increasing speed down toward the busy road. Joseph and I were in the back seat, my mother in front. As my father frantically tried to regain control of the automobile, Mother cried, "Luke. Luke. Stop the car. Think of the children!"

"God almighty, Nora," he barked. "Do you think this is my idea of driving?"

I remember standing in the backyard with him, shortly before he died, as he pointed to a dirigible floating overhead. It was the Hindenberg, and my father explained that it was the new way people would travel long distances. It exploded minutes later in one of the most famous disasters of the twentieth century, and I always claimed that I heard the explosion. But probably it was the sound of it on the radio report that became seared in my mind.

"Sunday night is my delight..." The rest of the song is gone. Just as I knew in those first moments as I raced up the stairs, ran down the hall into the bedroom, sank to my knees, and reached for his hand that Daddy was gone. Three days later, Eddy came down the block, the Good Humor bells jingling. He asked me why I was dressed up. I explained that we had been at my father's funeral.

He was shocked. "If I had known, I wouldn't have rung my bells on this block," he said apologetically.

Ask not for whom the bells toll — or don't toll.

My father had paid Social Security for his employees, but it was six months after his death that the law was changed to include employers. Mother tried to get a job, but she was sent home by the employment agencies.

"We can't get work for college graduates," they told her. "You're fifty-two and haven't held a job in fourteen years. Go home and save your carfare."

That was when she put on her "thinking cap," as she called it, and decided that the solution would be to rent rooms. Once more, I gave up my little room, and we all moved downstairs. The dining room was turned into a bedroom, and a divan was put in the living room.

Mother reasoned that by renting the two big bedrooms for five dollars a week each, and my room for three dollars, we'd make enough to cover the interest on the mortgage and taxes on the house. At that time so many people could no longer afford to amortize their mortgages that the banks had suspended their demand for payments. They didn't want all the houses dumped on them.

Mother didn't drive, and since the car had been sold, she figured that we might be able to rent the garage for five dollars a month. In the meantime she would stretch the two thousand dollars in insurance money as far as possible.

Joe turned thirteen the week after my father died. He took a newspaper route. Mother began baby-sitting, and so did I. There was a neighbor whose infant I happily minded as I tried to puzzle out the gossip I had heard that the neighbor had been "caught during the change."

Johnny volunteered to help clean out the garage to get it ready for a potential renter and ended up setting fire to it.

It turned out to be a good fire. We got insurance money for the screens that were stored on the shelves in the back of the garage, along with several carpets and other odds and ends.

Mother never would take a penny that wasn't hers, but she believed passionately in the beauty and value of everything she owned. The results of the fire were shiny new screen doors and windows and some much-appreciated cash, which compensated her for her "good rugs."

She put a discreet sign next to the front door: FURNISHED ROOMS. KITCHEN PRIVILEGES.

The neighbors didn't mind "Furnished Rooms." But "Kitchen Privileges," they hinted, brought down the tone of the neighborhood. Ever obliging, Mother cut the bottom half off the sign, thankful that she hadn't wasted money on a metal sign that would have proved unalterable.

She also put an ad in the Bronx Home News.

The next day we waited for the phone to ring.

Copyright © 2002 by Mary Higgins Clark

Meet the Author

Mary Higgins Clark, #1 international and New York Times bestselling author, has written thirty-four suspense novels; three collections of short stories; a historical novel; two children’s books; and a memoir, Kitchen Privileges. With her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, she has coauthored five more suspense novels. Her books have sold more than 100 million copies in the United States alone.

Brief Biography

Saddle River, New Jersey and New York, New York
Date of Birth:
December 24, 1929
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
New York University; B.A., Fordham University, 1979

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Kitchen Privileges 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Paula Archer More than 1 year ago
I have read almost all of Mary's books and I have love all of them, but I think so far this was the best. Getting to know about the write is great.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Mary Higgins Clark has been a best selling author of suspense for what seems forever though her first book was a bio of George and Martha Washington. Ms. Clark returns to the world of non-fiction with an autobiography that may be her best work to date. Ms. Clark warmly discusses her life growing up in the Bronx, a very harsh one due the Depression. Even more heartwarming is her ¿courtship¿ and first marriage that should have turned Ms. Clark into a romance writer instead of the queen of suspense. She follows this up with the tragedy of suddenly raising children, as a widow with income problems until her first sale brings in needed cash. Finally, she discusses her second chance at love with her second marriage. Throughout the book, Ms. Clark displays her love for writing without padding fluff or an outrageous scandal. Instead the author¿s myriad of fans and readers who enjoy a well written insightful biography will take delight with this encouraging story that does not apologize for Ms. Clark following her dreams and encourages others to do likewise. For attaining one¿s dreams is how to attain happiness. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first listened to this book on tape while driving from Cincinnati to Atlanta 3 years ago. I enjoyed the story so much I decided I wanted to buy the book. I was disappointed to find the book was no longer sold in stores. This past Christmas I received the Nook GlowLight from my husband and the first book I purchased was Kitchen Privileges. I am not much of a reader, but the way Mary Clark Higgins describes her life was so enlighting to me. She has had ups and downs in her life,as we all do, hearing and reading how she stayed on course was encouraging to me. If I ever come across the hard cover book, I will purchase it too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found a lot of myself in MHC. If you have an affinity for the old days and for writing--and also New York--you will especially enjoy this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Mary Higgins Clark and this is one of my favorites. Very well written!
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Bernimarie More than 1 year ago
I am at a point in my life where I can finally take time to read books. The one's I find most interesting are biographies. I have never read any of Mary Higgins Clark's novels, nor had I known anything about her--until now. She experienced so much love and happiness in her life--but also more than her share of sorrow and disappointment. Just when you think things can't get any worse for her, they do! But, her Faith, her family and her perseverance pulled her through! As a mother of four myself, I can't imagine dealing with everything she had to deal with. I have so much respect for how she lived her life with a positive attitude and determination, when others would have given up. Mary's mother played an important role in her life and helped to make Mary the strong woman she is today. And Mary, herself, also has impacted her own children's lives--a legacy that I'm sure will continue on for generations to come. I feel I know her and I will make an exception and read my first novel--a Mary Higgins Clark one!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
great book. i can relate to a lot of the things you went through as a child brought up in an Irish Catholic family.What a wonderful exercise in love. Your book was great and I can't wait for your next book. You signed a book I have and I will treasure it forever. You are my favorite writer. I just wish you could write a book a month. I think I have every book you have ever written. Keep up the good work. I am retired and look forward to your new books. Thank you so vey much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished the audiobook and really enjoyed it, especially because of it being read by Mary herself. I have read a number of her books and after reading Marys story it will bring a new light to her books
Guest More than 1 year ago
i can usually count on this author for an enjoyable read...usually quick and painless, nothing that stretches you too much...just an easy read. Kitchen Privileges missed the mark. Higgins-Clark is a great author but her memoir is a snore! sorry!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am astonished at how pallid, uninspired, even poorly written this book is. Miss Clark¿s life may be interesting to her and interesting, perhaps, because she became a famous author, but in actuality it is no more interesting than the most ordinary life. It could be yours or mine. As surprised as I am by the lackluster content of the book, I am even more surprised by the lackluster quality of the writing. ¿Rare as hen¿s teeth¿ and ¿We took to marriage like ducks to water¿ are clichés no professional writer should allow herself. They abound. Miss Clark even used the pronoun ¿I¿ instead of ¿we,¿ a surprising error. I enjoy memoirs and especially memoirs by writers, but this one is unmemorable. Read, instead, Eudora Welty¿s One Writer¿s Beginnings. Now there is a memoir.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Does any reader have to be told who Mary Higgins Clark is? I think not. But, now with this remarkably candid and affecting memoir the author of 27 bestselling novels tells her personal story. Not only that, this recollection is related in her own voice, making it all the more meaningful. Rather than through a fictional protagonist she speaks directly to us with words of encouragement and hope. Beginning with a childhood in the Bronx during the Depression Ms. Clark had dreams - she dreamed of becoming a writer, and her mother encouraged her even though the older woman struggled to make ends meet by renting out rooms. A sign was placed by the front door reading, "Furnished Rooms. Kitchen Privileges." Ms. Clark's days as a student at an exclusive girl's school came to an end; she lost an older brother whom she deeply loved during World War II. She tells with affection and sensitivity of her marriage to Warren Clark, and the birth of their children. A devastating blow occurred when he died unexpectedly leaving her widowed with five young children. Nonetheless, she soldiered on, writing at a kitchen table. For her labors? Forty rejections. Determined to reach her goal and support her family she wrote radio scripts and began work on a novel. The rest is literary history. Ms. Clark generously shares her life experiences, reminding us that dreams can come true when someone is willing to persist and fight mightily for them.