Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reflections on My Mom and Dad

(Continued from Tuesdays . . .)
Mom and Dad met when she was eighteen and he twenty-three. Both were working full-time and had been since they were fourteen. Mom graduated from primary school after seven grades and went to work at a department store. Dad graduated from eighth grade and began to work at Milgrim’s, a local grocery store.

Dad on left in front of Milgrim’s.

            Many of you have probably seen that “early-twentieth-century-test” e-mail that’s gone around the Ethernet several times. It shows just how comprehensive a “grade school” education used to be. Mom saved some of her textbooks, and when I was a senior I realized that in grade school she’d learned all I’d learned in high school. Plus more. Both of them were bright and well read. They devoured the morning and evening newspapers. They argued spiritedly about ideas. They laughed often.
            They met in 1928 when Mom walked into the grocery store where Dad worked. Many years later he told me she “wowed” him when she entered the dim interior of that store. “She brought the summer sun with her,” he said.    

Mom at eighteen.

            Mom told me she thought Dad looked like “The Lone Eagle”—Charles Lindbergh—who’d crossed the Atlantic the year before. He knew how to listen to a young Irish woman who could tell stories that made him weep.
             Dad was tall and lean with an arresting face. Mom was shorter with wavy hair and a smile to write home about. Within weeks they’d married. In the next eight years, they went to many doctors in the attempt to have their first child. Finally, Mom had some sort of operation and was able to conceive. I was born in 1936.

Mom, Dad, and me at two.

            During those eight years they waited for me, they lived through the Depression. Times were hard; money short. Dad moved from working at Milgrim’s to the State Highway Department. While working on a tunnel, he was caught in a dynamite blast and blinded in his left eye. For years afterward, small pieces of stone edged upward to the surface of his face and Mom used tweezers to pluck them out for him.
            I don’t know how much he received in a settlement from the state. I do know that what he didn’t give away to friends he gambled away. Mom told me after I left the convent that she’d threatened to leave him if he continued to gamble. Never again did he play any cards but Pinochle or throw any dice except for the game of Monopoly.
            By the time I was born, Dad worked for the Kansas City Water Department at their yard on 40th Street. We weren’t poor by the standards of the day. We had food and clothing and Mom took me to the movies. As I’ve said in an earlier posting—my childhood was idyllic.
            All that changed when they left for Parsons, Kansas, in August 1941. Things changed again when Dad tried to join the Seabees so as to do his part in World War II. When that U.S. Construction Battalion turned him down because of his blind eye, he turned to drink.
            His mother was torn between being glad her son wasn’t in the war and being chagrined that others didn’t recognize his worth. She wanted a son to brag about. She got my dad. A failure in her eyes.
            His biggest failure? Marrying my mother. If it weren’t for that shanty Irish slattern of a wife, my grandma thought, Dad wouldn’t have been in that mining accident. He wouldn’t be blind. He wouldn’t be turned down by the Seabees. He’d be worth something. My mother was the cause of Grandma Ready’s woes. Or so she thought. And deep down, I think my dad accepted some of these thoughts. Life was easier for him that way.
                                                                         ( . . . concluded on Saturday)


  1. Wow you really delved right into their story, have to go back and read the first one.

  2. The pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealing themselves, Dee. A great pity your Dad squandered and gave away his settlement fund and turned to drinking to deaden his woes. Those actions would have impacted badly on all of you. For your Mum to have been cast as the wicked witch would surely have made for strained relations not only between her and your Grandmother, but between your parents, too. How sad!

  3. How sad to be so bitter about a daughter in law. In my family, from my grandparent's day through today, we felt that even if your child's choice of a life partner wasn't whom you would have chosen for him/her, you should accept them because they made your child happy. If you don't, you will probably lose the love & respect of your child. We have always accepted our children's choices & in every case, came to love (& be loved by) them.

  4. I think your mom could have spoken Chaucer's English, but not been good enough. The old lady needed someone or something to blame/but never herself..damn, I've met a lot of those.....~Mary

  5. Your grandmother seemed to have something sliced from her heart at one time or another. Your parents were so in love. I enjoyed how you described their first meeting, getting married and waiting for their first child.

  6. How very sad. His mother brought it all on herself and he followed her lead. Your father was the real loser in this scenario, though. What a sad story, but one that has been told over and over in life...

  7. Sad that your father felt he had no way out of his mother's controlled sphere. Probably added to why he drank and also why he was devastated when he could go off and join the service. Such a shame that he took the easy route of using his mom to excuse his negative behavior rather than for him to believe in himself and break away. How often do we choose the "easy" route, the path we are accustomed to? Even if that supposed easy route may be rocky, precarious, and is familiar.

    In her own way, your grandmother gave her children unconditional love. Blaming others for her children's failures is a sort of unhealthy unconditional love, when you think about it. A form of bottom-line unaccountability...a blind mother's love. Sad. She ended up raising children who didn't fare well in the world and hurting them and all the people they loved.

    People are so complex, aren't they? It really makes me wonder what your grandmother's life was really like. How did she end up the person she was, you know?

    I'll be waiting to hear more. No matter why all these people were who they were and did what they turned out to be a loving soul. You know what really matters. It is obvious as you share yourself and your life with us. Congratulations on a hard path traveled, lady!! :):)

  8. I am so struck by the way you tell the story of your parents with compassion and love. It took me a long time to realize that my parents were just human beings like me and that they lived their lives to the best of their ability with the tools they had at their disposal. I am certain that your ability to understand them in this way gives you permission to be flawed and human as well and adds richness and depth to your life. Thank you for sharing these stories!

  9. As usual Dee this is beautifully written. The comments above all state my opinions so I will only add this,
    My first husbands parents never accepted me and they made my life a living hell. My heart goes out to your mother on this one as I have lived through this and still don't understand it.

  10. How sad for your father :(
    I don't understand why some people can put so much pressure on their children (and their spouses).
    Your mother was very beautiful.

  11. Fascinating the way all the pieces of this sad puzzle fit together, Dee! A very enlightening post!

  12. Your mom was quite beautiful! What a treasured photo that must be. I thank you again for sharing more of yourself.