My parents; my life
I always called them mom and dad. Others called them Marge and Russ. Mom's siblings called her Peg or Sis. To me, of course, their main name was simply mom and dad.
Both were born prior to the Great Depression and WWI. Both had hard lives. Dad was born in Culver on October 17, 1912. His mother would die just 6 years later, on October 19, 1919 of TB. With her went dad's baby sister, Lucy. (I suspect her full name was Lucinda...after her ggrandmother, Lucinda Jackson.) That's when dad's life changed dramatically. His dad remarried - his aunt Ada. Ada Cox-Grover was the sister of dad's mom. But that didn't mean she wasted any love or affection on my dad or his remaining siblings...especially after her own son, Gordon, was born. She was Native American and mean. She used being Native American to threaten people and to tell them - as well as us - how dangerous she was. I believed her - every word.
I remember as a small child going to visit what must have been their house in Culver, IN. It was a small, white frame building. Inside, it was dark, dank and dusty, as I remember it. Off to one side was a door that for some reason, called to us kids. I imagine it was likely other cousins - her 'real' grandchildren - showing my younger sister and I in there, but I really don't remember. What I do remember is her towering figure over our heads yelling to get out of that room - those were Gordon's things and we were NOT to touch!
I so wanted a grandmother and this was as close to one that I would ever have. I remember my cousins - Gordon's kids - calling her grandma. Well, it was a logical choice to call her the same - after all, Uncle Gordon was HER son and MY dad was HIS brother! However, our joy at finding a grandmother was short lived, when once again, her voice loomed loud and clear that we were NOT HER grandchildren - we were Mont's - and we were NEVER to call her that again. I was very hurt and confused - and sad. And I know that's why I formed many of the ideas and feelings about children and acceptance right then and there - that if I ever had the chance to have a child call me grandma or any other name, it would be fine and they would be accepted. End of story.
Thus, I have no fond nor warm memories of that woman. And when she landed in a nursing home, clutching an old doll that she somehow had to protect in her mental confusion, I was rather satisfied about her end when we visited her one fine spring day when I was 16. I still remember that day, what I was wearing, that place...everything is acutely held in my memory. It was in March and one of the rare warmer days of Spring that the shores of Lake Michigan could offer. My dog, Asta, had just died and on the way home, we stopped by to visit 'Aunt Ada.'
The nursing home was a two story, white frame building sitting in the middle of farm fields in St John, IN. There weren't many residents or rooms inside. Aunt Ada was upstairs, along a hallway that a man who couldn't walk constantly slide up and down. Every time he approached her room, the sound of his body and clothing inching along the linoleum floor, she would clutch that old cloth doll to her chest and call out against the evils of the world. He would turn just outside her door, as that is where the hall ended before a windowed wall, and as his sounds grew fainter as he moved toward the other end of the hall, she would relax. The doll would be laid back on the bed, only to repeat the process when he once again pulled himself along the walls of the hall.
It was eerie and I was relieved to get out of there. Not only was I mourning the loss of my beloved Asta, but I hated the vile woman we were visiting. I didn't understand why my dad would bother with a woman who never bothered with him or me or any of us. But that wasn't my dad's nature - to be unkind or mean. My dad was gentle, loving and giving. I think he would have turned inside out for my mother. He would do little less for the woman who rejected him.
My dad was well respected in our hometown. He was involved in the Masons, as well as a Registered Watchmaker and a chemist at Inland Steel. We had a single car, so when mom needed a car and the bus wouldn't do, either dad would catch the bus for the Harbour or we would drive there and back again to take or pick him up. I was always fascinated along that ride, as we crossed a huge steel span bridge that thrilled me every time we crossed. We'd pass by the oil refinery where my Uncle Bud worked, close by the house where my cousins lived in East Chicago and on past the industrialized and gritty streets of a society that no longer exists except in my long ago memories.
Mom, meanwhile, was born in Albany, NY on March 20, 1016. Her life was of a higher class. Her dad was a trouble shooter on the railroad and they were moved by the company all over the country. Eventually, they ended up in Beardstown, IL - where mom's life took a dramatic turn when her own mother died. Mom was but 11 years old, and like dad, celebrated her birthday with the loss of her mother. Mom would graduate from high school - something dad would never get to do. Education would remain important to both of them, but especially to my dad. I think that's because he was unable to go to high school. He was on the Plains of Montana, being raised by his grandmother and Uncle. But the fact she could go to high school didn't make mom's life easy. Before graduation, she not only would know the death of her mother, but the death of her first step mother, whom she always spoke fondly of. By the time she was 13, she would have her second step mother - this one a drunk who quickly got rid of mom's brother by accusing him of stealing - in spite of the fact she and her daughters were said to be the thieves - and the fact she was abandoned by her dad and new step mother. Mom ended up literally being raised by a couple in the neighborhood. Those were people she looked upon as mom and dad, I think, more than her own father and estranged step mother.
Mom was smart and responsible. By the time she was 19, she was living in Hammond with her older sister and working as a manager for Miner Dunn Hamburgers. (Now Schoops) Friends were trying to talk her into meeting someone and going on a blind date. Mom said she refused several times before finally agreeing. That man was my dad. They met in October and were married December 23, 1936 in Crown Point, IN. They lost their first child, my oldest sister, the following summer. She is buried in Hammond in an unmarked grave, which always disturbed me and still does.
Mom and dad were married 63 years when dad died. By then, Alzheimer's was stealing mom's memories. Perhaps it was best that way, as dad was the caregiver to mom. I'm not sure mom would have known what to do without dad being there.
Mom was the traditional 1940s & 50s mom - stayed at home, did the laundry, all the baking, canning and cooking. Money was often tight, but they never let on. Even if they didn't have a penny, when company stopped by, everyone was invited to a fine meal. Our meals might be scrambled eggs or even oatmeal for dinner, but I don't recall ever feeling deprived. It was when my older sister found work and began to bring in money that we had our first pizza, soda pops and other things that made it seem like Christmas every time they were brought into the house. Before that, it was only special occasions when we had anything that wasn't homemade.
I remember going to orchards with the family. Jackie and I played, as I sure don't remember being among those who picked the food that was later cleaned and canned at home. What I do remember was that my job began when we did get home: Washing all those danged jars that lined the basement walls. And it was a disgusting job, to say the least! There were so many dusty, dirty jars to wash in that horrible basement that I was dreaming about marching canning jars - row after row after row of jars marching along toward the sink to be washed.
I was never so happy to wake up in all my life! LOL!
Summers were hot and steamy. We'd play endless hours on the front porch, walk barefoot all summer to the store and back - in those days, no health rules were against bare feet inside the store. We'd read, go to the library with Judy, my older sister, go to the beach - either Wolf Lake or Lake Michigan - go visit with aunts and uncles, catch fireflies or look for four leafed clover in the grass under the trees. It wasn't a perfect childhood, but it was what we had. My uncle would tell me as long as we had enough food, a dry roof, a clean bed, friends and family, then we were rich beyond our wildest dreams. I don't remember wanting for anything - but it was a different era, as well, when wearing my older sister or cousin's hand-me-downs was a wonderful gift and there was no TV calling to us about toys and such. The Christmas catalogue came out in September and we'd pour over the wonderful things inside, but there was no desire for any particular doll or anything. My younger sister and I got a new doll every Christmas and I remember getting a doll house one year - which took my breathe away. Beyond that, I was happy with what I got. It beat getting clothes, that's for sure! LOL!
Christmas was a special time. We went out and always found a real tree. Dad would put it into the same red stand every year and it would be allowed to sit and 'rest' for a day before we decorated it. Why rest a tree that was already cut down? So it's branches would acclimate to the warmer indoors and relax. And so we'd watch, the fragrance of pine heavy in the air, as the branches slowly unfurled from their tightness against the trunk....and yes, my younger sister and I would literally WATCH as the tree relaxed! Because we knew, as soon as it did, we could decorate it!
First on the tree would be the huge, colorful bulbs. Each one had to be attached to the tree. But before that could happen, dad would line them along the floor and test them. No matter how carefully they were put away the year before and gotten out that year, one thing was sure to follow: Dad cussing the lights back on again. Sometimes, he'd have them lit along the floor, unplug the string, attach it all to the tree, only to find the string refused to light when plugged in again.
Now that situation lead to some fine cuss words.
Once the lights were up, the tree was topped with a jolly plastic Santa waving from the top - but with no legs. I often wondered how painful it would be to not have legs and to know each year, a rough pine bough would be shoved up his butt. I have no idea why on earth I attached life to that plastic Santa, but I remember being relieved when he was up and on and still waving happily from the top of our tree.
The favorite part of the decorating was to come. That's when the gorgeous balls, stars and so many other things would be placed on the tree. I had my favorites: One in particular was the Democratic and Republican donkey and elephant. I preferred the donkey. That had nothing to do with politics. I simply liked the donkey best. And he ALWAYS had to be hung right in front of the huge front window for all the world to see.
Last was the tinsel. Every year, a new box would have to be bought. That's not because the last year's box hadn't been saved, but because us littler kids weren't very patient with the stuff. While my older sister would try to show us (and demand we follow her lead) how to pull one strand at a time out of the box and hang it ever carefully upon a single branch, Jackie and I were prone to the grab and toss method. Besides, when you're on the short side of the group, and they could reach higher, it made sense to us!
While all this was going on, mom would be baking and sewing. She made us doll clothes. I remember waking up one winter night and seeing her at her old Singer sewing machine, stitching away. She crabbily told me to get back to bed. It wasn't until Christmas that I realized I'd likely stumbled upon mom making our presents.
She also baked and filled empty metal potato chip can after another with layers of cookies. Each layer was separated by wax paper. There would be chocolate chip, peanut butter, kolachi (even tho we weren't Polish, she loved those little cookies) and brownies made from scratch. The best par of Christmas was being up early in the mornings before Christmas and sneaking some cookies back to bed. If mom ever suspected, she never said or else I've forgotten.
The entire holiday season was so special. Walking to Aunt Hall's house down the street for Thanksgiving dinner. I'd be freezing in my thin coat, always dressed in my best dress and fancy shoes. Christmas Eve, we'd also go to Aunt Hall's - walking down there as firing up the old Chevy just to drive a block wasn't practical. Besides, the car would never warm up before we got there or returned home, so why bother? We'd simply shiver a bit longer, but walk.
Christmas Day was at our house. Christmas morning was exclusively for Jackie and I. The night before, I learned much later, mom, dad and Judy had opened their gifts. Us little kids were to wait for Santa. And there, under the tree, would be our new dolls with their new smell and numerous other gifts I've long forgotten about, save the doll house. The house would soon fill with the smells of Christmas dinner as the window glass fogged over from the cooking in the kitchen. Jackie and I would draw pictures in the fogged glass with our fingers - sometimes pressing our faces up against the glass just to see what we would get. And that night, we would snuggle down with our new dolls tucked beside us - their new smells filling my nose with joy.
Mom stayed a traditional mom of the time until I was in high school. That's when she went to school and became a beautician. She entered and won many hair styling competitions. She traveled to conventions. Eventually, she opened her own business and called it Peg-Mars. She had that business for a number of years before finally retiring and just enjoying life with square dancing, travel and visiting family and friends. The sad day came when we realized she was suffering from Alzheimers, but there was little time to dwell on that when dad developed cancer and soon it spread to his bones and he was gone. Mom lived on for another 8 years before she succumbed to Alzheimers.
Just before her death, I had a dream that I visited mom. She was in a room with a single twin bed and a chair beside her bed. I was surprised to see my dad sitting there. I was thrilled to see him and asked what he was doing there. He said he was 'waiting for maw' He always called my mom maw. Outside the window, I noticed an old model T. I asked about that and he said he was going to be taking maw on a trip. I wanted to go to, but he told me it was a trip just for him and maw.
I woke up crying, because I understood that dream. It wasn't my time yet. But when it is, will there be someone waiting for me, too? And who will it be?