At the beginning of the Journaling Project, I drew pictures of my Mom and Dad with this text:
This is my Mom. Marie. She was a lovely lady, the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet, full of love. We were very close. I was 27 when she died. (Cancer.) It hit me pretty hard, left a very big void in my life. 9/25/97
9/25/97 This is my Dad, Ken. He taught me everything I know about perfectionism, fear of failure, and how to be hard on myself. I supposed he inherited this from his mother – she died when I was a baby, but I understand she was rather cold. Dad’s an Electrical Engineer. When we lived in El Paso, TX in the late 60s – early 70s he started his own business, but it failed. (Sister) B. told me (years later) he was deeply embarrassed by this. He grew up on a Nebraska farm – the only one of 3 children who left & went to college. Grandma must have pinned all her hopes & expectations on him. He did the same to his kids – NOT that he offered moral support or anything. Our successes were supposed to magically happen.
Both of my parents were born in 1924, so they grew up during the Depression.
Mom came from a large Chicago Italian family. I don’t know a lot about her family because Mom didn’t talk about growing up very much. There were 12 children, but one died as a teenager. Mom was the second-oldest.
One time, during a trip home to Indy from Atlanta, I asked Mom what it was like when she was in high school. She told me she took special secretarial classes. She learned to type. And when she graduated she got a job and helped out the family. Dad told me once that Mom turned her entire paycheck over to her father, but Mom said that was not true – she had her own money. She had friends at work and the ‘girls’ would take vacations together. One of them was Jewish and they were always afraid they would get kicked out of their hotel. This was the early 40s.
Dad grew up on a farm in Nebraska. I know even less about his family. He said his father would never talk about the family (he died before I was born). Dad’s mother was a very strong woman. She died when I was a baby. Mom told stories about her babysitting – they would get home and she would be mad about something. Dad was the middle child, with a younger brother and an older sister. He told some farm stories, and some Navy stories, and some stories about his mother, but none of his father. Dad never talked about growing up while I was younger – I only heard these stories much later.
(Mom and her parents, Dad and his Mom and unknown Gentleman Caller.)
Mom and Dad met at a skating rink in Chicago. Dad was in the Navy and on leave, but he was only in training and never saw any action. I don’t know how long they dated but they were married in 1947, both aged 22 (turning 23 that year). My parents married post-War and had Baby Boomer babies.
My parents had three little girls, two years apart. Dad was finishing his degree. They were moving around even back then, for Dad’s jobs or training. After they got married they moved to the farm, but that didn’t last long. In the 1950s Mom dressed up her little girls for Daddy. They used to dress up for dinner, but my sister L. told me one time sister B. came to the table in jeans and Dad didn’t say anything so they quit dressing up. Finally, in 1957, they had their boy, my brother K. Mom told me they had a Block Party to celebrate. Then seven years later, in 1964, they had me, another girl. No Block Party.
Both Mom and Dad told me my whole life that they accepted the children God sent them, but that I was the only one they chose to have.
I was told these stories at my Dad’s funeral in 2003: Dad told my nephew P. that there was a church bazaar set up like a mock casino. Dad figured out they were giving away too many chips, but kept playing anyway and winning big. He bid on an overnight stay at a new hotel. The bidding started low, then Dad put up all his winnings so they let him have it. I was born 9 months later. My Dad’s wife said Dad told her Mom was very shy in the bedroom, but that time, for the first time, she went to him. Mom and Dad have both told me I was their ‘Love Child.’
My sister L. (the middle sister of the three) spent the summer I was born sleeping in my room to take care of me. She was 13. When school started, she got me up, bathed, dressed and fed me, then handed me off to Mom before she went to school. She thinks Mom had post-partum depression after I was born, like: ‘I can’t believe we’re doing this again.’ I didn’t hear this story until my 30s when Steve and I moved to Seattle. L. asked me if I ever heard about ‘the morning they lost me’ – no. Back then, King size beds were two twin mattresses, which tended to drift apart. I slipped down between the mattresses and Mom made the bed right over me. When they finally found me, L. said I was ‘snug as a bug in a rug.’
L. is the middle sister of the three, in glasses.
My sister B. wrote to Mom asking about the circumstances surrounding her birth, so I did the same thing. Here is the letter she sent me in August of 1983, just after I moved to Atlanta with my best friend (the year after I graduated from high school). I was born in Burlington, Iowa in June of 1964. My mother had me when she was 39…and turned 40 the next day.
When you were born – let’s see. We were living in Burlington, of course in a small three bedroom house. When I got pregnant w/you, we started looking for a 4-bedroom. that was the house on Crestview. You had your own room, as did K. & Dad & I.
Down on the lower level we built a huge bedroom & bath. At that time the girls had single beds so in that room there were 3 beds – 3 dressers – 3 desks plus bookcases, etc. It was like a girls’ dorm. Everyone was happy with the arrangement.
When Dad & I got married, the church was a very strong influence in our lives. Much more so than today. We did not practice birth control and naturally and lovingly accepted all the children God sent us. So the last was as welcome as the first. You were a “love” child.
You and I perhaps remained closer because of K. being a boy and your being the last. Sometimes the kids used to say I spoiled you or gave you special privileges they didn’t have, but I don’t think this was true. I think this is always said of the baby of the family, whoever the baby happens to be at the moment. the girls said the same about K., etc.
However, I did take special care to see you were not too lonesome since you & I were alone a lot. that’s why you were the only one who went to nursery school. Sometimes you cried & I hated to leave you, but I think it was a healthy growing experience for you.
One morning before you were born, I woke up with a back ache. It really hurt & I asked Dad to call the doctor. He said if I was that uncomfortable I should go to the hospital & the nurses would call him if he was needed. He was called for someone else & just came in to say “hi” to me. But he took one look & said “You’re going to have this baby in ten minutes.” And I did. (at 9:30 a.m) Dad said if there had been a train at the R.R. Crossing, you would have been born in the car.
Dad brought me Fanny May Candy in the hospital for our birthdays. that’s when you got your first whiff of chocolate. So you can blame me for that!
Your christening was a big celebration as you saw from the slides.
We moved to Washington, IA at some point. My earliest memory is from here, of walking to the back yard holding my sister L.’s hand, to pick asparagus.
Then we moved to Wheaton, IL, outside the Chicago area. I only have memories of B. and K. from Wheaton, nobody else. Not Mom or Dad or extended family. Not even sisters M. or L. They both graduated from high school. M. got a job and an apartment. L. went to nursing school.
We moved to El Paso, Texas in 1968, when I was four years old. It must have been late in the year when we moved because my sister B. told me that she and a girlfriend got on the train to go downtown to see the Democratic National Convention, which was in August of 1968. However, because of the political upheaval and rioting, the trains wouldn’t stop in the city, so they had to just come back home.
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