You are here

Secrets of the Home, Part II

+ enlarge

Dad wasn’t always drinking, there were times he would go on the wagon. He was a good dad then and paychecks went to food and rent. After school, Mother had Jill and me clean house so that if Dad happened to come home, it appeared she hadn’t been in the neighborhood coffee klatch all day. The two younger sisters were too young to participate in housework. Jill and I washed and dried dishes after dinner for seven people and it seemed Mother miraculously dirtied every dish, pot and utensil in the kitchen even if it was fried eggs. When we inquired why our brother Bobby didn’t have to take a turn washing, Dad replied “You’d make a sissy out of him.” Bobby was assigned taking out little bags of trash to the alley trash barrel.

On several occasions, I was chosen to stay with my elderly aunt and uncle to help defray the cost of food. My aunt was suffering from kidney failure. I would be able to help with small jobs while my uncle, also an alcoholic, was away. It was summer and I missed playing with my friends. Being very young, I got homesick after being away from home for a couple of weeks and shed tears and words of despair to my aunt. My Mother sent a bus ticket for my return. On the ride home I envisioned everyone would have missed me and be very happy to see me. Alas, the lecture began before I shut the car door. Mother was furious because it cost money she didn’t have for a bus ticket and of course, same song, second verse—there was no food at home. After a few weeks, I was sent back and knew better than to ask to go home until summoned. Jill bought me some penny candy to take from her babysitting money.
As if things couldn’t get worse with the embarrassments of being poor, a station wagon drove up one day. One of the church members had taken up a collection for groceries. Terrific, now the whole church knew we were poor! Not long after that, Mother and Dad divorced and we finally lost our home just after I graduated from high school. We moved into a small three bedroom rental. I wanted to go to college, but my Father said it was a waste for a woman to go, unless I wanted to earn enough to do it on my own. I found a job and soon got married.

My parents mysteriously always had money to buy cigarettes and go hunting. Of course, my nine year old brother Bobby was going, it’s what men do. Three shotguns, loading machines to make shotgun shells, boots for our fine hunting dog to protect his feet in the cold wet fields, decoys, vests and bird calls of every kind, made them fine looking, real deal hunters. The money spent on this hobby was an official need of the family because if they got a few birds, it would mean “free” food for the family. My sister and I were left behind to watch the other two girls. I remember at one point I asked what we were supposed to eat while they were gone for a few days. The reply was “you’ll just have to find something in the refrigerator”. My sister and I learned to concoct some unusual tasteless dishes with practically nothing.

In Senior High, a dear family friend of Mother’s married a very rich man. I was invited to live at their mansion as a nanny, even though they introduced me to strangers as a family member. The woman was a mentor, so kind, a sweet person in every way. The house had a swimming pool and tennis courts. It was so big that it took me a while to remember where my bedroom was down the long hallways. The owners trusted me with their children, dream home, and cars. It was the best job I’d ever had.

One day the owners left on vacation for a couple of weeks. The housekeeper came to me in the morning and said that she had caught a possum in the woods and wanted to know if I would eat it if she cooked it. She insisted they were delicious and fixed often in the hills where she grew up. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings so I said yes. I pondered all day long at school wondering how to get out of eating possum. I knew I could only level with her when I got home and I told her I just didn’t want to eat possum. She laughed so hard. “I didn’t think you would, but that’s OK,” she said. Still, I wondered what meat was actually in the meal we ate that night.

Jill moved out and got married shortly after graduating from high school. I missed her terribly. My high school buddies were getting cars as soon as they got their licenses. Dad told me at dinner one evening that a 1957 Volkswagen had been wrecked and he would fix it up for me if I made the payments. I loved that car but didn’t think it was that important to make timely payments. This prompted a lecture one evening from Dad who explained that I either pay on time or he’d take the car back. I shaped up quickly! There’s a flip side to this; when I was in my 30’s, my husband and I signed for a mobile home for Dad since he couldn’t qualify. He didn’t make a couple of months payments until Jill was able to get on his checking account with him and made sure the payments were made as soon as his retirement checks arrived. Obviously, his lecture on responsibility slipped from his memory.

In retrospect, not many could afford a TV in the ’50s and early ’60s, so relationships with the dozens of children in the block meant that we all grouped together each morning to decide what to do that day in the summer. We played cowboy and Indians, built hot rods with old wagon or tricycle wheels put on wooden orange crate boxes found behind the food market. We played games, skated and made tents. Girls played dress-up when nothing was being built and there was usually a game of kid’s baseball behind the church on the corner. Folks retreated to the front porch to catch the summer breeze and wave to passer-bys. After speaking to some childhood friends as an adult, I was amazed to learn so many kids that I thought had perfect family lives at home, also kept secrets of their home life after the doors closed. Looking back, it built character, creativity, stamina and survivorship. Most all of these friends became very successful. As a profession I chose to work in cosmetics at high-end department stores usually always finishing first in sales from feeling the pull of desperation from my childhood. I made great paychecks from the commissions I took in. Today am retired and living off my 401k I worked hard to save for. I survived a challenge with cancer, live in a beautiful home in the country, have three grown children, four grandchildren, and much happiness with my non-alcoholic husband of forty-five years.


Loading comments...