Mom, me and my dad, probably 1951. I recognize the lace work on my grandmother's couch, so it must be at their place. No idea what everyone is so excited about!
My Daddy has always been bigger than life to me. He was a little scary when I was a little kid. He sometimes yelled, and believed in "spare the rod and spoil the child". I wasn't spoiled. But, he also really liked to have fun. So, I remember lots of parties with several of my parents friends growing up. Everyone would gather at someone's house, including all the kids, and while the parents drank and played cards, the kids ran wild. We played outside on hot summer nights, long past dark, until one of the parents would notice we were all missing and someone would come looking for us. Our favorite party place was what I considered way out in the country at Uncle Kenny and Aunt Mary's. I was practically grown before I realized they weren't related to us, but were my folks best friends from high school. Uncle Kenny had 40 acres, and was a logger. He had a huge old logging truck that us kids climbed all over. They had a big old barn, full of hay, mice and the best rope swing in the world. There was always a barn cat having kittens it seemed, and we cuddled them and played with them until, inevitably, Uncle Kenny found them. His solution to being overrun with cats was to put those sweet babies in a gunny sack and drown them in the creek. I guess no one considered having the barn cats spayed.
Kenny and my dad were best and loyal friends from the time they met until Kenny died of lung cancer, about 12 or 13 years ago. In fact, my dad has stayed friends with most of the guys he went to school with. Every month, whoever is around meets at a bagel shop downtown and they reminisce. He keeps all his friends for life, but he's buried a lot of them.
When I was nine, my mom died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. My dad was home on vacation that day, building a rock wall out front. When my three-year-old brother came running out of the house crying that mamma needs him, Dad rushed into the house to find my mom unable to respond. There was no 911 in those days, so he carried her to the car, and I guess a neighbor came out and took my brother.
Dad did the first thing that came to mind and drove mom to her doctor, and from there an ambulance took her to the hospital. She never came home, and my dad fell apart. He didn't know how to live without my mom. He withdrew from all of us, and found a series of live in housekeepers to keep an eye on his three kids. (I never knew why we went through three of them in less than nine months, but we did. ) I have only pieces of memory from that first year without my mom, and hardly remember my dad being home at all. I don't remember dinner, or school, or who my friends were. I do remember my dad waking me up about 4:30 every morning to go sleep in his room with my little brother, as David would sob uncontrollably when my dad left, and I was to console him. I don't remember if I did or not.
My mom died on September 15, and by June my dad had already had a couple of girlfriends. One we liked. She was older, and had kids that were older, but they were fun and had a neat cabin in Grays Harbor that we enjoyed going to. But, Dad met someone who I guess swept him off his feet because before we knew what happened, we were moved into her house and they were married. I was ten and a half, and for my siblings and I, life was to become a living hell.
Our new stepmom was insane. She was all nice in public and crazy when it was just her and us kids. She kept us in the basement (which wasn't finished and spooky as all get out!) when she wasn't locking us out of the house. Before long, we had another baby brother, (took me years to figure out the timing!) and suddenly, she treated me better, as I was the perfect age for learning childcare. I think I changed more diapers, and fed him more bottles, than she did. My little sister and brother were still banished to the basement.
Somehow, life kept going. Once in awhile, we got to go spend the night with one of our grandparents. Sometimes it was our mom's mom, the sweetest woman who ever walked the earth. I remember that we got a bath at her house, and she would wash my sister's and my hair with Breck shampoo and set it in pin curls for church on Sunday. Now, most people wouldn't consider that a good memory, but remembering the feel her loving and gentle hands combing through my long hair, and caressing the side of my face brings tears to my eyes, even now.
We also got to stay with my dad's folks some weekends. On those Saturdays we piled in their old woody station wagon and headed for Portland to my Uncle Sol's store for groceries. We always got ice cream bars, and would get to pick a toy to bring home. Grandma and Grandpa had a great Craftsman home with a full basement, complete with a grand piano (a sweet story for another time) and a slant roofed upstairs with oodles of antiques. My cousins and I tore apart an old typewriter one time that was up there, never in a million years thinking it was a treasure and nearly got the living daylights whipped out of us! When I learned as an adult that it belonged to my great grandmother, who wrote volumes on it, and later published her own newspaper in the 1930's, I was too late, sadly remorseful. (Fortunately, I have many of her original stories and articles, no doubt typed on that very typewriter, so I feel a little better!)
In the meantime, life went on and on. I started junior high, mortified when I was forced to wear the same outfit the entire week, as well as nylons that were snagged and had runs. On top of that, my stepmom started telling me not to ever be alone with my dad, as he might "do bad things to me". I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but it was enough to scare me. I stayed out of his way, which wasn't too hard. He was still leaving for work around 4:30, and getting home about 5:30. He was, in his own words, "Just a worn out bread man" who drove to Portland, loaded his bread truck, drove a route that was hours long to dinky little towns an hour or more out, then back to the bakery, unloaded his truck, did his route book, and fought the traffic back across the bridge to Washington. Once he was home, my stepmom insisted on them going square dancing, nearly every night. We had babysitters (my step mom's nieces) more for the baby's sake than my sister, brother and I.
One day my dad asked me to come outside with him and help him repair the fence. I didn't want to do it. When he started asking me questions about what happened when he was at work, I didn't want to answer. Eventually, I broke down and told him some of what was going on. I can't remember all the details, but later we were all at my grandparents house, and there was a huge fight. I guess my grandparents had noticed how us kids were changing, and I think that's probably what prompted my dad to talk to me. (I should say that when he was home, our stepmom acted "normal". She fixed dinner, we were allowed to be upstairs to watch TV, so it took awhile for my dad to start noticing anything unusual.)
Also at this time, the principal at the grade school (who was our old neighbor, in fact, his wife was my girl scout leader when my mom was alive) was noticing my little brother, by then in first grade, acting sort of traumatized. He would hang onto his teacher, not wanting to go home.
Anyway, things got pretty ugly and one night dad came downstairs (where my sister and I had bedrooms that were sort of finished by then) and woke us up. He told us to grab what we needed, we were leaving. And, to make this long story much shorter, we got our daddy back.
He was a man determined to make up for lost time. As an adult I learned how much he regretted his behavior, and he has shed quite a few tears with us over the years. We all forgave him, sheesh, we've all had some rough stuff to get through.
The dad I remember after he left our stepmom (and ultimately his youngest son) was vastly different. We went on many trips to the beach, with the radio blaring and my dad singing along to the Beatles songs of 1964. He renewed his many friendships (given up during his marriage to the wicked witch of the northwest). We moved back into the house we had lived in when our mom was alive. (That wasn't so great. It made us all miss our mom so much, she was everywhere, but nowhere.) On Valentine's Day, our dad went on a blind date and met June. She had three kids, the same ages as us kids. He had just bought a brand new 1965 Volkswagon Bug, and boy did we get the stares when all eight of us would crawl out of that thing at McDonald's. We were a real live Brady Bunch and they got married on Father's Day, 1965.
We sold our house, June sold her house, and they bought a rambling six bedroom house out in the country (at least at that time!) surrounded by strawberry and raspberry fields. We were a family, in the truest sense of the word. Our summers were spent on crazy road trips to visit relatives all over, dragging first the Bug (as a camping trailer full of our stuff) and later a tent trailer behind a 1966 VW bus. It was chaos, crazy, noisy, with furious arguments and tearful hugs. We never had a lot of money, but we were pretty happy. June was a perfect mom, alternately loving and irritating.
Tomorrow we'll gather at my brothers for our traditional Father's Day celebration. We'll eat too much, reminisce, laugh uncontrollably as we tell the same old stories and our spouses roll their eyes. We'll think about mom, who we always thought of as the glue that held us together, and who has been gone now from Alzheimers since 1996.
My dad has outlived his two great loves, with a four year nightmare in between. He's been a darn good dad, and we have discovered that he is our glue that holds us together. Each time I see him I always fleetingly wonder, "Will this be the last time?" But, I don't dwell on it. He's my daddy, and I appreciate every moment I am able to spend with him.
|Me and my Daddy, 2011|
He's 84, but in pretty good shape for an old bread man.