My father came home from World War II, and I was born shortly after. I took the first of millions of breaths on February 22, 1946. This made me a Pisces and a Baby Boomer, a lethal combination.
|This was not our family, but it could have been almost any of our neighbors.|
My mother was a European-American of multiple ethnic backgrounds. She often referred to herself as a “duke’s mixture.” That was better than calling yourself an “I don’t know.” Mom grew up in a small town in Washington State. Her family was best described as “genteel working class.” They had the income of working class people, but they had good breeding. They had better manners than a lot of the wealthier people in the area, a fact that I experienced first-hand more than once.
For example, there was a time in high school when my piano playing ability was called on to accompany a girl who studied with the same singing teacher I studied with. She and I attended the same high school. We would meet and work together after school, in the gym, where there was a piano. We rehearsed together like that a couple of times a week, after which she gave me a ride home. Her family were wealthy fruit growers. In other words, she wasn’t going to have to work on campus when she went to college, and her family would probably set her up in something or other after she earned her degree. My cash-poor family would send me out into the world after I finished college with, “Good-bye, good luck, write to us a lot and don’t get into trouble.”
One day Miss Richfamily didn’t show up after school. I waited until it was obvious that she wasn’t just held up. She wasn’t coming at all. She could have sent a message to me by calling the school, but she didn’t think that making me wait for her and stranding me at school (when I could have taken the school bus home) was worth bothering about. I was pissed off enough to confront her with this the next day. She didn’t apologize; she gave me some lame excuse. Nowadays, I would zing her between the eyes with well-placed retorts designed to drive my point of view into her brain. Back then, though, I was just a timid, shy kid who couldn’t deal with confrontations. I gave in. I hated myself for it, but I gave in. That didn’t change anything. She was still wrong.
There was also the time when, while driving me home, she decided she was hungry. To her credit, she asked me if I minded if she stopped at a drive-in restaurant for some food. Of course, I said it was okay with me. What was I supposed to say, “Yes, I do mind and I hope you starve to death in great agony?” My mother would not have approved. We stopped at the drive-in restaurant, where she ordered a hamburger and ate it in front of me. She didn’t even offer me a pickle. I either didn’t have any money with me or I didn’t want to eat before dinner, so I sat and watched her eat. If I had treated her with such rudeness, and my mother had found out, I would have been chastised up and down for having no class and embarrassing my parents, who didn’t raise any slobs.
My father was a lively, boisterous Italian-American who had been born in Italy and raised on Long Island, New York. He met my Mom when he was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He had been sent to Washington State for some training. He and Mom met on a blind date. She took one look at him and didn’t like him. Fortunately for me and my siblings, she changed her opinion. She quit high school to marry him, and went to live with his family on Long Island while he went overseas. Despite her background, Mom took to Italian family life like a real paesana, and Dad’s family loved her. After Dad returned from the war, they moved into their own home, and I was born. I spent the first three years of my life surrounded by a gaggle of Italian aunts, an uncle, cousins, grandparents, family friends and neighbors. Then my Dad fought with his Dad and decided to move himself, my Mom and me back to Mom’s home town, Union Gap, Washington.
I never found out what they fought about. Nobody ever told me anything when I was a kid. They still don’t.
Dad was gregarious, friendly, generous, tender hearted and loud. He had a lot of friends, many of them drinking buddies. Unfortunately, he became an alcoholic. When he was sober, he was a good father. When he was drinking, he was verbally abusive. That’s a whole other story for another time.
When we first moved back west, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment behind my grandfather’s gas station. Mom and Dad had to put me to bed in the bedroom, so they slept in the living room. There was a kitchen, with room for a small table. Living behind a gas station had its points. I got to hang out in the gas station, play with the almost life-sized cardboard cutout of the Philip Morris bellboy (until I was told to stop doing that because it was there to help Grandpa sell cigarettes) and watch all the people who came in. They were ordinary people, but I was just a little kid and I didn’t know that. Sometimes, too, a drunk would come out of the tavern across the street. This was always exciting, especially if the town cops came by and the drunk was arrested. One time the drunk was a woman. She managed to cross the street and stagger along our side of it until the cop car pulled up.
Our Police Department consisted of two cops and one car. Our cops were more like Andy Taylor and Barney Fife than Briscoe and Logan. Arresting drunks and giving out traffic tickets were the highlights of their week. Of course, there was the time a couple of strangers tried to rob Snyder’s Market and Mr. Snyder took after them with a gun. That was so exciting that it gave the town something to talk about for weeks afterward. I think our two cops had to get help for that one from the Police Department in the nearest decent-sized city, Yakima. An attempted robbery where the potential victim fought back with a firearm was a lot more complicated than giving out parking tickets.
Grandpa’s gas station and our apartment were located across the main highway, isolated from most of the town. This was hard for me, since I had been used to being surrounded by relatives, friends and neighbors. I never quite adjusted. Instead, I developed a terminal case of shyness that lasted all through my childhood and into some of my adult years. I never had a social life when I was growing up. Most kids don’t make it into the most popular clique, but I didn’t make it into ANY clique. Instead, I made friends and had fun with a couple of the other outcasts, and was happy whenever any other kid would talk to me. Most of the time they ignored me.
My younger sister was born after the big move, in 1950. Suddenly, I wasn’t getting the attention I was accustomed to as an only child. I developed a habit of acting out, which didn’t turn out to be as useful as I hoped.
One day, I decided that I was sick because I had a mosquito bite. I refused to get out of bed, insisting that I was dying. This went on until Dad decided to teach me a lesson. He pulled the mattress off the bed and hung it from the clothesline outside. He must have been pissed off as hell, because getting a mattress out the back door of a tiny apartment, then getting it to hang on a clothesline, isn’t easy. He managed to do it, though. I spent the rest of the day sitting in a chair, staring at the mosquito bite. It didn’t do any good.
My family wasn’t the Cleavers or the Andersons. The Bundys and the Conners wouldn’t be introduced to television until much, much later, so we didn’t have any dysfunctional family role models to compare ourselves with.
My little brother was born in 1953. By this time, I was in First Grade at St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Yakima. I was too busy dealing with school bus rides, nuns, other kids and school subjects to act out over a new addition to the family. I had become resigned to not being the center of my parents’ universe, anyway.
In First Grade, I was introduced to the 1950s Catholic school experience. That is a subject for a later time.
|If anyone could scare hell out of us, she could!|