Saturday, July 19, 2008

Family

I am inspired by two fellow bloggers who have recently shared stories about their lives. The stories made me feel closer to them. I feel as if you are my friends, and friends are not something I have many of left in this world. There is no one left to be hurt by anything I might say - so why not? You can always move on to another blog if I become too tiresome.


I guess I've talked a lot about my family, but never much about my parents. At least, not about my father.

He was the fourth in a family of nine siblings. Frances, Arthur, Eleanor, Guilliam, Esther, John, Jim, Joe and Ted. Yes, I can still name them all. Just checking. Their mother died soon after Ted's birth, and they were more or less raised by Frances. I believe I've talked before about Frances - the aunt I never knew but have always admired. I may also have mentioned the fact that most of the family members were pretty much bigots and snobs, the exceptions being Frances and Joe. I've always contended that my father was the world champion bigot of all time. He was not a nice person. I may have mentioned that before, too. I don't remember.

I have never quite understood how two people like my mother and father ever got together. She was very young - under the age of consent for marriage. She was from a working family. Her father owned a coal and ice yard and worked hard beside his employees. He got his hands dirty. I'm sure that had to be frowned upon by my paternal grandfather. My mother never went beyond the eighth grade in school. I know that could not have made them very happy. She worked as a sales girl, a "common shop girl", as they said, in the dry goods department of a department store. But she was pretty, and willing to marry him. No one has ever told me anything about his reasons, but I have my suspicions. They married just at the start of World War I, so of course he was not drafted immediately. And they had a baby about a year later, so he was not drafted then either.

His family never did accept her.They accepted my sister and brother. She was named for their mother, and he was "the third" ( God help him). I didn't come along until eleven years later. By that time the marriage was on the rocks, and my father was asking for a divorce. I guess that's why my sister was always "Guil's daughter" and I was "Ruth's girl".

My father did very well at the bank, in the Building and Loan Department. He got along extremely well with his secretary. No matter where we went - if he took me to the zoo or the circus or just for a ride in the country, we always seemed to run into her, and she would join us for the day.

He did take me alone on little day trips, when he had to go into the inner city to talk to the bank's tenants. They were probably the biggest slum lords in the city at the time. He would turn me loose to play with the kids while he conducted business with the parents. I loved it. The kids were great, and the parents treated me very well. Little kids don't worry about the sorry conditions in the building. They just have fun. When he was finished, we had the long drive home to the suburbs. Now, in the 1930's kids did not talk back or question their parents. We sat and listened - or pretended to listen. All the way home he would preach his little sermon about how "They" lived. We wouldn't live like that. They were no better than animals, etc., etc. I guess it was supposed to be an object lesson for me. I would sit there thinking, "My father must be crazy" because he had seen the same things I had - the same people I had. I saw nothing wrong with them. And when he talked about the condition of their houses, even a little kid could figure out that was the landlord's neglect, not the residents' fault.

Anyway, when my mother refused to divorce him (He had no grounds, so it would have to be her doing.), he decided to be sure she knew she had grounds. Then he started taking me out at night. I went to more bars and night clubs and cocktail lounges before I was six than most adults at the time. I hated it. They would always end up sitting me up on a bar stool with a Shirley Temple, and asking me things like, "Are you married, Sweetheart?" or "Do you have a steady boyfriend?" To this day, I hate bars. I hate the smell of them. It doesn't matter how nice a place it is, they all have that smell of beer and whiskey and perfume - and in those days, cigarette smoke. Then he would take me home and tell me to be sure to tell Mommy where we went and who we were with. Eventually, when I was six, my mother decided I was getting "old enough to understand what was going on", and it wasn't good for me. So she divorced him.

I didn't mind them divorcing. It wasn't much different for me - except I didn't have to go to bars any more, and that was good. It isn't as if my father was ever home much that I remembered. I cannot remember a time when my parents shared a bedroom. He had his own room, as did my brother and sister, and my mother and I shared a room. When they divorced, my sister was twenty-one. She got her own apartment. My brother came with Mother and me until he went off to war, and when he came home, he married. So for the next eleven years, Mother and I lived on $100 a month child support, plus whatever she could earn. I saw my father every Sunday afternoon, when he gave me a quarter allowance. When I turned eighteen, the child support stopped, I graduated from high school, went to work and started paying the rent. (The rent for our five room apartment was $90. a month. My starting salary was $37.50 a week.)


I loved my father. It took me a lot of years before I realized that, but I did of course. If I hadn't loved him, I wouldn't have cared so much, would I? He was my father. But I didn't like him much.

There was a day - about a half hour one afternoon - when I actually felt like he was a real father. We talked, and for the first time he was not arrogant nor pompous. He was humble, and he told me he was sorry. I asked for what. He said, "For everything." He told me that all the times we had argued, I was right and he was wrong. I had never in my life heard my father say he was sorry for anything to anyone. But that afternoon in the hospital, he said it to me. He died that night.

11 comments:

Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Wow! You had told me this story, but it is different reading it. I am all teary eyed. Your mom must have been a very special person and did a very good job of raising you.

At least in the end, your dad, in his way, made amends. Lisa

kenju said...

Oh, Bobbie. Thanks for sharing your story. I hope you will write more. Reading about other people's experiences always helps to understand our own more clearly - or helps to make us have gratitude for what we did have.

It is great that your dad came to realize that you were right and he was wrong; that he said he was sorry to you before he died. That should be a comfort to you.

LauraHinNJ said...

Oh Bobbie. What a story. Hugs to you.

Judy said...

Hi Bobbie, Thank you so much for writing this story. It made me cry, too. I loved my father very much but I sure did not like him. There were times when he beat me as a child that I will never get over. I think it was out of ignorance. The old thing about spare the rod and spoil the child but today I would have been taken out of the home by Child Protective Services. I think it helps to face these things and write about them. I forgave him many years ago but it is still hard to forget.

Bear Naked said...

Bobbie. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Perhaps, in time, I will start to share my life story but at the moment it is not the right time for me.
Bless you.

Bear((( )))

me ann my camera said...

Bobbie, you have no idea how much the reading of this touched me. My father used to take me along often on his little day trips too, but his instructions to me were lways,"don't tell", and I never did. And the similarities continue. Your stories are always heart felt and your sharing is much appreciated.

Kelly said...

Bobbie,

Through your courage in opening and sharing part of your life with us, I believe we all feel a bit of freedom, and sense that we too, can write about what happened to us. I know that many of us have pushed things down deeper and deeper inside us, doing nothing but allowing the wounds to remain open!

You may never know how many peoples lives you have touched and how many lives you have changed.

Once again, you are truly an inspiration to so many people!

I've always heard the phrase "you're as sick as your secrets" so through your bravery, you have given hope and stength to "speak" out!

Bless You!

Kelly

Pagan Sphinx said...

Bobbie,
I loved reading this. Your honesty and wisdom are my favorite of your many great qualities and they are evident in the words of this wonderful post.

I hope than when I am your age (I hope that doesn't sound dumb), I have half as good a perspective on life as you.

I'm so glad to know this piece about your life. And happy that you are who you are and are able to think independently about people and situations.

Love,
Gina

Pagan Sphinx said...

What happened to my long comment??? Darn.

Crayons said...

Hi Bobbie,
I'm having a rare leisurely afternoon on the Internet -- I'm house-sitting! This is a special story, partly because it is such a slice of life from the .... 40s? But also because of the narration itself. You were one resilient girl to have come through that confusing childhood without a chip on your shoulder.

I somehow imagined that you came from a gentle, socially-aware Quaker family. What a surprise.

It would be worthwhile to continue writing these memories.

Kathiesbirds said...

Bobbie, what a story! I'm sorry you had such a tough life as a kid, though it sounds like your own wisdom and your mother's love pulled you through. I'm glad you could see through your father's game. Too bad he had to drag you to all those bars, but how amazing that he finally appologized! It was good your mom divorced him, though divorce is never easy. As a child it is hard to understand. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you feel like I am your friend now. You are not alone in this world. Thank you for visiting my blog while I was gone.