My mother always outdid the other mothers in our 1950’s Washington, D.C. middle-class neighborhood. Especially in preparing extravagant meals for the chosen ones invited to our house by my father, your great granddaddy, the criminal.
Being the 1950’s housewife, your great-grandmamma agreed with his decision and did all the work. So the chosen ones enjoyed clam dip on a Saltine, a Waldorf salad, a Porterhouse steak, a baked potato with everything on it, fresh asparagus, a Pillsbury dinner roll, and strawberry shortcake with copious dollops of Redi Whip.
When they married in 1933 and moved to Washington, D.C. my parents discovered a new way of life. Both were from small, rural towns: my father from Rhode Island; my mother from Maryland. He was far more experienced in the ways of the world however, and, wanted to continue living the vida loca that only a big city could provide. So she agreed.
My father, always the bad boy but now a married one, was the breadwinner for the newly created family. That was how it usually was done in those days: the man of the house left the house to provide for the family; the woman of the house remained in the house to do the housework because she was a housewife and was expected to keep a clean house for her man and children. So she agreed.
But my father’s breadwinning was of the bad boy kind. It was an illegal occupation. In other words, he worked for the “mob” — as a bookie. Still, the job provided a more substantial income and a tax-free one, perks that he and my mother would not have enjoyed had he done something else. Even if he could have found a job in those hard economic times of the Great Depression.
In addition, he enjoyed the company of gang members — the other guys who made more money than most guys their age who were attempting to stay out of jail. His local posse of fellow criminals were guys like he was–young, street-smart, willing to work hard for the money, and anything but a WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant), at least not “white” as in very light skin! Most were swarthy of skin, and Jewish or Catholic. Their noses were inherited from their marauding ancestral tribesmen: long and aquiline, some of them hooked. These nasal appendages were not those of cherubic dimension or demeanor. These noses were sharp and meant business. To support this conviction, their no-nonsense noses were accompanied by a variety of weapons hidden away here and there in these bad boys’ three-piece suits. Adding to the gangster’s menacing look were Fedora hats, all of them cocked at precisely the same angle to hide one eye, and to leave the person who was the customer assured that if the eye they could see was so scary, the eye they couldn’t see must be the eye of the devil! So the customer knew that he better pay his debts to the mob, or suffer unfortunate consequences!
This camaraderie between these young men symbolized the age-old connection between males. This meant that their wives and kids were part of the family, too. Entertaining each other in their homes was important to maintain a sense of community. The wives did all the work, of course. Their husbands expected them to do so. My father expected my mother to do so. Again, she agreed.
An unsophisticated young woman when she married my father, her life as a mid-century, middle-class housewife with a husband and two young boys kept her busy, but not always fulfilled or calm. After all, she was of Scottish and Irish descent, and possessed a lot of energy. In other words, she had a bad case of nerves that sometimes showed itself with a fierce temper.
To calm down, she took up alcohol, compulsive house cleaning, and throwing whatever item she could find at my father whenever she could findhim (he stopped being home most of the time when I was a boy). But when he was home, he was the life of the party, those very dinner parties she slaved over for his gangster buddies and their wives and kids.
As time went on, my mother’s drinking and fits of fury increased, as did my father’s absences from home. When he was home, my mother would fight with him, and accuse him of having “another family.” She was right, a fact I learned only decades after my parents had died. I presume he had many mistresses, not just the one I knew of for certain — the woman with whom he had a son, my half-brother I have never met.
In 1951 when I was six years old, my father decided that maybe he and my mother should transfer their love of community into less criminal connections, or at least give that outward impression to the cops who were always hovering around my father and the other bookies.
So my parents hopped on the Mid-Century American bandwagon and joined a Middle Class Protestant church. They began to tithe, giving to the “Lord” 10 % of my father’s gross income (granted, neither he nor the church ever knew what that amount would be from week to week). So instead of the gang of criminals coming to our house for booze and Porterhouses still gushing blood, the gang of holy rollers was coming to our house for V-8 Juice and over-cooked Porterhouses that required diners to have massive jaw strength to chew.
Such was my upbringing for the first twelve years of my life: caught between my own wanting to be a bad boy and a little angel. And realizing all the time, that I was different from the other boys I knew, although I didn’t know how to label myself other than to believe what others said of me: I was a crybaby, I was too sensitive, I needed to stop hopscotching with the girls and start playing ball with the boys, I needed to stop locking myself in my parent’s bedroom and pretending to be Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow.”
Of course, my older brother did all the things my parents wanted me to do. In addition, he didn’t stutter like I did. He collected baseball cards. He played with his tin soldiers. He didn’t spend hours in the bathroom experimenting with our mother’s makeup. He smelled, and I never did.
Then one day in the autumn of 1956, my mother made a statement to me, to the other housewives, to the bookie gang, to the church gang, but most all to my father, that she was pissed off and needed to show how pissed off she was! In retrospect, I realize that she was proclaiming she was a feminist….
To be continued in part two.
Note: Don Beaudreau is a local writer who has published 10 books on AMAZON BOOKS. This selection is taken from a work in progress. It is dedicated to his 3 granddaughters. firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com
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