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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When driving required forbearance—winter war stories


The earliest I remember being in a car and knowing it was a moving vehicle was after the 1936 Dodge coupe needed a back seat, about the time my brother became a toddler and was awarded the space between my parents. I've written of the misery of that back seat, but I have other memories of that car, too. Winter memories.



Ours was green

We lived on North Hill in Akron. The operative word is hill. In order to visit half my relatives, as my parents did about every weekend, my father drove that little coupe into the same valley I still live on top of, back up the other side to visit my aunt and uncle in Richfield, or my grandmother in Cleveland.

Dad put chains on the tires in winter. The chains clanked on the roads across town, and crunched on the snow on the hills into the valley, over the river through the covered bridge, along the railroad track and back up Everett Road, off on our visit.

Snow that melted to slush was a problem. Other cars threw it up and dirtied the windshield. I remember a trip home, dad stopped several times on Riverview Road to wash the windshield with a handful of clean snow from the roadside.

I wonder how snow was removed from roads back then, especially residential roads. I remember the neighborhood men shoveling the hill on Gardendale and spreading ashes from the furnaces in order to get up the hill to go to work in the morning. I can think of close to ten families whose breadwinner had to get a car up the hill. My brother reminisced of times all the cars were parked along the cross street and Gardendale hill was the neighborhood sled run.

We did not have our garage on Gardendale until about 1950; dad parked in the drive at the front of the house. But since that drive went downhill, in the winter he parked next door, on the Cole’s level drive. He drove Helen Cole to work in the mornings.

Automobiles were “warmed up” back then, brought up to temperature. One morning Dad walked over to the Coles, started the car, came back for breakfast. A very few minutes later our phone rang. “John, John the car’s on fire!” I heard Helen’s voice through the phone, dad dropped the receiver and ran next door. The 1936 Dodge was a total loss!

My last childhood memory of cars and winter is 1955. Mom and I were downtown Akron and starting home in rush hour traffic.  It began to snow heavily, the traffic moved fitfully across the high level bridge onto North Street. Mom surmised the problem was no one could get up Dan Street Hill. She pulled into the yard of a construction company, locked the car and begin walking. Dan Street hill was indeed the problem, snarled with cars sliding every direction. It was the best route home, but too dangerous with cars, so she took the longer, easier slope up Home Avenue. We went straight up the middle of the road, walking the invisible center line.

Cars passed us, moving slowly, until one just abreast began fishtailing. We watched for a moment, Mom sizing up the situation. She went to the driver’s window, announced she would tell him how to get up the hill. She would push from his side, her daughter on the bumper, and he would follow her instructions for the accelerator. Mom always said what she meant and meant what she said; the driver fell in with her plan. I was just the twelve year old in saddle shoes in back; we walked that car to the top of the hill, to, I hope, undying gratitude of the long line behind.



A screen grab.
Shoveling snow at my grandma's house,
before there was a back seat in the Dodge coupe.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What I saw at the office this morning

Actually, before I turned off my street


I only set out that early because of the auditors.
The only other car in the lot, but I didn't turn back to take a photo until I was safely inside.
Damn cold to be out!



I went down to Pam's office to say "Cool Mohawk."


Her winter shoes are
Hippopotamus slippers.

I said "Cool Mohawk."
"Actually, it's a Snowhawk!'

I understand it was magnificent when it was sculpted over the weekend,
trailing down the back window.

  
Perhaps.
I had no trouble "getting it" this morning.
I even took a close up on my way home.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Back to center, and other nonsense from the house with equal numbers of children and adults.


Normally I get up at 8 am, because I can. I set my own work hours, and they begin with a stop at the post office for township mail. The post office opens at 9, and even then I seem to pick up yesterday’s mail. Although the township box is in the second of ten banks, the nice post lady is seldom to it when I arrive, and the nasty one definitely is not. Unlike Leon, who has been assigned to another post office, neither of them will flip ahead and hand out my mail.

Something was ringing this morning, way too early. My phone. Another damn weather alert, my brain reasoned. Then I heard Jan’s cell phone ring. “It’s the school,” I said, too late, but recognizing the number of doom. She fumbled through to missed calls first; buses delayed two hours. Tom was just driving the children to the corner in single digit temps. “Take my car and chase them down.” I went back to bed.

One decision into my day, and I could not go back to sleep for my last ninety minutes, so I got up, showered, told the children to get in the car, I would drive them to school. Additional motive:  Hamilton could pump gas on the way. It didn't look promising at school, where the sign on the door said School Delayed Two Hours. Back to our corner where, having passed the bus on the way home, I sat with them at the corner, awaiting the bus. They told me the car was much warmer this time around.

After breakfast I left for my appointment for the one week check of my new glass lens. Off into the snow and cold, thankful for those wrap around, polarized lenses.

I had more than a new lens behind the glasses. Sunday, carrying my laundry into the laundry room, I looked away to tell Hamilton something, lost my balance on the step up, and splat….flat onto my new glass eye. I recovered for as long as it took me to get up and put my laundry in the machine. My glasses were relatively unscathed, my vision no better or worse than before, no blood. Hamilton and I left for church. I dropped him, and went to work for the morning. I have an audit starting Tuesday and that doctor appointment this morning.

At work I thought, some ice probably would be good.  I found a plastic bag, put a couple cups full of snow in, twisted it up, applied it, and started into my information for the audit process. When I saw myself in the washroom mirror, Holy black eye, Batman. If you’re squeamish, look away.

At the ophthalmologist this morning the nice technicians could not believe the state of my eye from cataract surgery, but I came clean. The doctor seems to have been pre-alerted. He bustled in, examined my eye for damage, and there was none. Then the regular testing. My glass eye reads half the 20/20 line, beautiful progress. What did I think of my new vision? In a word, how soon can the other eye be fixed? It will be his first open surgery date, the third of March.

Back to work, and all along the golf course I saw snow rollers. Photo courtesy of Channel 5. I didn't know what they are until the road super told me. In fact, he promised me I could lift photos right from his Facebook page, but he hasn't posted them yet.

The old snow surface freezes just enough the new snow can’t stick; the wind catches and starts them and they roll merrily along. They look like hay bales, one directional rolling. An unusual occurrence, the news said.




And back to center? I have slacked off the gym since the children came, and never did get the hang of balance training during therapy after the stroke. So, I called the fitness trainer right across the street from work and made an appointment for Thursday. No more excuses. Back to the lily pads and centering ball training.

And, the children have no school tomorrow, but I must get up early because the auditors arrive at 9am, and my government office will not be closed.


A more balanced future!



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Relentless winter

Only three weeks ago the Polar Inversion struck.
Children from the Mississippi to the Atlantic had no school.
These children, like most, had been off two weeks for winter break
And were bored to potholders by two more days.


It ended, they went back to school.
Toby was grateful.
He has certain duties,
Like watching for children to come home. 


Winter has not improved these last three weeks.
If it's zero in the morning they walk to the bus stop.
That way they will have uphill both ways stories to tell the next generation.
If it's below zero, Uncle Tom throws them in a vehicle to go and wait for the bus.



Temperatures the coming week are going even lower; the school has already notified us they may close Tuesday.
The forecast is minus ten at bus time.
At this moment we are under a Level I Winter Storm Warning.
That means, "We told you to stay off the roads".
This is my north facing bedroom window. 
Weather seldom affects it.
It stays open all summer, even through severe rain storms.
It's quite a snow event today; my window screen is caked with driven snow.


It's fifteen feet to the ground from the deck, and prudent to remove the snow's weight.
It's wonderful to have children to move it.


While you're booted and gloved up, might as well get the feeders filled.



Watching her come across the yard,
A line from an old hymn came to mind.
"Bringing in the sheaves. We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves"


I doubt the birds rejoice when the refilled sheaves are returned.
Our wonderful flying pigs expect them.
Watching cardinals, blue jays, self important little juncos, sparrows, tufted titmouse, woodpeckers, finches among the bare oak branches makes me smile.
As does the janitorial staff on clean up, the squirrels and the doves gleaning fallen seeds.


Supervisors, both of filling the feeders
And of watching the birds, out the windows.

I need to go to work today, get ready for the bi-annual audit that begins next Tuesday.
But, although I like audits (I do!), I'm not about to inch my car up our hill and back down in the valley. And back home.
I'll go tomorrow.

Today I'll continue the saga of Hamilton's glasses.


The optometrist had no frames to fit the lens. 
My optometrist of twenty five years thought she might be able to cobble the frame together with superglue.
It turned out, now the lens is quite out, it will never go back. 
This lens is bigger than the frame. Its pressure eventually overcame the frame.
Too boot, the other lens is smaller than the frame and was glued in.

This could have been a separate rant, but it's just a post script.
A sad note about the power of insurance companies to take my son-in-law's premiums,
Offer me very, very few options for using the insurance
And costing me literally hundreds and hundreds of dollars to rectify the errors and shortcomings of the providers.

This is not the result of the ACA. This insurance existed before the ACA; made reform such as the ACA necessary, and continues to accumulate the industry's wealth one premium at a time.

The optometrist read the lens, but cannot make new lenses without a prescription or an ophthalmologist's sign off. She could not slip a note through to my ophthalmologist yesterday, due to his patient load.
When I see him Monday for my own follow up, I'll see if duplicate lenses are a go.
Since Hamilton is not yet 18 the optometrist could put the order through on their "juvenile scale" and deliver the new pair for around two hundred dollars, not three. 

I am so grateful to have a job.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What’s wrong with this picture


Late last summer, before school began, I drug all three children through an optical exam. They are on their dad’s health insurance; I found a participating optometrist and scheduled them in.

Laura and Hamilton have worn glasses since forever, Emily never. So it remained, with prescription changes for Laura and Hamilton. The exam cost me only the deductible, and I was grateful for that after they picked out new frames. They cost as much as grown up frames!

Once I was used to their stylish new nerdy looks, I even came to like the new specs.

Imagine our surprise; Hamilton’s frame gratuitously broke the other night. Sitting at the table doing homework and pop, there went the frame.



I took the glasses back to the optometrist shop yesterday to see what they could do. Gone. I called. No answer, no answering machine. We figure the lease ran out December 31st.

Like the fake dental insurance for the fake dental visit to AspenDental in December, where the appointment I did not schedule included a cursory exam, no cavities found, and a reschedule for three cleanings. We blew that popsicle joint, fast. But this one left on us.

I was able to schedule a dental visit for all three for one of those cancelled school days the beginning of this month. Dr. Bob’s schedule had big holes when I called; cancellations because it was below zero, so come on down. Three hours and three exams and six hundred real dollars later we had two clean bills of teeth and one cavity filled in Laura’s mouth.

Dr. Bob came out to explain it to me and I said to please tell me it was from three months of not brushing. Everyone is so PC now; oh, no, it was at the gum line, not necessarily… He went back with instructions to tell Laura it was from not brushing.

So, what is the relationship between a six hundred dollar trip to a dentist who does not take your son-in-law’s insurance and expensive, but broken frames from the only optometrist in a fifty mile radius who did? Someone is making a lota money in this country, and their name starts with insurance and ends with industry.

Hamilton needs glasses, so tomorrow we will go cross town to my optometrist shop to see if these stylish lenses can be popped into another au courant frame. While we’re there I’ll have them read the lens (no, we did not leave the other place with prescriptions! Was that the first indication of trouble in River City?) and make a second pair. Although, a certain cavity in mind, perhaps I need to be hanged for a sheep as a lamb and schedule an eye exam with my ophthalmologist.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What was that masked stuff?


I have orders. Wear the tea strainer to bed for one week.

Wear the wrap arounds to step out.

Use three different drops eight times a day.

Weekly appointments. At the third week the doctor will measure for the corrective glasses lens. I did not spend the extra thousand something for the lens to correct my awful astigmatism as I still need reading glasses. I have worn glasses for the last sixty three years; too late to change. Not to mention, the corresponding extra thousand something for the other eye. I’m coming out ahead here.

The magnificent staff piled on hot blankets yesterday. When the doctor remarked the nurse said they stopped when I no longer regretted leaving my down comforter at home. I heard the doctor chuckle.

I heard everything. I saw red and blue, yellow and green in the bright lights. I heard the doctor say “This pupil is just too small; I need to use a spring.”

“Wow. A spring. How neat,” my placid self observed.

In the middle of the night I woke up. Did he take it out?

Another chuckle today. “Of course I did.”

“What was that stuff?”

“It’s like valium. No, it’s like propofal. No, darn, I just blocked on it.”

As soon as my right eye sees properly, the left one gets it.  The right eye is arguing with the left over which will process color, only a few hours post tea strainer. My sister says that would make her crazy. It is interesting to see the electric blue office scrubs of the clinic staff suddenly have a patch of muddy blue swim across. They weren't electric blue last week, I can tell you that.




Monday, January 20, 2014

Arrrrrgh


I thought it would be a black eye patch,
Not a tea strainer


Glasses to see from the other eye
Out of the question.


Tomorrow, I understand,
I'll be a new person.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A day with the artist


Back in the day my sister and I purveyed our handwoven clothing and rugs to the world, to earn our daily bread and pay the mortgage. I was a weaver, but one who saw numbers and listened to recorded books on the road. My sister was the right brain. Also the nice brain, who set out to befriend another weaver and her husband, Linda and Dick.

Like most artists we knew, their trade secrets were close to the vest.  Jan and I were rubes, we had no idea you weren't supposed to tell. We shared everything. “Oh, yeah, we buy this thread from (name of supplier); you can get that cheaper from (name of supplier); who do you buy that from?

Dick and Linda weren't sure about us. That offended Jan, so she sent me to shows with homemade raisin bread to ply them. I heard Dick consumed every crumb behind the curtains. We talked. We had much in common. Each also left professional careers behind, for one reason or another, to see how it was to live hand to mouth.

Dick died suddenly in 1996, just months before our own mother left just as quickly. We figured there was an urgent call for skilled weavers beyond the bar, and carried on.

Artists are not like the rest of us, including me. I see numbers, Linda sees in color. Or in music. Whichever strikes her first that day. She’s also hooked on how well the prosecutors make their case on the live court television channel.

She tends to weave a rug to the end of her book on tape, and then name the fifteen foot monster  KiteRunner. Not to worry; it’s the rug two customers were considering at St. James Court. I sold it to mine while Linda’s customer dithered on the phone consulting her husband.

“I think I want that,” wailed the lady outside. “I already decided,” announced the lady in the booth, as I tied up her purchase and took her money. Linda went to smoke a cigarette. “Come back and talk to Linda tomorrow, “I advised the lady without the rug. “She will make you a rug you will love.”

And that’s how it is. People who see numbers take pictures, mental or actual, while chaos swirls around the artist and the customers get A Linda they will love. It starts here, at the selvage supplier, Great Northern in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Linda drives an hour to my house, then four hours to Kalamazoo and then back. Artists work hard, and we solve all world problems while driving.


She has to go herself to select her colors. They ship and Linda has tried that, but there could be too much beige. Linda doesn't see beige, or a few other colors I won’t mention here, so any customer who has ordered those colors and received a perfect rug won’t be offended, in the event they stumble on this account.  


The goal. Upholstery selvage. 
These bales are huge and moved by tow motor, on pallets.
This one is waiting to be sorted.


"Stick your camera right in there. I want Betty to see this."
(Linda and Betty go to the opera.)


Red!


More red.......?


This is Carol. She sorts colors.
Carol sees in color, too.
A language all their own.


Looking for turquoise.


Found it.


Raw rugs.


It doesn't leave on it's own. 
I helped load up three of those bins,
weigh them,
put them in the van.
Something over four hundred pounds
to be


This is Pat. 
Her little feet went here and there,
Sweeping the floor,
Breaking down boxes,
Restocking shelves,
Putting our mess away.

I could be Pat when I grow old.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

A day trip and a detour


I’m thinking many of you lovely people simply don’t hang around with tough old broads. And, the operative word may be old; as I seem to have a decade on everyone, except Lois, who I would be content to be when I get even older.

So, I will write more adventures, starting with “Why your father and I got married.”

But first I am going on a day trip with Linda, another tough old broad. Linda is so tough that at a show we did together she returned to me a rug a customer purchased at my booth before she arrived at Linda’s booth and discovered she loved Linda’s rugs more. The customer was too embarrassed to return her purchase, so Linda took it from her hands, brought it to my booth and said “This customer wants her money back.” And when I was done laughing I did it. Perhaps Linda is an even tougher old broad than I, but then she is nine months older…


After the day trip I will have cataract surgery Monday, right eye. Woo hoo. And after a week or so of not cringing when I make left hand turns across two lanes of traffic, into my own lane, on filthy black, rainy nights, I'll have the other one done so I can make right hand turns just as easily. On filthy black nights, that is. I used to stay home nights, but now I have grandchildren. Like tonight, I have to fetch Emily from working on her Science Fair project, probably not before eight or nine. If it weren't a requirement I wouldn't sign off on Science Fair, but that’s another story.

Jim Noragon
1961 high school graduation picture

I forgot--he was pretty good looking.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The problem with teaching


The last piece about the newspaper that canned me, long ago, was a rock in a pool of collective memories. The ripples touched on hard times, hard work, pride in our own ability or that of friends and siblings.  I had an awful time keeping it in my plus or minus five hundred words a post range, probably because of the facts that Mark Twain lets me leave out of a good story.  

My life has been the tale of getting into, through and out, one chapter at a time. Some ironic, some ending with sincere gratitude for having a page to turn, and some with sincere appreciation for being helped along.

The last fifty years of seven plus decades are the result of the chapter called “How your father and I came to be married.” It’s the ironic chapter, the foundation of the rest of my life. The writing needs some thought.

I left off the last post earning a master’s degree in American Literature and nailing my dream job, teaching freshman English at our community college.  I didn’t intend to carry on from there, but it’s an interesting story, so, editing by Mark Twain, here it is.

The teaching gig was night classes; a hopeful start at low pay. I kept my day job. There remained a scarcity of money, so I added a weekend job, cashiering at the local drug store. My husband was immersed in getting his sales career up and running, but he was available to watch the girls while I was teaching and on weekends.

And so things went on for two years. I know it was two years because I just made a time line. Funny how some things come together as one. Way over in Washington D.C., Congress was not funding liberal arts budget items. All over America PhD professors were out of work at universities and flooding the bottom of academia, community colleges. My contract was not renewed.

Back at my day job, I took a phone call from a collection agency threatening to garnishee my wages. After supper that night my husband went off to sell insurance, as he did almost every night. I put the girls to bed, and began going through the bill desk.  I was unfamiliar with its contents; my husband handled that end of our partnership. You can guess the reason.

Everything was months behind. There were credit card bills in my name; there was a loan in our names that I found had my name forged. I made a tidy list and hired a lawyer. The next time our paths crossed, after the children were in bed, I told him I had filed for divorce. His reaction: “You sure know how to hit a fellow when he’s down.”

Thanks to Mark Twain I can exclude the anguish, how awful divorce is for children, and skip to the part where I realized my day job would not pay the bills. I opened the newspaper to the want ads and looked for a profession that earned decent money. I found it, midway down the first column. Accountant!

Back to school again for a degree, Bachelor of Science Accounting. And I had just paid off my masters’ loan! 

To tidy the loose ends, my husband married my best friend and lived happily ever after. Sadly, for him, and for the girls, ever after ended a few years later; he died aged 44 of a massive heart attack. He was his wife's second husband, and she buried him in a single grave, for the reason, she explained to his parents, at graveside, she expected to remarry.  Love those little tidbits.

The end. I believe I’m off the nostalgia train for the time being.




Monday, January 13, 2014

Delivering newspapers

Long ago, when I was married, our household finances continually collided with the truth that my husband was chronically underemployed, beginning the day he left his job as a purchasing agent to become self employed. No more desk jobs for him! 


Sadly, the idea of being self-sufficient came to him just as I left a good secretarial job to go back to school for a master’s degree. I did have a plan; with the degree I could begin teaching English at the local community college. He and I never were on the same wavelength, although I also have learned the definition of passive-aggressive. I didn't know those big words back in 1969.

I took my toddlers out of day care when I started back to school; I could arrange my schedule to accommodate them. My husband became a commissioned salesman of industrial equipment. But, he never sold enough in a month’s time to draw more than his base. Rather like servers today depending on tips, except he never earned commissions.

So, I looked around for a job that would accommodate my children, fit my school schedule, and put food on the table. I found one, delivering newspapers.

Way back then newspapers were delivered by paper boys and girls. They picked up the papers at an assigned place, removed the binding, packed the papers into their bags or their wagons, in the case of the little entrepreneurs with multiple routes, and delivered the papers to subscribers’ homes.

My job was to load all the News Herald bundles for about half of Painesville, Ohio, into my car, and with my two children in the passenger seat, take the bundles to their assigned corners after the papers were off the press and before the little paper deliverers came home from school.

The pay was not great, but the best I could come up with on short notice, and off we went. My route manager hired the paper kids, arranged for the homes the paper bundles went to. My last duty was to collect the cost of the papers weekly from the paper carrier.

Like my husband and his commissions, I failed at this part of the job. My route was the poorest side of town; I wonder if the customers even paid the kids. I collected from the parents; the children were in school.  A mother would tell me her child hadn't collected enough for the week to pay for the papers. Worse, tell me the money bought a gallon of milk.

I told my supervisor he could add collections to his job description. He told me to collect the money, or make the parents sign cognovit notes. I refused. He fired me.

In thinking back on it, I decided everyone should be fired from a newspaper job. Nice resume material. So, I found another secretarial job, put the girls back in day care, finished my masters degree at night, and then was hired to each English at our community college.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Grade A


I was out and about around ten this morning.
  

A foggy, grey day.


And rain.
Some work in town is finishing up,
and I went to look.


The roof is done!


Nothing left but the rest of the scaffolding, here and on the entire east side,
that will be removed by the scaffolding company next week.


Our intrepid crew was on debris patrol.
Fallen snow angels.


The refurbished bridge railings started going up last week.
The Garden Club picked a great color.
Emerald green.

Compare to the south side, which will be refurbished next:


I'm wondering about that ungainly bottom rail.

The original rail the Garden Club ladies designed looked like the refurbished rail.
ODOT inspected and announced a child could get through.

The very fat rail was added,
Blocking the bridge at 36", not 34"
It probably will be re-installed, 
but the airy view is pleasant in the meantime.


The river is on the move.
The fog from the melting snow pack is quite thick in places,
But just doesn't photograph well.


Some more fog around my favorite tree. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

No tall people in our family


I visited my daughter Beth and the other two grandchildren not long ago. My daughter’s house is a revolving gallery of children’s art. It’s always on the walls.

Caroline, the mistress of cats, had another portrait on display. By the arthritic knees I’d guess this to be Kipper, the cat as old as Caroline, nine, going on ten. I understand cat years are exponential.



Francis current piece was on another wall. This is the young man who bolted the Paint like Picasso class at Cousin Camp two summers ago. Georgia O'Keeffe and he was gone. He said he wasn't interested; I figured being the only boy among girls was a contributing factor.

Francis' O'Keeffe, 2012

On display by Francis, an obvious self portrait. Eyes didn't interest him that day, he said. Before I left I made an estimate of his height, and he’s in the 5’6” range. At twelve years. And I was reminded of an incident when he was not a year old.



Francis was crawling, making his way somewhere. Passing my foot he helped himself to handfuls of blue jeans and pulled himself up.  His face was above my knee, and I said “Oh, my, you will be a tall one.”

His father looked over. Now, Bill is a respectable 5’10”, as was his father. “How tall?” asked Bill. “Over six feet,” I replied.

“There are no tall people in our family,” my son-in-law responded.

Some of us in the room had a good laugh before we reminded Bill he was responsible for only half the boy’s genes, and he’d never meet most of Beth’s forebears.  Both her grandfathers were over six feet. Both my brothers were taller than our dad. And in case Bill needed more convincing, my father had one six foot tall grandmother, not bad for a nineteenth century woman.

No tall people in Bill’s family, but more than a few in his son’s. I attribute France’s black hair to my dad, too, although his Welsh father and grandfather probably contributed.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A black Irishman


My dad was black Irish, undoubtedly through the Ulster ancestors on his father’s side. His mother’s ancestors were County Cork, the source of all the enviable red hair of his many cousins. Both sides left the old country in the first potato famine.

They tended to marry more Irish of their own persuasion, until his not strictly Methodist father married into his devoutly Catholic mother’s family.

I cannot imagine why George Marion Lytle married Mary Emma Hogue, almost two decades younger.  I believe she wanted to leave the chaos of a large family where she was the oldest sibling. George Marion took her back to his hometown in Pennsylvania.

Marriage did not suit Mamie; fatherhood did not suit George Marion. He deserted the family when Mamie was pregnant with the fifth child in seven years, and Mamie took them back home to Ohio, to her large family.

My dad’s childhood may have been little different than any other poor child of his generation. He was born in 1907, not a prosperous time for most, and certainly not the unskilled Mamie. Her domestic service wages bought little. My dad fed his little band of siblings from the pot of cold oatmeal his grandmother provided most mornings, and coffee soaked bread for supper. Coffee-sop, according to my aunt. He was ten years old.

Many things angered my father, probably as a child as well as thinking back as an adult.  The foremost was that his mother’s Catholic relatives and church did not care for the children. When the family did intervene, the children were sent to the Children’s Home and his sisters educated by Catholic charities. Aunt Laura was deemed secretarial material, Aunt Ruth convent material. Uncle Bill went to a state school for retarded boys. Dad was helpless against all. In fact, he and mother could not reclaim Uncle Bill from the State of Ohio until 1975.

Education was the ticket out, and dad started where many poor young men began. At the end of his sixteenth year he joined the Army. Stomach ulcers sidelined him; he was medically mustered out after six years, a non commissioned officer with a background in radio communication. He spent his mustering out pay on a year of college, where he packed in two years of physics and mathematics.

Money at an end, Dad took to the Great Lakes as a radio operator on freighter. A cable snapped in a storm, caught and broke his ankle, throwing him overboard in the process.  He was rescued, put off at the next port, made his way back to Cleveland, Ohio, where he met and married my mother and I wound up with the father I've written about from time to time.

A tall man, my dad came from the time when few young men carried extra pounds. The ulcer surgeries reduced his probably 160 pounds to 140, not much for a 6’2” frame. And so life went on, until my late teens, when dad developed a chronic cough eventually diagnosed as histoplasmosis, a deadly fungal infection contracted when he tore down the backyard chicken coop to build a patio. 

Two surgeries eventually removed all of one lung and part of the other. At the second surgery he refused to have the suspension sling that would allow his ribs to reform, again.  He likened it to rowing the Atlantic in a gale. With a set of ribs removed, his spine curved, his shoulders dropped. He left another twenty pounds behind at those surgeries.

Dad retired from Goodyear Aerospace at sixty five; he and mom vacationed and camped with children and grandchildren, but not for long. To add insult to injury, as it were, dad developed something called adult onset seizure syndrome. He called it falling asleep in his chair and waking up in the hospital. He hated it. His body was frail and his spirit gave up, too.  He did liken the process of dying, that subzero winter of 1978, to riding a train to Siberia, naked.

We used to remark when a parent became twice as old as a child. When mom was fifty I was twenty five. It came to me that dad and I surely had such an anniversary. Then I realized he died in a February, at seventy, and I wasn't thirty five until March.

This isn't a sad story. The parts my dad didn't like happened in a childhood he couldn't control.  He fulfilled his adult plan; he married and had a family. He remodeled our house, built a garage, took us on vacation, had a workshop for puttering about, enjoyed his grandchildren. He absorbed illness, until the end.  

He didn't talk about his childhood. He never admitted being Irish; I had to dig through the archives to learn it. That is too bad; he would have enjoyed knowing he was a black Irishman.

Dad and  brother Bill, 1910

On the patio that once housed a chicken coop, about 1956

First five grandchildren, early seventies






Sunday, January 5, 2014

The hair brush in my bed


In the middle of the night, long, long ago, I woke up wild, thrashing, struggling with the covers. I was in terror, sobbing deeply.

Suddenly my father appeared, untangled me from the winter blankets, asked what frightened me so. It was formless, but he put a word to it—fright. What caused it.

The hairbrush in my bed, I sobbed. He kindly explained there was no hair brush; I didn't believe him. A hair brush was hurting my feet. He took all the covers off the bed to show no hair brush.

He sent me to the bathroom and to get a drink; when I came back the bed would be made up again. I left, but I knew the terrible hair brush must be there.

When I returned the bed was turned down. I was doubtful and reluctant. “I found the brush,” my father said. “It’s there on your dresser.”

The awful stinging in my foot was gone, and the culprit hairbrush was safe away on the dresser. I went back to bed.

I remember my young interactions with my father as his little acts of kindness. Locating the hairbrush, explaining quarters were big nickels, five of them, teaching me to tie my shoes, reading books to me, reading Heidi. We began the book one evening, and he got Heidi up the mountain and to her grandfather’s door.

The next day he was taken to the hospital. When he came home two thirds of his stomach was gone, in removal of ulcerating lesions. It was 1949 or 1950. He was still a young man, in his early forties, but he became old and withdrawn.

Dad was unapproachable when he came home from the hospital. I remember him at the end of the supper table, eating little dabs of baby food from his plate. I remember him coming home from work, exhausted, asleep after supper

Several months into his recovery he asked me to get Heidi, for us to finish. But I had pushed my second grade reading skill to the limit and finished it while he was in the hospital. “Oh, I finished it.”

More illness faced my father; each decade saw him less able, more frail.

We occasionally reached out to each other, but the connections weren't satisfactory. Mother was a buffer. And child rearing those decades was rather hands off. Perhaps it made children more independent. Our obligations were to go to school, do homework and come home in summer when the streetlights came on.

Do I wish differently? Not really. He was always there when I needed him, especially to take me to the emergency room for stitches.  My father passed away years ago, on President’s Day in the midst of another record cold winter, probably why I've thought of him today.

The hairbrush in my bed is one of my earliest memories of my father; him surrounded by his grandchildren among the last. This picture is the last one from dad’s camera.