Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mommy Dearest

Approximately 18 years old
In 1928 my mother was 20 years old. Apparently she was “The Bees Knees” or in 21st century terms, she was “smokin' hot!” By this age, she'd been divorced from a man that believed in open marriage but failed to let her in on it. She had returned home to live with my grandparents and my aunts and uncle.

From what my half-sister has told me, my mother was quite a “party girl”. She also was very vain and self-absorbed, this according to my youngest aunt. Before my aunt died she passed along this tidbit to my sister. I never considered my mother's always being dressed well, wearing make-up and having her hair done, as vain. I thought she took pride in her appearance as she was a working mother. The self-absorbed part, I understood. Upon hearing that my mother enjoyed fun and was always up for a good time when she was younger definitely puzzled me as I only knew her as dour and needy.

My mother told me a story once about when she was in the early days of dating my father. Tequila was recently introduced to the wild children of New York. My mother and father were at a party enjoying the benefits of the juice of the blue agave to the max. She was sitting on a couch with one leg tucked up underneath her. As the tequila took hold of the party goers, my mother needed to pee. She made an attempt to rise but realized she had lost her leg! Looking down and seeing only one leg, the logical tequila conclusion was the other leg had departed for parts unknown. She announced to the soused group that her leg had gone missing. Her friends, being ever helpful, began a search. Apparently the searching lasted several minutes before a less intoxicated member of the group suggested she look under her skirt. Hilarity ensued when the missing leg was found.

My kids adore this story. I laugh when I re-tell it but still have difficulty in seeing this drunk, happy, silly, care-free woman as the mother I knew.
My maternal grandparents had emigrated from Scotland between 1902 and 1906. They had lost four children to a measles epidemic in Scotland and decided to leave their motherland for the golden streets of New York, New York, United States of America. My grandfather came first. His name was so common that I cannot find him on the Ellis Island documents. I was able to find my grandmother along with three of my aunts. They arrived at Ellis Island in 1906 with the grand sum of $36.00 USD and were released to my grandfather. In America they produced three more daughters and a son along with several miscarriages and a still birth. My grandfather was a master carpenter, an alcoholic and a union supporter. My grandmother was a homemaker and did piecework sewing for extra money.

By 1938 my mother was a widow with a four year-old daughter. She'd been through a World War, The Great Depression, a second marriage, pregnancy, the untimely and unnecessary death of her husband and had moved back home to her parents and siblings with my half- sister in tow. She'd also begun working at The New York Telephone Company as a switchboard operator. This was a career path she followed until she retired in 1978.

The reason I started down this pot-hole filled memory lane was a recent conversation I had with my kids. They were talking about family Christmases and how great they were when they were growing up. With my family in New York and Mulder's family 1.5 hours away, when my kids were young, we stayed home for Christmas. Our next door neighbors were close friends. Herman and Sheila were older than us, had three teenage sons and were a really nice family. They were also Jewish but were totally in love with all things Christmas. They all would come over for the traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner and festivities. We all had a fantastic time every year. We'd also celebrate Passover with them as well as birthdays, anniversary’s, etc. My children have fond memories of “family” (yes – Herman, Sheila and their boys are family!) Christmases when they were young. Me, not so much.

I have no memories of any “family” Christmas, Easter, and/or Thanksgiving celebrations. Wait! I lie! I do have a memory of going to someone's home one Easter. I was wearing an extremely scratchy white blouse and a pink wool suit. We got stuck on the Long Island Expressway for hours on the unusually warm Easter Sunday and I ended up arriving at whoever house it was in my underpants and undershirt with my lacy socks and patent leather maryjanes. So, no. Not any happy memories of any “family” holidays.

There are also no memories of my mother cooking anything wonderful. No family recipes passed down or some special tradition that I could pass along to my children. There are no pictures of me, my mother, my sister, her husband, my nephews, my niece or any relatives around the dinner table or at the Christmas tree. Although my aunts and many of my cousins were much older than me and my nephew, several were around our ages. Never saw them at holidays nor saw them much at all. I have memories of of getting gifts and seeing Santa at the department stores. Memories of me and my oldest nephew at the tree. But no memories of any “family” celebrations. Odd and rather sad, don't you think?

What I'm telling you here are my memories, they are the truth as I see it. I'm going to continue on with posts like this because I'm hoping that by digging into my past, I'll improve my present and future.

20 blew out from under the bed:

Ron said...

I LOVED this post, Nitebyrd!

And I DIED laughing at the 'lost leg' story!!!!!

"They arrived at Ellis Island in 1906 with the grand sum of $36.00 USD"

OMG...and back then $36.00 was probably A LOT of money!

A switchboard operator - how I remember when they use to have those!!

Thank you so much for sharing this post, Sis. I really enjoyed hearing about your family history and background. Isn't is something how digging into your family past brings up a lot of things. It's the same for me.

Great photos too! I look forward to reading more.

X ya!

Akelamalu said...

The 'lost leg' story made me chuckle because I can imagine doing something like that myself when inebriated! LOL

It's amazing what 'comes out' when remembering people and times, it's good for the soul I think.

Thanks for sharing. x

Nolens Volens said...

Sounded like your mother really wanted a carefree life. Not saying anything bad...just a possible insight. I'm sure she loved her children. Loved the legless story.

CrystalChick said...

Well, it's no wonder the woman drank tequila. ;)
I enjoyed the lost leg story because my dad used to do something like that. Can't quite remember just now what exactly it was, but your mention stirred a memory.
Isn't it cool though that you did have neighbors to share the holidays with and that your children have good memories. Alot of times it is the friends and neighbors who can be nicer than actual family. I think we've all got a few pot holes to deal with while going down memory lane.

Love how you tell a story and share your truths.

Great post, Nitebyrd! xo

Red Shoes said...

I LOVE this!!! Your Mom and my Dad were just about the same age...

We aren't aware of it at the time, but we have created great memories for our kids by just living our lives, and of course, being there for them.

I love the photos... I love the stories... I love what you are doing!

I started on my family tree a few months ago, and I am amazed at what all I am finding!

I look forward to readying your future stories of your experiences!!


Anonymous said...

This is a great memory. I have a few of these, although mine tend to be quite a bit more painful...but you have given me incentive to write them down somewhere....

Anonymous said...

That was so interesting to read. I'm glad you shared it with us. Thanks.

Grump said...

Thanks for sharing a lovely story.
Woof xx

UP said...

Awesome! It is so funny that you posted this, I'm working on some things like this right now...and BTW, you get a round about shout out today @ rednecklatte!!

Check it out.


A Daft Scots Lass said...

I adore this story. I love delving into someone's past and the photos are stunning.

You may not have warm family memories of your own but you can make your own with your family.

Dianne said...

we have so much in common
I have no good memories of childhood holidays and I never had a birthday party until I was an adult

my Mom was an operator with NY Tel also
how funny

I think it's good to visit the past to, as you say, improve the present
just don't get mucked up in it, I have made that mistake

Anonymous said...

I loved this story. Thank you for revealing so much and sharing about your family. The pictures are priceless. xxxoo

Ms Smack said...

Wow. My first visit here and what a post!!

I'm coming back. Again and Again.


Sandra said...

I have to say this is my favourite post of yours! I loved it! I love hearing about your history, your mother, you digging to discover more. Encore encore!

Anonymous said...

I often think the same - My memories are so far away from others that it's scary... but I figure if that's your truth then you should go with it. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a story. I was hooked! Thank you for sharing it with me!

Vixen said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It was interesting to look into your past and go down memory lane with you. :)


the late phoenix said...

a one-of-a-kind Past Post here, delightful

and those pics are extraordinary...

wendy said...

I found this very interesting. It is good for you to keep "searching" I think. I heard a saying (can't remember from where) the went something like this:
If you don't know where you came from, how will you know where you are going.
That is sad that you have no family pictures to look at or remembrances. So opposite of my youth, as I have TONS and tons of wonderful, treasured memories and photos.
I have tried to keep that alive with my own children.
I certainly would not judge your mom (or family) as I did not walk in her shoes.
Wouldn't it be neat if you could just sit and talk to her and ask all these questions?

good to be visiting you again

Emile said...

I have never lost a leg to tequila before, but I have lost the ability to walk on occasion. Your mom sounds like she was a riot when she was younger.