Updated: Jul 12
| This is the 162nd story of Our Life Logs |
When I was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1938, I weighed about the same as a lobster roll. Okay, I’m exaggerating. I weighed a little over two pounds. I was so premature that no one thought I would survive, but God had different plans for me.
My parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. They raised their children to follow traditional Jewish values and they were happy for a long time. My mother was 40 years old when I came along and, in those days, she was thought to be too old to raise an infant. Maybe she began to believe them. Because of her age, she was unable to breastfeed, so my father spent a fortune on breast milk. He kept the receipts until the day he died. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was so that he’d never forget what trouble I was.
I was painfully aware of the role I played in my family. While I know my parents loved me, they also resented me. They had three children before me and were content to have no more. I was both unexpected and unwanted, and this was made clear to me from an early age. I spent my first few years being cared for by a nanny. My mother was disinterested; my father was unavailable.
When I was about ten years old, my father stopped going to work at our family’s hardware store. Though he loved that business, he wasn’t healthy anymore. Within a few years, he decided that the damp, cold weather of Massachusetts was too much for him, and we moved to Florida. Since my siblings were already adults, I was the only one to move with my parents.
I simply loathed Florida. Except for the warm winters, there was nothing I could find to like about it. I had some friends at my new high school, but as a northerner, I didn’t fit in particularly well. Some of the kids even called me awful names because I was friends with a black girl. I found their ignorance sickening. Prior to moving, I had no idea how pervasive and serious racism truly was in other parts of the country. In Florida, I felt isolated both in my home and everywhere else.
At 17, I had a fateful blind date with a man named Dick. Dick was a disc jockey at the local radio station and was every bit of rock-and-roll. It ran straight through his bones. He was a “bad boy” who loved to gamble and take risks. Naturally, I was attracted to his bold attitude and ambitious rhetoric, not to mention that I found it very exciting to be dating an older guy (he was 20 years old). His high-profile career, Buick convertible, and smooth talking persuaded me to go steady with him. It didn’t take him long to persuade me to make a much bigger decision, and soon I was pregnant. This, of course, was completely unacceptable. We had to get married at once.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know I was pregnant until after Dick had begun basic training for military service in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He talked the chaplain into arranging three days off for him to meet me for the wedding. The locals told us that New Jersey had a waiting period for marriages, so we were forced to drive for hours to the state of Maryland. Consequently, my wedding was rather unromantic. No white dress and singing choirs for me. Instead, I got married deep into the night in a stranger’s living room. The ceremony lasted five minutes. I drove home alone, pregnant with both a child and a growing fear.
It turned out that Dick wasn’t as impressive as he made himself out to be. He lost most of his wages gambling on greyhounds and rarely kept a job for more than a few weeks. We never had enough money for the basic necessities. I loved Dick passionately, but I felt deprived and angry. Our marriage was already off to a rocky start.
Our second child, Tammi, was a sickly toddler. The repeated ear infections left her with poor hearing, and her eyesight wasn’t much better. Still, I loved her deeply. I always will. When she was four years old, my son asked her to cross the street to grab him a piece of cheese from our house. She was struck by a car. She survived the accident, but the ordeal took a toll on all of us. Her recovery was long, painful, and not to mention, costly.
Dawn, my youngest child, is only about a year younger than Tammi. I was devastated when the doctor told me I was pregnant with her. I already had two children at home whom I couldn’t afford to feed; how was I supposed to handle a third? The doctor said to me, “Don’t be upset. This child will one day be your greatest blessing.” That sounded like such a load of crap to me.
Despite our tough circumstances, we were able to live in a tenement. My three kids shared a single tiny bedroom. Sometimes, I would put the kids to bed in their snowsuits, or even leave the oven open in the kitchen because we couldn’t afford to pay for heat.
My mother-in-law started helping by giving me $15 a week to buy groceries. I guarded the money attentively. If I didn’t, my husband would steal it. In the daytime, he would pilfer away our money at the pinball machines and card tables. He hocked my engagement ring and other jewelry when I took it off. I developed an extremely hostile relationship with him. I wasn’t much better with my kids. On one occasion, as I was serving dinner, Dawn was whining. It was the last straw. I smashed a plate of tuna right over her head. Not one of my finer moments.
Dick and I divorced after fifteen years of marriage. After that year, I went to work full time and Dick moved away, where he could gamble to his heart’s content.
I remarried in 1980 to a man named Richie. We met in a lounge and had an instant connection. He had no children of his own but welcomed my children and grandchildren into his life with open arms. Now, let me tell you; he wasn’t exactly “my type.” He could be exceedingly direct with people, which sometimes came off as rude, but other times, I found that endearing. Even though Richie was riddled with arthritis, he had an unparalleled work ethic and never let me down.