At the beginning of my life, my parents were not married. They were barely a couple. It was November 1957 in Duluth Minnesota. My mother was 19 years old and in Nursing School. She was the oldest daughter of two that had grown up in a dysfunctional home. What I know for certain, is that my Grandpa owned a Grocery Store in Aitkin, a very small town in north central Minnesota. My mother grew up living in the back of the store. Her and her sister Jean learned to stock shelves as young girls and they worked in the store every day after school. My grandma was proud of her Catholic religion and had two children because, as she told me, ‘it was expected’. My mother was born at a hospital but my grandpa was so jealous, insecure and certain that she had been unfaithful while delivering my mother that he didn’t allow her to have her next baby at the hospital. She gave birth to their second daughter at home, with my grandpa present to guarantee that there was no ‘funny business.’ After Grandpa witnessing childbirth, there were no more children for them.
I was a young mother myself when grandma shared her stories with me. That Grandpa had been unfaithful and a very poor business man, almost putting the grocery store into bankruptcy. She explained how the banker came to her one day and explained the dire situation. It was then that my grandma began wearing the pants. She took over control of the store and of grandpa too I think. She said she gave him an allowance. Ultimately, the grocery store was saved and they ran it until retirement. They had a beautiful home just outside of town and a fancy black 1963 Chrysler. It had buttons to start the car.. buttons to do everything. And plastic on the seats. Grandpa was very proud of that car.My mother grew up with no loving affection, no nurturing or encouragement from her parents. They had none between them.
My father grew up in Cumberland Wisconsin. The son of the town doctor, and his mother a nurse. She was a tall, slim, beautiful woman with silver hair that she always wore in a bun on the back of her head. Her nursing cap fit perfectly over the top of it. My dad shared many stories of life in this small Wisconsin town that sits around a lake. Raiding the neighbors gardens at night. Sitting in the basement eating quart jars of pickles that Grandmother had canned. I think he was a typical young boy and a bit of a rascal. He had absolutely no interest in medicine. The sight of blood made him queasy. But sadly, Grandfather had a stroke and was unable to walk or work again. My grandmother moved him with my dad and his sister to St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin to live with her sister-in-law in the Thompson family home. My grandfather’s sister had remained there in this big home that to me, was like a mansion.
My dad had a love of music. He played saxophone in a jazz band while he was in college. I think he loved music so much that college was merely the side effect of being a young adult. He flunked out during his first year of college and my grandfather made him enlist in the Air Force. He was assigned to the Duluth Minnesota Air Force base. Same town where my mother attended Nursing School. Duluth was a big city to both of them with lots of opportunity and excitement for young adults.
My parents never shared their ‘how we met’ stories with me. So after gathering the stories I had been told, I wrote my own story of how they met and how I came to be. In my story, my father had a night of R&R off base and went to a jazz club to hear his music and have drinks with his buddies. And my mother went out with girlfriends after a day of classes and patient care. I envision the ‘girls’ sitting at a table in a smoke-filled club. My dad and his buddies all dressed in uniform standing along the bar, filling up on beer as they waited for the band to begin.
(Now after years of knowing my parents, I knew my mom loved to dance and that my dad didn’t. So this next part of my story is a little fuzzy.) As the band began, everyone’s attention turned toward the stage and the dance floor. With the first notes of Frank Sinatra or Miles Davis playing, the dance floor fills up. My mother and her girlfriends eagerly waiting for one of those soldiers to ask them for a dance. I can imagine the nurses and the soldiers pairing off at that big round table. Drinks being ordered and cigarettes being smoked. Laughter and dancing.
Of course although I’m in my 50’s and I know how babies are made, I still have difficulty in imaging the romantic or passion filled moments that came to be the beginning of me. (But knowing who I am.. I know there was romance and a great deal of passion involved!)