My parents were born in 1944, the second world war still raging. Their parents were not married; a bit unusual in the 1940s, but not unheard of. I didn't know that my paternal grandparents remained unmarried until my father, their youngest, was two years old. When I told my dad's sister this news, she seemed surprised. Dad's brother later told me that my great-grandmother died giving birth to his mother, my grandma. My dad's people are not big talkers about the past unless confronted.
I am part English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Dutch, and possibly American Indian. White as can be unless I can somehow prove the Indian part.
My mother's people are more open about the past, possibly because they have less to be ashamed of, or they just don't care about what other people think. I used to wonder which side of my family was more uptight, but it would depend on the generation you were referring to. My grandmothers didn't have much in common; aside from having a child or three out of wedlock. My dad's mother was an alcoholic who had a lot of friends at the bar, and my mom's mom was a churchgoer who drank the occasional glass of wine. As for my grandfathers, things are a bit more complicated. Dad's dad has been referred to by his sisters(only three are still alive) as 'the rebellious one,' but he was never a criminal or an alcoholic. He worked at the same plant for over thirty years. He was a strict father, but he had to be. With an alcoholic wife and three kids, his life was full. (Not that my dad wasn't spoiled, especially by his mother. She always made sure his food didn't touch on his plate. If his potatoes and vegetables touched, Grandma would separate the food with a fork. She baked custard pie just for him). My maternal grandfather I never met, and my mother only met him for the first time at the age of two, in a courtroom when my grandmother filed a paternity suit against him. He had chosen to go back to his wife. They settled by my grandfather giving Grandma $600.00 with the agreement that she would go away. That was the 1940s; he wasn't forced to pay child support and Mom only saw her father a few times until the 1970s, when she heard he had died, and I went with her and Dad for a brief visit to the funeral home. He was bald and wearing a vest with a pocket watch. That old man was a stranger to me. Mom was blessed with a good stepfather that she preferred to call Dad.
Some things that happened to my dad between the ages of three and six(the stories are a bit sketchy; I think my dad's early childhood was blurry for him):
1. My paternal grandmother had a difficult birth for my father. She may have had a heart attack during delivery. My great-aunt, Grandpa's sister, said she also had to have surgery for a hernia. Grandma's pregnancies for my uncle and my dad were very close, both were born in the same year(my uncle in January of 1944, Dad in November). This could have caused the hernia, but Grandma and Dad survived the delivery.
2. Dad, as a toddler, was looked after often by my great-aunt, who was still a teenager. My great-grandmother was still alive then. She didn't care for her daughter-in-law. The story goes that Grandma wasn't eager to change diapers, leaving Dad and my uncle a mess until going to Auntie's house. Grandma would disappear, taking Grandpa's paycheck to the bar to drink with her friends. My grandpa's sisters were nice; he came from a brood of twelve, but Dad used to joke about his uncles, that their knuckles dragged across the floor when they walked. For some reason, he thought they were monsters. My great-grandfather was a tall, lanky Englishman who worked as an independent contractor, building houses in his sixties after the war. His father came off the boat from Britain in the 1850s, I think. Great-Grandpa was a smart man, literate but with no higher education. He held down a variety of jobs to provide for a wife and twelve children.
3. The worst thing that happened to my dad was at the age of three. The 1940s model car that Grandpa drove in those days didn't have seat-belts and child safety seats did not exist. Dad fell out of the backseat, the door swinging open. Dad was dragged for awhile before Grandpa realized what was happening. Dad had a scar on his arm and another on forehead for the rest of his life. He always made sure his truck doors were locked when we kids rode along with him, and I was always in the middle.
Dad never seemed bitter about his early childhood, and I'm sure there are many stories I don't know because Dad didn't want me to know. Mom was never one to hold back, and here are some events in her life between the ages of three and six:
1. My mother was often left in the care of her three older half-sisters, her half-brother almost a teenager by the time she was born. Mom was two years old when she wandered into the kitchen. A frying pan full of hot oil was on the stove. Mom pulled down the pan, and the oil burned her head and arm. The two big sisters assigned as babysitters were not paying attention(they were both under the age of ten, and why Grandma left them to babysit, I never know). The burns left scars and when Mom was getting chemotherapy for cancer three years ago, her hair fell out, and she showed me the burn-scar on her head. To this day, her sisters blame each other.
2. Mom, at the age of five, used to walk herself to school. (I know, it was a different time, but I still find it disturbing) A large dog was kept on a long chain. She was half-way to school when the dog jumped on her. She fell, and the dog barked in her face until it finally went away. Instead of running home, she kept walking to school. I think Mom learned about looking after herself before she could learn how to read. Only a few years later, she would find herself babysitting for her sister's children. She became especially close to her oldest half-sister, eleven years her senior, and lived with my aunt for awhile as a teenager.
3. My mom moved a lot as a kid. At the age of five or six, she had moved once again with her sisters to another house. By this time, Mom had a younger half-sister, who was about two or three. The next morning after moving in, Grandma came out of her bedroom to the kitchen. She found Mom and Auntie in their pajamas, saying,"Here, kitty-kitty." They did not own a cat. Grandma came closer to the kitchen sink, a large rat standing on the faucet.
Poverty effected my parents' lives in so many ways, the string buried in all of the abuse and neglect. My maternal grandmother tried to teach her children good values and made sure they were clean and fed, but she was overwhelmed before and after her divorce following the war. The Great Depression didn't help. My grandma sewed my mom's clothes instead of buying. As a teen, Mom took babysitting jobs to buy a new poodle skirt or a movie ticket to see the new Elvis Presley movie. My dad wore the same white shirt and black pants to high school every day until he quit before the tenth grade. Mom quit in ninth. They met at sixteen years old when Mom went to visit her oldest sister. She was helping with some yard work when she heard someone whistle at her. She turned around, and my dad was waving at her from his yard across the street. He walked over and introduced himself. They got married two years later.
Some things are meant to be. :)