My Mother, the Early Years

My mother grew up and married during an interesting time in our country.  She was born in 1935 in the midst of The Great Depression (1929 – 1939).  She was the 9th of 10 children from a poor farming family in Illinois.  She married in 1956.  Near the end of an era of relative calm and prosperity in our country.  And right before the era of The Sixties, a time of great change.

I don’t know for sure if this was the source of the trouble in my parents’ marriage, but I don’t think it helped.  Certainly, my father had definite ideas about marriage.  He considered himself to be the “benevolent dictator” and demanded that life in “his” house run a certain way.  There was no partnership.  There were many loud arguments and some violence.  My father loved to shake his fist, and he would use it from time to time, too.  I remember my mother having a few black eyes and all of us having bruises as a result of his disciplinary methods.  He also used to beat us across our bare bottoms with a leather belt.  These are not good memories nor do I believe they had any part in making any of us better people.  They were simply misguided and unsuccessful methods of control.

Wedding Day, June 30, 1956.  I would be born the following January.

As a young girl, I would spend countless hours adding and subtracting and asking about the length of pregnancies and was I premature.  I just could not comprehend how I could have been a full-term baby when they had only been married 5 1/2 months prior to my birth.  Both of my parents made it a point to take me aside after the divorce to let me know that they “had” to get married because of me.  I don’t really know why they chose to do this at that particular moment in time when I had been questioning them about it for years.  But, I can tell you that it was a painful thing to share with me considering the timing.  I felt responsible for their miserable marriage for many years after that.

1957 – My mother holding me as a baby.

It must have been a confusing time for young couples and particularly for women.  Older women set one standard of what being a wife and mother and woman was all about, but younger women were turning some of those notions upside down.  Access to birth control was changing everything.

Circa 1956 – My mother was never a push over.  She was a red head for sure.

My parents would proceed to have 8 children in 9 years.  She was a good Catholic wife and mother.  She grew up in a poor family with a violent father, and I truly think she wanted to create a good family for her children.

Thanksgiving 1962 – My brother (kid #5) was asleep on her lap, and she was pregnant with kid #6.

Raising children was a little different then.  For the most part, women did not work outside the home, and they had a large network of other mothers with whom to share time during the day.  This is vastly different than what a lot of today’s mothers experience.

Kids would leave the house early in the day and return for lunch and supper.  We would run and ride our bikes all over the place.  This is something we would never consider allowing our children to do today.

We might have been involved in a few activities here and there, but we were not scheduled from day break to bed time like most of today’s youth.

Family vacation to Brainerd, MN, in 1965.  My mother is pregnant with kid #8 and smoking a cigarette.

I believe that this is the only “real” vacation we ever had.  We went to Brainerd, MN, with family friends.  We went to Paul Bunyan Land and played in the lake.  Usually, we went to visit relatives for vacations, and those were fun times, too.

Back then, it was not uncommon to see pregnant women smoking.  Smoking was allowed everywhere.  It’s rather humorous that we wore swimming caps to go into the lake, but did not have to wear life jackets when out on the docks and boats.

1968 – My brother’s First Communion dinner.

My brother got to sit at the head of the table as the guest of honor.  The only time we got to drink soda was for a special occasion such as this.  And I’m not quite sure if that is wine in the wine glasses or not, but there is a bowl of ravioli casserole and bread & gravy to eat.  I love that we are all praying together.  We do that in our home, too, even if it is just the two of us.

My mother took good care of us.  She established holiday traditions.  She cooked for us.  She did our laundry and kept the house clean.  She was an expert at finding cheap and free activities to entertain and enlighten us.  We went to the Zoo, on picnics, to the free seats at The Muny outdoor theatre in the summertime, to the botanical garden, and to museums.  And when I became a mother, I did these things with my children, too.

1969 – Our last family photo.

But I think the times were changing, and our parents were not changing in sync with one another.  My father wanted to have his wife and home as always, but also benefit from having her go to work.  I think she wanted to have a little more freedom and ability to make decisions and help manage their lives.

Sometime, not too long after this picture was taken, my mother would have the sheriff serve my father with divorce papers.  Their divorce would be finalized on April 20, 1972, when I was a freshman in high school.

Life as we knew it changed forever.

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