Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bob & Virg

While out dancing with your girlfriends during the 50s, you stumbled upon a handsome drummer and your heart melted. Your courtship lasted less than a year and the fates determined your destiny, or did it? All my life I accepted being a "love child" but there were times I wished it wasn't so when we endured many difficulties throughout our childhood. I felt if you never had me, no one would be so miserable. After a lifetime of feeling this twinge of guilt (kid's do the darnedest things), I learned it was quite possible that perhaps I was, in fact, part of your plan. Hmm. You chose to give birth to me (thanks!) and continued to become pregnant 9 more times within a span of 13 years, delivering 7 babies thereafter. What a brood! You were a mere young girl of 19 when I came into the world on Valentine's day after 2 days of being in labor. I figured if I was the same age when I had my first born and he was the same age when he had his first born, my youngest son, who turns 18 in a couple of weeks, could be my grandchild and next year he could have my great grandchild (figuratively speaking.) This picture was taken in 1957 outside St. Turibius Church just after I was christened and we lived in a tiny attic flat down the street from dad's mom. When I was a year old we lived in a 4 flat at 4757 S. Wolcott in the back of the yards. My second cousins lived in the apartment complex, as did our great aunts and uncles. I played with Deena, Joanie and David, but being the runt was teased mercilessly "B O, B O, Robbie slobby." Yikes. You told me to say "sticks and stones break bones, but names will never hurt me." This was the first important lesson you taught me. Deena and I continued to share our early childhood after she moved a few blocks away when her folks owned M& M Bowling. I practically lived there on weekends and remember we ate the new dorito chips and called radio stations requesting our favorite songs. I loved her so much. The Lalo family, next door, made tacos and once I tasted them, I delivered the recipe to you and you made them to perfection. You were an excellent cook - huge turkeys for Thanksgiving, numerous birthday parties and Easter breakfasts. We shopped at the Butcher's right next door and he sold us the penny candy. We played in the tricky alley and performed plays. You and dad entertained "Aunt Geri and Uncle Joe" many weekends while playing canasta and dad pulled out his accordion and everyone had so much fun. We made homemade pizzas every Friday night and spent family time watching Get Smart, Secret Agent Man and on Saturdays, Jackie Gleason Show. Keeping this tradition, my family enjoys pizza every Friday and your homemade recipe once a month. We wore special clothes on Easter, bonnets and gloves and you kept us nicely dressed. Dad worked 2 jobs to support us but he did like to gamble. You devoted your time to us as dad would not allow you to socialize too much, just with Peggy and Geri. I knew something was odd back then, now there is a name for it. Since I was first born, it was my duty to help you raise the younger kids. I did so a little grudgingly and at times resentfully, but they were indeed my little darlings. I cherished the young ones. The middle sisters were more independent and to this day remain very tight knit, but the last four really needed attention. Wayne and I took them places whenever we could. The bond between us was amazing and when they succeeded, I was so proud. Many families suffer some dysfunction, some more than others. I did miss out on many weekends with friends, parties, concerts and my curfew was 9:00 (way too early for 16 -17.) It is common for the oldest to have stricter rules, but explain that to a teen. I was in a tither when you had me attend Maria High School after all my friends were at Kelly. I was able to help in a little way by paying my tuition the last 2 years and I paid rent and even bought the family a station wagon. Whoo hoo... I worked weekends and summers babysitting but this just gave me a great work ethic. I really could not wait to get started in the work force. I begged Neisner's to hire me at 14.
You and I were more sisterly than mother/daughter due to this dynamic. I did my best to take care of you since you were so sick during pregnancies and even retrieved your dentures when one particular bout caused you to lose them in the toilet, but I vividly remember you taking care of all of us when we had the measles and chicken pox and nursing us vehemently until we were all well again. Dr. Cuilini made house calls at that time. He was one in a million, taking care of all 8 of us and making sure you and dad remained healthy (he let dad cut in line to get his weekly B-12 shot when feeling run down.) Dad took me to have my cast removed when I fell ice skating to crack the whip in 4th grade. Of course it had to be my dominant arm. When the dirty secret was exposed, I comforted you but truly I should have been comforted as well. I managed to overcome this ordeal later on with a little therapy. Our first apartment only had 2 bedrooms for 7 people and we survived - two sets of bunk beds and a crib in one room and you and dad in the other. Talk about close quarters. And we thought nothing of it. We talked at night and bickered before the lights were out and listened to the adult conversation when company was over. Sue and I took turns giving shomba rides and we snitched on each other endlessly. I remember rocking the kids to sleep and wishing someone would rock me. I remember Christmas was spent with the extended families - where did we get the room? My most memorable presents were Chatty Cathy and Santa brought Sue and me Tiny Thumbelina and Ralph his coveted airplane. We played all day with these gifts while the tinsel shined on our tree. You were the proverbial stay-at-home-mom and you nailed it. The great aunts were in awe of your patience and nurturing. You and dad did the best you could considering our circumstances. I did not look forward to being uprooted at 8 due to the friendships I made, but we moved to Brighton Park in a 2 flat, which you rented the first floor to the Toomeys, so again our journey included cramped living arrangements. I babysat for her kids sometimes and she turned me on to Dark Shadows. Once we outgrew our living quarters we were able to take over both flats and had a much more functional arrangement. We were literally bursting at the seams. Since dad worked for the commissary at Rock Island Railroad they gave him napkins and jackets to be ironed so I made a little money doing same. Everything needed to be ironed in those days so you can imagine our loads. Starch galore.
Even though I resented going to Maria, this proved to be one of the best decisions you made for me. I am eternally grateful you insisted I attend as it opened numerous doors upon graduation. I knew at 9 years old that I wanted to be a secretary. Deena and I planned our careers in advance. I admired Aunt Stella's skills and emulated her. I did not want to be a housewife nor a homemaker, but instead pursued a career and husband who was closer to my equal, not one I would be subservient to (very common in the 50s and 60s.) Lessons learned. We have choices. I tried to leave home about 3 times, packing my stuff to live elsewhere, and then did an about face and remained home. This is probably my one true life regret. I should have gone on my own, considering how overcrowded we were. I had some friends over and you met Wayne, suggesting I should go with him. Once again your keen sense proved to be right on and after being friends with him for over a year and finally being able to stay out after 9:00, I did heed your wise words and began dating him on August 10, 1973. Having the relationship we did, woman to woman, you offered more sage advice in that a woman should never fake an orgasm. Bingo! There was only one action I regret - one day I was so mad at you I called you a bitch. You slapped me so hard, I never did it again, but I spent many years regretting that I disrespected you. All was forgiven. We always found a way to work out our issues. I could not go to college since I had to pay my own way and knew if I attended Southern University I would just party, taking advantage of too much freedom, wasting time and money. I decided to go to work and save money for my future and went to Northwestern at night after getting married at 23 to my soulmate. He purchased our first home from our friends. We watched SNL every week with them and mentioned if they ever sell we would buy it and sure enough that is what happened. I diligently saved my money and proudly paid for our lovely wedding. I did not have to pay rent the last year since I had this goal. Thanks.
All the hardships we endured just made us stronger and appreciative of every accomplishment that was made on our own. There is a huge sense of pride in this. Life was not easy in our family, but somehow we rose above our obstacles, got up when we felt knocked down and conquered our world. It's interesting how we choose our mates and sometimes we learn to make choices quite the opposite of others. Every time you both threatened to get a divorce, we went into a frenzy wondering what would happen to us all and finally Wayne reminded me how many times he heard this and we should not worry as it had to be at least 20 times we nervously endured this threat, and sure enough Bob and Virgo remained married. No one made them get married, no one made them stay married. It was their choice. Tumultuous, passionate, intense. xo