In another part of town a century ago there was a young woman. She was really still a girl, an only child full of hope and expectations. She was fluent in two languages and was told she was a virtuoso when she played piano. Legend has it that she played Carnegie Hall at 14. Her mother and father brought her here to this country for a better life. They wove gossamer gold into all the clothes their child wore. She smiled and was eager for this better life, but she was lonely in her parents’ world.
Their hopes were dashed when at 16 she fell in love with a man who fell in love with her. Unconditional love. He bought a house for her and they filled it to the brim with children. She gave birth to thirteen, but only nine survived. She led a remarkable life, but not the one her mother envisioned.
The Depression hit and still they made babies. When she was scolded for her prodigious family her reply was innocent and true, “ When two people share a bed soon there are three in that bed.”
Still in the thick of the Depression her husband bought a Chevrolet Standard for his wife who couldn’t drive but thought she could and took the children for ride through town, jumped a curb and then walked home with her gaggle of children behind her, head held high. At least she had a car to crash.
Their oldest daughter was called Lucy and she lived a remarkable life, but not the one her mother envisioned.
Lucy made it through the Depression fairly unscathed and satisfied with penny dollies pulled along in matchbox carriages. A big showy bow in her hair and pretty little dresses didn’t take much fabric. They were hand sewn by her grandmother. Lucy watched as her mother was sprinkled with kisses and great affection from her father. She grew up with hope and expectations.
She practiced kissing with her girlfriends and they tried to do it like the great kisses they saw on the movie screen. In her twenties she was kissed by eighteen men, but she kissed only one man unconditionally.
In those days women either married before the war or had to wait till after the war. There were plenty of men in uniform coming and going. A woman couldn’t help but take a soldier to be her husband. These were heady times for women. Diamond rings fell from cashmere sweaters lifted out of Christmas boxes. Rings placed there by men anxious to claim their prize before they went to war. Or, women waited for the war to end, waited for the homecoming. Waited in high heels and a black pencil skirt with a simple pink silk blouse. Waited for a husband and a baby with hope and expectations.
Now what’s left behind are stories of enormous dinner tables with more people than food, and still everyone loved and laughed and learned that abundance comes in many fleeting forms sometimes spun in gossamer gold.
I remember my grandmother’s gentle laugh as she held me tight trying to keep me on her lap. She had a big belly – all those babies. And even though I tried to stay on her lap there really wasn’t much of a lap because of that big griddled belly. She was ‘grandmom with the slippery knee’.
Lucy poured stories into my ear about making fashionable dresses from dime store fabric, and being kissed by soldiers and the goose bumps and the one and only great love of her life, my father.
My parents did their arguing after the children went to bed. Still, the accusations, the mistrust, painful long gaps of silence filled with tension, the shame all drifted up the staircase, down the hall and into my bedroom. My father loved my mother but not as she expected. Her sorrow was hidden in the tiny slice it made in her heart. Nothing was as it should have been.
She warned me to never fall in love with a man who doesn’t love you more than you love them. Ok, but you don’t know that until it’s too late.