I’m going through old photographs looking for clues of a life now almost gone. I can see that The Mother was a beauty, but not the 1940’s Hollywood type beauty. Yes, the pleated and wide-legged slacks, fitted-waist peplum over-blouse, the burnt-red henna hair but not quite the Lucille Ball colour, the bright red lipstick. All there. The effect, however, was not the same as the fashion magazines or the cinema posters or the movies that dictated women’s fashions for that era of U.S. history that was in the process of winding down two terrible wars. Or was it three?
The missing element…necessary element…to The Mother’s fashionable and coveted opulent lifestyle was, of course, money. She was straight from the sagebrush hills of backwoods Southern California. Poorer than most. Basic high school education. And a haughty flirtatious personality that defied good taste. She was rough around the edges but liked being noticed. The center of attention was highly prized and hard fought.
She shared a home and a life with a hypochondriac, mentally unstable mother, an overworked father bent on providing for his sickly wife and the much younger other daughter…a cripple with cerebral palsy that required all his time and all the earned money. Lack of money and lack of attention brought out the worst in The Mother. Even then. She acquired the projection of a style necessary for a young woman who desperately wanted to get out on her own…to get out on her own. To get a job. To just get out and away from destitute, low-brow parents and a physically destitute sister. Most of all, though, The Mother wanted to get out and away from her own perceived destitute life.
I don’t know much about the early years when The Mother left home and went to work at an aerodynamics factory supplying the government with airplanes, but I heard about that job. Over and over. It was a story she liked to recount with wide smiles and much gusto. With bravado would be another appropriate describer. In my imagination I can see her running up and down steel mesh stairways with important papers to be signed and inventories to be taken. Her high heels. Her Kathrine Hepburn slacks and form fitted twin sweater sets. Permed and colored hair. Lips the colour of a blazing red fire engine. Life was good and damn it all…she had the world on a ball of string that seemed to have no end. Life was very, very good.
So. What happened?
The Mother was deeply in love. Himself was being shipped to Texas for basic training. She was waiting for Himself’s proposal letter to arrive but instead, in those short weeks away from her and their proposed life, received a letter from Himself stating he had married…another. The Mother’s endless ball of good-time and great-life string snapped. The Mother took and received consolation from her best friend‘s brother-in-law…he being shipped out to conquer or clean-up a Pacific island. Conquer. Clean-up. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
After all, it was still considered war-time in the late 1940s.
I try to guess…and attempt to put short conversations over heard at family gatherings together and in some sense of time order. Not easy. These conversations amongst family and friends have always been in hushed tones. In secret. Especially around me. The stares. The empty smiles. Everyone and I do mean everyone seemed to have been threatened and sworn-to-death secrecy. I was, much later in my adult life, to find this account of sworn-to-death secrecy to be a true story. The Mother had holding power over many, for years and years. Therefore, putting the pieces of those whispered snapshots together of The Mother’s life was and is similar to assembling a one thousand piece puzzle on a too-small table top. Not only are some pieces missing but the outer edges, the ones that create the boundaries and hold all together, fall off the edges of the table. I can only guess at the vacant pieces and where they should be placed but I also need to find peace within this life, The Mother’s and mine, that continues to do battle in the now ever-present over the loss of what should have been had other choices been made.
Her loss. Her circumstances. Again, her choices.
She was single.
She was broken hearted…and she was now pregnant.
My name is Ruth.
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