My Mother married my step-father when I was four. I remember we went to
Boston and lived one year. I went to kindergarten there. We lived in an apartment, near several cousins. We were enrolled in Dance lessons with our girl cousins. I remember the big recital. We were all dressed up in our dance costumes. My Mother didn’t work while we were there. The Moms were suppose to stay home and take care of the children and husbands. It was the only time my Mother didn’t have a job outside of the home. We went to Catholic Church with the cousins. My Mother went to Mass with all of us. She continued to do this as long as she was married to my Irish Catholic Sailor Daddy. My sister and I were baptized, had our First Communion and Confirmation. We went to Catholic High School after the marriage ended. My Mother was not a religious person. However, she saw to it we had our religious training in the Catholic Church. I secretly think she was impressed with the pomp and ceremony very unlike the Country Nazarene Church in which she was raised. I remember there were different neighborhoods for the different cultures and the people all had nick names; “Micks,Guy-ks, Wops, Chinks”. I never heard this in California. One day in school I traded hats with a little girl. When I told my family who the little girl was, they discovered I had lice and blamed the Ghenny Girl for giving me lice. Years later when I was an adult my Mother still blamed the little girl and her Eye-talian race for the lice. I had five children and one of them came home from school with lice. There were no Wops or Ghennys in the school. Might have been Italians but as far as we were concerned in California they were just people.
My Daddy must have had a difficult time living in Boston. I remember he had a job in a Furniture Store. We went to pick him up every evening in the family car. I could see him through the big window holding the ladder while “Mr. Murphy” climbed up and pulled the chain to turn off the big ceiling lights. My Daddy said he kept “Mr. Murphy” around to turn off the lights. Then he and my Mother would chuckle. I later found out “Mr. Murphy” owned the store. I thought my Daddy was the Boss. In my heart and little mind my “Sailor Daddy” was always the Boss, the Big Man. I adored him. We only lived there one year and we returned to California where my Mother owned a house.
That car trip was one of several that we traveled across the country from California to Massachusetts and back again . I could brag about being in 43 states and Canada and Mexico to my class mates. As a result I was able to skip a grade. My Daddy was a great story teller, and very dramatic. He loved history and geography. When he saw a Historic Land Mark sign he would stop the car and act out the scene playing all the parts and making it all come to life. I was his best audience. He was a great teaser and loved to kid me. One time we were driving down a long uneventful section of highway. And in order to get my attention and hopefully a response of revulsion he asked; “Mary Kay did you see that dead cat in the road”? Now, there was no cat, he knew it and I knew it. But without missing a beat, my six year old excited voice replied; ” I saw it, Daddy. And it’s head was all bloody.” My Daddy laughed and laughed, much to my delight. My Mother frowned and asked my Daddy not to encourage me in this kind of deception. He winked at me. We had that kind of bond and shared humor.
We were at Mt. Rainer in the state of Washington and my Daddy decided he wanted to hike up to the visitor’s vista at the top of the Mountain. It was summer time and the four of us all started out on this trek in our summer sandals and T-shirts with a sweater tied around our waists . My sister was never much of an athlete and soon started to whine and complain. She sat down in the middle of the path and refused to go any further. So, my Mother and she turned around and headed back to the car. This was so typical, a pattern that was to continue through out my childhood. My Mother and sister were always a united team. Choosing to be on the side lines or in a comfortable environment . My Daddy and I were always up for an adventure. That day could have been a disaster. For some reason we went off the path looking for a short -cut. We found ourselves in snow drifts. I remember my Daddy having to lift me out of holes as deep as I was tall. My clothes were wet and I was very cold. I think he was scared. But, he kept telling me we were cutting a new path for others to follow. Just like the pioneers that came out to the West in the “Olden Days”. It was almost dark when we got to the gift shop at the visitors vista. He told me how proud he was of me for not crying and asked me if I was scared. I said; “No Daddy, I was with you.” I saw him tear up and he took me by the hand and lead me over to the glass counter and said I could pick out a momentum to remind me of this day when I bravely blazed our new trail. I choose a silver turquoise ring. He placed it on my right hand because I was ambidextrous and had a difficult time telling right from left. I wore that ring without taking it off until he eventually had to cut it off my growing finger years later. He paid for someone to drive us back down the mountain, much to my relief.
My Sailor Daddy was a city slicker raised on the streets of Boston. But, he loved the out doors, camping and hunting even though he had little experience. He bought a 22 rifle. No one would go hunting with him. So of course, I was appointed to tag along. Up and down the hot, sweaty hills, through the brush and stickers for hours on end. He regaled me with promises of a “Four Point Buck” around the next bend and over the next dale. I remember being so exhausted trying to match my two steps to his every one.
Suddenly, he grabbed my arm and in an excited hushed voice he said; “There he is! Look at his rack! Four Points! He is a perfect Buck!” He stood in reverence. Admiring the beauty of this glorious animal. He lowered his gun. And softly admitted; ” I can’t shoot him”. A classic case of “Buck Fever”.
“I’ll shoot him, Daddy! Give me the gun!” I said in my strong, determined little voice.
” For Heaven Sake, Mary Kay! Don’t you remember Bambi?”
We went home with out bagging any game. I refused to go deer hunting with him again. I just considered it a waste of time. All that effort and nothing to show for it. Little did I realize at the time this story of that time would be one of my favorite memories. A greater treasure than any game we might have bagged.
My Sailor Daddy did two things with his GI Bill. He went to Carpenter School and he took flying lessons. He liked to keep me around while he worked on the house. He liked to have someone to talk to and I was the chosen one. He would spin these tales about” Boo Kuu”, the little Fox Terrier that he convinced me, he had brought home from the war. I think he said he got him in Africa. I doubt that my Sailor Daddy’s ship was ever near Africa during WWII. However, as a child I choose to believe most of his stories. According to him, he and little Nic won most of the war single handed. He built our house and his best time to work on it was on Saturday. He would invent chores for me to do in order to keep me there. I remember straightening nails. And when I tired of that there was always the lumber pile. It was up to me to re-stack it every Saturday from one end of the yard to the other end. I hated that dam lumber pile. To this day I resent having to do anything, over and over.
“Buster Brown” was on the radio on Saturday mornings. It was the high light of my week to listen to this children show. I would complain and pout about missing my favorite show. This put my Sailor Daddy under a lot of competition to entertain me. So, he regaled me with his stories. Intertwined with bits of history, truth and brushed with broad strokes of his imagination. As a result I became a good story teller. My third grade teacher would call me up in front of the class 15 minutes before recess to tell a story. I did this with great enthusiasm and was well received by my class mates. This was wonderful training for public speaking which I did a lot of as an adult. God Bless Mrs. Thompson for encouraging a windy little girl that liked to tell stories.
About the pilot lessons… I don’t know how or if he justified taking these lessons to my Mother. But take them he did. I don’t think she ever went up in a plane that he piloted. I remember hanging around the Air Port at Buchannon Field in Concord, Ca. on Sunday afternoons after Mass. It was boring. It was hot and dusty. After swinging on the wings of the tied down airplanes and being reprimanded by my Mother not to damage my Sunday Dress, I grew tired and resentful of the hours spent. There was much talk about the big day when Daddy would take his “Solo Flight”. After that the instructor would not be the only one allowed in the plane with Daddy.
NOW WE ARE TALKING! I would be able to go in the plane. And not have to be relegated to the boring ground. I could cruise up high in the air with my Daddy. WHOOPPIII!!! I could hardly wait. I just kept thinking about that big day. It kept me in check. The promise of this great adventure kept me day dreaming and out of trouble.
It finally came. The Big Day! Sailor Daddy’s Solo Flight!
I had heard it over and over when Daddy had his Solo Flight he would be qualified to take up a passenger. The day was here. I was not going to take any chances of that passenger being anyone else but me!
I slipped away from the people busy doing the paper work. I sneaked onto the plane and crouched down behind the pilot seat. My heart was pounding so loud with excitement I feared it would be heard. At last the prop starts to do it’s whop, whop sound. My Daddy gets into the seat and checks all the instruments, marking a check on his clip board as he was trained. I hear the tires of the plane on the asphalt gaining speed and then the thrust as the plane leaves the ground. I am pushed back against the bulkhead as we climb higher and higher. I hear my Daddy let out a big sigh. Every thing has leveled off. I choose this moment to tap my Daddy on the shoulder. “You passed! You did great, Daddy! I am so proud of you!”
“Holy Crap, Mary Kay! What are you doing here?” He says as the blood drains from his face. I tear up and say in a quiet little voice; “You said you could take a passenger when you did your Solo Flight. ” And in an even smaller voice; “Here, I am.” I try a small smile. With that, he starts to laugh. The tension leaves his face and he laughs and laughs! “Well, that is what we said, alright! Climb up here and fasten your self in. Oh! And enjoy the flight!”
And I did.
(to be continued)