Another Mother's Day. Where ever you are Mummy, thank-you.
My family was a little dysfunctional. I used to think it was a lot dysfunctional until everyone else's skeletons began tumbling out of their closets and now I know comparatively, my family was only a little dysfunctional.
My father was barely 21 years old on 7 December 1941. The next morning he was one of the thousands of young Southern Californians lined up outside of that Los Angeles recruiting office. Have you seen the picture? The line of men volunteering to go fight the Japanese wraps-twice-around a long Los Angeles block.
He met my mother while both were assigned to Fort Richardson, Alaska-according to him when he finally spoke of it a gajillion years later.
She was British-don't ask, I can't tell you-he was American of deep and closely held British (officially Scots, really Welsh) roots. They married. He was transferred, she went back to Britain to wait for him while continuing her war work; family legend has it that they met over a weekend in London as the war was about to end and she became pregnant with my oldest sister.
So she got on a boat and went to America to meet her new in-laws (that must have been fun), give birth to her firstborn, and yes, await her husband to return at the end of the war.
My sister was about a year old when he finally got back-he spoke Polish and German and the Army needed him in a few places other than America.
Things were a bit stormy. They managed to have my two older brothers, one in 1950, one in '52 or '53; then Pop for whatever inexcusable reason, started to, um, wander.
I gather she did not take that well; one family story has her smacking him on the head with a cast iron frying pan-Go Mum! Another has her making her final escape at the point of a snub nose thirty-eight that she flung out the taxi window as she left never to be seen or heard from again. She'd come for my older siblings (and I hope, me) but only got away with one, my second oldest brother.
Pop paid private investigators for years trying to find her and Danny Joe, but thanks to Mum's connections and her war work connections, they disappeared into Time.
In 1954 Pop got caught. His chippy got pregnant, and Mum went to Reno for a quickie divorce.
Pop and the chippy went to Tijuana for a quickie marriage.
The chippy's baby was born on Mother's Day 1955 and died on 1st July 1955.
Pop apparently went to Mum for comfort. Repeatedly. And she got pregnant. With me.
But I was born in late August 1956 and people were different back then, laws, too. Pop ended up with custody of all of us, and a very quiet whisper in the family was that the chippy had got preggers again too, around the same time Mum did.
The chippy's second baby died, the whisper continued, the babies were switched and Mum told I was the dead one and that's how I went home with the quintessential wicked step-mother.
My older sibs were taught to lie, that Alice Capone (my nickname for Mommie Dearest after I caught her embezzling from the family owned business) was our mother, and eventually they believed she was my mother and hated me for breaking up their happy family.
They really made a lot of my growing up a living hell. Mostly the older sister, my brother had moments of kindness interspersed with his more frequent moments of benign neglect except for the one time he beat the hell out of me when I was about 11. (That beating is how I knew deep down he blamed me for something...)
I grew up knowing something was hideously wrong; that I did not fit; that I was utterly unwanted, but that my dad loved me in a way, although the older I got the more uncomfortable he became around me until finally from about age 16 to age 26 I didn't see him except three times around the time my daughter was born.
When I was 15 my older sister exploded, and I got her version. It got me thinking, but I knew nothing for sure until the year Pop died, 1985.
We were cleaning out his apartment and I cam across a photo of him, three small children sitting on a log, a black Pontiac, and a woman that I for a quick second thought was me. I asked him how he got that picture of me but as the words came out of my mouth and I handed him the 8x10 I realised who it was.
He looked at me in horror, I looked at him with what had to have been a mix of joy (after all, who wants an Alice Capone for a real mother) and shock.
My sister, my two brothers. My dad. My father's first wife. The family car. All of them on a picnic.
And I was a dead ringer for her, his first wife. The mysterious and missing Nadine. And Fox, well Fox is a dead ringer for his Uncle Danny Joe, or was; the picture shows Danny Joe at about the age Fox was at the time, around three.
Months later, days before he died, Pop was delirious. He thought I was Nadine and kept saying that we had to get me a dog.
So Mum, where ever you are, Pop wanted me to tell you he never stopped looking for you and Danny Joe but not to make things hard for you, only to tell you that he never stopped loving you, never stopped regretting his wrongs to you.
I wish I could have delivered the message face to face, because I would have liked to tell you how even though Life has been less than perfect I am still really glad that you are my mother and not Alice Capone; that I think I understand how things happen and so don't blame you for leaving me behind if you did-I'm pretty well invested in the belief that someone official told you I was dead but am able to accept it if you knew I was alive and you still left. I just wish I knew for sure.
I'd also like to let you know that for all the things he did wrong, he wasn't that bad a father, except for the Alice Capone thing. I think his biggest problems were straight out of WWII-his war experience, meeting and then losing you. That changed him. Too much I think, and for that he was always heartbroken. Pop walked through the rest of his life shrouded in grief at what he saw in Europe, and what he lost with you. He never spoke aloud of it and therefore it etched itself on his whole body and soul.
I saw a picture of the two of you, him in a nicely tailored suit and you in a lovely black frock, dancing in a huge ballroom; you both look about to come apart but there is something of a glimmer of Hope in both of you as well. I'm terribly sorry the promise of that hope was never realised.
Happy Mothering Day, even though three of your four children were stolen from you.
Wish you were here, you have grandchildren and at least one great-grandchild, and I would so have liked them to know you!