Starting Over, Again

Okay. I think I've got the proper gear to continue. I don't know how much more of this story I can take without some protection.

After her father’s death, what happened to little Lorna’s little family?

Had it been me, I would have moved closer to my mother to get all the help and support I needed. But I wasn’t my mother. Not by a long shot.

She moved us to Glenbrook, CT–eight hours from her only real support system. My dad’s twin sister and her family lived there and offered to help us. Mom was so ashamed of being a widow by suicide and wanted to live where few people knew the circumstances of her delicate situation. Being a single mother in the early 1960s raised enough eyebrows.  If she was going to be judged, at least it would be mostly by strangers.

I've got a good feeling about this, don't you?

Another factor influenced her decision. Tina was ill with a mysterious stomach ailment. She grew thinner by the day, not wanting to eat and suffering when she did. Food was my bosom-buddy, so I just couldn’t imagine at fate worse than that. When Daddy was alive, they took her to the local hospital and one in Montreal. The doctors weren’t sure, but they thought either she was a little kid with a grown-up ulcer or she was faking it. It’s hard to fake skin that resembles Elmer’s glue, so I believed she had a bona fide deadly disease.

If she said she had a bad tummy ache, I'd believe her.

From what little money she had from selling the trailer and whatever other money she had, she bought herself a brand new Ford Fairlane 500. Black. We drove away from our old home toward a new home during the summer of 1962. She enrolled us in the same school as our cousins, a Catholic school–St. Francis of the Perpetually Tortured, or something like that.

Mom never discussed the move or asked my opinion about it. Children didn’t have opinions back then; at least none that mattered to adults. All I know is I was living in a trailer in the woods and then, poof! I was living in the bottom half of a house on a city block where you could reach out the window and just about touch the neighbor’s house. We had one small patch of grass in the back, but we weren’t allowed to play on it because we might ruin it.

We lived in an Italian neighborhood, not that I knew it at the time. The ancient Italian couple who lived upstairs owned the house. I could smell spaghetti sauce and meatballs every week. It was agony and ecstasy at the same time because they only shared the smell of their cooking. Except once. Lisa and I tasted what we’d been smelling when Mom was away at the hospital with Tina. She left me to look after Lisa (she was 4 and I was 6), with Signore e la Signora Upstairs listening for any sounds of trouble.  Signora Upstairs, who never came downstairs, shouted down an invitation for dinner since Mom was late coming home. I was in charge and I immediately accepted. Never having been up there, I was curious and, of course, I wanted to taste what my nose had smelt for so long. I decided Italians make the best Italian food. Ever.

Pronto, Bambinos! Mangia, mangia! Ana don't toucha no nothin'. Capishe?

Mom left Lisa and me alone a lot. The trip to the hospital treating Tina was about an hour away. My aunt’s  promise of help petered out not long after we arrived. Her husband, also Italian, seemed a bit too interested in his widowed and beautiful sister-in-law. My aunt was jealous and told my mom that we girls were a bad influence on her boys. So Mom had to trust her two young daughters to stay out of trouble while she was away with oldest and sickest daughter. I tried to be good and responsible while on duty, but common sense wasn’t my forte. Knowing this, she made up some pretty strict rules for when she was away:

  1. Be quiet.
  2. Never use the phone unless it was the prearranged time when she would call to check on us.
  3. Stay on the property.
  4. Don’t let anyone, even friends, inside the apartment.
  5. Only eat the food Mom prepared for us.
  6. If we were in desperate trouble, go to Signore e la Signora Upstairs. But it had to be desperate: lonely didn’t count. Blood did.

Lisa and I became inseparable. I was her idol, which went a long way toward satisfying my Middle-Child need for attention. Everything I did, she did; everything I liked she liked. It drove everyone nuts but us. But we had lots of time to bond, just the two of us. We would sit on the stoop outside of our apartment in the late afternoon just waiting to see Mom’s car drive up the street, having been alone most of the day.

Lisa and me many moons later sitting on the same stoop. Both vegetarians now, we're not pondering hot dogs ... or our Mom-less fate.

“I bet the 10th car will be her,” I said to Lisa.

“Okay, but you count better. You do it.”

It was never the tenth car, so I’d say, “I bet it’s the 5th black car. You keep track of the colors.”

“Sure! We’re a great team, Lorn!”

When we’d get sick of that game, I would engage Lisa in some weighty philosophical discussion such as the pros and cons of the red-skinned hot dogs versus the brown-skinned ones. This was an important topic to 7 and 5 years olds.

All these mental gyrations were an attempt not to think about the unthinkable, which I managed to think about anyway: what if Mommy never comes home? I only knew how to take pre-packaged lunches from the refrigerator and serve them. Could I fend for Lisa and me on my own? Who would I call if I wasn’t supposed to use the phone?

Whoo, boy! I know I'm in big trouble. Mommy is missing and I'm dialing out for pizza. If it comes, I can't let the pizza man in...Maybe we can eat outside. Forever.

By the time I’d worked myself into worrying that Lisa and I would have to hop a railroad car hoping it would lead us to Mémé and Pépé, Mom’s car would invariably appear. All was right with the world.

Or so I thought…

Tina (8) is bloated due to steroids she had to take. I'm naturally husky and could use a bra already (6). Lisa (4) is adorable. Stoic Mom (ageless) magically shows no signs of trauma.

~ by Lorna's Voice on January 19, 2012.

27 Responses to “Starting Over, Again”

  1. Thanks so much. This part of my story feels like “our” story. But it helps readers to know where and who I came from. It does explain a lot…

  2. Woah…this is quite an impressive story. You sure had to go through a lot! And also, I love the picture of you, your sisters and your mom. I’m sure that because of this you became a very strong woman.
    Great writing again!

  3. I became Vegetarian much later in life. In those days, I’d wolf down as many meatballs as I could get!

    And I don’t eat pizza either because of the gluten thing. I should stop writing about all this food…

  4. Gosh – I guess smelling all those meatballs turned you off to meat.
    Why is it that pizza always comes to mind when you’re hungry and don’t know what to eat?? Haven’t had pizza in about 5 years:gluten intolerant. Don’t miss it but reading this made me smell it. LOLOL ….
    You were adorable – chubby and all – still are.
    Izzy xoxox

  5. You know they would not deliver the pizza, you would have to go get it. I loved the Mrs. Z pic. Great job as usual. Love you. 🙂

  6. Yes, I love that more updated photo, too. We went back to CT several years ago just to peek at the old homestead and took a few pictures. It was my idea to take a picture of us “waiting” on the steps. Thank goodness the owners weren’t home to kick us off their property!

  7. Your poor Mom feeling so ashamed that her husband committed suicide… And I can’t imagine leaving a six year old in charge of a four year old…things sure were different back in those days..but of course you had the Italians upstairs in case of emergency. You and your sisters sure do look alike…cute as can be.

    Love the photo of a more current Lisa and Lorna sitting on those same steps.

  8. My dad was 6’4″. I wonder how he could stand upright in that small trailer! I never thought about that. Maybe that’s why he was away so much–or at least one of the reasons…

  9. I love the photos you post of years past. And your story about living in the trailer. My Grandparents run a mink farm and one of their workers was able to park a trailer in their back yard. I was totally fascinated by how he and his wife could live in such a unique little home on wheels.

    Now I wonder how she could stand such a small place. And it was small.

  10. Aw, thanks, Totsy. I don’t look back on any of it with regrets. We are a tight, loving family for all of the trials we went through. No other family I know has bonds as close as my sisters and my Mom do.

  11. Oh yes, Mom moved down to be closer with Aunt Barb Uncle Bob. That didn’t work out quite so well, but our time in CT was memorable.

  12. Well, Lorna, you have once again opened my eyes, with your inimitable insight and humor. Talk about twists and turns–Connecticut?? Wow. Love the stoop shot of you and Lisa. I’m hooked.

  13. Yes, I can easily see why Brother-In-Law would take an eye to your mom. She was a looker. You ladies are a nice looking family. So sorry it ended up that way.

  14. Yes, kind of like several centuries ago… It makes me think how we coddle teens now. I’m not saying leaving a 6 year old to look after a 4 year old is a good idea, but children are more capable than we often give them credit for. At least I was. And I was no one special–just a little girl trying to please her mom.

  15. Wow. You had to be an adult at age 6!?

  16. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. This is not a funny story, per say. But that doesn’t mean I can’t lend some humor to it. It’s how I get through life. 🙂

  17. Thank you, Lee, for sharing your story. Writing about these events that shape our youth (and our whole lives) sheds a great deal of light onto the choices we make along the way. I was forever searching for a father-figure. Maybe if I had one growing up, I wouldn’t have married one!

  18. Have you been to parochial school? It was brutal! Why do nuns insist on being around children when they so obviously resent them so much? 😉

  19. That day is coming. I think I have more than one book in all these stories. But I’m going to give publishing my story my best shot.

  20. Which part? The part about the hot dog debate? 😉 Just kidding! Thanks, Linda!

  21. I remember thinking about being abandoned by my father and worrying about something happening to my mother, but I didn’t vocalize those feelings. When sitting on the stoop all those evenings waiting for Mom to come home, I was really worried, but I didn’t want Lisa to know. Maybe she was worried, too, but we didn’t talk about it. I tried to keep both of our minds on other things, like hot dogs.

    Any discussions about my father with my older sister went no where. She was dead set against talking about him. And I sure didn’t want to make my mom more upset for feel guilty. So I just kept these feelings to myself. Until now, that is! 😉

  22. In a way, I could understand your mom needing a clean break from the social stress of carrying on with life in her current surroundings. Yet, given the context of the era in the early 60’s, being a single parent alone and away from her only family support structure must have extraordinarily difficult. That she also had to deal with a chronically ill child made it all the more difficult, and it did come at a price – thrusting you into the role of caregiver and babysitter. You may be a middle sister, but yours is not a typical middle sister story by any means.

    The interesting thing, and it does come through in your writing, is how children adapt quickly to any situation, and simply make it their “normal.” You also seemed to touch upon the feeling of being abandoned, which I had meant to ask earlier on in this story with the death of your dad. How pervasive was this feeling among you and your sisters? Did you talk about it among yourselves at that young age?

    Very good writing Lorna.

  23. Poignant.

  24. I hope you reach a point one day, when you can assemble all your stories and put them into a book. I’d be the first in line to buy it.

  25. One of your best yet, Lorna. Sweet, funny, interesting, and as always…..full of surprises. The pictures are fantastic.

    I think you’re fibbing about the school. From what I have read over these past months, you must have gone to the school for the perpetually humorous. What a gift to come out of all this with the wonderful sense of self that you now have.

    Awaiting the next episode……………….

  26. In CT in 1962 I woke up from a nap and my mother put us 4 children (me 4, my siblings 9,11,13) into a car, stopped at a bank and drove us all to FL to live. We only recently got the solid evidence we needed that my father had been cheating on my mother for years…she obviously found out. I grew up with a single mom as my parent, and today I am a single mom. I am positive I got my strength from her (though she died when I was 15). I vividly remember being so embarrassed that I didn’t have a father that I lied to teachers about him.
    Isn’t life crazy, looking back? And writing about it certainly can put things into place and perspective. Thanks for the great post, and blog.

  27. Thought I left a comment but maybe I’m being blacked out now, lol. Anyway, Perpetually Tortured and your pic captions had me howling at what some might think very, very sad. But I relate so well to survival and carrying on in spite of it all. If only to annoy the naysayers, lol. Mostly because of encouragement from reading such as your brave and candid journey through life. So honoured to know you, Stellar Scribe 🙂

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: