I almost didn’t walk today as I knew the ninety percent humidity would make it oppressive and clammy from the all-day rain yesterday, but wanting that energized feeling that I get from my walks, I trudged out anyway. I neared the Fergusons’ home, the very last house on the block, and thought I’d stop for a quick visit if they were out on the porch as they usually are every morning. The Fergusons have become permanent fixtures on that porch from May through October since retiring decades ago. When I worked downtown, I’d pass them every day, always stopping briefly for a quick exchange of pleasantries, commenting with a complaint or a compliment about the weather, then I hurried on to catch the bus. The Fergusons are in their nineties now, with children long grown and gone from their nest, and they are great, as well as great-great grandparents. They have had their share of sorrow with their children, including their daughter, a childhood friend of mine, who developed M.S. and a son who was a policeman shot in the line of duty and forced to retire early in his career.
After noting the absence of the Fergusons, my thoughts shifted to my own parents who would have celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary today. There was plenty to ponder about my parents as I walked – June 11, 1953 is merely a date on the calendar because theirs was never a marriage made in Heaven, but instead a union filled with heartache and despair. Had their marriage lasted, it would not have been one where after one spouse dies, the remaining spouse follows shortly thereafter as life has ceased to be worth living. My parents had bitter fights and there was much name-calling after which there were days, if not weeks, of the silent treatment. Neither would acquiesce; both were very stubborn. But my father had a filthy mouth and a volatile temper. My mother could hold her own, but without the swearing … or the temper tantrums … or the throwing. My parents were never demonstrative with one another, and I cannot recall ever seeing a hug, or embrace, or even a peck on the cheek initiated by either one. In fact, the picture above, which was taken at their 25th wedding anniversary dinner, is quite deceiving as they both looked happy. Their smiles were for show as I stood before them valiantly trying to create some memories with my pocket camera, while they toasted each another. There was a tiered cake with a happy couple on top and doves holding silver ribbons, rings, bells and trinkets. The gathering was at The Lincoln Inn and consisted of my grandmother and two couples, who were long-time friends of the family. For me, the celebration was wedged between cramming for final exams at Wayne State University and working a full shift at the diner both weekend days.
Fast forward to five years later. When the hourglass was only half empty, my father decided he wanted a “new life” and after thirty years of marriage he wanted out. He made this announcement of his impending defection on Christmas Day 1983, while we all sat amidst opened and unopened gifts. My mother, ever the pragmatist, told me to immediately round up all my father’s gifts from us and we would return them to the store and get our money back (which we did). The look on his face was priceless. Well, good riddance to garbage as the saying goes. His exit left no empty hole in our hearts or our minds.
My mother often said that the only good thing to come from the marriage was her only child. Unfortunately, my father had such little respect for my mother that he took every bit of money in their joint bank account and joint annuity account and then fled the country a few weeks later. Except for the financial hardship, my mother was none the worse for his mid-life crisis and hasty departure. We got steel doors on the front and side, just in case he decided he wanted to make a re-entry sometime and this would not be tolerated – a protective order filed with the Lincoln Park Police Department substantiated our wishes. We repainted, repapered and re-arranged the inside of the house and got new colonial blue siding to replace the putrid pea green/moss green combo that had been there before. I pulled out all the overgrown bushes and made perimeter gardens for the backyard, filling them up with beautiful rosebushes and colorful perennials. We also replaced every bush and tree in the front garden – by 1985, after all these renovations were accomplished, we had transformed our home to our liking and in the process erased all the vestiges of my father’s existence.
So, thirty years later, on the other side of the hourglass, my mom is gone, having lived twenty-seven years after my father left –peaceful years which were not filled with bickering, name-calling and heartache. Her many medical maladies were not the only obstacles she overcame. She was a survivor – one smart cookie who never crumbled.