A Story of My Life, Part 8: New Chapter
A Brief Recap
I was attending Albany State University, living in my brother Louie's house, with my sister-in-law Hilda and my three-almost-four-year-old niece, Stephanie.
I had come home from my first date, only to find my brother dissolved in tears on the living room couch. Hilda was pregnant again, and Louie wasn't certain that the child was his. Hilda was in love with somebody else.
Tommy plays a mean PINBALL
The times were changed, in America. It was the late 1970's about 1977, and a decade after the sixties had come and gone. The 1960's brought a major social revolution in the United States. Though by the late 1970's, some attitudes had reverted back to the more traditional nuclear family type hard-working suburban lifestyle, there was still a carry-over from the previous decade.
Tommy still played a mean pinball. (That was a rock opera, "Tommy", by the Who, just in case you missed it!)
We were baby boomers. I was born in 1957. In 1957, the nuclear family structure was the norm, with the father the head of the household, and the mother the mainstay of family life. While Dad was breadwinner and went out into the cold cruel world to fend for himself and his family, and was nominally the boss in his own house, Mom stayed home, baked cookies, deferred to Dad on most issues, and was a prototype for the "Leave It To Beaver" or "Father Knows Best" family image.
Well, not too long after I was born, the Sixties happened. Sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and a social revolution of no mean proportions. Free love, the pill, "hell no, we won't go" to Vietnam. They Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Cold War, where communism and socialism became dirty words, so of course the youth of America had to try starting communes as a social experiment.
There was a raised social consciousness in America. Equal rights for our black citizens. Equal rights for our women citizens. A poet named Allen Ginsberg started a movement to recognize gay people, and get them out of the closet and into the mainstream.
A lot of our youth tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. Anything went. It was freedom of a sort no country had ever experienced. Freedom and tolerance, love, peace, flower-power. Those were the keywords, the buzzwords, of a generation of very idealistic, very naive American youth.
Until the 1970's, when our youth found out just how uncomfortable poverty is. (I could have told them that!) People discovered there were a lot of things they wanted to buy. A lot of spoiled white kids found out that you really can't live on love alone. Running water and central heating are necessary amenities, and they COST!
With Nixon and Watergate, and getting out of Vietnam, the pendulum was swinging the other way again. People were going to college to improve their chances for a good job afterwards. The pretty suburban boxes their parents aspired to were looking good again, to the nation's youth. People who had rejected their parents' materialistic values did an about-face and turned in the opposite direction.
When Hilda said it was Louie's child, I believed her. I'm not certain Louie did, but I did. She had no real reason to lie. Hilda was the breadwinner in the family. She had a Master's degree and a good job with the State of New York. She was very open about her feelings; she made Louie aware early on that she had become disenchanted with him and she made no bones whatsoever about being mostly in love with Jim. She was a liberated woman. She wasn't a particularly sneaky woman, either. And she should know!
I had another reason to believe her. I had another reason to think her love affair was mostly a matter of the heart and mind, and that she and Jim didn't have a hot physical thing going.
I found out Jim is gay.
Hilda didn't want to get married to Jim. That wasn't what it was all about. I'm not sure Louie ever understood it. Hilda wanted to be free. She wanted to be her own person. She didn't want to be an adjunct to another adult.
People's minds were still more open to alternate lifestyles, back then, though. Especially among the better-educated. So it was taken for granted around the house in Orange Street that no one would cast moral judgements against Hilda for falling in love outside her marriage bond, or against Jim for being gay.
What to do about it, though, that was the question. Louie was head over heels in love with Hilda, and would remain so for the rest of his life (so far). Hilda really wasn't in love with Louie anymore, and wasn't going to pretend to be, though she tried to treat Louie civilly enough. There was the child, Stephanie, to consider, and a new baby on the way.
It was quite a situation. I stumbled through the remainder of the semester. I made myself scarce at Orange Street and stuck grimly to the books. I was relieved, actually, when Christmas break came and I went back to my old country home.
It was a quiet house, out there in the country, with just Mom and Dad. It was as uncomfortable as ever. The upstairs still wasn't heated, and snow was thick on the ground. There was no Christmas tree, as our parents' religion precluded that. Mom was in tears, frequently, still, over my brother Danny's death a year earlier.
Dad was tyrannical, as usual. I discovered I was no longer afraid of him. Some of the starch had gone out of Dad. He was still a grim man, and not friendly to his children; he made us miserable a hundred times a day--THAT hadn't changed. He had become somewhat quieter and lost some of his bluster. He was starting to look old. He was talking of early retirement and moving to Tennessee.
So it was quite a relief to me, when my sister Carole came home for Christmas, bringing Jesus with her.
Jesus, her Hispanic boyfriend, (whose name is pronounced hey-suse), had given Carole a ride out to the old country place, and Mom asked him to stay for dinner.
Mom, at the dinner table, to Jesus: "Your name is JESUS?! Spelled J-E-S-U-S?"
Jesus: "Yes, ma'am."
Mom: "What were your parents thinking?"
Jesus: "Well, ma'am, they're Catholic, you see."
Carole and I smothered our faces in our napkins. We were choking with laughter. I don't know what was funnier, Mom's incredulity or Jesus's cool acceptance of it. It's still an occasion for mirth years later, when we bring it up to each other. Mom didn't have too many opportunities to get off the farm, I guess.
We both started a new chapter in our lives, after that Christmas. It was a turning point, though I didn't realize how much of one for many years.