Vignettes of a Baby Boomer Part 5
And Now We're Three
Mom fights to keep her family together. She puts on the little red cocktail dress that accentuates her long waist and curvy hips, applies extra smoky kohl eyeliner, and slips into black patent high heels. She leaves us with her mother, our Grandmother Gutierre, and drives from La Habra to Downey to our dad’s apartment. When he answers the door, the other woman is standing behind him. Without a beat, my mother turns on her heels, kicks up a long shapely leg, and walks away. Hours later, she has found an attorney and files for divorce. It is 1963. I am nine and my brother is twelve.
Overnight, our lives change. My mother wastes no time securing a job as a secretary for a local oil company because she is now our main provider. I have to stay with a neighbor after school every day until 5:30 p.m. My brother is old enough to be at home alone for a few hours. I miss my mother’s warm hugs and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies when I return home from school, but I understand. I watch for her car every evening, then dash out of the well-meaning babysitter’s house to greet her. When mom eases her pea green, 1959 Ford Station Wagon into the drive-way, it is she who is crying. I tell her, “Mom, it’s okay, we will be fine.” The guilt of not being home for her babies is killing her.
Mom sits us down and tells us that the parish priest has forbidden her to continue attending Our Lady of Guadalupe as a divorcee unless she gets her marriage annulled. She explained to Father Coleman that she wouldn’t negate our legal births by undoing the union of the man she still loves, the father of her children.
“Therefore,” she informs us, “I am not allowed to attend church with you, but you can continue going together.”
I respond, “Mom, there is no way I am going to church without you.” My brother agrees.
I am confused that my mother, who has attended Catholic school and practiced Catholicism her whole life, is forbidden to enter the church of her heart. We spend many Sundays looking for the perfect church, regardless of the affiliation. Unfortunately, we never find it.
My brother quits the Boy Scouts and finds refuge in hanging-out with the neighborhood teens. When our mother is working, he loiters at the local park smoking cigarettes with his friends. I continue my after-school meetings and activities in The Camp Fire Girls and study extra hard in school. Our dad agrees to take us every other weekend. We soon learn that he isn’t the father we thought we knew.