Vignettes of a Baby Boomer Part 6
Making It On Our Own
I only stayed with the sitter through my fourth-grade year. Once I turned ten, my mother trusted me enough to stay alone for two hours after school. My brother was supposed to babysit, but always sneaked out to hang at La Bonita Park with his friends. Besides, I preferred to be alone inside of our boxy, 900 square feet tract home without the distraction of a loud television through paper-thin walls. I learned at a very young age to rely on myself for sustenance and comfort when my family world fell apart.
My mother had an antique rocking chair in the living room. When no one was home, I would load up several of her Columbia Record Club albums on the turnstile of her mono stereo console and rock away the hours to the imaginings of my mind. I was a slave escaping captivity to the gospel standard “Follow the Drinking Gourd” by Joe and Eddie; I was a singer in a cool jazz club to the smooth crooning of “Mack the Knife” by Bobby Darin; and, I was Anita dancing for her life on a New York skyline to the Latin rhythms of “America” from West Side Story. I found much solace in that rocking chair to the music of my life.
We had been spending every other weekend with our father by the time he remarried in 1965. Billie seemed nice enough and I was too naive to understand how my first impression of her might have hurt my mother’s feelings. She was a petite woman who looked like a faded copy of Elizabeth Taylor. After hours of hair and make-up, she could pass for a reasonable facsimile of the stunning actress.
So, after our first meeting with my father’s new wife, I bounced in the door yelling, “Mom, Billie looks just like Elizabeth Taylor!” My mother handled her hurt like a champ, as she has always done. Mom gave me a weak smile and then promptly changed the subject. What I failed to tell my mother on that day was that her natural beauty and superior intellect far surpassed the caked-on beauty of an insipid woman who drank too much.
I soon figured out that our weekend visits were simply part of an obligatory court mandate on my father’s part. He and Billie went about their usual business of drinking and smoking in front of the television while I played with Billie’s younger daughter, three years my junior, in her frilly pink room with the canopy bed. My brother opted out of the visits early on in as he had no one with whom to relate. And, he couldn’t have cared less about my father’s corporate career. All of Jack and Billie’s children had to fit into their life, but what we wanted to do wasn’t a consideration. In fact, we didn’t suggest otherwise. Ever.
I never thought about my father’s drinking much as he was a very successful salesman for several well-known corporations. I was always proud of my funny, outgoing father and I loved listening to his stories. Even though we didn’t do much as a family when I stayed with him, except for the occasional meal out and an R-rated movie in downtown Los Angeles, my father made me feel intelligent by conversing with me as if I were one of his peers. It wasn’t until we truly needed him, that our father’s veneer began to crack.