You never know what to believe when it comes to family history…
My father used to talk a lot about “the way we were” when he was drinking. Which was often….
I share the trait, if not the frequency.
I’ll never forget the night he told me about “how he met my Mother”.
It was late and I was about half drunk myself. I was coming in from a night out with my friends while I was home from College…
He was still up and listening to old 78 RPM Japanese records he had brought back from his time serving in the Army Air Force with the Army of Occupation in Japan.
The Japanese records were not a good sign; they always meant he was really drunk and really reaching back to the past- to the “way we were” and thinking about “the way things might have been…”
My parents had, to say the least, a complicated relationship….I think he spent most of his life trying to figure it out and dealing with the frustrations when he couldn’t….
Anyway…he wanted to talk about my Mother….
He said he had met my Mother when he had just gotten back from Japan. They were at a dance, she was wearing a red strapless dress with rhinestones on the bodice- his detailed description of the dress was the first time I suspected his sexual orientation….
He said he walked up to her, drunk with liquor, post-army Freedom and a new convertible, thinking he had a new mark to hit, and asked her what was holding the dress up?
She allegedly replied: “Willpower”.
And apparently she had him from there on….
Since my Mother was not a particularly witty woman, I do doubt this story. But, she was definitely willful. So, who knows? He always struggled with who she was verses who he wanted her to be. But this is how he remembered it this time- at least on this particular night..
I do know, the whole time they were married, he forbade her to wear a red dress. She could have red coats, shoes and accessories, but never a red dress. And she loved the color red. She was a “winter”….
But, that image of her in that red dress was his and he owned-whether it was true or not.
I told him I was going to bed. He told me to sit down. He still wanted to talk… he wasn’t through reminiscing…and what was the point in having children if not to have a captive audience?
I had also learned the hard way, over time, that it was best not to fight my Father’s whims-especially when he was drinking…
I went back to the bar in the back hallway, got ice from a thirty year-old refrigerator, made myself a drink and sat down on the faux leather couch. It was the lesser of evils and, besides, people in my family seldom turn down a drink…
He took a long pull from his glass of bourbon, sucked on his pipe and seemed to drift somewhere else. He said: “I knew a lot of women before I met your Mother, but she was different. She was a Lady. She was young and hadn’t been around like most of those broads. She was beautiful, to me, and there was something about her I had to have. She was a Lady. She was young and fresh and hadn’t been around. I had to have her…She was a virgin when I took her on our wedding night and that’s how it should be….remember that.”
But I had the back story….
My aunt, Goldie, my Mother’s sister, always claimed she had been listening in the night my Father proposed to my Mother on their front porch.
Goldie and my Father also had a complicated relationship. It may have begun that night as Goldie claimed she went outside, after my Mother accepted the proposal- with conditions- while my Father was still sitting on the glider on my Grandmother’s front porch. Goldie claims she asked my Father: “Are you sure you want to do this? She really is a lot of trouble and is going to expect an awful lot.”
I thought of that story that night….
And I remembered the “conditions” that Goldie told me about. Apparently, my 17 year-old, innocent Mother gave my Father a list of things he had to purchase before she would marry him. One of those items was a refrigerator. The same one I had just gotten ice out of in the back hall. Our “second” refrigerator that we used as a back up. She was the original Material Girl….
I didn’t tell him he had been played.
My Mother was the “Last of the Belles.” She came from the school of thought that a woman had one card to play and that was her virginity. She was raised to sell it to the highest bidder, but only after the vows had been exchanged. These girls only delivered once the deal was definitely closed and in front of witnesses…
My Mother then spent the rest of her life subtly, privately implying she wished she had made a better deal….But she hid that well from my Father- most of the time.
It’s funny. My Mother kept all her dresses from her High School dances. She only wore each dress once. That, alone, was quite an achievement for a Mill Town Princess. She kept them in her cedar chest and no one was allowed to touch them…
But when my sister was a child, she pulled out a red dress with a rhinestone bodice and gave it to her to play with. And, my sister’s daughter, my niece, also had it to play with, too…
It was the only one of her dresses she allowed them to use as a toy while playing dress up. Over time, it became torn and ragged, like any child’s toy. But no one could ever touch the other dresses….
And one of the first things she did, after my Father died, was to buy a red dress….