While I was attending business school, I started working at a pharmacy part-time. It was there that I met Tom. Tom was the real thing for me. We had a similar background and a strong emotional bond, and I was very attracted to him. Tom was a year younger than me and still in high school when we met. He came in one night to the pharmacy, and he soon became a steady customer until he finally got up enough nerve to ask me out. He was Irish Catholic, tall, with curly reddish hair and bushy eyebrows. I was infatuated! I grew to love him in an eighteen-year-old kind of way. Though we never had intercourse, our strict Catholic background caused us to struggle many a night in the back seat of a bus or on my living sofa out of sight of my parents. One summer night, walking home on Main Street after going to the movies, there was a gorgeous blue moon in the dark sky and Tom started singing in his deep baritone voice Blue Moon.
Blue moon, you saw me standing alone,
Without a dream in my heart,
Without a love of my own.
Blue moon, you knew just what I was there for,
You heard me saying a prayer for,
Someone I really could care for.
I looked up at him as we walked along with our arms around each other and felt the strongest love I’d ever felt. We spent a lot of time together after that. I was included in many of his family events like going to their summer cabin at the lake. Tom was included in my family’s get-togethers also. It was a happy time in my young life.
The happy times ended very abruptly when Tom’s father phoned my mother concerned that Tom’s future plans were being threatened by the amount of time the two of us spent together and that things were moving too fast. Although I didn’t know about this development, Tom seemed hesitant, anxious. Along with the change in his closeness to me I was also excluded from his sister’s wedding. That fall, he invited me to his high school football homecoming game. I felt like an outsider because he seemed preoccupied with a group of his friends. He later told me that he was seeing one of the girls in the group and wanted to end our relationship. My world was collapsing! I begged him not to leave! He walked away. That was my first experience with a broken heart. As with all young loves, these feelings passed very swiftly, and Tom became a passing memory in the busy routine of commuting to New York for my first secretarial job.
Right out of secretarial school I landed a prime position as junior secretary to the editor-in chief at a publishing company. This was a very exciting venture into New York City for a nineteen-year-old, commuting daily on the bus into the Port Authority from the suburbs. The halls and elevators at the publishing company were filled with men and women hurrying back and forth from their departments. You could feel the electricity and urgency of the deadline-driven publishing life.
I answered to the senior secretary, Ruth, who answered to the editor-in-chief. It was a big department with editors beneath him as well as salesmen who traveled the country promoting medical publications. I would take dictation and type his correspondence, and also set up the travel schedules for the salesmen. I’d serve coffee to his colleagues when he held meetings in his office. I’d come quietly into his office, balancing a tray of coffee cups, and shakily handing them to those at the meeting making sure not to spill coffee on their suits.
Ruth knew the job very well and she knew our boss much better than I did. She was his right arm and he depended on her expertise. The other secretaries in the department told me I had a tough row to hoe and, as a 19-year-old just beginning in the working world of New York, I was intimidated. When I would neatly put completed work on my boss’s desk, she would inevitably bring it back out to me and tell me to do it over.
When the boss called me in for dictation, I would sit upright, with my legs crossed and my steno pad ready on my lap, just as I was taught to do in secretarial school. He would sit in his executive chair, leaning back and smoking his pipe with an air of confidence and professionalism. He was tall, dark, and handsome, and wore black horned-rimmed glasses. We juniors called him Superman as he looked like Clark Kent. My transcription had to move at a frenzied pace to keep up with his dictation, which was at the speed of normal conversation, with no pauses to let me catch up. Although I thought I did fairly well, Ruth’s inevitable bright red corrections had me involved with a do-over each time. I thought Ruth was being unfair, as nothing had been said by our boss to make me believe otherwise. He was a tough demanding editor who had developed his good reputation through perfectionism, so no news was good news as far as I was concerned.
Then one morning, someone at personnel called me down to their office and laid it on me that he was indeed not satisfied with my performance, saying something about misspelled words. I wasn’t catching all of it, as I sat there in shock and embarrassment. Spelling was one of my favorite subjects in high school. I remember personnel telling me I could change to another department in the building but I was in chronic over-reaction mode and only wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. I didn’t return to the publishing company and moved from one low-level secretarial position to the next until I got married in 1962 at the age of 20, something many of my peers were doing and most young women at that time really wanted.
If it hadn’t been for that job, I never would have learned that I tend to be an over-reactor. I learned not to take things so personally after that, and how to put things in perspective, weighing what options were in my best interests. I learned also that your attitude could possibly sabotage your dreams. Most of all, I learned to check my spelling – a lot easier now that we have spellcheck. And I learned to be aware of the writing on the wall.
Working at the publishing company sparked my love for writing and for the excitement of the editorial room. I enjoyed putting together a finished product for publication. It gave me a renewed respect for journalism. Young women in the late Fifties weren’t looking to their male bosses as mentors in a field they loved nor to the experienced professional women above them as mentors, so I didn’t have the confidence to voice my interest in doing more of what I love – writing. Without that job, I might not have broadened my life beyond raising my family to the ever-challenging path I’ve been on. Writing down the meaningful, insight-filled accounts of my life has brought me much satisfaction and the writing material just keeps unfolding.
It was from the windows of the publishing company that I watched the motorcade parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard M. Nixon who was the Republican presidential nominee. It was November 2nd 1961, and Nixon was running for election against John F. Kennedy. The whole street was filled with the ticker tape people were throwing out of their windows on Broadway. It was an amazing scene, especially viewed from high above the street.
My next position was with a bank as a clerk, typing correspondence and putting letters through a postage machine. There was a huge cafeteria where I bought Lorna Doones and a cup of tea while on break. I loved dunking those Lorna Doones! The bank was one of those old majestic types with tall ceilings and huge windows.
I met Larry around this time, and he was quite the opposite of Tom. My protective instincts were in full operation when I met him at the Irish dances in New York City. When my friend, Kathy, and I arrived that night, Larry and his friend, Stan, became our constant admirers. Gallantly, after the dance was over, they walked us to the Port Authority Bus Terminal and saw us safely onto the bus to New Jersey. I wasn’t sure which one I liked best but it soon became known to me that it was Larry who had an interest in me. Stan, the smoother one, would get on the phone and talk of Larry in glowing terms, letting me know that Larry had been orphaned from a young age and now lived alone in an apartment in New York City. Stan said that Larry could also cook up a great steak dinner for two if ever I considered the chance to find out.
Larry came over to my house in Jersey often. He gave me a gold ankle bracelet with two hearts and the initials LA♥ML. He also gave me a cigarette lighter that played Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Larry and I spent time at restaurants and movie theaters in New York. One time, when smoking was still allowed in movie theaters, we accidentally set fire to some trash that was under our seats while we were up in the balcony. It was the Spring of 1961.
Larry was more experienced than me and he was ready for a full-blown sexual relationship. Even though the allure of this freedom felt exciting, I was very happy to have the boundaries set by my parents. Many a night this good Catholic girl enjoyed the delights of foreplay only to apply the brakes on the evening as Larry guided my hand to the urgent longings of his plight. I wanted to, but was afraid of getting pregnant and, especially afraid of disappointing my parents. The innocence that was the relationship that Tom and I had was still there, and that fueled the fear I had of the consequences of recklessly following through on these erotic feelings. Larry was rushing me to more involvement. To see him more, I would have to travel to New York which meant slowly leaving my parents’ home. During the early Sixties, young women rarely moved into their own apartments or lived with a man outside of marriage. There were no parents on Larry’s side cautioning restraint, so the restraining was up to me. He was pulling me into those complex realities of adult sex and I was afraid to take the plunge. As fate would have it on a day in July 1961, a cooling off period with Larry was created when I got a phone call from a cousin of a friend of mine, a phone call that would forever change the direction of my life.
Don was the cousin of my high school classmate. She had given him my phone number and told me he’d be calling. She’d shown him pictures of her friends and he picked me out of the group, saying I was the best looking one. I went to a dance at another Catholic high school the night before Don called and, as it turned out, he was there and recognized me from the picture he’d seen. He came up to me to strike up a conversation:
That was you?! I said. I don’t remember exactly what we said to each other.
This charming young man continued to pull me in. I wondered if I needed to take a break and not get romantically involved again so quickly after ending the relationship with Larry. Another part of me was intrigued with this charming voice on the other end of the phone. He was just back from a stint with the Air Force and he said his mother was getting tired of him lying around drinking beer, so he called his cousin to see if she could introduce him to me. You were nice-looking and looked interesting, he said I teased him about having good taste and thought that this guy would get the approval of my parents – an Air Force guy, an all-boys Catholic high school graduate and an Irish Catholic all in one!
Don arrived in front of my house in his 1959 red and white Bonneville Pontiac. He was wearing a red sweater, white slacks and white loafers. Just like Pat Boone! The James Dean appeal had got me into trouble in the past, so this clean-cut, very thin man with deeply set expressive eyes and thick eyebrows knitted together in worry lines might be a more responsible choice. Now she’s got something, my father predictably said.
Meanwhile, Larry joined the Navy, but before he left, he called my home several times in the wee hours of the morning, singing inebriated love songs in the ear of my disapproving mother. My mother quietly hung up the phone on the other end without sharing these incidents with me. Years later I found two ankle bracelets, one from Larry and one from Tom. The one from Larry was still like new, shiny gold, and the one from Tom was tarnished.
The next position I had was with a New York savings bank where I had a secretarial position with the new account manager. I typed letters for him and typed up new account documents for customers. There was a woman named Louise who sat in the desk in front of me. Her husband had left her shortly after they were married and she hadn’t remarried as that wasn’t allowed in the Catholic Church. She said that he had been gone for over seven years and as she didn’t know where he was she couldn’t get the marriage annulled. I remember thinking how unfair this was to such a nice person.
I was working there one day when two men came into the bank and stood in the middle of the floor shouting that it was a robbery. One went to the tellers and got the money while the other stood and watched all of us while aiming his gun. One customer got confused and she started to walk towards my desk as if she were going to ask me something. The one holding the gun swung around and screamed at her. I sat there saying the Hail Mary to myself while wondering if I should try to duck underneath the desk but I was afraid to move. The accounts manager, Paul, was at the desk behind me and two desks beyond him was another bank manager, Walter. When the bank robbers started to leave, one of them threw a canister toward the back of the room and it began to fill the place with smoke and people began screaming. As they were moving out the door, Walter sprung from his seat and pursued them out the door. Just as he got to the door, the gunman shot at him and hit him in the legs. I remember Paul shouting at Walter not to chase them, to let them go, but Walter had served as a marine and, unknown to all of us, kept a weapon in his desk. He went after them anyway. We heard that the police had shot and killed one of the men a few blocks away. The other was still on the loose at the time the news reported it that evening. When they did apprehend him, it was reported that he told them he desperately needed money for his family. One of the bank tellers, Luis, appeared on the evening news. He was the one who set off the alarm to the police while he was putting the money into the bag the robbers gave him. Walter didn’t return to work, and we heard he needed a lot of rehabilitation before he would walk again.
This event was a pretty big deal in my life. I went to a phone booth in the bank lobby afterwards to call my family and I shared the account of this traumatic event in a shaken and emotional way with my mother. I wondered how she could remain so calm, in control and detached while hearing about it. I guess that was the stoic Irish way.
Don and I spent much of our time together through that summer. We liked bowling, going to the movies, swimming at nearby lakes and spending time with both of our families. Once, while lying on the beach, Don said he was thinking about marriage and wondered what I thought. I said I thought that would be good. He was someone I loved being with. We seemed to have a lot in common and he made me laugh a lot. It felt right to say yes. I could see us together. I could see us as parents together. I could see a future for me with Don. I took on the role of comforter and encourager, and found myself happiest in that supportive role and content to be behind the scenes. I loved Don, as far as I could understand love to be, especially for a nineteen-year-old. We would go to the Boat Basin to park and ‘look out over the Hudson River’. Did we have sex before marriage? Yes, twice while we were engaged. Do I wish we had waited? Yes. When you look back over a lifespan, five months seems a mighty short wait. On Christmas Eve, he asked my father for my hand and gave me the engagement ring. It was five months after we met that we were engaged, and five months after that we would be married. We knew each other just ten months before the wedding. Insanity, measured by today’s standards.
I was jealous of one girl who worked at Don’s office. I thought she was flirting with him and we had a fight about it. It was an event that has stayed with me since then, as I was instantly sorry that I had over-reacted. He had left in his car and I had stormed into my house. My mother and father were sitting in the living room when I came in and they listened while I poured out my heart and cried. I then went to the front door and looked out at the dark empty street and said, Now he’s gone! and cried even harder. As I turned around, he was there standing behind me. He had pulled the car into the driveway and come into the house from the back door. I ran into his arms and cried, telling him I loved him. It was very romantic!
I can’t say I didn’t give Don reason to be jealous too. Gus, a guy at work, didn’t let up even though he knew I was about to become engaged. One Christmas party, I got a little looped and allowed him to neck with me in the taxi cab going back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I was very turned on by him and I think it may have been fueled by whiskey sours. Afterwards, I felt so guilty for letting him kiss me that I went to Don and told him. I remember sitting on his lap in the kitchen at my house and feeling burdened with the guilt. I told him what had happened. We held and kissed each other, and I felt then that all was okay. I wonder if this was a sign that I wasn’t mature enough to be married. What would I have thought or done if he had told me he did the same thing? When you see the pressures on today’s couples, I think that these things just happen. It might have shown that I wasn’t really sure about getting married. I felt I was following a path of destiny designed by God, and wasn’t able to make an independent decision that would buck that trend. I do think that we were both sincere in our desire to be good lovers for each other and to make each other happy. Looking back, I did believe we had what it took to make a good relationship and a good marriage.
Life goes on! We were being swept along with the excitement of meeting each other’s families, making arrangements for Pre-Cana so that our marriage would have the best start with God at the center, and hand-in-hand visiting the stores to check out the many details we would need to set up house and begin our lives together.
Don’s folks had a huge extended family, some in England and some nearby. His father had about sixteen siblings, and his mother had about eighteen. They were hard-working people who came from England and Ireland to start a new life in America. Some of his mother’s siblings came to America also, and now made up the large family network during holidays and family events.
My family, by contrast, had been settled in America for a few generations. The home I grew up in was built by my father’s parents and was bought by my father when his two brothers moved out. All three had been left without parents at an early age. Their mother died from pneumonia sometime in her forties and their father died a few years later after being assaulted in his driveway one evening. The police never found out who gave him the beating, but the three brothers were left without any parents when they were still very young. My father had quit school when his mother died so that he could help his father with the family’s responsibilities. His two younger brothers eventually went into military service, agreeing that my father was the one who could buy the house and raise his family there. One uncle lived with his wife and two sons in a nearby town. My parents didn’t go to my aunt and uncle’s wedding because they didn’t marry in the Catholic Church, and this was a hurt that would remain in their relationship even though the Church had become less strict as time went on. The other uncle served in the Marines during World War II. He and his wife divorced, and after that we didn’t see too much of him and his family. I remember him visiting us when we were little, and he was very handsome in his military uniform.
My mother had only one brother who died at the age of ten, the same year she was born. As an infant she was cared for by her Aunt Mary to help my grandmother recover from the loss and grief. My extended family was more formal than Don’s, with get-togethers being few and far between. My mother’s parents, who lived near us, were the only relatives we grew up knowing on a regular basis.
Don’s family, who seemed to be more driven toward security and establishing a life for their two sons in America, had a lot of expectations and plans for their sons’ futures, whereas my siblings and I felt we were freer to daydream and dabble in the creative life of children and find our purpose. The expectations my parents conveyed to us were to be someone who contributed to the world in a positive way, while the emphasis in Don’s family was more on how much money and security you could earn. I remember Don struggling with what he wanted to do and whether he wanted to keep going to college at night, while still working at his full-time job. That was what his parents wanted him to do. His father worked all his married life at the same company, and was very sick with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
Don’s mother had had bleeding ulcers when she was young, and he remembered her being in the hospital, sneaking up the hospital stairs to see her when he was about four. He had lived with his Aunt Mary when he was little during the time his mother was so sick. His mother also worked outside the home throughout most of her married life and considered my mother’s life to be easy and pampered. She would proudly say how she would work outside the home all day and then return home to scrub and clean the floors well past midnight. She also went to Mass every morning!
Don also had ulcers when he was young, so when it came time for him to go to college, the guidance counselor at the prep high school cautioned against it, concerned it might be too much stress for him. Don was hospitalized when he was in the Air Force due to some kind of breakdown while on military operations when he’d been isolated in a cave in Formosa. I listened when he shared these things with me; I was growing in love with this man and wanted to bring happiness and love into our lives.
And so, love did deepen and wedding plans unfolded. In May 1962 we were married on a beautiful sunny day. Don was joking that day about how he and his brother sat in the diner down the street wondering if he wanted the ball and chain tied to his leg.
Our Wedding Song was When I Fall in Love by the Letterman:
WHEN I FALL IN LOVE
Our honeymoon was in Miami Beach, Florida. I hadn’t traveled outside of the northeast at all and Don was eager to show me Florida. It was also a chance to visit with his Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill in Fort Lauderdale. We stayed at the Carillon Hotel and went water-skiing, horseback riding, swimming and deep-sea fishing during the day. I caught three huge blue fish (15 lbs. each) while on the fishing boat. The fisherman (and Don) refused to help me, saying if you hooked it you had to bring it in. Once I caught the first one and brought it in, as soon as I dropped the line back in there was another one on the hook! I must have found a school of them! I was exhausted, but amazed that I was able to bring all three in. The fisherman told me that there was a superstition about having women on the boat because they brought bad luck. They laughed about how this was one day we had good luck. We gave the fish away to someone on the dock though because we had nowhere to put them.
At night, we got dressed up real sexy and went to the Tambourine Room for dancing and a show. It was real high society living! All this was new to me. It wouldn’t be part of my lifestyle in the future. It was one of only a few times I wore the blue fox fur stole Don had given me.
Working at the New York Savings Bank became the least important thing for me. I remember sitting on the subway car reading the advertisements of upcoming events after May 5th, and feeling as if I would be in an entirely different world, in another time, from that day on. So, I quit my job in New York City, leaving Gus and the memory of stolen kisses behind, and got a part-time job at an insurance company at a nearby city, devoting most of my time to keeping our little apartment clean and comfortable, and having meals on the table when Don came home from work from NJ insurance company. He quit his previous job and quit going to college at nights, and we both dreamed about having a baby soon.
I read a popular book at the time called The Total Woman by Marabelle Morgan. I was having sexual fantasies and it was a how-to-be-the-perfect-housewife-and-still-be-sexy book. It recommended that you wrap yourself up in saran wrap and a big bow and greet your husband at the front door when he returned home from work. No joke! Well, I didn’t dress up in saran wrap, but I did stand at the top of the stairs of our apartment and was ready to have some real hot sex as soon as Don came in the door. With all the temptations out there in the work world, a wife needed to please her man so he wasn’t tempted to roam. There was a popular song at that time that went Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up…
Wives And Lovers
Jack Jones 1964
“Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up, soon he will open the door,
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger, you needn’t try any more.”
Like most married couples at that time, our mind was on having a baby right away. We didn’t realize how special these times were for us, and kept anticipating what the next step would be along the road of married life. Having a baby became an intensely emotional thing for me. I had two miscarriages, the second landing me in the hospital. The police had to come to take me to the hospital because I was so weak. It was a little boy, they told me, and I cried that night in the darkness of the hospital room. The woman across the room from me called out comforting words from her bed in hopes of being helpful. She was.
My gynecologist reassured me that I would indeed conceive, and told me that I had a tipped uterus. I was given a drug to hold the fertilized egg and bingo! I was pregnant right away again. We couldn’t even calculate the due date because I never resumed menstruating, but we finally felt sure that this time we would have a healthy little baby to love and cherish.
On November 22, 1963, two months to the day before our first child was born, I was standing in the living room ironing my husband’s shirts while watching television. The screen suddenly was filled with the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Texas. Life changed from that point on for all of us in America. As I stood in stunned silence watching the news unfold over the following days, I saw images of Jackie Kennedy, her daughter Caroline, and her small son John, standing by the roadside as the fallen president’s casket passed by. I felt like I knew Jackie personally, as we had both experienced miscarriages and heartaches in our lost pregnancies. She gave me hope that I too would be a mother one day, just as her husband gave us hope that we, as a country, could overcome our adversities and become greater still.
Everyone was overjoyed when a year and a half after our wedding day, our first son was born in January 1964. He was born at the same hospital I was. There was speculation on whether he would be a Christmas baby or a New Year’s baby because of not having a due date. Those dates came and went, and after what seemed forever, my labor began on January 21st. My hospital roommate had just given birth to her third son. She was a very supportive experienced mommy. When we arrived home, and Grandma and Grandpa came over to meet their first grandson. Grandpa put a little blue football into his crib. He was baptized at my hometown parish, and my sister and my brother-in-law were the godparents. We had a big Christening party at the First Aid Squad building where Don was a volunteer.
We both worked very well as parents and though Don was the breadwinner, he still helped out with the diaper changing and laundry and cleaning. He did all the nice things to make me feel special and treasured. I was a success in breastfeeding my child and this gave me much confidence as a mother, along with the admiration and approval of my mother and mother-in-law. I loved taking my son out for walks in his new carriage and loved the role of mother and wife.
I’ve ironed his Rescue Squad uniform and hung it on the door for this special day. Today is the Memorial Day Parade in town and the parade route is going right by our apartment.
He stands in front of the mirror after he puts it on. He looks handsome. Once he set the hat on his head, I give him a hug and a kiss goodbye. He looks really sharp as he walks out the door to join the other men in the squad.
When the parade time arrives, I pick up our 4-month-old son and we walk outside to the curb in front of our apartment to watch Daddy go by. The band goes by playing patriotic music, and then comes the Rescue Squad Truck with all the members of the squad walking proudly behind it. The baby laughs and jumps in my arms, responding to the music. I wave to his daddy and point him out to our son. See Daddy! I am happy! I am proud. I’m full of love.
Soon night fall comes and he’s not home yet. The guys in the squad like to party and the beer flows. I settle the baby down to sleep and settle myself down to watch TV and read a book.
I wait until midnight and he’s still not home. I try not to worry! Surely, I would hear if anything was wrong. I decide to go to bed.
Footsteps on the stairs and I see it’s 5 a.m. I get up to go into the hallway and he is there. I have mixed feelings of relief, hurt and annoyance. I can see he’s very drunk and he’s not smiling.
I was worried. I didn’t know how long you’d be. Why didn’t you call me? He grabs me by the throat and shoves me hard against the wall. I’m stunned and I start to cry. He hits me across the face and staggers angrily away into the bedroom. With trembling hands and stifling sobs, I reach for the phone and dial my parents’ number. My mother picks up.
I tell her what happened through unbelieving sobs. She tells me to Go to bed, Dear. Everything will be fine in the morning.
I sob quietly and walk into our bedroom. The baby’s crib is in the corner and I walk over to check on him. He sleeps peacefully and I touch his beautiful face and straighten his covers.
I climb back into bed and look over at my husband. The air smells of stale beer and his back is to me.
Yet, my reality has changed. It was an early warning sign.
We soon realized that we would need more room and found another two-bedroom apartment, with a fenced-in yard. There was another young couple that lived upstairs who were expecting their first child.
Life went along in the day-to-day existence of that time as we went about our responsibilities of husband, wife, daddy and mommy. Don was still working for the NJ insurance company and I soon found out I was pregnant again when my stomach became queasy on enough mornings in a row to make me wonder if it was morning sickness. I had no period to miss as I was still breastfeeding. This was one fact about breastfeeding that no one had told me about, so there I was with an eight-month-old sitting in his highchair eating breakfast and me darting off to the bathroom to chuck up mine.
Most of our friends were expecting baby number two also, so it seemed to be a trend. So, 17 months after the birth of our first son, our second son came into the world, in June 1965 at the same hospital. My brother and his wife came over to stay with our first son when Don took me to the hospital. It was in the afternoon on Sunday, Father’s Day. My roommate had a little girl and she couldn’t come up with a name for her. Finally, on the day she was scheduled to go home, we were listening to the radio and the song, Dawn, came on. Oh! That’s what I’ll name her! she said. We had our son’s name all set before he was born (along with a girl’s name). We kept him in a little crib next to our bed so that I could be close to him for nursing. He was a night owl and started his fussy time just when we were looking to get some sleep. I would rock him in the carriage out in the living room while we were watching the 11 o’clock news. One night he finally went off to sleep and we decided to leave him on his back and let him sleep in the carriage in the living room. We were no sooner dozing off to sleep when we heard a noise, and before I knew it, Don sprung out of the bed and rushed into the living room. The baby had vomited and was choking on it. It really startled us to think of what might have happened if we hadn’t heard him. At that time, it was recommended that babies be put to sleep on their stomachs and I’d been apprehensive about leaving him on his back that night.
Our third son was born in August 1966. He was early and a bit smaller than his brothers. I loved him from the moment I first set eyes on him. He was so tiny and had a little tuft of hair on the top of his head. My roommate in the hospital had had her first little boy and given him the same name, and we got along very well. When we left the hospital, we took him over to his grandma’s house so that his great-grandma could meet him. It was interesting that my third son grew up to be an avid music fan and dreamed of his own band. I always put that down to the guys in the apartment below us playing the Beach Boys all day and night.
We finally bought our own house in New Jersey, and the day we moved in Don carried me over the threshold. The previous owners had left a big box of homemade German cookies in the carport for us as a welcome gift. I truly felt blessed with all that God had given me.
Our new home was a beautiful little ranch with a garden surrounding it and a lovely front and back yard. There was a side yard with trees and boulders where our children could play. It was set in a quiet community of family homes and was a perfect place to raise our boys. One could hardly tell this cluster of homes existed off the main road as you turned into the driveway, next to a small white church. Once inside the little haven, you could tell that families were growing up there and people cared about their homes.
My fourth son was born in March 1968. I actually saw him born! I watched from the overhead mirror as the baby’s head crowned and saw his cute little dimpled face as the doctor cleaned out his nose and mouth. He was the first baby that I got to give an Irish name. How could anyone object to that when he was born on Saint Patrick’s Day?
Don surprised me with a rocking chair that I could use while nursing the baby and while putting him to sleep. We had a baptism party at home and he was welcomed into the family by his three brothers He had his very own bedroom once he was able to go into a crib instead of the tiny bassinet in our bedroom, and his three brothers shared one bedroom with a bunk bed and a twin bed. I wanted a quiet space for rocking the baby in the new rocking chair, a space where I could quietly nurse and read to him.
I used to read to all of the boys while sitting on the couch in the living room. One day, as I sat in the living room surrounded by my little boys, the television announced another assassination that would rock our country. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was shot and killed. I sat in sorrow listening to his two famous speeches: I Have a Dream, given at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, on August 28, 1963 and I’ve Seen the Promised Land given in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3. Two months after that, Robert F. Kennedy was killed, on June 6, 1968, the day of the primary for his presidential bid. RFK was a man who walked the talk. And he also knew the risks he was taking when he spoke out in such a powerful way during a very tumultuous time in our history. Both men saw a vision of where change needed to happen and they weren’t afraid to voice that vision even though they knew they might become the target of those who resist change to the point of violence. The Sixties were a time of much unrest.
How I long for a pivotal figure like this to come into our current American crisis fifty years later! It’s so sad to watch the same sequence of events unfold over and over again, only to devolve into the same ugly polarization on both sides.
There will always be those on either side of these conflicts that will not want to see that happen and will continue to stir up division through violence. Here’s to all the communities that keep coming together to try to make this a better world.
The vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together – want to improve the quality of our life – and want justice for all human beings that abide in our Land.
Robert F. Kennedy
On the political scene, the Vietnam War was tearing our country apart as well, and though I was not partisan in my voting nor did I pay too much attention to politics during those busy child-rearing years, I do remember the discouragement and frustration people were experiencing over this war. One spring afternoon, some of the neighborhood mothers walked up to the bus stop to meet the children as they returned from school. On the walk back, I remember us all feeling happy because spring was here and summer was on its way. We started singing the popular song Joy to the World, which also happened to be an anti-war song. For me, it was just a joyous song that made all of us laugh and enjoy each other’s company as we walked along. My hope was that my children would be free of the tensions in our world while they were little. It was a protest song that annoyed one of the mothers and she wasn’t too happy that we were all singing it. This was my first awareness that people had strong ideological feelings on both sides of that political issue right there in my own neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Don and I planned fun times with our little boys. It was an exhausting yet rewarding time for me, with him commuting to his malpractice insurance investigator job at the insurance company and with me as a full-time homemaker. We planned birthday parties for each of the boys, and happily wrapped and set out presents under the tree each Christmas Eve when they were all tucked in their beds. We even put cookies and milk and carrots for Santa and the Reindeer. I gathered my little family around the stable to teach them about the meaning of Christmas, showed them how to make Christmas tree chains out of popcorn and construction paper and help them bake cookies.
Another time Don took me to Pocono Crest for a get-away together. I felt pretty and sexy at those times, but was always eager to return to our little ones. Our social life decreased more and more as time went on. The cost of getting a babysitter and trying to keep up with the social obligations became a hassle. At one cocktail party in particular I stood there in a cluster with other couples, dressed to impress and engaging in small talk, feeling totally bored with the whole scene. It was sort of a crossroads moment where we began to take a closer look at whether we wanted to get out of the rat race and not try to keep up anymore. It became a constant theme in our discussions together on why Don was feeling discontented and uptight, and what he needed to feel happier. It gave me a sense of feeling needed and useful in helping him find the answers. My dreams revolved around my husband and children. An important role for me became striving to keep things calm and stable so he didn’t get aggravated.
I didn’t have a car at home during some of those years when Don was at work, so most times I went grocery shopping when I could leave one or two of the boys at home with him. Most of our recreation was together as a whole family; Catskill Game Farm, Fairy Tale Forrest, drive-in movies, an awesome family membership at nearby Willow Lake, and our big camping trip up through New Hampshire and down through to Hershey Park. We bought all the camping gear for this trip and set the tent up in the backyard to check and make sure it had no leaks and get practice in putting it up and taking it down. All the neighborhood kids came over to watch and try out the tent for the first time.
We set out for Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks and visited Fort William Henry in Lake George. From there we headed up to New Hampshire to visit with family. It was this trip that made me realize that, as the only female in the home, there were many things I didn’t enjoy that Don and my sons did. We were stuck in the tent during a severe thunder-and-lightning storm, and not knowing you needed to dig a trench around the tent in the event this happened, we found the water was flooding and rising up underneath us. Don and the boys got drenched trying to dig the trenches in the heavy rain. I love the natural environment, but would use a Winnebago if I ever go camping again!
Don was a type-A stressed personality who would scream a lot when he got frustrated, and I found myself preparing for his coming home by getting the boys to help me clean up the house before he arrived. It was hard to predict what would set him off and when. One time he punched a hole in the wall of our dining room and another time, when another driver cut him off, he took off after him in anger, with me hanging on and the boys tumbling in the back seat of the station wagon. He had had ulcers since he was a child, and they flared up again while he was working for the NJ insurance company. Eventually he left this company for another insurance company, only to walk out of that one after a short time. I remember that employer calling and asking me what happened. I told him he wouldn’t be coming back because he was sick. I remember feeling that our family situation was very vulnerable. He was unemployed for a while and stayed home while we lived on unemployment benefits. He told me that this was the happiest time of his life. That was during the early part of 1969.
During that time, we spent many, many hours sitting at the kitchen table trying to figure out what he was going to do. He eventually got a job with an insurance company as a claims adjuster where he could work some of the time out of our home. I remember this job being new hope and Don went away for three weeks of training. This was a long separation for me. While caring for our sons, I felt increasing confidence in myself as the time passed, feeling I was capable of handling what was needed of me at the time. My youngest son was about one and a half years old. I wrote letters to Don telling him news of the children. This was before the time of texting and cell phones. We spoke on the phone off and on in the evening when the children were in bed. I remember one evening when he said he had to go because they were all going out to one of the bars. That made me feel very alone and hurt when we hung up. However, I trusted his love and put it out of my mind, the way I had been taught. We planned a welcome home party for him, just me and the boys, and made a huge Welcome Home Daddy banner.
The confidence I gained through that experience helped me to get involved more at our parish in their religious education program. Three of the boys were going to classes, and the baby would stay home with his dad on Saturday morning. I taught the third-grade children’s religious education class and loved it. I remember one time when Don came walking into the religious education building and demanded that I come home. He met me at the classroom door, as we were leaving, and made a scene in front of the other teachers. The only conclusion I could come to was that he felt threatened with the changes in our lives as the children were starting to get older allowing me a bit more freedom.
Don was still unhappy in his job and we talked about the possibility of him enrolling in a Physicians’ Assistant Program. He had been a Medic in the Air Force and his aunt had just finished her RN degree at 58 and she encouraged him to look into returning to school. This gave me inspiration that I too would be able to start taking some college courses as time went on.
Don learned that there were educational benefits available to him because he had served in the Air Force, that would cover all of the expenses. Over the next few years we began to piece together the steps it would take to put that dream on the road to reality.
It was during this time that my sister and her husband told us about Marriage Encounter, a movement within the Catholic Church to make good marriages stronger. They came and took care of the children while Don and I went away for the weekend. I remember feeling that I was putting my all into that weekend, and that Don was having difficulty with the sharing exercises using the technique of writing letters to each other and verbal communication while holding hands. Some of his writings were scrawling and angry looking, and I was unable to understand them. We came home, with me on a high and filled with hope that our marriage would be renewed. Years later he would tell me a priest told him that the Marriage Encounter experience brought many a marriage to an end.