Two weeks ago my wife and I celebrated my 60th birthday with our two best friends at a wonderful Italian restaurant. The food was fantastic, and the whole day couldn’t have been better.
I have never really paid much attention to which birthday I was celebrating, until this year. It didn’t bother me that I was turning 60, but it gave me pause to look at my life. I have had a lot of good times, good friends and great family; but there have been some negatives too. So. I thought I would take inventory.
As it is with most people, the good far outweighs the bad, but there have been times I wasn’t so sure. I was born to wonderful parents, and what would ultimately turnout to be a pretty good big brother. They added two more boys a few years later, our age differences being oldest two years older than me, then six years between me and my next brother and three years later the baby brother came along.
We were probably considered lower middle class. Our parents struggled, sacrificed but gave us every advantage they could. We were all sent to a Christian day school, my older brother got braces, they gave to the church; and yet we never missed a meal. We took our baths in a big metal tub in the kitchen; we had a dirt basement, we always had presents for birthdays and Christmas and we never felt poor.
We moved to a much larger house when I was 10. Three bedrooms upstairs (I was the only one that had a room of his own but that was because I was to rowdy to share a room), we had a big living room, dining room and small kitchen on the main floor, and a full, mostly unfinished basement. Most of the walls in the house had wallpaper; mine was the ugliest (three walls of carousel horses and one wall of plaid. My mother put up with it for a while until they could afford to change it. It became a family project to remove the wallpaper (scraping by hand), and then the plan was to paint once the wallpaper was off.
Unfortunately tragedy struck. We were scraping the wallpaper in the living room when my mother complained she didn’t feel well. My father told her to sit down and rest for a while as we continued scraping. After a short time, she told him she was feeling worse, her chest was hurting and she was having trouble breathing. My dad called the hospital and they sent an ambulance. My dad when with my mom to the hospital and my grandmother came over to keep an eye on us kids, except my older brother who was working.
A few hours after they went to the hospital, my uncle brought my dad home, he had my mothers personal effects in a paper bag. He walked in, dropped the bag, fell into a chair and through his tears he said “we have no mother anymore”.
When my father came home, I was standing on the ladder still scraping, knowing everything would be ok. After his announcement, I threw the scraper at the floor, and it the blade stuck in the wooden floor. I ran upstairs to the top landing and sat there crying. My uncle came up and talked me downstairs, one step at a time, trying to let me know that thing would eventually be OK. I didn’t believe him then, but as time went on he turned out to be right.
My mother was just short of her 40th birthday when she had a massive heart attack. I was just short of turning 15. I felt sorry for my dad on many levels, but especially because he lost the love of his life; and because he now had four boys ages 16, 14, 6 and 3 to raise by himself. He never did remarry; he dated a little, but no one ever replaced my mother; for any of us.
In Part 2 I’ll talk about my teen years.