Interviewed August 2000
I think I was born probably around Korean War, in the 50’s; Eisenhower. I don’t think the Korean War really affected my family as much as say World War II. I know my dad was in the service in World War II. Not active duty. He cooked in the Navy. So, they didn’t talk much about the Korean War at all.
Some rather humorous stories of my birth are of my father, losing his cool, and putting his hat on and running to the door and not having his pants on, which if you knew my father is really humorous because he was a very dapper man who still dressed the way men did in the 40’s. He always wore a hat with a hatband. He had his hat serviced at the hat haberdashery. Always wore a kerchief in his pocket. He was very particular about the way he dressed. He always dressed. So, for him to have forgotten to dress ¼ he wasn’t that kind of man to do that. And we always thought that was really humorous. And he wasn’t a first time dad so as I grew up I thought that was amusing…that response of his. I didn’t quite understand because he had had two daughters from another marriage. I don’t know how much he entered into their birth and their life, we never talked about that growing up.
It was almost as if my birth was really new for him. His response seemed like he was a first time dad, almost. So I wondered if he’d never been really that involved. He worked on a ship so maybe he wasn’t even home. I know when my mother had the son before me, who died when he was a few days old, my father was out at sea. He was working on the ship and he didn’t even get the message that the baby had died right away. It didn’t get to him very quickly. My mother was alone for that. So in a lot of ways I was like first for him in terms of the children he had with my mother.
We never met my other half siblings which is really weird because I understand they live right in Jersey City. We never met them.
My mother has two daughters from another marriage. And then with my dad she had a boy who died and then me. And then I have two other sisters who came after me. I grew up as the oldest.
My mother was just visiting recently and was retelling a story. My mother had left me with a babysitter on a particular day, gone to her job as a waitress and had a feeling that something just wasn’t right. She said that she told her boss she just simply had to go home. He thought she was really crazy and he got really exasperated with her But she insisted that she was going home. Something wasn’t right at home. So he took her home.
She said she came upstairs and the babysitter had her head in the sink. She was washing her hair. My mother went in the bedroom. There was a fire escape off that bedroom window and I was out on the windowsill on the fire escape. My mother said she very gently talked me back into the room.
She was screaming at the babysitter, “I told you she was never allowed in that room!” My mother said she took the babysitter and threw her out the door – wet hair and all. Just threw her out. The girl was really upset. “My hair is wet!” But my mother just said, “That’s it! I trusted you and I told you she wasn’t allowed there!”
So then my mother asked me how I had gotten there. I had explained to her how I had climbed onto this, that and the other to get up onto the windowsill. We lived in a apartment building up on the fourth floor. That was one of the stories – apartment dwelling – some of the things you really have to be careful of when you live in an apartment.
Another time I guess I was amusing myself by standing at the window and throwing garbage out of the window and a policeman started to scream up at my mother, who was gonna to clean this up?” I guess my mother went down and cleaned up the garbage and then was chastising me in which event I guess the policeman was yelling up at her, thinking she was abusing me. Of course she was yelling back at him. So, it was sort of a typical city drama. Probably one I’m glad I was little and not a grown-up and have to be a witness to. But it was interesting living in that apartment. Those were my first memories as a baby.
Three or four I think is really when you begin to remember things – most kids. I know I was a more mature kid. My mother would often go up to the roof of the building where she hung her laundry and she would watch me and tell me when it was okay to cross the street to go to the corner store that was right across the street. I was too little then to cross the street myself, so she would call down and tell me to cross and wait for me to buy milk or bread and then cross me back. I would come upstairs with whatever she sent me for. I was about four.
All kids have certain fears. I think that one of the first fears I remember having…there were two brothers who lived down the hall and they had a bulldog. The dog scared me. He was big. He was my height. I wasn’t much bigger than him. The boys knew I was afraid so they would stand on the landing with the dog. They knew I was afraid to go by the dog. I would get really anxious and I would say, “You know you’re going to get me in trouble. My mother wants the bread or the milk.” I would be petrified to go past the dog. They played on that fear. They were just kids and they were teasing me but I remember that, really being afraid of that. And thinking that really, really stunk. I didn’t like being in that situation.
My mother was very no-nonsense. Kind of a strict mother. You didn’t mess around with her much. She was a really firm – she wasn’t mean but she yelled a lot. She was a really firm parent. I think as children we didn’t do a lot of things that like sometimes¼ If we went to a restaurant you sat. You never got up. You never ran around. But it was just something that was her rule and she expected you to follow it and you did. Because she was the type of woman that you didn’t mess with her. It’s not like she would beat you or really punish you a lot. It’s just that she was really firm and so you were good in those ways. Because she had very firm rules about what you did and didn’t do. And one thing you didn’t do was get up and run around in a restaurant. Maybe that’s because my mother was a waitress and so that was one of her things that she didn’t like about her job was families who came in whose children made her job difficult. So her children weren’t gonna do that.
You went in and you didn’t use the bathroom that much. If you had to go, you’d go but it was you go before you left home. You don’t go to every bathroom in the universe. She was really strict about things like that. Things had a certain way.
One of the things that really mattered to her was you were as good as anybody else. It was really an issue for her. Maybe because they grew up really poor. Thirteen children in their family. It was very, very poor. There was a time when she was a child, when she had one dress. To her it was important to be like everybody else. She would say that often to us that you’re just as good as anybody else. She worked hard at making sure you were presentable to the world. You had the things you needed. If it was Easter Sunday, you had a new coat. You had new shoes. You had a new pocketbook and a hat because that’s what you did on Easter Sunday.
Both my grandparents were immigrants to this country. My paternal grandfather was a very quiet, sort of sedate man. My grandmother was a much more dominant person. She was already an older woman by the time I was old enough to remember her. Not very healthy. She was diabetic by then. She lived with my aunt who wasn’t a good housekeeper then, so my grandmother would have accidents. It was really obvious that that was what the situation was.
We were very apprehensive about having to go down and visit and say “hi”. She would always want a kiss and she was sort of a slobbery¼She was a slobbery sort of woman. Not a well-kept woman.
I was thinking about my grandparents and remembering them. My impressions of them really got formed by the stories. The stories you get told. My mother was the big storyteller of our family. I don’t remember my dad telling a lot of stories. My mother told stories all the time. And there were stories for a lot of reasons. They were either to tell you about her life, or to remember her life, or to teach you lessons. She would tell you stories. I’d always listen because the family always told stories. They’d sit and “remember this¼.” Often they would erupt into arguments. They wouldn’t always stay friendly. But you’d learn a lot from the family by listening quietly to the stories.
Sometimes I knew stuff that maybe you wouldn’t want your child at that age to know but I would know them anyway. Your impressions got formed of the different grandparents. Anytime I think about them, I realize that there were lots of threads and variables that made up a particular instance or time. So if I’m asked, “Okay, well how do you feel about this?” To say I feel a certain way or this was happening is too simplistic because then I realize that there were all these things that lead into this situation.
That’s true for most people but that is really true for our family. When I talked about not really knowing stories about what was going on historically when I was born, there’s probably a good reason for that. My parents were probably too involved in their emotional lives.
It was a BIG time of change for them. Both having been married before; being divorced. My mother had left her two older daughters with their paternal relatives and moved away with my father. Having just lost a son. The world was not a concern for them at the time. I didn’t realize that until afterwards when I was thinking about it and thinking like most people they were just too involved. So, I know lots of stories from that time but not about the world because they were too focused on what was happening with their lives.
I thought the same thing was true of my grandparents. My parents weren’t married until right before he (my dad) died. One of the things that got in the way of that was my paternal grandmother. My father was very close to her. She was a very domineering woman. She would say, I think she asked my father to promise not to marry my mother. I think my grandmother was anxious that wouldn’t work, whatever she thought about my mother. I realize that later those are your first impressions, that you then modify your opinions based on your own interactions with people. For some people that may not happen that well if they’re not open-minded enough. But for me, I was able to modify my impressions of my grandparents in spite of maybe some stories I had heard.
One reason why I may not have been so loving towards my grandmother was that I knew she wasn’t so nice to my mother. Even though my mother tried to be very nice to her. My mother would come and clean her house when she was in town. My grandmother would be nice to her on one level, but not very supportive on another. That affected how I responded to her.
By the time I had dealings with my grandmother, I found her to be a woman who didn’t take very good care of herself. Was wallowing in regret. She would often say when we got there, “Come and give your grandmother a kiss. I’m so sorry. Forgive Grandma.” What did we know what we were forgiving? Of course, I did because I knew the story.
Then I thought about my mother’s parents and I thought there was the same thing going on. My grandparents were very stern, rigid, European, Old World. If it was black and he said it was white. Goddamn it was white. That’s how he was. He was very hard with my mother and her siblings. When I lived with them when I was in kindergarten, I was petrified of him because of the stories and what I thought was gonna happen. I thought he would be as strict and rigid with me. He was a very rigid man. If the kids were acting up he’d make like this weird little noise. He wouldn’t even speak. He’d make this weird little noise and the kids would stop. I later modified those feelings because he was mellower. I got kind of close to him but he wasn’t a really warm man at all. I thought about that and I thought that there’s a lot there and really at the root of all of all of that was really the storytelling. Really big in my family. Enormously.
My mother told stories. They were unbelievable stories. One of the stories my mother would tell is when she got sent away to a girl’s home. The reason she would tell us that story was the lesson: Watch who you hang around with cause you’ll be judged by who you hang with. My mother got sent away to this school from hanging around with a girl who everybody thought was fooling around with some older man. Very taboo back then. My grandfather, being very strict and rigid, thought, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” and thought my mother was doing likewise simply because she didn’t go to school one day and got caught. My grandmother wasn’t very supportive because he was the man of the family and very strict. So she would tell us that story all the time. And that was her lesson story. That was one of her lesson stories. But that colored your impression of these people and how you felt about them until you were old enough to really have a relationship yourself. That was an interesting thing to think about.
My father was really¼he really thought at great deal of his daughters but wasn’t what I would call a real family man. It was very important to him, how his peer group thought of him: his brothers, the guys at the corner bar, the guys on the boat. He was a real man’s man because this was the fifties and the forties. My mother and him had a real love/hate relationship. I think they were really in love with each other but it was always a battle, a really big battle. My mother had to ask for anything she wanted. He would never just give it to her. He would give her a hard time.
He came from parents that immigrated here and he, himself, was an immigrant as a child and had never really had much schooling. But he wasn’t stupid. Everyday he would read the newspaper. Everyday. He need to know what was going on in the world. But he wasn’t like, we didn’t’ do like Sunday drives in the country. We didn’t do that sort of thing.
My father was very backwards in some ways. When I was born, he wanted a son badly. When I was born, he was very disappointed. By the time Christine was born, he was even more disappointed. By the time my youngest sister was born, he stomped off. He went to New Bedford. He went to Massachusetts in a snit. And everybody there said, “Well, who does the baby look like?” Well, he didn’t know. He didn’t look at her. He hadn’t held her.
So, one of my aunts had a really big fight with him and said, “You know you’re really a moron because the fact of life is that it’s a male that determines the sex of a child. So if you’re unhappy with anybody, be unhappy with yourself because you’re the one who determined if these were boys or girls.” My mother again, tells another story of how my sister was laying on the bed and how she’d gone up to the roof to do laundry. She came back down and heard the baby crying and went back up to the roof. She said when came back down she smelled his aftershave on the baby. She pushed him into breaking the ice and responding to the baby. After that he was fine. His daughters were his daughters but in a funny way. I never thought of him as really warm.
He had a drinking problem. There was always the stress of that and how my mother responded to that. My mother was the kind of woman who wanted to keep the peace. She would work hard at keeping the peace. But at the same time, she’s a very dominant woman who wouldn’t take a lot of crap. She’d avoid it as long as she could and then she’d flare up. So, there were occasional blowout fights. But for the most part my mother was very diplomatic and learned how to avoid things like that.
It was an odd sort of relationship. Sometimes it was a little scary. But a lot of times, I think, it was very matter-of-fact. If you woke up and your pillow was gone, you’d look over the side of the bed and my mother would be laying on the floor, avoiding an argument until my dad slept it off or until he got up to go to work ‘cause he worked on the tugboats.
Sometimes, thinking later, I thought that was very bizarre, that she would have dealt with any of that stuff when she seemed like such an assertive woman. But on the other hand she was keeping the peace and learning how to deal with it. Because they were living the sort of life that wasn’t really common for people to do then, to live together and have kids. But it was important for my mother to always have appearances and so no one really knew that. It was one of those skeleton in the closet sort of things. We had his name. I knew earlier because I always listened to the stories but my sisters didn’t learn for a long time, on that because that was something you kept quiet. Appearances were very important to her.
Because we didn’t live in Massachusetts, we didn’t have as much of the everyday cultural stuff because we were in Jersey City. But on the other hand, we did. Whenever we went home, it was the food. The food was ethnic. The big family atmosphere was there. And that was a very tight thing. You’d go to our grandparent’s and if you were in town everybody came over. You’d sit around and nobody really did anything. You just sat there and chatted and hoped somebody wouldn’t get into a fight.
Our family kept a lot of that. They used the language among themselves. We were always very aware that we were Portuguese.
That reminded me too of growing up in Jersey City and how interesting the different ethnic groups can be. Jersey City is typically a place where immigrants came. When I was growing up there were Italian neighborhoods. There were Polish neighborhoods. We grew up in a Polish neighborhood. There was a section where the Jews lived. There were ethnic groups around the city. As I was growing up, some of the ethnic groups began to change. So there were a lot of Puerto Ricans that came to the city. A lot of Cubans that came to the city. By the time I moved, those ethnic groups had once again changed. People from India. People from the Middle East.
But when I was growing up, even though a lot of these people who were in the neighborhoods were immigrants, whose mothers were immigrants, there was a pecking order in the world of immigrants. So, Italian and Polish and Irish, they were a little to the top. The Puerto Ricans and Cubans were, their countries, sometimes, were poorer. So when the came, they were poorer. They hadn’t been in the country as long. They weren’t looked on as highly. Sometimes in the neighborhood they would refer to us as Puerto Rican. My mother was very testy about that. “We’re Portuguese.” That bothered her a lot.
There was a difference in what you were considered. Even in New Bedford there was a difference if you were Portuguese from the mainland that was better. If you were from the Azure Islands – step down. If you were Cape Verdian – hmmm. Because a lot of the slaves that were brought over from Africa often intermarried with the people on the island. Another culture actually grew up from that. So my mother never¼to her we were Portuguese. Because she had trouble with what might be perceived about you if you Cape Verdian. Or how you might be perceived.
` I just ran across that recently by some Portuguese people when I mentioned that three of my grandparents were Cape Verdian. Someone said, “Oh, you must have a lot of dark skin in your family.” I chuckled and I said, “Well, actually,” I said, “two of my grandparents have green eyes. They’re quite European. You know there are a few relatives with dark skin but my family’s quite European.” It wasn’t until afterwards that I laughed because this person who said this to me was in his thirties. It wasn’t a sixty-year-old person who himself had been born¼ This was a person who had been here for a while and yet had obviously been affected by the way his parents perceived the pecking order in the Portuguese community where they grew up. I thought that was kind of interesting.
It did affect how, for my mother, things like that mattered. That was an issue for my mother. For me it’s not an issue. But then again I didn’t grow up in New Bedford and I didn’t live there. Maybe it might have been an issue. Growing up in Jersey City, it wasn’t an issue for me. I simply said I was Portuguese and if questions were more specific, I willingly admit that my relatives were from the Cape Verde Islands. It’s not an issue for me. But it is an issue for some people. Enormously. One of my aunts would often tell her daughter, more specifically, that she was from the Cape Verde Islands. My mother would get very haughty about that. Because I think she didn’t want to deal with that prejudice that really was prevalent then and still is – obviously from just my encounter last week.
It was a very tight neighborhood. The Catholic church on the corner was a Polish Catholic church and the grammar school was run by an order of nuns that were Polish. It was a very tight knit neighborhood and most of the kids were in a pretty tight knit group because they all went to the Catholic school. I didn’t go to that school until seventh grade. So when I did go to the school in seventh grade, it was a little hard to get into the circle of friends. They had known each other for absolute ever. But I did play with different kids in the neighborhood in spite of that. I think I got more friendly with them later once I went to their school. Because it was hard to get into their circle, they knew each other. But I never felt like that much of an outcast. I think I was pretty well accepted within the group. It was almost like having a chance to be part of another culture. Like I was Polish. I used to go to devotions on Tuesday because they were in Polish and I liked it. It was a very old neighborhood. There were a lot of older people so the Tuesday devotions were in Polish.
I know a few words in Polish – names and things. The school taught Polish. Ninety-five percent of the kids were Polish in the school. So it was like being Polish. That was a fun part.
It was really fun being in that church because it was ethnic and old and there were lots of old parishioners. It was very ritualistic. My absolute favorite thing was the May procession. I lived to be in the eighth grade. Actually I don’t remember what happened because maybe they changed it by then because I was never in it with a gown. But the eighth graders got to wear long gowns and one girl was chosen to crown the Blessed Mother. The youngest girls wore silk capes with dried flowers in their hair. The older kids got to help fix them in the Church that was in the basement. And the Communion kids got to wear their new Communion outfits with the veils. The older kids wore the blue capes that we wore when we were in the choir and the eighth grade girls wore gowns and got to crown the Blessed Mother. We would parade around the Church, the big block around the Church and then into the Church and around the Church. That was wonderful. I really liked that.
I have a lot of really fond memories of the rituals that happened there. The Communion ritual – making my First Communion. Even though I wasn’t with the kids who knew each other more, I went to Sunday school, but just everybody having the same bouquet. Everybody having the same pocketbook with the same rosaries. The same veil. The practicing for it. The nun clicking her little castanet thing to tell you when to kneel. I remember that day quite strongly. I really liked that. I liked living in that neighborhood.
I think we almost moved to Massachusetts after my dad died. I was about eleven. The summer I was eleven I think. We had spent the summer there. We talked about moving there. But I think I would have missed that because it wasn’t quite the same there. It was different. Although Portuguese are very Catholic. They have lots of pageants like that. Actually in New Bedford, they still have a religious parade down the street. They have lots of festivals. Portuguese really like festivals. The Scallop Festival. The Waterfront Festival.
I went to the public school before seventh grade which was maybe seven or ten blocks away. When my dad died, my mother grew very anxious that she would have to raise three daughters by herself and she was afraid of the influences the public school would offer. The public school I went to had a black project that was part of that school district and a lot of other communities went there. The Italian kids. The Polish kids. I think she was afraid that it would be too many influences. I think she thought she needed help. This Catholic school was very, very small. The seventh and eighth grade was in one classroom together. As well as first and second. Some of the other grades were together. I think she felt that the nuns were really strict and it was really structured and that there would be some help there. So we transferred over to that school for seventh and eighth grade.
It’s always scary when you have to go into a new situation and the kids even though a lot of them lived in the neighborhood, I wasn’t all that friendly with them. So, it was a little scary. You were sort of the outsider. I remember being sort of like a goody-goody kid. I remember the kids yelling at me cause I was too goody-goody. “Sr. Florina said to sit down.” They all looked at me like I was insane. But I quickly stopped doing that because obviously this was a peer group and if I wanted to fit in I had to stop doing that sort of stuff. But it wasn’t that bad of a transition.
Being a new kid to the school, the nun that taught us would let me get by a lot. She’d say they were teaching me bad things. If we were all carrying on in the classroom as we went by she’d whack everybody with a yardstick. Sometimes I wouldn’t get whacked because she’d say they were teaching me bad things. That part was good.
That was an interesting place to be. It was different from the public school. Sometimes you’d be made an example of. “Look! Look! She’s not even Polish and look how well she talks Polish.” That sort of thing.
It was a big adjustment too because the education there was better. When I came there, I was behind. So there was a lot of catching up to do. The students there knew how to diagram sentences. I didn’t know that at all. I was bright enough to catch on real fast, so I caught up really quickly to the other kids. But that was a big adjustment there because the education was better. Definitely better.
In our family, my paternal grandfather had already died. Again that’s a really big thing in life and in families. When you have a big family the experiences of death are more prominent. You have more of that because it’s a big family. My paternal grandfather had already died. Again it’s very ritualistic. The Portuguese are very¼ there’s a certain way that you do things.
When my dad got lung cancer, he was sick for about two years before he died. It was sort of an interesting thing. The relationship between my parents changed enormously at that time. Suddenly, my dad became less antagonistic to my mother. They got along the best they ever got along because he was, I think, scared and felt very needy. He’d be active all day long and then he’d watch for her to come home. The moment he spied her coming down the street and he’d go lay on the couch. I remember being aware of that and actually telling my mother that he would do that. I think a lot of responsibility got put on me. I used to help change dressings on a sore that he had on his arm that I think was the result of some treatments they had tried on him.
Then, children didn’t go into the hospital to visit their families. So my dad was in Staten Island at a V.A. hospital which meant we had to take buses, etc. or sometimes the ferry to go and visit him. We’d often wait or sometimes a friend would take us and we would wait in the car while my mom was up visiting. Sometimes he would come down by the back door. We could get to see him. That was an experience as well that that happened. My sisters were much younger. They were like six and eight or five and three actually when he first got sick. For them, they don’t have as many memories or as much of the responsibility that I feel I had at the time.
My mother is a very tough, very tough woman. She never cried. She was just a really tough woman and did what she had to do. I remember the night he died, my mother came home and she had woken me up and told me. She cried that night and then that was it, until like one moment at the funeral or at the wake. Other than that my mother was very tough.
When it came time for the wake, it was very interesting because again there’s a way that you did things. I remember from us children, my mother had a rosebud rosary made because there were certain things you do at the funeral. Somebody does the clock made out of flowers with the time that he died. Somebody does the bleeding heart. Somebody does the blanket that goes on the casket. Often the children will do the rosary made out of rosebuds. And so there was the discussion on who was going to do what part of the flowers. I think the wife often did the bleeding heart. That was often the ritual that you did.
My father’s oldest sister was an immigrant as well. She was older than my dad of course she might have been a teenager when she came here. So she was quite old-fashioned. The Portuguese do sort of a keening at wakes. A keening is like when they singsong. Their mourning becomes very dramatic and it’s a keening song. So my aunt is sitting up near the coffin and she begins. All of a sudden it likes bursts forth. At first this was amusing to us children. I remember my cousin who’s only four months older than me, we were giggling and laughing in the back because it was really humorous. It was just so dramatic and so unexpected. Maybe we were embarrassed by it so we thought it was really quite humorous. Except then my sister Christine who was six – no eight, got very upset and then it wasn’t funny anymore. We realized that this had a lot of emotion with it and that that emotion was too much for some people. As young as we were we realized then that this wasn’t funny. This was serious.
At the same time, my mother who is very superstitious is now on the edge of her seat. She loves to tell this story. Because by now my aunt is throwing herself on the coffin and the back of the coffin is waving in the air. But this is what they always did in the old country. My mother was very frightened by this because she’s very superstitious and my mother was ready to bolt. Because she said that if the coffin came down and the body came up she was out of there. Now she’s anxious because of that part of it. We as children were anxious because we could see that other people were upset. Because it’s such an emotional thing other people¼ It’s like when the Ave Maria plays at the end, the emotion is enormous and everybody is swept into that. This is the same sort of thing, it just draws people in.
When the wake was over and it was time to go to the cemetery, traditionally everybody comes that last morning to say good-bye. The priest comes and does a service. One by one you go out and get in your cars. My father had a procession that was just enormous. In our culture, if someone dies, you go. It’s a joke that my maternal grandfather knows everyone. He was always there. He went to everyone’s wake. Everyone’s. But it was long. My grandmother, they had brought her to one; my grandmother was still alive; and they had brought her one day but she wasn’t that well and she was way too upset about the whole thing. So we went by her house.
I remember her at the window. Of course, she was old country and that emotional outpouring that they do. She was at the window, throwing herself out the window and they’re pulling her back and then she’s throwing herself out the window. It was just the most amazing, dramatic thing. It was more amazing than my aunt throwing herself on the coffin which I thought couldn’t be more amazing. But my grandmother throwing herself out the kitchen window was just unbelievable. They had ridden by so that she could say good-bye cause they weren’t going to let her go to the cemetery.
That was a very interesting experience that a lot of children my age didn’t get to have. Not only did we have like the death experience but we also had the cultural experience because this typically a very Portuguese way of doing things.
A lot of families you use the same funeral parlor and so it becomes your family’s funeral parlor. They know your family. It’s an extension, like the church becomes an extension of the family, the places where you go. The funeral does too because it would be in your neighborhood. And this one was. It was down the street from the church we all went to. That’s where the family would go. This was in Massachusetts. This happens in any really strong neighborhood. In Jersey City, for instance, a lot of the Polish kids in my neighborhood also had relatives downtown Jersey City where the Poles lived. They had again their family funeral parlor that they would use.
The next year my grandmother had died, actually my mother’s mother died and I believe we used that same funeral parlor. And when my paternal grandmother died, again we would use that same funeral parlor and the same church.
Sometimes for fun we would ride bikes but only up to the schoolyard where we could ride in the schoolyard. We played games. We played tag and we played out in the yard. We played over a friend’s house. My family didn’t drive so you walked to stores. You took a cab. You took a bus. Once in a while the big thing, go to the amusement park that wasn’t too far away.
We spent summers a lot in Massachusetts where we would swim and bike and play games that kids play. Cards and Hide-Go-Seek. But at home I remember playing in our yard on the swing set. Sometimes we would go to the park. But we didn’t do things like go bowling. We would go to the movies a lot. Movies were a big thing – to go to the movies. I remember having a doll house and playing doll.
In our family we would play realistic-like house and we would each have a room in the house and that would be our home and we would visit each other, dress up in our mother’s things. That was a really big game for us.
We really liked going to Massachusetts because our cousin was there and the beach was there. We had a lot of fun doing that. I visited my cousin, Cheryl, a lot because we were really close in age. My other two sisters used to visit with my older cousin, Alice, a lot in New Bedford. Sometimes we’d go down and stay for two weeks and just visit. We actually, except Roey didn’t I guess, lived in New Bedford for a while when I was in kindergarten. My parents were trying to buy a house. We went and lived there for a while, while my parents were trying to get it together. That was an interesting experience.
I lived with my grandparents. I think my mother kept Rosemary because she was a baby. She was just too little. She might have kept Christine, I don’t remember. My memories of that time are really focused on my grandparents because I was intimidated by them. I was afraid of them because of the stories my mother had told. They were very Old World. My grandmother didn’t speak English very well. My grandfather spoke better because he worked out in the world but not that well either. You really had to pay attention and listen. My grandmother, because I was afraid of them, I tried to figure out really quickly what they wanted. I started to learn the language. If my grandmother told you to put your clothes in the banyetta, the bathtub, that’s where she put her dirty clothes; you wanted to know that right away because you were afraid. Not that they ever would have been as strict with us as my grandfather was with my mother, he never would have done that. He’d mellowed a great deal by then. He just wouldn’t have but being a kid I was afraid. He wasn’t warm.
Mornings were terrifying there. My grandmother was not the grandmother who cooked so good. I didn’t have one of those. She’d make scrambled eggs and she’d schlop the grease and the flames would shoot up the sides of the pans. I’m not kidding the would SHOOT up the sides of the pan. The eggs would have all these burnt black bits in them that was really gross. My grandfather would sit there with smelly oatmeal and he’d drink his coffee like the Old World in a big bowl. You now had to eat these really awful eggs while you were smelling awful oatmeal, and you were scared. But you did it anyway because you were anxious about it. My memories of that really center a great deal.
I can still see where the table was and the windows and where the pantry was and the back stairs. I can still see that place because it was an important time. I was without my mother so those memories are really sharp.
I liked going there cause it was fun. There was a lot of family things, a lot of visiting. It was fun.
I don’t think discipline was a problem with my grandparents. My grandfather would make that little noise and you stopped whatever you were doing. That’s just how it was. He had such a stern demeanor that you figured he meant it. I think as a rule kids don’t cross that. They know and they just don’t. That was never a problem. He never did speak to you, he’d just make a noise. It was so unusual.
He also had lost a part of his finger. I remember that. He had these interesting big hands and he was missing a part of a finger. That really added to the mystique of who he was. It really did. He smoked cigars. There were always strong smells of that cigar.
He was a very rigid man. Everyday he dressed and he’d take a walk. Everyday until he was ninety-two. He took a walk everyday down to the club where all the Portuguese guys would sit outside and – whatever they did there. He was very well known.
My mother was the disciplinarian. She did a lot of yelling. When I was very little her thing would be to stand you in the corner with your hands behind your back. That was her way of disciplining you. Something I hated because I like to talk and that meant you had to be really quiet.
My father only hit me three times in the ten and a half years I was with him. I remember each and every one. They have lasting effects. One, I think because it was infrequent so that when he did it you really paid attention.
One was for sliding down the back of a car. All the kids in the neighborhood were sliding off the back of somebody’s car. The old cars had the rounded backs. It was wonderful. It was such a great game. I was up at the top sliding off and just as I pushed off I looked up the hill and he was coming down the hill. He told me to come up. I got a strap across the back of my legs. It wasn’t a beating. It was a strap across the back of the legs but they bruised. I remember staying home a day from school because he was afraid the teachers would say something. To this day, it is a rare, rare moment if you see me leaning, LEANING on anybody’s car. I do not sit on anyone’s car. I don’t even lean on their car. That is their property. His thing was that’s not your car what if you scratched it? So now I don’t even lean on his car.
Another time he was calling me and I didn’t hear him but he thought I looked up at him and ignored him. I got a spanking for that.
Another time he was sick and my mother asked me to make coffee and I stomped off. He got up and grabbed me by the hair and yanked me and I fell to the floor. My mother stepped in between us and got slapped in the face. A slap that was meant for me. So of course I remember that. Of course, that one never quite stayed with me, I always stomped off.
My mother was the one who did a lot of the yelling. She would spank with a hair brush, a wooden spoon. If you got her mad and she got pushed to the edge, she’d use whatever was in her hand. She’d slap you across the face if you got in her face and made her lose her cool. But often it was when she was pushed. It was never a calculated…. Some people say, “Okay. Come here. Drop your pants.” My mother never did stuff like that. Although sometimes she’d make you go get the brush which was torturous. It’s a torturous thing to make your kid get its own instrument.
She yelled a lot though and I didn’t like that. I hated that as a matter-of-fact. I hated that she was always yapping and chattering in our face ad nauseum about an issue. It was never cut and dry. She’d go on forever. But that’s her personality. She’d tell stories that way too.
The last time my mother hit me I was fifteen. I remember that day enormously clearly. I’m not sure what we were fighting about. I forget what we were fighting about. But my mother had slapped me across the face and I was sitting in the chair. I remember looking at her defiantly. I stuck my chin back out, daring her to do it again. I saw my mother look at me. I saw her flinch. She never hit me again. That was the last time.
After that I think she realized that I had changed. I had reached another level. I was a difficult teenager for her. My mother grew up in a very rigid “if I say it’s black it’s black” even if it’s gray, red, yellow, household. As much as she didn’t like that my mother was like that herself in many ways. When I was a teenager it was the 60’s. That was a very difficult time for everybody. I think my mother found it very difficult dealing with that. And dealing with that alone. She was very anxious. She was anxious because we lived in Jersey City too. There were more opportunities, more things to be anxious about. Drugs were very prevalent then, sex. It was difficult time. But that was the last time that she did that.
My mother was very strict but you didn’t really mess with her. It was just that if my mother said, “you’re grounded”, that was it. I’m not saying that I didn’t pull stunts because I did. Plenty. But I never went up against her blatantly about most things because she was a very firm woman. We had that rapport. She didn’t stand for a lot and you knew that. So I never went up against her in that way. I was quite rebellious but never to an extreme that some kids are because she had that way about her. She’s the boss.
I had this girlfriend who had lots of ideas and they never fit in with my mother’s ideas and so I always felt pressured to go along with her ideas. It was difficult because my mother was more watchful than her mother in many ways. My mother was stricter. I’d get caught and get in trouble and get grounded. She’d be out on the next day and I’d be grounded for a month. There was a lot of pressure there. My mother was very strict so I felt really caught in the middle because it was a time when things were getting really free and I couldn’t really go there. I tried a lot. But I couldn’t go there that well but Cynthia was always trying to bring me there. So I did a fair amount of sneaking around and little stunts because of that.
It was also difficult time because I always understood why my mother was strict. My mother had told me lots of stories and I knew that she was just trying to keep me safe. If my mother said I couldn’t date until I was sixteen, I hated that but I understood why at the same time. I was always caught between understanding her and wanting to do it and the influence of the girlfriends who wanted you to come along. I remember later like some years later, Cynthia saying, “Oh your mother, she was always right.” My neck twisted off my shoulders because this girl had gotten me into so much trouble and all of a sudden she had this understanding. I remember thinking, “Where were you when we were fifteen and sixteen. I could have used some of that understanding because she wasn’t very understanding of my mother at all and I always felt caught in the middle of that. That was hard.
My mother is really like central. Maybe more so because my dad wasn’t there. I became sort of her buddy. Which made life with her very difficult. She’d let you stay up and watch old movies all night with her and yet put the thumb on you in the next minute that you weren’t old enough to do something. She’d send you to the bank with I don’t know how much money to make deposits and then put the thumb on you. But she was always there with life stories so that you would understand what some of the thing were that you might face and maybe some of the choices that you’d have. She was really a very big deal.
My Aunt Barbara, I think was really important in my life. My cousin Cheryl’s mother. I spent a lot of time there. Our fathers were brothers and my mother and her were really good friends. That was a really comfortable place. A very solid place. They were much more family than we were. They had this home. They always did things in a certain way. She was redecorating her living room. She’d look for the perfect end table or the perfect lamp or “I’m looking for that for my…” Everything was perfect in her house. That was a very comfortable place to be. She was very important I think.
Growing up I think, kids get so involved in their peers. Cynthia definitely. We were friends for quite a long time. We did all that growing from kid to teen-age into early adult together. So that certainly shaped a great deal.
My mother didn’t have a lot of friends. There weren’t a real lot of adults other than family. My mother had a few close friends. When my dad died, she had a very long time where she just really didn’t function that well. She went to work. She came home. She didn’t go out a lot. Plus she had three kids. Where do you go? How do you afford babysitters?
Somebody kissed me in kindergarten. I remember that. My first date was sort of a clandestine… I had a massive crush on this boy, Luke, when I was in eighth grade who lived in the neighborhood, didn’t go to our school, wore white t-shirts with the cigarettes rolled up in the thing. Oh, I had a massive crush. Massive.
I had a crush on my Polish girlfriend’s cousin, Yannick. Who lived downtown Jersey City. I’d sneak downtown. Take the subway. Subway no less. I was twelve. Imagine your twelve year old taking the subway downtown. And I’d hang out downtown with them. But then it got, you know it was the sixties.
My next relationship was a sexual one and clandestine because my mother didn’t approve. It was my best friend’s ex-boyfriend. She got mad at me. She had stopped seeing him and was now seeing someone else. But I went with him and didn’t talk to her first. It didn’t interfere that much but I think that that was not a very good thing to have done. I realized that after the fact.
He was a boy whose father had died. They were Jewish. He had an older brother. And had way too much freedom. Absolutely way too much freedom. I used to sneak off to see him all the time. I dated him a while. I forget how long but it was a while.
I didn’t have a steady boyfriend in the sense of girls go on dates and the guy comes over and gets them because I was always grounded. We got caught smoking. Actually we didn’t get caught smoking pot. My friend Cynthia and her girlfriend got caught smoking pot in her room. Her brother smelt it and said he was going to tell her parents. She called me up and said her mother was coming over to tell my mother. So I figured I’d better confess because it would be better coming from me than her mother. I knew my mother well enough to know this. So I fessed up. Sure enough her mother came over. My mother was enormously upset. That day I was going to New York City to help one of my aunts clean her apartment. So I escaped. I stayed there for a little while. I was grounded for a very long time. I wasn’t supposed to be friends with Cynthia but I was anyway because my mother worked. When my mother was at work, Cynthia would come over. We’d hang. When it was close to my being home, she’d go home. I was friends with her anyway because it was a really strong friendship.
I didn’t have that. I don’t think I had a “boyfriend” until I was about a senior in high school. I used to work at a diner as a waitress. One of the guys that came in was a customer. I dated him for a while. He would come over and pick me up and hang out and take me to the drive-in and do the boyfriendy sort of thing. I guess he was maybe like my real boyfriend.
Then I had a boyfriend all through college. Four years of college I dated the same guy. Which again was an interesting thing because he was a different ethnic group. They were Jewish. They weren’t orthodox. Although his mother had been somewhat orthodox. It was fine that we dated. But they were very rigid. They didn’t want him to marry me. They interfered in that relationship in that way. They were always very nice to me. I spent a lot of time there. Sometimes would stay overnight. But that interfered with him getting close enough to me. By the end of the relationship his brother who had married a Jewish girl got divorced. By then they realized well it doesn’t always work even if they’re the same race and religion. By then they’d loosened up. But by then it didn’t matter because I had stopped getting that close.
I’d realized that maybe I didn’t like how rigid they were. I always felt that this boy had his life planned out. You know, two children, life in Bayonne, it was set out already. I didn’t feel like I had much say in it. By then I decided that I didn’t really want that.
Then I came to Maine on vacation and decided that I didn’t want to be in Jersey City anymore and I didn’t want to be with this person and that I needed to move away from my family. I think I always felt very responsible for my family after my father died. I felt that keenly. I almost felt over stimulated by that. I didn’t like that feeling. I couldn’t find a balance for that.
I used to have a recurring nightmare when I was a kid of being in the playground of the public school. In the corner was a basketball court and the corner of the basketball court would sink down and my sisters and my mother would slide down into the hole. Cause I think I felt responsible for them. I think I had way too much responsibility growing up. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like too being afraid. I felt like I was always afraid in Jersey City. I didn’t like that. I felt like that over stimulated me. I think I was very tactile. I didn’t realize then that I realize more now what that was. I think the sound and sights and the smells were really over stimulating for me and I didn’t like that.
I think when you grow up though tight in your family and tight in a neighborhood, that you almost don’t realize that you don’t have to be there. Even though we went to Massachusetts a lot, again it was very tight. It wasn’t until I went to Maine and was on my own with my cousin that I realized, “Oh, hey, I’m old enough to do this and I like this.” I very impulsively, on the way home on the plane, decided “Okay. I’m moving. I’ll do this.” Got off the plane and told everybody instantly before I had a chance to think about it. Really felt much freer. I felt freer. I didn’t like being scared. I didn’t realize how afraid I was until a few weeks after I had moved there. I was sitting out. It was dark but it was maybe 8 o’clock and I was sitting on the steps. I heard this crunchy noise. I instantly went into city defense mode. I was scanning up and down the street seeing who was coming and from what direction so that I could be ready in case I needed to go in the opposite direction. I was not a person at all. It was the sound of the dry leaves falling off the trees hitting other leaves on the way down. I’d never heard that. I’d never heard that before. I realized that the city was like an animal in the jungle. It was like being hunted. You were always defensive. To be safe, that’s how you needed to be. I felt much better moving here when I realized I didn’t have to be like that. I really liked not having my family on me. I didn’t like that. Your not in control of other people, but you’re affected by them. If something was happening in their life, you feel that but you can’t do much about it. You can help them. You can support them. I would feel all that stuff. I didn’t like that. It was really big feelings. It’s still like that. You’re always afraid something’s going to happen that they’re going to have to suffer through and feel. It’s not so much that it’s even going to effect you but that they’re close to them. You know that they’re going to have all these feelings that you have to deal with that.
My husband was my roommate for about a year. When he moved in I was very explicit about laying out the ground rules. This was strictly a roommate situation, no romantic involvement. By the end of a year, my husband decided he was in love with me. One day said, “I’m in love with you. I don’t expect you to do anything about it but I need to share my feelings.” I told him I was flattered but I didn’t want to do anything about that because I was still seeing someone else. But I spent some time in the next few weeks thinking about that because I thought here was a person that… I’d never been friends first with a romantic partner. It was always romance, sex, etc. This was someone I knew in an different way. There weren’t many people that said that that’s what they wanted. They wanted a family. That would come out and say that that’s what they were interested in. That’s why they wanted to get to know you. After that I thought that maybe I should spend some time seeing if this was a person worth taking a chance on. It was obvious we could live together. We had lived together for a year. So we spent the next couple of weeks talking and just spending a little time together. One day I was really upset and Jim came down and put his arms around me and that was it. We had an intimate relationship from that time on. We got married quite quickly after that. Interesting enough that once we did get married, in spite of the fact that we had lived together, it did change. Just slightly. Because now we were making decisions together. The separateness we had maintained before that was sort of gone. There was a little adjustment which surprised me a little in the beginning. But we got along really well. I thought we were well suited at the time. Our personalities were a good balance for each other.
We’ve been married almost fourteen years. There’s a big difference in how we are. The places were we grew up. Our ancestry. Jim being very New England. Being very sort of aloof. Not at all terribly close-knit, passionate, outspoken like our Portuguese family was. There was really quite a difference. I’m probably attracted to that quietness of his family. That not-in-your-faceness of his family. I think he was attracted to that passion that his family really didn’t have. So it was a good balance I think. Sometimes I think…
Like most children, my children are a big part of your life. They dictate what you do. They are a lot like me and that is very difficult sometimes. They’re not that balance like my husband tends to be for me. We all go to the same place together a lot. That makes for a very crazy household sometimes. But in many ways it’s like how I grew up which again had its up and down aspects to it. I think though because that’s how I grew up I’m aware of more things in terms of my house. I think I’m a little more aware of people’s needs to have time by themselves. I may not always provide that as well as I could. One of the things that bothered me growing up was living in a small place with a lot of people and never having a place to go when you were overloaded. So I’m more aware of that and I try a little bit with that. I try not to go on ad nauseum in my explanations for my children because I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that my mother did that. I’m sure I’m not always successful with that. You want your kids to understand so you think that if you keep talking they’ll reach an understanding. That’s not really always valid.
I have three children. I lost two in the second trimester before I was successful with the birth of my son. That was a difficult time. That I think changed some of my outlook towards my children. I was always hoping for girls. By the time I had my son I was very excited to have him. That changed how one might have viewed their child when they have a preference. I was very grateful to have him. I think that affected some of the things I gave him or did for him when he was a baby because I waited long to have that.
Their humor is the most important thing my family gives to me. They make me laugh. I like that the most. My kids make me laugh at least once a day. Even on a really rotten day, something they do will make me laugh. That I really enjoy.
I like that sense of closeness from my family. That I know that they’re there. We’re very close. We fought a lot growing up but we’re a very passionate family and very dominant. We share maybe not always appropriately but I like that we do it and get over it and move on. I like knowing that they’re there. It’s important to all of us that we have each other. I don’t know if that’s stronger because my dad had died and we were sort of a unit. That might have strengthened that feeling but that’s very important to us to have each other. We all view that a little bit differently. I’m more independent so I come when I need them. My youngest sister needs us all the time and she needs to know that we’re family. She needs that more. My sister Chris is a little more independent in that way too but I think that’s because she has a big social group. A big friend group so she’s a little more independent in that way too.
I think sometimes I help them think through things. I can help them not be emotional about things. I see them even now look to me sometimes for an okay for things.
Always being responsible is one of the stresses of being an adult. Always having to solve the problems. It gets done or doesn’t get done on whether or not you motivate yourself. I find that difficult. Having to be in charge of yourself. It can be hard to do. And having to be in charge of your family. When you have children you can let some things slide but you can’t let a lot slide. You have to be on track for them. Or you should be anyway. You should be. That itself can be a stress.
Getting older is a stress. Wondering, judging what you’ve done and whether you’re doing what you want to do or whether you’re doing enough. Wondering if you’re going to hit sixty and say, “Okay¼Did you? Didn’t you?” Having those feelings. I think as I’m getting closer to fifty I’ve been thinking about that. That now’s a good time to really think about that. Sometimes I think my mother is thinking about that even though she’s not really saying that. I think she’s got some fears. I think some of her crotchedyness is from that. That wondering. This stage in her life is she done what she wanted to do as an adult. It’s not an infinite life. When you’re a kid you think it just goes on and on and on. As you get older, you realize it doesn’t. That it’s gone by and that there’s a certain amount of time left. What do you want to do with that time. Time has a way of just slipping away and you can do that. You just ride it out. If that’s not what you want in your life then that becomes a stress. Becomes something you have to work at because it’s very easy to do that. So you have to make choices.
My mother’s a very unusual woman in a lot of ways. In the Old Country they believe a lot in spirits. My mother’s the kind that has feelings so that was always a big part of our life. My mother used to sometimes go to spiritualists and have readings done. There were lots of stories to do with that growing up. That was always a real thing for us. It was within the realm of possibilities from hearing these stories. And of seeing first hand. When you’re mother is so tuned in that she always seems to know when you’re up to something. When she has feelings. When she has dreams. A couple of years ago it was her birthday. We were planning a surprise. We were going to take her to Atlantic City for the weekend. I was coming. I didn’t tell her. Two weeks before she said, “Are you coming to visit?” I said, “Well, no.” And she told me that she had a dream and in her dream I was pulling up and parking outside the house. I remember looking at the phone and thinking, “For Christ’s sake, I can’t even surprise her.” So when I arrived, my mother screeched, “I knew it! I knew you were coming!” She did those sorts of things all through my life.
I do things like that like her. Maybe not in the same way that she does but I do things like that like she does. So I’ve had experiences like that and to me they’re kind of matter-of-fact because my mother always did. That was just how things were. My mother will sometimes smell flowers and then hear that someone died. I sometimes do things like that. Nowhere near like my mother does. I’ve smelt like alcohol smell and then heard someone I know has gotten hurt. I do things like that. I sometimes will think about someone when they’re mailing me a letter and then two days later get it. My sisters and I will often think of each other and then the phone rings or we’ll each other. We’ve done things like that. That’s sort of an interesting aside.
I think one of my big strengths is that I understand that there are some things in life you just don’t have control over. I can put that in that place where that belongs. I think that’s a really big strength for getting through life.
My other strength, I think, is that I’m very independent and I can be by myself. I think that’s a strong thing to be. When I feel like I’m over loaded by the world, what renews my spirit is doing something for myself. Something interesting. Something stimulating. Something where I have to think a lot. Art. Music. Stimulating stuff. Going off and having a lot of laughs with a friend. Those are very renewing and stimulating things for me. I will come back feeling refreshed.
I think I would not want to compromise my tolerance. My mother was a very tolerant person in many ways. That’s something that was a very important thing for her. She tried to teach us that a great deal. I feel like I can be like that a lot. I think the world needs more of that. That understanding that there are different kinds of people and everybody has some value and some worth. It doesn’t mean that you have to go to the movies with them or have them in your life all the time. Some people feel like if a person isn’t exactly like what’s on their list of like the kind of person they want in their life there’s no room for anybody else. I’m not sure that that’s necessarily wrong because people do rub off on you and you can be influenced by other people. If you have some negative things around you that you might not want in your life, you run the danger of getting into that. Getting into that circle, having that rub off on you. But I think it’s a really good thing to be tolerant and to look for what is good. But you have to be really strong so that you don’t get too influenced by someone or sucked into whatever it is they’re into.
Having my children has given me the greatest joy. That’s really a special thing. Seeing them learn. I really like that. I like seeing their brains grow. I like watching them think and reason and having a sense of humor. I like that.
I think meeting my husband was the greatest turning point in my life. I think deciding to have a relationship with him. I think I was in a dark place. I think he sort of helped rescue me out of that dark place. Not a very positive place. It felt like there were a lot of dark influences around me and the relationship that I was in. I didn’t like that and I didn’t like where I was going but I couldn’t seem to get out of that. I think having Jimmy there and his influence rescued me. He pulled me out of whatever that weirdness was.
Being in the relationship I was in before Jimmy was a mistake. I knew and I should have take control of and moved away from sooner than I did. That was a mistake. Staying in a seven year relationship was a mistake. I think I knew after six months or so that there were some problems there. I let that go a long time. But again I don’t know how much of a mistake that was because eventually I met my husband. You wonder¼it’s your little life path.
I’m sure there are some other mistakes. There are things I look back as a teenager that I think , “That wasn’t such a good thing. I’m not too proud of that one.” Being a teenager and the whole free love sort of thing, I know I made some choices that I’m not sure I showed enough respect for myself. I think I did the same thing after I left a seven-year relationship. I’m sure it was just a part of just a time of recovery. But I think I made some not so good choices during that time. Thank goodness it was brief. I’m not comfortable thinking about that.
I’ll tell you one thing I’m not comfortable remembering. When I first moved here, I was in a relationship with this man that sort of lured me here and my mother came up to visit. I lived in an apartment with a couple of girls and it wasn’t really a place I’d invite my mother. But at the time I hardly stayed there. I was staying with this guy all the time. My mother stayed at my cousin’s with my aunt. I should have stayed there. My mother came to visit. I didn’t. I was very self-centered at the time. I was in this relationship. I think I hurt my mother very badly then. I think my mother felt very hurt. I’m not comfortable remembering that. I feel sorry about that. That was a mistake.
I hope I don’t forget the things I don’t want to do as a parent. Those things that you experience as a kid and hope that you don’t do. I hope I don’t forget that so that I can always work on not doing those things. I hope I don’t forget all the stories. Sometimes when I go to tell them, I’m not sure of them anymore. Where as a kid, every time we visited we’d hear the same stories over and over. It’s been a while and I haven’t heard the stories.
There were so many stories. My mother used to tell the myth. I’m sure it was an urban myth. I was sure of it. When I grew up and learned about urban myths I thought I bet this was one of those urban myths. My mother tells the story of working in the shipyards and how this couple were having an affair and they were inside the hull of the ship, like on lunch when everybody else was at lunch. The man had a heart attack and his penis swelled and they couldn’t separate them and they had to call an ambulance. My mother swears this story’s true. Somehow I think this was an urban myth. My mother tells some wild stories.
My mother created a ghost in the basement. It was her way of reminding you to be a good person. We had these storerooms in the basement. She stuffed a plastic bag and sort of put it up in the little window so we could see it. That was where Mr. Gregory lived. She always threatened to take us in to Mr. Gregory. She’d tell us if we were really misbehaving that Mr. Gregory wanted to speak to us. She’d take us by the hand and she’s put her hand under the plastic and touch us with it. I was smart enough and older that I knew she had made this up but my sisters were really afraid. Now that I’m an adult, I’m a little bit appalled that my mother did that. That was really a very weird thing to do.
But my mother was looking for anything she could to keep things on an even keel. I do think this was after my dad had died so that was one of the little scary things that she had was Mr. Gregory, was the ghost in the basement. My mother did weird things like that. She’d tell you weird stuff.
One other very interesting story. I mentioned before how my parents had a very love/hate relationship. There was a time when my mother decided that’s it. I can’t deal with this anymore. I think my dad was really drinking a lot. So one night, my mother woke us up. It had been a very difficult night. My dad had gone to some really weird place.
It might have been the night my dad had thrown all his money on the kitchen table. Like a lot of money. There was a lot of money. There were bills everywhere. They had been fighting about money I guess. He threw all this money on the table and some of it fell to the floor. Then he barked at us to pick it up. My mother picked up the money and she put some money in my hand and told me to go hide it. She pushed me away. I knew her enough to know that I was supposed to go hide it. I remember being really afraid because he was pretty loaded. I hid this money. Anyway, my mother would sometimes wait for him to go to sleep. That night, he had finally gone to sleep, my mother woke us up and in our pajamas we left. We walked half a block up the street to the convent. The convent had…you went up some steps and their doorway was sort of enclosed so we were in the shadow. We waited there, the three of us and we were little – 8, 6 and 4 maybe.
My mother kept peeking out and she waited. Finally a cab came to pick up my dad. He had to work. He’d leave around four, five in the morning. He worked on the tugboats. He left the house. When he did, we all went home and she put us back to bed. When we got up she packed our stuff and we left. Christine and I stayed with my grandparents for a while or my Aunt Barbara one or the other and she kept Rosemary who was just a baby. Actually, we must have been younger 3, 5 and 7 maybe because Roey was very little. My mother decided that’s it and so she got a furnished apartment and we went to my relatives.
My mother used to come back to the house though and check on the house when he was working. She said that he had put a lot of money, he hid it in the refrigerator and the freezer and the butter keeper. She said it used to kill her to see the money. Actually she used to pilfer a few bucks. Then she’d go down the cellar and there was like a sewer hole with a cover on it near the washing machine. It was like an overflow hole. My mother had statues of St. Francis, Joseph, Mary and my dad would put the statue so that it was over the sewer hole because he knew that that would really annoy my mother. It was a really sacrilegious thing to do. It made my mother crazy but she wouldn’t touch it because she didn’t want him to know she’d been there. But he did know. Because years later when he was really sick, he said, “You know, I knew that you used to come everyday. And you know I’ve always known that you pilfered money from me all the time.” But they had this very love/hate thing where he wouldn’t give an inch and she was too proud she wouldn’t ask.
I guess the my children, the whole birth thing, is the most awe inspiring thing I’ve experienced. Even before having my children, just having my miscarriage, because that was really the first time. I was less upset about that experience because it was just unbelievable. The whole little person, being so complete, even though it wasn’t complete yet. Fingernails and fingerprints and eyelashes – that whole little thing was just so unbelievable that I was really fascinated by the whole thing. That was very helpful for both my husband and I to see how fascinating that whole experience really is. It changed my view of abortion, seeing that. How wondrous all of that works together to make a human being is really quite miraculous.
I wonder what I’m going to do with my years that are coming up. That’s really on my mind lately, a lot. What am I going to do with my time now. I’ve been having kids and just keeping a house. I don’t know quite what to do with myself. I need to do something. I’m really feeling a need to do something. I’m not quite sure what it is. I spend a lot of time thinking about that.
I guess positive emotion makes me feel most deeply alive. Friendship, love, understanding. Those really pull up a lot of emotional response in people. That just sort of fills the whole inside and bursts out. I always feel like really…I was talking about watching an episode of “Avonlea”. Where this really intense emotion, this understanding between the characters happened. The respect that they had for each other, the understanding brought up an enormous amount of emotion in me. I felt all my senses woke up. I cried quite deeply which is always then a release of stresses on you so that you then feel more woken up afterwards.
Thinking that I won’t be well makes me uneasy about the future. That I won’t be able to do for myself and be independent makes me uneasy. I’m not comfortable with that thought. Many people live a long time and its not that good of a life for them. I would be very frustrated by that, I know. I’ve had trouble in the past. Being on bed rest, having babies and not getting the toast buttered the way I want. That seems like a little thing but it isn’t. It’s like a really big thing and it’s extremely frustrating. I worry about that. Not being well.
Knowing that I have choices gives me the most hope. That if I don’t like something, there are a great many things that I can change. I can make that choice. That’s always there. It may take you a while to move out of something that’s not pleasant or something that you don’t like in your life. But it’s okay if you know that you can. All you need to do is muster whatever you need to muster to do that. Knowing that I can always make choices is… I think I would have a very difficult time if I for instance was in Auschwitz. I’m not sure about that because there weren’t a lot of choices. Maybe none. On the other hand, I do think that I am good at knowing when I don’t have a choice about things so that might have helped me in that situation. I definitely would have suffered a great deal. I would have been extremely frustrated by the boundaries of that experience. That’s not even a good word, boundaries of an experience, but there definitely were boundaries to what one did in that experience.
I just want to feel that I’m always experiencing. One of the things that has always gotten in the way of me not focusing in and doing one career. I always see the world as this HUGE place. There’s so many things to try. So many things to know. I’ve never been able to sort of focus on one thing to see and know. That has been a detriment to me in that my life isn’t focused in that way. On the other hand, that’s what’s so wonderful about the world. There’s always something to try, something new, something to learn. I really like that. I think that your life is really dull if you stop doing that; stop trying and looking or thinking about the world. The people that do that are very sad. I think they’re the ones that get sick, die soon. My stepdad. I sincerely think that’s why he didn’ t live very long. He didn’t see the point to anything. He didn’t look and do anything. That’s a very sad, SAD thing. I think that is a real sin. I think that is a mortal sin against God to live your life like that. It’s here. There are things to think about. You need to think about those all the time. The way the breeze makes the leaves dance in the wind. That is fantastic. That’s miraculous. The cycle of the planet is miraculous. You have to think about those things all the time because that is what gives your life some purpose, I think. It’s a sin not to do that because those things are miraculous. There’s a lot to see and think and do. God! Even learn a minute bit of what there is to learn.
Before I die I’d like to see more of the world. I’d like to see the other places where things are really different. I’d like to see that. I’d like to see what the world looks like in different places. In a safe way though. I’m not interested in climbing the Himalayas and freezing to death. I’m not. I’d love to go to Africa but I also don’t want to sweat to death and have bugs crawling on me. But I would like to go and see those things that are around the world.
I like to be fair. Understanding and maybe tolerant. I think those are the things I would like to be. I would hope people would think that about me after I die.
I would advise younger generations to keep themselves interested in the world and the things that there are to learn. To be tolerant and accepting of everything. To try to find a balance for themselves because I think that’s really important to one’s health and well-being. To look for the humor in thing because that’s a really big thing. Not to be rigid because those are the people who get sick too. They’re just too rigid.
We’ve touched on a lot of the important things. The things that are important for anyone’s life. Your attitude about life, the choices you make, the influences and what you do with them. How you think about the influences you have in your life. There are some things that you just would rather weren’t in your life but… I don’t know.
I’m sure I had a lot of stories. I like that. I like the stories. I like the family thing even though that gets weird. It does get weird. You look at choices other people make. I’ve been thinking a little bit about that because my mother is turning 80 this year. I sometimes wonder is she is thinking about some of the choices she’s made that weren’t so good. I think about the things you avoid talking about because they’re just a little too heavy. You don’t want to get into it. I always thought it was really weird that my mother left her daughters and didn’t bring them along. That’s one of those things we don’t talk about that much because I don’t think my mother’s ever really dealt with that. She rationalizes it but I think that there’s some real weirdness there that nobody really wants to talk about.
My older sister sometimes does but in a very antagonistic way because she hasn’t dealt with it either but I don’t blame her. That’s a really intense thing. It’s too bad because I think she probably really could use some help dealing with that and has never done that. But I’m sure she needs some help dealing with that.
My mother needed some help dealing with that too but my mother just put that some place else and moved on because that’s how she is. You’d have to. You either do that or you’re gonna suffer through that or you need to find some help to deal with that because there were some really big issues there with leaving your daughters in a situation that maybe is not that positive. Not that they were mistreated or had a miserable life but it was different for them than it is for us. Sometimes that’s a little weird for us too. That we try to be careful around them not to do “us three sisters” and to include them so that they’re not reminded that that was their life. That’s kind of weird. That’s a really big weirdness but one that we’ve never really talked that much about.
I think that life was too much for my mother and she just said good-bye and moved on to something else. I’m not sure what I would’ve done. I don’t know. I just really don’t know. Maybe that’s what’s uncomfortable about it. Maybe the very fact that maybe you would have made those same choices. Who knows? That’s not a comfortable thought that you would leave your children and move on to some other man. Then have children with him.
I maybe have given a more positive picture of myself than I really am. The questions were such that we were looking at mistakes etc. but I think that was maybe more positive than maybe I am. We all make mistakes in our life. The person we would like to be and the person we really are, isn’t always the same thing. I think I haven’t really touched on things I wished I’d had in my life.
I wish I’d had someone help me deal more with being frustrated, with my temper. I wish I had someone teach me how to deal with that. I think that’s one of the biggest things I wish someone had helped me with. How to stay organized. But my mother was like that a lot. She was pretty mellow and then when she got mad, it let it out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That can be productive because then you move on. I think I could have used help with that. Being frustrated.
I remember working in a restaurant once and I was getting overwhelmed and I was really losing my cool. The chef said to me, “When it gets tough, you can’t take it.” It was like a slap in the face. It was like an awakening. I realized, you know what, he’s right. I was overstimulated badly and terribly impatient. I wasn’ t calm anymore. I’m not sure I realized that about myself until he said it.
I’m more aware now when I’m getting overwhelmed. I’m better at it and maybe I’m better at it because I’m a parent and I want to be a good one. I’m more aware now of what it feels like to be getting up, the stimulation levels getting too high. I’m better at taking a deep breath and trying to bring it down. I’m not always successful at that. But I think that’s something my mother didn’t and a lot of parents didn’t understand about personalities and children then. I sometimes am frustrated about that. I don’t have enough skills to help my children with that issue. One of the reasons why is that I’m like that too so that’s difficult.
I think is was interesting to do this interview. One doesn’t get the opportunity to really look over their life like that. Then it’s surprising how full your life can be and the stories that you have. People have a lot.
The most interesting thing was that some of the questions are things you don’t really think about all the time and that are really valuable to think about of yourself. But we don’t sit down and say, “Okay. Today I’m going to think – okay, who was the most important person in my life?” Unless someone asks you that. You might think of Joe Smith and say, “You know he was very important in my life.” You might think of your experiences with him and say, “Yeah, he was important in my life.” But you don’t do that as a rule. You’re so involved in everyday life you don’t think about those questions. What are your hopes? What are your fears? What does this person mean to you? You don’t think of those things as a rule. So that was sort of cool.
Sometimes you have uncomfortable experiences in your life. There’s a little twinge there when you talk about them. I have maybe one or two things that have happened to me growing up that really I don’t go there. But that’s one or two. I’m very comfortable with my experiences. I’m not that bothered by talking about them. I might still feel a little uncomfortable here and there but I’m not that bothered by my experiences. I don’t think I’ve done anything that’s that bad. I’m sure I’ve made some bad choices here and there but there are people who make a lot worse ones. I just haven’t done anything that bad.
I haven’t left my children on someone’s doorstep or done heavy drugs or stolen money. I haven’t done those sorts of really weird things.
I’m glad my life story’s not over yet. There’s more to do. More to learn. I wish I wouldn’t waste as much time as I do. I waste a lot of time when I should be doing something. I wish I did more.
It doesn’t even have to be big stuff. You should be doing stuff.