Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Don't you wonder

My father was brought up by the church- literally.

My grandmother and grandfather were second cousins and married only after a dispensation from Rome. From what I can tell, they were in their thirties. My father came close behind the first year together and the few pictures we have from that time show a happy family. The pictures stop at this one- my dad at 18 months.
About this time my grandmother and her mother were in a fire, caught in an elevator, and both were killed. The story goes- through a step grandmother many years later- that my grandfather heard about the fire and was afraid to go to the building so he went home to wait for his wife. He waited all night until someone came the next day and told him that his wife was dead.
We have nothing from that time. No Mass cards, no notes from friends. We used to have a trunk that was packed with her things- which has long been unpacked by my mother. I don't know where that is.
My father lived with two of his uncle's families for, I think, about four years in Baltimore. My grandfather "called for him" and brought him to California. If you look at the picture, you can see my dad looks a great deal like his mom. My grandfather was a person who said, "if you do it, there could be punishment." Could my grandfather see my dad as his punishment of wanting to marry his cousin?
Grandaddy took my dad to California, hired a housekeeper and began a job with Ford motor as a credit person- on the road all the time. My dad had few memories- none of his father- that he shared. My understanding is that as soon as he could be in boarding school- off he went. There was never any real love bond between father and son. I am not sure if my grandfather saw dad as a burden or shame...maybe it just hurt too much to care for him
My dad did talk about spending the holy days with the nuns in the convent. Christmas with the sisters.Pretty astir life from what I gathered. He always had the material things- but the warmth...it simply was not there.
He went to St John Military academy until he went to Bellermine-boarded of course. Having Jesuit great uncles- I am sure that is why he went. He did learn how to read aloud- but struggled with reading in general.
Most of my family struggles with ADHD and reading problems. Compound that with my dad falling down and elevator shaft (ironic-eh?) I am sure that school was not the shining star- even though it seemed to be the only star in his life. He companions seemed to be the priests there- but his caring for the sisters indicate that is where he learned love. Must have been tough since that was the age that nuns were not supposed to be very open about caring.
He did learn how to be a sales person. My dad could talk most people into anything-but once you bought it- he was in your service for life.
My dad often struggled with what love was. If you were close to him (or should be) then you proved your love by NOT wanting things. Never show weakness. Weakness was only for the poor and needy- which he often cared for. Do you think this was the nuns? If he gave you something, he often wanted it back. I never understood that. He kept an arms length from everyone.
There are five of us. Although some have a more nurturing vision of how he was with them, there are just glimpses of love. My dad wasn't especially harsh (after he learned that corporal punishment of the nuns was unnecessary). He loved to take us to where he felt the most free- outdoors. Was that his escape from boarding school?
Once cannot blame their history for their final chapters, but understanding where the writers come from is a good place to start.
I often wonder what would have happened if my grandmother never died. Or if my grandfather, with his law degree, has simply stayed in Baltimore. Or if they had lived in a different time. I always wonder if my dad could have been happy most of his life instead of just a bit of his life.

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