My brother, sister and I were separated after my mother divorced their father. (My father died on a Naval Ship when I was just a baby. I never knew him.) My two-year-old brother went to live with his father; my baby sister went to live with her aunt and uncle; and I went to live with my mother’s parents. I was four years old and remembered very little about what had actually happened. I just remember sitting in the back seat of the car, watching through the window as we drove away from our home.
My early years were shaped by my grandfather, who had been forcefully retired due to an accident at his job. He is the one who got me dressed for school, who brushed my hair, and let me ride with him after school to pick up grandma from her work place. Grandma worked hard as a cleaning lady on a bottle line at the American Distillery. I remember her poor disfigured feet, crippled with corns and callouses. Occasionally, my mother would come to visit. Grandpa always made homemade potato soup for her. Anticipating her visits made me so excited, I had a hard time sleeping. Sometimes I’d wake up and she’d be beside me in the bed, twirling my hair through her fingers. And then as quickly as she came, she would be gone.
Occasionally, I’d be outside playing when my step-father would come up to me, hand me a nickle and tell me I’d always be his little girl. I didn’t remember any of the bad things. I only knew he had always made me laugh. And I wished we could be a family again.
I loved my grandparents, but I longed to be with my mother and I longed to have a “dad” like all my friends. When I was seven, my mother remarried. My grandmother and grandfather cried when we had to say goodbye. I moved about one hundred miles south to live with my mom and new dad. Life was different then. School was a one-room unit with four grades. Yes, think Little House on the Prairie. I walked the one block to school each day, sometimes took a packed lunch, sometimes walked home to eat. I pumped water from a well and carried it into the house and down the steps to fill the washing machine. Eighteen buckets! My dad worked on the railroad. I didn’t see much of him because he worked nights. But on the weekends, we always had fun. He had six brothers and one sister and lots of nieces and nephews. Weekends would be get togethers with barbeques or fish fries. He made me laugh. He teased me. I was his little girl.
I grew up in a beautiful area called “Dutch Hollow” where everyone knew everyone. We rode bikes up and down the streets, never worrying about cars. Sidewalks? What were they? We built forts out of blankets, crawled inside and read books. The local tavern was a gathering place for the neighborhood with lots of potlucks, especially on holidays.
My grandparents came to visit often and I spent two weeks each summer with them. During these visits, I would get to spend time with my brother and sister. Sidenote: (Though they moved to Texas, I am so blessed to be able to visit them from time to time. We keep in touch though we can’t sit in the same room and reminisce together.)
My family had grown. I now had a dad and a family like all my friends. My new dad was so much fun. Everyone loved him. He never had any children of his own, but he took me into his heart and proudly introduced me as his daughter. He taught me to drive and he trusted me with the keys after I got my license. He danced with me. He loved me.
When he passed away, I wrote the eulogy for his service. And, I told everyone about who he had been…the answer to a little girl’s dreams. He was the dad he didn’t have to be.