A hard life

My grandmother died 28 years ago on November 1st, All Saints Day, which we thought was kind of appropriate as she was a faithful soul who helped to clean and take care of the church a half a block away from her home.

Below is a short excerpt from the story I am working on about my father. This selection is told from my father’s perspective, in his voice.

R.I.P. Grandma.

A Hard Life

(1930s – 1940s)

My mother had a pretty hard life. It’s very sad when I think about it and how little appreciation I had for that.

She got home from work probably about 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon. She made dinner out of whatever she could scrounge up. I was a bad boy. I raised Cain about what we had for meals and I have regretted that many, many, many times over the years. I’m a mashed potatoes and gravy kind of a guy. I wanted a full meal with meat, potatoes, and vegetables. If we didn’t have that, it wasn’t a meal in my way of thinking. My parents had two limitations: one, their financial ability to provide it and two, before the end of the war, whether they had rationing capabilities to provide it.

My mother had a number of family events that she always enjoyed, but my dad was a wet blanket on every one. He never missed one that he didn’t make at least somebody miserable, in particular my mother. He didn’t want to go.

When my mother wanted to go somewhere she’d get us all ready to go and then he would refuse to go. Most of the time we went anyway. Because we didn’t have any transportation, the Wirrigs would come and pick us up, generally Paul. Paul always represented to me the person I would like to be.

My dad never watched the kids. Mom would always be mad at him. With just cause. I can’t ever remember my father ever doing something that was really a help to her.

My mom didn’t like the fact that my dad was an alcoholic. And she couldn’t do much about that. She’d do what women generally try to do—threaten—but that don’t stop them.

[. . .]

My mother never had time to play.

She told me she was going to teach me how to cook enough that I could be self-sufficient when I got older. She taught me how to bake a cake from scratch. It was almost a sin to think about making a cake out of a box.

I also watched her fry chicken and saw what she did, but there was nothing formal about learning that.

I was supposed to keep the weeds out of her garden. I never did.

After the war, the factory where she worked went back to making underwear. Those ladies really worked hard sewing their stuff. I worked there my junior and part of my senior year cleaning the place at night. Those women leaned on those sewing machines just flinging the fabric through there. They got paid by how many they did. So they worked hard.  They had to. That’s why I say my mother had a pretty hard life.

1942 – My dad is the oldest in the center of the picture. Another baby would be born later to complete the family.

16 thoughts on “A hard life”

  1. Hi Christine .. your Dad does sound a little challenging to put it mildly. At least he realised later on how hard his mother worked for her family … and what effect his father (your grandfather) had on his family … times were very tough …

    Very interesting read and thought provoking .. yes a hard life –

    Cheers from not such a hard life … Hilary

    1. I would never have been able to do it on my own, Kathy. This is basically slight editing from transcripts of taped interviews with me that I conducted from 2008 until about 2010.

  2. Those were rough years for everyone, but in families as this, it was that much harder. Your grandmother was a woman of strong character.

  3. Times were tough back then–more so in your mother’s situation. I have to remember always the sacrifices out mothers made for us when we were children. My mom used to sew dresses for Sears. She’d do it at home, pumping out dress after dress for little money just to buy us the necessities. Good post, Christine.

    1. Thanks. This is actually my father’s story where he is speaking about his mother. Women sewing in factories had to really work it. Hard work, I imagine, after an hour or two.

    1. I knew my grandfather as a child. I was in the seventh grade when he died. He was actually the opposite of a wet blanket. As the stories go, he was quite the party-er and was very amusing or entertaining. He was also an alcoholic and was mentally ill. He felt saddled by the marriage he was basically forced into, and the subsequent children he had to support. It was a bad situation.

      Paul is my godfather. He and his wife lived with his mother and then kept the family home. Many family reunions were held there. I visited him for my genealogy research in the early 1980s with our first two sons who were just little boys at the time. He is still living, although he had to move to a nursing home in this past year. He visited my parents just before that. I really should try to get up there to visit him, but he lives in Piqua which is over an hour away. I only go there when I visit Annie’s gravesite, which isn’t very frequently.

      But yes, I’ve met Uncle Paul.

    2. I was just going by what your dad said about him being a “wet blanket”:

      My mother had a number of family events that she always enjoyed, but my dad was a wet blanket on every one. He never missed one that he didn’t make at least somebody miserable, in particular my mother. He didn’t want to go.

      Your godfather Paul sounds wonderful.

  4. We have such easy lives compared to our ancestors. And yet I wonder who was happier? It’s hard to tell. I enjoyed reading this story, Christine.

    1. It is hard to tell, isn’t it? I do think we appreciate things more when they are harder won. But I think modern technology limits the loss of infants and young children, allows us to communicate with distant loved ones, and overall improves the quality of life. But it also allows us to be burdened by events around the world that we otherwise might have lived in happy ignorance of. I don’t know. Happiness probably has more to our own attitudes and outlook than anything else. Some people have it, and some don’t.


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