Something Special

In my traditional household, Mom compromised in ways today’s mothers would plainly refuse.  Dad could put his foot down, as was customary in the 1950’s, and it was seen as a sign of knowing one’s limits, clear self-expression, and a man “taking the reins.”  Mom derived an element of security from these traditional roles, but the dynamics could seem somewhat perplexing.

For example, when Dad returned from Korea, Mom had been a model wife in his absence.  Many servicemen’s wives didn’t work, and when they got their weekly pension they’d immediately cash the check and go to the department stores.  Mom was different. Instead of spending Dad’s pension on new clothes, Mom saved it away, and continued living with Grandma and Grandpa.  In addition, she worked for the telephone company in a responsible position.  Each week she would walk into the bank and deposit both checks, saving out only a little sum to give to Grandpa for her room and board.

“The lady at the bank used to tease me,” Mom said.  “She’d say, ‘Mmm, you must be saving for something very special.’  I’d just smile and say, ‘Yes, I am.’  Eventually I told her.  I was saving the money because I wanted to surprise your father when he got back from Korea.  And I did.  When he got back, I was able to tell him I’d saved enough for a nice little down payment on a house.  I was the one who saved that down payment.  Later, we rolled it over into our other homes.”

When Dad was discharged and all set to arrive back home, Mom rented a small place and fixed it up nicely.  They would have their own apartment now and could take their time finding a house to buy.  Mom was looking forward to living in the little place as newlyweds.  Finally, after missing Dad while he was overseas, it was time for them to be reunited.  But when Dad came home, he voiced different ideas about the apartment.  He wanted to give it up and go on a cross-country vacation. Korea was grueling enough, and time off with no responsibilities or ties sounded perfect.  And that was it.  Though Mom had worked hard securing the perfect place for them and setting it up cozy, what my Dad wanted was primary.  Mom had spent hours imagining them there together in the domestic bliss which lighthearted newlyweds share.  But Dad had that wanderlust.  He didn’t want to leave the apartment empty for a month or so while they went around the country together.  And though Mom was disappointed, she respected Dad’s decision.  She even spoke cheerfully of it in years to come.

“I was just happy to have your father home,”  Mom explained.  “That’s all that mattered to me.  I had spent so long worrying about him overseas.  I would watch Clete Roberts interviewing soldiers on tv.  Each week he would go, even to the front lines.  All the servicemen’s wives would watch.  I would watch so closely, just to see if I could glimpse your father.  I’d watch The Big Picture.  Anything where I might see him.  And I prayed.  Oh, honey, I prayed.”

Mom was so happy to have Dad home again.  They determined to go all the way across country to New York.  They could see Grandma Greneger, Dad’s Grandma, and his Aunt Adele.  They could see the cousins in New York also.  And en route, they would be able to see the wonders of all the States.  That was Dad’s dream, so it became Mom’s dream as well.  Many women today, many wives, would find it disagreeable to place time and effort into acquiring an apartment, only to have it set aside for the sake of a couple months rent.  Not to mention all the money in their savings account which was there by Mom’s determination.  But as Mom saw things, now that Dad was home, the financial matters were handed over to him.

“I’m so glad we went on that trip,” Mom said in later years.  “Many people wait until they are retired, but this is the way God planned it.  Your father and I didn’t have those retirement years.  That trip turned out to be the only time we shared such a trip together.  We saw Bryce,  Zion, the painted desert.  It was gorgeous. We saw the Craters of the Moon.  Honey, for as far as you could see, it looked like the moon.  It was as if you were standing on the moon.  And your father loved ghost towns.  We saw ghost towns.  Once, your father took us down this narrow road for miles.  After we’d driven and driven, without a town or soul in sight for miles, the car broke down.  We were there in the middle of nowhere, and your father said to me, ‘I’ll be right back!’  He was going to leave me there!  I said, ‘Like fun you’ll be right back, I’m going with you!’ ”  Mom laughed.  “We had such a great time.  We were going to go over the top, through Michigan and see the Great Lakes, and into New York that way.  But we didn’t quite get there.  We called Mother from a phone booth and she wasn’t feeling well.  She was having heart troubles.  Right away we turned the car around and came home.”

“Was Grandma okay?”  I asked.  Of course, she had lived, but I wondered how things ended.

“Oh yeah, she was fine.  By the time we got home, she was doing much better.”

“Was Dad mad?” I suspected he might be upset having such big plans thwarted.

“Your father?  Oh, no.  No, he was just glad your Grandma was okay.”

I found that also remarkable.  This give and take was what made their marriage work.  Mom gave up the apartment for Dad, and then Dad gave up his vacation for Mom (and Grandma).   It was my parents own version of the Gift of the Magi.

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