At age 20, I became the parent of a beautiful baby boy. There were complications that kept me in the hospital for eleven days but my mother stood by me. My husband was living in another state and I was to join him after I was out and recovered from the ordeal. I was nursing the baby and his weight didn’t drop at all during the time we were hospitalized. One of the nurses showed me his chart and the line started out at 6 lubs 8 ozzies and went up from there. I don’t remember how much he weighed on discharge but he was thriving on Mother’s Milk. As for me, I weighed 126 lubs when I was full-term. I don’t remember what I weighed after the birth.
Through all this, my health pretty much stayed the same with the endless round of colds and sore throats.
There was a drastic change in living after my husband took us to join him in our little efficiency apartment that was part of his parents’ home. Even though there was a small kitchen, we ate with his family and his mother fixed tasty meals. They weren’t any better, nutritionally, than what I ate at home. They also included meat. I stayed vegetarian but my husband was a confirmed carnivore.
It also turned out he believed that nursing babies is what the peons who couldn’t afford formula did. He hated for me to nurse the baby and insisted on giving him a bottle when he was at home. My milk dried up after six weeks of this. We were both young and immature and there were clashes over more than how to feed the little one. Between being a new and inexperienced mother and the disagreements in the marriage, I was exhausted. Once, I remember putting the baby in his bassinet and patting him gently on the bottom. Who knows how much later it was when I woke up, still bent over the bassinet.
My husband was a little over a year younger than I was and hadn’t finished sowing his wild oats. There were multiple occasions when evidence showed he wasn’t being faithful to our marriage vows. He’d be out in his ’56 Chevy until the wee hours of the morning. In the meantime, my mother had remarried after being a widow for 16 years. In a sort of “pre-nup”, she had made my stepfather agree the baby and I could live with them if it were ever necessary. With that assurance, I packed everything up and left with my mother-in-law’s blessing. She was thoroughly perturbed with her son. Through it all, I was completely innocent and perfect. (Ahem!)
Now I was a young mother with a small bably estranged from my young husband. I had no skills but I had a flair for fixing hair. There was a beauty school in town and, with my step-father sponsoring me, I enrolled. I put in my 1500 hours training and passed the state boards. I was a licensed cosmetologist. Someone recommended me to a woman in town and I worked for her until my husband came into the picture again. He was humble and contrite and had learned his lesson. He wanted his wife and son.
There was a reunion of sorts, and much to my mother’s dismay, I agreed to go back. My husband triumphantly took us to his hometown where we moved into our own apartment. No more living with Mom and Dad. However, it was just down the courtyard from his older brother and his wife. I actually cooked in my own kitchen. There was a stove that came with the apartment but it had no refrigerator. I don’t know how we kept from getting food poisoning. The mayonnaise was kept on a shelf. This went on until it became evident that nothing had really changed and my son and I were rescued once again.
That separation didn’t last long. My mother was disgusted that I was so gullible but my husband could be very charming and persuasive. I was young and impressionable and this time the reunion resulted in a second pregnancy. The move back to the hometown was into our own home this time. I had a real refrigerator with an icemaker, a real stove, and cabinets full of roaches. A friend came over to help me clean the place up and she freaked when she climbed up to wash down the tops. Later on, she discovered she was pregnant herself. One night, I walked into the kitchen and roaches were scurrying everywhere. I grabbed a can of insect spray and when I attacked, they counterattacked and started running up my legs. You never saw anyone dance the way I did.
We finally got rid of most of the roaches and here came the rats. I learned to flatten tin cans and put them over the holes. But it was home.
It was a pleasant time. The neighbors were nice and my husband had been drafted. My son and I were living on $118 a month that the military paid us for being dependents. By the time I took out my tithe, paid the house payment and utilities, there was little left over for food. At one point, I made a big pot of soup. I’d feed it to my son three times a day and I’d have one bowl. It lasted for several days.
One night, I was looking in the refrigerator and cabinets. All I had was a pint of oil and 25¢. I knelt down and told my Heavenly Father the situation and asked Him to take care of it for me. The next day, the sale paper for the corner grocery came and artichokes were on sale for 10¢ each and lemons were a nickel. I guess I figured we’d have a last meal of artichokes and die. We didn’t have transportation but it wasn’t far. By that time, my son was walking well (a good thing because he was a big, chunky fellow) so we set out for the store.
We did our little bit of shopping, paid the quarter (no tax on food) and started back to the house. Coming out of the store, I pulled my son behind me to shield him from the maniac driving a big black car. It came swooping up like it was going to hit us. I thought, “What kind of crazy person IS that?” A tall man got out, laughing, and it was my husband’s uncle. “I thought I’d find you here. Get in the car and I’ll take you home.” When we got back to the house, he opened the trunk and started pulling out boxes of food. I was flabbergasted. There was flour and sugar, butter and cheese, beans, potatoes, onions, cornmeal and canned goods. Nothing much fresh. Nothing much raw but FOOD. Food that would fill our stomachs and keep us from starving. In answer to my question, my guardian angel told me that the ladies at the church were filling Thanksgiving baskets and his wife had said, “I know someone who needs this as much as anyone” and that someone was me.
Later that same week, one of my neighbors took me to the Red Cross and had me apply for a grant. I was given a check, free and clear, for $40. She took me shopping and I went wild. I don’t remember what I bought but there was food in the house again. THEN, I had prevailed on my husband to send some money home. For a wonder, he did—$30. It felt like Christmas. I carefully set aside $7 for tithe out of the grant and what he sent. It didn’t occur to me to tithe the groceries, too. God had richly blessed.
This was in late November. I was due on New Year’s Day. My husband was determined to come home for Christmas. The Army wouldn’t grant him a leave so he went AWOL. He went back to the base and was subject to court martial but they went easy on him. He couldn’t come home for our second son’s birth.
I was at my mother-in-law’s house on New Year’s Eve and we decided to go shopping for groceries. After we had gone up and down several aisles, I went over to her and said, “I think we need to go to the hospital.” We were 17 miles across town from home so she took me straight in and sent someone else to get my bag. When I checked in, I was weighed and tipped the scales at 118. The doctor sat and held my hand while I heard the bells ring in the New Year. It wasn’t long until the sodium pentothal took over and I didn’t have any idea what was going on or where I was. Later, the nurses told me I was trying to climb out over the bedrails and go home.
My mother-in-law called my mother and stepfather and they came to see the new addition to the family. Even though I didn’t weigh much, the baby was a good-sized 6 lubs 4 ozzies. After we left the hospital, we went to stay with my in-laws until I was able to take care of the baby and his big brother at home. I had made good headway on potty training my almost 2 1/2 year old but my MIL put him back in diapers because it was easier for her. I had to train him all over again. (The picture is my mother holding my second son during a tour of the local oriental gardens.)
With the birth of our second child, the allotment from the Army went up to $123.10 a month. Wow! I was supposed to feed and clothe my baby on $5.10! How generous. Knowing the attitude toward breast-feeding with the first child, I didn’t even try with the newborn. Looking back, I could have since the father wasn’t at home. I can’t alter history. You’d think my weight wouldn’t change much since I wasn’t contributing to my son’s nourishment but it dropped like a rock to 94 lubs. I started trying to gain and managed to do a good job of it. In no time, it seemed, I was up to 123 lubs and my mother asked me if I were pregnant again. That was the beginning of battling weight gain.
There was a campaign to get my husband home and it worked. The Army granted him a hardship discharge and my idyllic time was over. He landed a good job as a route salesman with a local snack cake company and was soon making what, to me, seemed riches. He bought a snazzy new car and let me drive it whenever he didn’t need it himself. I had wheels!
Cooking for my husband took on a new aspect when he started demanding to have meat at his meals. Being a dutiful wife, I tried to comply but I had no clue. My forté was fake steak and phony baloney, not the real thing. I fried beef bacon until it was like a chip. I fried steak. It took many minutes before I could steel myself to put my hands in hamburger and I fried it. Everything was well done. Someone asked me how I knew if it tasted good. I didn’t. I wouldn’t have known if I’d sampled it. After several burnt offerings, he gave up and ate meat at his mother’s table and in restaurants.
Soon, it was back to the same old seven and six and I started looking for a way out. Along with the car, I was given the task of taking his part of the route collections to the bank. He wasn’t very good at keeping records. I’m not proud of it but I would take a dollar or two out of the deposit and squirrel it away in a vase on the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets. After what seemed like years, I had $40 saved up. The neighbors heard the yelling and screaming that came from what was once a peaceful household. They didn’t think twice when I approached them about taking us to the bus station. I left the car in the driveway and locked the house and we were gone. My husband had threatened both my mother and me if I were to leave again so arrangements were made for us to go elsewhere until things settled down.
We were met by a nice couple who took us in for two weeks. During that time, I helped around the house and my young sons entertained the husband with their antics. I’m sure they were relieved when we moved on.
My husband never made good on his threats. This time was “three strikes and you’re out” and I never went back except to get the furniture. I agreed to sign the papers to sell the house if I got the down payment. I used the money to buy things the boys needed.
I put my cosmetology license to good use and went to work in a beauty shop in a nearby town. My mother and stepfather kept the boys while I slowly built up a clientele. One day, the boys came in saying, “Lord, give me strength! Lord, give me strength!” My mother asked, “Where did you hear that?” The older one said, “That’s what Pawpaw says.” They tried his patience to the utmost.
One more time, the man tried to get back in my good graces. He went with me to see my lawyer. After listening to the back and forth, the lawyer said, “I’m supposed to try to get you two to reconcile and make a go of your marriage but I can see there is no use.” He proceeded with drawing up the papers and it wasn’t too many weeks until I was a Free Woman. Out of seven years of marriage, we lived together for 22 months.
My ex would still call from time to time but I learned not to encourage him at all or he would be at the door. I think it wounded his masculine pride that there was someone who didn’t want him. At one time, I was totally in love but, little by little, that deep-seated emotion was killed.
I continued to work in the beauty shop and the years rolled by. I had my family but the composition was due to change yet again.
Next time…we’ll continue on with another chapter.