be prepared to deal with January....
My parents got married "late in life"--at least for the times. My mom was 38, my father was 37.
My father had been married once before--to his high school sweetheart, Margaret. He married her after coming home from the war. She died on their first anniversary soon after an inmate at the mental hospital where she worked as a nurse attacked her. She died in his brother's (Uncle Patsy's) arms while waiting for my father to get there. According to my uncle--Margaret never liked him. She thought he was a little too wild and a bad influence on his much more sedate and responsible brother. Which, I'm sure she was right--at least for the times. My uncle always found it quite prolific that he was the man who held her as she took her last breath. Funny how the years can turn such a sad story into one that, much later, gave my uncle and my father a bit of a chuckle. Not that they laughed. In their own way, knowing all of the history between them all, they probably found it ironic that it happened the way it did.
My mother was never married. She had a "career"--packing coffee at a local plant. "She made good money," is what they said. She lived the life of a single girl for her times--going to Atlantic City with her girlfriends, enjoying the night life and living with her old fashioned Italian parents and her deaf mute sister in the Italian section of the Hill District of Pittsburgh. She spent her time doting on her beloved nieces and nephews and buying the fancy clothes and jewelry that her family of 11 could never afford growing up. She never figured on meeting the right guy and she never saw herself as ever being a mother. She was content with her life, happy with dating the good Italian guys her brothers brought home every once in awhile, being an aunt to an ever-growing brood of kids and being a bridesmaid to every sister and friend.
My parents found their way to each other through a mutual friend--an Italian guy who owned a fruit warehouse across the street from my father's paper business in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. The story goes that everyone in the Strip District had a bit of a soft spot for Frank--my father--the young, handsome widower with the merry blue eyes and the cherubic face of a leprecahn. Everyone had the perfect girl for Frank. Frank wasn't so sure. Until he was invited to join a Knights of Columbus bowling league by another guy named Frank--the owner of the fruit business. Frank, the fruit guy, had an ulterior motive--he wanted to introduce Frank--the paper guy-- to Din (my mom's nick name)--the unmarried Italian girl he knew since childhood who bowled in their league. Frank was smitten. My mom--not so much. After all, he was an Irish guy. And, you know what they say about those Irish men.
It didn't take long for Din to change her mind. And, that's where their story begins. They dated---he getting used to her old country parents who spoke broken English, her rascally brothers, her lively sisters and her crew of adoring nieces and nephews. She--learning to love his outspoken, pipe-smoking mother with her cockney lilt, his quiet card-playing father and his charming, albeit a little misbehaved, playboy brother (and his steady stream of women).
They planned to get married in the summer of 1957. But, my mother--a dieter from way back--embarked on a new diet plan which combined pills and a strict low calorie food plan. If she couldn't be a young bride--she figured she could certainly be a svelte one--in her lovely ballerina length frothy dress. That didn't go too well. She ended up in bed--too weak to plan a proper wedding let alone get married. But, she recovered fine and they married on a very cold day in January, 1958, settling into a little one bedroom apartment on Broadway Avenue in Dormont. That's where my story begins....
God knows why my mother's most fertile moment was a day in April or why my dad's sperm just happened to do it's work at the same time. But, that's what happened. To be quite honest--who wants to think of their parents even doing the deed? So, I won't. Let's just say that after a few months of praying to St. Jude, Patron Saint of the Hopeless, my mother found herself pregnant. Having conceived in April meant that the woman teetering on 40 and the guy who rescued her from a life of old maidhood were set to be parents in January of 1959. She quit her job--as was the rule in those days and set about being a homemaker--as the times demanded. My father became the breadwinner. He was the man who went to work---as the times also demanded. To them, it was an absolute miracle that they were going to have a child. After all, they were "older".
January 22, 1959 brought with it a morning snow storm and afternoon labor pains. Frank was at work--having taken a trolley to get there. That's when Din commandered a neighbor of her sister's--Charlotte, one of the only women drivers in the area--to get her to the hospital. After a treacherous 3 mile trip, they arrived at St. Clair Hospital with the notion that things would not take too long. So, they urged Frank to try to get out of work early and get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Several hours later, after braving the snowy roads on the rickety trolley, he arrived---only to find himself sitting in the father's waiting area for hours--watching doctors and expectant and new fathers come and go. Finally, Dr. Weber emerged--wearing his colorful tartan plaid jacket--with news. "Go home, Frank. Go to work tomorrow and come back after that. She's not having that baby until then." By that point, the snow had accumulated significantly, the trolleys had quit running and he didn't have his car. So, he decided to make do in the waiting room until morning.
On January 23, in the very early morning hours, Frank left for work on a trolley, in the same clothes he wore the day before. There was no calling off just because your wife was having a baby...in those days. And, the snow continued to fall. By the time he arrived to work, a phone call had already come in to the switchboard for him with this message--his wife was going to have a cesearan birth, could he get back to the hospital? Do it quick. So, there was Frank--no car, the snow was piling up and he was all the way across the city. Right about then is when he saw the pretzel truck driver--he was there to pick up his supply of boxes and napkins for his deliveries. He was covered in snow and complaining about the terrible conditions of the roads--saying that he had put chains on his tires with his bare hands just so he could get to the other side of town---to make a delivery to--St. Clair Hospital. Frank had a delivery there too. That's when he knew all that praying to St. Jude worked out.
I'm sure you figured out the rest--the pretzel truck made it through the snow, Frank got to the hospital, Din had the baby, Yes, I was born. And what did the man who braved the snow, slept in the waiting room and road to the hospital in a pretzel truck say when he saw his newborn daughter? "Doctor, what the hell is wrong with her? She looks like a mongoloid!" Chalk it up to his ordeal. The snow has always had a way of making January 23 a very unnerving day. Just ask anyone who has celebrated that day with me. Tell 'em Debbie and Angela and Denise and Kate and Cathy and Alexa and Toni and the anonymus person from my past who left the message yesterday on my blog (and don't forget to reveal who you are!)
Yes, snow is always part of the celebration.....we can't stop now.