So I began to share my unlikely story the other day. It felt a little weird to reveal what I did, sort of like I was clothed, but that you could see through my clothes. It was at once emancipating and embarrassing.
I think about my family and I can’t imagine that my life is not a made-up story. It is all a little weird and wonderful. And maybe it is a made-up story in the end. It is just a true made-up one!
My mother’s family was Irish-American. Apparently her father’s family had been in the US for generations and not exactly Mayflower material. More likely they were thrown out of wherever, who even knows if it was Ireland. Most of what I know about any of this is probably only partially true.
In any event, they were poor, very poor and working class people.
My mother grew up in Harlem. She was born in 1914 and only went to the 7th grade. She was the oldest of 3 who were what I guess could be termed Irish Triplets.
My grandfather on my mother’s side had been married before and had two children. His first wife was killed when she caught on fire while cooking and ran in about 1912 or 13. A hard working, hard driving man could not take care of these two small kids with such ease. A new wife was brought onto the scene, my grandmother.
She was Irish, her parents came from there I think. From what I can piece together, she must have had some issue as she was not already married at some age (20-something) that was beyond the prime. In any event, her family were orangemen, but my grandfather’s family was Catholic. My mother and her siblings were all “Catlicks,” which is how we said it our neck of the woods.
Back to Harlem, I believe that my grandfather was a “super” (building superintendent or handyman) in a building largely inhabited by middle class black people. So in some ways my mother’s family was in on some reverse thing – they were often cared for through the generosity, kindness and largess of middle class families when there was not enough to eat.
My mother had to go to work, so that is why she left school. I am not sure what kind of work she did, some menial job no doubt, but it brought in money.
In 1936 my mother gave birth to my half-brother. He has a different last name than I do because his father was someone else. Just who that someone else is has remained a family mystery for many years and anyone who knew did not speak of it then and is no longer around to clarify it. Mom continued to live with her parents and they helped raise my brother.
By this time they had moved to the Bronx, to a building that no longer stands. I have many childhood memories of visiting “737″ – which was the address and how we referred to the destination. It was always “Are we going to 737 today?” when I was a little kid.
Again, they were pretty poor. My grandfather had moved up into a new job however… He was still some kind of maintenance guy, but he now worked in a warehouse. It was no ordinary warehouse however, it was allegedly owned by none less than Mr. William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst collected art and all sorts of things that were stored in warehouses. There are some stories of things that “came home” with Grandpa, but who knows if they were true. He would not have known value or worth really. The best story is of a toy airplane, kind of like a tricycle with a plane around it, that he brought home and my brother would ride around the streets in.
Yes, I know that is stealing. And for all I know, none of this is true. Family lore, what can I tell you.
My mother did love to have a good time and I don’t think she ever denied herself that in any way. Her home life was one of anger and some violence but yet love; this pattern was to be repeated later in our own home.
There was always a lot of shouting and fighting and lots of drinking. There were card games and fights, politics conversations and fights and there were just a lot of fights.
In the early 50′s my mother was working at factory in New York City, maybe in the Bronx. It was called Steelman’s. I can’t find a link but then again, I did not look that hard. My father (oh wait til I get to that one) was a supervisor or foreman there. Somehow this unlikely pair hooked up.
They got married in 1955 when my mother was 41 and my father was 35. Somehow, two unlikely years later, I was born to them… Very unlikely as I have already told you.
There will be more entries over time, but this was as good a place to go today. Wait til you hear about my dad’s ethnic, social and cultural background. It’s a doozy.
And all so damned unlikely.