Sunday, 18 August 2019
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Excerpts from Chapter 13

What a Diff'rence a Summer Makes


We were still living on Stowe Street in the summer of 1960. I had made many new friends in fifth-grade and spent most of my days playing with them at their homes.

Returning home on a hot, summer afternoon, I could hear the familiar strains of “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes,” floating through an open window of our apartment. That song disturbed me. It usually meant I would find my mother standing over the ironing board with a cigarette burning in an ashtray and a can of Blatz beer sitting beside it. Whatever happened to the coffee she used to drink all day?

When I opened the door to our apartment, Mom was standing there, just as I had pictured. Her hair was covered in bobby pins, and she was staring out the window with that ‘dreamy look’ in her eyes. The woman standing there wasn’t the mother I loved and admired―the mother who taught me to ballet when I was three; the mother who made the most perfect coconut cream pies in the world; the mother who comforted me when I had bad dreams. She was another woman inhabiting her body. I wanted to scream and tell this new ‘mother’ to leave right now! Of course, I couldn’t. Talking to an adult, that way at eleven years old was not appropriate behavior.

Instead, I walked up to her, put my arms around her waist and asked, “Going bowling again tonight, Mom?”

She smiled at me with that far-away look in her eyes, a look I had just begun to notice. “Uh-huh. I have to leave a little early to meet Shirley and the girls so I thought you could make supper, okay?”

"Sure,” I sullenly answered. “I noticed you laid burger on the counter. Should I make goulash or hamburgers?” When she didn’t respond, I realized her opinion didn’t matter. Dad and the girls would be happy with whatever I served them.

As I headed into my bedroom, I heard Dinah’s deep, gravelly voice singing about her yesterdays being blue now, her lonely nights being through now and something about someone making her 'his'.

I lie down on my bed and watched the pink, polka dot curtains swaying in the breeze from the open window. I wondered what this song my mother kept playing had to do with her. Why were Mom’s nights lonely? Are they through now? Who was making her ‘his’? How could she be lonely when Dad stayed home every night and watched television with us?

Who could answer these questions? I could not ask my father because he became upset whenever I broached the subject of Mom’s new interest in bowling. The last time I mentioned it, I watched as the ghost of sadness slowly shadowed his eyes. I lie there thinking about this for quite a while. Unable to come up with any answers, I set these thoughts aside and went into the kitchen to start cooking supper.

Walking past Mom’s room on the way to the kitchen, I could hear her humming as she dressed to go bowling. The familiar scent of Shalimar drew me to her open door. She took my breath away as she stood before the mirror. Her short, dark hairstyle reminded me of Mitzi Gaynor’s. The bobby pins had turned the straight ends of her hair into tiny curls. Her make-up was perfectly applied. Fire-engine red lipstick covered her sensuous lips. She was wearing the brown and white checked dress she had been ironing when I came home. It was difficult to envision her throwing a bowling ball down the lane while wearing a full-skirted dress and high-heeled shoes. Oh well, what did I know about bowling?

I was ready to comment on how beautiful she looked when I heard Dad whistling as he walked up the steps to our apartment. My heart began to beat rapidly. I knew what was about to happen and wished I could stop it.

Encountering Mom in the kitchen, Dad asked, “Hey, honey, why are you all dressed up?”

“Shirley and I are meeting some of our friends for dinner before we go bowling. Diana’s making supper so I didn’t think you would mind if I’m not here,” Mom replied in her sweetest voice.

With an edge to his voice, he said, “You just went bowling Monday night, didn't you?”

“This is a different team. They invited Shirley and me to sub. Are you upset?”

“Since when have my feelings mattered? I don’t mind you leaving early; it’s getting home late that makes me angry,” he sarcastically responded.

Mom ignored his comments, walked past him and bent over to kiss Judy and Kim good-bye. She reminded them to behave for Daddy and me while she was gone. Then she brushed her lips lightly against my cheek. Without a backward glance, she exited through the door.

Dad stormed into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. I was left holding the pan of goulash and wondering what-in-the-hell was going on. Hell was a strong word for an eleven-year-old to be saying.  

My father became very upset when my mother started bowling two nights a week. She usually returned by midnight, but on a few occasions, she came home much later. Whenever she was extremely late, Dad stood at the top of the stairs, with his cigarette glowing in the dark, waiting for her to return. The moment she walked in the door, the fighting began.

Their loud shouts could be heard throughout our apartment and probably halfway down the street. Several times, she came home in the wee hours of the morning teetering and slurring her words. That’s when Dad called her a drunk and accused her of doing things I didn’t understand. The tone of his voice told me these things were not very nice. She screamed back, saying he had no right to accuse her because she had done nothing wrong and shouting that he was jealous of all of her friends. It would go on like this for a while.

Quite often, Judy and Kim were awakened by the commotion, and they would tiptoe into my bedroom. Judy’s eyes were often filled with tears, and Kim looked frightened when they climbed into bed with me. If the fights quickly ended, we fell asleep together. If my parents’ arguments lasted for a while, I lulled the girls to sleep by softly rubbing their eyelids. I would lie there praying the noise would stop. In fact, I prayed that the entire sordid affair would end, and our lives would get back to normal. At the time, I did not realize how ominous the word ‘affair’ actually was......

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