Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Glimpse Back

by Joyce

A month or so ago, one of my sisters found a box containing some of our mother's stuff that she didn't even know she had. Inside the box were pages and pages written in Mom's hand. Mom always liked to write, and I think if four children and being widowed at age 39 hadn't interfered, she would have been one hell of a writer.

She wrote on any kind of paper she could find. On some small scraps of three by five inch paper, I found the beginning of a novel. It was clearly autobiographical and even with some of the names changed I recognized some of the people she was writing about. Instead of Dolores McCloskey, she was Dawn McCrea. Her best friend, Catherine (Cass), was now Colleen. Her baby sister Joanne, she called Jane. She lived in a section of the city called Eden, instead of the real life Esplen.

Here's how it began:

"Perhaps you have never read a story without a plot, but I am about to attempt writing one. You see, my story has no end. I can't say "And they lived happily ever after," for my tale concerns not a few people, but my closest friends, our clique, modern youth as I've seen it. My real motive in writing this is to reveal the staunch and sturdy friendship we've built among us. Regardless of mistakes, folly, we stand together. Our future is before us. Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief--yet meanwhile we are living. "

Mom goes on to write about some teenage adventures, including one of her friends losing her virginity, which was quite scandalous. Her descriptions of two boys she had crushes on were cute. (One she called a "bronzed Greek god" and the other a "blond Adonis.") I was disappointed when I ran out of pages just after she shared a kiss with the blond Adonis in his dad's fancy Buick. I'd love to know if she ever finished the story.

I laughed at a shopping list on the back of one of the pages:
6 doz buns .90
1 can spiced ham 1.50
2 katsup .30
2 doz cakes .45
candy-peanuts .50
1# coffee .30
1 cream .15
relish .35

Another interesting find was a journal entry written on Sunday, December 7th, 1941. Mom would have been 21 years old at the time. This is what she said:

"Well, this day began as usual. Being Sunday, I arose late and just about made it to 12 o'clock Mass at the Point Church in downtown Pittsburgh. After Mass, I followed the Sunday routine by waiting on the corner of Ferry and 3rd Avenue for Cass and Peggy, the three of us then making a dash across the busy streets, startling Sunday drivers by our bold jaywalking, walking briskly up Liberty and into the Jenkins Arcade to avoid the brisk December weather. And as always we looked into the windows of a shop displaying novelty jewelry before leaving the Arcade for another mad dash thru the Penn Ave. traffic and into the lunch room at Walgreen's drug store. We even had our regular order of ham salad on toast and coffee, lingering long enough to smoke at least three cigarettes, tongues wagging while going over the current capers of our clique. Yes, it was the usual Sunday for us. We had nothing more important to talk of than the surprise party we were planning for Jimmy McCloskey's birthday on the 12th. Nothing more important in our frivolous heads than thoughts of Tom, Jack and Larry, members of our clique for whom we three were bearing torches.

We left Walgreen's and walked down Penn, stopping to look at the clever window display in Horne's dept. store. Christmas was in the air. Everyone pushing, crowding, but everyone gay as they watched the huge Santa Claus in the window. As each person turned away from the window, he turned away with a broad smile and laughter in his eyes for the laughter of the Santa Claus brought mirth to all.

We three crossed the street to our car stop, boarded our car and arrived home about 2 o'clock as we did every Sunday. Daddy left for work just after I arrived home, mother was out for the afternoon, and just Joanne and I were at home. We just sat around reading the funnies and after awhile I curled up on the studio couch for forty winks. Joanne woke me in time to start preparations for supper. Mother, Aunt Clara, Anna Mae, Jack and the baby came in around five. We were just about to sit down to the table when Joanne turned the radio on for some dinner music. The program was soon interrupted with special bulletins. This was no longer our usual do-nothing Sunday. This was history in the making. This was an outrage to our government. While the Japanese Consul General was having negotiations with our government for peace, Japan was bombing our territories.

What little supper that was consumed was done so automatically. The coffee pot was twice emptied and the ash trays held too many cigarettes. The thought of war made your blood run cold. I resolved then and there if my business is affected in any way I'll close, store my equipment and do whatever I can to help with defense work. Every able bodied American will be on their toes now.

Peggy and I went to church in the evening for our novena. After church we went to the show where we met Bobby, Cass, Ernie and Jimmy. We stopped and had hamburgers and coffee in a little shop in the Rocks and then came home where we all sat around."

Fascinating stuff. I only wish there was more.


Annette said...

Wow, that's incredible stuff, Joyce! What a find!

Tory said...

Really sounds like a "slice of life" from the past: your mother's past. I'm jealous!

P.S. My word verification is metanks. As in, "Metanks you've made a find!"

Wilfred Bereswill said...

What a treasure. I remember after my Mother died, my father had already been dead for 5 years and I found both a letter and a cassette tape. The letter was from my mopther to my aunt (I guess it never got mailed) and the tape was both of my parents talking about a particular vacation they took.

My parents never took a vacation until I was a senior in high school and convinced them to pile into my Mercury Capri with my girlfriend (now my dear wife) and head to Florida. It was the simplist and cheapest of vacations, yet they had a fabulous time and it was wonderful hearing them go on and on about how much fun they had.

We weren't writers in our family. so I have really nothing written from my parents except a couple of letters. I'd love to discover something like you just did, Joyce. Thanks for sharing.

Okay, I have to mention it... My word verification is "BUTHOO"

Joyce said...

That's so cool about the tape, Will! Now you'll never forget how your parents sound. For me, "hearing" my mother was the first thing to go. Although I have been told that I've turned into my mother.

One of my mother's cousins had home movies from when we were kids, but I have no idea what happened to them after he died. It would be fun to watch them.

Hey, I had a Mercury Capri, too. Not for long, though. It was a piece of crap.

Jennie Bentley said...

What incredible stuff, Joyce! I wish I would have kept all my mothers letters, but somehow, in the moment, you don't think about the fact that afterwards, you're going to wish you had, you know? That's just fascinating reading. And it sounds like she could have been one hell of a writer, you're right. Is there enough there for you to publish? A wartime diary, or something?

My word verification is drabedne. Not sure what it is, but I like it.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Oh, baby, POS? My 1973 bright yellow Mercury Capri was the "Sexy Eupoean Car!"

Of all the cars I owned, that was my fav.

Joyce said...

Jennie, we don't have a lot of my mother's writing. A few little things like what I posted, and some poetry. I also have copies of some of my dad's army stuff and some newspapers from WWII. I've been thinking of trying to compile everything, and maybe add some of my mother's recipes, and have it printed for family members.

Joyce said...

Will, maybe your Capri wasn't a piece of crap, but mine sure was. I called it the Silver Bullet--it was anything but.

My favorite car was my 1972 Buick Skylark, named Surf's Up. A beautiful turquoise with a white vinyl roof. I drove that baby to California and back.

Jennie Bentley said...

Think articles, baby. Put a couple of proposals together, get'em out there, get paid, get some publishing credits to use for a query...

I'm sure your family would love a book with all the writing and information in it. And with POD, it's so easy to do these days, too! Good luck with it.

kathie shoop said...

That is awesome! What a gift for you to have even if shortened and piecemeal!

Cheryl Elaine Williams said...

Reading this on Sept. 30, 2009. Wow! What powerful memories your Mom put down on paper. Very moving.