(Here’s the next in a series of memoirs my 89-year-old mother is writing as she looks back on her life. She’s been taking a memoir writing class at my parents’ retirement community. If you want to encourage her, offer some positive feedback in the comments section below. To see the other memoirs I’ve posted so far, visit these quick links: Memoir #1 || Memoir #2 || Memoir #3 –Andy)
by Carib Smallman
When I finished fifth grade at Lynnbrook Elementary School, Bethesda, Maryland, I took my big train trip to spend the summer with Gom and Pop. Dad was recovering from his surgery and learning what he was able to do and not do. His boss at the Geological Survey brought several pages of work to our house to determine whether Dad could return to the office. Dad realized that would not be an option, at least not at that point.
My grandparents were terribly concerned and wanted to help. They convinced my parents that a move to Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a good solution. We could move into their three-bedroom house comfortably. Mother and Dad would have Dad’s room when he was in high school, I had the ‘guest bedroom’ that I considered mine and of course Gom and Pop had theirs. I was already there; Mother rented our Bethesda house and she and Dad joined us at the end of the summer.
In September I started sixth grade at Dickenson Elementary School, across the street from my grandparents’ house. The school was very different from what I was used to. Most of the students started in September, but others in the same classroom started mid-year. I felt unsettled. I wasn’t happy that I was made to change the way I learned to write cursive. Everyone in Grand Rapids used the Palmer Method. We spent an hour each day writing aaaaa or eeeee or ooooo across a lined sheet of paper. Boring! I had been learning Maryland history. Here history, naturally, was about Michigan. I found it difficult to change.
I was managing in Grand Rapids, but Mother was really unhappy. She didn’t have much to do since Gom had her routine and stuck to it. Pop was still working so was gone most weekdays. While I was out of the house schooldays and with other kids, Mother and Dad were stuck in the house, except for the walk they took daily.
Mother had never admitted to Gom that she smoked. When my parents visited she never smoked in front of Gom and Pop. Pop probably would have been fine with it, but not Gom. Obviously, Mother had to ‘fess up. I’m sure that Gom was not happy to have Mother smoking in her house. I can remember walking to the nearby drug store and standing in line with Mother so she could buy a pack of cigarettes. She sometimes bought loose tobacco and paper. She had a strange gismo to roll the cigarettes. I thought it was fun when she let me do it.
Mother and Dad must have had long talks about the future. I am sure neither of them expected to live like this for long. Mother needed a paying job. As the semester was ending, I was told that we were returning to Bethesda. I was more than happy to return to my house, school and friends.
Dad’s friends and former fellow workers assured Mother that she could have a job with them. Not my independent mother! She would find her own job. Mother landed a position as an editor with the US Information Agency, the publishing branch of the Voice of America. She started as a GS-3, what I was years later when I worked summers for the government. After twenty plus years she retired as a GS-11. Quite an accomplishment!
Mother loved that job! She had always been a reader, whatever was available, from cereal boxes to the dictionary. Now she was reading and being paid to do it. She was assigned the Christian Science Monitor Newspaper and several magazines to read. From them she chose articles that put the USA in a good light. She edited the pieces, sent them to the translators after which they were distributed around the world as ‘propaganda’, during the war and thereafter.
As Dad learned to compensate for his lack of vision, he became chief cook and grocery shopper. He would walk the mile to Safeway and carry two full bags of necessities home. During the summer and holidays from school I often walked with him so we could purchase more rationed items. Our small family settled into a new routine that worked to the satisfaction of us all. I never felt that we were less well off than our neighbors and friends. I just loved us all being together again. Just us.