My parents met on Navy Day 1945, when his ship paused in Salinas, where my Rosie the Riveter mother built planes. They married on Navy Day, one year later.
His French Canadian parents, forced by the 1930’s Great Depression to become illegal immigrants, made him a citizen by birth in Berlin, New Hampshire. My mother’s Oklahoma farm family, who barely survived the 1930’s Dust Bowl, moved to Salinas to work in the munitions factories. They returned to Oklahoma, after the war, without my mother.
I was born in San Diego, in 1953, at the Navy hospital on Coronado, an island then without a bridge, my mother rushed to the hospital by ferry. Alone. Stationed on a carrier, my father was far, far away.
They were bonded by what they shared in common – sensibility, frugality and hard work – always grateful for what they had, even in the hardest of times. Hard times came when I was eleven, when her illness required my father to quit the Navy in 1964, to be her full time caregiver. He loved her too much to institutionalize her, knowing what brief periods of that did to her. He cared for her with loving kindness, without complaint, for 43 years.
In our home, differences were opportunities to experience something new. From my mother – okra, grits, tomato spice cake, and corn bread broken into a glass of milk with sugar.
Similar opportunities were found in the blending of a Southern Baptist mother and Catholic father. I felt spirit in lighting candles and praying to Saints at one, as well as in the joyful alleluia hymns of the other.
The sometimes cruel intolerance of others was less graceful. “The same God, packaged differently,” my sensible father said, when nine year old me was traumatized by teachings that damned both to Hell, because one was not sprinkled with water at birth, and the other not fully immersed in water, long after birth.
I will never forgot that moment, sitting on our front porch, his words washing away my fears – my “stand by me” coming of age awesome father-daughter moment. “Don’t remember that,” he said, when I recently thanked him for it. Nor does he view his care of my mother as even a slight sacrifice, let alone possibly heroic.
Family vacations always included state capitals, museums and national parks. We visited the United Nations, the Statute of Liberty, the homes of Wasington and Jefferson, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. My parents were proud of the America that enabled them, with honest hard work and common sense frugality, to give their children a better life.
My mother’s Oklahoma parents farmed until their deaths. Famous for their sweet corn and sweeter watermelon, they also sold eggs and milk. Breakfast was best – grits topped with eggs fried in bacon grease, squirrel shot the day before, gravy on biscuits hand-rolled and baked that morning, and milked by my grandfather’s hands that morning, creamy foamy milk. After breakfast I collected washed and weighed dozens of brown eggs, before placing them in large and extra large cartons for sale.