ESSAY: Childhood of a Prince, Part Three
Our cousins were such sweet children. (Not a dope in the bunch.) Amy Sue was the only girl in the midst of filthy heathens, but she was royalty, and was treated accordingly. We showed her the utmost respect, and placed her on a pedestal. (That way we could look up her dress!) And her cousins made off with many stolen kisses from the little princess. Wendy and Robin lived in Beaver on the other side of town. (There were no bad sides.) Amy, Bucky and Gig lived in Pittsburgh, and it was always a special treat to visit them in the big city. For some unknown reason they all called me “Uncle Day-Day.” I suppose that my name Dave had been bastardized into a cutesy nickname by one of the younger cousins mispronouncing it, and it stuck.
My mother, God bless her, had her hands full. My brothers and I were mischief- makers of the dangerous sort, and had to be monitored at all times. (My mother blamed it all on the Three Stooges.) Had the technology been there back in the fifties, we would have been in electronic ankle bracelets.
Mom wasn’t cut out for the 3.2 children thing of the fifties. She was more of a liberated woman, in the sense that she needed a career ‒ and a life. I never for one moment thought that she considered raising three brats a “career.” This was something she was required to do ‒ like a tour of combat duty – and by God she was going to struggle through this ordeal the best she could and get it over with, and then move on, hopefully winning a medal for bravery.
My mother was the middle sister of three. She was the one that had the fairy tale childhood. I was probably never a prince, but I guarantee, she was a Princess of the First Order, and I’ll bet my royal crown on that! She was pampered and spoiled – more so than I ‒ and on top of that, she was drop dead gorgeous. She had all the boys, including my poor future father, wrapped around her royal pinkie.
She had lived a life of genteel pleasantry, barely noticing the Great Depression. And now she found herself on indefinite guard duty watching after the dregs of her womb. It must have been terribly frustrating and nerve racking, trying to raise three feral boys found deep in the woods in a hollow tree. I’m sure she thought about going down to the adoption agency and trading us in for some well behaved little girls with manners and curls. She would have loved daughters. Think of the little dollies, the tea parties, the perfumed satin and lace, the shopping sprees, cotillions and debutante balls. As it was she had given birth to a litter of wolf pups that were wrecking the house, scaring baby-sitters, wetting the beds, and farting in church. We turned my mother into a basket-case resulting in a lot of high-pitched screaming. And who could blame her for her daily histrionics?
But we were good little boys (when we were asleep).
Like a real princess, Mom had never really learned how to cook. I will only say that her culinary skills were lacking. Okay, I’ll say more. They sucked! She once actually poisoned herself tasting her own cooking and was hauled off to have her stomach pumped. Most of her food was overcooked. What once was a plump pork chop was cremated into something unrecognizable, something you’d put into an urn and mourn at a funeral parlor. She’d disappear into the kitchen, put on her protective mask, asbestos apron and gloves, and fire up her acetylene torch. Voila! Dinner is served. It was so bad that later in life, I actually thought Army food was delicious. She did make a good potato salad, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.
My Dad, affectionately called Spike since birth, was quite a guy. He was outgoing, handsome and smart. His mantra was: Do as I say, not as I do. An only child, he was raised to be self sufficient and hard working. (In junior high the American Legion honored him with the ‘All American Boy’ award.) Unlike his parents, he decided that he would attend church and Sunday school, and find out what it is to be a genuine Christian. Of course nothing was ever said about Grandpa and Grandma never going to church. I come from a long line of Presbyterians but they might have been Hindus as far as I knew.
Dad always had work, church duties, and several charity projects going on at once and probably got very little sleep. When he made time for his sons we could have real fun, but he seemed to be otherwise occupied most of the time. He was a disciplinarian and could be meaner than hell. The severity of punishment meted out depended on his mood. He had made a wooden paddle and kept it in the bottom drawer of his desk at the ready. One day my brother Ross stole it and snuck it down to the basement where he carefully sawed the handle almost all the way through. And then he put it back where he found it. Of course it wasn’t long before Ross got into trouble. Spike went for his trusty paddle while my little brother Bobby and I waited for the fun to begin. He bent Ross over his knee and got off one good whack. The dreaded board snapped in two. Dad and the rest of us busted out laughing. At that point, after forgetting the crime, the punishment was over.
I never doubted my parents’ love for me, but at times they said and did inexplicable things that I still can’t figure out, but what the hell. That’s life.
Spike fell in love with my mother when they were at New Brighton High School. They were an item. Dad served state side in the Army Air Corps toward the end of WWII and came home to work for his Dad. Grandpa owned a few gas stations and an appliance store and was on several boards, and I suppose Spike was almost expected to work for his father. Soon he was off to college at W&J (Washington and Jefferson) near Pittsburgh; and later Mom ended up at Case Western in Cleveland.
Of course, most of the really juicy stories I’ve heard over the years were spooned out in little sips; all the meaty tidbits were left simmering in the stew pot. Time lines were confused, facts were distorted, and whole parts were simply left out. Family secrets, you know.
Case in point: the story of Mom and Dad’s “break up…”