As soon as my pregnancy was confirmed we turned in the 57 Chevy, the car in which I learned to drive, had my first kiss and which took us on our honeymoon. I shed tears as we abandoned it, left forsaken with memories at the car dealership to eventually be gobbled up by some heartless car crusher. As we signed papers I thought.
The steering wheel, shift lever, clutch, brake, gas pedal squished into a twisted metal pancake, my learning to drive and being kissed shipped with them to the smelter, then to Japan to come back as a Toyota.
We drove out in a new, automatic shift, Ford station wagon with rear cargo door thereafter known as the “white banana”.
A Dodge Dart replaced my Desoto. We gave my exploration Desoto to a younger brother sans girl’s night out and Alviso memories. Hubby drove the Dart to work. The station wagon became my domain, driven without worry about possible car trouble, a new experience. The Chevy was soon forgotten.
Nine months after our wedding the baby arrived, a year later, another. Each caused a mother's pain only a woman understands but in the Kaiser Hospital delivery rooms, after a little screaming and the doctor's coaxing, they plopped out without complications, 10 fingers and toes on each. I reflected between panting during the second delivery.
Maybe I wasn’t naive in high school. It only takes a man’s "one touch" and bam you’re pregnant.
I also thought of Mom with 5 births at home and no doctor or nurses. The Kaiser delivery room was set up with 3 bays off a central core. The doctor in the center scooted his wheeled chair from one pending arrival to the other as we women spread our pelvises and sang our chorus of heavy breathing, yelping and howling to his conductor coaxing while nurses scurried about doing most of the real work.
My “man” and the other women’s men were absent. Back then they didn’t witness the sprouting of what they sowed. Instead they paced in the expectant fathers smoked filled waiting room, unsure what was about.
While not cozy, like birthing rooms today, Kaiser’s birthing center was efficient and reassuring. Being there meant no expected complications. Difficult births were sent to a special operation room. It was not in and out but I was out before the other two women.
With a final push to eternity and the doctor’s exclamations of “good, good” I felt a sudden pain spasm then relief as half of me fell away. Then I heard the joyful wail of the baby’s claim to the world. In a daze, I watched a nurse tie off and cut the umbilical cord to complete our separation, the baby a new separate individual. I felt a mother’s re-connection with the baby on my chest and cried, not in pain but relief. Soon baby was whisked away in a receiving blanket for a detailed check out and I was wheeled to a 2-bed maternity recovery room. As I glanced back the delivery center nurses were preparing my bay for the next.
Hubby was summoned with the good news and was waiting for me in the room. Soon our creation passed as acceptable with as expected toes, fingers, legs and arms and was retrieved from the maternity ward for our admiration and holding. After a few hours baby was whisked back to the maternity ward, hubby was excused and I was allowed a night’s rest. Early the next morning, I was wheel chaired with baby to hubby’s waiting car and he drove me home to face household chores plus attention demands of our new arrival.
In truth, Mom stayed a week helping both times. I loved her for it and felt guilty thinking how she had no one to help her when giving birth other than the Mexican midwife and Dad standing by smoking cigarettes.
At midnight on January 1, 1971, with fireworks set off to celebrate the start of the 1970’s at my parent’s house I faced life as a married girl with 2 babies. I took the "Pill" circumventing the priest's admonishments. I wanted to avoid being a breeder like Mom.
Then in October 1971, we purchased a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house west of El Camino Real, in Mountain View, close to but not in Palo Alto for the outrageous price of $31.900. It was a fixer upper purchased by taking over payments with $5,000 and all of our savings. Owning our house meant a major economic, social and mental self- image move up. We were somebodies among those who owned their home; never again to face a rent payment, only a 25-year monthly mortgage. We could change something in the house without a landlord's approval. A feeling of awe swept me every time I drove into the driveway.
Wow, my house, we own our house!
I started painting and updating the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, carpet, well everything.
Reminiscent of our subdivision's orchard past, an apricot tree survived in the front yard. Somehow it and a few others scattered among the neighborhood managed to avoid the bulldozers during development. Its annual golden fruit nuggets emphasized California's and the Valley's bounty. I made apricot jam.
I planted roses and kept a garden in the back yard where tomatoes overwhelmed me with their generosity after a little watering and hoeing. Life was good, the future bright. We settled in. Permanently I assumed but like most, we never saw the end of the mortgage.
My husband was the decision maker, handled the money, selected the house we bought and picked the cars we drove. He always drove when we went someplace together and decided where. I accepted his being in control, glad he was unlike my father. In return I was a stay at home super mom and wife. I kept the house spotless, made 3 meals a day and even tailored two suits for him which he wore with pride. Even with a husband, kids, a house and envy of friends, however, I still thought of myself as a girl, a girl who had to grow up but hadn't.
Swamped with baby feeding, bathing and diaper changing initially, I couldn’t get rid of the smell of urine and poo. The hamper was always full as I used cloth diapers to save money. I pitied and admired Mom and appreciated her more. At night, I went to bed thinking of wash and ironing undone, what to cook the next day and how dirty the house was even with constant cleaning.
I lay in bed exhausted with hubby seeking my attention two to three times a week. I experienced an orgasm about once a week but it was more like scratching an itch than sex. His taking me pleased me. While tired it was assuring I was fulfilling another part of my role, the good wife.
Standing naked before the mirror reviewing myself I concluded my full lips revealed teeth too large, my nose was too flat, my face was too long, my eyes too slanted, my skin was too dark and my long black hair had split ends and was too straight.
On the positive side, after 2 kids my body was no longer skinny, my breast nipples remained reddish, not dark brown, my tummy didn’t have stretch marks and I still looked young and attractive enough for hubby’s twice a week need.
While older and financially responsible, he was immature in marriage. He worked hard but clung to old unmarried friends. They were more important than me and the kids it seemed. To him household duties were mowing the lawn and playing patty cake in the evening after work. He never changed “Number 2” diapers and rarely “Number 1’s”.
On the weekend, with friends, he watched sports on TV. Our house was a hangout. I was expected to cook for the gang and keep the refrigerator beer stocked as they watched the 49’s, Giants and Oakland A’s. He also often left to see a baseball or football game while I was stuck at home. Still, I was happily married, no, I loved being married. He didn’t drive away to see other women like Dad and handed his paycheck to me to bank deposit which ensured our financial security. His employment and faithfulness were in exchange for my cleaning, cooking and baby care, a good deal to me. For these I overlooked his domestic immaturity.
During the day, when he was at work or away with his old pals on the weekend, the house was all mine, my Camelot, the kids my subjects my King Arthur off slaying money dragons.
Not facing the monthly, "Rent Is Due" crisis, having Kaiser Health Care insurance and shopping with a checking account and credit card were new perks, worth more than what I did as a stay at home mom. I awoke each morning knowing I was safe from eviction, the pantry was stocked and the future secure, pleasures not understood unless one has experienced their lack.
I filled our bathroom cupboards with rolls of toilet paper, standard sized bars of soap still in their wrapping, bottles of unopened shampoo and large fluffy towels without motel logos. I shopped with no food stamp stigma at Lucky supermarket without buying the cheapest selection. At the Stanford Mall in Palo Alto I bought sheets, blankets, dishes and furniture. For the first time, I had new good stuff. Not only was there no constant scramble for money, we saved. We were rich. I was a happy wife in our Camelot and hummed, what do the simple folk do?
A few miles across the Bay Shore freeway from our house, east of Mountain View, was Moffett Field Naval Air Station with its obsolete blimp hanger, and huge jet aerodromes, the landmark for the area. I was born a few miles to the southeast of it. It and the surrounding hills centered my location. Every time I saw it I felt a sense of connection of being in the right place, my place.
Mountain View's population, however, had increased 10-fold since I was born nearby in a pear orchard. It was still multiplying in annual double digits. Moffett Field is now occupied by Google and NASA with the base closed. A rapid metamorphous was occurring.
The constant bulldozing of fruit orchards to make Silicone Valley started with Stanford’s Professor Shockley and his semiconductor. The pace of change kept accelerating. New cities like Cupertino and Fremont sprang up from orchard terrain while existing ones like Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, even San Jose exploded into high tech centers with seas of new residential subdivisions constantly under construction. While thinking I was in the right spot, an economic earthquake, a “big one,” not the overdue geological one, was shaking my sense of home, hearth and stability.
Home prices escalated rapidly after our purchase. Mountain View when we purchased was mostly lower middle to middle class white with a few Mexicans plus a fair number of Filipinos associated with the naval base. It was laid back but rapidly changing as home ownerships flipped. New arrivals came not just from the US but everywhere. What was important was, "having a good time" not who your parents were or what your background was, blessings for us. While we made new friends, and enjoyed backyard BBQs, neighbors tended to come and go breaking the continuity of neighborhood.
With the kids a little older, we periodically drove to San Francisco on Saturdays. Dad had often taken me with him to its Chinatown to buy Oriental specialty foods. Mom never went with the excuse she had house chores. I knew the shops to go to and the foods to buy for Dad. We discovered brunch at the Yank Sing restaurant on Broadway, the first to introduce Dim Sim. There we splurged on delicacies as the food carts passed spending more than intended but always skipping the chicken feet. We also bought a bottle of their hot sauce for Dad.
Afterwards it was the zoo, a Golden Gate Park picnic, the Steinhart Aquarium, the Marina, simple family stuff. We took the Broadway entrance to the Embarcadero Freeway on ramp when leaving for home. Hubby on Broadway always sneaked a glance at the blatant go-go girl signs, especially the large corner marquee announcing Carol Doda’s topless twin 44’s and her swing. As far as I know he never saw her swing but his quick glance confirmed men have a breast thing.
On Sunday, we visited parents in Tropicana Village. I smuggled bars of soap, bottles of shampoo and fluffy towels to Mom. We took all to breakfast at Uncle John’s Pancake House with kids cooing on mom's lap or playing about in the cargo area of the station wagon before seat belt laws. After breakfast, I took Mom to Saint Joseph's Church in downtown for High Mass with incense. There I joined in with the priest and loft choir for the Gregorian chant, Introit, Alleluia, Kyrie Elision and Gloria in excelsis Deo which brought back my Notre Dame days.
In the afternoon, we had a BBQ in my parent’s backyard with in laws invited. Lady luck ignored Dad more and he started losing his social knack, even became at times morose. In contrast Mom was never happier with grandchildren. My siblings treated me with respect as the older sister I was. My in-laws adopted me.
I learned my in-laws had puppet shadow tales of woe. My father in law fell from high up life's business ladder after discovering my mother in law in an affair. One Sunday, after our BBQ and a few drinks he told me privately in the backyard I was the daughter he always wanted, the one lost by my mother in law's miscarriage. It was the first time he hugged me as a daughter. There were tears in his eyes as we went back in the house.
My mother in law had reason for tears too. She never wanted to marry my father in law and never loved him. She married him to please her parents and yearned for her true love, the one she had the affair with. She was thrown under the bus by him when their affair was discovered so he could save his marriage. She remained married with my father in law, Mr. Plan B for security.
The supposed miscarriage was a love child abortion. I never told my husband these confessions, the beginning of lies of omission to him. Her confession and the girl I slapped at school reminded me what you assume is, may not be what is.
I wondered what was behind my parent's puppet shadows. Who were they?
Author Notes: Once married others treat her like an adult as she makes the marriage work.
She learns, however, what is perceived as is may not be what actually is.