When my pregnancy was confirmed, we turned in the 57 Chevy, the car in that I’d learned to drive, had my first kiss and took us on our honeymoon. I shed tears as we abandoned it, left forsaken with memories, at the car dealership, eventually to be gobbled up by some car crusher. As we signed papers, I thought.
The steering wheel, shift lever, clutch, brake, gas pedals 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 of the car lot in a new, automatic shift, Ford station wagon with a rear cargo door, thereafter known as, the “white banana” but no car owned ever carried the same attachment as the 57 Chevy.
We gave my Desoto to a younger brother, sans girls' night out and Alviso train memories. A Dodge Dart for hubby’s work commute replaced it. The station wagon became my domain, driven without the worry of car trouble, a new experience.
Nine months after our wedding, the baby arrived at the Kaiser Hospital delivery room in Santa Clara, a modern building since demolished, part of Silicon Valley’s constant change. While not cozy, like birthing rooms today, Kaiser’s delivery room was efficient and reassuring. Being there meant no expected complications. Difficult births were sent to a special operation room.
The delivery room was set up with three 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. Nurses scurried about doing most of the real work. Despite the doctor's assurances, the pain of giving birth is something only a woman understands.
Screaming with a final push to eternity and the doctor’s exclamations of, “good, good,” I felt a final pain spasm then relief as half of me fell away. Soon 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 induvial entity of its own. l. 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 two-bed maternity recovery room. As I glanced back, the delivery center nurses were preparing my bay for the next.
My “man” and the other women’s men were absent during the action. Back then they didn't witness the sprouting of what they sowed. Instead, they paced in the expectant fathers' smoke-filled waiting room, unsure what was about.
Hubby was summoned with the good news and was waiting for me in the room. Soon our creation passed as acceptable with ten toes and fingers and was retrieved from the maternity ward for our admiration and holding. After a few hours, the 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 wheelchaired with baby to our “white banana” and he drove me home to face household chores plus attention demands of our new arrival.
In truth, Mom stayed a week helping. I loved her for it and felt guilty thinking about how she had no one to help her when giving birth, other than the Mexican midwife and Dad standing by smoking cigarettes.
A year later it was back to Kaiser Hospital for a repeat performance. After more panting and screaming, it plopped out without complications, another ten fingers and toes success story. It was not in and out but I was out before the other two women.
During the second delivery, I reflected, Maybe I wasn’t naive in school. It only takes a man’s touch and bam, you’re pregnant.
With each, I thought of Mom with five births at home and no doctor or nurses.
I and hubby were at my parent’s house at midnight, on January 1, 1971, to celebrate the start of the 1970s. The exploding firecrackers announced a decade of startling changes, a decade which seemed disjointed looking back.
I faced it as a married girl with two babies, a boy, and a girl. We decided that was good enough and I got on the "Pill", circumventing the priest's admonishments. I wanted to avoid being a breeder like Mom.
Nine months later, in October 1971, instead of another baby, we bought a house, at the outrageous price of $31.900. It was a three-bedroom, two-bath home, west of El Camino Real, in Mountain View, close to but not in Palo Alto. A fixer-upper, we financed our purchase by taking over payments with $5,000 down, all our savings. It was much nicer than any house either of us had ever lived in.
Owning our house meant a major economic, social and mental self- image move up. We were somebody's, among those who owned their home. Never again did we have to face a rent payment. Instead, we faced a higher twenty-five-year monthly mortgage but could change things 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 together. I accepted his 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 three meals a day and 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 despite constant cleaning.
In bed, I lay exhausted. Hubby sought my attention two to three times a week. When he did, I spread my legs, he hopped on, slipped it in and pumped up and down until he finished. He then rolled off to leave me to sleep on the wet spot. 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 reassuring I was fulfilling another part of my role, the good wife. I stood naked before the mirror, reviewed myself, and concluded my full lips still revealed teeth too large, my nose was too flat, my face was too long, my eyes were too slanted, my skin was too dark and my long black hair had split ends and was too straight.
On the positive side, after two 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 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 two” diapers and rarely “Number one’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 stocked with beer as they watched the 49’s, Giants and Oakland A’s. He often left to see a baseball or football game with me 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 pals on the weekend, the house was all mine, my Camelot, the rambunctious 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 cards 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 are not understood unless one has experienced their lack.
Growing up I typically had three pairs of shoes which I wore out before replacing, flats, tennis and formal. No longer limited to just three pairs I bought shoes to look good in and to match clothes. A shoe store trip and a pair of pumps could make my day.
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? We go shopping, that’s what we 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 ten-fold since I was born nearby in a pear orchard. It was still multiplying by annual double digits. A rapid metamorphous was occurring. Moffett Field, my landmark beacon, is now occupied by Google.
The constant bulldozing of fruit orchards to make Silicon Valley started in Mountain View with Shockley’s 1956 semiconductor company and its spinoff Fairchild Semiconductor. Its demise of the vacuum tube initially went unnoticed by most but by the 1960’s the pace of change leaped forward. In the 1970s, change accelerated to hyper-speed. Concrete tilt-up semiconductor plants sprung up almost overnight as if mushrooms and Cupertino and Fremont became new cities. Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, even San Jose exploded into high tech centers with seas of new residential subdivisions constantly under construction. While I was in the “right spot”, my place, an economic earthquake, the “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 and military associated with the naval base. It was laid back but rapidly changed 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 the community.
With the kids a little older, we periodically drove to San Francisco on Saturdays, our atomic family day. 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. Hubby I and discovered brunch at the Yank Sing restaurant on Broadway, the first to introduce Dim Sim. We splurged on their delicacies as the food carts passed, always spent more than intended but it was our special day. We skipped the carts chicken feet but bought a bottle of their hot sauce for Dad.
Afterward, it was the zoo, a Golden Gate Park picnic, the Steinhart Aquarium, the Marina beach, simple family stuff but we avoided the hippy drug habitat of Haight Ashbury. We used the Broadway on-ramp entrance to the now gone Embarcadero Freeway when we left San Francisco for home.
Hubby on Broadway always sneaked glances at the blatant topless go-go girl signs, especially the large corner marquee of the Condor Club announcing Carol Doda’s twin 44's and her swing. As far as I know, he never saw her swing but his furtive glances confirmed men have a breast thing. My milk duds once thought too large, seemed not large enough.
Sunday was a molecular family day. We visited parents in Tropicana Village. I smuggled in bars of soap, bottles of shampoo and fluffy towels to Mom. We took all to breakfast at Uncle John’s Pancake House in Santa Clara 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 dropped Hubby, Dad and my siblings at the parent’s homes. Mom and I then went to downtown Saint Joseph's Church 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 when sung 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. His weekend escapades faded and he was usually there too. 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 he discovered 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 into the house.
I learned my mother in law had a 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 to 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? Were their stories as simple as I assumed?
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.