When my pregnancy was confirmed, we sold the 57 Chevy. I shed tears as we abandoned it, left forsaken, at the car dealership. As we signed papers, I thought.
The steering wheel, shift lever, clutch, brake, gas pedals, eventually to be squished into a twisted metal pancake by some gigantic car crusher, my learning to drive, being kissed, honeymoon memories 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”. No car we ever owned thereafter carried the same emotional 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 worries, 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’s coaxing. Nurses scurried about doing the real work. The pain of giving birth is something only a woman understands.
Screaming, with a final push to eternity and nurses’ 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 individual 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 nurses prepped 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 a smoke-filled room unsure what was about.
Hubby was summoned with the good news and greeted me in the hospital room while the woman in the other bed looked on. Soon our creation passed as acceptable with ten toes and fingers and was retrieved 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, baby and I were wheelchaired to the “white banana”, hubby drove us home for me to face household chores and attention demands of our new arrival.
In truth, Mom stayed a week helping. Her five births at home, without doctor or nurses, just a Mexican midwife, diminished my self-pity.
A year later it was back to Kaiser Hospital for a repeat performance. After more panting and screaming, it too plopped out without complications, another ten fingers and toes success story. It was not in and out but I was out before the other 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.
We decided a boy, and a girl 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 twenty-five-year monthly mortgage. A feeling of awe swept me every time I drove into the driveway.
Wow, our own house!
We updated the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, everything.
Reminiscent of our subdivision's orchard past, an apricot tree survived in the front yard. It and a few others scattered among the neighborhood managed to avoid bulldozers during subdivision development. Its annual, golden fruit, nuggets emphasized the Valley's bounty. I made apricot jam, planted roses and kept a garden where tomatoes overwhelmed me with their generosity.
Life was good, the future bright, and we assumed we’d permanently settled but like most, we never saw the end of our mortgage.
Hubby, the decision-maker, handled the money, selected the house we bought, picked the cars we bought and drove when we went out together. I was pleased to accept his control because he was unlike Dad. In return, I kept the house spotless and made three meals a day as a stay at home super mom and wife. I even tailored two suits for him on my little Singer sewing machine which he wore with pride. With a husband, house and kids, I was the envy of friends. To me, however, I was still a girl, a girl who had yet to grow up.
Swamped with baby feeding, bathing and diaper changing, 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 admired and appreciated Mom 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 now and then but it was more like scratching an itch than sex. His taking me, pleased me. While tired, it reassured I was fulfilling my role, the good wife who wondered.
What does he see in me?
Naked in front of the bedroom wall mirror, my reflection evidenced big lips that covered teeth too large, a nose too flat, eyes too slanted, skin too dark and black hair too straight, with split ends.
On the positive side, after two kids, my body was no longer skinny, my breast nipples remained reddish, not dark brown and my tummy didn’t have stretch marks, a body attractive enough for hubby’s milking.
While older and financially responsible, he was marriage immature. His friends seemed more important than me and the kids. 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, our house was a hangout for his pals. They watched the San Francisco 49’s and Giants or Oakland Raiders and A’s sports on TV while I fed them and kept the refrigerator stocked with beer. Often, I was left at home to take care of the kids he went to see baseball or football games.
It didn’t bother me. I was happily married, no, I loved being married because he didn’t drive away to see other women like Dad and he handed his paycheck over for me to bank deposit which ensured our financial security. His faithfulness and employment were in exchange for my cleaning, cooking and baby care, a good deal to me.
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 not understood unless one has experienced their lack.
For these, I overlooked his domestic immaturity. When he was at work or away with his pals, the house was my Camelot, the rambunctious kids my subjects. My King Arthur was off to slay money dragons.
Growing up I, typically had three pairs of shoes, each worn out before replaced. With hubby’s income money, kids in tow, the “white banana” parked at shoe stores to get kids new shoes but also shoes for me. Our closet was soon cluttered with them. A new pair of pumps made 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 home, east of Mountain View was Moffett Field Naval Air Station. Its huge obsolete blimp hanger the landmark for the area. I was born a few miles to the southeast of it. I felt a sense of connection, of being in the right place, my place, every time I saw it.
Mountain View's population, however, had increased ten-fold since I was born in a nearby pear orchard. It was still multiplying by annual double digits. A rapid metamorphous was occurring.
The constant bulldozing of fruit orchards to make Silicon Valley started in earnest with Stanford Professor Shockley’s 1956 semiconductor company and its spinoff Fairchild Semiconductor. The fundamental change in technology initially went unnoticed by most but by the 1960’s the pace of change leaped forward. In the 1970s, it accelerated to hyper-speed. Concrete tilt-up semiconductor plants sprung up almost overnight as if mushrooms. Cupertino and Fremont became new cities that were previously corner crossroads in vast agricultural areas. Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and San Jose exploded into high tech centers with seas of new residential subdivisions constantly under construction. While I was in the right 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 retired military associated with the naval base. It was laid back but rapidly changed as home ownerships flipped. New arrivals came not just from the USA 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. 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 and I discovered brunch at the Yank Sing restaurant on Broadway, the first to expand Chinese dining away from chow Mein and 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 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. We avoided the hippy drug habitat of Haight Ashbury and instead fished for trout at a little lake close to the zoo for the kids. Leaving San Francisco for home, we used the Broadway on-ramp entrance to the now Embarcadero Freeway.
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 fetish. My milk duds once thought too large, appeared to be not large enough.
Sundays were molecular family days. We visited my parents in Tropicana Village where I dropped off bars of soap, bottles of shampoo and fluffy towels. 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 and Dad and my brothers in his Buick.
After breakfast, Mom and I went to downtown Saint Joseph's Church for High Mass by the priest who occasionally visited her and referred to me as his little angel, now a woman with little angels. There, with Mass incense, I joined the loft choir to sing the Gregorian Chant, Introit, Alleluia, Kyrie Elision and Gloria in Excelsis Deo. It brought back the beautiful musical spiritualism of my Notre Dame days. I avoided the confessional and thoughts of Father Pastoria, the dark side of Notre Dame days.
Sunday afternoons 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 becoming 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 dark puppet shadow 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.