Friday, March 5, 2010

Pretty Sande ... A Born Rebel

May 7, 1940 something, in a small town in Illinois, Gertrude (or Gertie to those close) Ackerman gave birth to a baby girl named Sandra Katherine. Gertie was in her 40's when she gave birth to this child and it had been 17 years since she last gave birth to her only son. To say that Sandra was an "oops" baby might be correct, but Gertie knew that there was a reason for everything. She had a deep faith in religion that made her a devout Catholic and she rarely went anywhere without her bible. I have that bible to this day and she wrote everything in there. In the front of the book, she wrote dates of births, marriages, divorces (thought not many! again...Catholics), dates of deaths along with cause, and all in her handwriting that slowly gets bumpier as you read down the list, her years of aging plainly displayed in blue and black ink. Flip through the pages and you will find church fliers, In Memoriam cards from all the funerals she attended, a few little notes from friends that were obviously dear to her, and there is even one page were she chronicled the Popes in her lifetime. I know that Pope John Paul II was the first non Italian Pope in 450 years, he was born on May 18, 1920, and he became the new Pope on October 16, 1978 at 12:42 pm, Central Standard Time. His name was Karol Wojtyla, born in Krakow Poland and became a priest in April 1946. She was thorough . Notes to the side of the pages with her thoughts about certain scriptures and how "so and so should have read that one!" There is a long family history in that Bible and it is still a wonderful thing for me to see, and even better for the whole next generation to see.

Now, because Gertie was "older", people really were not believing that she gave birth to this child. Many thought that Sandra was the product of Gertie's eldest daughter Dorothy who was in her early 20's, and would point blank ask if it was true. Gertie would politely tell them that yes indeed, the spunky blond with blue eyes was hers, even though both she and her husband were both dark headed with brown eyes. She told people that she had to be special to come so late in life, that she was there for a reason. At the age of 3 Sandra became sick and a trip to the doctor revealed that she had Polio. Polio was a rampant disease that hit America in the late 40's and it was taking young children's lives by the thousands. It had no vaccine, no cure so to contract it was almost sure death. Gertie and Cap sat vigil next to Sandra in the hospital as she slipped further and further away. At one point, the only thing Sandra could do to communicate was to move her right pinkie up and down to answer my grandmothers calls for her to wake up! It went on for weeks. Then, by the Grace of God, she started moving more than her finger. She came out of it with no damage at all, but it took months for her to work through her weakness. Again, Gertie reminded people that Sandra was special ... she had to be to come through that. God had sent her for a reason. Gertie found herself raising a new child in a completely different generation from her first brood, and to say that there were clashes was an understatement. But if there was one obviously different factor in Sandra's life compared to her siblings, it was this: she was a princess! Her parents doted on her and it was almost as if she were an only child growing up. Her siblings were young adults, out of the house and living their lives. As a matter of fact, when she was like 3 she became and aunt to her eldest sister's boy. The siblings all lived in different towns, so Sande was looked upon as a gift from God to a couple who thought they were going into their empty nesting years. I remember both my mom and grandma telling me how odd it was growing up with such an age difference. Gertie was a stay at home Mom and Ernest, or Cap as EVERYONE knew him, was a very loyal and well known postal worker. So even though she was the youngest of 4 Ackerman children, she was in essence an only child. An only child who's parents were in their late 50's and early 60's when she hit high school.

This is where the rebel came to roost. Sande had them wrapped around her finger, and she liked her role as the golden child. She was popular in high school due to a stunning personality, a vivacious need to do well in her studies, her ability to make anyone feel like a friend, and she was a looker with sunny blond hair that she loved to wear atop her head in a fluffy bun, almost like freshly blown champagne cotton candy from a fair. Then there was her sense of humor that was witty, sometimes dry panned, some times raunchy, but always hilarious. She could make people belly laugh through a stream of tears, trying to breath as she continued to slay them with her comedic outlook on life. She was beloved for many reasons, but it was her ability to lift you up, to forget your troubles, to give you a smile or laugh when you really need it that people loved her for. She was admired at school, and of course admired at home. Most of all, she was the apple of her father's eye. A late life beauty that made his heart light with memories of his youth. He would let her slide, to Gertie's dismay, and took delight in her feisty attitude to fight for her right to go out late, drive the car or whatever it was she was trying to do. He gave her that confidence that she needed, that backing she could count on. They had a special relationship that was based on immense admiration and true adoration. Sandra loved her mother and father deeply, but Cappy was everything to her. He was her knight in shining armor.

One morning Gertie asked Sandra to wake her father up or he was going to be late for his route. Sandra entered the bedroom, threw open the curtains and repeated to her father what her mother told her, "You better get up or you will be late for your route, Daddy!" There was no movement. She told him again, but he still did not move. She walked over and shook him. No movement. She then realized how pale he was. She felt his forehead and it was cold to the touch. She looked at his nose, there was no sign of life. She screamed out to her mother, and screamed and screamed. "Cap" Earnest Ackerman had died of a heart attack in his sleep. He was 64 years old. He was beloved beyond his family, the entire town was in mourning. To quote the obituary in my grandmother's family Bible: "His kindness, zeal and thoughtfulness was rewarded by his friends in a final tribute during the funeral at 10 a.m. Monday in St. Charles Church, by the closing of all business establishments and the flag of the U.S. Post Office flying at half mast." Now, to lower a U.S.Flag at a Post Office to half mast you must get permission from Washington. They granted the request for the 39 year veteran of the Post Office who was a valued employee back in a time when those values were highly rewarded. He was a great man, and he was Sandra's world. His death changed her, it changed Gertie and from then on, they were bonded by their tremendous grief over loosing their hero. I am not saying that the other siblings did not miss him just as much, but it was Gertie and Sandra that were left with each other. It was in that time that they became the best of friends, the most comfortable of companions. They became very close, and it was that way for a long time.

Sandra had some friends that lived several towns over and she liked going to the town of West Frankfort because of the cute boys there. She would go for the weekends and this is where she began to realize the beautiful, sassy woman that she was. It was the late sixties and she was feisty, frisky and a sucker for the bad boys. Especially bad boys on motorcycles. She would spend hours getting her hair right, her doe eyes to the perfect point near the corner of her eye, changing endlessly to configure the right look for that evenings festivities. She was young, she was looking to be loved, she was looking for her rebel soul mate. She told me that she almost did not go out that night, that she was going to go to a movie instead. It was a good thing that she decided to go with the girls to Main Street drag. Standing innocently on the corner hanging out with girlfriends a young man pulled up next to the curb on his bike. He took off his helmet. She said he looked like a lot like James Dean with his blond highlights and laid back demeanor. He asked her name. She said Sande. He said "Like Sandra Dee?" She said she heard that a lot. "Well Sande, wanna go for a ride?" he asked coyly. She sized him up, looked at her friends and told them she would see them later. Giggles and cackles ensued and with that, she hopped on the back of the bike. Riding down Main Street she told me she felt so special, like he could have asked any one of those girls and he wanted to know her. She said that she hadn't felt that way since her father died.

That was the night she met Phil Snyder. She was smitten to say the least. I came to be.