She was proud, she was strong and she was living life as a mother first, wife second. She made due and held her head high, but in the end she was left wounded far beyond what she wanted to admit. My father was offered a job overseas that would take him away from the emotional cauldron he had created, away from his responsibilities. He filed for divorce, and left for a base in Germany. I would not see him for five years.
In the middle of Kindergarten, my mother made the decision to move to St. Louis during a horrible snow storm. I remember she brought me to my aunt's house and then left to go back and tie up the loose ends at the base, four hours away. Her timing was not great, but just like her, it was memorable. She was determined to start over, to give it her best shot. We found an apartment that was close to the VA hospital where she worked, close to my school and best of all, close to her family. She was feeling more comfortable, more at ease but my mother knew the task that was ahead of her. There was not one man around in our family. My mother was divorced, my grandmother and aunt were both widowed, my uncle lived in in a completely different state and my cousin who was male, well he was in college far away. My mother was heartbroken that I did not have a father around and she blamed herself for a very long time after the divorce. She did a great job of keeping me active and was wonderful at playing both the nurturing, teaching parent and the stern, disciplinarian parent. She played ball with me for countless hours, signed me up for Girl Scouts and was active in the group, encouraged me to try all sports at least once, and just like her mother ... she made sure that we were at church every Sunday of every week. Yes, Gertie lived on in my mother and my aunt, so we were all Catholics. God fearing, Pope loving, Fish-Fry eating, German-Polish Catholics.
I was a hell cat with a sweet face covered in freckles which only made me adorable, so to say that I was hard to handle was a true statement. Look at who I came from! Two head strong parents equal one bold child. I was not all bad, really I am a very loving person. I just liked doing things my way at first to see if I was right about it. If I screwed up, I would be the first one to say, "you were right". My mother was great about being there whenever I needed her. She encouraged me to do my best always, no matter how difficult the task. She had the best imagination and was by far the coolest of all the moms that lived near us. She would check my homework every night, make sure that I helped with the house and never let me play for more than an hour at a time without having to check in. She was protective, but not overbearing. No matter the cause, she was my champion and #1 fan. I remember after a softball practice, she politely but sarcastically tore my coach a new one because in the previous game he used me as a designated hitter which was a lousy excuse to keep me off the field while his daughter dropped two balls and watched another role past her, which in turn resulted in a loss. She mentioned to him that she was considering finding a different team for her slugger daughter if there was not fair play, and perhaps his team would be chasing my hits around the field in the near future. She then smiled, told him we would see him at the game on Friday. I never sat on the bench for more than one inning after that day. She was right, the more time I had on the field, the more precise my fielding was. You could do anything to hurt her, but if you hurt her baby then you would have to deal with with the bull.
Like I said, I was eight when my father came to visit after living in Germany. I had no idea who he was. I had asked my mother many questions as to why he was not around, and God bless her heart she never once said a bad word about him. She could have. She wanted to, but it was no longer about her and how she felt. She always kept my best interest at heart. She knew that if she bad mouthed him in front of me or to me then I would have a biased opinion of who he was, not my own opinion but hers. She was diligent in this, and to tell you the truth it was one of the things that I respected the most about her. She always smiled when she spoke of him, she was honest about being divorced telling me that sometimes it is better to live apart and like each other than to live together and dislike each other. She wasn't fantasy like about it, she told me that he cared but could not live with us. So from time to time he would come to visit, hang out for the evening, spend the night then make breakfast in the morning. To me, from ages 8-11, I thought it was just normal for them to be apart. I figured that they would work it out eventually and once he was done traveling around, they would get back together, maybe get married again. They really did get along well, at least from what I could see.
Her aching would soon be heightened by an even bigger challenge. The following years would test my mother's strength, test her faith in God, test her sanity and break her heart. Oh yes, we are heading into the dreaded adolescent years...