Of the four chapters I posted about two weeks ago, the preface, ch.1, 2, 3, 7 chapter 3 received the most hits at 250. Writing is mostly rewriting, editing, tedious stuff after a while, but hopefully it pays off when the language over which the writer labors for endless hours begins to sing. :)
Growing Up Together Without My Father
The long and late night escalated in volume and vitriol. Ron and I
snuck out of our bedroom at 3:00 a.m. and positioned ourselves
several inches behind the edge of the top step. Ron lay prone on his
stomach and I lay prone atop Ron, my chin stuck in the crown of his
head. From our upstairs vantage point, we enjoyed both the sights
and sounds of the drama below.
“Gerry, do you know what time it is?” Grandma Jean asked.
rhetorically. My maternal grandmother, Jean Austin, joined us in
our new apartment shortly after we had moved to St. Louis. It
quickly became apparent Mom was too old to be living with her
“Mother, are you waiting up for me?” Mom probed accusingly,
fully aware of the truth of the matter.
“What kind of girl comes home at this hour?” Grandma pursued her
line of questioning, notwithstanding its doubtful applicability
to a thirty-one year old woman.
“Mother, I’m not seventeen anymore living under your roof.
Please remember that.”
“Hey Ron, I didn’t know that grandmas could yell at moms?”
“Mom isn’t a mom here but a kid like you and me,” Ron said.
Frankly, his comment mystified me but not for long. Mom grew
up quickly after that. Grandma Jean moved out and into her own
place one week later. It was okay though, just a block away.
Yes, it is wierd when your mom is dating. Then again, she was
thirty-one years old, quite pretty and very available A good many
gentlemen callers found their way to our front door. Dr. Leslie Rich
for instance: dentist, boat owner, Porsche driver and big tough guy.
He was one of my favorites. Apparently, however, Mom’s feelings
for him didn’t match mine.
“How would you boys feel about changing your last name
to ‘Grossman’?” Mom queried us on what had been until that
moment an uneventful Saturday afternoon.
“Do what, Mom?” Ron asked incredulously. As my older
brother, I let him take the lead here.
“Well,” she began, taken aback by the abruptness of Ron’s
response. ”I thought it might be a good idea if Mr. Grossman
adopted you boys after we’re married.” We knew Mom had been
dating Mr. Grossman, a fine gentleman and successful businessman,
for some time and were not surprised they had become engaged.
“Well, we have Dad and it’s a terrible idea,” Ron retorted,
an opinion with which I was in complete accord.
“I just thought …” Mom said defensively, backing off at Ron’s
vehemence. “Ronald, where are you taking your brother?”
“We’ll be back later before dinner, Mom! Come on.”
With that Ron grabbed me by the arm and whisked me away.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Got any money? Ron grinned mischievously.
“I got a quarter.”
“Good enough for a couple of games of pinball.”
“Hey yea!” I happily agreed. “What was Mom talking about?”
“You got me,” Ron answered, holding on to my shirt sleeve.
We stopped and looked both ways before crossing
Olive Street to Nelson Burton’s Bowling Alley where we
spent the remainder of the afternoon. You could get an
entire day’s worth of entertainment from a quarter in those
days. Besides we knew how to rig the pinball machines to win
Don’t get me wrong. We loved Mom then as we do now fifty years
later, but what she was thinking that day I can’t fathom. Mom never
brought it up again, thankfully.
Dad remained in Chicago. While true we saw him all too
infrequently, can you imagine how such a betrayal would have
crushed him. Do you see? A father’s presence, even if only periodic,
makes a positive difference.
Dad’s influence in my life didn’t wane due in significant measure to
the positive role Ron played. Though only eighteen months older
than I, Ron stepped into some pretty big shoes but somehow
managed to keep them on. He has always been a “step up to the
plate’ kind of guy. Always bigger and stronger than I, Ron became
part of that great tradition of older brothers everywhere who look
out for their “kid brothers”. And you know I rather liked it. Our
relationship was straight out of “Leave It to Beaver”.
Before our parents divorced, Dad had spent a great deal of time at
the office and, very possibly, too much time there, but he believed
strongly that sacrifice made today would benefit us tomorrow.
This, Ron explained, accounted for his absence at home.
“You got that? So no sad face if he forgets to load up his trunk,
okay?” Ron admonished me, referring to Dad’s previous visit
when he had forgotten to bring down his usual stash of toys.
“Okay, okay I got it,” I said resignedly. While his absence was
not the worst thing imaginable, we would have welcomed a
Though we saw him no more than four times a year, Dad
compensated for the infrequency of his visits by the quality of
the time he spent with us. Spoiling us terribly became standard
procedure to which neither Ron nor I objected. We did, after all,
have a lot of catching up to do.
Besides the absolutely indispensable stuff like eating and Sunday
morning driving lessons, Ron, Dad and I adhered to a fairly set but
not inflexible routine. Saturdays were always rough and tumble,
two kids against one dad. It was simply loads of fun. I mean what
kid couldn’t enjoy giant kosher pickles packaged in brine-filled
plastic bags, drive-in movies, wrestling in Holiday Inn motel rooms,
pocket billiards, bowling and go-carts?
On one occasion, we even sat through four showings of “Sergeants
Three”, a full-length feature starring Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis,
Jr, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin being shown at the Esquire
Theatre at a time when movie theaters were architectural works of
art. Dad recalled every detail of that long afternoon together when I
questioned him about it forty-five years later.
As enjoyable as our times were with Dad, seeing him once every
three to four months for fewer than forty-eight hours wasn’t
enough.My parents spoke together in Mom’s kitchen over a cup
of coffee on those Sunday mornings just before Dad would head
back to Chicago.
“Do you think they’re talking about getting married again?” I
“That’s ‘gotta’ be the dumbest question in the world,” he
responded with typical older brother indelicacy.
God, I hated those meetings. But this one, however, was different
and exciting because Dad, Ron and I would soon be together on the
road, following crooner Nat King Cole’s advice popularized in one
of his most famous songs first recorded in 1946.
Ron and I were indeed fortunate because even though our
parents had recently divorced, they went about their
business of responsibly parenting us as if nothing had befallen
their marriage. To their eternal credit, I never heard either of
them say one unkind word about the other in our presence and,
for that matter, to anyone else. My folks were decent, civil
people. Whatever had happened destroyed their marriage. That
said, I thank them for having never put us in the middle of their
As was pretty much standard practice back then, the courts
awarded custody of the children to the mother. Given Ron’s
and my capacity for mischief, however, I’m not sure if “awarded”
is the most appropriate term. Comparatively speaking, however,
we were no worse than many other kids our age and probably a
great deal better than most. Dad remained, to his credit, a
conscientious father despite his court assignment as the
non-custodial parent. That’s never been an easy thing to do.