It is remarkable how alike Retired in Delaware and I are, right down to a shared dislike of seafood apparently. Is this because of our place of upbringing or due to the similarities of our fathers?
Did his father change as he aged? My dad grew mellower in the second half of his life. He certainly acted different toward my children than he did toward me growing up, although that is not totally surprising. He treated other people’s children better than me back then too.
Growing up my father always seemed to attract children. Not in any bad way, in a very positive way in fact. Perhaps there was a certain child-like quality to him that caused this phenomenon. And he seemed to genuinely like children. He could tease them and delight them in ways that he never brought to his relationship with his own son. I think both he and I realize today that we will never have the total relationship bond that should exist between a father and son. He has even on occasion actually apologized for how he treated me as a boy.
Perhaps his own childhood affected him. I think of Johnny Cash’s song, “A Boy Named Sue”, in which the father gives his son a girl’s name so the boy will have to learn to be tough. In that song the father deserts the family right after the boy is born and they only meet many, many years later when the boy is grown and sworn he would kill his father, but is stopped when the father explains his reason. You can see a certain perverse thinking toward this type of thing in the instant when he locked me out to face the snowball bullies.
He never beat me, never even spanked me, and seldom even yelled at me. But he wasn’t there most of the time and he made very caustic and hurtful remarks when he was, remarks that did nothing but hit me in my self-esteem. I never felt I pleased him, never felt I could do anything right around him and he never appreciated my abilities. I might have gained more affection from my dad if I had been a guttersnipe. If I was beating up other boys, engaging in some minor vandalism at Halloween or screwing the girls in the back shed, I think he would have shown some admiration. Instead I was reading and writing, drawing pictures, listening to high falutin’ music and talking about cultural issues. He lit up more when my mother discovered my stash of Playboy magazines hidden in the upper shelf of my closet. “So you’re a real man, after all.”
He only indicated knowledge of my artistic abilities when we were in a garage full of grease monkeys and he told me to draw a naked woman on the door.
My father did not have an easy life and I cannot fault him on his hard work and how he always provided for the family. As a child he had been diagnosis with TB and pulled from school and sent off to isolation until it was discovered the doctor had made a mistake and he didn’t have the disease. He came back to school, but dropped out in Junior High because he got tired of school. He was a tough kid, handsome and strong.
In 1937, his father, Benjamin Franklin M. III, his grandfather, William E. T. and his grand Uncle James Hunter T. all died of pneumonia. I think my father had a closer relationship to the Ts then to his own family and this was a bitter blow. His own father had been a partial invalid even before the year he died. He had injured his back in an accident related to the family’s lumber mill. As a result he was given the job of running the family store. When his father died, my dad went into the Civilian Conservation Corps that Roosevelt had set up for young men during the depression. He helped build the Skyline Drive through Virginia. This was a semi-military organization, so they had uniforms and lived in barracks. Most of their money was sent home to support their families, and he was supporting his mother and two younger brothers. This is also why my father has been a loyal Democrat his whole life, even though he married a girl from a staunch Republican family.
The M.’s apparently owned several businesses in and around Modena. The lumber mill, the general store and my great grandfather William Wilson M. I also owned several rental properties. Modena today is pretty run down. The old steel plant there closed many moon ago and the town has deteriorated. The old store still stands, as do the homes my father lived in as a boy. There is a street that was once called M. Row, but now called M. Plaza or Place or some upscale sounding name, although the street looks like a slum. It seemed to be occupied by Hispanics now, who eyed Noelle and I very suspiciously the last time I visited the spot about a year ago.
William the First also owned several rental properties in West Chester. In 1950, he died in one of these West Chester homes. He was 84 years old. At the reading of the will he basically cut his grandsons out. He left my father the $300 he had loaned him to buy a car and nothing else. This was not for anything my father or his brother’s had done, except for being born. The M.’s held a grudge against them because they believed my father’s mother had seduced his father, that she was a uppity employee of theirs who had lured the owner’s son into sex. Florence T. was twenty-five and pregnant when she married Benjamin Franklin M. III in 1918. Ben was 18 or 19 at the time.
How different would my life had been, I wonder, if any of the M. properties had been handed down to my father? Instead everything went to William the First oldest son, John M. I don’t know if his other child, Ellen, received much of anything. I do not know what my Grand Uncle John M.’s middle name was, but it may have been Miser. This man held on to money so tight, he deflated it. He would squeeze a quarter until it was reduced to a dime. When he came to my wedding, he stopped in a Coatesville Drugstore and bought this cheap, ugly bowl off a shelf as our wedding gift.
(Isn’t it strange how the rich can act as if they are the poorest? My Grand uncle John was that way and on the W. side was my cousin Bob. Bob started as a farmer, but got into real estate. He was very successful at it and then started buying hotels, improving them and reselling them. He once owned the Eagle Tavern and the Swan Hotel as well as others. Yet at my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary he gave us this cheap blanket for a single bed. But I guess that’s how the rich stay rich – they keep it all for themselves.)
Still and all, one would almost think that my father would have thought of how he had been treated by his own family and been better to his own son. But maybe it is a disease of the truck driver. At least Ron and I might have had a support system. Richard W.’s father was also a truck driver, although he drove a dump truck locally and was home every night. Richard was constantly under the gun, but he got it from both his father and mother. His younger brother was always thrown in his face, “Why can’t you be more like Tommy?”
In truth, Tommy was a brat, fat and arrogant, disrespectful, conniving, and as an adult something out of a soap opera, in that he managed to impregnate both a girl and her mother in the same year. Only recently did I begin to wonder something. Richard’s mother had been married before she married his father. She had been married to the Mayor of Pottstown, but they divorced. I have begun to wonder if Richard was the offspring of the first husband and that is why he suffered so much grief. He certainly looked different than his younger brother and younger sister. The two younger siblings bore a striking resemblance, but Richard didn’t.
I grew up with both my mother and grandmother doting on me, and my maternal grandfather was a surrogate father for many years. He and I were pretty close, despite his gruffness and roughness, until after his leg-shattering accident at the iron works afterwhich he drowned himself in alcohol to escape the pain. Ron seemed to have a very nice mother and he had two brothers as well, and though Ron talks of the rivalry, it sounds as if he was close to them.
At any rate, we don’t get to choose our parents and we survived to be what we are, and I don’t think either of us has done badly for it, at least not as persons.