You’ll love this story, dear readers. Dawn has written a number of stories as class assignments, but had never written anything directly about her parents. When I called this to her attention, she produced this wonderful piece. Maybe it will give you ideas for a story you could write about your parents’ relationship.
IT’S NICE TO KNOW
by Dawn Peck
In the musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” there is a duet between Tevye, the bombastic traditionalist dairyman, and his practical, no-nonsense wife, Golde, in which he asks her plaintively, “Golde – do you love me?” She is amazed, doesn’t know what to say – after all, they’ve been married 25 years, have three daughters they’re about to marry off, have survived trouble and joy together. What kind of a question is that? Well, that’s pretty much how I would have reacted if anyone had ever asked me, “Do your parents love each other? How do you know?” Unless their parents are very demonstrative or their home is completely dysfunctional, most children never give it a thought. In fact, once they’re past the age of believing in the stork, they’re usually convinced that they and their siblings were created by some form of immaculate conception. After all, THEIR parents would never do THAT!
I definitely fit in with most children and completely missed all the signs over the years that showed just how my parents felt about each other. I never knew until much later that the 1928 Hudson sedan in the garage was theirs because my mother realized how important that new car was to my father when they got married even though he tried to insist that furniture for their first home together should top the list. “Why don’t we just rent a furnished place for a while until we find just what we want?” she suggested. Yes, she wanted new furnishings to go with their new marriage, but she knew how he felt about a new car and she wasn’t going to have him feel that he’d had to give up something right at the start.
I missed the fact that my father, in Detroit, had completely cut off contact with his sister across the bridge in Windsor, Canada, for nearly 15 years because she and my mother had disagreed. (I have no idea what caused the split.)
I never saw how my mother saved my father’s pride one Depression Thanksgiving when money was too tight to afford a turkey. “Well,” said Mother sturdily, “it’s not OUR holiday anyway. Let’s just have what we like.” As soon as money was more plentiful though, we “liked” turkey.
Except in the very worst weather, my father walked just over a mile to work at the Hudson Motor Car Company. In the early days, when he got there his job often kept him outside most of the day too. In winter when he got home, no matter what the time, there were warm slippers by the front door and the heavy dark armchair pulled up and turned around to face the hot air register, standing in for a fireplace. While my mother finished getting dinner ready, there Dad would sit with his Camel cigarettes, a nice hot cup of tea and his copy of the Detroit Free Press, completely content. (It was always the Free Press. The Detroit News was deemed too reactionary and the Detroit Times too full of sensationalist nonsense.) In summer, along with the cigarettes and newspaper, there were always ice tea and a folding deck chair ready on the porch.
After dinner, my father almost always washed the dishes. As soon as I was big enough to think I was helping, he’d tie a dishtowel around my neck to neatly cover my dress. “Come on, luv,” he’d say, “let’s do some pearl diving. Give your mother a chance to put her feet up and read the paper in peace.” It never occurred to me that he was probably one of the very few men of his generation who washed the dishes without there being a family emergency and never felt demeaned by doing “women’s work.”
My father wasn’t absent-minded; often he just didn’t pay attention to where he had left things. “Duck, where are my car keys?” (They were always his keys; my mother didn’t drive.) “Have you seen my glasses?” “Now where did the sports page go?”
“Honestly,” she’d reply, “Fonce Baker, I’m going to call you ‘Where is it.’” She was the only one who called him “Fonce,” short for Alphonsus, his middle name, and she always said it with amused affection. And she always found the missing object for him. I think now it was almost a game.
Did my parents ever fight? NO! I honestly never even heard them argue, though, being ordinary people, not saints, they may have saved some firm words for when I wasn’t around. They simply talked things through and cooperated on what was best for everyone. If something was really important to one of them, the other gave in because seeing their “better half” happy was more important than winning.
We got our first radio when I was about six and it must have been a major unnecessary expense at the time. My mother urged my father to go ahead and get it, but although my father eagerly listened to every baseball game from April to September, I never once heard my mother tune in to a soap opera or “Ladies Hour.” We did, however, listen to the King’s speech to the British Empire every Christmas morning, a tradition that all the family on both sides of the Atlantic could participate in together. Canada and Detroit were so close there that we routinely listened to each other’s radio stations and it certainly came in handy.
They led a quiet life, didn’t go in for clubs or parties. Only two other couples, plus my godmother and her family in Windsor, were close friends and they didn’t live nearby. With my dad Catholic and my mother Protestant, they chose not to have close ties with either church in case the other spouse didn’t feel comfortable. They didn’t visit Dad’s sister and her family in Windsor until one of her sons, Raymond, was reported killed in the Dieppe raid in France and we went to the memorial service. However, there were joyous celebrations there when Raymond was later reported not dead but missing, then a P.O.W. in Germany, and more celebration when he finally came home. Even with a war, their lives were thankfully uneventful, with all the relatives on both sides of the family surviving the war in England and service throughout the world without injury.
They took a yearly vacation traveling together, with me along when I was a child, of course. My mother’s ambition was to at least have stepped foot in every state before she went “home.” They made it to all the states but neither one ever got back to England. They played canasta together when that was popular, and when my dad, who loved horseracing, retired, they went to the races together and played his “system,” which at least allowed him to break even. However, when, at the age of 74, they moved into a “55-and-older” condominium complex, my father enjoyed his weekly poker games in the clubhouse and my mother joined the local chapter of the Daughters of the British Empire and enjoyed their monthly meetings. After all, they were comfortable retirees with plenty of time to relax at last, not hermits.
But did they love each other? Shortly before his death, my father reached out to me one day, held my arm tightly and said, “Luv, when I’m gone…..don’t let your mother be lonely.”
Well, of course not, I thought, and I really tried. But I finally realized that even an only daughter and four well-loved grandchildren couldn’t replace the loved one who was gone. They hadn’t had clubs and parties because they didn’t need clubs and parties. They hadn’t had many friends because they didn’t need many friends. They were complete in their own world.
But did they love each other? Well, to paraphrase Tevye and Golde as they ended their duet, “It doesn’t change a thing, but even so, after all these years, it’s nice to know.”