Mom had a way with nails. One bitter Michigan winter, she pounded beef steaks to the back of the house. I didn’t see this with my own eyes. Heard it from my brother-in-law Leroy who explained that the frig hadn’t been working for the last two years. It’s possible that I was more embarrassed than he.
A few years later, after my parents had settled in California, I got a letter from Mom, her singular handwriting sprawled across several small sheets of lined tablet paper. Nestled on one of the pages was her tale about buying a large bunch of green bananas that she had hung in a closet to ripen. When she discovered a rat had had his way with them, she nailed the door shut. Don’t ask.
I didn’t need to ask why periodically Mom would climb down from the marital cross to escape our Dad. Between the steaks and bananas, she secretly took off for California with her two youngest children. I abetted her move by driving her to the Ypsilanti airport for her first flight.
What affixed her there in the first place was a musician who passed through her home state, Kansas, though not before impregnating the newly graduated schoolteacher. Cast out by her mother, scorching words clung to her back: “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”
Mom got as far as a park bench in town, sunk down, and sobbed her heart out. Our father-to-be, an Ohioan working the pipeline, had seen the pretty forlorn flapper walking along the side of the road and offered her a lift. She turned him down flat.
When Dad saw Mom later that day, she spilled her sad story. He promised that if she took up with him, he would never tell anyone he was not the father. And, he never spoke of it, at least not to me. Nor did he ever marry her, though they always presented themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Miller.
Long past the incident, Dad told one of my siblings that he couldn’t understand why Mom had turned down a young buck with a snappy car. I don’t know what he was driving back then; however, owning any car during the depression was close to a miracle. Over the years, he favored fancy cars like Packards and Cadillacs which often ran poorly and were in need of repair.
Mom paid a price for her salvation. Dad made sure she had no money or friends, just kid after kid until there were seven. When she could no longer take the unrelenting harshness, she would sidle down the crucifix and try to make it on her own. The time she headed to the promised land of the West was no different. She was once again snagged in the cross timbers of life, and it was only a matter of time before she climbed back up.
By then Mom and Dad had nailed their routine.