|Back in our day . . .||
I was ages 2 - 12 in the 1950s, so absolutely a child of that decade, which coincidentally happened to have been the last full decade in which the nuclear family was considered the norm. For the benefit of you youngsters, the nuclear family was that model in which Dad went to work and brought home the bacon, and Mom stayed home, cooked it, and kept hearth and home running between meals. You can see how this worked in black-and-white reruns of Leave it to Beaver, Dennis the Menace, and Father Knows Best. I sometimes try to envision my parents in that relationship; it isn't a pretty picture!
It starts in the late afternoon, as Dad (the navy diver) comes into the house, tired and grimy from a hard day of underwater lint removal (or whatever his job was...), kicks his way through the sea of empty milk cartons, formula boxes, and soiled diapers to the dining room table, where he asks Mom (the professional gambler), "What's for dinner, honey?"
To which she replies, "Whatever you feel like fixing, dear!"
Dad's name was Carl William Tyler, native of Decatur, Georgia, and he may have felt trapped by unexpected parenthood, or he may have just had a handle on who Mom was by then, but whatever the case, he was long gone by the time I was able to form memories. Mom wasn't far behind, and likely I was the better for it, but all I have to piece together into a narrative of my parents' life before Little Jack came along is the word of two older women who wouldn't have peed in his face if his beard was on fire. So search your pantry for a large grain of salt, and then we'll continue.
Got it? Good.
Given that Dad was 21 in 1948, he must have joined the navy right after World War II. Family lore is that he was involved in the Bikini A-Bomb tests, though as junior as he would have been at the time, he probably wouldn't have been in the water, but rigging gear for the divers, tending the compressors, that sort of thing. But here's an interesting factoid: Dad is out on a boat in the radioactive lagoon for a couple of weeks, and not long after, he's back in San Diego laying the keel of Little Jack. Ever since I can remember, I have carried a static charge that can knock people down. It has been suggested that if I could learn to control it, I could be a legitimate superhero. I can't go shopping alone on a dry summer day, because I don't dare touch the store shelves, and when I take off a wool sweater, the fireworks display rivals the Fourth of July. Coincidence?
By the way, I inherited a number of these photographs, including some that aren't the famous ones you often see in the magazines:
Here's a little-known fact: Most people assume that vertical black smudge at the right side of the water column is a shadow, or a flaw in the film. Not so. It is the 26,000 ton battleship U.S.S. Arkansas being blown completely out of the water like a bathtub toy.
But I digress. In San Diego, Dad served aboard the U.S.S. Sperry, a submarine tender. Family lore says that, when he found out that Mom was pregnant, he passed the hat among his buddies to collect the money for an abortion. Abortion was illegal in 1948, but as San Diego is a stone's throw from Tijuana, Mexico, this was hardly an insurmountable problem. She is said to have taken the money to an address reputed to be that of an abortionist, only to find he had been called away by a family emergency. Rather than wait for his return, she used to money to go on a weekend drunk, which is why I'm here to tell this story. True? Who knows? The source is hardly unbiased, but I wasn't there (in the figurative sense), and it is part of the narrative that forms my self-image, and colors my view on abortion. Anyway, it is said that when she returned still pregnant, he took her for a moonlight stroll in Balboa Park, and on the most remote athletic field of San Diego High School, tried to kick me out of her. That I got from Mom's own lips, so I give it a little more credence.
Okay, so I probably dodged a bullet (literally?) by never knowing that guy. What sort of person was Mom? At 16, Kay Frances Jentoft, late of El Centro, California, was dealing an illegal card game in the back room of a waterfront bar along the San Diego shoreline (it wasn't always the upscale tourist mecca it is known as now), and doing her own bouncing, so Dad may not have had the easiest contest of his career when he assaulted her...
Mom was in and out of my life until we parted ways over her dumping heavy adult business on my 7-year old daughter, so that would have been 1985. I finally began to get to know her when I spent a few weeks in the summer of 1960 at her little crash pad in Ocean Beach, one of the classic Southern California beach towns. The thing about Mom is that she had the true gambler's outlook, that yesterday is history, tomorrow is a crapshoot, and all you really have is right now. Sometimes being around her was more like having a big sister than a mother, and when things were going well, it almost felt like we were on a caper together. On the other hand, Mom wasn't ever quite happy unless she wasn't happy. She was an emotional black hole that could suck the joy out of a room just by walking in the door, and if she had designed her own coat of arms, emblazoned on the traditional ribbon across the bottom would have been O Me Miseram, which I am reliably informed is the Emperor's Latin for "Oh, poor me!"
By the time I was making memories, I had been placed with her mother and grandmother to raise. She always said they had had me made a ward of the court, as she was, by dint of her profession, unfit by the standards of the day to be a mother. They as vehemently denied it, but I tend to believe Mom on this one. See, in California, when you take in a foster child, you get a monthly payment to defray expenses, and given their "love" of children, I can't imagine them keeping one in their home without being paid for it. In this day and age, court records can be researched on the Internet, but I've never done it, I think because I prefer the ambiguity. Weird I suppose, but that allows me to keep thinking that someone in my family wanted me...
Sounds like a big sob story, but I've never cared for sympathy. This is just the story, as best as I have been told by a bunch of people who hated each other, of my parents early life, and why, in that age when it was rare to find a single-parent child, I didn't have any. It was probably for the best. Had Mom and Dad tried to stay together, I probably would have witnessed a murder around the age of five.
So this is the environment that produced me, and now you all know where I came from. I intend to go further, much further, down the road of nostalgia, but first I must ask everyone to tighten up your seat belts, place your chairs in the upright positions, and make sure there is a supply of airsickness bags in the pocket in front of you. When everyone is ready, we'll take another excursion.
'Til then, all the best!
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??