To say my mother had a tough go of things would be an epic understatement. She was born in 1938 to an Irish Catholic family in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia. She had nine brothers and seven sisters all from the same mother, Clarabelle, who my mother all but deified. Her father was a former Sailor and an alcoholic longshoreman. He was a proud union man with sticky fingers that he used to provide a little extra for himself and his family. It seems that in the 1930's and 40's if you were unloading 10,000 televisions from a ship and a few dozen went missing, no one noticed. Anyone who did notice didn't want to accuse the members of the longshoremen's union of anything untoward. So it was the Thompson's were the first on the block to have an ice box, a television and other modern luxuries. But with 18 mouths to feed, her father developed quite a temper and a rigid set of rules.
His boys were sent to serve in the military as soon as they were of age. His girls were pulled out of school in the 8th or 9th grade and sent to work, their paychecks came to him until they either married or set out on their own. My mother was pulled out of school half way through the ninth grade and sent to work in a local diner. Grandpa may have been a little feely with the girls as well. Mom was never too clear as to the extent of it, but she made it clear that he was "a rotten old bastard who couldn't keep his hands to himself". He was the sort of man that likes to go out drinking with the boys after work, and when he came home, grandma had best have some food on the table or else there might be an ass whoopin' involved. A rotten bastard indeed.
His sons all served in the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps. One summer afternoon, one of my mother's brothers came home from Marine Corps boot camp and decided to give his mother a gift. He was going to have the girls clean the house from top to bottom, Marine Corps style, with toothbrushes. My mother was the only one of the girls to defy him. In retaliation, he kicked all her teeth out of her head. At the age of 16 my mother lost all of her teeth and got dentures. For her defiance of her brother, she also got kicked out of her house. She was on her own at 16 with no teeth and an eighth-grade education, and she never looked back. It was 1954. In 1962, my sister Claire was born in Philadelphia. My sister Joan was born in 1968 in Philadelphia. And I was born in 1978 in Baltimore.
From the time my mother left her father's house, to the time I was born, she had been in two traditional marriages and a common law marriage (which was legal in Pennsylvania at the time but would later be the cause of many headaches). She had worked in a Perdue factory slaughtering chickens and quartering chickens, she had worked in a munitions factory coating rifles in cosmoline for the U.S. Army, she had been a waitress, a secretary, and a janitor. And as far as I can tell from anyone who ever met her, she was as stubborn as they came and never, never backed down from a challenge.
So yes, I believe it is safe to make two claims 1) I come from very hardy stock 2) I will never know strife or hardship as my mother did.