My mother was a strict disciplinarian. Actions always had consequences, either positive or negative. Hard work, resulted in pay, crimes resulted in punishment. She believed in right and wrong, although sometimes, her measure of what was right and what was wrong may have been a little different than that of most people. My mother had a fairly strict sense of honor, though she would not have defined it in such lofty words. She believed in family. She believed that you do whatever is necessary to care for your family, even if that meant you had to "beg, borrow or steal". She was a religious woman who believed that Jesus was her savior and that there were a very definite heaven and hell. We said our prayers every night.
Sunday mornings smelled of Lemon Pledge and Murphy's Oil Soap. At this point in my mother's life, she cleaned banks, office buildings and at least one Gold's Gym for a living. These were the tools of her trade, and she definitely had favorites. The house would be filled with the sounds of Elvis Presley blaring from our floor model hi-fi stereo. For my mother, Sunday mornings started around 5 am and they included cleaning the house, listening to Elvis, making us breakfast and watching the news and smoking cigarettes while we ate and then got ready for church. All of these sounds and smells (except the cigarettes) still conjure fond memories of comfort and home for me. To my mother, the two worst things you could be were ungodly and unclean.
I don't recall what church we attended, but I know that we went regularly. Sometimes I would attend the sermon with my mother in the pews, but more often than not, I would go to Sunday school with the kids while my mother and sister went to the boring adult sermon in the pews. I sang songs, said prayers, colored pages and learned the story of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It was just what people did on Sundays, I assumed. It never occurred to me that anyone might do anything differently.
At some point along the way, we stopped going to church. I don't remember the details, but I do recall that my mother was having trouble "making ends meet" and so she asked the church for help. They offered prayers. Prayers don't pay bills or put food on the table. That's what my mom said. She also noted that they were still quick to pass the collection plate to her during the service that day. We didn't go to church anymore. My mother had declared that they were a bunch of con artists. But we still said our prayers every night. Jesus was still our savior. There was no changing that.
I don't recall precisely when I found out that my sister Joan was doing more than driving around when she was out with her friends. But it turns out that at some point, she had gotten pregnant with one of her friends. I didn't really know what this meant. But it seemed clear that it was something that was not supposed to have happened, at least not yet. My mother made it abundantly clear that Joan had been too young. Eventually, it seemed evident that a new child may be joining our house. This seemed exciting and interesting to me. I could use someone to play with. Up until then, I mostly only played alone, or with my best friend Sammy Cavanaugh from two houses down. But it seemed like this new kid might not come. My mother and sister had a lot of heated arguments where they used the word abortion. I didn't know what that was. But I knew that my mother kept saying the phrase "abortion is murder". I knew that murder meant killing someone. Was someone trying to hurt this kid? Surely my mom would never let that happen, she'd save the kid for sure!
During the heated arguments between my mother and sister, they also talked about adoption. I distinctly remember my mother telling my sister "if you give this child up for adoption you will think about it every year on its birthday and on Christmas and on Easter. You will wonder if it's okay and how it is being treated and what it is doing." I remember wondering what kid they were talking about. The answer would become evident soon enough. They eventually explained to me that my sister was pregnant. Eventually, she began to show. Joan was only fifteen. She was still in high school at Chesapeake High, at least for the time being.
For reasons beyond my recollection, my sister dropped out of high school. I cannot recall if it was her decision, or how my mother felt about it, but I know it was a decision that likely made her life more difficult, and was likely the beginning of the rift that would later form between her and our mother.