Friday, May 11, 2007

You Say "Vacation," She Says "More Work"


She’d married to escape a manic-depressive horrid mother and a beloved, albeit alcoholic, father. Her escape plan included marrying a man nearly six years her senior, an age difference relevant when you’re 19. Her escape plan did not include being saddled with five kids in six years and four months – to the day – but that is exactly what happened.

It was hard work, made harder still by a husband who saw clearly definitive lines of responsibilities: his job was to do his job and her job was to do everything else. When she finally could stand it no longer and managed to take a stand, she said something along the lines of, “Norman, you’re either going to have to help with the dishes or help with the baths.” He complied. He bought her one of those new dishwashing machines.

Her responsibility for everything that was not the Air Force meant she carried the brunt of frequent moves, from Morocco to Massachusetts, pregnant with her first child. And again from Massachusetts to Nebraska, with a 13 month old and a six-week old. And from Nebraska to Massachusetts (yet again!) with a 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old and a six-month old. And from Massachusetts to Virginia, with a 7-year-old, a 6-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old.

So when it came time to move again, with an eldest child of 12 and a youngest child of 6, she felt a bit more capable, a bit more hopeful. But when Norman came home and sprung his magnificent surprise – his words – her hopes were deflated. “I’ve bought a pop-up camper. We’ll drive to Massachusetts to see my folks for two weeks – and maybe even your mother for a day or two – and then we’ll drive across country for three weeks, just you, me and the kids! What a vacation it will be!”

And for him, and the 12-year-old, the 11-year-old, the 10-year-old, the 8-year-old and the 6-year-old, it was a vacation of a lifetime. But for Louise, it was anything but. They stayed no more than a day or two at any one place after leaving his folks’ house in Ludlow. The first night out, the pop-up wouldn’t, well, pop up. And as Norman’s frustration built and the kids all took cover to the far corners of the campground, she was left to bear the brunt of it. She was left to put on a false smile for the men who came to help. She was left to wear that false smile again when the kids came out from their hiding places.

It was a very long three weeks on the road. While they had never had palatial housing on base or off, at least they had lived in homes with indoor plumbing. Trying to juggle meal preparation, dishwashing, kid washing and using the toilet herself once in awhile for God’s sake was too much. And while the sights of America were magnificent, she rarely could allow herself to enjoy them, concerning herself with keeping Norman marginally happy and her kids off each other. Yellowstone? That was when the youngest daughter had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, the night of the bear. Mt. Rushmore? Didn’t Norm Jr. take a bad tumble there? And so on.

The pay-off, of course, was their final destination. Not the way stations along the road. Not seeing her older sister and her family – how does she manage with six kids and that bum of a husband?! – in Southern California. Not Disneyland. Not San Francisco and the youngest nearly falling off the cable car. None of that. No, for Louise, that was just more work.

Her vacation started when she boarded the SS Monterey, the cruise ship the Air Force was footing the bill for her family’s final leg of their journey to Hawaii. To this day, if you say the word “vacation” to Louise, she remembers the ship. The ship with the staff paid to amuse her children all day, every day, for five luxurious days.

I’m sure my mom toasted that staff every night of that cruise.

[Thanks to Scribbit and her May write-away contest for the "vacation" prompt.]

3 comments:

scribbit said...

I love your style of writing, this is excellent. Thanks for entering, good luck!

PunditMom said...

This was a great essay. I can only imagine how many other mothers of that generation have similar stories about their lives and how they turned out.

Thea said...

This was a great story, thank you for sharing!!

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