Decisions push Tommy down a path
Daily, people make decisions. Most have an almost immediate result. Other decisions however are made that don’t at the time appear to have any significant impact. It’s not for years that the full impact will ever be known. There were several of th0se made in my early life, two of which I will share with you by telling a story of my parents, early in their relationship.
The Second World War is over now and the beginning of what has become known as the “baby boomer” generation is starting to be born. Hazel and Bill, recently released from the military, have now started setting up their new life together in Massachusetts, with their newly born baby boy.
After settling down in a small apartment in Action and getting into some sort of normal routine, Bill started looking for work in and around the Boston area. He really didn’t have a profession, but even so tried retail sales, gardening, manufacturing and anything else that he could think of. He simply could not come up with anything that he wanted to do and that would support his family. It seems that all of the jobs created in support of the war were now closing down. This, of course, was not the only problem, the sheer number of people trying to find work had increased tremendously. Besides the normal job seekers, there was this influx from people leaving the military. It was an unending task for Bill and as he went from interview to interview at various companies. In his travels, he noticed that he kept running into the same people looking for the same jobs as he was. It was during one of these times, sitting in a waiting room, that he met James. There was nothing necessarily special about James. He was just another guy looking for a job. The thing that drew them together was the fact that James was from Chicago just as Bill was, so they struck up a friendship and easily fell into talking about the good old days back home.
They were even from the same part of town. Therefore, when they shared stories with each other, they related because they each knew the same places. After some time this occasional relationship moved from a chance meeting at a job interview to a time that they would meet in a bar in the afternoon to discuss each other’s success or failure in the job search. Thus, allowing much more time and freedom to continue building their friendship. As it turns out, no one is quite sure if their meeting was a stroke of luck or the stroke of the axe that started the spilt in the log. I guess that would depend on your point of view.
Meanwhile Hazel was busy working on the house and becoming reacquainted with all of her friends and relatives. It had been tough on her not being able to have contact with anyone during her time away in the Army. Now that she was home at last, she took every possible opportunity to go and sit with a friend and simply visit and talk. She felt like, finally, her life was on track and it felt good. Even her mother seemed to be acting differently towards her. She could not quite put her finger on it, but it almost felt like respect. Could it be that joining the Army during the war, serving for four years, getting married and coming home with a new son, was all it took to gain her mother’s respect? She would have to think about that. However, right now she didn’t want to, because it might cloud her feelings of completeness.
Unfortunately, her wonderful feelings were short lived. It seems that Bill had been talking with James again and James had told him of the new job opportunities opening up in Chicago. It took Bill quite a while to convince his wife that they needed to move to Chicago. Of course, her friends and family were not in Chicago. However, the truth that was for months he had been beating the pavement and so far had not gotten any job offers. The one job offer, a stock clerk at the local drug store, just was not going to pay enough. He needed a real job with which he could support his family and those real jobs were in Chicago. This she knew.
It’s off to Chicago
They were on their way, to Chicago. The train left Boston at 7:30 in the morning and as she sat there watching out the window, her friends, family, Boston and then Massachusetts faded into the distance. The further they traveled the larger that the feeling of loss was building within her. She never did want to move to Chicago, but she had agreed with Bill because there just did not seem to be a choice. Part of her feeling of loss was that she hoped that she had not forgotten anything or anyone. In the short weeks before leaving, she had tried to visit with all of her friends so that she could say good-by and attempt to make some plans for a get together again in the future. She really needed to know that this was not the end of the story. She needed to know that she would be coming home, sometime, if only to visit.
It took 3 days on the train to get there, but finally they pulled into the station and they would be able to walk, talk and eat without feeling as if the earth was clickity-clacking underneath their feet. After a few hours of looking for their luggage, they emerged from the station to look for a cab. What greeted them was simply overwhelming for Hazel. She was a country girl from Acton and this looked like some sort of foreign country to her. She had been into Boston many times, but that did not compare to the noise and hustle and bustle of this big city. She wanted to get right back on that train and head east again. Making matters worse suddenly about 15 people attacked them. All of them were throwing their arms around them with hugs and kisses. She got this real fear and thought seriously that she was going to faint right there on the sidewalk and she may have done just that except for the realization that she was holding her baby in her arms. The fear of his falling was enough keep her up.
Who were all these people? She didn’t recognize any of them. This was all so confusing. Was this a mugging? Then she realized that Bill seemed to know these people. Well, at least it is not a mugging, “that’s good”, she thought. Finally, Bill introduced her to his father in the middle of this chaotic scene. All these people, somehow, knew that they would be arriving on this train and had come to welcome them to Chicago. “Telling me beforehand about this little family greeting would have been nice”, she thought to herself.
They found an apartment right in the city and with Bill’s fathers help they managed to pay the security deposit. They also had just enough money left over to send for their belongings that had been in storage back in Massachusetts. Bill found a job with the Post Office and life started to settle into a daily routine. Bill spent a lot of time with his family and friends, unfortunately, leaving Hazel at home alone a lot of the time. Even when she did go with him, she just never seemed to fit in. She just was not able to get close to these people. Even trying to talk and go shopping with the women of the family, she just never really connected. She would always head back to the apartment with a lonely feeling in her gut, the one that had started on the train ride. This thought came to her quite often and it didn’t make much sense to her. She had been alone for four years in the Army. However, somehow, this was different and she didn’t know how or why. There had been an occasional friend, who could be lost as quickly as made. All that time she certainly missed her family and friends but she never felt this strong sense of loss and loneness. Being in Chicago was different and that’s what was confusing to her. She was with her husband and baby and his big family and she still felt more alone than she had been in the Army.
They had been there for about 6 months when Bill came home a little late one evening. She didn’t really think about it too much but she was concerned because he normally came home at the same time every evening. He explained that he had stopped by after work to see his old friend James. It seems that James had recently taken his own advice and moved to Chicago. Hazel wasn’t very pleased to hear this news because, Bill and James had started spending a little too much time together in the bars back in Massachusetts. Actually, this had been one of those, untold, reasons for her agreement to move here. She was getting concerned about all the partying and drinking. It seems that, that problem had just followed her to Chicago.
She shared her concerns about the drinking with Bill but, of course he sort of just wrote it off, explaining that he and James were simply friends and that in Massachusetts they had needed to bond with each other, so that they wouldn’t miss Chicago as much. He also assured her that they probably would not see that much of each other because they both had their individual families here and that they didn’t have that much in common anyway. She silently nodded, ok, but inside she had that all to-familiar uneasy feeling about the situation.
Several weeks went by without a mention of James so she started thinking maybe she had been over reacting. It was a Friday night and Bill had made some plans to go and play poker with some of his friends. Bill suggested that they get a babysitter and she could join him, but she declined saying that she would rather just sit at home and read a good book. Off he went saying he would be home by 11:00pm. Well, 11:00 o’clock came and went and finally at about 1:00 in the morning she finally put her book down and headed for bed. She had just dozed off when she heard loud talking in the living room. It felt like an hour before they finally settled down or at least the loud talking had stopped. Bill didn’t come to bed so she just assumed that he was out on the couch and decided to leave him there until morning. Her final thought before drifting off to sleep was, I hope he’s uncomfortable, it’ll serve him right.
She woke up in the morning with the sun streaming in through the window. Upon realizing that Bill was not in bed with her, she got a sudden panic attack. Then she remembered the night before and started hoping that he might have a backache from sleeping on the couch. There was no noise out there yet but she wanted to get up and make coffee. She slipped her robe on and silently opened the bedroom door. Sure enough, there was Bill sleeping on the couch and snoring up quite a storm as well. She started tiptoeing across the room when a movement to her left drew her attention. There was a man sleeping in the stuffed chair. She simply stood there staring as recognition began to hit her. She was staring at James.
The pattern grew slowly but soon every Friday and Saturday nights Bill was going out with his friends. He’d come home late at night and try to say that he was sorry, but she was getting tired of it and didn’t see any end to it. She never knew for sure that James was there but she certainly felt in her heart that he was and she was not happy about it. Whenever the two of them got together, it seemed that there was always trouble. Fortunately, nothing serious, the worst being bar fights and of course Hazel had to patch him up when he came home, drunk and beaten.
Months of the same went by and Hazel’s feeling of loss and her inability to feel welcome here and not really knowing anybody and her dislike for the city, started getting the best of her. When she had arrived in Chicago it was bearable, but now it was beginning to be more than she could handle. One night, while Bill was out, she called home to talk with a friend about the situation. They talked and talked and finally her friend blurted out asking if she had considered leaving Bill and moving back east. Wow, that came as a total shock. However, deep inside she had to admit it was not totally unexpected. It must have been somewhere in her unconscious mind because acceptance came so easily. After hanging up, it was definitely time for her to think about this and think about this a lot. She and her baby’s future were at stake.
It was a week later when she called her friend again and told her that she had made a decision. Decision number one has been made. She explained that she had come to realize that she didn’t really love Bill and had gotten married searching for fun, love and a happy home. None of that was here. What she had done wrong was to get married searching for love instead of getting married because of love. She now knew that the only way she was going to find love was to go home and fix things up there first. If she couldn’t find love within her own family then how could she ever expect to find it anywhere else? It was final then; she’d leave Bill, take the baby and move back to Massachusetts.
Hazel Returns to Acton
After divorcing Bill, settling all her affairs in Chicago, Hazel was again on the train. This time, however, it is headed east instead of west and she was very happy with her decision. The closer she got to Massachusetts the happier she felt. Upon her arrival at the train station in Acton, her mother and a few close friends met her. With lots of hugs and kisses, she was home again.
Along with the help of family and friends, they were able to find a small apartment. Quickly furnished with items from here and there, she now began to set up her new home. She never liked asking for help from anyone. It had always been easier for her to be totally independent and not owing anything to anyone. She also liked being able to say, “I did that myself without anyone’s help.” Therefore, it was hard for her to accept all the help offered to her, but she also realized that she was in no position at this time to stand on her pride. She needed the help and readily accepted it. However, they were all told and understood that they would all be repaid, thus keeping her pride intact.
Soon it was time for her to go out and find employment. Fortunately, it didn’t take very long as she had been educated and trained in the Army as a nurse. She was easily able to find work at Emerson Hospital in Concord, a neighboring town. On the one hand, this was good news as she could afford the rent for the apartment as well as putting plenty of food on the table. On the other hand, it created a problem, because she had an infant son that needed constant care. Her dilemma was how to juggle time for a full time career and take care of her son at the same time.
Her first instinct, however hard for her, was to turn to her mother for help. This was certainly not easy nor something that she wanted to do at all. What she did not know at the time was that her mother already had her hands full and was not going to be able take this on. To understand this we need to go back in time a bit.
Hazel’s brother, Harold had been married to Alberta years prior to the war They had four children, my cousins. After Harold returned from the war, he suffered a mental breakdown and spent almost the rest of his life in mental hospitals. Alberta, believing that she was protecting her children refused to allow them to know anything about their father, let alone visit him. Unfortunately, she was unable to cope with all of this and turned to alcohol, leaving her four children without any sort of parenting. Hazel’s mother, being able to at this point of her life, stepped up to the plate and provided the time and care that they so desperately needed in order to feel part of a nurturing home. This consumed most of her time and became the issue that forced Hazel to make the decision that she did when it came to my care. It feels like there should have been another choice for her, when it came to her son’s care.
Hazel’s time was running out and she had to make a decision on what she felt was best for their future. Her choices seemed to be; 1) go onto welfare so that she could stay home and care for her son and at some time in the future, climb up and out of welfare, or 2) find some sort of day care that was affordable for her son and continue pursuing her nursing career. Option 1 was attractive because it postponed any decisions until sometime in the future. The government would take care of them until she was able to get back onto her feet. Of course, with anything simple there come risks. For example, would it ever come down to their taking her son? However, it seemed like the only alternative to her because she was just unable to find anyone who could provide care for her son at an affordable rate. That is, until she met the person who would introduce her to her savior.
Hazel finds her Savior
She was working as a nurse at Emerson hospital and just happened to be speaking casually with one of the doctors, a Dr. Hooper, or Pat as we all learned to call him. She shared with him her troubles in finding childcare as well as her desire to continue her nursing career. It turned out Dr. Hooper had married the daughter of a woman that took in children on a temporary basis. He said that she should go and visit with her and that Hazel might be happy with the outcome.
On a cool Saturday afternoon, we find Hazel driving towards the small town of Sudbury. After a 20-minute drive, hazel see what she’s been looking for and turns into an opening in a long running stonewall, which has a head stone marked with Clarklands. The driveway leads her to a wonderful old farmhouse. She’s apprehensive about the interview with a Maude Clark, the woman that might be taking care of her two year old son.
Mum, who is about 65 years old at the time with mostly grey hair opens the door and with her friendly manner, simply smiles and says, “You must be Hazel.”
“Yes I am. Your son in law, Dr. Hooper, said that I should come and see you. He thinks that you might be able to help me.”
“Well, let’s see what we can do for you. Please come in, have a cup of coffee and tell me all about it.”
While enjoying the coffee, Hazel became very comfortable and found herself telling Maude everything. She spoke of meeting Bill, moving to and from Chicago, and now trying to build a career in nursing, and her financial problems with raising a son.
Hazel learned of Maude’s love for all people with a special spot in her heart for children and helping them in any way that she could. Hazel found it hard to believe her luck in finding such a person, it just seemed too good to be true, a perfect match.
“Maude, it seems like Dr. Hooper was right about you. The problem is though; I don’t have a lot of money and I’m not sure I can pay you enough.”
“Tell me exactly what you’d like me to do and I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”
“Let’s see, I mostly work the night shift which means that I need to sleep during the day. I set it up this way so that I’d be free during the weekends. I will need to work some weekends, but I’ll try and to keep that to a minimum. I hope that we could work it out so that Tommy could go to school here in Sudbury during the week and I’d be able to come and pick him up on the weekends. Is this too much time for you to handle?”
“As it turns out, my husband recently passed away and I find myself with extra time on my hands. Therefore, time is not really an issue at all. I think that it might be very good for your son to have the experience of living on a small town farm. We don’t have too many animals left, but we have some chickens, a goat, and a cow, and there are fields to run in and a barn to have as a playhouse.”
They sat there for a few moments in their own thoughts. Hazel thinking about how exciting and educational this would be for Tommy, but how could she afford it. Maude’s thoughts were how nice it would be to have an infant around the house again and that maybe she could make a few dollars while at the same time helping this young mother in her time of need.
She finally blurted out to Hazel, “How does $40 sound?”
“Oh, I’m afraid I can’t pay that. That would be $160 a month and I just don’t’ make that much.”
“Heavens no.” Maude said, “I was thinking of $40 a month.”
“Really, you’d give him housing and feed him for $40 a month? That’s wonderful and if you’re serious, we’ll be back on Sunday afternoon, with $40.”
“Yup, I’m serious and I’ll have his room all set for him on Sunday when you get here.”
Hazel just could not believe her luck and rushed back to thank Dr. Hooper for this reference. Decision number 2 had been made.
Maude Moore Clark, or Mum as we all knew her, had just become my second or foster mother.