I felt sad talking to the old lady this Sunday morning. The fact is, there were periods in her life that robbed her of a childhood, denied her the pursuit of her dreams and limited her options. Growing up during a global war, living in a broken home, and dealing with poverty as a way of life could strangle even the desire to daydream. Reality bites hard when you’re hungry.
“What was your childhood dream?”
“It was still during the war. I remember walking by the old Killarney home with Ivy one day and daydreaming of what it would be like to live there.”
I had to google the Killarney home. It was what we grew up knowing as Stollmeyer’s Castle. The Scottish Baronial styled property was built in the early 1900s and was used as an administrative building by American soldiers during the second world war.
My mother and her sister, lived in a one-bedroom apartment with my great grandmother Ivy. In 1943, her father returned from one of his many “business” trips abroad with a new family. He didn’t move into the home immediately, preferring instead to live a couple miles away in a separate home with his wife and other daughter.
Killarney – (Stollmeyers Castle)
My mother dreamt of living here one day.
“Was it upsetting in the least when he came home with a new wife and a sister?”
“We were too young to understand what it all meant, and I was just happy to have my father back in the country.”
There is a sadness that she masks ever so well, as she takes the conversation elsewhere for a while to happier times of playing in the streets, or buying candy from the local store, but I eventually got her back to what I wanted to know.
“He was struggling to find work, and I remember one morning the landlord nailed a notice on the front door. He hadn’t paid our rent for over three months.”
The monthly rent of $8 had been overdue for a while. My mother, reflecting on that time, tells me of purchasing a penny’s worth of cooking oil, or a half penny of Norwegian butter. Something that is beyond my comprehension. How could anyone live on ounces of food, let alone feed a family? Why would any man abandon his children? I purposed not to judge anything she may express while we had these conversations. The moral code of a society changes a lot in eighty years.
“Ma Ivy was embarrassed. But daddy got it sorted, he always did.”
“You spoke of not having clothes or shoes, but what about food?”
“He would stop by most evenings and drop off food for myself and Stephanie. Meagre portions. But we had gone all day without food, so it was a belly-full when it did arrive.”
“Why did he maintain two homes?”
“Who knows. But he did eventually move back to the one-bedroom apartment. He couldn’t afford two properties.”
“There were six people in a small apartment?”
“Yes. His new wife and Stephanie who was still a toddler, slept in the bedroom. While nana Ivy, your aunty Pearl and I, slept on the floor in the living room.”
“Did it bother you that you and your grandmother had to sleep on the floor to accommodate his new wife?”
“At the time I was just happy to be up late with Ivy. She would always tell us bedtime stories. If it was a full moon, she would take the two of us outside and teach us songs and tell us scary tales.”
My mother is a master at deflecting. It could not have been easy to understand or cope with those feelings of being replaced or ignored.
“Did you have any animosity toward your new mother or sibling?”
“Children don’t have an ounce of hatred in them. It is taught. I loved and still love all my siblings. Besides, Ivy seemed fine, and she would set the tone for most things in the house.”
My mother has several sisters, and two brothers, all of which are from different mothers. Her little sister, my aunt Stephanie, is the one I am most familiar with, and she was the only sibling that shared the same womb. It seems my grandfather had his own issues with fidelity. But I had promised not to judge.
“Can you tell me about Josephine?” I was curious to know something about one of my grandmothers. I feel like her history is a part of my own story.
“She was a stunner. Good looking, a socialite on her good days, but kept a lot to herself when she was down. She suffered from frequent bouts of depression.”
“Did you have a good relationship with her?”
“From what I can remember of her, she was always kind to me and Stephanie. When she was at a low place emotionally, she would go visit her sister Iona. Then the visits got more frequent, and her absence from home more prolonged.”
“Did she and my grandfather have a good relationship?”
“It seems that way. I do remember one fight, however, where he got drunk and abusive, so we barricaded him in the room, and didn’t let him out until he sobered up vey late the next day. Josephine slept on the floor with us that night.”
“What eventually happened to her?”
“She was institutionalized. They didn’t know how to treat depression effectively back then.”
“How did that affect you, and the family?”
“There is a stigma attached. But we pressed on with life. Ma Ivy had passed, and so the home felt rather lonely. But we also now had a baby brother to look after.”
“With no women around, that must have been tough?”
“We grew up fast after that. Myself and your aunt Pearl did what we had to. Learned how to use our ration cards, shared whatever we could scrape together to eat. It was scary most days, as we had little or no food. I wasn’t even a teenager yet.”
“Did you resent your old man for his philandering as you got older?”
“I learnt as I got older, that there are people who think themselves much more qualified to cast aspersions. I know that I am no saint, so I try never to judge. But I did feel sorry for him… and for his wives.”
My mother did eventually get to visit Stollmeyers Castle, nearly sixty years after wishing she could live there with her family. My brother got married at that location at the turn of the millennium, and I could only imagine what her thoughts were as she sat in that grand old home with two of her sisters present. Life can be poetic that way sometimes.
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