Mommas, don’t let your daughters grow up to be playwrights
Part Two…Normal Life in the flood zone
– Susan Reinhard 8/30/14
By 1957, my father’s job at Bethlehem Steel was starting to have layoffs and closedowns. He had already been injured twice: a hernia and a huge burn down his arm from hot steel racing down a chute. I was never sure what he did there but Mom was relatively happy staying home as a housewife. She had her backyard friends to talk to over the fence and her constant stream of cigarettes which were considered normal and healthy back then. We did notice her sitting on the couch for hours, playing with the filter of the cigarette while she thought of things. (I didn’t realize where I got the daydreaming from until years later.)
Underemployed, Dad started a correspondence course for being a draftsman, copying building plans in the days before computers and copiers. The shut downs at the Bethlehem were getting longer and longer. My Uncle Rich, the third child of the family (Dad was first, causing the shotgun disaster of my grandparents’ marriage) and lived outside of Cleveland, Ohio working for Ford Motors. Rich had found a lengendary soft job. He was a tinker, a metal worker, and Ford paid him not to do any actual work, just not to work for anyone else. Uncle Rich earned a good salary for staying home. Cleveland seemed like Nirvana, so my Dad packed up our 1940 Plymouth that looked like a huge olive on wheels and for which he had paid $90 in 1954, and went to Cleveland to look for work, leaving us behind to wait.
Most of my life in Johnstown before the age of 7 had been fairly normal, with healthy home cooked food and baking only done on a Saturday night. I had a magic ability to make fudge turn out perfectly and my sister and I played in the back yard and went to dangerous places alone, like the River’s edge (the same river from The Johnstown Floods) and a half built stone garage with teetering rocks. Mom wanted us out of the house and her hair from morning till dinner and we obliged. School was sufficient to keep us away during most of the year but summer vacation was the challenge. I remember we went up on a mountain and while dangling from the edge of a waterfall, lost my shoes. No reprimand for the daredevil events, just the missing shoes. Television really wasn’t a big part of our lives because that was for Mom to watch while we stayed out of her hair, but I remember good Christmases and fun Saturday night dinners. My mother had been raised by her great grandmother, having been abandoned by both her parents, and despite her house being full of old newspapers and snarling dogs, we loved Grandma Berner as every visit, she always had a warm Pepsi and a silver dollar for us.
But suddenly, one day, the house had been sold and we were packing getting ready to move the 200 and some miles West and North to Cleveland, Ohio. Dad had found a job as a draftsman and an apartment on The West Side of the city. I don’t remember any arguments at that time, just controlled and efficient work. You’d think that would have had a bigger impact but it was fine and the daydreams had not yet became an addiction and actually disappeared for a while. They would soon return when the most terrible thing imaginable happened to my mother upon arrival in Cleveland. The thing no woman could contemplate, the thing that ruined her marriage and her life…she had to get…A JOB!