Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mommas, don’t let your daughters grow up to be playwrights Part Two…Normal Life in the flood zone

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!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Mommas, don’t let your daughters grow up to be playwrights Part One…blame it on the Son of A Pioneer

Mommas, don’t let your daughters grow up to be playwrights
Part One…blame it on the Son of A Pioneer
– Susan Reinhard 8/18/14

In 1954, we were the first people on our block of Johnstown, Pennsylvania to get a television set. I was 5 years old.  It was black and white of course, but all of the neighbors would crowd in the living room every night the first week to see the magical box with its one channel that used shows from all 3 national networks: Channel 6, Altoona “From High Atop the Alleghenies.”

Like most American families, we were already unhappy, but, in 1954, we did not have all the communications we have in 2014. My parents, Betty and Carl had no idea what to do about it or how they got into the mess of marriage. Mom and Dad had NO idea how babies were made and married, determined to not have children.  However, the only advice about Birth Control Mom could find was from Dad’s slightly brain damaged mother. Grandma had gotten pregnant 12 times with 6 surviving; and my 17 year-old-mother didn’t know that Grandma had the 2 safe weeks wrong and took her advice. Mom then churned out two kids within 18 months of marriage and was not happy about it. With the third one, a miscarriage, she finally figured it out.

Mom had enough love and attention for one child, but not for two, and I was number two in birth order and value.  Kathy and I have very different memories of our childhoods. I sensed I was a mistake and was in danger. That my mother would call the Orphanage (or pretend to) when we were ‘bad’ had the desired effect on me. Being redhaired, I was told I was going to end up like my Aunt Betty Lou, (whom I later discovered had to be told that taking money from boys for sex was NOT a good thing ) who was never quite accepted in the family.

In 1954, spankings were acceptable and encouraged, so I learned to stay very still…preferably in my bedroom with the lights out while Mom patrolled the halls puffing on a Kent Cigarette and angry at the world.

And so, when the television set arrived, I tiptoed downstairs and saw the young and handsome Roy Rogers riding the beautiful Palamino Trigger to the rescue of…whoever that week…and  my fantasy life began. And I was the one being rescued.  It was then that I started to write little stories and draw little cartoon strips (yes, my cartoonists, from an early age I was drawing them). Roy was my first ‘boyfriend’ and the start of the years of fantasizing, a habit with which I still wrestle at the age of 64.

To be continued….