Friday, October 10, 2014

15. 'We’ll never be completely happy again'

Shortly after the death of their 5-year-old daughter Bonnie, my parents left New England for Florida, seeking a new start in a new place. I was two and a half years old and have only a vague memory of the first place we lived, a duplex on Sedeeva Circle in Clearwater.

With my sister Pam before the alamanda
bush on Bermuda Street in Clearwater, 1950.
It was from there that Mom wrote the undated letter below to her parents in Fairfield, Conn. It was written in 1949, less than a year after Bonnie died and before my parents adopted my sister Pam, who was born on Nov. 8 of that year.

The letter disclosed a great deal about my parents as I knew them. My mother was the daughter of a successful salesman. My father, at 32, was just beginning his career as a salesman and sales manager in real estate firms, car dealerships and cemeteries. In the letter my mother got a laugh out of his soft-hearted approach to his profession. He would never entirely overcome it, although he found both success and satisfaction in his work while treating people right.

In her letter my mother also wrote about segregation. One of my earliest memories occurred at either Woolworth’s or McCrory’s, the side-by-side 5&10s on Cleveland Street, Clearwater’s main drag. Not yet able to read, I stepped up to the “colored” water fountain for a drink. An African-American woman chastised me for it, and I cried. My mother explained to me that we were northerners but lived in the South now and had to abide by its rules.

This was just the beginning of a conversation with my mother that lasted throughout my childhood. And it wasn’t just a conversation. She was as color-blind as one could be in the segregated South. Gertrude Clark, the African-American woman who cleaned our house for many years, came to my mother’s funeral in 1993. She told me she was able to collect Social Security only because my mother had paid both the employer’s and employee’s shares of the Social Security tax.

Mike and Pam, Clearwater, Easter 1955.
But the main subject of this 1949 letter of my mother’s was grief. The loss of Bonnie had driven my parents apart, and my mother needed to tell her mom and pop about it. At the same time it is easy to see from the letter that she was beginning to see her way through the anger and bitterness of the worst loss a parent can suffer.

Not long after this letter was written, my parents bought a new house at 1216 Bermuda Street, a few blocks north of Sedeeva Circle. My sister came to us late that year, and our brother Robin three years later. Bonnie was never forgotten in our house, but life did go on. Mom was a great mother and a tireless volunteer for good causes. Dad loved his work as a salesman and manager, but he was a soft touch with bad timing and no instinct for the main chance. Friendship, honor and dignity mattered most to him, and his life reflected these virtues.

The letter begins with a note Mom added across the top after she had written it: “Boy, my writing is awful – I just read this over, which I never do – Good luck to you – I could hardly read it.”

                                                                                               Saturday morning

Dear Mom & Pop –

Dad, you’re slipping again. Mother, you’re doing fine. Course again I don’t know what I’m going to write.

Our minister has been on the radio every day for the past week so I’ll have to take time out to listen to him. He’s a wonderful man & speaker. He is so sincere. Boy, last Sunday he talked of the suppression of negroes and that it had to stop. He’s from Ga. and said he knew how the southerners feel and that it had to stop. He’s going to put his foot in it. But what he says is true but some of these southerners are really sumpin’ – I like him too because he’s made quite an impression on Charlie. Don’t mention this in your letters.

Charlie sees an awful lot of things now in a different way. It must have been the will of God that we should find such a wonderful man. You know, Charlie couldn’t make up his mind which way to “take” Bonnie’s death. At times he’d be very bitter and say he’s out for all he can get, but now he’s beginning to realize that there is someone watching out for us. He’s always been soft-hearted, but the other day he said he’s come to realize that there are so many sad people in this world and if he can help them by a good turn he’s going to do it.

As lonely as I get for my baby, sometimes I get such a wonderful feeling that it all happened because she accomplished so much. Sometimes I get that “What’s the use of living” feeling, but I always get over it. I have so much to be thankful for. At first I couldn’t stand Mike or Charlie but they look to me for so much help that I can’t see how I could ever let them down. We’ll never be completely happy again because of that gnawing feeling, but were we ever completely happy before? We’ve found a lot more by losing Bonnie and know that she’s waiting for us. I just hope and pray we can live up to it.

At the dedication program at the Park a lady had made (crocheted) an American flag. Charlie had sold her property. I wasn’t with him yesterday while he delivered the deed. The flag is beautiful. I asked Charlie why she didn’t sell it. He said she was a foreigner and is now a very good American and won’t sell. It took over 1,000 hours to make it. They came down here, bought a house for $8,000 and got rooked, although they don’t know it. The man is very sick and they live on an old age pension of $33 a month. She made flowers out of crepe paper to make money. So my chicken-hearted husband said when he delivered the deed he’d buy one. She said she’d have 3 made by then. Well she had 6 and he bought them all -- $6. I said to him kiddingly why didn’t he pay for the lot.

I get a kick out of him. He can’t see trying to sell people the best when they can’t afford it. His boss said last night that was wrong because usually everyone wants the best, especially when it’s your last “home.” Charlie says phooey – why make people wish for what they can’t have (to me, of course). Course he makes more money on the most expensive lots, but he doesn’t care. He said he’d rather make friends.

Mike’s kinda cranky. He’s cutting his 2 top molars. One is half through and the other is nice and red.
Our landlady has her ex-husband staying with her. Makes something interesting to watch. Mike calls him Mr. Larsen. She has her first husband’s name. I heard him telling Mike not to call him Mr. Larsen. Mike can’t figure it out. I’m glad he’s not old enough to realize what’s going on. So long now.

                                                                              Love, hugs & kisses – B, C & M

Dad and Mom, about 1953. Much later, Dad wrote on the back: 'I love this one. Happy days!' 

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