Today And The Last 108 Years
YESTERDAY, JUNE 6TH, WAS ONE OF THOSE DAYS with both world significance and value as a personal day of importance.
6/6/1944 – The D-Da7y Allied Invasion of Europe during World War Two. It was the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.
6/6/1911 –The day my mother was born in Cleveland. Ohio. A date earthshaking immediately for the family living on East 66th Street and reverberating personally 35 years later when I came upon the scene.
I wish that I had known my mother, young Blanche, when she was a child. I’ve heard all the stories about the hardships and of the remarkable blessings that filled her young life.
She was born into a crowded home, the fourth of nine children. Two died in infancy, not uncommon in that era. Two more died in their late teens – one to Typhoid Fever and the other to poisonous alcohol during Prohibition. It was a house filled with children who had their father die as a result of an accident – when a ditch he was helping to dig caved in on him. Nine children of an immigrant ditch digger.
My mother was ten years old when her father died in 1921. Her life changed forever. She left school because she was needed to help support the family as were her brothers and sisters.
Blanche got a job.
I find it hard to imagine – a ten year old little girl walking the streets of a huge city, going door to door selling “Murphy’s Oil Soap,” a product still on store shelves today, to whoever answered her knock.
Eventually, her mother was able to open a stand in a large municipal market in downtown Cleveland selling homemade sausage and cold cuts. Everyone in the family worked at the stand. Blanche’s brother Tony kept the stand, working there well into his 70s when the market was torn down to make room for a new baseball stadium.
In the middle of her time as a wage-earner she remained in her childhood. She had talents that cried out to be allowed to live and grow. Throughout those years my mother attended free Art classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art. On Saturday morning she would walk from home to the Museum and had classes in Drawing, Painting, and Art Appreciation. As she grew her talents did too.
By the time she was in her late teens her talents and skills were drawing attention. Through her mentors at the Museum she was offered the chance to study abroad. This young woman, my future mother, was given the opportunity to travel to Paris to study and paint. Paris in that decade was a legendary fountain of Art, Music, Literature, and Everything that made the Twenties “Roaring.”
She didn’t go.
It wasn’t that many years in the past that her parents and her older sister Antoinette had arrived in the United States from their seven year trek from Lithuania, through Germany and England, and finally to Ellis Island. Blanche was born in Cleveland, but her mother still carried the memory of their escape from Eastern Europe. She was not going to send her young daughter back across the ocean alone to sinful, decadent, Paris.
So Blanche stayed in Cleveland selling homemade sausage.
When the Great Depression brought despair and unrest to America my mother got herself into a Secretarial School where she learned to type along with other business skills that enabled her to always have a job even through the darkest years of the 1930s.
She met my father at a dance. He was a steelworker from a small town in Western Pennsylvania who rode the train to Cleveland every weekend to dance and meet girls. I learned many decades later, after his death, that he harbored a secret dream to become a professional dancer.
They married on September 2, 1939 – the day after the Germans invaded Poland.
My father never served in the military during the war. He was always a little too old. He was born on July 14, 1911.
June 6, 1944 was the first big step on the road toward the post-war world. It was my mother’s 33rd birthday.
I was born on July 3, 1946. There was already an older brother born in August of 1942.
One child, born not long after the war began and me, born less than a year after its end.
Births, Deaths, Jobs, and Dreams unfulfilled.
And through it all she painted.