Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Mom,,,,,, and my identity

My German Grandfather and Dutch Grandmother decided there was going to be another War in Germany. Given the political unrest and economy they decided to leave.

Can you even begin to fathom packing up your children and moving across the world in your 40's? Not to mention barely speaking the language, although my Grandmother spoke 6 languages. Not to mention leaving the little village in Germany that had been "home" for 100's of recorded years!

But leave they did. My Mother turned 13 on the boat coming over to Ellis Island. They didn't travel in first class passage, but fortunately not steerage either. (Think Leo, in Titanic). They brought the few necessities, and for some reason my Grandmother had to bring a guitar...I don't think she even played it. In retrospect, my mother thought that was just plain foolish.

My grandmother managed to find the train upon arrival, heading for Washington State. For you see, Wenatchee, in Eastern Washington had been promoting their agricultural pursuits throughout Germany. My Grandfather was somewhat of a Gentleman farmer in his small town, having orchards and vineyards adjacent to their HUGE (ugly my mom said) house on the Rhine.

In Germany they had household help. When they arrived in Wenatchee my Grandmother took in ironing and my Mom, her brother and sister picked crops. Upon arrival they lived in a little shack in an apple orchard. Amazing.

But my Grandfather had brought money to purchase land, after, of course, the Germans had taken their large share of it in order for them to leave the country. This is a long story, but I thought appropro to at least give you an idea as to where and what my mother experienced as a child. To say that she succeeded in this life would be an understatement. She took great pride in her family-her mom and dad of course, for all they did and the sacrifices.

Upon graduation, mom headed for (as the story goes with one suitcase that held two dresses she had made herself)Seattle and college at the University of Washington. While attending classes she lived with a Jewish family on Lake Washington and served as Nanny and assistant cook. Rather ironic relationship given the times, but mom loved the family and kept in touch with them for years.

Eventually, she decided to take secretarial classes as well, giving her a more mainstream lead into the professional world. ("A secretary can always get a job.") She then moved to San Francisco and worked for various companies as an executive secretary in most cases.

Mom even worked for I. Magnin for a while, "the" high-end clothing store of it's day. She said it was the worst paying job she ever had! But I have wonderful photos of her in her stylish hats/gloves and suits. Mom was a "looker."

Shortly thereafter, she met and married her first husband. Gerald was an up and coming CPA in the Bay Area. The "up and coming" part required long hours, tight purse strings with the exception of things that would show clients his prosperity.

Mom didn't have a refridgerator, but she had a fur coat. They lived in a tiny little apartment, but Gerald made sure they both wore fine watches and clothing. All about the appearances.

She continued to work in the family business as allowed after giving birth to my brother Ross. My mother loved Gerald to a fault, but it seemed like something in him shattered upon the birth of his son. He started working more and more and was home less and less. Gerald may haved been deemed the original workaholic. Eventually, he never came home at all. By the time my brother was 9 years old, they divorced. She soon moved to Southern California to mend her broken heart.

Then came Jim Flanigan, and then came I.

My mother met my father at a rare outing attended with girlfriends near Long Beach California. To say that my father was handsome is an understatment. And, apparently a charmer and smitten with my mother. They began seeing each other as time and his military schedule would allow. At this time my mother was 39 years old and had a 9 year old son.

Jim was in the Air Force and worked with SAC-Strategic Air Command. When he wasn't close by he'd send her telegrams with weird security hashmarks and he'd promise her the world.

And then she was pregnant. And Jim would write-promises of money, promises of visits, promises promises promises. And so, given the uncertainties of their relationship, she moved back up to Seattle.

Jim proposed, but my mother sensed that it wouldn't work. His charm and good looks only got him so far and she decided that he just wasn't marriage material.

By this point, mom settled in near her Sister Ingrid by Sea-Tac Airport and the secrets and fibs began. At firsts her pregancy didn't show and eventually she passed "me" off to coworkers as being Gerald's child of her former marriage. Relocating to Seattle made it work.

By the time I was 6 months old my mother had met, married and settled into life with Milt, who adopted me as his "own." Ah yes, I was the skeleton in the family closet! Milt had two sons, then 16 and 17 and there was also my half brother Ross, age 10.

Milt and my mother (Lynn) developed a successful partnership. It wasn't really a romantic relationship that I could see as I grew up, but in business the two excelled. And eventually they started their real estate acquisitions leading up to a very profitable outcome.

So, "Willowbrook Lane" began when I turned 3 and grew and changed and by the time the development was full, they started another just a couple miles away and we moved. That's when I lost touch with Jeannie, for even so close we went to different schools. I'll be "back" in future posts to visit that little beloved community, but for now-

My Dad never took time to name the next development as I recall. Or, perhaps because I was a teenager by then I never took notice.
When I was 13 years old I "hated" my dad. Hate being a strong word of course, but emotions ran high in those hormonal years. I was unloading on my mom about how much I "hated" him and suddenly realized she'd stopped the car- we were driving into a church parking lot and she cut the engine. She turned and looked at me and said, "He's not your real father."

You know that surreal feeling you have when you wake up from a particularly vivid dream? Or when you have a high fever and things are obscured? Or when suddenly you feel like surely you must be "on camera" because this is all just so weird and this can't be me and how could I NOT have known?

A million thoughts ran through my head and then, the one that ran most clearly was- this man, that was not my dad had done everything for me. Had taught me I could do and be anything. And the anger and the hate subsided.

The wonder continued too of course but I was too scared and too worried about my mom's feelings or to know any more just then. It all just kind of floated around the parimeter of my mind for several years and she'd divulge little bits here and there.

So that was it. Me and mom sitting there. Finding out she was human. Finding out she wasn't perfect. And starting to find out a bit who I was,,,,,and who I wasn't.

Mom always had good timing. I think she told me at the right time of my life. ......More on the search for my dad later!


  1. This is just an amazing story my friend. I can't wait to hear more :)

    Love you more than my luggage,

  2. Wonderful story Shelly - can't wait to hear more of it. Hugs!