By Clarence Odbody
In It’s a Wonderful Life George Bailey tells his brother that the three most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles. All conjure up “far away places with strange sounding names” and dreams my mother clung to throughout her rather drab and sometimes sad life as a suburban housewife.
George wanted to shake the dust off his feet and so did my mother. He dreamed of seeing the world and even shopped for a suitcase. And he came close to leaving several times, but he never got to go. Neither did my mom. She stayed the course. Looked after six kids. Hung the laundry out to dry. And seemed to wander into the kitchen and come back out with a yummy and sometimes rather exotic meal.
We ate asparagus and fought over the artichoke heart, for instance, when none of my friends had veggies more exciting than green beans and split peas. She did learn to cook my Dad’s southern favorites, fried okra and corn on the cob, but you knew they weren’t her cup of tea.
She always accused me of having champagne taste and a beer income when the same could have been said for her. The only difference was that she’d had money at some point. I think. I knew my dad was blue collar, and my mom talked about her dad working on a boat, yet she went to the exclusive Mills College but claimed not to know who paid for it.
I didn’t really think about it until I graduated from high school and went to visit family back east with college on my mind. My Godfather was my mom’s cousin and he lived on Martha’s Vineyard not too far from the Kennedy compound. His house was grand. He wasn’t at all though. Once, we went walking by the harbor and I asked about the price of the boats. And he chuckled and told me that if you had to ask, you couldn’t afford one.
My mother always had a sadness about her, perhaps from being practically raised in a boarding school. Most of her brothers and sisters were older and had been born in the old country. She prided herself on being born here in CA, but she was sent away at age 4.
My parents seemed to love each other although theirs was a second marriage which was fairly unusual back then, so no one spoke about it, and my two half-sisters were like the proverbial elephant in the living room.
Their real dad was a train engineer who lived in Iowa. My mother divorced him when she discovered he had another woman at the other end of the line. I didn’t know what a half sibling meant for years, but we were reminded of their other life every summer when they’d pack their things to go spend the vacation with him. As soon as school was out, my mother and I would see them off from the Fullerton station, the train whistle blowing mournfully as they rode away.