‘What if Mom had married the Insurance Salesman?’
When we kids were bored and it was too rainy or too cold to throw us outside, our Mom would let us rummage through this big cardboard box of snapshots that she kept in the attic. Most of them were shots of family members. And all of them, in those days, were in black and white. Take this example, picturing my brothers Scott and Roger modeling (probably) Easter outfits, made by my Mom herself:
We would pick through the pictures, admiring ourselves as Cute Little Tots, taking turns guessing the identities of the adults, and smirking at how funny everybody looked in the Olden Days.
One rainy boring day we were sifting away through the box and happened across a picture of an Adult We Didn’t Know. Who’s this? We asked our Mom. ‘Oh, that’s Jim. He’s a man I used to go out with.’ (‘Go out with? Like, as in on a date?’) We were shocked into horrified silence.
Now I’m betting you Readers remember what it was like to have absolutely no concept of your parents’ lives before you yourselves existed. Sure, they told you things like ‘Mom went to nursing school.’ Or ‘Dad went to the U of I.’ (University of Illinois, to you non-Midwesterners.) But to actually imagine your parents as Young People with typical Young Persons’ thoughts and desires — who actually dated other Young People Who Were Not The Other Parent (!) Well. It’s really hard to wrap a seven-year-old brain around that one.
So of course once we found this picture of Jim (which I am so sad not to have here to show you. And yes, I asked; Mom doesn’t know what happened to it either)…well, once we had this picture in our grubby little paws we had a zillion questions.
‘What was he like?’ ‘Did you want to marry him?’ ‘What happened to him?’ Etc. etc. etc.
She told us that he was an insurance salesman, and that he had red hair. Now, being kids, we were honestly more fascinated with the red hair bit than the insurance salesman part. For one thing, we couldn’t tell he had red hair from the picture. (It was in black and white, remember?) I mean, take a look at the shot of Lucille Ball at the top of this post. If she weren’t famous for her red hair (and her red lipstick), you wouldn’t know either was red, now would you?
Also, we knew absolutely no one who had red hair. We’d seen the afore-mentioned Lucy on TV, but the show (and our TV, like everyone else’s) was in black-and-white, so you couldn’t really get the whole ‘red hair’ experience.
This Jim (who Mom’s Older Brother Ronald called ‘The Pasty-Faced Redhead’) had spied Our Mom while visiting a friend in the hospital where Mom was doing her nurses’ training (Swedish American, in Rockford, Illinois). Mom said (just a while ago when I called her to fact-check for this story) that he was ‘quite smitten’ with her, ‘somewhat older’, and ‘crestfallen’ when she dumped him. (Though of course she didn’t use the word ‘dumped’.)
Well. My Mom finished sowing her nurses’ training wild oats and married my Dad. Who, after all, was her high-school sweetheart. Interesting note here. Mom and Dad’s high-school graduating class had a grand total of 20 members, eight of whom married each other. And stayed married.
Oh, about that alternate universe thing. We used to ask Mom, ‘So. If you married that guy instead of Dad, we all would have had red hair. Right?’ To which she would just smile. She was way too kindhearted to rock our worlds with the fact that, if she had married that guy instead of Dad, we would, um, not exist.
You can read more about aunts and such here: ‘Great Aunts and Glorified Rice’. You can see how I dealt with telling The Child about my own pre-Dude liaison here: ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage’. And, if you’re so inclined, there’s a nifty genetic-themed tale here: ‘The Incest Mug’.
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New York City. October 2015