Sunday, April 1, 2007

Love and Marriage

Recently, I asked my father why Trudy put Leo in foster care and sent Karla to live with our grandmother. His reply was, "You know your mother as well as I do." When I asked him what he meant by that he continued, "I guess she didn't want too many people around."

Despite her yen for solitude, Trudy married John at the courthouse in Carson City, Nevada, on November 5, 1961. (There are no photographs of this event and neither of them has ever told me a single detail of that day. They never celebrate their anniversary, and last time I asked they weren't sure what day or even what year they were married. When I needed a copy of their marriage certificate, I had to send a request to Nevada twice because Trudy thought they were married on November 22, 1960, until she remembered November 22 was the day Kennedy was assassinated, three years later. "That's why that date sticks in my head." Of course, she has no idea where they put their original certificate.)

After retrieving Karla and Leo, the newlyweds moved down to Los Angeles, where John was hoping to find work as a mortgage broker. They rented an apartment in Inglewood and three years later, I showed up. Every year on my birthday Trudy repeats the same story: "The day you were born, I went to the nursery, looked in the window, and as soon as I laid eyes on you I knew you were mine. Because you were the only white baby there." I have given up asking Trudy for more details about my early childhood because she can never come up with much. When I ask her what I was like as a baby she shrugs and says, "You were so quiet. You never cried or anything. You never really bothered me." The only other memory Trudy has shared, she and John recounted together, chuckling. Apparently, one night when I was still an infant, my parents were standing in front of my crib having a big fight. I guess at one point the argument got really heated, and Trudy decided John was going to throw a punch, so she picked me up out of my crib and held me out in front of her, like a diapered riot shield. Since he chose not to hit her, I think they are under the impression that this is a charming story illustrating my father's love for me. (Just for the record, as far as I know, John has never hit Trudy, or anyone else for that matter. He won't even kill bugs. Instead, he scoops them onto a piece of paper and frees them in the backyard.)

When I was a year old, we moved into a house in a more upscale suburban neighborhood next to Inglewood. By the time I was two or three, Trudy had taken a job up in Sacramento, working for a lobbyist. That meant she only came home to LA on weekends. John was left to take care of the kids on his own most of the time, with the help of a string of housekeepers and eventually, my grandmother, Madge. Or as my father refers to her, "The Man Hater."

Although my mother wasn't home that much, she and John continued to fight. They were constantly at each other's throats, but I can't remember what one single disagreement was about. I think the bottom line was, if Trudy is unhappy, everyone else is going to be unhappy too. And when Trudy was unhappy she would either rage at you, or freeze you out. John's standard reaction to one of her moods was to lean toward his listener, shove his thumb in Trudy's direction and stage whisper, "It's the Kraut in her."

Trudy is small, but when she's pissed, she is a maniac. She has broken dishes and windows, and every bottle of booze in the bar. She somehow managed to knock a hole in the dry wall in the kitchen, and once she even pushed over the Christmas tree - bulbs, lights and all. I remember one Easter hiding behind my sister while we watched Trudy scream and pelt John with See's assorted chocolates.

After a big blowup, Trudy would walk around the house in a sulk, concealing her puffy eyes behind big Jackie O. sunglasses and giving us all the silent treatment. My dad would usually hide out in the backyard, nose in some book about quarks or black holes, smoking cigars, until the whole thing blew over. Occasionally, John would leave her, or she'd throw him out, but he'd always be back in a day or two with a sheepish look on his face, bearing flowers, jewelry, or one time, oddly, a portable black and white television set.

Karla says their arguments revolved around money. John never made quite enough of it to cover the lifestyle Trudy expected. Because of this, my parents have always lived beyond their means. For a long time our furniture consisted of plastic covered, hand-me-down chintz couches from my grandmother and a coffee table with folding legs. Nevertheless, Trudy drove a Lincoln.

John survived the Great Depression and piloted dangerous bombing missions over Nazi Germany, but he has always been powerless against the Force of Trudy. The only piece of advice he ever gave Leo about women was, "Never marry for beauty." But despite their long, stormy relationship, John will still stop us dead in our tracks whenever one of us complains about Trudy with the simple, but forcefully delivered, statement, "She's your mother."


sarah said...

I'd let Trudy pelt me with Sees candies. As long as they landed in my mouth. Heaven!

Evan said...

What is Trudy driving now?