Ma and Sibling Rivalry:
My aunt Margie, four years Ma’s junior, was, of course, beneath her contempt. Uncle Brontosaurus, nine years younger, might have well not even have been the same generation, and was a boy besides. My older uncle, Graham, a decade ahead of Ma, and, again, a boy, was beyond reach.
My aunt Dodie was only two years older than Ma, to be sure, but, having been “dropped on her head when young” was, although Ma’s favorite sister, generally accounted the fool of the family, and so provided no proper competition. Ma was, by all accounts, one tough, competitive little broad from the word “go”, and she was never more satisfied than when she felt she was showing somebody up.
So, by default, it seems to have been up to my aunt Ethel, six years Ma’s elder, to provide the requisite competitive edge.
It’s always been a puzzle to me as to why, out of six suburban children, Ma was the only one to not have ever even enrolled in High School.
Although every one of her siblings went on to either Polytechnic (which no longer exists, although here is a newer school of the same name up in the Valley) or Jefferson High, Ma officially finished school at 15, after graduating from John Marshall Jr. High, with a ninth grade education.
Well, Ma may certainly have been a fool to do that, but the official fool of the family was still Dodie, so Ma didn’t drop out of school from the position of being acknowledged as a dummy in the first place. Nor had her grades ever been below average. In fact, I gather she had been a reasonably good student, so it certainly wasn’t because the work was beyond her.
Neither can the amount of income which she made as a “mothers’ helper” (live-in baby sitter, or au pair) have been all that much of a factor in her decision, although it would certainly have exceeded whatever pocket money she might have had otherwise. The family was not wealthy, although since this was back in 1928, the Depression had not quite yet made its contribution to anyone’s life experience.
Either Ma just plain found the prospect of three more years of teachers implying that there were things she didn’t know to be insupportable, (wherever Ma is concerned such considerations always do seem to be a possibility) or the deciding factor was Ethel, aged about 20, out of school, drawing a salary, dating grown men and generally just begging to have the shine taken out of her.
Now, that is, not some hazy three years from now.
It was still Ethel who won the race to the altar. But Ma married in 1931 at the age of 18, so she can’t have been all that far behind. Not that Ma mightn’t have married a little earlier if she had really been determined to. She’d been dating my father — the older brother of one of the mothers she was hired to help — for nearly two years before they finally tied the knot. (She was 16 when they paired off. He was 31. And she was the one in charge.) She couldn’t have prompted an early wedding by the traditional method, however. I was their only child, and they were married for nearly 15 years before they had me. Nor was the delay intentional.
Of course having thumbed her own nose at higher education, it naturally fell to me to fulfill the hereditary mission of validating Ma’s wisdom in dropping out of school, by going on to college. On a scholarship, if such could be arranged (it couldn’t).
Examples of this sort of irrational symmetry were fairly typical of Ma’s reasoning.