My mother-in-law Estella thought I should go to work. She said she had always worked. She had no sympathy for our lack of food in the house. It didn’t matter to her that we went without. She felt I should work. I tried. I had several jobs during those first few months I was married.
My mother had only one job during my years growing up. It lasted one month. To me, married women didn’t work. Married women were to be like the role models Donna Reed, June Cleaver or even the young wife, Samantha Stephens. I wasn’t lazy. I told someone recently that I still hear the tape of my mother-in-law. She is still telling me I am lazy. So powerful was her influence. At times I still believe her.
Getting a job at 16 was not easy. I had no clerical skills. I didn’t know how to type or take steno. I knew neither Gregg nor Pitt stenography. Most of the summer jobs were given to people who knew people, children of a friend. I eventually landed a job at a drug store on Broadway, the main business street in bustling downtown Columbia.
I bought a hairnet to wear. I must have worn some sort of uniform, although I don’t remember it. I was going to work the fountain. I was supposed to take orders and make drinks. This included mastering the skill of making a Lime Rickey. The pay was about 75 cents an hour. I wasn’t allowed to have tips.
I remember it only so vaguely now. I didn’t work there long. I do remember that Mr. Thomas came in several times while I worked there. He was the business teacher at Hickman and the father of friends from church. His smile was the only memorable thing about the this experience. There can be great power in a simple smile. I don’t remember why I quit. Likely it was transportation. I didn’t know how to drive. We didn’t live on the bus line.
Another time that summer, I got a job at a magazine distribution warehouse. I think I lasted one or two days. Lifting heavy stacks of magazines was required. Lifting heavy objects was something I felt would jeopardize my pregnancy. I quit. My husband told me about someone he knew that was picking watermelons in a field before they went into labor. They returned to the field shortly after delivery. I heard similar stories from my mother-in-law and told to get to work!
My mother would buy us groceries. I had halved their income and yet somehow she always found a way to help put food on my table. We had a dog as well. My mother never liked dogs but she would always grumble about buying food for the animal. Then she would ask what is wrong with Alvin? Isn’t he working? I would say yes and repeat his comments about how you have to spend money to make it. I would tell her that he had bought a new saw, or a new tool belt, or some other top of the line tool for his trade. I told her I asked him why he had to have the most expensive and he would say “I just have to.” She would shake her head in disgust.
I signed up for commodity foods. Our table was graced with the large cans labeled government surplus food. The butter was wonderful. I became proficient at using powdered eggs and canned chicken, pork and beef. I never liked beans so I would often trade them with someone else for another can of peanut butter. I was now part of the system. All the things that people thought of me were coming true. I was a poor pregnant teenager who was now getting free food and begging food from her mother. I was always the one who had to go ask for help. He had too much pride.
No matter where I turned, everyone was unhappy with me. The monster of insecurity was claiming every aspect of my soul. The situation was so ripe for more abuse. It is only in reflection, with the perfection of hindsight, that I see that every day I was subject to increasing emotional and verbal abuse. Physical violence would appear sporadically.
Sometimes our talk in that little trailer would turn to the child I was carrying. We talked of names. I wanted a boy. I wanted to give my husband a son. Somehow, it seemed the better of the two choices, son or daughter.
I don’t remember Alvin saying much about a girl’s name. I remember we had chose Hannah Marie. His mother hated the name and would just say – Hard Hearted Hannah, that’s a terrible name. Alvin did have a choice for a boy’s name, Nature. Yes, he wanted to name him Nature. I hated the idea. I wanted Bible names. Somehow, using the scripture as my weapon, I won. We chose Nathaniel Karl. Karl is a family name.
However, there was one problem with Nathaniel. My father, with his still strong Norwegian accent couldn’t say Nathaniel. His tongue twisted over the name. We decided we couldn’t name our child a name his grandfather couldn’t say. We chose Nathan. That, he could say. Nathan, the prophet…oh the dreams I had for that child as I would lay in that little trailer. I think I instinctually knew it was a boy. I don’t remember dreaming of anything but a son.