Sometimes life sends you in one direction, which may be the wrong one. You want to zig, but you’re zagged; sometimes your writers bag you. Life can be funny and strange and this is one of those stories.
My father, Steve, was in sales for all his life. Before I was born, he worked out of Buffalo, NY, working for the Fuller Brush Company. He was a traveling regional manager, overseeing the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. For a fellow, only twenty-five years old, this was a very good job to have.
One day while touring a brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he met the reigning “Miss Alice in Dairy Land,” Betty Johnson. She was a mid-west beauty who worked at the Milwaukee Brewing Company. She gave tours and met all sorts of interesting people. She was twenty-four, a high school graduate with much common sense.
Steven saw Betty. He felt as if struck by a bolt of lightning. He stopped dead in his tracks, unable to move. Her eyes were cornflower blue; her hair was so blonde it seemed to glow from within.
Betty saw Steven react, but couldn’t do anything about it, as she was leading the tour. She managed to slip Steve a note, telling him to meet her at 6 pm, at the Wisconsin State Fair, where she would wait for him at the Dairy Land booth.
Steven was still too stunned to talk. He could only nod his head up and down, as a bobble head doll. Betty smiled, tossed her hair and walked away.
Steve couldn’t wait until later that night, and his mind was running so fast that his body couldn’t keep up. He asked himself, did love at first sight truly happen?
Steven got himself ready. Shaved, showered and all spiffy in jeans and a new brewery t-shirt he had bought earlier, after the tour. At the appointed time, he showed up at the Dairy Land booth and there she was.
Betty was considered “a catch”; all the men wanted to date her, but she was fussy, waiting for “Mr. Right.” When she saw Steve approach, she felt her heart starting to beat faster; she also felt a little dizzy. She felt the same way earlier that day at the brewery. She wondered if love at first sight really existed?
They stood in front of each other, just gazing into each other’s eyes for a moment and then burst out laughing. They realized at the same time they hadn’t even introduced themselves! With that formality out of the way, Betty gave Steve a huge hug and then took him by the arm to show him around the fair.
Betty had lost her parents at an early age and was brought up by her grandparents in Tomahawk, WI; they still lived there. Steve’s mother was still alive, but lived in Brooklyn, NY, so he didn’t get to see her as much as he’d like to.
As they walked around the fair, the told each other everything about their hopes, dreams and wishes. Many were the same; many were different. They both wanted to get married, have kids and grow old together.
When the fair closed, for the night, Betty and Steve knew what was going to happen. Betty took him to meet her grandparents, Lucy and Fred McGillicuddy. Steve nervously asked Fred for Betty’s hand in marriage. It was so quiet in that room, they not only could hear the old grandfather clock ticking away, but the crickets outside chirping.
Fred and Lucy both looked at Betty and asked her if this is what she wanted, considering she only knew Steve for a few hours. She answered Fred, all the while looking at Steven. She said, “Yes.” Fred looked at Steve and gave his blessing. He said he would call the justice of the peace in the morning, and get them hitched.
In the meantime, they could stay the night, but in separate rooms. Betty just blushed while Steve agreed. After being alone for so long, would one night make a difference?
Fred and Lucy arranged everything the next morning. Betty and Steve got married, with all the flourish a small town could muster. It was the event of the summer, and you could hear hearts breaking all over Wisconsin.
Steve moved from Buffalo to Milwaukee. He hired a couple of assistants so he wouldn’t have to travel as much. Nine months later, they welcomed their first child to the world. Me.
Betty and Steven had managed to save some money and with some help from various family members, they bought a house in which to raise their family. Time just flew by and the normal married problems came and went. Some were easy to overcome, but others were more difficult. The problems always seemed to center around money and Steve’s traveling. Betty wanted Steven to work regular hours and be home for dinner every night, attend school functions and pay more attention to her.
Steve tried to explain that he had certain responsibilities. Traveling for a week at time was the minimum he could do if he wanted to keep his job and the great salary that came with it. Betty countered that they could afford for him to cut back, since she was once again working at the brewery, this time in the accounting department and making a nice living.
As a kid, I hated to see them fighting over money. When I was thirteen, it all came to a head. Betty just kept pushing Dad to change. He couldn’t take it anymore. After she gave him the ultimatum of quit traveling or leave, he chose to leave. They asked me whom I wanted to be with; I said Dad. Mom was hurt, but she knew that she couldn’t change my mind.
Dad and I moved to Brooklyn to be near my grandmother. She soon retired from her teaching job and moved to Florida, letting us take over this rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn.
Over the ensuing years, I had a feeling that something was missing. A piece of me, a small puzzle piece that kept nagging at the back of my mind, but I had no idea what it was.
It was only after I had my own family and life moved on did that feeling ease. It didn’t leave, but it wasn’t always present. It was only when I got involved with GrubStreet.ca and read some of the other columnists did I realize what was missing.
Yes, I kept in touch with Mom over the years, but for some reason we never visited each other. I wanted to, but she kept her distance. She never said it, but I’m sure she was still hurt that I went with Dad and didn’t stay with her.
I’m reading a column on GrubStreet.ca one day and I’m thinking this is a female version of me! Is this what’s missing? The empty, half-full feeling I had all these years? Could it be a long lost sibling?
Is Jennifer Flaten from Wisconsin my sister? The math works, since I’m 55 and she’s 42. Could it be?
See for yourself, click here to read a column by Jennifer Flaten.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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