Despite everything that remained unspoken, I did learn that Dad was one of six children. I would be sixty years old before I set foot in my father's birthplace of La Paz. When I was growing up it seemed like a very far off planet.
My mother, Josephine Sarah Hall, was a real lady. She had a beauti¬ful smile, which she wore easily and often; and though she was soft-spoken, she was a dynamo. I came to realize that she was anything but weak. She had enormous inner resources and a powerful will. Despite this, my father had the upper hand.
Mom was a great seamstress. She made all our clothes on her Singer sewing machine. I cannot imagine whipping up some of the things she did. It's like an ancient skill from another century. Gayle and I always had the same Easter dresses, but in different colors. (See the photo of Gayle, Jim, and me in the photo insert.) I was very proud of my dresses and have always admired women who could make clothes from scratch. I am missing that gene.
My mother also had a job. She used to get up at the crack of dawn to get ready for work, and I would sit on the edge of the tub and watch her apply makeup in the bathroom mirror. She gave me all my ideas about how a woman should be. She never wore rollers or pin curls around the house, and neither would I. Her wardrobe was always co¬ordinated, and she was smart and articulate. She was a college graduate from the University of Illinois, where she had met my father. She was a hardworking person who put forth a tremendous amount of ef¬fort toward cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work (cutting the hedges and mowing the lawn) and washing our cars. Oh, and she also did the ironing and the baking and chauffeured us kids from here to there. She was really something!
Mom used to read wonderful Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales to us at bedtime. It would be a special treat when she'd linger to scratch my back before tucking me in. She was also a churchgoer who enrolled us all in Daily Vacation Bible School every summer. I went every year until I was thirteen. We weren't particularly religious per se, but Mom attended church every Sunday with all three of us kids in tow . . . dressed up and polished. We attended the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church. Dad only went on Easter and Christmas.
One thing about church was that people were dressed nicely and on their best behavior. This was, of course, a bit boring for a fidgety child, but it gave me a sense of what decency looked like. My mother, as well, was a perfect example of that.
When it came to my father, everyone walked on eggshells. We all avoided him for fear of criticism or a cruel remark about our appearance. We had to watch what we said, what we wore, how we combed our hair . . . everything came under his scrutiny, especially our grades in school. Sometimes he'd demand that I sit next to him on the couch and read aloud from Time magazine or Newsweek without any mistakes. It was hit or miss; he could be quite reasonable, even charming . . . but you never knew when he'd "fly off the handle," as Mom used to put it.