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Shore Memories Pt I – Broadway Bound

The Newark Riots occurred between July 12 and July 17, 1967. There were 159 race riots across the country, during the “Long Hot Summer of 1967”. The riots in Newark were instigated by the arrest and beating of a black taxi driver, but the tension had been building up since WWII, as returning white soldiers fled the city for the suburbs under the  Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. The African Americans who in turn took up residence in the Central Ward faced discrimination and poverty. Then, the state cleared out much of the Central Ward to make room for UMDNJ, leaving thousands displaced.

I was seven at the time, and unaware of the reasons for the riots. I didn’t even really understand what a ‘riot’ was. I only understood that men were fighting, breaking into stores, and stealing, that Newark was a dangerous place to be; and that we did not live far from the tumult.

My parents always went away for two weeks in August, and left us with our teenage siblings, and our housekeeper Sally Jones, who came from 8:00 am – 3:00 pm on weekdays. Sally lived in Newark with her husband and children, but spent decades helping my mother raise her very large brood. In my typical unobservant fashion, I didn’t make the connection between the chaos in Newark, and my dear housekeeper living there. I was, as many seven year-olds are, only concerned about me (and by extension, my Mom, because I needed her).

As I have mentioned previously, my summers consisted of leaving the house in the morning, and heading to the pool for the day. But in the summer of 1967, Mom and Dad were worried. They didn’t feel comfortable leaving their kids alone in the house at night, with pandemonium close by. They decided to bring us with them to Cape May, NJ. They rented a house on Broadway for two weeks in August. That was the beginning of nine years of beach bliss.

I was seven that year, and as I still am, a real worrier. So my parents’ decision sat right with me in a number of ways, and the first was: we were going to run away from the turmoil. I was more than okay with that; I was relieved. That way, I didn’t have to worry about myself. Just my older siblings who stayed behind in South Orange, my friends, and when I finally thought about it, everyone who lived in Newark, including my beloved Sally.

I also approved of running away to the beach. We had been to Aunt Frances’ beach house in Beach Haven, and Aunt Betty’s house in Point Pleasant Beach. But, I had never slept over, so far as I could remember. I didn’t even know that in New Jersey, going to stay at the beach was called, “going down the shore”; but I learned that quickly.

The drive to Cape May took forever. It could have been in another country, so far as my young brain could tell. That first year, we drove down in our brand new 1967 Blue Imperial. It was big and fancy and beautiful, and I was proud that it was our family car. However, when you crammed five kids and some coolers in the backseat for a 3 hour drive, it turned into a hot, cramped, loud, sticky mess with many fights, verbal and otherwise, along the way.

In 1972, the car was replaced with the Stationwagon, complete with a suicide seat in the back, where I preferred to ride (for those who are not familiar with the dangerous vehicles of the ‘ancient to you’ past, a suicide seat was the seat in the back of the car that faced the oncoming traffic; hence it’s moniker).  However, I didn’t always get that choice. There were two reasons for this: 1. Everyone wanted to sit in the suicide seat. 2. I liked to sing my made-up songs out loud, for my family to listen to in awe. They liked to scream at me to “shut up!” When I was in the back window seat, I would stick my head out of the window like a dog and sing loudly for myself to listen in awe. I could not understand why was I the only one who knew what an amazing writer and singer I was. Everyone except me was happier with this latter arrangement.

But in 1967, as we headed out for our first shore adventure at 6:00 am on August 1st, in the brand new Imperial packed with kids and food and drink, my Mom drove as fast as a Mom on packed Parkway could drive, and didn’t stop until she reached Oyster Creek rest stop.

When we reached the rest stop, we got out and stretched our legs, ate Mommy’s coffee cake, and drank coffee milk. This was  the only place we ever stopped on the way, and it became a tradition. It wasn’t until Joe McGinniss wrote the book “Blind Faith” about Robert Marshall orchestrating the murder of his wife, Maria in September 1984 in Oyster Creek that I ever thought of the little spot with anything but heartfelt nostalgia.

Once our breakfast was done, we headed back on the road. This second leg of the trip was much shorter, and more stimulating. We were getting close to our destination. As we continued south, the sights grew more beautiful and the air was infused with a cleaniness that even we, from the small suburb of South Orange, did not experience often. I was seven, but I felt it. I saw it. I smelled it. It was…pine barrens, salt, fresh air, fresh wind. Nature. Lovely.

We reach mile 10 on the Garden State Parkway, and someone started singing “One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall”, just as so many families did in the final stretch of their vacation treks. We all joined in. It was fun, and we counted all one hundred bottles by the time we reached the bridge that signaled the end of the Parkway, Exit 0, and the beginning of Cape May Township, NJ.

We crossed over the bridge and continued past the signs that said “Beach” with an arrow pointing left. We were heading to our rented home for the next two weeks. When we were arrived, it was…there is no other way to say this from a child’s view: It was exciting! We jumped out of the car, glad that our journey was finally over.

Once Daddy opened the door to our Broadway house, we all ran upstairs to claim rooms. As usual, Karen and I were in a room together. But it was okay! This was so much fun, getting to go on vacation, and not just to the South Orange Pool. We all unpacked the things we would need that day, then Mommy said, “Get in your suits, and let’s head to the beach.”

We walked three blocks down Broadway, and we were there. The Beach; the Atlantic Ocean. They called to me, and told me that I was a part of them. They had been waiting for me. And if you could see my Mom in her element in the sand and water, then you would know that seashore love is real; and hereditary.

When we returned to our rental later that afternoon, my mother went to the Acme grocery store to buy food for the night and morning. She would go big food shopping the next day in Rio Grande, where the supermarkets were. We finished unpacking and made our beds. The smell of steak rose up the steps. But when we came down, this was not steak, but minute steaks on hoagies, ala Philadelphia. Mommy obviously had made these before, but not for us. They were amazing. Another staple of our beach lives was found.

The next day, we were allowed to go out to venture, because it was Cape May in 1967, and we were even allowed to wander in South Orange next to Newark during the riots. People worried about their kids, but I didn’t know any parents who overprotected them. We all led pretty independent lives. Upon exploring, we discovered the haunted house two doors down. In retrospect, it was a badly neglected home, that many years later was purchased and completely renovated. But to us, that was a home to be feared, for surely ghosts or witches lived there. We ran past it every time we had to walk down Broadway.

The ironic thing is that two years later, we rented the house on Columbia for the month of August, for five years straight. This was the duplex where Mr. Townsend died, and they never found his will. My mother was convinced his ghost roamed the home, and following suit, so were we. I didn’t sleep the entire month of August for those five years.

But in 1967, no one but Karen and I, and maybe my Irish twin Kevin, believed there was a ghost in the ramshackle home. It didn’t even have a name.

That first seaside adventure was shorter than the ones to come, and many of the memories are cloudier than the more recent ones. But it holds a special place in my heart, because it is the time that I fell in love…with the ocean, with Cape May, with vacation!


The Story of Me, Zach and the Cats in South Orange

I have lived in the same apartment in South Orange, New Jersey since April 1, 2008, when I left my brother’s Jim’s basement in Rockaway.  As you know from earlier stories, I had been homeless, then in a rehab, then in Homeless Solutions in Morristown. I was in Homeless Solutions from the day after Thanksgiving 2007 until February 15, 2008, when I moved into Jimmy’s.

It wasn’t really Jimmy’s idea as much as his then wife Robin’s. I was celebrating Christmas with the family, then left to go back to the shelter. That really bugged Robin, and I guess she stewed on it for a while, and it kept bothering her, and finally she told Jim, “Your sister should not be in a homeless shelter. Tell her to come stay with us until she gets back on her feet.”  They told me in the beginning of February, and I moved in two weeks later. How glad I was to leave the homeless shelter! Sad too, though, leaving the family with seven children behind. I worried about them for so long, and tried to find out what happened to them, but I never heard about them again. But, after 2 1/2 months, I was well-prepared to leave. I was mentally revved to begin my new life. Robin let me come live with them, but only for 1 1/2 months. I had to get money together and get out on my own as soon as possible. Great rule! Within a week of moving in with them, I had a job. I saved quickly, and Robin helped me look for an apartment.

My teenage son had lived with me during my darkest hours, but things got really bad, and I asked him, “Do you want to live with Aunt Karen?” Of course, he said yes. He was in desperate need of a normal life. So, he went to live with her in South Orange, and for a while, I continued careening down my path of self-destruction. Then, I finally made it to the rehab, shelter, Jimmy’s home. Now, we were looking for an apartment, and I was praying that my son would want to live with me again. So, we looked in South Orange, and I tried to find an apartment big enough for both of us. One that he would like, one that I could afford. Me affording and him liking had every indication of being conflicting scenarios, but I proceeded with the hope usually reserved for the believers of the world.

We tried several buildings and homes. We were turned away almost immediately from most for credit issues. Some we ran away from (just so gross), and some were way too expensive for my measly savings.  We finally went to a building on a main avenue in South Orange, and met with the Super. He was standing in front of the building, looking disheveled and greasy with a slimy smile on his face, but I looked past it all, because I was running out of options and had to find an apartment in South Orange, dammit.

We went into the dreary brick building and walked into a large apartment with two kitchens and two stoves. It turned out that it was two small apartments, but there was no wall between them. If you wanted both apartments so that you could have two bedrooms, you could rent both. Or just one. It was up to you. Up to me? I said, “No thank you.” This is not at all what I want. I knew I had to get out of my brother’s house, but I couldn’t imagine myself living in that creepy building in that creepy apartment…or apartments, depending.

The Super said, “Wait” because he had something else around the block. It was above stores, a Chinese restaurant and a coffee shop on another busy avenue. There were only four apartments above the stores, and the one he was showing me was the last one down the line. It was a one bedroom apartment, but with very big rooms and the door between the living room and the bedroom had a lock on it. I thought, “it’s not the best apartment I ever saw, but it could work”, so I said I would take it.

I moved in on April 1, 2008. Zach was 15 going on 16 when I moved in. I was so excited…he was going to come back and be my son again. However, when I moved in, he said he wasn’t ready yet. So, I spent a few months alone in the apartment, trying to make what I was earning cover the rent, utilities and travel expenses from South Orange to my job in Dover. They really didn’t, but I received some help from my friends…yeah, like the song.

By July, I was feeling pretty lonely, and I saw on Maplewoodonline that someone had this beautiful rescue Siamese kitty that I kind of fell in love with. I never really was a Cat Person, but this little girl was so pretty. So, I arranged to go meet her, and asked Zach if he would like to come with me. He was excited, because he really loved animals, and was even volunteering at our local shelter. We got to the rescuer’s home, went to the cage, and there was this little sandy muffin sitting next to a jet black Helion. I fell for the little Siamese immediately, but Zach really wanted the Blackie, who was hissing and puffing up and being a tiny scary thing.

I said, “If I get both, will you move in with me? I don’t want the black cat, but I will get her for you. She can be your cat when you ‘come home’.” He said, “Yes”, and these two little puffballs were packed up and put in the car and brought to my apartment, where they proceeded to run under the couch in terror. We named the Siamese “Cherie’ and the Blackie “Wednesday” after Wednesday Adams, who was really scary, too. We nicknamed her “Wendy” after Caspar’s Witch friend.  We bought them all sorts of cat toys. They loved the toys on a stick and string, and we would get them to run after them. But, they wouldn’t come near me or let me touch them. They let Zach touch them though. I guess they sensed how gentle he was.

Zach decided not to move in, however, and I was stuck with these two kittens that really didn’t like me. After a while, the Siamese started coming around, and a few months later, when it was time to have them spayed, she was relatively easy to catch and put in a cage to take to the vets. Wendy, however, was not, and I gave up. She didn’t have to go. At nine months old, Wendy went into heat. It was a horrible, horrible week with that crazy cat losing her mind even more. She caterwauled all day and all night, and for the first time, wanted me to pet her…all the time. Pet, scratch, please scratch, please scratch!

I called the local Cat Whisperers’, and they came the next weekend to help me trap her to take her to be spayed. It took us well over an hour to catch her, and by the time we did, she was traumatized. The woman whom I received her from took her to the vet, then called and said that she would keep her to recover. When I called to see if I could pick her up, she said her vet told her that the cat was not tameable, and she should let her heal, then put her back outside. It’s not like she came up with the idea on her own. I had told her what a difficult cat she was, how she wouldn’t let me touch her, and how she hissed at me when I came near her. So, I tried to resign myself to this cat’s fate. But, I kept thinking about how she had lived inside with me since she was tiny, and how I had her for nine months, and that she wouldn’t survive outside. I still don’t really think of myself as a Cat Lady, but I am not heartless.

So, I called the rescuer, and asked if I could see the cat. She said that wasn’t a good idea, and told me Wendy was a horrible cat who hissed at her and tried to scratch her when she came near. I said I still really needed to see her,  and she finally relented and let me come over.  When I got there, we went into the dimly light basement to find my cat in a cage in the corner, looking as forlorn as a feline possibly could. When she saw me, she started crying plaintively, and I swear she was saying, “Please. Please. Please take me home. I just want to go home.” Ugh. I started crying and said I had to take this cat home. Her rescuer told me that was  a bad idea, and reiterated that the vet said the cat wasn’t tameable. I said, “She’s still my cat, and I want to take her home. If it doesn’t work out, well, at least I tried.” I was pretty adamant, so Wendy was put in her crate, and once again, she came home with me.

Cherie was so happy to see her. Wendy was so happy to see Cherie. And, Wendy was so happy to be home, with me. She learned to chill out, a little, and it seemed that she learned gratitude, which is really weird in a cat, but I don’t know how else to explain the change in her. It was like she thought, “Oh wow. I have it pretty good here!” Whatever accounted for the change, it made her bearable, and sometimes, she was a pleasant, friendly cat. Not that she wasn’t still batshit crazy.  On the contrary, her whole spaying experience made her even more paranoid and distrusting. She still hid and hissed, but not as often.

Cherie was like that child that you have that never gets in trouble and is always a pleasure to have around.  She loved to be brushed, loved human food, loved just hanging around, and you couldn’t sense any angst in her. Wendy had enough for the both of them, I guess. Then, as I wrote about in “Loss”, Cherie got sick and died in January 2013.  That was hard, because she was such a good cat, and now I was stuck with the cat that I didn’t want in the first place, the one Zach said he wanted, and no Cherie and no Zach.  I didn’t get any sleep for a week after Cherie died, because Wendy just walked around the apartment crying all day and night. It was worse than when she was in heat, and I felt so bad for her. My Niece Rachel felt bad for her, also, and sent her a stuffed cat to sleep with to help with the loss. It was so sweet, of course I cried.

Eventually, as always is the case, Wendy and I got on with our new normal, and I kind of became her replacement for Cherie. She stopped hissing at me, unless I was making the bed, looking for my shoes under the bed, or sweeping or vacuuming. Her bed issue is that Wendy is a Bridge Troll, as Zach calls her. She has created herself a little world under my bed, and is pissed when we clean under there or go anywhere near her Underworld. I think she hates brooms because we used one to corral her into the cage when she was spayed. And the vacuum freaks her out, but I don’t have any hypothesis as to why, except that it’s freaking big and noisy.

Life went on for a while, just me and Wendy, until March of this year, when Zach finally moved in, temporarily, as they sold the home he lived in. He wants to go back to college, and needs to save money for another apartment. I know it’s a little late. I still call him ‘Kid’ and he’s 22 years old. But, I am so happy to have even just a fragment of the normal life we should have had years ago, at least for a while. And, I am very thankful for all that has happened to lead me up this point. My crazy cat has ended up having a pretty good life, instead of being thrown back on the streets. My kid had me to turn to, and I was so grateful to be there.

And me? I am happy. There’s no magic elixir to make everything right after so many years of it being wrong. But, it’s okay. Maybe everything isn’t supposed to be right. Maybe, at least for me, okay is freaking fabulous…as long as I keep working towards great!

The Marlowes and Deals

The Marlowes

Here is some of what I know about Marlowe history. Much of the story of Great-Grandpa Marlowe and his family is a rehash of a story I found in my father’s papers when I was young, written by one of his elderly cousins.


The name Marlow is English and indicates a location.  It literally means “what is left after the draining of a pond or lake” so people with the name Marlow lived in or near a drained pond or lake.   Many Marlows (and all derivations of the name) can trace their ancestries back to Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England.  In case you are wondering who you might be related to, derivations of Marlow include Marley, Marlowe, Marlo, Marloe, Merlau, Marle, Morley, Merlaue, Marlough, Marloughs, Marloughe, Marloughes, and Merlawe.

The following excerpts were taken from the out-of-print book ‘Marlow Family History’ by Dorothy Roane (1962, reprinted 1965, 1980, 1996)

Because of finding sharks teeth, tusks, and teeth of mammoth elephants and parts of wooly rhinoceros and dinosaur, it is believed that many years ago Marlow, England was submerged under water.  Also found in the Marlow area are flints and tools from the Stone Age, a Belgic urn, and spearheads dropped in the Thames in the Bronze Age, articles from the Iron Age, and coins from the Romans left in local waters. 

The Saxons came and drained the ‘mere’ (according to Webster’s Dictionary, “a sea, lake, or pond) and named the place “Merlaw”.  In Anglo-Saxon language this means, “What is left after draining a mere.” 

There is both a Great Marlow, which once contained about 1800 acres and to the east of this, Little Marlow, which had 1600 acres.  This land changed hands many times and at one time Edward the Confessor’s Queen owned Little Marlow and William of Normandy gave Great Marlow to his wife, Matilda.  The Knights of Templars are credited with laying out the foundations of the town and bridging the river with the first of three famous spans it has had. 

The story I remember is that John Wesley came to Marlow, England, and convinced some followers to come with him to Ireland in the 1700s, and that is how the Marlow’s came to leave England for Ireland.

John Wesley had an experience in which his “heart was strangely warmed.” After this spiritual conversion, which centered on the realization of salvation by faith in Christ alone, he devoted his life to evangelism. Beginning in 1739 he established Methodist societies throughout the country. He traveled and preached constantly, especially in the London-Bristol-Newcastle triangle, with frequent forays into Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. He encountered much opposition and persecution, which later subsided.~ http://www.ccel.org/w/wesley/ 

My Great-Grandfather, George Washington Marlowe, Jr. was born in 1814 in Dublin, Ireland to George Marlow and Catherine Smith. He married Jane Kennedy, who was born in Ireland on March 17, 1833. They had fourteen children altogether, three died in infancy. Mary was the only child born in Ireland in 1848. Then came Catherine, Theresa, Anna, Margaret, George, Agnes, Esther, Thomas (my Grandfather), Elizabeth and Charles.

greatgrampa marlowe

The legend is that Great-Grandpa Marlowe was a Freedom Fighter in Ireland, and one day he was making a soap box speech and was approached by friends who told him that the British Bobby’s were looking for him with an order for his arrest. Handing him a ticket, they told him to hasten to Liverpool and take the ship shortly to leave for America, which he did. They said they would send Jane and the baby she was carrying when he had found a place for them.

Jane, who was nineteen years younger than he was, joined him with baby Mary one year later, sailing on the Camillus from Liverpool on April 17, 1849. They settled in New York City, and lived there for fourteen years when they moved to Louisville, KY, and then Cincinnati, OH, and finally Chicago where they made their home for many years with some of their children joining them.  

Here is the record from Jane coming to America in 1849 from the Ship Camillus’ manifest. I didn’t realize before that she was only eighteen and a mother of an infant when she arrived:

Name: Jane Marlow
Year: 1849
Age: 18
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1831
Place: New York, New York
Family Members: Child Mary
Source Publication Code: 2597.51.1
Primary Immigrant: Marlow, Jane
Source Bibliography: GLAZIER, IRA A. AND MICHAEL TEPPER. The Famine Immigrants: Lists of Irish Immigrants Arriving at the Port of New York, 1846-1951. Vol. IV (April 1849-September 1849). Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1984. pp. 1-200.
Page: 70
Embarkation: Liverpool
Ship: Camillus
Occupation: workman/woman
Passengers: 222
Native Country: Ireland
Destination: USA
Arrival Date: 17 Apr 1849

Great Grandpa was inventor, and constructed the Locomotive Headlight. He also perfected the Marlowe Smoke Consumer, which was first used in the North Side Roller Mills in Chicago.

Their daughter Catherine (called Katie) was so beautiful, men used to follow her on the street for another look at her. Of all the men seeking her hand, she fell for a Jewish man. As it was the mid-1800’s, and mixed marriages were not common or generally accepted, George and Jane naturally objected. She married him anyway, and they moved to Portland, Oregon. They lived happily, until one day Jane received a letter that Katie was very ill with inflammation of the bowels. Then, further word came that she was much improved; but then another letter came stating that she took a change for the worse and died. I have discussed with others what they think caused this, and present conjecture is that it was a ruptured appendix. A Sister in the hospital in Oregon wrote to Jane to say Katie was well prepared to die, and had a beautiful, peaceful death.

Margaret was the fourth child of Jane and George. She never married, and lived into her eighties. She was a darling, and when she laughed, everyone laughed. She took care of her father the last two years of his life when he was bedridden because of a broken hip sustained when he was ninety.

Charles, or Charlie as he was called, drowned in the Columbia River at Bonner’s Ferry in 1893. He was working as a surveyor, and was on a train which was stuck due to trouble, so Charlie and another young man rented a canoe and went down the treacherous river with its swift currents. The canoe became caught in one and overturned. Charlie was a very good swimmer, and the folks on the shore were not worried about him, they were worried about the other fellow, who was holding onto the capsized boat. However, when Charlie reached shore he was quickly drawn down by the quicksand, and his body wasn’t found until three months later. Of course, by then his body couldn’t be shipped home. The Indians there buried him and put a white fence around his grave. Mary and her husband Charlie Carson were living in Spokane at the time. Charlie Carson went to Bonner’s Ferry to see the Indians bury Charlie Marlowe.

My father’s cousin remembered that Great-Grandma as a wonderful person and quite religious. She was going from her kitchen to the dining room and between the parlor and back parlor and she saw her son Charlie who said to her but one word, “Mother.” It was at the exact time that he died.

Jane Kennedy was the daughter of a Spanish Princess, Mary Ann Carlos (or Costello, or Castillo). While at finishing school in Paris, the Princess became fond of a young lady named Kennedy. When they had social affairs, Miss Kennedy’s brother would attend and he and the Princess fell in love. Mary Ann returned home to give her parents the news, but they informed her that she had a pre-arranged marriage to a nobleman. So, she and her lady-in-waiting plotted an escape. They made a green ensemble. The dress and the coat were both trimmed with buttons and each was a gold piece covered with material. There was also a large belt, and sewn within she carried jewelry. The Princess and her lady-in-waiting left home one night and went to the seaport where they took a ship to Liverpool. She married her Kennedy lover, and was disowned by her family for marrying a commoner. He was disowned by his wealthy coach maker family because he married a Catholic, and they were poor but happy.

Great Grandpa Marlowe always stood erect and carried a cane, as most gentlemen did in his day. In winter he wore a black coat with a cape and in the pocket he always carried a bag of horehound candy which he thought best for children.  His long white hair curled on his shoulders and his beard covered his chest. At the age of sixty-five, he vowed never to cut his hair until the land he loved, Ireland, was free.

He was the perfect image of Santa Claus. One year he was asked by Marshall Fields of Chicago to act as their Santa. While doing so, he was approached by a gentleman from Hyde Park, then a fashionable part of Chicago, who asked him to come to his home early Christmas morning. The man sent his carriage with a team of matched horses for George, and ‘St. Nicholas’ gave them a real treat.

George was a wise man. His advice included, “Never cover your forehead with your hair. Your forehead is the sign of your intelligence.”, “Never let anyone convince you that the works known as Shakespeare were written by anyone other than Christopher Marlowe. I know. I am a Marlowe, and it’s a family tradition.”  He said that Christopher was an atheist and was banned from England and in his exile kept writing and sending back his works to a friend in England for publication. Perhaps it was under the name of Shakespeare or to a man named Shakespeare.

He sang opera with Emma Abbott and Jenny Lind, and often in concerts for charitable purposes. At sixty-five, he was tenor soloist at St. Columkills Church in Chicago and people from all parts of the city went to hear him. He loved Abraham Lincoln, and made speeches throughout Indiana for Abe for President.  When Lincoln was assassinated, George draped his home in black.

They moved to Seattle, Washington in 1901, where his son George Jr. became Second Assistant Chief of the Seattle Fire Department. Great Grandpa and Great Grandma Marlowe were married for almost sixty years, until he died in 1907 at the age of ninety-two.

George said he wanted to live as long as anyone else lived. Up until his death, he retained use of all his facilities, and sang until the last, never forgetting an aria or the words to any opera or song.

Jane, who was much younger than he, lived another five years after his death, dying in 1912 at the age of seventy-nine.

Their son, Thomas John Marlowe, met Bertha Werhle at the Columbian Exposition in 1892. The Exposition was The Worlds Fair. They must have met at the dedication ceremonies on October 21, 1892 (in 1893 it opened to the public). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World’s_Columbian_Exposition

They married, and moved to Newark, New Jersey, where Bertha’s family lived. They raised six children. Adele was born on December 24, 1897; Katharyn was born in 1905 and died after marrying and giving birth. The story is that she passed away due to complications from anesthesia in the dentist’s chair (don’t forget, things were much different then).  After Katharyn came Bertha, who was born on August 2, 1907; Elizabeth who was born on May 2, 1911; my father Thomas John Jr., who was born on January 18, 1914; and the baby of the family, Frances, born on August 27, 1916. There were two other boys who were born and died in infancy, and both were named Thomas John Marlowe, Jr. That is how they did it back then. They kept naming the Junior until my Dad came along and lived.

Grandpa had only one arm. The story I heard from my brother Kit who got the scoop straight from our Old Man is that Grandpa tried to catch a train by reaching out for it and lost his arm. He was a hunter in his youth, hunting Grizzly Bear.  I heard about his hunting prowess over and over when I was young, and when we went to the Natural Museum of History, I always thought the Taxidermied Bear was the one he killed, and now it would get me!  He love alcohol and carousing (I’m not sugar-coating this), and Grandma Marlowe was left to rear the children. Look at the attached photograph and you will see the difference in their lifestyles. She was just fifty-two in this picture, and he was fifty-eight, but she looks much older than he does!  That is because she bore the brunt of most of the responsibility of raising their children.

Grandma, Grandpa & the Kids, circa 1926

One day during the Great Depression, a hobo came to their door asking for money. Grandma said she didn’t have any money to spare, but she gave him $10.00 to go to the store for her and get a sack of flour. She said when he came back and brought the flour and the change, she would feed him dinner. When Grandpa came home, he was livid.  How could she be so stupid to give a bum $10.00?  The hobo came back, though, and brought both the flour and Grandma’s change, and she fed him a good dinner.

Thomas Marlowe, Sr. died from complications due to alcoholism on October 18, 1939 at the age of seventy-two. Bertha Wehrle Marlowe died in 1963 from Breast Cancer.

Thomas Marlowe, Jr. graduated from Newark Engineering School in 1936, and got married to a woman named Marie.  They had twin daughters, Barbara and Patricia, on November 12, 1938.  Eventually, Thomas and Marie divorced. Thomas started his own engineering firm in New York City. He was a thirty-three year old divorced Catholic when he met her.

My mother, Elaine Marie Kall, was eleven years younger than Daddy. She was born in 1924 in Rockford City, Illinois to Gustav and Ethel Kall. She had a brother, Ralph, who was eleven years older than she was (the same age as my father; I never thought about that before). She had a privileged life, monetarily speaking, but she did not receive love and affection from her parents who were much older than she.

She attended Purdue University in Indiana from 1942 to 1946, and many men fell in love with her, and she was engaged many times. Her major was Communications. Upon graduating, she moved to New York City and got a job with the phone company. One day, her roommate asked her to chaperone a first date she was going on. My mother said she would, and off they went in the taxi to meet the man. The man couldn’t stop talking to my mother, or take his eyes off of her.  When they were leaving the restaurant, the man asked her if she would go on a date with him. She felt the connection, too, and said yes. Of course, the man was my father.

daddy and gmaMOMMY GRADUATES

She was a mid-western twenty-two year old Lutheran, and he was a thirty-three year old divorced Catholic. Her parents were very unhappy about the union, and when they married in May of 1947, the Kalls did not attend.

Thomas John Marlowe, Jr. (they chose ‘Jr.’ instead of ‘III’), Tommy was born on December 1, 1947, and was doted on by parents and grandparents alike. Two years later, Charles, or Chuck as he is called, was born on June 9, 1949. Following closely behind was Christopher, Kit, born December 2, 1951; then Michael Francis was born on Leap Year, February 29, 1952.  The first girl in the family was Elaine, who was born on February 28, 1953.  She was spoiled by parents and brothers, and they nicknamed her “Sissy”, because she was their only sister. That lasted for a few more years, and James Joseph, Jimmy, was born on July 7, 1954. On December 11, 1955, Elaine was no longer the only girl, because Mary Christina, Tina, came into the world.marlowe family

In 1957, Kathleen was born, but she was only with us for a short while, dying of SIDS (though they didn’t know what that was at the time) at three months old. Michael was five-years old, and he is the one that found her. It was a heartbreaking time for the whole family, and stuck with our family as part of our dynamic to this day. After Kathleen came Kevin Ian, born on May 7, 1959, and I followed exactly one year later, born on May 7, 1960. The last child, our lovely Karen Adele, was born on May 22, 1962, and our happy little family was complete.


The first and best deal I almost brokered was a scam, of sorts. Since I was five-years old at the time, I was incapable of knowing it was a scam, although I did know that it was not the entire truth.

I was walking home from kindergarten, when I happened on a woman in her driveway with a preschooler. She asked if I attended South Mountain Elementary School, and when I said I did, she told me that her child was going to be in kindergarten himself the very next year. “Well”, said I, “Isn’t that something?  I have been picked to be the person who shows the new kids and their moms around the school, so they can get an idea of what it’s like.” “Really, is that so?” replied the mom, skeptically. “Why yes”, I exclaimed, and added with a sly child’s greed, “and it will only cost you a quarter.”

A quarter was the going rate for all of our well-intentioned, spontaneously way-laid plans.  Fifteen cents was okay, and you could buy some candy, or maybe a comic book with it, but with a quarter?  You could do all sorts of things.  If you were down the shore, a quarter got you five pinball games (with a chance for a free game if you rolled the score over one hundred thousand, or if you “popped” a game by matching the last two numbers to the ones that came up for you).  Anywhere you were, you could buy ice cream and candy, candy and a soda, or two comic books with a nickel left over for candy!

When we had been friends for a couple of years (I believe we were nine or ten), Ginny and I made a potholder on a potholder loom.  Then we took our ‘sample’, and walked around the neighborhood, collecting quarters from our neighbors, with the promise of making them potholders, in colors they requested.  We firmly planned to do this.  That is, until we had the quarters.  Then, we were too busy eating ice cream and candy, drinking soda, and reading comic books to make a bunch of potholders.  We were very good at closing the deal, but there was no follow through.

But that day when I was five, and standing in the woman’s driveway with her and her child, she had the upper hand.  Oh, she was a shrewd woman!  She agreed to give me the quarter when she came to school with her son, if I was there to give them the tour.  She said she’d look for me.  There was no reaping of ill-gotten gains that day, but what a scam it would have been!  I almost pulled the wool over her eyes, almost had her right where I wanted her; asking the principal where the kindergartner she had paid to be her guide was.

I didn’t learn from my childhood fiascoes, though. Twice I was the worst Avon lady that ever existed. The first time, when I was seventeen, I actually took orders, but I never placed them. Then again, when I was much older, I thought I could make some money to get on my feet.  I paid for samples and everything I needed. That was the extent of that stint as an Avon lady, no doorbells rung, no orders taken, no money collected. Once, I went with a zealous friend to an Amway seminar, but decided to leave before the head spinning.  No, selling is not for me.

I see the successful salesperson; I have worked for successful salesperson. I envy their drive, ambition, and secure demeanor. I do not possess any of those things. One other important issue for me is this:  I could not sell something unless I wholeheartedly believed in it. When I worked for a certain diner in town in the early eighties, I was not enthused by the preparation of the food or the cleanliness of the kitchen. When a customer asked one day what was good, I replied, “If you walk up the street, to the right is the Town Hall…” I quit the diner that day.

No, selling is not for me.  Oh, but the deal!


Another unrealized post? Too many unfinished thoughts? Too bad. I’m kidding…I think. As most of you know, I was laid-off in April, and I am hoping to get my writing  juju back. Possibly it will be spurred by ennui!


Michael, I already miss you. I last saw you on July 10th, and somehow the time went by, and I didn’t come to see you again. Even though I knew you were in stage four lung cancer, I always believed you were going to recover.  Oh how I wished and prayed, as all wish and pray for their loved ones who have terminal illnesses.

I started writing this the day you died, Michael, but then I couldn’t continue. The grief of losing you and the life we live continuing on, merging, converging to create confusion.  You died on Saturday, July 21st, and one week later your 12 1/2 year old dog Kobe was diagnosed with diabetes.

Your wife, my sister Karen, stayed home for two weeks, but then returned to work. It’s so hard for her, but it’s a good thing that she did.  I am working from home now, so I volunteered to spend time with Kobe a couple of days a week, and my other brother-in-law Doug did, too.

I have been so glad to be there for Karen, for Kobe, for you, Michael. I like to think that you would be proud of me, or happy at least, that I stepped up and helped your family out. You and Karen were there for me in so many magnanimous ways.  Even when you didn’t think I deserved your help, you still helped me.  I can never repay the kindness, so I don’t try.  I just do what I think is right, now.

It’s now been over seven months since you have passed. We have not forgotten you, but think of you each day. It feels like you were just here, and it’s so weird that you are not.

I haven’t written anything since Mike died. It seems I have just been drifting day to day…just trying to get through it. Get through what? Winter? Sadness? Life?

My cat Cherie died in January. Doug came to help me take her to the vet. She had not left the apartment since I took her to be spayed when she was six months old. Five years later, I picked Doug up at lunchtime, so he could catch her to put her in the carrier and we could take her to Dr. Levine’s. She wasn’t eating. She was losing weight, and appeared to be panting and thirsty. She had to go, but I knew she would be difficult to catch. Doug cornered her in the hallway, wrapped her in a towel, and she was dead before she reached the carrier…I think so. I think she was dead even before he put her in there. The carrier door fell off, and we were fighting with it, trying to get it back on. I worried she would try to scratch her way out, but she didn’t move.

I knew then she was dead.  I started freaking out, but Doug, in his constant pragmatic way, said, “I think you’re right, but let’s not panic. She may be in shock. Let’s just get her to the vet, and see what they say.” We got in the car and started driving the few blocks to the vet. I called Karen to tell her, and I was thinking,  “Oh my god, I’m in the car with Doug and my dead cat, pretending that there’s a chance she’s just in shock.” We got to the vet, and I knew she was dead, but I was still upset that someone was not coming NOW to help us. That was about a three-minute wait that felt like forever.

We went into the examination room, and the vet, she was amazing. She was yelling for tubes and sticking a tube down the cat’s throat and blowing in it. It was shocking and there was a minute there when I thought, “She just may bring this cat back to life”, though even while I was thinking it I knew it was a silly thought. I knew the cat was dead and she was just being valiant, because it was her job.

Sharon was diagnosed with Non-small cell lung cancer just about the same time as Mike. Sharon, my best high school friend, the Lucy to my Ethel. The love I had for Sharon was incomparable. We used to dream we would be rich wives and lunch and shop together everyday, but as usual, life had other plans and we drifted apart, but always apart and back together, until one day we didn’t drift back together.

Sharon died on March 1, 2013. I found out because Ricky posted a message on Facebook saying that he was so sad that she had passed. What? She passed? I don’t know why, but I always thought I would be one of the first to know. It just felt that my love for her was so strong, so lasting that everyone would know that I needed to know. Another silly thought, because honestly, I wasn’t a part of her world when she finally left it.  When she left it though, I lost it.

It was so hard to deal with because she was so young, and Mike was so young. It was so hard to deal with because 2012 had been a year of loss, and I had such high hopes for 2013, then we lost a bunch of loved ones again. It was so hard because I had these really awesome memories of Sharon and I, and I could never tell her again, “Do you remember…?” I think that is what is so hard for so many of us when dealing with loss.

Sharon’s wake was hard, it was so hard. I couldn’t believe it was her in the coffin, and I said, “She doesn’t look like herself”, but her cousin Marie said, “Meg, they did such a good job. She was so sick, she looked so sick. She looks pretty now. She’s wearing her favorite suit and necklace.” So, I looked at her again, and she did look so pretty, and so at rest. My poor little Sharon. God, I loved that girl.

The funeral was even tougher, because I knew that this is it. It’s over. You will never see her again. But, it was funny, too. It was held at Our Lady of Sorrows, the church Sharon and I used to go to for Midnight Mass, and yes, we were stoned. One time we got the giggles in church, because we were amazed that the ceiling didn’t fall down on us heathens. It was times like that, and there were a lot of them, that I would really miss. So I was standing there next to Harry, Sharon’s high school boyfriend and lifelong friend, while the priest was talking about Sharon, and I was thinking about the ceiling falling in on us, and I was laughing to myself. And I was thinking about how Sharon would feel about me laughing, and I laughed again.

It’s like that with loss. Laughter does ease the pain, and as we are further removed from the immediacy of the loss, the laughter becomes even more important. Now, when I think of Sharon, I think of the fun times, and I smile. I smile when I think of my brother-in-law, my best friend, my mother, my father, and all of our loved ones~so many~that have gone before. Loss is life; the end of it. It’s inevitable. Laughter is a device life gives us to face the loss. I miss each of them so much. I just hope to be of such character to be missed as much when it’s my time to leave you, and you will laugh; oh god, how you’ll laugh.

Note: since I began this post, I have been laid off…yes, an unemployed bum, again.  It has taken me ten months to finish this story. A tumultuous and sad year, but summer is almost here, and the promise of a new life. Another new start for this old life.  And I remain forever grateful, to those who have passed on, and those of you still here on this orb, offering love and encouragement. I love. I love. I love you all. Thank you.


Mommy and ALS

I wrote this in 2011, but I guess I never posted it on this blog! I wanted to publish it now, so that you all could get a feel of what it’s like to live with ALS, as a patient, and as a loved one of a patient.

My mother Elaine was born on October 2, 1924 in Rockford, Illinois. She was a fabulous beauty with many suitors, and a few fiancés, but of course, life intervened and she made it through college to move to New York City, where she met my father, married, and had eleven children, one of whom died of SIDS at three months old.  She was an actress, lecturer in her church, politically active, and a Children’s Librarian for many years at local library.

One day in 1980, she started feeling a sore throat.  It bothered her, but she was not one to run to the doctor’s office.  She kept saying that she would go if she didn’t start to feel better soon.  She said that for a month.  Finally, she realized the sore throat was not going away, and she went to the doctor, who sent her for tests, and she found out she had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS for short, or as it is commonly known, Lou Gehrig’s disease:

“Henry LouisLouGehrig (June 19, 1903 – June 2, 1941).  Gehrig is chiefly remembered for his prowess as a hitter, his consecutive games-played record and its subsequent longevity, and the pathos of his farewell from baseball at age 36, when he was stricken with a fatal neurological disease.”~Wikipedia

I must admit, when I found out, I moved within months to California.  I was twenty-one years old and subconsciously but selfishly knew that I could not watch the events unfold.  I could not lose my mother.

During the next year, Mommy struggled to live each day, but she continued to work in the South Orange Public Library as a Children’s Librarian.  She lost her voice completely, lost use of her legs and had difficulty using her arms and hands.  She was confined to a wheelchair, and had no real form of communication except her eyes and guttural sounds.  This was causing intense depression for her, as she was a Communications Major, Actress, Writer, Librarian.  Before she could no longer write, she was keeping a journal of her feelings about the onset of this disease.  One day I read in her journal how hard it was to lose one’s voice, of all things, when your life is built around communicating.  It was heartbreaking.

The children of the library to the rescue!  They held a benefit to raise money to buy a newly designed computer for my mother to use at the library.  She could type into the computer, and it would speak for her!  This was quite a miracle in 1981, and it meant she could continue working with the kids, whom she loved so well, and who loved her as much or more.elainek_library_als_1980selainek_solibrary_atthecomputer_1980s

I moved back to South Orange, as my big sister Tina had written me to advise that Karen could not bear the brunt of the caretaking alone.  My father was eleven years older than my mother, and crippled by intense love and a pre-sense of loss.  My brother Kevin helped of course, but Karen really was the primary caregiver for my mother.  The other brothers and sisters were older, with young families of their own, and limited time to offer assistance.  So, I returned.

The disease continued to take its toll rapidly, and my mother continued to fight back. She just would not give up on the quality of life.  She wanted to wear what she thought were her finest dresses (she would be so mad if I tried to choose what she should wear, she was sick, not daft!), all the food she always ate such as steak and pizza, albeit pulverized, and of course, her Five-O’clock Cocktails.  We would make blender drinks, and she would have her cocktails through a straw.  She was happiest when her fragmenting world showed signs of normalcy.

She insisted on going places.  The shopping outlets, plays, out to dinner.  She didn’t want to be a shut-in.  There were many people back then who had a problem with a dying woman in a wheelchair enjoying life.  I don’t know how much that has changed, but I pray our world is wiser, and we realize that we may very well wheel that chair one day!  Also, wheelchair accessibility in the early eighties was so limited.  We would show up somewhere, and find we could not continue with our plans due to narrow aisles or no elevators.  There were days we were so happy to have just a little more time together.  There were days we ended up so disheartened by an unmoving world in our wildly changing lives.

A woman wrote to Mommy and said, “I don’t know how you do it.  I saw you at church, and you are so brave.  I have just found out I have ALS, and I am really scared.”  This woman was embarrassed, as the world wanted the dying to be.  She locked herself away and ate baby food, and was gone in six months.  I have finally learned, from this experience and others like it, that no matter what the world throws at you, you have to fight.  Even if you don’t win the war, the battles won make you a champion!

As the disease progressed, and the caretaking became more difficult, my mother’s and my depression worsened.  I am highly ashamed to admit that I felt the need to confess all my life’s sins to my mother.  Why?  I cannot explain it.  Somehow I felt she needed to know.  I wished the moment after, and forever since that I did not do that.  The hurt on her face was clearly readable.  There was complete communication coming from her eyes.  I had cut her deeply.  I could not take it back, but I wish I could have said, “Only kidding.”

After that, I left for California again.  I was selfishly immature for a twenty-three year old.  I went back to Cambria, California, and worked as a prep-cook in a local restaurant, and cocktail-waitressed, and sometimes bartended in the big Saloon.  I lived in an apartment above the saloon without a phone.  On the morning of June 25, 1983, my boss from the restaurant came knocking on my apartment door, and calling my name, waking me up.  Did I think, “What is she doing here?  She never comes here.”  No, I knew.  I started crying immediately.  I went outside and placed a collect call to my sister Karen, who confirmed it.  Mommy was gone.

I tried to work and act like it was no big deal.  I made it through the first night, but the next day I broke down on the restaurant’s kitchen floor.  I had no money to return for the wake or funeral, and so I remained in my little apartment above the bar, getting drunk and crying over the pictures of and letters from my Mom.  I stayed there for a week.  Part of my heart stayed there forever.  It was the first time I experienced such true life-altering loss, and I had removed myself from the epicenter of support.  You would have thought that would have been a lesson learned.  Of course, it wasn’t.  The lessons I should have learned from this eluded me for many years.

I heard the Funeral was big. There were police escorts.  Everyone loved my mother so.  I still hear from so many people how much she meant to them, to their parents, to their children.   I am so proud to say that Elaine Marie Kall Marlowe was my mother.  I just wish she could see I am finally learning the lessons she tried to teach through her words, and when there were no words, through her actions.


I know I have left so many stories dangling in this Blog: the story of Mom-Mom and the Sparks house, the story of The Army, the story of my addiction and recovery.  It has been a whirlwind of a Spring.  With the Walk To Defeat ALS fundraisers and two showers, two wakes, a funeral and a 50th birthday party, we really have had a Social Season, for better and worse.  I am hoping that after next weekend, I will have restful times, find some inspiration and continue the stories I have promised ends to!

Next weekend is the culmination of the season, with the wedding of two of the best people I know, my nephew Mark and our lovely Molly.  Molly is a member of our sister family.  I say sister family in the sense of a  sister organization.  We have grown up side by side and shared many, many happinesses and sorrows.  Molly’s grandfather passed away one month ago today, and we were all there, sharing in the grief.  Her grandfather, who was father to my best friends in the world, was a fascinating, caring, giving man and the global community felt his presence in his missionary endeavors.  He was remarkable, and is greatly missed.   My heart is with my friends today, as they remember their Dad and Grandfather and how much he means to them.

When I woke up this morning I was thinking about my Daddy, which is not unusual, since it’s Father’s Day.  I opened my eyes, and my first thoughts were that my Dad had such a hard job, clothing and feeding and taking care of ten children at home, as well as helping his married daughter and her young family.  This morning I thought of all the lessons he taught me; lessons I didn’t know I learned until many years after his passing.  These lessons must have been those proverbial seeds that fell through the cracks; somehow they found light and grew.  I know now that he loved us very much, though I didn’t understand as a child.  I thought love had to be tied up in hugs and soft words.  I see now that my father gave everything he had to make sure his kids were taken care of.  He never said no, even when he should have.

On Christmas, my father was a light.  One Christmas morning, my brother had a camcorder, and walked around the family filled house asking people what Christmas meant to them.  He found Daddy in the kitchen making more coffee for the masses.  Daddy’s answer to the question was simple but from his heart, “Giving.”  That was my Dad at Christmas.  He was like a kid at Christmas, but his happiness was in the giving, not the getting.

In August, my father was a joy.  He always took the last two weeks of August for vacation, and joined us at our rented Victorian in Cape May, New Jersey.  He also came the first two weekends, taking public transportation to Atlantic City, where Mommy would pick him up and bring him back on Sunday nights.  He stayed at home the first two weeks of our month-long vacation, but those weekends were really nice with our Dad.  He couldn’t totally relax.  He did a little though, and you could tell he needed it.   The last two weeks, when he came and stayed, those were so wonderful.  He was so much fun then!  He was the Dad I always wanted him to be.  The one I dreamed he would be everyday!  The Vacation Dad!  Approachable, impulsive, smiling.  I miss that Vacation Dad.

Over the years I have come to realize, and everyday, that I miss my father in so many ways.  He was a wise man, but I never listened.  He was a loving man, but I never noticed.  I am listening and noticing now.  I was so lucky to have spent time with him before he passed, to hear some of his stories, and discover the man, not just the Dad.

Daddy’s Passing
By Meg Marlowe~2009

I remember that I was sitting in his hospital room. We were taking turns watching him; taking turns in the ICU waiting room.  I was reading a short story book, by which author I don’t remember now; I don’t even remember the stories.  But, I remember being thankful that I had chosen a short story book at the library the week before he was admitted.

It was my turn.  My turn to sit with Daddy while he lay dying, which he did not want to do.  I was glad and sad to be there at the same time.  We had only come to know each other in the last four months, my having spent thirty-three years filled with animosity and mistrust; making for a difficult upbringing.

I finally had my daddy as my friend, and he was leaving me.  I decided to come home in November 1993, with my one year old in tow, because I missed my father.  I was always homesick for him when I went away, despite our overt displays of contradictory beliefs (arguments over me being young and dumb, and him being old and wise).  Daddy, I have to admit, was all I had left.  But, more than that, especially looking back now, always was the one there for me.  And, I was realizing that his way of dealing with children was the way he was dealt with as a child.  Yet you could see that he wanted more for us, and he tried to treat us better than he and his sisters were which is actually very sad.

I had always heard that his mom was long-suffering and trusting and that his dad was a womanizing, one-armed alcoholic.  I knew there was some basis in that, but, I thought, it must be embellished.  However, I recently came into possession of a copy of a picture of their family.  I look at him, so happy and relaxed, I look at her, so worn and tired, and I know it’s all true.  And, I feel sad for the woman in the picture, my grandmother in the early 1920’s.

I was relieved of my duties by a brother, and sent back to the waiting room.  I had been at the hospital for two days, and my family basically forced me to go home to rest.  I had slept for about two hours, when I heard Daddy yelling at me, “Meggie!  Meggie!”  I jumped up, and sped back to the hospital.  Everyone thought I was nuts (have I told you yet that’s true?).  But, I had to be there for him; and I was, until the end, and held his hand as he passed.

When Mommy died in 1983, I was so scared to watch her die, that I ran away to California.  The day my sister Karen called to tell me she was gone, my boss got the phone call, as I didn’t have a phone, and work was my contact number.  I was working in a local restaurant and also cocktail waitressing in ‘the bar’ on the weekends in my small and lovely town of Cambria, California.  I lived in a little apartment above the bar. It was a Saturday morning.  I was sleeping off a hangover, as usual.  My boss came to my door and knocked, which she had never done before, announced herself, and I knew.  I knew Mommy was gone.

I shot out of bed, and ran to the payphone to call my sister.  She confirmed what I knew.  I cried and wondered what had possessed me to be so far away at this monumental time.  I had no money, and for some reason, this was the one time that Daddy didn’t bail me out of a predicament.  I was stuck on the west coast, slowly going mad from grief, and far away from the obligatory events:  writing the obituary and death notice, picking a coffin, and then the wake, the funeral, the repast.  I thought I was suffering much worse than the rest of the family, as I was all alone.

That was until Daddy passed, which he did after several attempts to resuscitate him, on March 7, 1994.  I then found out what it is like to lose a parent as an adult, with the responsibilities that must accompany the sorrow.  It was a milestone for me, and one that I think Daddy would have been proud of watching me go through.  I stood strong through the next few days of public mourning, and was even there for his sole remaining sister, and my nieces and nephews.

Losing a parent does teach lessons, and we grow in our fortitude, maturity, and perspective.  I learned these things from my daddy growing up, and from his passing, and moving on.

Daddy and his children, January 1994

The Camaro and The Army

In the summer of 1988, I was living in a trailer with a roommate in Jolon, CA. This trailer park was mainly occupied by soldiers (and their families) stationed at Fort Hunter Liggett, the base there. I was working in the bar directly off-base, and met a few guys that I was hanging around with. We usually went for drive, went to the lake to swim, or stayed at the bar and drank.

Then, one night, someone introduced me to Mick. I was twenty-eight, and he was thirty-nine. He was, well, the only word to use for Mick is virile. He was a virile specimen of a man. Absolutely cliché; but I can’t think of a better cliché to describe him. He was a Drill Sergeant on base, and all the men called him, “Gunny”, after the Clint Eastwood character in Heartbreak Ridge, Gunnery Sgt. Tom ‘Gunny’ Highway.

Tall, bald (though he thought he was balding, so he did the comb-over with his last measly strands), brilliant blue eyes, commanding presence. I fell under his spell within a minute. 

Mick had just returned from Berlin a few months before, and was living in Pacific Grove with a Captain friend of his stationed at Ford Ord in Monterey. Mick was stationed at Hunter Liggett, and stayed in the barracks five days a week, and at his apartment on the weekends.  Once we met, he began spending all of his time in Jolon, and we double dated with my roommate and her boyfriend, Mick’s friend Top (Top Sergeant). Top became a dear friend of mine then, who really looked out for me, even after Mick and I broke up. Damn Army nicknames, I cannot remember Top’s real name! Then again, I can’t remember my roommate’s name either. She wasn’t really remarkable, though. Mostly, I remember her selfishness when it came to her ailing mother.

Her mother stayed with us, and I began caretaking for her. The ironic thing is that I fled to California to avoid all the heartache associated with taking care of my mother, who passed away from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1983. Five years later, I was cleaning and dressing and feeding a stranger. Now that I am older, I can look back and see that my roommate was no different from me. She was not mature enough to handle it.

My relationship with Mick became intense quickly. That happens when wildly jealous and possessive men meet immature, insecure women. Within weeks he was accusing me of sleeping with many of his soldiers. I was sure that meant true love. He came to the bar when I was working and stared down all the men, so they wouldn’t talk to me. My tips dwindled radically, but many began to offer advice. Over and over I heard, “Why are you with that old man?” That’s funny, now that I am fifty-one, but when I was twenty-eight, I thought the advice givers were jealous because Mick was a man, and they were boys.

Mick grew so jealous that after one month of dating, he asked me to quit my job, and move into the apartment he shared with the Captain in Pacific Grove. I readily said yes, not only because I thought I loved him, but I also felt it was time to distance myself from my roommate and her burdens. I moved in and met the Captain and his girlfriend, Susan Jones. Mick and the Captain where never there during the week, and Susan was working, so I was left to my own devices all day, every day.

I also had Mick’s 1987 Red Camaro. He bought the car and had it shipped to Germany, and then when he returned, he had it shipped home. It was a real beauty, and the love of his life. The car wore a bra for protection! He kept her immaculate. I don’t know why, but Mick trusted me with that car. Silly Mick. I was a callow twenty-eight year old with lots of time on my hands! I would drop him off at Fort Hunter Liggett on Sunday night, and pick him up on Friday night. In between, it was just like I owned a 1987 Red Camaro with a bra on it.

The Camaro and I had so much fun. We took my nephew for a ride on a two lane highway at one hundred miles per hour. Someone from Hunter Liggett saw that and reported it to Mick. Called up on the carpet, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I lied. That soldier was crazy! It absolutely wasn’t me (a blonde with a young man matching my nephew’s description)! I don’t know if he bought it, or wanted to, but he just forgot it, and we stayed the way we were; my now beloved Camaro and I.

I took to going for joy rides in the daytime, and stopping at bars. I was going to the Wharf in Monterey a lot, and drinking at Domenico’s on the Wharf. They made a Scorpion to kill for. After drinking a few of them, I almost killed myself, and others. I was blasted drunk, driving down Alvarado Street, and smashed Mick’s pretty Camaro into the vehicle in front of me. There was no damage to the truck, but the Camaro had a few dents. I was incredibly lucky that the occupants of that truck were illegal immigrants that did not want the police called. Neither did I, so we went our separate ways. My real worry was concocting a believable story for Mick.

When I called to tell Mick about the accident, I said the guys in front of me stopped short, and when I spoke with them, they didn’t speak English, and that I didn’t realize anything was wrong with the car until I left the scene. He kept saying, “Well, at least you’re okay, and that’s what matters”, but I could tell by his tone that was not true at all. I didn’t know, or maybe didn’t want to know, but I realized later that was the moment when Mick started trying to get rid of me.

As far as I knew, we were still happy, so I kept enjoying my escapades. I drove to Paso Robles, and met a bartender who shared my interests in carousing. We began to go out for drinking and driving dates in Mick’s Camaro. We only drank and ran around and had fun. I had no sexual intentions towards the bartender, but word got back to Mick that I was cheating on him. There were a lot of jealous women in our area who thought a Drill Sergeant was a real catch, and they weren’t too happy that a young chickie caught him!

One day, Mick came roaring into the apartment, carrying a dead rattlesnake that he had either killed or found. I can’t remember now, but it seems he killed it, because I remember being pretty scared by the symbolism of him carrying that thing in and chopping it’s rattler off with a butcher knife in front of me. After he dismembered the snake, he turned to me and told me to get out.

“Why?”, I cried, but he was glaring at me with all the venom the snake had once possessed. He would not answer, but I really thought in my demented mind that I was madly in love with him, and could not understand why he didn’t feel the same way. I begged for an answer, and he finally told me that people had seen me with the bartender, and they informed Mick that I was having an affair with him.

I denied any knowledge of the bartender, said it wasn’t true, the women were just jealous cows. He wouldn’t listen, even though I was crying and pleading for him to believe me. He grabbed some things, and headed for the door. As he left, he said he was returning in two days, “And don’t be here”, and got in the Camaro, and took off. I had lost my man and my darling car.

I immediately became despondent. I thought the women had set me up in a great injustice. I thought I could not live without Mick.I felt like such a fool, but couldn’t admit to myself that it was my fault, that I had acted dreadfully and irresponsibly and selfishly. I had to blame the women and become the victim. I had suicidal thoughts; at least peripherally.

I left the apartment, and went to the beach two blocks away. I sat staring at the waves, and thinking. Mostly, I was thinking, “Oh poor me.” I stayed there a while, letting the crashing waves calm me down. I think at that moment, I realized this was nothing to be so dramatic over, but if I wasn’t dramatic about it, how would anyone know just how wronged I’ve been?

I got up, walked to drug store, and bought over the counter sleeping pills. Then, I went to the liquor store for vodka.  They carded me, which really never happened, and I didn’t have my license on me. I had to walk back home and get it.  I thought, this is my rotten luck.I am trying to kill myself and can’t even do that right. I returned, showed my ID, got my liquor, and walked home.

When I got back to the apartment, it was still early afternoon. Susan was there, and when I saw her, I started crying again. I told her what had happened, but gave her the same story I gave Mick. I don’t know anything about this bartender. I had the vodka in my hand, and the sleeping pills were on the table, and she took the vodka and told me I could either have a drink, or a sleeping pill, but not both. By then, my eyes were so worn out from crying, I chose the sleeping pill and slept until the next morning.

When I woke up, and realized that I could not get him back, I set out on a revenge campaign. I had two days to make my presence known in his life for a very long time. I made a cup of coffee, and sat down with a pen and a pad. I began writing snippets of love songs and love poems that I knew by heart, and then I wrote a lot of my own poems and sayings, too. I cut each song and poem fragment into a little piece of paper, using Susan’s pinking shears to make them decorative.

After creating many of these scraps of paper, I hid them all over Mick’s apartment, in all his personal things. In his boots, coats, videos, Medicine Cabinet, drawers, coffee cups, pillow cases. I hid them everywhere that I could think of. I was trying to make it impossible to forget me, so I hid them in places I thought he may not find them for several months. Then, I took his toothbrush and left. Why did I take his toothbrush? I thought it was clever of me, but it didn’t occur to me that he could just go to the drug store around the block to get a new one. Still, I felt guilty about it.

I had called Debbie, my sister-in-law Marlene’s sister, to ask if I could stay with her. She had a house in Lockwood, which is right next to Jolon. I moved in with her, with Mick’s toothbrush in my possession, and cried for a few days, miserable and sure Mick was the love of my life. I listened to Linda Ronstadt sing, “Love Has No Pride”, and Patsy Cline and Bonnie Raitt and all the sad girls sing, and thought I knew their pain. I was Camille; simply a tragic heroine in the melodrama of life.

I still had Mick’s toothbrush, and it was bothering me. Why didn’t I throw it out? Subconsciously, I think the toothbrush was symbolic of the culpability I refused to take. If I gave the toothbrush back, I could be exonerated. I walked the six miles to Fort Hunter Liggett, and waited for Mick to come out of the barracks. He never came out, so I handed one of his soldiers the toothbrush and a note saying, “Sorry I took your toothbrush.”

I stayed with Debbie for a few weeks in Lockwood, then went to stay with Marlene, my brother Michael and their family, also in Lockwood. Marlene wanted to know what I planned to do with my life. That was a good question. I was twenty-eight, with no job and no prospects, and living off of my relatives who barely could provide for their own.

I started thinking that if I went into the Army, it would spite Mick, and at the same time show him that I am really a tough and cool woman, and maybe someone he should be in love with. One day I was visiting a friend in the mountains, and told him what I was thinking. He said it was cool if it was what I really wanted, but I shouldn’t join the Army in a French Foreign Legion way. I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “You know, when people are forlorn about lost love, so they run off and join the French Foreign Legion.” I thought that was hilarious, and assured him that was not what I was doing, when I knew that was exactly what I was doing.

A few days later, I went to Salinas, where the Army Recruiting Station is, and spoke with a Sergeant Flowers about joining up. He was a handsome young Southern man, and I was smitten. The plot thickened!

Sergeant Robert Flowers and I began a torrid affair. He began taking a vested interest in my training for the Army, after I naturally joined up, not only to spite Mick now, but to appease Bob. I trained in the daytime, power walking for twelve miles a day in the oppressive high mountain valley heat. At night, I went for rides with Bob, conducting an affair in a pick up truck.

I took my ASVAB test (like a SAT for the Army), and scored very high. Bob called me a few days later, and told me that the Army thought I cheated, so I had to take it again. I got the same score the second time. I wanted to go into Cryptography, but I couldn’t get a good enough security clearance, since I owed money. Yes, a security clearance is dependent on your financial record, among other things. I suppose it shows how reliable you are. I couldn’t argue that up until then, I hadn’t been very reliable. So, I chose communications.

After a few weeks of this, I decided to go home to visit my father and family while I still could. Who knew how long it would be until the next time? I spent a few months with them in South Orange, New Jersey.I kept thinking of Mick, how I thought he did me wrong. I wanted him to feel like he had made a dreadful mistake.I wrote to Susan, and asked her to tell him I was going into the Army. I received a letter from Mick, addressed to me at my father’s house, and in it he said he was proud of me, and sent me three pictures of him. I was so happy, over the moon. Now I had to go through with it.  

While I was in New Jersey, I went to the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Newark (now closed) on June 30, 1988, and took the Enlistment Oath, “I, Margaret Marlowe, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I stayed in New Jersey until the time came to be shipped off to Basic Training. At that time, the Army gave you three choices of where you want to go, then sent you somewhere entirely different. I was to spend my Basic Training right in Fort Dix, New Jersey. But first, I had to fly back to California to be processed through the MEPS in Oakland. Sergeant Robert Flowers picked me up from the San Francisco airport in October, 1988. It was a beautiful day, and we drove from the airport to Half Moon Bay, and stayed in a lovely little Motel overnight.

The next day, we continued on our ride south to Lockwood, where I would stay with my brother and his wife for a few days, until it was time to take the bus to Oakland. We  stopped to pick a pumpkin from a sweet little roadside patch on the side of Highway One, then drove straight through. That was the last time I ever saw Bob Flowers.

A few days later, I was on a bus to Oakland, and the enormity of what I was doing was finally sinking in. I started to realize this might be a big mistake, but I wasn’t sure how to stop it now. I didn’t think I could. I had already taken the oath. I was locked in. We arrived in Oakland, and spent a day at the MEPS being processed. Many of us met in the smoking room there. It was a long and boring day. As night approached, they loaded us onto a bus, and put us up in a Motel for the night. The next day we would depart for our various bases to begin Basic Training.

We were given explicit instructions that we were not to leave the Motel property, or consume any alcohol. It would be hard to consume alcohol without leaving the property, and they had chaperones with us in the Motel, so they thought we had to be good, and stay safe in our rooms, worrying about the next day. A few hours into our stay, there was a knock on my motel room door. I was sharing the room with one other girl. She answered the door, and it was some of the guys that we had met in the smoking room at the MEPS. They said they were making a break for it, for the night. They wanted something to drink, and just to get away for a while. I sensed adventure! I loved adventure! “Count me in!”, I said, as I threw my shoes on and ran out the motel room door.

We lurked in the shadows, crouching and hugging the motel wall, then…we made a break for it! We were humming the Mission Impossible theme song, singing “Dun, dun, dun, dun dah dah, dun, dun, dun, dun dah dah” lowly. When we had made a clean get away, we all began running and laughing at the same time. None of us had ever been in the area before, and we had no idea where we were going. We just knew it was exciting.

We walked for a while in the darkness, and didn’t see much, and it wasn’t such an adventure after all. We came to long freight train moving slowly in front of us. The guys all said, “Come on!” and jumped on a flat car then jumped off on the other side. The flat car was moving along, and the next car was a locked container. They were yelling at me to stop being a chicken, so I took a running jump, and I was on the car! I did it! Now, I had to get down. I was more scared of getting off than I was of getting on. They were yelling at me again. What was I going to do? Just ride that car until the train stopped? I would be in trouble with the Government. I was Military property now. I jumped, and landed on my knees. I scrapped them pretty badly and they bled, but I was so exhilarated, I didn’t feel any pain. Adrenaline rushed to my brain, and I barely worried that the next day, someone might see my bruises and ask how I got them sound asleep in my nice, safe room.

We found a liquor store, bought some beer, and drank it all the way back to the motel. When we arrived at the tracks again, there was no train, and I didn’t have to be a daredevil twice. We were all a little tipsy, but still stealthy as we tiptoed back to our rooms and fell happily asleep, having anesthetized our fears.

When we woke the next day, they took us to the airport, where we boarded planes for our destinations. I arrived at Newark Airport, and a busload of us were taken from there to Fort Dix. We arrived in Fort Dix at four in the morning on a late October day. It was just like in the movies. The whole bus had slept, but then we all awoke as we approached the base. Groggy, we all got off the bus, and were greeted by a not nice barrage of orders. In my mind, I said, “Oh my.  It appears I have made quite an error in judgement”, or, maybe it was more like, “Holy shit, what did I do?”  I knew at that moment, I would have to find a way to get out this predicament.

Part II: https://megemarlowe.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/the-army-month-part-ii-to-the-camaro-and-the-army/