Another April birthday

Susan Manzke
After the Toni perms: Susan, Aunt Mary Ann, and Karen.

My mom and dad both had April birthdays. Mom was only ten days younger than Dad. He, born April 10, 1923, and she April 19, 1923.

Last week I wrote about Dad being the storyteller in the family. Mom tried her hand at making up stories for my sister and me when Dad was working. We liked her stories and the attention she gave us but she didn’t have the pizzazz that our story-telling father had.

This made me think about the special times we had with Mom. They were different than Dad’s but just as memorable.

Since Dad worked nights for United Airlines, he left his three ‘girls’ home alone. Once we waved our goodbyes to Dad, we were left under Mom’s care.

I remember sitting in a darkened living room, the television set the only light in the house. Mom, Karen, and I were watching something, I don’t remember what, and we were having a special snack.

Mom had fried up a pork chop and made a large sandwich for the three of us. Besides the meat and bread, the sandwich also had tomato — sometimes the tomato was on the side, nibbled like a fruit.

This sandwich time might not seem very important, but it was a special, quiet time for the three of us. There no fights over who would take the next bite, we all got our turn — as I think about it today, I can almost taste the juicy meat — in all my years of cooking, I’ve never been able to recreate as tasty a porkchop sandwich. Mom must have put some special ingredient in hers. You might call it a dash of love.

Another thing Mom did was write on our backs. Karen and I would take turns sitting in front of her and Mom would trace an alphabet letter on our back. We were supposed to guess what she wrote. If we did, we won the game  —it was a game without scores or rules.

Photo from 1959, Isabelle, Susan and her sister Karen at Brookfield Zoo.

This back-writing game was almost like a backrub, but more special. I guess you could call it intimate. Mom’s index finger would go up and down and around, creating a huge letter. Sometimes she would ‘slip’ and tickle us. When Mom got tired, Karen or I would write on Mom’s back, but that wasn’t as much fun for us.

Mom was a lover of Shirley Temple, a little girl from old movies. Mom wanted my hair to be like Shirley’s and gave me what she called banana curls — long, hanging curls like Goldie Locks, except my hair was red, not blonde.

To make us even more beautiful, Mom gave us home Toni perms. Boy did we hate those hair treatments. Mom worked very hard to get the curlers in tight, so tight that I think my eyebrows were pulled up toward my hairline.

It took hours and hours for both my sister and me to get our perms. One time, Mom added a third head to the group, her little sister Mary Ann got a perm that day, too.

I never appreciated all the work Mom put into those perms. It didn’t help that Dad hated the chemical smell and left the house — when coming home in the evening, the smell would still be there and Dad would be opening up all the windows to air out the house.

Mom was a Chicago girl, working in a factory during WWII while she waited for her love to return from fighting in Europe.  

Dad moved us out of Chicago when I was three. Mom had to adapt to country life. She tried hard to learn about gardening. One day she thought she’d help in the garden while Dad was away. Mom weeded on her hands and knees and proudly displayed her work to him when Dad returned. You’d think Dad would have been happy. He wasn’t. Mom had weeded out the tomato plants and left the ragweed.

So now you know a little bit about my mother, Isabelle Fuchs Paska. She wasn’t a storyteller like Dad yet she left me with many stories.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165; sunnybook@aol.com; www.susanmanzke.net/blog. Also found on YouTube.