Sunday, February 6, 2011

Summer Vacation 1938 10 years old

This July Lake Winnebago was cold

Summer of 1938 the entire William Bergin family of 6 vacationed in a cottage at Lakewood Beach on Lake Winnebago, Fond du lac, WI. My parents rented upstairs from Mrs. De Sombre. She was an interesting character, an old maid school teacher.

Elayne, Billy, Mother, Jimmy, DeSombre Cottage, MaryKay

This was a very awkward, scrawny  year for me physically. Additionally, I had this brown knit swim suit which did nothing for my developing figure which was almost a uniform for the vacation duration.

There was a large green lawn leading from the cottage down to the lake. A stone wall was all around the water’s edge and no shallow beach, stones rather than sand. 
There were a few of the large white adirondack chairs set out on the lawn.The entire time we visited the weather remained chilly and the water cold.  It was July but there was not a warm day in the entire month that year. We shivered constantly when we went swimming which is what we had to do because the lake was there after all. We met a young boy about our age who had a rowboat and gladly he shared with us. 
Learning to row a boat

We spent much of our time on the lake learning to row that boat as he so generously shared his boat, time and talent. We were often home alone as mother and dad left to visit various relatives. They had such trust in us. I remember a number of fights we had with Billy while we were left alone. He would chase us through the cottage, threatening us, sibling rivalry. Perhaps looking back it had a lot to do with the three of us coming of age. I don’t recall Jimmy being there. Safer with mother and dad, I suppose.  

We met Aunts Anna and Ellie, as we were told befriended my dad and helped and encouraged him to go to Marquette and complete his courses at the University. He always spoke lovingly of them and with such gratitude. They were lovely women. 
Cow Pasture on Aunt Ellie's Farm

I remember walking out onto their cow pasture one Sunday afternoon with them, with mother and a few others, where the cattle had pastured and us stepping between the drying ‘cow pies’. Wherever the grass is greener it has been thus enriched. One walks carefully.

One Sunday we were left in town at a young cousin of my dad’s home, while the folks went out to Mass, probably breakfast as well. I always thought the name was Shea but have not been able to verify this relation until recent times when looking through my father’s letters I saved several times he refers to them when he visited his sisters Helen and Veronica in the 1970’s. 

The Shea’s  had this modern radio in their home with lots of knobs. I believe there were some short wave knobs unlike the radio on the right. I turned some knobs and was scared that I had broken it and kind of laid low when they returned so as not to be suspected as a villain. Darn another sin to fret over. Apparatus of all types were becoming complicated. I think our ancestors would swoon had they seen what is available today. I remember they had a baby daughter that year, 1938, when I was 11 and Elayne 12, Billy 9, Jimmy 2+. We were again told the story about Aunt Veronica and Harry. They married and he left her immediately and they never could find him. In those days a divorced person was someone the family treated carefully, like arm’s length, maybe like contagious. They were never to remarry. We saw Aunt Veronica at our home in Chicago for some Thanksgivings. Mother said she was beautiful. Seemed like such a sad story to me, never able to marry and her husband whose whereabouts couldn’t be known.  How would it be dissolved? Uncle Dave had a twin who died at birth. I saw Uncle Dave when attending Mount Mary College. He was a very big man and married to Theresa. They invited Elayne and me to dine with them at their restaurant. This was the evening I had my first Martini and wow was it strong. My head was spinning.
Uncle Mansfield at a later date spent many days with us at our Greenview address in Chicago. I remember fondly his teaching us to wish on and then break the turkey wishbone and about a turkey’s whistle, the portion of the bird which held the tail feathers. Thereafter, speaking for myself, of course, this part of the roast was shunned.  There was a time with us when he had this corrugated cardboard, like logs, and he constructed an entire farm set for us down in our basement and I was in awe of his creative talent. Gradually, we saw less and less of him. At one point we were told he contracted spinal meningitis. But, he didn’t die. [I had 2 young friends in grade school who died from it]. One evening we were returning to our home, riding in the streetcar, with mother and she saw him on the same car. Mother told us to pretend we didn’t see him, in hopes he wouldn’t recognize us. By then he had a serious alcohol problem and apparently no amount of ‘helping’ him seem to be a solution. They didn’t know how to. Much later when in California he joined AA. And many years after when I am married and living in CA my dad sent a copy of a letter he received from Uncle Mansfield, then living in San Diego. I was delighted and told my father I would look him up. He cautioned me not to. He will bring only trouble. Apparently trouble is what he always brought with him for his brother and sister-in-law, my parents. They had been at wits end dealing with his alcoholism.
Serenity Prayer

Only by this time he was keeping his pledge and been sober for some time. I have the copy of that letter from my Uncle in a loose leaf containing many of my father's letters in the 70's and 80's.
In my generation we began to learn how we control our behavior, sin being wrong choices. Previous generations referred to a child as bad seed or bad apple the child who struggled to conform at home, school or society. I was enlightened a bit when our Kevin was born at the Harvard, IL hospital and I was wide awake as I had been given no drugs to dull my senses. I felt that he and I were as close to Creator God as we could ever be. This was a heavenly moment. As years passed I realized Christian children are erroneously  being taught a child is born with original sin on his/her soul. The child’s soul is spotless. We, it’s family soon begin to instruct the child in our sinful ways through our choices, mainly due to ignorance. In addition we righteously  most often choose our family’s methods of dealing with behavior we rightly or erroneously believe needs changing. These behaviors today have a label, dysfunction. Alcoholism fits into this label and is found among my ancestors. Not just my beautiful granddad and uncle/s. I discovered many years later the brothers who emigrated to Minnesota found solace in Alcohol and in a generation or two lost out. One child growing up decides to overcome this family problem by not using alcohol at all. Another decision my father chose was to use but not abuse alcohol. He had his small cabinet in which he kept alcoholic products. If there were cause to celebrate or simply enjoy a drink  he would go to the cabinet, remove a bottle, pour into the required glasses and return the bottle to the cabinet. We grew up with our dad modeling this behavior. He taught us as well. He was in control of it rather than the alcohol controlling him. What he didn’t know was why his father,  my grandfather, drank in the first place. Control rather than solution. Other families have experienced dysfunction when they sought solutions to problems in food, shopping, gambling, drugs, sex, work, and other. Such addictive behavior exists in the many other than family societal groups as an example the church. See The Dysfunctional Church by Michael Cosby. Such a church is incapable of helping families overcome addiction unless they see it in themselves. Families are left on their own to search out  and identify problems, deal with them, ridding themselves of their ‘sin’ of choosing wrong behavior, wrong solutions. I share what I have learned because I too, without all the pieces, spent much of my life, in error or ‘sin’ making wrong choices. And then it was too late. My children would be on their own striving to be functional. Bradley, La Leche, Montessori,  ongoing search for those nuggets of truth, sharing, were steps in the right direction. I spent several years with only Jaime at home when living in Riverside, CA attending CODA meetings [Children of Alcoholics], an offshoot of AA. I was not a Child of an Alcoholic. I was a grandchild of an alcoholic though and I realized my own father and mother didn’t have all the facts when they made some very important decisions. And neither did I/we. I learned the 12 Steps are even good for grandchildren of alcoholics. .  

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