Grandma Foster's Story © Terri Roberts An example of my work I was an unwanted baby. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts. My mother was quite the wild woman for those days and was an alcoholic. So, when I was born, I was dropped off at St. Mary’s Convent, which was to be my home for the next thirteen years. Nobody ever came to see me. And oh…those nuns were so meeean. It really is true what they say about nuns back in those days. I was a troublemaker, they said. Twenty girls were crammed into a dorm and they woke us up at 6am for our morning prayers. Sometimes I would sneak out of the yard and over to the back yard of some business. We would look around for cans and coins. We always found something over there. I don’t remember what kind of store it was, or why we dug around but we did and it gave me a reason to get away from those sisters. Sometimes I would find money. I would save up the money I found. Then I snuck away and bought me candy at the store down the street. I remember the man who worked there as clear as day. Oh, he was a big man, over 6ft5, had to be. He had big bushy eyebrows, dark brown eyes and the biggest hands I had ever saw. “Back again Mary? Havin’ a good day young lady, escaping the nuns?” “Just takin’ a walk, the nuns are okay.” “You better be careful you don’t get caught, I heard them nuns are brutal to you girls.” “Yes sir, I had my hands smacked by a ruler,” as I showed him the welts, “because I was caught passing a note.” “You are a brave child. Well go on now, get back before you are noticed.” So back to my “home” I went. Oh that Mother Superior, how she could call herself a woman of God I will never know. She looked like the devil herself reborn. She would make us stand in a dark closet and pray for forgiveness for the simplest mistake of having a messy bed. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness. And God doesn’t like messes either.” She would say. I spent a lot of time in the closet. Even though the food was horrible, I didn’t complain. Times were tough and I didn’t know it then, but the depression was here. We ate a lot of goulashes. Heck, I didn’t know what half the stuff was I ate. We all had shoes, and our uniforms to wear and we were
Grandma Foster’s Story
taught that God liked the poor better anyway. So I believed having money and being wealthy was a sin anyway. Everything was a sin. One day when I was in my room, studying the bible, Mother Superior came in and told me to pack my things, somebody was here to take me; I was going home. Home? Home? What is she talking about, I thought to myself. This was my home. Who was here? Well I packed my things and went downstairs to the Mother Superiors office and a woman whose back to me was sitting down at Mother’s desk. When I walked in, she stood up slowly and turned around. “Hi darling, I am here to bring you home.” “Who are you?” I asked. “Why your mother silly,” she said this as if she was just here yesterday. I had never seen this woman in my life. She had brown hair and green eyes that did look like mine. I stood there; my mouth gaped open in shock. Mother Superior clapped her hands together in my face, I remember that. Then she said, “Show some respect young lady, your mother is here to take you home, go on, and give her a hug.” So I did. I hugged this strange woman and well…we went home. I had so many questions, but was afraid that I would show disrespect so I kept my mouth shut and drove along until we got “home.” I walked in the door and she showed me to my room that was shared with my…SISTER. I had a sister, Anne, who was five years younger than I was; and a father, Gerald who of course I called, father. “Anne is at school, but she will be happy to see you. And go say hi to your father; don’t sit there like a spoiled brat.” “Hi father,” I said. He picked up his glass, of what looked like brown water, took a big drink, let out a big AHH, and smiled a smile at me that sent shivers down my spine. I knew already I wanted to go back to the “Devil Mother Superior and her slave house.” Life went on; my sister Anne was actually quite nice. But my father, stepfather, was mean as hell and he didn’t like me at all. I was treated so badly by him and my mother. I received more beatings than Carter has pills. Anne was treated like a princess – A poor princess, but a princess all the same. My mother did everything he said. "Don’t upset
Grandma Foster’s Story
your father.” "Do as your father says” "Oh he is just stressed because of not having a job” One day, they went out to get shoes for everyone. I don’t know if they were being passed out for the needy or they saved enough to buy them, but they came home and gave Anne her nice shiny pair of shoes and mine that were my same old shoes. The holes were covered with a very bad patch job. I cried and cried after that. I knew I didn’t belong here. I was the bastard child, the secret. Mom had married, had a legitimate daughter and I was an outsider. I never understood why she didn’t leave me there at the church, and I never did find out. A year later, I was sent to my grandmothers for the summer. She lived way up in north Massachusetts. Obviously this was my mother's mother. Oh, my grandma was actually quite decent. Not an angel, but she wasn't too mean. She was the only person in my whole life who every told me the truth about anything. I found out that nobody knew who my real father was. He was one of two men: a Canadian or a drunk. I hoped for the Canadian of course. But believed he was the drunk. She told me that my mother was only sixteen when she was pregnant with me and she had to hide her pregnancy out in the country. We weren’t called illegitimate, we were Bastards. It was a very bad thing to be. My mother would have been scorned. I liked spending time at my grandmothers. I was there with her by myself. She wasn’t warm or affectionate, but she wasn’t mean and she told me the truth. I would go out and milk the cows and gather eggs from the chickens. We ate well because everything came from the farm. It was the only time I really ever felt as ease I lived my life and did the best I could for the next few years. Every Friday night I would go out with the girls to the roller rink. The navy boys were there every Friday night as well and it was the only fun I was allowed. I was looking for a way out of this hell I lived. I had to get married so I could leave. Well, one evening I was asked to dance, we danced on skates. He was very handsome, a Kirk Douglas look with a dimple in his chin and a winning smile. I said yes, of course. We dated for about two months and then he asked me to marry him. I have never told anybody this, but I knew that I would say yes to the first man who asked me to marry him. I didn’t care about love, I just wanted out I wanted to start my family and be the opposite of my mother. I told my mother and father. She said, “If you marry him, don’t ever come back. I will disown you. Mary I mean it!” That surprised me. I thought she would be glad to be rid of me. I also didn’t think her serious. I married Alan Robertson on July 22nd 1953, I was eighteen. I never saw my mother again. I did stay in contact with Anne for a while, but she faded away like the setting sun. Alan took me to Oakland, California where we rented an apartment in the projects. This is what they called low-income living. He was a good husband and I grew to love him.
Grandma Foster’s Story
Although what love was, I didn’t know. Not until my daughter Carole was born. Now I had a chance to be the mother I wanted to be. Alan was in the navy still, and when he retired from the navy, he got a job with the water company, which he stayed with until he retired. We saved and saved. He was very good with money. He was very smart I think a genius. His whole family was smart like that. Everyone accepted me so naturally. This was my family. I had a real family and people were nice to me. There was mom, Caroline and dad, Jonathan. I was a Robertson now. What a big family it was too. Alan had a brother, Richard or Dick as he was called and Doris, his sister and her family. We lived fairly close together and had our children around the same time. We always picked up her kids. Doris’s husband was never home, he was a General or something, so Alan took the job as father figure. We were much closer to Doris than Dick, but we were very close all the same. Every weekend we took little trips. One weekend we would go to the old Spanish Missions. The next we would drive through the giant redwoods. The kids were very close to their cousins. Something I had never experienced when I was a child. I was always the quiet one. I would sit somewhere off by myself. Someone would always come over and talk with me. I would help out, and I felt comfortable. But to be quite honest, and this is not something I would ever say, but I was afraid of looking stupid. This family was a family of geniuses. I have a small vocabulary, no education and well, I just felt really dumb next to these guys. So I just didn’t talk much. Well, unless it was Gladys, Alan’s’ first cousin. She and I loved to gossip and would talk for hours on the phone talking about everyone. Alan and I bought a house in San Lorenzo where I still live today. I made sure my kids had everything they needed and even some of what they wanted. I got a job at a paper factory and I worked nights while Alan worked days. We never saw each other, but the children were always looked after. I never needed childcare. But Alan and I did grow apart. We didn’t really fight or anything, although there was one period where we did come very close to getting a divorce. That didn’t’ last and we worked it out. We had our children and I am Catholic. But it was tough there for a while. I do think our work schedule may be what drew us apart, but in the long run it was also what saved our marriage too. Oh how I love country western music. I made a friend at the paper company and her name was Mary too. She invited me out one evening to a country music bar. I was hesitant at first. I never went out before on my own. The kids were all older now. Alan wouldn’t go, and I don’t think he cared all that much. So I went. They were doing this county line dance, which I quickly learned. I fell in love with it and went out every single Saturday night. Mary and I and the gang at the “Club 40,” my new home away from
Grandma Foster’s Story
home, we had so much fun. This was MY time. I had lived for my kids, sacrificed myself for them. They would never have to endure anything even close to my childhood. But now I was starting to live for myself. Oh and how I love wrestling. I love "rastleing" (wrestling). I love to watch them beat up on each other. Oh, and that Hogan Hulk (Hulk Hogan), what a dirty guy he is. My granddaughter and great grandson took me to a few wrestling matches. Oh it was so much fun. People try to tell me it is not real, but I know it is. I watch it every week. Turn up the volume and I won’t answer the phone. I don’t want to be interrupted. Speaking of Theresa, she like me, was a bastard child. Abortions were illegal back then. My daughter, Carole wished she could have one. She was only sixteen when she became with child. She went through her pregnancy and she was born on March 25th 1965. Well since Carole was so young, I pretty much raised her. I was a grandmother and she was my only granddaughter…ever! None of my other children had any children of their own. So Theresa was my one and only, until she had her two boys. Then they became my babies; my pride and joys. I loved being a mother, but being a grandmother was so much better. And a great grandma at such a young age was even better. By this time I was able to give them everything. Alan had done very well with money, and some small investments. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but comfortable enough to take nice vacations once a year. Theresa gave birth to Karl and Cody. Oh, and Alan wasn’t happy at first, but was a happy grandfather after they were born. He sat with Karl and took home movies and taught him to write his name when he was only three years old. Oh, he is such a smart boy. Then, I ended up raising Karl too. Theresa didn’t exactly have a great childhood either. I never told anyone this either, but that is why I gave her so much. Then Carole got married to a wonderful man who raised Theresa as his own, but Carole told me I spoiled her too much. That was my job. Well, she and I had so much in common. She had an alcoholic mother (eventually she divorced and became quite the neglectful mother to T.) She was born illegitimate and I wanted to shower her with everything she wanted as to not feel different or bad. It may not have been the best thing, looking back, but it doesn’t matter now. Alan started getting sick. I had health problems. It really isn’t any fun getting old. He had an aneurysm in his stomach and almost died in the early 80s. And he had heart trouble too. The sicker he got, the meaner he got. And oh boy, did he get mean. He was horrible. I couldn’t’ believe this was the same man I married. He was charming, would buy me flowers, and now he was just as mean as can be. We had separate beds by this time. I wasn’t feeling so good myself. I had been diagnosed with Lupus, for years and years. I
Grandma Foster’s Story
had to take an early retirement and disability. I had worked at the paper company so long, and it was union, so I was taken care of. But one day at the factory I cut my shin. It never healed. It would get worse and worse. I had to have skin graphs and I had blood clots and oh… on and on for almost ten years, I had this damn wound. They diagnosed me with Lupus, but oh, another ten years they said I didn’t. I am also very hard of hearing, and very stubborn. I refuse to wear my hearing aid, and I pretend to hear what people are saying to me. So I really didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know if it was Lupus or not, and I didn’t care, or maybe I didn’t want to know, or maybe I thought it wasn’t all that important. All I know is that I was in a lot of pain. I was in pain, having to deal with my husband who was in pain, all one big pain party. Alan died in 1993. That was hard. I was sad and I would get up in the morning, sit at the table with my tea and plain cake doughnut with the newspaper, but my head was in my hands. For hours I would sit like that. I was taking so many pills. I hated pills. I hate age too. But after he died, I decided to live my life. I sure didn’t want any man again. I love jewelry and bought lots of it. I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do. I took upholstery classes and pottery classes and spent money and did anything I wanted to. Oh, they tried. "It's my life, you leave me alone.” Then I started feeling worse and worse. I was born with a heart murmur and my heart started getting weaker. I know I am not going to live much longer. So I wanted to tell all my kids everything I couldn’t before. I sure wish I knew about my grandmother, or my father for that matter. I have no idea of where I came from, or anything at all. I know I am Irish. I know I did the best I could and that I love my family. (Looks at watch) Oh, it is time for my rastleing.