Why Does it Have to be so Difficult? * 5th in Series

I need to explain why I would have prayed, “why does it have to be so difficult”, when I feel my own problems were like living a charmed life in comparison to others.   The answer I received is critical to what  I am writing.  But, I want to explain why I would have asked this, If I have felt blessed.

For the background, his father was in and out of a mental hospital for years starting even before the parent’s marriage in 1911.  It was called a nervous breakdown, but there was a stigma attached, he was called crazy, and people were afraid of him or considered him to be a joke.  His parents had disowned him, and my husband never knew most of his relatives, only one Aunt.  When he was two, in 1925, his father, a teacher, had been accused of inappropriate behavior with students, and a baby sister died of Scarlet Fever at the same time, so the family was quarantined.  Social Services, or welfare authorities were placed in charge of the family.  His father was committed to the mental institution by the state without any evidence about the accusations one way or another. His older brother and sister were both removed from the home, before there were foster care possibilities. His brother was taken in by, and brought up by, a neighboring family, but his sister was placed in a distant convent, even though they were not Catholic. He grew up seeing his brother often , and knew his sister only when she was an adult, but he was the only child who lived at home from then on. When his father was released from the hospital he seemed fully recovered, but was only able to get a job as a day laborer on local farms, and the family was on welfare for as long as they remained a family.

When my husband was in 5th grade, the welfare authorities, (the state) had his father committed again; he was said to be delusional then.  He was treated with Shock Treatments, so by the time he was released to come home, it was for his custodial care.  My husband  barely remembered his father as a competent man.  His mother told me that by the time her son was twelve years old he had to be the man of the family.

His father had never told his mother about this prior mental illness.  They married when he was a Marine, stationed in England, in 1911.  She  believed in him and stuck by him, but most of what I know about it came from what she  told me.  By default, (meaning that the right time for it never came up),  my husband never told me about this stigma in his family before we were married.  He had invited me to go visit them when we became engaged, but my mother had not met him, only knew that he was a soldier, and would not trust him.   So she would not let me go.  I was only 19, and she really did need me at home right then, because of her sudden illness.   I found out when I met the family after we were married, and realized his father was senile. My husband was  never able to talk about it.

We met in 1942, working in GE, when he was an Electrical Technician in a war job, subject to the draft for WW2.  I was just 18, and he was age 19  within weeks after the time we met.  He was drafted before the age of 20, and I was trained (by him) to do his job.  Our boss was doing us a favor, since he and I were obviously a couple by then.  We were married in Oct. of 1944, just before he would have been 21, and just before I would have been 20.  We both had to have our parents sign permission for us to get married.  His mother and brother and wife came for our wedding (planned for when his  surprise furlough came), and only his mother signed permission for him to be  married at less than age 21

Now to tell you my recent experience that explains more.  We were visiting our granddaughter, and her husband’s parents had invited the extended family for dinner.  Another son was saying, at the dinner table, that he would be so glad to have his divorce final, that being single and free were the best years of his life.  My husband responded in a heartfelt way, “I know what you mean”, and I was looking at him astounded.  The father in the family was watching us, and said, “wrong answer”, and everyone laughed.  A day or two later, we went to our son’s home, and my husband told him about his training  in the Army Air force, during World War 2, and experiences  from before our marriage.  I had never heard a major part of this before.  I was present to hear it, and when I asked, he said he was sure he must have told me before, but no, maybe he just never had talked about it.

He had been selected right out of boot camp, to be trained in (then) Top Secret Radar, installation and maintenance.  The word was not to be spoken aloud.  All their notes in classes were stamped  top secret and put in the safe until the next class.  In due time, they were to be deployed in small ships to the South Pacific, to service the islands.  A first ship was deployed, and it sank with all hands lost, without ever reaching  it’s destination.  A second ship was deployed and was sunk, with all hands lost, on duty in the war zone.  His was to be the third and last ship to be sent.  Deployment was to come at any time, but then the war ended.

I asked, once we were back home, and he found it very difficult to remember, or to talk about it, but apparently it was after the two ships were lost that he proposed to me.  I did know that all the time we were married, he would suddenly get the orders to deploy, go in with everything in his duffel-bag, but then orders were canceled and he would come home again.  He seemed to tale it in stride.  I had been given no sense of worry.  He had told me he would not have to carry a gun or be on front lines.

But, here is how it all seemed to shape up, from the past.   When he was in a rural High School, he had such a drive for excellence, that anything less than perfection was never good enough for him.  His grades were record setting.  He had worked nights as a desk clerk in a hotel, where he could do any homework and gave all his earnings to his mother, but had little free time.   He did date a few times, but he FELT like a charity case, as if the girls felt sorry for him.  He graduated at 16, and his high school principal paid for him to go to college.  He went the next summer, at age 16, all the next year, and the following summer at age 17, to graduate in Sept.  Normally, he would never have been able to work at GE at that age, but there was the shortage of workmen, and he had graduated as an Electrical Technician.  He was working by the time he was 18, never living at home again, and  rooming with other graduates of the same college, who were all about 2 or more years older.  He sent most of his money home to his mother for the family.  (Actually, she was still kept on welfare and saved most of it for him, and it eventually was  paid back for the college costs, to the High School Principal).  I came to work a year later.   In the year we worked together, we dated only 4 times, but we worked together on the second shift.  My Dad worked in another building, and my boyfriend walked me up there for my ride home every night.  So, he met my Dad, but not my Mother.   He has an  IQ that was registered as  a genius.

When we married, I was able to go back with him to where he was stationed in Georgia, but if he were to be deployed, I could go home.  I had been frozen in the job at GE, because of the training and security rating I had, but could get another job in another state.  I qualified for a high level security job, in the Civil Service, as a clerk in the Adjutant General’s incoming and outgoing mail room.  We were both totally inexperienced and uneducated about married life or sex.  I was pregnant within 2 months, but this seemed very acceptable for both of us.  I worked until the seventh month.  By then, his father died.

He went home to settle his family’s affairs, had an auction of their belongings, and brought his mother back to live with us.  His brother and sister planned to take her to live with each of them, in turn.  I loved his mother, she was a joy in my life as long as she lived, and our older two sons remember her well.  I had the first baby just before the war ended with the atomic bombs being dropped.

Here he was, at age 20.  He had married feeling that it would be his only chance at having a life, but suddenly, he got his life back.  He was married, with a son.  His family home was gone forever, and he was responsible to take care of his mother.  But, he had not really had the youthful experiences of a single man, out in the world away from the stigma on his family.  It was then that suddenly, the problems in our marriage started.

He surrounded himself with “the guys”, the army friends, then the single men at work, when he was out of the service.   He seemed to want to show me off, have me appear sexy, and to want to have party time as often as we could afford it, or one of his buddies wanted our home as a place to party.  He did not object to the many advances his so called friends made toward me.  He trusted them.  I could not.  This lasted for several years.  It was a terrible time  for our marriage.  He did not seem to be the same man I had married.  I almost left him then.  I certainly had not ever understood this.

I was realizing what he had been going through when I prayed as I did.  “Why did it have to be so difficult?  I meant it for people in the world over, not just myself.

I will add now that we have talked since then, but it is as if I am making an issue over things best forgotten.  Now, he says he felt he was showing me a good time, having the fun we never had.  But, he never realized that it was such a bad time in my life.  He asked, “Why didn’t I tell him?”  I said, I had tried my best, and he did not hear me,  did not take it seriously, could not see it to be important to me. (He had laughed it off.)

But, now I have been able to remind him that he always had discredited anything he did during the war.   He would say, as a joke, he spent the war in Georgia.  But, there was what they now recognize as post-traumatic stress, when he did not expect to live through it.   I asked him, didn’t he  want  to avoid going, and he said no, you were trained to be a team, and no one would have backed out from doing the same as the others had to go through.  A family had  to be able to go on without them.  But he did admit, well, yes, there may have been stress which he never realized.

I am realizing now  too, that he pulled out of those difficult years when GE was downsizing in 1958.    Another company was interviewing to hire Engineers away from GE, and I pressured him to go and apply, though he said that being an Electrical Tech was not what they would hire.  I said, well, maybe there are other openings, or even the interview may give you an idea about how to job hunt.  He did go.  He had been at the top of the pay scale for years, and had been moved into a job  that was not even in his area of expertise.

He went to the interview and was hired on the spot, fully on his own merits.  He drove west to the new job as soon as he gave 2 weeks notice to GE.  Within a few months, he was promoted to full Engineer, on the basis of his experience, without the degree.  I followed by train with the three children, as soon as I  could put the house up for sale, and have things packed and sent with the movers.  He worked on the guidance and control system of the Titan Missile for about 6 years.  But, it was a job where he felt qualified and was appreciated for what he was, on his own merits. Even though he has always tried for excellence, and is an overachiever.  But, it had not come with someone feeling sorry for him, as he had felt all through his childhood.

Beyond that time, he was being sent to Cape Canaveral, with the gyro guidance system on the plane having a ticket for it’s own seat beside him, for installation and for each launch.  But, he was away from home more than he was able to be home with us, gradually.   And he began to have chest pains, never telling me a thing about it, and when  the Dr. told him it was only stress, he decided he wanted to quit his job.  We bought the Rockshop, naming it Ackleys Rocks and Stamps (With the GE stock he took instead of a pension plan.)  It was a going concern, and it was the absolutely best move we ever made.   (Scary, however.)  He loved it, and still does, running the Stamps part of the business, at age 87.  We had been married 20 years by then, and 47 years since.  I worked with him the whole time, until within this past year, but still do the bookkeeping at home.

In a way, I see him as a hero, lifting himself by his bootstraps, but I helped as best I could all along the way.  I  loved the business too, it was my life as well.  But, I have also had these other interests, my own pursuits, for all these years from 1948  on.

He has not been willing to hear much about this.  I may be able to tell him, but chances are, he will have no interest in what I am writing.  But, our shared life is really very good.  We are doing well together.


I should add, having the children so soon in our marriage when we were so young was not a matter of choice, nor anything we could control back then.  I felt very alone in the parenting.  But, with his decision to stay married to me, even if I was pregnant for another man’s child, made a major difference in his sense of being a father to each and all of them.  He did his best, and that is the most any of us can do.  All our sons have a very good relationship with him.   We are fortunate in our family.

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