Grandma went on, “Both were broken and scarred real bad from their different experiences. Neither of them understood ’bout the lost letters, but in the end it didn’t matter anyway, because Roland had hardened his heart to the love that he once felt for your mother. Who can say if it was the years gone by, or his time in the war, but he was surely a changed man. Said he felt betrayed that she’d married another man and had his child. He thought her to be damaged merchandise. You know, Dawnie, men had some strange ideas in those days. If touched by another man, the woman was considered damaged goods. You have to be a virgin or you are spoiled—so you remember that, Honey. They courted for a while, but when she told him that she was pregnant with his child, you know—he mistrusted her. He said the child could not be his. He offered to help with an abortion, but said there would never be no marriage.” Grandma looked at me with such tenderness in her eyes as she asked, “Are you sure that you want me to continue?” “Yup” I said.
“The day after telling Roland ’bout being pregnant with you, he high tailed it out of New York City. Rumor had it that in six weeks he married a new woman. Know how your mother never gets tired of that song “Who’s Sorry Now?” Well, now you know why. What’s really awful here, Dawnie, is that your mother has never been the same girl that she was before this hurt. Broken hearts makes people be different in all kinds of strange ways; some people never get put back right once broken apart like that.”
Tears trickled down her cheeks as she said, “Honey, that is why I always ask you to pray for your mother and not pay too much attention to her craziness. She’s just never been right since losing Roland.”
Suddenly, sitting up straight and looking into my eyes, she quickly added, “But in no way would your mother abort her child, a child she made in love. With a heart so broken, we were not sure that it could ever get mended. Your mother quickly made up a plan that would fix that mortal sin weighing on her soul. She wanted to protect you, Dawnie. Taking the bus across the United States and getting settled there in California, where no one knew her sin, fixed everything in her thinking. We always knowed God forgived her sin, but the Church and nosy neighbors were very harsh in those days. ’Specially when you could see people’s sins big as life.
“We stayed there in Redlands until you be three months old, then moved to San Diego where your mother would have a better chance to find her a sailor to marry and to adopt you. Dawnie, in those days, the child was considered a bastard and that was really bad. No one had no use for a bastard child. But your mother would have none of that for her baby. She would stop at nothing to save her child from having the bastard name tied to her little neck.”
Grandma’s face turned ashen as she continued speaking, so softly that I had to lean forward to hear her words, “So after a short stay in Redlands to get you borned, with no money, little food, and scared out of her mind, your mother waved good-bye to me. Holding you in my arms, and your brother Ronnie holding tight to my hand, I was scared to death for her. We was to follow soon after she got settled in a place to live, new job and all. The bravest thing she ever did, Dawnie. I was sick with worry about your mother; I can tell you that, child.”
We both put out our cigarettes and sat in silence, watching the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph statues as if they could somehow console us.
As we were sitting there, a pebble smacked up against the window. I said, “Oh, no, Grandma, I’m late.” We both started giggling as she helped me sneak out of the bedroom window, where Ross was waiting.
Ross and I needed to meet as we were practicing our jitterbug steps for the upcoming dance on Saturday night. We were good dancers.
As Grandma closed the window, I promised to be back in an hour.