Based on my mother’s limited expectations for marriage, she chose her mate according to his gene pool. My dad called himself ‘The Producer,’ so I’m pretty sure he operated within the same parameters. Their insecurities, lack of opportunities, coming of age in WW2, were overcome by what they saw as physical superiority, in themselves and their children.
Beauty was more valued than education. Their badges of honor were square shoulders, shapely legs, almond eyes, good hair, exceptional posture, and in my mother’s case, speed. Her driving skills matched any daredevil man’s, Dad was a normal driver, but nothing could slow her maneuvering excellence down, especially four screaming kids in the backseat.
Not long after my father left, so did Melanie and I. She was still in high school. We had only the confidence of our upbringing, youth, and skimpy clothing. Those led us directly to a hippie artist with a page-boy to be coveted, who lived in a retired mail truck. Old friends in a matter of hours, we piled into his vehicle for a spin around Kansas City.
The truck had been converted into a sunny, drivable living space, lined with daisy wallpaper. Big enough for sections, it housed a sofa/bed, a small table, and what Melanie and I used as a running track between the front and back. The driver sat on a free-standing swivel stool, and in a moment of quiet repose, I plopped next to him cross-legged on the deep dashboard.
When he pulled in front of our house, one of his friends, referring to our car antics, said to him, “God, all that screeching, now that those two are leaving, maybe we can actually hear ourselves think.”
Self control and car manners were not part of our upbringing. Until then, we’d gotten by with our buona faccia facades. Realizing that acting like wild animals wouldn’t cut it with those outside my parent’s model was as shocking as a slap, and the first step to self-examination. And even though we were mere canaglia, I fit into the artist’s aesthetic vision. He moved out of the mail truck, into our house, which he turned into a palace of his imagination, and I married him.
Definition of canaglia, n. from the Oxford English Dictionary: [‘ Rabble; the common people; a mob or pack of people regarded as rabble’]
Photo by Marissa Bridge