Thursday, July 27, 2017

Introduction to Dorothy


2017_0704_dorothy_cover.jpg 

My mom was a head checker for the Kroger Company, once a strong player in the Kansas City area, and most of my family worked in grocery retail or as meatcutters and meatwrappers. I had my own seven-year run with Kroger, starting the year after this diary was finished. Many of the mundane details in this book revolve around her work at Kroger. This is life in blue collars.
1965 – Sunday night meant Ed Sullivan and Walt Disney, the Beatles were still tops on the Top 40 charts, things were heating up in Vietnam, and a week’s worth of groceries might set you back a whopping twenty bucks. My mom, like her mom, kept a small diary, three days to a page, where she noted the mundane and the extraordinary, feelings and reactions to the world around her.

When I discovered this small, spiral-bound book, my mom had been gone more than thirty years, and my teenage years seemed as forgotten as yesterday’s grocery list.

She and my dad, a former meatcutter, had been married twenty-one years, and I was their only child. Dad had been married once before, and had two kids, a boy, Bill; and a girl, Sonjalee, better known as Sonnie. Mom was also married before, but had no children.

Marv and Dorothy - my mom and dad
Dad (Marv) suffered a couple of massive heart attacks in August of 1962, and retired from the meat departments. He could no longer stand the cold of the lockers. Instead, he fell back on his work as a manufacturer of fish bait – dough baits for carp and catfish, that he had marketed under the trademarked brand name of “Sniffy Baits” for more than ten years. You can't make this stuff up. It has all the trappings of a Wes Anderson film. Dad became a househusband, and cooked and cleaned like he had done it all his life. His cooking, and my sedentary habits helped me stay eternally pudgy until I really hit my stride in 1967.
Bait shipment waiting for truck line pickup - front porch.
While it sounds pretty comical, and was often the source of my own mortification, dad took the bait business very seriously, and over the years, created some of the best products of its kind anywhere. It never spoiled, never hardened, had a huge following allover the midwest. In spite of the dad's dedication, or maybe because of it, fish bait and fishing will become strong points of contention between my parents as 1965 unfolds.
I was fourteen, and  finishing my eight grade year at Northeast Junior High School, part of the Kansas City, Missouri Public School system. I was pretty typical, I suppose, and at that point I loved school, and was fully engaged in math, science, drama, and especially music – band and orchestra. I was pretty shy, and tended to avoid pressure-filled social situations like Teen Town, the Friday night sock hop at the school gym. I was four years into my pitiful crush on Patty Saunders - I met her at my Saturday bowling league when I was ten. I was bookish, chunky, and my social skills were sadly lacking.
There is really nothing remotely extraordinary about any of this, which, I believe, gives it so much power and emotion. For instance, Mom always had Mondays off, so that's when she got her hair fixed, ran errands, and tried to get ready to start all over agin.

In this little red volume, I discovered things about my mom and my dad that I never knew or even suspected, and found out how I fit into their lives and ultimately, the world around me.

Some of the players:

Marv is my dad. He and I share the same Kansas farm name, Orville, but always went by Marv - I'm a junior, and went by "Marvin" all through school. To this day, I know if someone has risen from from my ghostly past when the voice on the other end of the phone says, "Is this Marvin Simpson?"
My mom refers to her family a lot - her mom, Pansy, and her sibs, Paul, Jean, Patty, Bob, and Bill. We spent a lot of time - most Sundays when mom wasn't working, at the Patton house in Kansas City, Kansas

Mom's family
Dad's kids - Bill Simpson, my half-brother, and his wife Pat and daughter Cindy; and my half-sister Sonjalee, (Sonnie) her husband Harmond and their two boys Brian and Mark - my nephews.
The Kroger crew - too many to list but mom butts heads with a manager trainee named Doug, and refers to a number of the people she works with.

Much of this will make more sense when it publishes in date order this coming January, but for now, here's a sample from February 19, 1965

Friday, February 19

Click to enlarge
February 19, Friday - Slow business, but Ruby, Ethel, Eva and I had a ball. At lunch & on our breaks we laughed till we cried. Went to the program with Bud. Good! Marv still doesn't feel well.

February 20, Saturday - Dr. Gripkey. Marv wants to go to California on vacation. Weight 167 - I've lost 35 pounds. Sure get around better. Bud asked Pat to go bowling Monday. His social life will bankrupt us. 70ยบ today - 20° by morning. I hope I get to go to church.

February 21, Sunday - Slept till 9:00. Bud and I went to church. Ate lunch and started out to new airport. Too much traffic, so we came back to Municipal.

Mom always had great friends in the stores. While I don't know these people by name, I know they kept mom happy in her work.

I've been racking my brain trying to figure out what this school program was, but I can't put a finger on it. It almost had to be a band event, but I'm not sure.

Dad's health is a constant concern. While he was a large man, and strong as an ox, his heart disease weighed so heavily on his mind that he was often convinced of his own frailty and impending death. He had worked hard all his life, and until his heart attacks, was a two-pack-a-day Pall Mall smoker. After his heart betrayed him, we became a salt-free, caffeine-free household. Dad's worry was contagious. Sometimes he would nap on the couch, and I would stop as I walked by to watch his chest rise and fall and make sure he was still breathing.

I'm pretty sure Dr. Gripkey was mom's weight-loss advisor. She's down to 167 from just over 200. My mom is 5'-2". Dad wants to go to California to see his son Bill and daughter Sonnie. I have it on good authority that the trip won't happen.

Apparently, I asked Patty Saunders to go bowling. You would certainly think I would remember that, but I honestly don't. Honestly. It seems I am a high maintenance 14 year old.

Mom and I went to church - Bales Baptist, with its thundering pipe organ and horseshoe-shaped sanctuary. The pastor was probably still Reverend Moad, the minister that baptized me a couple of years before.

Airports were, and remain to this day, an important source of entertainment for me. All during the late '50s, my dad and I would trek down to Kansas City Municipal Airport, (MKC) and head up to the open-air observation deck at the south terminal. There, we watched Vickers Viscounts, Convairs, Douglas DC3s, and Martin 404s take off and land. As the planes taxied to the gate, they feathered their propellers and shut down all but one engine, but there was still enough prop wash to knock your hat off. The real star of the show was always the Lockheed Super G Constellation, still, to my way of thinking, one of the most beautiful airplanes ever manufactured. It looked like a swan with a triple tail and radial engines.

Lockheed Super G Constellation in TWA livery
It was later in the fifties when the first jets appeared at Municipal, and if you were fortunate enough to be on the Intercity Viaduct when a Boeing 707 took off to the south on runway 19, you received an eardrum-busting treat as the plane flew over you at an altitude of a couple hundred feet. More than one driver, hypnotized by the big jets, skidded into the guard rails as the 707s flew over.

Municipal was built in the crook of the Missouri River, and had no room for expansion. Jets required more runway than Municipal's 6,500 foot north/south could provide. To help drag Kansas City, kicking and screaming into the future, they built Kansas City International Airport, (MCI). It had three circular terminals, each of which provided for short sixty-foot walks to the gates from the drop-off area. It was a pretty big deal in Kansas City, and mom and I set out on the 25-mile trek to see it. At that same moment, it seems 75,000 other Kansas Citians thought the same thing, and headed north to see the new miracle airport. We got snarled in Interstate 29 traffic and gave up. Back to Municipal where we belong. I still hate traffic.

Introduction to Dorothy

  My mom was a head checker for the Kroger Company, once a strong player in the Kansas City area, and most of my family worked in groc...