In those days this was a fairly long time frame between kids. Add to that, my dear brother always taunted me with “You’re adopted! You’re adopted!” when I was as little as three or four, and, well, I kind of felt like I was an accident. The next rude trick of fate was that they named me Dale. I never, ever, felt this was my name.
I’ve been told that my brother named me after, of course, Dale Evans. Yikes! I was named after a cowgirl from a popular Saturday morning kids show who had a horse named Buttercup! My whole life has been overshadowed by this. First, kids made fun of me in school because I was Roy Roger’s wife. Then kids would taunt me about my horse being called Buttercup.
As an adult I ran into problems, because before people met me they would think I was a man. Or worse, when I’d call about credit card information or billing, I’d often be asked to put my husband Dale on the phone. Or when I’d use my credit card I’d get questioned with, “Is this your husband’s credit card?” This would elicit a huge rant on my part about being a proud, single, and self-sufficient woman named Dale, thank you very much.
I thought about earthy hippie names like Piari Luna. I have no idea why I thought this would be a good name except that Piari was Sanskrit for beloved and I liked that idea of being a beloved. My friend Kay from Denver nicknamed me Piari Moongarden, and once when I went to visit her in Denver she had me paged through the terminal: “Piari Moongarden, Piari Moongarden, please come to the baggage claim.” That was a seminal moment. I never called myself that again.
Growing up in Rochester in a two-family home with my father’s parents felt good to me as a kid. We lived on a street called Roycroft Drive. It was in the middle of a Polish neighborhood. I had cousins who lived in the two-family next door to us. I lived there the first five years of my life. I had a nice cocoon of cousins to play with, while my Aunt Janet, Uncle Peter and grandmother doted on us kids.
One interesting feature of this tiny two-family house was that each side had only two bedrooms.
The three of us, aged four, nine and fourteen, had one room. My sister Lynn and I shared a bunk bed. I got the top. It sucked being on the top. Climbing the ladder wasn’t always fun, especially when you had to use the bathroom at night.
The good news was that I got a bird’s eye view of my neighbors’ TV set across the street through the top of our bedroom window. If my parents watched the same TV show, like Bonanza, I could follow along, because the TV downstairs provided the sound and my neighbors TV provided the picture. This was a great reason to go to bed and not complain.
The bad news was if my father got angry with us kids, which happened off and on, he’d chase us upstairs, threatening to hit us with his belt. Sometimes I was the unlucky one who would have to race up the ladder backwards to my bed to be sure he couldn’t easily hit me.
I guess that is one of the sad parts I remember about growing up. My dad was an angry guy. As the son of Polish immigrants he had a lot of demons chasing him and sometimes those demons chased us kids or our mom. I wish he could have been a happier person, but he was more inclined to rant and rave when dealing with his stress and fears.
Recently I looked up our two-family home on Google Maps. I think the address is 172 Roycroft Drive. It is a very run-down scary neighborhood now. The beautiful garden my grandmother planted and weeded on the weekends no longer exists. The shed my grandfather built for my brother, sister and me with a slab of concrete, announcing, “This is the Home of Gary, Lynn and Dale,” has been discarded years ago. The three of us loved that shed/playhouse, even if grandpa kept his push lawn mower and sprinkling can in it. The inside of the little shed always smelled of cut grass, metal blades and the oil can that he kept in the corner.
The back yard also had a double-bench wooden glider swing, painted red. My father loved this swing and often would go out and just glide back and forth on it at night in the summer. If I went out and sat with him he might croon: “Skeeters am a hummin’/ on the honeysuckle vine/ sleep Kentucky Babe.” It’s an old lullaby from the South made popular by Dean Martin back in the 50’s. It was a world of dichotomies as most worlds are.
I do have a few good memories of my dad. My brother and I have discussed this point over and over again: my sister and I felt our father’s rage and demons more deeply when they came out. But one thing I have learned being one of three children is that every one of us had a different and unique experience growing up in the family.
I have great memories of my grandmother. She loved to take my sister and me shopping on Saturdays. We’d walk with her several blocks to the city bus stop. Grandma was a tough little Polish woman who worked as a tailor for a local company that made high end men’s clothes. She always dressed well and wore high-heeled shoes with seams in the back of her stockings. No matter how far we had to walk grandma always wore these shoes. It was the fashion of the day and she wanted to be fashionably proper. Her shoes made a loud click-click sound so you could always hear her coming.
She loved to shop for hours at the department stores with us. Whatever my sister and I touched she insisted on buying for us. It was crazy! We’d say, “Grandma, no, I don’t need that. I was just looking at that.”
And she would say in her highly accented English, “No Leennie, No Dalee. I want to buys this for youse. How much eeze it?”
Grandma was a trip! We loved her, but feared to look sideways at anything in the stores because she really would buy anything we showed the slightest interest in.
Often, she told us not to show whatever she bought us to our grandfather. That was a little tricky since we lived practically in the same house. She and my grandfather always fought like cats and dogs. She won most of the fights, ending up calling him “Diablo,” which I guess is Polish for “the Devil.” The fights were always kind of funny to us kids because they were in Polish and didn’t seem too serious. Grandpa always steamed out of the room after he lost the battle, then went to the basement to fix things at his workbench. Grandma went to the kitchen to make pork chops or Polish sausage, then invited us over for dinner.
The truth be told, I felt more at home on my grandmother’s side of the house than the side I lived on. My parents fought too, but it was in English and not as funny.
I remember one Sunday dinner my mother served steak, a big family-sized monster. It was not an expensive cut. When my father started to carve that tough steak, he got so mad at the knife and then my mother that he stabbed it with the fork and flung it at the wall. It stuck for a few seconds and then slid slowly down the grey and green leafy wallpaper-covered wall to the floor. Now that was funny, but no one laughed that I remember.
So I lived in this Polish microcosm with parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and Polish-speaking neighbors until I was five. Then we moved out of the city and into the suburbs. It was the spring of 1957. It was the beginning of a new kind of life. There was so much to learn.