Rita is my mother. Not a great-grandmother as I promised for the next story. But Sunday is Mother's Day and I feel a need to share a bit about my mitrochondrial DNA.
There is a book to write about Rita. She was a remarkable person with a plethora of remarkable experiences. But for tonight, let me tell just one story of how compelling my mother could be.
At every family event, from the time I was 10 until my mother died in 1974, the family waited for and then reveled in the moment my mother and her step-brother Harvey danced together. They were amazing on the dance floor. Fred and Ginger were OK, but Rita and Harvey were magic.
For four minutes at a time, while the band or record played, Rita and Harvey mesmerized us with their perfect ability to appear to be defying gravity and float above the earth. Never a mis-step in their impeccably choreographed routines. Harvey the perfect lead and Rita the perfect partner. Four minutes of beauty and drama and pure joy as they spun and turned and raced diagonally across whatever dance floor was available to them.
Rita Clara Naddy was the second child of Richard Francis Naddy and Clara Rita Coleman Naddy. Their first child, (named Rita Anne) died at 24 hours old, one year before my mother was born on September 12, 1918. The first Rita Naddy was born 8 weeks early in September of 1917. The doctor warmed bricks in the oven, covered them in blankets and tried to keep the premature baby alive, but she was too small and too frail and died within a day. According to my grandmother, her first child, the first Rita, had blond hair.
My mother had dark hair, was full term, and weighed a full 15 pounds at birth. My grandmother described my mother, as an infant, to me one time, "When you laid her on her side, her cheeks were so fat they fell to the side she was laying on! She had dark hair and dark eyes and was the most serious baby I have ever seen!"
I have a picture of my mother at 3-years-old holding the hand of my 18-month-old Uncle Bud (Richard Francis Naddy, Jr) hanging in the hallway outside my bedroom. My Uncle Bud is the most blond, angelic and beautiful child. My mother looks like a sad, female "Buster Brown" with her dark eyes and page-boy haircut. Her countenance fore-telling the sadness to rapidly come to her.
Rita's father died of bladder cancer when she was 8 years old. Richard ("Dick") was 30 years old. He died on Thanksgiving Day of 1926.
Dick was waked in the parlor of Clara's parents home (Why he was not waked at his parents home on the north-side of Chicago is another story). On the Saturday night after his death, during the second night of his wake, as was the custom, my grandmother remained in her room upstairs and allowed his friends to honor and remember him in a raucous fashion. They did so by sitting his corpse up in his coffin and putting a beer in his hand. They were young men, afraid of death, overcome by grief. And it was a true Irish wake.
After everyone had left, and my great-grandfather, "Gentleman Jim Coleman" had returned my grandfather to his appropriate position in his coffin, he allowed my grandmother to return to the parlor to sit with the body of her dead husband. She had three children and unbeknownst to her father was pregnant with her fourth child (her visit to Mayo Clinic a few months earlier had resulted in the conception of my darling Uncle Jack. When I was 19 and Clara told me she conceived Jack while Dick was confined to his bed in a cancer ward, I suddenly saw my grandmother as a young woman in love and have never been able to picture her as anything else).
Clara sat beside the coffin saying The Rosary.
Rita had had a sore throat all week, but due to the end stage illness and death of her father, she had not told anyone. As the house became quiet on this Saturday evening, Rita realized she was very sick and crept down to the parlor to tell her mother. From this point the story becomes confused. My 8-year-old mother apparently frightened my grief-sick grandmother...they both became hysterical...the doctor had to be called for both of them...Clara had to admit her pregnancy...Rita was seriously ill and was confined to bed, only allowed to get up for her father's funeral on Monday. I have pictures of Dick's young, pregnant wife and three small children, Rita, Buddy (Richard Jr) and Tommy kneeling next to his flower covered grave site, bundled up against the bitter-Chicago-November chill.
My mother entered Children's Memorial Hospital on the following Tuesday to be treated for Rheumatic Fever (a complication of strep throat)...she was hospitalized for the next 10 months.
Three years later, my grandmother ran into an old friend, Ted Youwer, waiting for a street car. Clara and Dick and Ted and his wife, Caroline had been friends during the '20's...they played bridge every Thursday night. Ted's wife had died a year after Dick. Caroline had also left children behind...3 boys (Art, Harvey and one who's name I do not remember, and one girl, Francis) all older than Rita.
Clara and Ted courted and married a year later. Was it a marriage of convenience? Partly, yes. But Ted was very in love with Clara (apparently every man who ever met her fell in love with Clara) and they had a child, Kenneth Youwer, my darling Uncle Skippy. Clara and Ted moved in to a big house on the south side of Chicago to raise their 7 boys and 2 girls.
Harvey Youwer was three years older than Rita Naddy. When their parents married he was 16 and Rita was 13.
Harvey was a bit shy. When he was 17 and Rita was 14 she started to teach him to dance in preparation for his senior prom. It was the start of a lifelong obsession for both of them. By the time Harvey was 18 he was teaching ballroom dancing part time at the newly formed Arthur Murray Studios. And Rita was considered one of the finest dancers in Chicago...garnering the attention of many young men, including a few celebrities (she dated a big-band-singer named Perry Como after he noticed her dancing at the Trianon Ballroom)
When Harvey was 19 years old he followed his step-mother, Clara, down to the basement of their home where she was hanging up clothes to dry and confessed that he was in love with Rita Naddy. Clara was shocked and saddened and told him that it was not appropriate for him to suggest such feelings for his step-sister. When my grandmother told me this story, 40 years later, she had tears running down her cheeks. "Why did I tell him it was wrong?" she asked me from the other twin bed in the room we shared when she came to visit.
Harvey approached Rita with his feelings, in spite of his step-mother's misgivings, and found that Rita could not think of him as anything other than a brother. Harvey was devastated.
Rita met and married Bob Householder in 1937. Bob got along with all of her brothers and step-brothers very well, except Harvey. Bob and Harvey did not like each other. Bob sensed the rivalry and never warmed to Harvey.
When WWII broke out, Harvey was among the first young men to enter the service. On a visit home, before being shipped to Europe where he would fight in the Battle of the Bulge, Harvey and Bob got into a fist-fight at at Sunday dinner at Clara's house, over some remark made about who was stepping up for duty and who was not. My father might have landed the best punch, but Harvey struck the harsher blow and within a few weeks my father had enlisted and my mother was seeking a divorce (http://thebleatingsofablacksheep.blogspot.com/2010/08/in-memory-of-kleemo-53010.html)
I have no memory of my Uncle Harvey, his wife Phylis or their daughters Carol and Mary, until after my father's death in 1964. After the drama of the late '30's and the war years, my mother did not socialize with them. I assume they were at family functions, but they never came to our home...and I do not remember ever seeing them at my Grandparents home. In 1974 my grandmother said, "Bob and Harvey did not like each other. They were both in love with your mother and everyone could see it...especially Bob."
After my father's death we became closer to Harvey, Phylis and their daughters. They were part of our life. They were family. Harvey frequently dropped in for a cocktail on his way home at the end of the day and my mother and I would laugh with him, tell him about our days and tease him.
In December of 1973 my mother was in the last stages of pancreatic cancer. She wanted to be at home, but on the 23rd she was clearly slipping. She called me to her bedside and said, "I cannot die Christmas week, and I cannot die with grandma in the room...you are going to have to put me back in the hospital so they can keep me alive until after the holidays." So, we had to return her to St Luke's hospital.
Clara had come to stay with us from Scottsdale during Rita's illness and we had to figure out a way to get her into the city every day to see Rita. My brother Don's friends were a God-send and I think Bob Savage and Mike Ellis earned many stars in their crowns in heaven schlepping my grandmother up and down the Dan Ryan Expressway that dark winter. And Harvey made sure he was available as a taxi service as well.
My Grandmother told me of the following, the night before she left Chicago to return to Arizona, two weeks prior to my mother's death: Harvey drove Clara home from visiting Rita at 9:30 pm the first week in January, 1974. My mom was failing fast and it was a particularly hard day for my grandmother. Harvey pulled into our driveway on Fitch Rd. in Chicago Heights and turned off the engine of his car. My grandmother we weeping. "Mom," he said, "I don't think I can take you up there again." My grandmother was shocked, "Why not?" she asked. "Ma, you know why" he said. And my grandmother flashed back to hanging laundry in the basement in the 1930's. "I still love her," said Harvey, "I always have and I always will, and I cannot bear to see her in pain." And then he put his head on Clara's shoulder and cried like a lovelorn teenage boy.
Clara went back to Arizona a couple of days later, unable to watch her child leave this world. Harvey did not go back to the hospital. My brother Don and I shared the shifts at Mom's bedside until the 25th of January when she slipped from this world and back into my father's arms in heaven.
But, two nights later at her wake, I watched my Uncle Harvey stand over her coffin, crying and smiling when someone suggested how much he would miss dancing with her and I thought about how much of his life he had tried to live, in 4 minute increments on the dance floor, with my beautiful, compelling mother.