9) Ice-Covered Steps: Our Dirty Little Grey Duplex, 1961-1964

In the previous post you read about my athletic second step father and nervous Mom. In this post you will read about the three of us living on Morgan Avenue North in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we rented the upstairs of a duplex. Some of Jim and Mom’s best fights took place there. It is also the place that helped me become a Christmas scrooge.

Emotions and Personal History Bubbling Over


Jim and Mom were married about 12 years and had many drunken, heated arguments. Some of them resulted in Mom having black-eyes and discoloration around her face. Mom sometimes verbally retaliated at Jim – in self-defense I think – but in later years just took  his verbal abuse quietly. I can recall many of these confrontations – some of them physical – that took place in our dirty little grey rented duplex on Morgan avenue there in North Minneapolis (image on the left). Mom and Jim acted out this drama over and over again after a long afternoon of dancing and drinking at Ryan’s Ballroom.

Waiting for Jim and Mom to Come Home

My most vivid memories are of them returning to the house – we lived upstairs in the duplex – then waiting for the action to start. If Jim’s tone was angry, they would argue for the next few hours. If Jim and Mom were not acting angry, they would just stumble around in the kitchen for a few hours – until they were so exhausted they would go to bed, sometimes separately. If I was lucky, I wouldn’t hear the slap of his hand against her face.

Every week-end during those years on Morgan avenue became an “opportunity” for them to act out these dramatic behaviors; not always resulting in a fight but always with emotions amplified because of their drinking.

With this kind of practice I became very sensitized to people’s moods and emotions, which today, sometimes becomes overwhelming.

A Bottle of Chivas Regal Scotch Whiskey and a 1960 Plymouth Fury

Screen Shot 2013-03-08 at 10.47.15 AMMy brother Dean or one of my two sisters would host a party each Christmas Eve. So each year during the three years from 1961 to 1964 on the night of December 24th Jim, Mom and I would neatly stack Christmas gifts in a laundry basket, walk down the ice-covered steps of the Morgan avenue duplex and load the family car, a 1960 Plymouth Fury, with the goodies. Jim carried a bottle of Chivas Regal Scotch. Jim and Mom would sometimes sample some scotch first, before walking down the steps and driving to the party.

Jim’s Lost Potential

Looking back, it seemed important to Jim for others to know that he drank only the best. Jim had the bearing of a man who was an aristocrat, a physically powerful if not prosperous man, who carried himself with great poise and control. No doubt his athletic background served him with high self-confidence in certain situations, like arm-wrestling and walking down ice-covered steps. It seems a shame he did not have the desire to drive himself to more professional and personal fulfillment. As the years past, Jim became a brooding and sad person. And in my opinion, one of lost potential.

I Reminded Mom of Dad

Unfortunately, by the time the family got around to singing “Silent Night” during those Christmas parties, being the sentimental type and an easy drunk, Mom took to crying, uncontrollably. Often, staring at me, she would whine, “I miss your Dad,” (my real Dad that had died when I was 4 years old).

She would later tell me I reminded her of him. But this sure put a damper on everyone’s Christmas. During later years, Jim, Mom and I opened our gifts at home. After I left the nest, if I thought to provide a phone number, Mom would still try her best to keep in touch. Often, though she couldn’t help herself from sobbing during our phone conversation, me in California and her in North Minneapolis.

I didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t understand Mom just needed to know her son was okay. Mom, more than any of us, was profoundly damaged from Dad’s train accident and later his death. Seeing me just reminded her of Dad.

Mom Stayed Positive and Showed It

Mom and I left Jim several times during the summer of 1962-1963. “Let’s just leave him Mom,” I said. “It’s not that easy,” she said. “Wait until you get a little older and you’ll understand.” “Why can’t we just leave?” I replied.“We’ll bide our time,” she said. “What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.”

Mom encouraged me that I could be and do anything I wanted. When she said it, I didn’t fully grasp it. But I didn’t have any reason to believe otherwise. As the years passed, my confidence sometimes wavered. When this happened, I would remember these words. “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

Image#1: http://www.hennepincountyonline.com
Image#2: http://www.zuoda.net/search.aspx?q=plymouth+fury&offset=200

Is it better to block out old memories and move on ? 

Next:  1967 – The Year I Was the Envy of My Neighborhood

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