I was the older sibling in a classic 1960s nuclear family: working father and stay-at-home mother with two children.
The pattern of our weekdays was a set piece: Dad went off to catch the 7:00 train to Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road while Mom got us ready for school, then she single-handedly took care of a 50-year-old four-story Dutch colonial, with unfinished basement, three bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths …
Mom wanted to “go to work” too … she aspired to be a real estate agent as I recall. But Dad wanted things to be done his way. So instead of pursuing a career, Mom was a girl scout troop leader and a cub scout den mother. She volunteered at the church and made cookies from scratch for PTA bake sales. And when we got home from school each day, she was there to listen to our endless stories of joy and woe as we drank our milk and ate our snacks.
Then off we’d go to ride bikes through the neighborhood and play with our friends while Mom waited for the arrival of the afternoon paper, Newsday. It wasn’t until recently that I made the connection between Newsday and Robert Caro. As I read his memoir Working, the place names tumbled off page 8 and rang bells of recognition in my head, recalling my parents’ many discussions of the same: Idlewild, Mitchell Field, Hofstra, Nassau Community College, Mineola Courthouse. Scandalous doings that led to Caro’s epic book about Robert Moses, The Power Broker.
Every afternoon, Mom would eat Mister Salty pretzels from a deep blue box as she read the latest Newsday …
Curled up on the living room couch, she often dozed off. We tiptoed around, careful not to use the phone between 5:00 and 5:30 when Dad called to let Mom know which train he would be taking home. The call would rouse Mom, who then went in to the kitchen to make dinner for my brother and me. She usually poured some Scotch and sipped it neat. When dinner was ready, Art and I would eat dinner together with Mom in attendance, although she waited until Dad got home to eat herself.
When the time came for Dad to be picked up at the East Williston train station, we’d pile into the car, arguing over whose turn it was to sit in the front. Mom would play the AM radio while we waited for the train. Unlike Dad, who always turned to classical music station WQXR, Mom was absolutely okay listening to rock and roll on WABC.
So it is I remember one cold, rainy evening in April of 1968. I was 11 years old, sitting in the back seat of our 1965 Mercury Comet, windows cracked to keep them from fogging, listening to the radio, waiting for the 7:10 to arrive. Remember because the music stopped for a special news bulletin, that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had just been shot in Memphis, Tennessee (and here I pause to note that I found this WABC radio link after drafting the post).
It was a time before cell phones, before the instantaneous knowing of all things newsworthy. The commuters coming off the train were completely unaware of what had just happened. As Dad ran across the rain-drenched parking lot Mom turned down the radio, and as he got into the car she told him the news. Told it with such urgency and despair, that it marked the time and the place forever in my memory. Made known to me the world-changing existence of Martin Luther King.
We witnessed history then and we still do to to this day. What will come of it all this time?
Process notes: thanks go to Malka at Stitch in Dye for the funereal linen cloth, to Deb Lacativa for the variegated floss in shades of gray, and to Rose for the collaged image of rain drops that inspired this patched memory.