A working class love story | VailDaily.com

A working class love story

Biff America

Pat and Mike were two regular people, raised during a time when regular people had fewer choices. Even at the end of his life, when Mike had difficulty remembering the names of his six kids, he could retell the story of their first meeting. They met at a diner in Brockton, Mass., a town nicknamed “Shoe Factory City USA.” She was 13. He was 21. The Depression was winding down. Mike worked in a factory, and Pat was a maid. He was treating himself to a rare restaurant-cooked grilled cheese sandwich. She was picking up lunch for the rich lady she worked for. He was poor, skinny, wearing dirty clothes, and his hands were stained from leather dye. He approached her and in his best Errol Flynn said, “Hello, Red, where have you been all my life?” She would later admit it was love at first sight, but she did a good job hiding it: “It’s Miss O’Malley to you. You better get back to your sandwich. You don’t look like you can afford to miss a meal.” Undaunted, he pursued. “My name is Mike. There is a seat open next to me at the counter. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee, and you can have half of my sandwich. I haven’t touched it.” How could she refuse such an offer? Soon enough, they were married.I suppose by the standards of the day the newlyweds might have been considered lucky. Mike had steady employment and Pat’s situation was considerably better than her immigrant mother’s at the same age. Neither of them had much love while growing up. Once married, they made up for lost time. Mike was protective and affectionate. He was well aware of the hardship in his wife’s past and was determined she would suffer no more. Pat’s love was laced with admiration and gratitude. Here was a man who took her from a life of servitude, and gave her respect and a title. When she called him at work, she’d ask for “my hero” and leave love notes in his lunch box.They would look back and say those were the best years in their lives. They would dance to the radio, make love when the kids were asleep, and share their dreams. Self-employment, a big house, and nice furniture were dreams. But in the meantime, they had each other. Good fortune smiled upon Pat and Mike. Six healthy kids, a home with a yard and after 15 years of labor and saving, Mike’s own company. The cynics say, “Be careful of what you wish for; you might get it.” When they began to be able to afford the things they wanted, they lost the things they had.The sign in front bore Mike’s name, and he couldn’t be expected to let his help work unsupervised. He soon was working six days a week, then often again heading in to do paperwork after church on Sunday. Pat’s role was relegated to mother, wife, hostess, but no longer partner. Pat wasn’t sure what was missing in her life. She loved her children and home, but felt lonely and neglected. She longed for the days of poverty and love, and would have traded new bedroom set for one bite of that grilled cheese sandwich they shared on their first date. Friends would comment how lucky they were, but Pat didn’t feel so lucky. She was cooking and cleaning for eight people, and felt lonely, her already fragile nerves deteriorated with stress, loneliness and menopause. Like many housewives of her time, Pat felt a sense of purposeless desperation. Mike was too busy to be aware of his mate’s depression. Ten years had come and gone, business was good and Mike could afford top-shelf whisky. He wished he could spend more time with his kids, but at least they all had good clothes, something he never had. He sometimes would wonder what was wrong with Pat, but he didn’t have a lot of time to spend thinking about it. He had a business to run. Some people never learn, some never get the chance, but Mike was lucky. The doctor said the heart attack should have killed him.For four months Pat nursed him back to health. Work was out of the question, and with the help of his oldest son, the business seemed to run itself. They got reacquainted. Mike stopped drinking and gambling. Pat finally shared her feelings. Mike’s strength returned, as did Pat’s confidence. Soon they were again dancing to the radio. Mike never went back to work, the house was paid for and in those days Social Security meant something. He would sometimes grow depressed over the years he wasted and apologize to his wife, but Pat wouldn’t tolerate his melancholy. She would hold him in her arms and say, “Shut up you damn fool. You ain’t much, but you’re all mine.”Mike died at the age of 90, a widower. During his last days dementia had set in. He looked over at his youngest daughter and said, “I have a date with a 13-year-old.” He passed that night. Put on paper, Pat and Mike’s lives might seem ordinary. But they weren’t characters out of a book. They were two people doing the best they could under the circumstances. They were my parents.Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America,” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He can be reached at biffbreck@yahoo.com Vail, Colorado