Saturday, December 20, 2003

It may be important to mention the circumstances of Rick's adoption ... .

In keeping with my "good girl" profile, and having fulfilled the strong wishes of my parents, I fully expected to bear my first child nine months and 24 hours after the wedding ceremony. Not so. My older sister, Marjorie, had been married for five years (she was 4 years older than I) but was pregnant with her second child -- and my youngest sister, Lottie, who was 4 years younger had married at 17 and was also expecting her first. I had been -- up to that point -- unable to conceive. In my early twenties, having two sisters pregnant and feeling barren, I started to explore adoption. Mel was less than enthusiastic. After all, he had plans to create his business and I would be the on site "employee," so this was an impediment to his ambitions.

He'd added another job to his schedule, that of working with Aldo Musso, the man from whom we'd bought our home. Musso owned a juke box route and hired Mel to service his locations with records and make the collections. The difficulty in finding the kind of music that the new Californians from the south wanted to hear suggested to Mel that this was a great opportunity to go into business for himself. With his benefactor's support, and a list of national suppliers with race music catalogues, he saw a profitable future ahead.

But I'd waited impatiently for motherhood to begin, and saw his plans as further postponement of my own dreams. Catholic Social Services announced in January that a child would be available in a month or so, and in March of that year, a nine-day-old little boy was ours. It took only a few hours for Mel to bond with our baby. He was a loving father. My gratitude for his having yielded to my wishes gave me a feeling of indebtedness that hemmed me in and defined my life for many years. I dedicated myself to making real his dream of owning his own business. Thus, began a period of years of standing behind the counter wrestling with diapers (sloshing away in the back of the store in the washing machine), tending to the customers, keeping the books, ordering from catalogs, working with play lists, etc., that ended only after Bob was nearly three (when Rick was seven) and I was pregnant with David. It was then that we started construction on our house in the suburbs, after spending years pouring over House and Garden, Sunset magazine, and Architectural Digest. Little did we know how costly those dreams would be.

Marjorie's son, Lottie's daughter, and Rick all came into the world over a three month period. The Charbonnet girls had delivered on cue. Motherhood was deeply fulfilling. Being a wife was not. The seeds of discontent -- years of feeling overworked and under-loved began to erode my stability.

Mel (we) not only had founded a successful business that more than adequately supported the family, but he'd also enjoyed the freedom and acclaim of being a professional athlete. That life offered travel and freedom from the responsibilities that fell to me. I was the stabilizer. He played quarterback for the Oakland Giants, the Honolulu Warriors, and also continued to play semi-pro baseball. There were other women who invaded our marriage from time to time, that was hard. All the while I managed our little business and gave birth to one more child while raising the first. I both wanted and needed to be out of the store with the time to bring up the children -- away from having to know about Mel's indiscretions. My parents were unsympathetic. "All men have some faults," says mother, "as long as he takes care of you -- you shouldn't complain. That, and the fact that -- as a Catholic -- there was no exit possible. "Adjusting" to the situation was the only possibility open to me. Divorce was unheard of in my family, at least up to that time.

Besides, there was a kind of innocence about Mel. He was always contrite, and I'd become aware early in our marriage that this handsome Adonis was also functionally illiterate, a condition I would recognize much later as a severe case of dyslexia. He hid his problem well. Few knew. He'd compensated by becoming a fine athlete in both baseball and football -- which took him as an All-Star through high school, Sacramento State College, and finally to the University of San Francisco. During his last semester at the University of San Francisco, I'd read and briefed him on his assignments. I was just out of high school at the time. He was a football major with a minor in history. He needed me, and I needed to be needed. In time we grew apart, painfully and with little recognition of how it all happened. In time, I was starved, intellectually, but found that -- since he was actually more comfortable with my family than I was much of the time -- it was easy to see myself as the not-quite-normal one.

There is nothing more tragic than to find oneself at 40 living in a marriage with the quarterback chosen by an 18 year-old! At 40 Mel was still the quarterback but was now operating in a world that required an MBA, and that was eventually this good man's undoing. He surely did his best for us. He more than made up for his deficits by out-working everyone around him. For most of the years of our marriage, he left home in the early morning, and returned at midnight. All of the energy spent in being the best on the gridiron was now applied to his business, and he accomplished miracles, despite all.

I must have been very difficult for him. I was pretty and bright, but a constant reminder of his failings. I was smart enough but it took years to realize that being pretty was all that was required of me in this marriage. The rest was a liability. He slept with a little round flat microphone under his pillow, convinced by someone along the way that -- by using tapes while sleeping -- his brain would take in the lessons of grammar and he would eventually overcome the gaps that plagued him.

I suspect that I did little to support him over time, but lost myself in the world of the suburbs where I was forced to struggle without his emotional support. Mother was right. He did his best to provide well for his wife and children, financially. In time, it simply wasn't enough and we drifted apart. We eventually became strangers, both lost in space, without a clue to what was happening to us.

Mel hit the heights as his business grew and prospered. For some years he'd been able to provide a few jobs to young people, and his confidence grew. He eventually became a prominent theatrical and concert promoter with clients like Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. He was the original manager of the Edwin Hawkins Singers and traveled to Europe with that choir at the peak of their popularity. He'd given up the outside activities as he grew older and -- with a very capable uncle, Paul Reid, joined him in the business, together they became icons in the music industry. As long as enough money was coming in -- he could move it from place to place. In time, as he lost the exclusivity -- as other such shops began to come into being, more was demanded of him. We simply hadn't had enough generations in the marketplace, and the sophistication needed to hold on to his fortune was missing. Eventually all was lost, but not before our family had grown to include (mentally impaired) Dorian, and my life in Walnut Creek had become more complex and less needful of Mel's presence. I eventually learned to survive without him. There were huge gaps in each of our lives that neither was aware of, by the time we were -- it was simply too late.

Next: The move to Walnut Creek and the 180 degree turn into a new life of unknowns and unexpected growth in new directions ... .

Right photo: The late Dale Richard Reid (nee Galvin), adopted son and our eldest child. He was eleven when this picture as taken.

Left photo: Mel with Aretha Franklin. She's only sixteen here and in town with her father, Rev. C.L. Franklin who was brought to the Bay Area for one of Mel's giant gospel shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. Aretha was presented as simply one of the acts in the otherwise Rev. Franklin event.