PART I: BEFORE // Chapter One: Where He Came From: 2

By the holiday season Carl was facing the prospect of becoming a family man, as Vanessa was noticeably pregnant. He also had to face the fact that, no matter how much in love they had become, they were two very different people. Carl had always been a city boy, born and raised in the Bronx. Even during his courtship and subsequent marriage he had kept his little hole-in-the-wall apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Its main virtue was its rent, only thirty dollars a month, and Carl used it only for storing his belongings and sleeping when he was not on one of his frequent business trips.

Vanessa, on the other hand, had been born and raised in Ben Allyn and, at the time she met Carl, still lived with her parents. While Carl was not religious, she had practically grown up in the majestic Ben Allyn Cathedral, becoming a leading member of Daughters of the Faith and, as previously noted, accompanist for the Cathedral Choir. In fact she could trace her ancestry back to the founding of Ben Allyn nearly two hundred years ago.

So they compromised. Carl and Vanessa would settle in Ben Allyn and raise their family there, but Carl was not required to have anything much to do with the Church other than to show up on Sunday every now and then and on special Church occasions. He let his Manhattan apartment go, but kept his job with the New York advertising agency, and Vanessa agreed to his frequent business trips. With a ten thousand dollar loan from Vanessa’s rich industrialist grandfather they bought a big ramshackle farmhouse on the edge of town, out near farm country. It was dilapidated, but had plenty of room for the large family that Vanessa wanted to raise, including a barn and a big garage for Carl’s Buick. The house was hundreds of yards away from their nearest neighbor, and its spacious grounds were planted with an abundance of mature trees, mostly maples. They romantically named their new home Maple Mansion and by the new year began to settle down to raise their family.

That early fall of 1949 Vanessa delivered their first child, a boy whom they named Gilbert after Vanessa’s father. Carl had stayed close to home during his wife’s pregnancy, but as soon as she had given birth he headed out on the road again to make up for lost time and money.

Vanessa soon found that she missed Carl terribly, but not for the usual reasons. Not surprisingly for that time and place, she had been a virgin when she married Carl, but after the initial period of adjustment she took to sex like a duck to water. Carl’s lovemaking was enthusiastic but unimaginative, but it was all Vanessa had experienced, and she began to dread Carl’s long weeks on the road. She soon took to drink to try to quell her cravings, sobering up just in time for Carl’s homecoming and the obligatory marathon session of lovemaking.
As the years wore on, Carl became more and more valuable to his agency and spent more and more time on business trips. His title now was Regional Director of Research, and his territory stretched from upper New England to as far south as Baltimore and east to Ohio. Except for a month during midsummer and the same at Christmas holidays, he was rarely home for more than a week every month.
They passed the next decade in relative peace and quiet as Carl’s business continued to grow and profit, and Vanessa continued to be able to hide her bottles (after all, it was a large house) and drinking bouts from Carl. By the time of the Nixon-Kennedy debates their family had grown to include six children, the oldest of whom, Gilbert, had just turned eleven.

As the children grew, however, Vanessa began to spend less and less time with them and more and more time with the bottle while Carl was on the road, which was most of the time. She would tell the older ones to take care of the younger ones and then retire to her bedroom, often for days at a time. The first few times this happened, Gilbert and Andy (two years his junior), who were charged with the main responsibility of watching the rest of the children, were caught unawares. Vanessa had never taught them to cook, so for the duration of her alcoholic exile they were reduced to eating what already prepared or cooked foods they could forage from the cupboards and the refrigerator. As this proved largely unsatisfactory, they soon hatched a plan.

Vanessa always kept a quantity of money hidden in a cookie jar on the highest shelf in the kitchen. She joked to the kids that it was her “butter ‘n’ egg” money, but in reality Gilbert knew the jar usually contained at least twenty dollars. He had several times watched her unseen from outside the kitchen door as she got up on a high stool, opened the cupboard, took down the jar, and extracted from it several bills. Afterwards Gilbert would repeat her actions, noting how much money the jar contained. There was never less than ten dollars and sometimes as much as thirty.

So one day, when Vanessa claimed she had a headache and was “going to lie down for a little while, watch the kids, won’t you, Gilbert?”, Andy and his brother exchanged knowing glances and immediately headed for the kitchen. Thus armed with about five dollars (they didn’t want their mom getting suspicious), they left sister Eileen (third eldest, only eight but capable) in charge and began the two-mile trudge down the country road to the nearest source of supply, an old-fashioned country general store with two gas pumps and an ice chest for soda out front. As it was early summer and not raining, they found it a pleasant enough journey, and within forty-five minutes they were loading up a basket with the necessities of life—bread, bologna, cheese, potato chips, mustard and mayonnaise, milk and soda, cookies and fried pies. They lugged everything back home and feasted royally for the two days that Vanessa was indisposed. This was to be their SOP for the next several years.

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