Saturday, September 24, 2016

1st draft, first passages: Camilla Ann Mason, nee Rocchi...Micci...Mom 1937-2016

Mostly getting it down here, so that I can cut and know where to fill in what missing data I can gather. Probably won't be electrifying and, at first at least, too TM-centric, though I'll try to avoid that last as much as possible. 

My mother, Camilla Ann Mason, was born 9 February 1937,  the second to last child of Dora Mae Rocchi, nee Ratliff, and Andy Erigo Rocchi. Her siblings, I believe in correct chronological order of arrival, were Mary (who married and took the name Coldiron) aka Sis, Leoma aka Nay (first Hall, and after her first husband Kelly died, whom I knew well when I was a young child, she eventually married Charlie) Broker, Lucille (Lambert), James "Jock" Rocchi (whose wife, Connie, was probably the closest to us, Micci's kids, of the in-laws/aunts and uncles after the Alaska years--my first almost five, and before my brother was born), Lucille (Lambert), Louis Rocchi, Sylvia Nierman, Ruby A. Rocchi (about here, who died in infancy when left in the insufficient care of some subset of her insufficiently attentive or experienced older siblings and caught something that she just couldn't fight off), Andy (who picked up the unenviable family nickname Piddle--don't know if anyone ever wised off about Piddle and Jock), then Micci, then Sarah (Cochenour at time of death)...the baby of the family, she passed a couple of years before Mom, in part due to one of the traits we tend to share, diabetes (I'm the lucky one that way in our nuclear unit).

Aunt Ruby wasn't the only Rocchi to come to an untimely end. Andy Erigo, how he came by "Andy" I don't know yet, came into the U.S. from Milan via San Francisco, rather than Ellis Island, at the turn of the last century...somehow, he made his way to the coal mines of West Virginia, where he met the young Dora Mae, who had been on her own by the age of 13...of Cherokee and some Irish ancestry, a long line in the mountains and hills, after the early waves of immigration and those who evaded the forced marches of the Trail of Tears. Erigo, for whom my brother Eric is named in part, was apparently liked well enough by his bosses to get some sort of supervisory role, and reportedly that didn't sit well with a colleague, who rigged a cave-in to create a vacancy. Which it did, when my mother was about six. She barely remembered her father; she remembered how much he reviled Mussolini. Her mother never remarried, supplemented her widow's pension with I'm not sure what kind of work, apparently eventually had a busy social life. Saturday night, and then Sunday morning at the Church of God Dora Mae and Erigo had joined together (he couldn't find a Catholic church at that time if he'd wanted to, I gather, around Welch). The kids all got a start there, but Mom was pretty turned off by it at a young age...perhaps disapproval of a merry-enough widowed mother, perhaps other sorts of hypocrisy. Camilla was a Christian all her life, and never a member of a church again. 

Andy's son Andy became a police officer, which was one way not to go down into the mines. But he did go into the wrong bar one night after his shift, and someone came up behind him, as the story goes, and brained him. Sometime in the mid '60s...if I ever met him, I was an infant.  

But between the death of her father and moving out on her own at the turn of the '60s, Micci had a fairly good time of it...popular and pretty, gregarious throughout her life, she enjoyed her high school years, she told me, and had boyfriends who, for example, let her do a little spinning and patter on their local radio shows. After high school, she took secretarial courses, got an Associates degree at a community college, and soon moved with her lifelong friend Connie to Alexandria, Virginia, where she initially worked for an optometrist, but soon took her first Civil Service job, with the National Archives. She met a man, who happened to be an airplane pilot (if I remember correctly), things got pretty serious, they got engaged...and he took a job based in Fairbanks, Alaska, of all places. 

Which didn't work out too badly for Mom, as her sister Leoma was already living in Fairbanks, with Kelly and their kids, and Micci was able to land a job as a secretary with the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, in Fairbanks. Done deal. Till she arrived, to find that her fiance had been playing around during the interim between his arrival in Alaska, and hers...and she wouldn't tolerate that. But she was there, initially living with Leoma and Kelly, and over the next few months, a young technician, mostly working on radar stations and other air traffic electronics around the state for the Administration, and she began to hit it off. I suspect his hobbies such as auto racing and mountain climbing didn't put her off...she eventually was willing to play along with the auto racing, at least (in the cross country races, she served as navigator). She married her new beau, Robert Mason, Bob to most people, Rob to her, on 25 October 1963. They bought a house, settled in, joined a bowling league, and decided to become parents. (Big mistake, as you can guess.) Sometime in the typically dark not quite polar winter of 1963, not long after 23 November, they successfully conceived your undersigned. As if to warn them of the error, on 27 March  1964, the worst recorded earthquake in North America (second strongest recorded so far worldwide) beat the hell out of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, and the towns on its southern coast (and attendant tsunamis took casualties as far away as California), but five hundred miles inland, near the center of the state, Fairbanks wasn't too badly hurt. Sadly, not all my parents' friends were so fortunate. I arrived independently and volubly on the scene in August, no doubt anticlimactically. 

Nasty neighbors led to relocation from one Fairbanks house to another, and in 1965 Kelly borrowed my father's brand new Jaguar to take a spin, and didn't realize the semi he was trying to pass on the left was just about to make the kind of wide left turn they do on a narrow highway; the car was totaled and Kelly laid up for a while. But the worst tragedy they had to muscle through was probably the 1967 Chena River flood, which eventually put about 3-4 feet of water into our house and many of the houses around the city for several days. They had a lot of interactions with insurance agencies in those years, and faced a mountain of debt...my mother went back to work for the FAA by the time I was about two, with my cousins as primary sitters for me when available, and the next door neighbors the Mendenhalls, particularly Mrs. Lois and their daughter Theresa. Aside from the Mendenhalls, their best friends in Alaska were a couple also associated with the FAA, Rae and Andy Billick. What I remember best about Alaska are mostly very good things: my parents teaching me to read with Dr. Seuss, Little Golden Books and the like; hanging out with a Native nations girl, also 4, and her 3yo brother, whose backyard adjoined our next-door neighbors' (I remember finding their mother very pretty as well as very kind to me), and with one or two others on our street; I remember my rocking-horse toy and backyard swing set.

By 1969, my parents were ready to leave Alaska, mostly with the prospect of a promotion for my father; he'd be working in Airway Facilities in the New England sector of the FAA, based in Boston at Logan Airport, and my mother would take another FAA secretarial position there; we drove from Fairbanks to Oklahoma City in the summer of '69, in a pickup truck with a camper conversion; only two could sit in the cab at a time, so much of the trip I was up in my bunk above the cab (not recommended for 4yos  in most auto safety manuals these days, I'm sure, reading or staring out the front window next to the bunk. Or I'd sit up front with one or another of my parents, while the other rode in the camper space, sitting at the kitchenette or getting a nap. We spent a couple of months in OKC so that my father could be trained in Lawton, at an FAA academy there, and then onto our new house in West Peabody, Massachusetts. The disruption of their lives by leaving their friends and family in Alaska didn't do them any favors, I think, and the Boston area isn't the warmest welcome for newcomers at the best of times; they were still paying down debt and had some difficulty securing day care/after school day care for me, as I  continued the Kindergarten that had begun in Oklahoma, and then went onto elementary school in 1970. My parents were making do, and a little better than that, when my mother found herself, slightly surprisingly given some precautions they'd taken, pregnant again in the spring of 1970; she worked up till it became problematic, and on 25 January 1971, a second son, James Eric Mason, arrived. I was fascinated. By the time I was seven, I was changing the occasional (very occasional) diaper, with these new paper/plastic disposables now on the market. I had had several infant health scares over the first couple of years (why my teeth are beige, as I was one of the lucky mid-'60s tetracycline babies--never have tried to get them capped, it never seemed the most urgent matter to attend to); Eric, despite being misdiagnosed as allergic to milk products (and therefore one of the early enjoyers of soy baby formula, not cheap atop other expenses), was otherwise healthy; apparently I had been a rather quiet baby; Eric not so much. 

5 comments:

SteveHL said...

Very interesting, Todd. I have always lived in the Boston area. I would offer you a retroactive warm welcome but I suspect that it's a little too late.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Steven. Well, the default in most of New England in my experience is that everyone is taught to hate themselves, and to take that out on everyone around them. To a greater degree than anywhere else I've lived. Of course, moving from that to the Enforced Mellow poorly-disguised provincial hostility of Hawaii did make the latter easier to see than for some other emigrants to the islands...

highwayknees said...

Wow. I was a tetracycline kid too...due to acne. So I have the yellow teeth syndrome to-always afraid to smile too big and show them . I hate the way they look but never capped because of the expense.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Get it down now before it slips away. My brother has spent years researching our family but some is impenetrable due to name changes.

Todd Mason said...

Well, HWK, I wasn't aware that anyone but infants getting their milk teeth (and later, of course, their adult teeth) were affected thus...sorry. Mine really are palish brown (beige) except they are white at the cutting points. This is apparently the perplex faced by anyone given 1965ish tet who hasn't gone on to some cosmetic dentistry. (Bleach ain't gonna do it.)

Patti, yes, in fact a half-cousin of mine also named Patty is interested in trying to determine what went on with whom on my father's side (my paternal grandfather abandoned his first family to run off with my grandmother, thus putting the total of my first cousins somewhere around 80 at least).