Friday, December 11, 2009
My Life With Comic Books: Part # 7
MY LIFE WITH COMIC BOOKS: THE HISTORY OF A COMIC SHOP - Part Seven
My wife agreed to run our new store on Monday through Friday and I’d run it on Saturday. Mal and her mother would go to Atlas News and Magazine Distributors and pick out the new weekly comic books for the store.
At this point, I need to tell you about Mal’s family. Mal’s mother, Madeline, was born in a very rural part of Howland, Maine in 1925. She was of Irish/Scottish/ English descent and she was one of nine children. In 1946 she married Richard Daher, a truck driver who was 100% Lebanese. This was quite a mix in those days. They moved to the tough city of Lawrence, Massachusetts to begin to start their own family. They had eight children: Virginia, Rose, Richard Jr, Priscilla, Marilyn (my Mal), Alan, Carol, and Madeline. Although Richard earned good money as a hard-working union truck driver, it’s expensive to raise eight children and so it took almost 27 years for them to save enough money for a down payment on their first home in the quaint community of Hudson, Massachusetts. By the time they moved there, the two oldest girls were married and living in Lawrence. Priscilla had died of a type of Meningitis when she was 13 months old.
I met Mal’s parents in 1972 when they were in their late forties. I’m sure I wasn’t the kind of guy they wanted their daughter to marry. Mal’s father was very conservative and I looked like a hippy with hair down past my shoulders. He was a union supporter and I believed that unions were destroying the productivity of the American worker. I would argue with him that the unions were corrupt and they didn’t really offer him any long-range protection. I believed that non-union companies would recognize valuable employees and that unions only rewarded the worst employees by eliminating merit based pay increases. Our biggest disagreements were usually about minorities. I believe that people should be given a chance to prove themselves, but he would lump people in groups based on their skin color. It was an odd thing, considering that he was born of immigrants. It was very much like the relationship of Archie Bunker and his son-in-law, Meathead from the TV show of “ All In The Family”. But even with all of our disagreements, there was never any yelling or screaming. He probably just considered me a stupid kid. But he never bad-mouthed me to my face. He was a really good father-in-law.
Mal’s mother was an interesting woman. She never bothered to get her drivers license. Except for a brief time, she didn’t work outside the home. She considered her job to be raising her children. She skimped and saved money as best as she could. The family didn’t go away on fancy vacations. A vacation for them would be a trip to visit a relative in Maine. Family was very important to her. Almost every Sunday, most of the family would gather together for a big family dinner. The family would also play card games and make jigsaw puzzles together. Very Norman Rockwell. One of Mal’s mother’s best character traits was that she never had a bad thing to say about her children or their spouses (even though some of us weren’t the greatest).
Mal and I lived close to her parents and we spent a lot of time with Mal’s mother. Mal would even pick her up to take her grocery shopping with us. She would follow Mal, pushing the shopping cart, and never complain about the boring grocery shopping. She just enjoyed being with one of her kids. We would frequently meet her and her husband for “coffee and…” at the local diner after supper. Other than their children, Mal’s parents had one major goal. They would sacrifice and save money so that when they retired at age 62, they could sell their house in Massachusetts, buy a little house in Maine, get a dog and a Cadillac and finally get to relax.
Mal’s parents gave up a lot to provide for their family. Having experienced the responsibilities of a large family, Mal decided that she wasn’t really interested in having kids of her own. She had babysat for her younger siblings for many years and was sick of it.
I also came from a large family. My parents had six kids: Me, Jay, Sharon, David, Jeffrey, and Rick., in that order. Being the oldest kid made me feel special. I got to experience things first. I could read before my siblings. I could stay up later. I’d always be their first kid. My father frequently worked more than one job at a time to provide for us. They bought their first house in Newton Massachusetts and eventually moved us out into the “country” of Bolton, Massachusetts so that we wouldn’t be “ruined” by growing up in the big city. Even though it meant a much longer commute each day to work, my parents did what they thought would be best for us kids. My Dad was an electrical engineer. My mother stayed home to take care of us. She didn’t work outside the home until we were all in school. She always had “balanced” meals prepared for us (including desserts!) and we rarely (if ever) ate out. We just couldn’t afford it.
My most vivid memory of my Mom is of her constant occupation in the kitchen. It seemed as if she was always stuck in there! Occasionally, we would gather in the kitchen to play “Tripoly” or some other family card game and mom would join in, but usually it would be Dad and all of the kids playing some outdoor game like soldiers at war, or building a stick fort, or having “acorn fights” that would usually end up with someone getting hurt. Dad would also make up games like “stock market” to teach us math skills while we were having fun. I never heard my parents talk about retirement.
Now, back to our store. While I worked at the computer company, Mal would drive about 45 minutes each way to run the comic book store. The commute was never easy for her because the traffic was horrible and it was always dark when she would be driving home. Mal is blind in one eye and it’s hard to drive in the dark. Although Mal had picked up some stuff while working at the comic book conventions with me, she really didn’t know too much about comic books. Comic book collectors usually like to talk about comic books. Some collectors are obsessive about it. Mal really couldn’t discuss comics because she didn’t read any. It would annoy her when the customers kept rambling on and on as if the comic book characters were real. She began to feel trapped in this small store. Remember, we didn’t even have a telephone so that she could call a “normal” person. She began to hate comics and would actually hope that no one would come in to the store.
Sales were slow during the week, but when I’d come in on Saturday, sales were great! I loved to talk about comics with collectors! I as one of them! I loved owning a comic book store and we were making a profit. I thought everything was going great. But Mal just felt trapped. After about six months she couldn’t stand it anymore. Not only was she done with the store, but she was done with me! I was unaware that there was even any problem because I was so busy pursuing my own dream that I didn’t see (or I ignored) her unhappiness. She went back to live with her parents and I closed the store.
Next chapter: AAARRRRGGGG! Let’s get out of here!
Picture: Mal's Mom and Dad