My parents met in a bar, I’m told, which seems fitting given the huge role alcohol has played in my life. My father was a musician, playing local bars for money. The cover tunes paid the bills, but beneath all of that he was a very talented singer/songwriter. If you look hard enough, you can still find his record floating around out there—Bob Minchin, Organized. He played the organ.
Dad used to bring me with him to set up his equipment at the Chandelier in Bayonne, New Jersey. I learned at a young age how to be really good at winding and packing up wires. When I was in college working as a photographer’s assistant, one photographer commented on how, out of all the assistants he’d had, I was the best at winding and packing up cords and wires.
When I was little, “knee high to a grasshopper,” as my grandmother would say, there was a made-for-TV movie out called “The Electric Grandmother.” My father changed the words to a song from its soundtrack and sang it to me all the time.
“Jennifer, Jennifer, eyes are so blue. Jennifer, Jennifer, Daddy loves you.”
I can still hear the melody. The day I realized he had taken it from the movie, I felt a little gypped, but still always appreciated being sung to sleep. My dad introduced me to music and I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember. He got me my first microphone, amplifier, guitar, keyboard, record player, record, cassette, compact disc player, and first CD. He gave me my first passion. But even before any of those things, Grandma says I used to stand in my playpen outside her window singing into a stick. Which begs several questions, one of which being where did I get a stick if I was in a playpen?
My mother was…well, probably not old enough to be in a bar when she met my father. I don’t know really anything about her at the time, except she had hair that went down to her butt.
“Remember Ma,” my dad would say, “how Trishe’s hair used to go down to her butt?”
“Oh my stars and garters,” she’d say. “It was long.”
My dad used to refer to her as “Trishe the fish on a dish.” It made no sense, but for some reason it always made her angry. He’d greet her with it sometimes when she picked me up on Friday nights.
They got married and did not live happily ever after. I’ve never seen a wedding picture of them and I definitely don’t remember them being together. I have seen her wedding dress, though. I like old things—antiques, used books, old towns—things with history. I am that daughter that would want to wear her mother’s wedding dress because it has a story. But, that dress is long gone. Knowing my parents as they are today, it seems like a very strange match. But they made me, so, there’s that.
I was sixteen when my mother remarried the first time. She needed a copy of the divorce papers as part of the marriage paperwork, and for some reason she didn’t have a copy. She was a successful sales person, so to this day, since I pair dress suits with being organized, it seems strange to me she hadn’t saved a copy somewhere. My father had, which is also strange, because he can’t remember where he puts anything. Dad gave me the documents to give to her. Curious, since I knew very little about my parents relationship, I read through them.
Lo and behold, they were married in June of 1979. I was born August 11, 1979. Oops. My dad said there had been a delay from getting things settled from his first marriage. I stand by “Oops.” This could very well explain why, when I was a small child, my mother would tell me things like, “Jennifer, if you ever get yourself ‘into trouble’ I will help you take care of it.” At six or seven, I didn't know what that meant. I just knew that my mother made me watch Lifetime movies I didn’t understand and she cried to them. She cried like someone had just told her that her puppy died.
Fast forward to a Thanksgiving visit to mother in Florida when I was 24. From across the breakfast bar she said, “Jennifer, I am so proud of you, for never getting yourself into trouble.” It all clicked. Who knew the proverbial bar was so low? I think the only solid piece of advice I ever got from her was to take a business class in college because once I entered “the real world” I would need it. Well, I never took a business class, but I also never got knocked up. Let’s call it a wash.
So my parents split and my father got main custody. My dad wrote a song that I have always assumed was about my mother, since he said she broke his heart. Mom used to play it for me on her then super high tech stereo system and sometimes I would cry because I wanted Mom and Dad to be a family. A few times, she even caught me crying and threatened to never let me listen to it again. But I loved it, so I made sure to cry only when she wasn’t in the room. I’ve figured it out in all different keys on the piano because I can remember the melody, but I’ve forgotten most of the words. “What am I gonna do without you baby?” I still get teary eyed thinking about it, but don’t tell my mother.
People always say that in New Jersey the courts favor the mother when it comes to divorce and custody, which leads to me think she willingly gave me up. That’s what my step-mother always told me. Maybe she never wanted me. Maybe she was just too young. She had me when she was 21, and at 31 I still can’t say I’m responsible enough to raise a child—but if the situation arose, I would never let her go.
My mother lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Beaver Brook Gardens and had turned the dining room into a bedroom for me. There were hanging plants spanning the front window, which was covered in a sheer curtain. In the summer, I loved the way the air conditioner would blow the curtains up into the air. I also loved the smell of her air conditioner.
She had a giant ceramic mouse that, for many years, was bigger than me. She had a walk-in closet that always fascinated me. Mom was a mystery, so I felt that her closet held clues to who she was. I would try on her shoes, look through her clothes, and smell the plastic that shrouded her dry-cleaned suits. One year I discovered that the closet was also where she would hide my Christmas presents. I walked in the closet and was greeted by a giant box of gifts. A purple pen with a green alien head on top was peeking over the top of the box. I was elated. Mom, not so much.
My bedroom had a bed with two storage drawers underneath, a dresser, and a closet jam-packed of God knows what. For a long time when I was small I liked to clean out the drawers under my bed and play in them. They were always filled with Barbie dolls. I never liked Barbie, but my great-grandmother seemed to buy me one for every occassion. I would sit in my drawer, Barbi’s strewn about the floor, and I would make believe I worked in a bank. Other little girls were playing dress up or playing with their imaginary friends—I imagined myself behind the counter of a bank making endless deposits and withdrawals for my imaginary customers.
I also had a three-foot-tall E.T. piggy bank at Mom’s apartment. My mother tells me that when she took me to see the movie, I cried and cried and cried at the end, yelling, “I don’t want E.T. to go home!” She bought me a movie poster and eventually the piggy bank. Problem was, at night the life-size E.T. scared the bejesus out of me and I could never sleep with it in my bedroom. So Mom would take it and put it in the living room so I could sleep peacefully. One weekend, for whatever reason, she lugged the changed-filled creature out to the front porch. By morning, it was gone. I’m not really sure what she thought would happen putting what must have been over $200 in change outside overnight, but E.T. was once again gone from my life, and this was no doubt followed by a weekend full of tears.
I now have a three foot tall E.T. stuffed animal that guards my car. I was given it years ago from a friend and my backseat seemed like a good place to keep him. He’s buckled in—safety first. E.T. is my co-pilot.