An 8” x 10” Color Glossy

June 16, 1956, Upland, California ~ The first time my parents saw each other after their divorce was at Larry and Marian’s wedding. I have an 8” x 10” glossy reminder of the occasion: the respective parents are flanking the bride and groom, Marian’s parents to her right, smiling big and happy, Larry’s to his left, looking, well, just looking. Mom, white-hatted, gloved, and corsaged, is looking pleased through her cat-eye glasses. Dad, who was my brother’s best man, is tight-lipped and granite-jawed; his fingers tense, appearing trapped and uneasy. My father’s tie is sticking out, looking as ruffled and trapped as he is.

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Hugh and Viviette McLellan, Marian, Larry, Noreen and Carl Clemens, Upland, CA, June 16, 1956

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Irene and Carl Clemens, San Francisco, Christmas 1956

The family plot had thickened. Mom was married to Ray and Dad had married Irene, a woman nineteen years his senior with an uncanny resemblance to his mother impersonating Mae West. Irene was a well-dressed matron whose downtown attire was a suit, high heels, hat and gloves, and whose cocktail apparel consisted gowns, silk hose, furs, and diamonds. If you lived in San Francisco in the fifties, you dressed for it. She moved in a cloud of pancake make-up, her false eyelashes and kohl-lined eyes slightly sagged above the layers of red lipstick that leaked into the lines around her lips. She had bleached blonde curly hair and smelled like a mix of heavy perfume and mothballs. Irene was the toast of the San Francisco cocktail circuit—married to my conservative, not-much-of-a-drinker father. If he had more than two highballs, he got sicker than a poisoned pup.

It was better that Irene wasn’t there for Larry’s wedding. When she saw the pictures of her husband standing next to his former wife, she was foot-stomping furious. She didn’t want any reminders that he’d been married before, or that he had children. It was a good thing my Dad and his tie looked so nervous.

When they married, he moved to Irene’s upper flat, a two-story Victorian just two doors up from where he’d been renting on Belvedere. It was furnished with carved antiques and Persian carpets, hung with oil paintings and gilded mirrors, and filled with crystal and china. She had a cold storage room built between the living room and dining room for her two walls of full-length minks, silver fox stoles, and black sable jackets. The end portion had built-in shelves from floor to ceiling, stacked with beautiful round hatboxes.

Carl, Cathy 1956

Dad and Cathy, 1956

I stayed three days with my father during that first summer he and Irene were married; I was seven, nearly eight. My recollection of her was me getting caught rummaging through the old trunks in her basement, wanting to play dress-up, but only looking at her carefully packed-away clothes. Well, maybe I did hold a couple of them up in front of me to see how they looked. Okay, so I tried one on. Irene was livid.

Irene was gracious to Larry and Marian, but didn’t bother to hide her jealousy of her husband’s daughters. When Carleen and Chuck drove up for a weekend visit and had dinner at Alioto’s in Fisherman’s Wharf, Irene kept her back to Carleen at the bar. She ignored my sister the entire evening and didn’t look at her. Not once.

We didn’t see much of Dad in the three years he was married to Irene. The few times he visited us in La Habra, he came by himself. He explained it would simply be easier.

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Comments

  1. Jeff Elliot says:

    In the pictures I can recall of you with your Dad, you seem happy and comfortable. And your father seems more relaxed than in any of the photos of him with his wives. Am I imagining this?

    • No, you are not imagining that. At the time of my parents divorce a lot happened in the family that took my father down. Mom was gone through most of it, so avoided a lot of the fall-out. After time, he got back on this feet and found happiness in his life, and my time with him generally went well. You ar4 observant to see this as you’v only had bits and pieces of the story.

  2. Your descriptions are so vivid we can see the characters in your piece fully formed without ever looking at a photo. You have the ability to put us there with you in the story and make us part of it.

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