My father was offered a position as Training Station Manger for Mobil Oil Corporation and he began to work long hours. As part of his responsibilities he had to train employees, pump gas, repair cars, and keep the books. My mother finally convinced him to let her keep the books (for no pay), something she could do at home while my sisters and I were at school. Eventually, Mobil Oil Corporation offered her a salary for the work she had already been doing for years.
Steve Danko’s High School Graduation
Steve Danko and Jane (Niedzialkowski) Danko in the Living Room on South Allen Street, Albany, New York – June 1973
SOURCE: Steve Danko’s High School Graduation. Photographed by Francis J. Danko, June 1973.
As a bookkeeper, my mother excelled. She had an extraordinary sense of detail and precision, a sense that extended to her housekeeping. Growing up, I remember that the house was always clean and neat (with the possible exception of my bedroom, but that’s not my mother’s fault) and the yard was always manicured.
When I was in third grade, I awoke one morning to find that I was late for school. I rushed to tell my mother that I was late, and found that she wasn’t in the house. My Aunt Helen was there instead, and she told me that my mother had been rushed to the hospital during the night.
I learned that my mother had developed a bleeding ulcer and required a spleenectomy, duodectomy, and surgery to control the bleeding. After surgery, her stitches repeatedly broke and her doctors finally had to stitch her together with wire. My mother nearly lost her life, but she told my father that she couldn’t die and leave their children without a mother. My mother finally returned home in the spring of 1964, after spending three months in the hospital.
My parents would not allow us to have a pet other than goldfish and turtles. My mother said that she didn’t want to be the one to have to take care of a cat or dog (although, to be honest, she ended up being the one who took care of the goldfish and turtles, anyway). On one clear and sunny day, as my mother was hanging the laundry to dry on the clothesline that extended from the back porch and over the yard, a scrawny black cat jumped up on the porch railing and scared my mother half to death. The cat seemed friendly enough and my mother took pity on it for being so skinny and hungry, and so she fed it some tuna.
The cat decided to stay. We named him Smokey, for the reason that he seemed to respond to that name. My parents, though, were still insistent that our family would not have a cat. Without telling my sisters or me, they bundled the cat into the car, drove many miles away from our house and let the cat out of the car in Delmar, just outside of Albany. When my sisters and I arrived home from school and asked where the cat was, our parents told us that the cat had probably just decided to leave.
A few days later, while my mother was hanging the laundry, Smokey jumped up on the porch railing, begging for his dinner. With that, it was clear that Smokey had adopted my mother and was determined to work his way into her heart. He was to be the first in a long line of strays my mother took in, nursed back to health, and bought cat toys for them to play with.
My mother’s favorite cat game was to open the bottom drawer of her desk and say “Show me!” to the cat, whereupon the cat would come over to the drawer and begin pawing at a roll of adding machine tape she kept there. My mother would crumple a strip of adding machine tape in a ball and toss it across the room. The cat would chase the paper ball, grab it in its teeth, and bring it back to her.
Copyright © 2007 by Stephen J. Danko