Diane was a sweet baby just like any other child, anywhere in the country, or in the world.
In time she grew into an adventurous, inquisitive girl who looked for new places, new experiences, and things that fell just outside the safe boundaries her parents set for her.
How did this happen, and what results did it bring?
In one incident, Diane found a Baptist church a few blocks from her house, not far, but beyond her limits. Her parents didn’t seem to know. As she told it, they either were unaware or indifferent. Diane loved the stories the teacher told, and the songs they sang. Somehow she managed to bring her younger sister Pat, who might have been four or five years old. The experience was hers and the other children were extras in her scene.
Diane felt such enthusiasm to attend this church no one else in her family even knew about, that sometimes she would walk to it well ahead of time and wait for Sunday school to open. She waited for hours, it seemed, although we don’t really know how long it took.
Where were her parents in that adventure? We don’t know. Did they know where Diane went, and did they approve? Was she scolded for wandering blocks away, aged seven or eight, with her five or six year old sister in tow? We never will know. I tend to think that they did not know where the church was, how far away, and who ran it. Even at that age, I don’t believe they supervised her properly or channeled her energy.
There were other indicators of their lack of parenting skill. The second chapter in the book tells the story of the gold star picnic Diane could not attend. She was excluded because her parents did not attend to her dental needs, and she felt bitterly disappointed.
Diane said she had toothaches from bad teeth, and took herself to the dentist. She said she instructed the dentist to extract the abscessed teeth and send her parents the bills. Somehow she could talk herself into the dentist’s office with no parent in sight and get the work done, even if it was not the best outcome. They never paid, either because they could not afford it, or mismanaged their money, or simply did not care. It’s even possible that the dentist wrote off the cost and didn’t bill her parents.
For the rest of her life Diane dealt with the legacy of that neglect. She had chronic low-grade infections from those bad teeth well into her sixties. Those infections contributed to her heart attack in 1999. When her upper teeth could not be saved, an oral surgeon removed all of them in 2004 and she wore a denture the rest of her life.
Diane was not alone. Dental care is usually not included in health insurance. Well-organized or prosperous families see to dental health because they know the consequences, while some families neglect it for lack of money, education, or both.
Diane’s mother Genevieve, like her mother before her, her uncles, and others, was infected with tuberculosis in an age when no antibiotics existed to treat it. Gen’s disaster came atop the burdens she already had, taking care of a family with few resources, three little girls to manage, and a husband who could not provide an adequate life. Gen came from a prosperous working class family in Minneapolis. Her father worked at the Pillsbury mill and earned extra income as a handyman for the Pillsbury family. He owned a home in South Minneapolis and property upstate. One of his sons by his first wife became a physician. However, after his first wife died the second wife was problematic. Attractive and artistically talented but lacking in everyday skills, Gen’s mother could not manage the family after her older husband died. Later she fell ill with active tuberculosis, and died in the hospital. The family fell apart, the property was lost to unpaid taxes, and Gen got pregnant with the child of a young man from a broken home and few prospects. When Diane was born, she lived with Gen in a home for unwed mothers until Charles finally agreed to marry her, a few months after Diane was born.
That was the family and the milieu where Diane was born and raised, and what set her on the path to foster care and a state home.