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Continued from An ugly new reality

I battle the urge to belittle my mother for suckering up to the promise of love. That a woman approaching 40 would again turn to her father for help assaults the very notion of independence that this same woman ingrained upon me. Love is the wild joker of life. Love shapeshifts and disguises otherwise untenable personality disorders. A woman of my generation and economic stability can endure the luxury of falling under the spell of misbegotten love. But previous generations of women lacked economic independence, especially once they had a child or two to care for. My mother was fortunate to have parents who could afford to help her. Although tender words and touch may have eluded the parent-child relationship in this stiff-upper-lip household, my grandparents showed their love of their only child in other ways.

Divorce laws in the 1950s were strict and heavily weighted in favor of husbands. A heavily Catholic state like New York required substantial proof of adultery before divorce could be considered. After adultery was proven in court, couples had to wait for a year after filing for a divorce to be granted. Divorce laws in Nevada, however, were highly streamlined. A resident of Nevada could file for and be granted a divorce in the same day. Grounds for divorce included desertion, failure to provide the necessities of life, and mental cruelty. Reno, catering to the Hollywood elites and wealthy Easterners, earned the nickname of Divorce Capital of World.

And so it was that in the fall of 1952, my mother, accompanied by Joan, and financed by her father, was at last back in the west and awaiting her six-week residency requirement. She had a room at the Palomino Ranch, one of many rollicking dude/divorce ranches that circled the town of Reno. Nightlife spilled over from downtown Reno. Some of the guests—both male and female—brought their next-in-line with them, strategically introduced as brothers, sisters, or cousins. For women without the next pot lined up, Nevada cowboys eagerly strutted their stuff, hoping to land a rich divorcee.palomino


Enjoying the west

Several cowboys clustered about Joan, vying for attention by romancing the kid as a means of getting to the mother. By day, Joan got to ride horses, twirl a rope, and tie together three legs of an upended goat—practice for rodeo calf-roping. By night, mother, carrying her pregnancy with taut stomach muscles, sparkled on the dance floor. And while everyone back home in New York huddled under oppressive gray skies and howling, bitterly cold, arctic blasts of wind and snow, Nevada sun baked pink skin under relentlessly blue sky. Stark mountains with fingers of snow lining the protected ridges, cradled evening shadows, a dramatic backdrop to the raucous neon lights of Reno.

The divorce was granted on December 3, 1952, details finalized January 21, 1953. Yry was awarded all household furnishings plus $600 cash. Prenatal and birth expenses were to be paid from funds received as wedding gifts. Sidney was to pay $15 per week for child-support. He was to be informed at all times as to the residence and whereabouts of “the child.” Visitation was scheduled for every Sunday between 2:30 and 5:30 plus one extra weekday afternoon. As soon as the baby was old enough, Sidney had the right to have the child with him for two weeks each summer and for three days during the Christmas holiday. Sidney escaped alimony, maintenance support, and paid no court fees.