Neither was willing to care for their children, so they sent their daughters alone on a 3-day train trip from Chicago to Alhambra in California to live with their paternal grandparents. My mother's grandfather, Edwin Sr., a former British sailor, left the girls to his wife, Emma, a severe woman who wore black Victorian dresses and resented and ignored my mother except when enforcing her rigid house rules. My mother found some relief from the oppressive conditions of Emma’s house in the outdoors. She ran through the orange groves that stretched for miles in the San Gabriel Valley, losing herself in the scent of fruit ripening in the sun. At night, she would escaped into her books. She left home during her first year in the high school to work as a mother's helper, caring for two young children in return for room, board and three dollars a week. For the first time, she lived in a household where the father and mother gave their children the love, attention and guidance she had never received. When she graduated from high school, my mother made plans to go to college in California. But her mother Della contacted her—for the first time in ten years—and asked her to come live with her in Chicago. When my mother arrived in Chicago, she found that Della wanted her only as a housekeeper. Once I asked my mother why she went back to Chicago, she told me, “I’d hoped so hard that my mother would love me that I had to take the chance and find out.”
My father was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the middle son of Hugh Rodham, Sr., and Hannah Jones. He got his looks from a line of black-haired Welsh coal miners on his mother’s side. The Scranton of my father’s youth was a rough industrial city of brick factories, textile mills, coal mines, rail yards and wooden duplex houses. The Rodhams and Joneses were hard workers and strict Methodists. My father was always in trouble for joyriding in a neighbor’s brand-new car or roller-skating up the aisle of the Court Street Methodist Church during an evening prayer service. After graduating from Penn State in 1935 and at the height of the Depression, he returned to Scranton with a degree in physical education. Without alerting his parents, he hopped a freight train to Chicago to look for work and found a job selling drapery fabrics around the Midwest. Dorothy Howell was applying for a job as a clerk typist at a textile company when she caught the eye of a traveling salesman, Hugh Rodham. She was attracted to his energy and self-assurance and gruff sense of humor. After a lengthy courtship, my parents were married in early 1942, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. They moved into a small apartment in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago near Lake Michigan. My dad enlisted in a special Navy program and was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Station, where he became a chief petty officer responsible for training thousands of young sailors before they were shipped out to sea.