Arlene Dawson, a Halloween baby born in 1933 on the outskirts of Cleveland, OH, learned quickly what it took to raise two children on her own in the 1950s.
In her early twenties she had two children and remained living near her immediate family. She had, by all accounts, a normal life.
But when her husband moved to the east coast, leaving her and their two children behind, life became a financial struggle.
Without her husband's financial support, she had to work two jobs to keep her family afloat.
“It was very difficult,” Dawson said. “It was time consuming – working and trying to keep the family together. I did not have free time for anything else.”
Dawson worked in a factory and waited tables to pay the bills. She worked long hours to afford the necessities like food, rent and school supplies for her kids. Since her immediate family wasn't able to help and she couldn't afford help, her children were left alone for long hours, she said.
“They left me on my own. They had their own families to take care of,” Dawson added.
Dawson lived in Ohio until the 1970s. She moved her family to Fort Myers to escape the cold. Her daughter was grown and moved out, her son was in high school.
Dawson spent several years working odd jobs. She worked for Red Lobster for some time, then decided to move to California to become a nurse. She was there for eight months before it fell through and moved to the Clearwater area.
Dawson and her children had minimal contact with her ex-husband over the years. One time, she sought him out, and eventually found him on the east coast. The reunion was not emotional. It offered no closure or explanation, she said.
“It didn’t make any difference,” she said.
Dawson recently sold her trailer and moved into Grand Villa an assisted living facility. She said various ailments made it too difficult for her to manage on her own. She has arthritis and Parkinson's disease.
She confronts her health issues with the same steely resolve that she used to deal with the breakdown of her family.
Despite an accumulation of hardships, Dawson now has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. This makes her life's struggle worth it.