The couple would need plenty of understanding in the years to come. By 1963, they had five children younger than 6. Bob and Rita both grew up in large Catholic families and never considered anything else for themselves. They eventually had seven.
When their first child, Gary, was born, Bob thought he looked like he was hiding nuts in his cheeks; from then on, he was “Squirrel.” The next baby, Renee, looked like a peaceful lamb, so she became “Lambie.” Then came Kevin, called “Chip”; and Robyn; and Rhonda, dubbed “Kitten.” Rachelle made her arrival and was nicknamed “Bunny.” The baby, Roxanne, would go by “Dove.”
Rita was a master of organization. She was tireless and exacting — the table was always set beautifully, and the children were properly dressed. When the baby napped, Rita would hold “school” for the little ones, passing out workbooks and bagged lunches. Bob used the profits from his service station to open an auto parts store; at night Rita did the accounting.
Bob was industrious and fun-loving. He made time for Boy Scouts, fishing excursions and Sunday ski trips. He was sweet and sentimental, known for choking up whenever it was his turn to say grace.
Bob and Rita made their priorities abundantly clear to their children. They prized education, hard work, faith and commitment to family. Each child was enrolled in a single-sex Catholic school and expected to attend college. They would spend summers working in Bob’s business, which had grown to seven stores, and receive the same wages as any other employee. They would learn to put their trust in God. And they would watch out for each other, acting alternately as friend, protector, conscience or keeper.
Family was the foundation and focal point of life — and it was meant to be fun. The Zgorskis would sit together every night for dinner, passing each dish and waiting for Bob’s next joke. The seven kids shared a single bathroom, so it wasn’t uncommon for one to be in the shower while another sat on the toilet and a third brushed her teeth. Secrets weren’t easy to keep, and private time was far from sacred.
The kids accepted their parents’ marriage the same way they accepted the rising sun. It just was — and it wasn’t examined. It wasn’t until they got older that they were able to see its complexities and imperfections. And not until they had marriages of their own that they could comprehend the triumph of a union that lasted in spite of it all.
Perhaps it was at that same point that Bob and Rita realized their limits as parents. They could guide their children, but couldn’t live their lives for them. They could nurse their wounds, but not prevent the next heartache. They could never fully protect their kids — not from repeating old dramas, or experiencing new ones of their own.