Through the Eyes of Children
Double Life of a Young Girl Part VII
This series is being written as mood and memories allow. Therefore, it is somewhat out of sync; out of chronological and proper sequence. Hopefully, in the end; it will level out to become a log of biographical consequence.
During those most important developmental years which lie between ‘preteen’ and eighteen; my family experienced a number of tumultuous and twisted turns. Our days became awkward and strange; taking on a surreal essence or, more accurately; a counter, backwards, down sliding, upwardly climbing, insane and idiotic identity all their own.
For several years after the beginning of the upheaval; I was impervious to the oddity of my home life. At least, I seemed to be at the time. Partying and laughing, socializing with the kids from wholesome home environments; I wasn’t yet fully aware of the vast differences between my experience upon returning home at the end of the school day as compared to theirs. In time, this would become painfully evident.
As the obvious disparity emerged, things began to change rather rapidly.
Teenage life is supposed to be fun and full of frivolity. Silliness is supposed to be the norm; carefree and light hearted; while a tendency towards deep seated seriousness and self contemplation the curse of the invisible.
I was invisible.
Having gone through a number of step fathers, a succession of “new” homes in different towns, and a constantly changing school system; I learned to be invisible. I wished to be unnoticed. I wanted to be an unknown entity.
Before all Hell broke loose in my loosely knit nuclear family, childhood and early adolescence were all that a young girl would hope for. “Junior High” was a dream! Being a member of the 7th and 8th grade “elite,” I enjoyed all the benefits of being in such a group. We had parties, attended dances on Fridays with the cute boys in our group, went to all the sports games and tried out for “Pom Pom Girl,” among other sought after positions of popularity and prestige. That was then, as I said; “before all hell broke loose.”
But, I'm a bit ahead of myself....let me explain:
After several failed marriages to my father; the last of which began and ended during my 8th year, my mother was unaccustomed to and unwilling to live life as a single mother of two children. In no time, she seemed to forget her life with my father and began an active search for a new companion, and not just someone to spend time with. Oh no...
My mother decided that she needed to be married again and so, on came a parade of eligible and very kind gentlemen who wooed her and us, her children. In very creative attempts to ‘win the prize‘, we were swept up in a desperate wave of activities! Off to the beach, days in San Francisco at Fisherman’s Wharf, rides in the country, drives in the mountains, skiing at Lake Bereyessa, and picnics “up Valley,” in the beautiful county of Napa, California. Oh, there were many who were taken with my mother. Nice, polite and comfortable men who would go to extreme measures to secure her favors.
But, as fate would have it; my mother liked the ‘bad boys’ better than the kindly men who cued up for her attentions. No, she was drawn to the great looking, suave, sultry and sexy males who were adept at plying their ‘wares’ and engendering themselves to my mom. Polished to perfection, these silver tongued devils spoke with poetic verse while giving gifts of shining baubles designed to persuade my beautiful mother to accept the hand which held the gleaming gift
Ironically, the first in succession of step fathers was a jeweler; one who dealt in very expensive and desired items..
In no time at all; she was married to “Bob,” and we were shuttled off to another part of California; a flat, ugly, hot and boring non descript and colorless place.
NICKELS AND SHEETS
Bob was a product of the military; and took his experience to heart. During his tenure in training; one of the demands upon recruits was to make a nice, tight and tidy bed. The proof that this was, indeed, successfully achieved was determined by the commanding officer who would walk the aisles of twin sized beds which were presented to him with the top sheet, blanket and spread turned back to the foot of the bed, exposing a taut, creaseless and wrinkle free contour bottom sheet.
The Officer would pull out a nickel and flip it up in the air above the exposed bed with the intention that it land directly in the middle of the bed. The desired effect was that the nickel bounce up several feet from the tightly affixed sheet. If the nickel didn’t bounce properly, the recruit was to remake the bed until the nickel performed as expected.
As simple as this seems; it is anything but.
Of course, my brother and I were expected to duplicate this “achievement” on our own beds every morning. Since mother worked during the early am hours to mid day; we were left in the hands of our step father. He was a disciplinarian! If he had to admit it; he’d tell anyone listening that he didn’t like “those brats” and that they “were a pain in the ass.”
So, we spent our mornings in fear and trepidation of our step father knowing, all the while, that we couldn’t tell mother because he told us not to…”or else!!”
Obeying his command; we’d each stand by our individual beds in our separate rooms, awaiting the inspection. Soon, Bob would appear at the door, staring at our attempts with a critical eye as he approached. I wondered, at these precarious moments; how my brother had fared; how and if he had to redo his sheet over and over. Since we were expected not to speak or complain; there was no verbal indication of his success or failure.
PEAS AND CARROTS
One afternoon, when mother returned from work, she found brother and I still sitting at the breakfast table. My brother was defiant and argumentative; I was apologetic and ashamed.
You see, we hadn’t eaten all of our dinner the night before. After much harsh words and arguing, my mother ’won out (at least, this is what she thought at the time) and “allowed” us to go to bed early because we didn’t finish our vegetables. This was, actually, the better choice for us as, it was either sit at the table and finish the hated peas and carrots or, go to bed early. Mother would have had neither as an option; she would have fed our dog the rejected food and allowed us to carry on as usual. But, step father wasn’t going to stand for that…it was either - or so; we choose an early bedtime. Mother thought that was the end of it but, the minute our mother left for her am job; step father pulled out the hated foods and placed them before us…forcing us to sit at the table until we consumed the cold, bitter and ugly remains of last night’s dinner.
Children see life in a huge way and all the positives and negatives are amplified a hundred fold. I couldn’t imagine touching those hated peas and carrots. Cold, limp and impossible to eat in my child’s eyes; I absolutely could not even consider touching them much less eat them. My brother, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about the taste or consistency of the decaying left overs. No, his agenda was completely different than mine. While I was disgusted at the very sight of the things, he was obstinate and confrontational. He was NOT going to do as Bob said! This was his form of protest at things much bigger and beyond the mere incident of uneaten food. He was registering his objection to the very nature of our life in Ugly, USA, and how and why we were there.
Sadly; for this and other reasons, my brother confronted Bob many times and always ended up on the loosing end. And, sadder still, we could not tell my mother the horrors we were subjected to during her daily absence. No. This was to be kept quiet and under wraps…a secret about which only Brother and I could discuss out of my mother’s hearing.
Oh, how we wished we could tell her everything but, fear had a strong hold over us and kept the secret alive.
When we boarded the train for our monthly visit to my father, we pretended to tell our mother and father the whole sordid story of our hours during the day with Bob..the evil step father. We never actually did, though. Children see life in a huge way and all the positives and negatives are amplified a hundred fold.
IRISH POTATOS ARE SERVED WITH SALT
Our stay in the nondescript, hot and dusty mid section of California didn’t last long. A mere nine months and we were packing up for our return to my hometown and my father. Though I had no real idea why this was happening, I was ecstatically happy that it was. Both my brother and I couldn’t wait to leave the match stick house which had been our ‘home’ for those months. Plain, boring, boxy and without any beautiful embellishments or graceful gingerbread like those of our first home. This one had small ten foot by ten foot bedrooms which had closets that were covered with by folding doors. Ick! Our old doors were heavy with paneling and lovely glass knobs. These new ones had big, bulky shiny gold knobs that weren’t real gold. Even as a young girl, I could tell the knobs were fake.
There was no elegant fireplace with ornate mantle, no built in cabinets with wavy old glass doors that opened to deep deep recesses which my mother used to love. The kitchen was cold and uninviting with a tiny window above the sink. It was nothing like the sunny circular dining alcove in our old kitchen which had mid wall to ceiling windows all around that let in the most comfortable slanting rays of sunshine in the morning and during evening sunset. Our counters in my original home were covered in intricately detailed tiles of off white which were accented with black squares and rectangles creating a pattern all along the length of it. Our deep double cast iron sink shone brightly and proudly. Mother never let anyone use scratchy cleanser on it or the Wedgewood stove with six burners…no, she insisted that these surfaces be cleaned using strength and expert hand motion which removed any and all bits of dirt and grime. The stainless steel sink in this ticky tacky house could not compete with the historical beauty of our ‘real’ home. Nor could the unimaginative floor plan compare. A square “design” with small rooms squeezed into it. Our Tudor home had three stories, a lovely staircase and large rooms and high ceilings, crown molding and elaborate wood door casings and caps, built in cabinets with drawers and special places to display special things.
The sorry little house in our temporary move rested on a small square of grassless area which had no greenery, no flowering shrubs or trees; in effect; barren and dull. Our native home was situated on a huge swath of acreage which had a seasonal creek, huge oak and bay and evergreen trees as well as an orchard which produced the most luscious apples, pears, peaches and crunchy walnuts. Large grassy areas were perfect for us to play on while we ran to and fro with our dogs and cats. It was a good childhood while it lasted.
Well, back to our exit from Ugly, America. Going home! Can’t wait! While our little displaced family of three stayed at my Grandmother’s house for a few months; mother searched for a new home. It wasn’t long before she found the perfect place for young kids in a neighborly environment with friendly people and lots of space to play.
In no time, we were living in a small but nice tract home on a tree lined street and well kept yards. Lots of kids and new friends to meet. Activity and life! This was perfect.
Soon, mother was feeling the need for permanent male companionship, again. During that time; it was not usual for a woman to marry and remarry so often as my mother did. But, just as unusual (and unacceptable in good society ) was a woman remaining single for long. So, according to the scheme of things, she was off in search of a new ‘step father.’
Along came Mike. Mike with black hair and blue eyes, a strong square chin and smiling face. Mike stood six feet four inches and was everything my mother found attractive in a man. He was Irish…100%….with a brogue which melted hearts. My mother’s heart oozed into a hot, liquid pool of syrupy yearning which pulled Mike into her web with as much urgency as she felt.
Hot and heavy, theirs was a whirlwind courtship which resulted in, of course, marriage. For a while, this pairing seemed like the perfect match. Maybe this one would work!
HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR POTATOES?
One thing she used to laugh about while preparing holiday meals was the fact that, typical of Irish cuisine; Mike liked his mashed white potatoes with salt, only. No butter! No sour cream! No chives or ground pepper…just salt. For some reason, this confused her; she could not imagine eating soft, bland potatoes without more toppings. Still, we all learned to appreciate this difference in tastes; it wasn’t a big deal.
But, there was more to come.
THE DAYS of WINE AND ROSES
Mike was a courteous man. He never abused or mistreated my brother or me and was always a gentleman to my mother. Problem was; he liked his alcohol…a lot! What began as a fun, celebratory relationship between the two of them turned into a source of discord. Every night, before dinner drinks and after dinner drinks became an every day occurrence. Not only that; this little pattern became a midday habit, as well. Though she said she didn’t want it to continue; somehow; she fell right into the imbibing with regularity.
But, this could not go on for too very long and, sure enough! It didn’t! Within the space of a little over a year, Mom and Mike were off to the divorce courts. Again, brother and I kept our distance and went into our respective rooms shortly after finishing the evening meal. This was a matter of necessity as well as self preservation. No, our physical well being was never threatened however, the arguments which developed between mother and Mike became more and more hostile while, concurrently, emotionally wrenching with tears, sobbing and many a heartfelt “I’m sorry.” from both parties.
And so, at a young age; I saw the exit of father 3...but, it certainly was not the end of available, willing and ready suitors to come; one of whom would soon be identified as ‘father # FOUR!”
More to come……..