A Story From My Life, Part 3: Bedwetting
This is one of the saddest stories I have to write. Once again, it isn't a direct memory of mine from my childhood, but part of the family arcana. It arouses in me the strongest empathy and sympathy for another human being that I'm able to feel. It concerns my eldest living brother, Louie, who has long ago grown up and gone on, and has (I hope) put this story behind him.
We all still have those deep scars of the heart which throb in sympathy whenever we should meet.
I've taken some steps to protect my identity on Hub Pages, so even though my brother and I share the same last name, I think his identity is protected as well. He might still be embarrassed by this story. He might even still think it's his fault--though it was not. It was NOT!
It was a rigorous household, out in the country in upstate New York, run by two people who were strict fundamentalists, limited in resources, and limited in natural love for their children. It did not help that both parents had come from dysfunctional households, had gone through the Great Depression, and also were limited, or self-limited, in their exposure to more enlightened ideas of child-rearing.
Like many male children of battering, abusive or neglectful parents, Louie had a problem with bed-wetting when he was about five years old.
Mom had to wash the sheets, every day. She only had one change of sheets for each bed. She used an old wringer washing machine that she set up in the kitchen. It was heavy and awkward to use, and involved a lot of manual labor.
To exacerbate the problem, water was from the well, and sometimes water supplies were limited. For the hottest days of a heat wave in the high summer, water supplies were sometimes non-existent. Carole and I both remember, when we were six and seven years old, attempting to lug a 20-gallon carboy of water from the neighbors, down the road. A couple of miles down the road. There is nothing so heavy as water to carry and nothing more valuable as water when you've run short of it.
Poor Louie! My parents' solutions were harsh. Dad beat him, and beat him, and beat him. It only made the problem worse. Mom ordered rubber sheets from the Sears catalog, which had to come out of the grocery money, because Dad refused to pay for that little extra. Dad was a miserly sort--I remember Mom's "allowance" was twenty dollars per week to feed the six of us that were home when I was in my teens, in the 70's. That had to cover everything--groceries, household supplies, anything the children or she needed in the line of clothes or shoes. Mom did her best, but money was really tight in that household. Dad was working as a designing engineer at Sylvania, and was racking up the money for his retirement. I think the Great Depression haunted him, as far as money went. He couldn't save up enough of it to feel secure that when he got old and couldn't work, there would still be enough to cover him.
My poor dear brother. The siblings picked on him. Dad flailed him to pieces every night. He got a smell about him, which he took to kindergarten. Because of limited water supplies, Mom couldn't keep up.
And it was entirely involuntary on his part. No kid would continue to create such misery for himself on purpose.
Dad was not able to recognize this. He thought Louie was lazy, or willful, or was doing this on purpose to defy him. Dad grew more and more determined to break Louie of the bed-wetting habit. Dad set and alarm clock to go off in the middle of the night and wake Louie, so that Louie could go to the bathroom.
Louie woke, looking fuzzily about him, just barely coming out of the deepest child's slumber. Then he went back into a doze where he dreamed he got up and went to the bathroom...
And Louie wet the bed.
Dad was livid! Louie was defying him! Dad couldn't have that!
Dad made Louie sleep in the pigpen. He wouldn't let Louie sleep in the house.
We survived many harsh things as children, much harsh and unkind treatment. At times our very lives were threatened. Somehow this story, of Dad putting Louie outside in the cold to sleep with the pig, gets to me just about the worst of all.
They called it "discipline" and thought they were justified.
How could they think like that?
Had they never read, in the Bible, "the quality of mercy is not strained". or any of the many words of grace and kindness that inform the Christian world?
I will never, never, never understand it, no matter how long I live, to the end of my days. It is a haunting mystery to me.
Louie grew up and became a scholar. He, like me, hid himself away in books. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Classic Languages (Greek, Latin and Hebrew), though he doesn't use the "Doctor" appellation. He went to Rome for his dissertation, to the Vatican, and translated a previously untranslated Latin poet into English. He did not receive the university chair he was after, so he furthered his studies by going to Rutgers University where he was awarded an MBA, which used to obtain a high position in the Civil Service.
He is retired now. He is the proud father of two daughters, and the proud grandfather of one granddaughter and two grandsons.
Louie is content now. He belongs to the Society of Friends (Quakers) and is active with his church and family.
I remember my dear brother from my childhood, when he was in his early teens and we three were the little 'uns. He was the best babysitter of the older kids, by far. He was the kindest, most patient, and most fun. He was ticklish, too!
My good-hearted Louie sometimes worries too much--he can get a little obsessive at times. He is SO CONSCIENCTIOUS! Even worse than me! I try to reassure him, to extend back to him all the many kindnesses he showed us as wee tots. Always I tell him, "Louie, you're a good person, one of the very best, and you have been and will always be."
If I could go back in time and alter one thing, maybe it would be to get that five-year-old Louie from the pigpen and bring him inside; clean him up with a nice hot bath; wrap him up in his PJ's and a blanket; give him hot cocoa and cookies and rock him to sleep in my arms. I'd tell him what a good boy he is, and what a fine man he will become.
If you want to read the previous two chapters, click HERE:
- A Story From My Life (Part I)
When I was five and my sister Carole was six, she got whooping cough. It really isn't surprising--our bedroom was unheated and the snow lay deep in the fields of the farm where we grew up. Mom decided to...
- A Story of My Life, Part II
My eldest sister Faye, my eldest brother Jerry, and our brother David stayed at home while Mom, Dad and the rest of the children went on an excursion into the country to visit some other relatives on a...