The early days
My first memory is that of a child. Not the perfect beauty the books had promised the woman I would call Mother. I was small and pale, with only thin wisps of red hair, nowhere for her to clip the pretty bows. She made sure from my first breathe that I knew I was a disappointment to her. All I ever wanted was for Mother to love me, She did not, and she let me know every day. As an adult I have come to realize this was about her, not me. No matter your disappointment, being mean to another human is not the answer. Mother was physically and emotionally cruel, not an environment a child can thrive in. I however am strong, she could not destroy me, or extinguish the fire in my soul that fueled the person I am.
My father, he was a quiet man who always seemed sad and far away. I remember his scent, it is
etched in my brain, stale cigarettes and Old Spice. He walked around in my life, like a shadow in winter. In this environment I learned to eat for comfort, trying to dull the pain and sadness with sugar. I learned to never speak of the darkness and abuse that I lived in. I wish I knew who my Father was, but he was distant and detached, unless he wanted something, then he could be quite charming. My mother was not his first choice in mates, and their unhappiness was the perfect storm.
It took me 60 years to really open my eyes and see this woman, not through a child's hopeful eyes, but through the eyes of an adult who understands, some people cannot love. She enjoyed cruelty, she lived for deceit, she could not love or even be kind. I now understand that this woman could never love me, or anyone, we were all just pawns in her game of heartless brutality. She did not want to be a mother, the role was forced upon her, and the children suffered.
I have a sister. Susan is three years younger than me. She was not strong enough to endure the abuse and come out whole on the other side. Where I chose food to hide my pain, she chose street drugs, that tormented her body long after the mother had finished her off. The mother enjoyed pointing her finger at her broken child, mocking her weakness, never having the spine to claim her child’s broken mind on the torment that she had inflicted on it. Out of the ashes Susan has risen, she has found her worth and will not allow the beast to conquer her although she still struggles with the demons of mental illness.
My Grandparents were Bill and Frances
My Grandparents were wonderful people. They were hard working talented people. They were the saviors of my sister and I. Always kind and full of fun, when they were around life had smiles. When I was very young we lived in their garage apartment, then when we moved to Salinas they lived right around the corner from us. I spent a lot of time with my Grandparents, they would take me camping, fishing and hunting.
A lot of my fondest memories of my Grammy revolve around food. Going to Woolworths lunch counter for mashed potatoes and gravy. I loved cooking in my Grandparents kitchen with them, I can still smell the coffee perking. I was so happy the mornings she came in her Yellow and white Nash Metropolitan so we could get donuts and watch the morning train roar through town.
From the outside looking in, our family looked "normal". However, from the inside it was a totally different world. I wrote a couple of my earliest memories of 551 Glacier Drive, the place I called home, and My Uncle Elmer’s farm in Petaluma California.
I spent my first years in the quiet of the house. A dark place with heavy curtains. The thick smell of old cigarettes and bacon grease hung suspended in the air. The room I inhabited was nice enough. Small but big enough to feel like a world to a tiny child. Olive green Berber carpet covered the floor of the room.
A tall white crib sat in the far-right corner beside the window to the back yard. It was a drafty aluminum window that was covered by thin dusty gingham yellow and white curtains that waved when the air would move. The crib seemed to be as tall as the highest mountain. Jack and Jill were always going up the hill to get their pail of water on the headboard. They were on thin clear peeling sticker almost pastel with age. The spring base holding the sides together was metal and made a creaky, squeaky sound when you climbed into the wobbly crib to rest on the cool white sheet that covered the plastic mattress. The side rail of the crib was lowered at all times, providing a safe hiding place for the creatures of this world to hide if you were small enough to get under the secret entrance at the bottom of the crib.
Against the opposite wall near the door into the house stood a tall white dresser with wooden blocks for handles. A large long drawer took up the entire top, while small square ones lined up vertically below it, next to the small drawers, under the long drawer was a small squeaking door into a child size closet that could transport you to a happier place.
A gold cushioned toy box sat on the other side of the bedroom door containing toys that called to a child. It was best if they were only looked at in the box, as to mess the room would only aggravate and anger the Mother.
The bulk of my early days were spent under the crib. Pretending I was behind the white picket fence of a perfect house, on the quiet tree lined street of my dreams. It was a place where even ugly children were loved and allowed to play in the sun. I dreamed my Daddy would pick me up over his head to the sky. Then as Daddy would look into my eyes he was smiling, he would fly me in circles with strong, safe outstretched arms. There was always the sweet smell of lilacs and soft white cake in the air, and the leaves always fell peacefully into a pile for me to jump in. I felt safe and happy behind my picket fence.
Sometimes the picket fence could not protect me. When I felt the monsters of the world coming to get me, I could retreat to my squeaky closet. Monsters were never allowed in this dark little cave. I could clutch my knees to my chest and rest my head on my knees, hearing the turmoil outside knowing whatever monsters existed, I was safe, hidden from their view.
Scott was the mother's youngest brother. I say was as he saw through her evil years before I did and did, Scott by the end did not claim her as a sister. Scott is just 3 years older than I; he was always my partner in crime. Scott has always been my hero. He is my big brother.
Occasionally I would be thrust into the outside world. I would go see other family members. It was frightening to be away from the safety of my precious squeaky closet. We would drive for hours in our dull red Valiant station wagon. The piping around the door jams gave for hours of curious wonder. The red and green plaid so continuous with the thin gold threads interlacing it’s never ending pathway. It looked as rich as a Scott's man’s kilt. First one city then another city, then another... Then the car would turn onto the dusty dirt road, clouds of thin dirt would billow up to choke out the light of day. The car would make a thumpety thump noise as it bounced down the gravel road. The small particles licking at the underside of the cars frame, clicking and pinging like hail crashing into a tin roof. It signaled that we were nearly there. As we approached, I could make out the huge burnt red barn in the near distance. Then out of the cloud of dust, came the thin white dog with big brown patches. He would be barking at the car windows, jumping to see in. I would sink down low so he could not see me. Just sure I was to be his next little girl meal. The car’s tires made a sliding sound as it jolted to a stop, sending me slipping off the seat onto the floorboards. We were here, by the back door of the dingy white wood house. The wooden screen door screeched as it opened to reveal Uncle Elmer, as he ambled down the groaning wood steps the door would bang shut behind him bouncing with a thump two more times. A tall, very thin man with dark thin skin. His age showed on his face, and the years of smoking unfiltered army issue cigarettes could be heard in his voice. “I got a surprise for you girl” came his graveled bark, as he led me to the barn. I held my breath. I think he did not know my name, as he had only referred to me as “girl”. We made our way to the imposing barn, he slid the immense door to the side, there in the center of the floor was a small gray and pink piglet in a wire cage. It was so small in that enormous cage, so alone. I instantly felt my heart fill with the hope of a friend in this small animal. Uncle Elmer picked me up with his thin arms, the muscles hanging off of them as if tied to the bone with a string. His arms were strong as he plopped me into the cage with this other tiny pink being, who like me was feeling alone in the world. I looked up as Uncle Elmer turned and ambled back toward the house, leaving us alone in dust on the floor. The piglet was as curious about me, as I was about him. He came over and nuzzled me with his tiny damp snout. I reached out and gently stroked his skin. It felt very much like the soft skin of my arm. His eyes were sad and wanting. I felt as our souls connected, as we sat and played silently in the cool air of the barn.
At the end of the day the visit was over. The Mother came out to the barn and lifted me out of the pen I had shared with my pig friend. I was brought back to the car. Then town to town and we were back at home, back to the isolation and the safety of my room, playing in the lush green yard behind my picket fence. I often thought of my friend the pig. He had no name much like me, we were invisible.
I should feel lucky. I was told this often. The Mother was home with me. We had a house. We had food. We had family. Even though the house and food and family felt more like a prison for which to house The Mother, the silent warden who patrolled the bleak and barren hallways. I was not at all sure of where I fit into this “family” of their creation. I was content to stay behind the fence or hide away in darkness of my cave. Only coming out, when called. Down the long dark hallway to the kitchen to eat whatever morsel was being put before me. Keeping my eyes to the floor as to avoid the disproving glares that awaited me. Trying not to choke while swallowing the grease laden portions that laid in a lump upon my plate. Once the plate was clean, I was allowed to return to the refuge of my world. The loving warm home behind the fence.
Easter was coming. it was time for an Easter dress. I was told I was lucky. The Mother could sew. She made all the clothing I wore. However, I still question how lucky I was to be blessed with these original creations. The price I paid for them was high, it was paid for with my blood. These lovely frocks called for hours of standing on a small three-legged milking stool as The Mother sat before me in her big cushioned chair. It was frightening. If I moved at all the stool would creak and wobble, ready to topple me to the floor. The Mother sat large, and imposing, needles sticking out of her wrist, I as a small child did not understand she wore a pin cousin as a bracelet. She could pull the pins out, then stick them in, it was strange to me how she never flinched as she stabbed and unstabbed herself countless times. I knew to remain to perfectly still, not making a sound. For if I moved, I would be made still again by a sharp poke to the leg and a sneer. Some fittings left me standing in a pool of my own blood. It drained from my legs in red rivers to the pools at my feet. No matter how hard I tried some days my legs refused to be still, after a while the pokes took on a comforting acknowledgement that I was here. I was lucky to be given so much.
The toy box tomb. It’s gold vinyl cushion top makes a whoosh sound every time I sit on it. I am wondering why, does it breathe? what is in it? So smooth to the touch. It’s cool vinyl feels both hard and soft under my fingertips. It fascinates me. Is it a little girl trapped inside? Or a big monster wanting to eat me. I find a pencil, one with a point. I stab it, hard and fast over and over. It feels so good, now it will not breathe. It was a monster, I can tell. It cannot get me now. The stab wounds do not bleed blood, just white cotton stuffing. I sit back on the floor and drop the pencil. Then there is the failure shuffling coming in the hallway. I crawl for the fence, not fast enough. I am grabbed by the leg, dragged back. I do not cry I cannot breathe. She has me the monster is out! I tighten my gut as the first kick raises my body from the floor. I cover my head with tiny arms protecting my face. I try to curl into a ball but feel myself floating up. I am being lifted high off the ground. Then the toy box opens its wide mouth and I am fed to it. I do not cry out; I hold my breath waiting for the pain. the mouth closes I am in its belly. It is so very dark. I try to push out of the belly of the monster. He clamps his jaws shut. I am to die here, I know. The belly of the monster is full of toys, toys of mine he has eaten. they stab at me. I cannot escape. I become peaceful. I get sleepy in this belly tomb. I let my mind fall away. all is silent.
I remember these moments and smile. I survived. I am stronger than I ever could have known.
When I was 8 years old, my Grammy an amazing woman with a bubbly witty humor brought to her “club”; TOPS short for Take Off Pounds Sensibly, founded in 1948 by Esther Manz. TOPS has been my refuge.
I felt accepted at TOPS for who I was. I did not get to goal. I however did learn to journal my food, I learned what a serving size looked like, I learned to be accountable, I learned there is always hope and good in people.
My favorite times were going to Recognition Days. Recognition Days are where everyone gets together and recognizes the people losing weight, and to honor the ever-admired KOPS. KOPS are members of elite club of people who are Keeping Off Pounds Sensibly. KOPS are heroes to all the rest of us.
In 1968 I got to go to my first IRD, International Recognition Days. At 9 years old I was awe struck at the graduation of TOPS to KOPS. The new KOPS members came onto stage all dressed up and received their diplomas, a yellow rose, and a candle. As the KOPS left the stage, they joined the other KOPS standing all around the outside of the room, surrounding us. They began lighting one candle off another till we were all standing in a circle of their light. Then the song candles on the water by Helen Reddy began to play and they swayed holding up their candles to us. Their lights showing us all the way, it brought tears to my eyes, still does.
I wanted with everything for to someday graduate at IRD. Over the years I have went to many Recognition days, even a few International Recognition Days. I always stood humbled and honored before the Queens and Kings of these events, dreaming of my day holding that yellow rose.
My dream, my desire is to someday graduate at a Recognition Days