Yesterday while I was at work, and for reasons that I can’t remember, I ended up talking to the cashier about a portion of my childhood. It started with the story about how I stole a bag of chips from the local IGA store, then went a bit deeper into why I did it. If you have actually read through the archives on the left side of the screen you have probably seen the story already, if not, in a nutshell, I was really hungry, and hungry for tortilla chips in particular. For unknown reasons I went further into my childhood than I have ever spoken of to anyone other than my mother, yet I found that it made for an almost unbelievable story so I will type it here.
Before I get into it, however, I must mention that my Mother actually reads this page, while my Father is dead and can not defend himself. I remember things the way I remember them and if my memory is horribly flawed I am pretty sure that Mom will let me know. Of course Mom might not be the most objective person, since she is one of the two factions at war, but I will do my best to tell it like I remember it. While the mind does seem to dull with age, it is amazing how vivid these memories from 20+ years ago really are.
First up will be a couple of fractional, at best, memories that I have of the impending divorce. I have a scar on my right wrist that is slightly over an inch long, I got that while in Arizona visiting an uncle. I don’t really know why we were in Arizona, but I do know that Dad was not there with us (I have not actually tried to fact check this one with Mom, but that was at a point when Dad was pretty drunk and abusive nearly every day). My wrist got cut when I was trying to fuck with a cat on my uncle’s couch. Unfortunately, the uncle had a solid mirror coffee table that had jagged edges on the side nearest the couch. When the cat finally swiped at me, and I jerked my arm away, I hit the coffee table and split my wrist wide open. It was really bad. While I don’t remember the verbatim dialogue that followed, I do remember exactly what I said to my mother the instant after it happened, “Mom, I need to go to the Hospital.”. In the fuzzy part of the memory, I think she may have actually scolded me for interrupting while the grown ups were talking. I know for sure that she really thought that I needed to get to the hospital immediately once I shoved the wound in front of her face.
Funny thing about scar tissue is that it stays the same forever, while the normal skin continues to grow. As I look at that scar right now I can still see the 8 suture marks around the scar, yet they are now a good quarter of an inch from it and spaced apart even further. Now it looks like it was a nick, when it happened it pretty much looked like my wrist wrist may fall off, or I would lose the use of my thumb. It all worked out for the best though, I still have full use of all of my digits, not to mention a story to tell (and that one went over HUGE at show and tell back in the day. Yet, as I have found over the years, chicks don’t really dig scars.).
The car ride to the hospital was a bit unnerving. I didn’t know how this would be taken care of. I posited my theory that they had bodies laying around that they could take spare parts out of to fix the patients. Mom told me that this was not the case and that I would have to be sewed back together with a needle, at that point I am pretty sure that I told her that I was fine, didn’t need to go to the hospital or anything, but we ended up there anyway. The funniest part of the car ride, as I look back on it, is that my uncle stopped to ask a cop for directions to the nearest hospital, his exact quote to the cop was, “My partner hurt his arm, we need to get him to a hospital! (that sticks out in my mind only because he called me partner, not nephew, not sister’s child, not bastard son of 100 men, no, he chose partner)” That doesn’t seem funny, but as I look back on it with adult eyes that is probably the first time in his life that he had spoken to a cop without being in handcuffs, possibly the last as well.
I got stitched right up once we got to the hospital, it didn’t hurt at all. There was a small tinge of pain when the doctor shot the (insert name here)cane into the wound to numb it, but after that it was smooth sailing. When the stitches came out, however, wow, boy howdy, that shit hurt. The suture removal was performed by the same uncle that took me to the hospital, but with no pain killer, and it really hurt. Or at least I thought it did, but what was I six? Plus they gave me a candy for every one that they pulled out, I bet I was amped that night.
The next fuzzy memory I can’t really date, I remember the events but I can’t possibly place the time. It was at my uncle Steve’s house, Steve moved so frequently that I also can’t remember exactly which house it was in. Dad was horribly drunk, yet wanted to drive home. He asked the three of us kids “Who wants to go home with Dad?” He was horribly wasted at the time, and Highway 42 in Oregon has claimed more lifes than air travel, but we all wanted to go home with him, thankfully, Mom nixed that idea and we had to stay in that old, stinky house. Again, with adult eyes I am able to look at that experience and realize that Mom really did have our best interests at heart. Not to mention a broken finger, since dad had thrown her down the stairs outside the house. One of the images that is so burnt into my memory that I am sure I will never forget it is the image of Dad squatted next to the wood stove when we all got home the next day. I don’t think he ever actually knew what happened that night.
I have two other fuzzy memories on this subject that seem to blur together. One involves a horrible pounding against the house as Dad tried, while horribly drunk, to back his truck out of the driveway (which was steeply sloped towards the house). It happened over and over again for a long time. The other was a pounding sound that was (as my Mom later described) Dad beating her head against the floor (interesting aside on that one is that I thought she was lying, while I was six, there is no way to beat someone’s head against the floor while they are standing up. It took a bit of living to realize that he had her pinned to the floor to make that possible). After at least one of the said fuzzy memories, Dad was passed out in the yard. Mom told me that he tried to do a Hand-Spring but forgot to put his hands down, I dunno, that seems like a pretty flimsy alibi.
All of my fuzzy memories aside, that was the situation that my Mother was in, and it certainly was far worse than my memory. The divorce was a good thing for all parties involved. Well, all parties except for Mom and the kids.
When the divorce finally went down, Mom just sort of gave up all material possessions for the custody of the children. Unfortunately the child support laws back then were not quite what they are today. She was getting about 100 bucks a month to support three children. That doesn’t even cover the cost of food, but we got food stamps, so that helped. She was dirt poor… She was dirt poor, but she did her best and I think that we all (her children) turned out pretty good.
Living accommodations along the way could have been better…
The first house that I lived in with my mother, post divorce, was on Curry road. It was not so much a house, more like enough plywood leaned together to make what passes for shelter. There was no indoor plumbing, well, there was a sink, there was a shower, but I am pretty sure that the water from those just drained directly onto the ground below. The toilet, I will never forget the toilet, was on the outside of the house, and some twenty yards away. Some may call that an outhouse, I called it my salvation. When you really have to shit, right now, snow be damned, you are gonna foot your way out to the little box in the pasture to make it happen. How many people who are alive today can remember taking a dump in an outhouse?
Over the next several years, it seemed that we were trying to keep one step ahead of the building inspector. We moved into Hartz Cabins, a facility that was condemned only a few months after we moved in. A few misfires later, we ended up in a house on Shoestring road, Just outside of Riddle, Oregon. We were there for some time, a few years I think. (there may have been a couple of houses in Arizona between the latest listed points, I dunno, the mind seems to alter the facts after all these years).
We never had much, and what we did have we were thankful for. Mom did her best with what she had, which was very little. Dad could have stepped in to offer some compensation, maybe even did (I dunno), but Mom went it alone and raised us alone. That must take a great deal of resolve to accomplish. Three children raised with no help from the father (virtually). Kudos to mom.
I have been less than honest with my Mother for all of the years since. While I loved her “indian bread” (deep-fried flat bread), I was not so keen on her actual bread. The bread tasted kind of doughy, with the additional taste of yeast…Not all that tasty, yet, when soaked in butter, that was good stuff. I did my best to keep up the charade, but, as she told me recently, I lost a lot of credibility.
When we all lived in that tiny little dive (the one without indoor plumbing), we each had a birthday. The gift to each of us was a really itchy green blanket (donated by the local military reserve) and ten dollars in food stamps to spend however we wanted. I don’t remember exactly what I spent mine on, but I would guess it was probably on sugared cereal.
Fast forward a couple of years, perhaps rewind. In my memory this event was long after the military blanket, yet before I moved back to live with dad. There was a Christmas that happened. We lived in a slightly better dive than the last one (this one had an eagle claw bathtub), and we each got cards from Dad. Each card contained a ten dollar bill. While I don’t remember what the rest of the money was spent on, I do remember that I spent a couple of bucks on Christmas wrapping paper. Gods be damned! There might not be a gift under the tree (which is not entirely true, we did get gifts just not many of the flashy, store bought ones that we so craved), but what little we had to exchange was going to have the “have yourself a merry little Christmas” logo on it.
I don’t remember all these experiences as being bad per se, I don’t have another childhood to compare them to. Each one of these experiences helped to make me who I am today. If it weren’t for having to camp out by Cow Creek eating nothing but barley soup for a few days I might not appreciate everything that I have now as much as I do. If I hadn’t seen how badly it hurt my Mother when Dad beat her (and I don’t mean physically, I mean the transformation from the vibrant, beautiful woman she was in her senior photo to the shell of the woman she had become when she finally had the resolve to walk out on him), I might not have such tremendous respect for women, I might even be abusive to them myself, who knows?
Your childhood is something that you really had no control over, as such there can’t be any regret. Just as every scar on my body reminds me of a particular place or event, every memory that I have of my youth reminds me of conscious decisions that I made. While it may seem hard to believe that I made a vow, at the ripe old age of six, to never hit a woman, I did. That is a vow that I am quite happy to say I have never broken (well, once in the fourth grade, but that bitch was holding me on the ground and literally pulling my hair out. And once in my junior year of High School, but again I was provoked; I called a certain girl a slut, based only on the fact that she had had sex with at least three guys at a party the night before, her younger sister took offense to me calling her sister a slut, walked up and kicked me square in the nuts. I fell to the ground immediately. When I got back up I saw her laughing with her friends, I walked up to her and gave her a right that bloodied her nose and put her to the ground, she had it coming.), although I did accidentally break Angie Dixon’s leg in the fifth grade while playing soccer, sorry Angie.
But this post is all about the bread so I guess I better get to the point. Mom told me recently that she knew that I didn’t like her homemade bread as much as I let on. The way that she knew was that on one occasion where I was able to spend food stamps however I chose, I bought a loaf of bread. She never told me that she knew that I didn’t like it all that well until very recently, I think that she was just glad that I was making my brothers look like a couple of little whiners. Older brothers don’t like to be made to look like babies you see.
The truth is that I could probably list a couple dozen things that I really didn’t like to eat but ate and pretended that I liked. That was all we had and with my brothers bitching about it already what good would it have done? I will list just a couple though, for sentimental value. Barley, while when combined with hops, fermented and aged, is certainly my favorite drink, yet Barley soup is just plain disgusting (I don’t even know if I was able to disguise my disgust at this soup when I was young). Potato pancakes weren’t all that bad, but they weren’t all that good either. I didn’t have to pretend much with those though, since my brothers both seemed to like them. Corned Beef Hash, now this one is complex as I actually do like it sort of. This was a dish that we often had pre-divorce, but even at the time I didn’t really like all of it. I loved the taste that the potatoes had after cooking with the corned beef for so long, but the meat itself was so salty that I had to pick it out and give it to one of my brothers. Chicken is quite similar, I don’t mind the taste of chicken but I hate the skin, simply won’t eat it, of course since my brothers would fight for the skin I didn’t want it was all good.
On the up side, there were a lot of dishes that our finances forced on us that I really liked. Ramen noodles for instance. Those things were damn tasty, a child can make them (though why mom let me do that, considering the horrible burn scars on my chest and neck is beyond me), and after you eat the noodles you have a cup of warm broth to drink. An entire meal for a child for, well you can get them 10 for a buck now (on sale) so probably 15 or 20 for a buck then, so like 5 to 7 cents. Then there were the potatoes. Those things were practically free back then so we had a lot of them. I love mashed potatoes, not so much the pancakes they turn into the next day, but mashed potatoes is one of the things that is on my plate at every buffet. There is a certain way to make them though. The ones that are made out of dehydrated flakes simply aren’t edible. Even if you use real potatoes, if you mix them with a power mixer they have the consistency of an orange Julius, also not edible. They must be mashed with an old fashioned masher, they must have only pepper as seasoning no salt! Salt can be added by the consumer but not taken away. Finally they really should be made with real butter. I have had to use margarine to make them for Thanksgiving the last few years and they still taste pretty good, but butter is certainly the best way to go.
To finish this off with the thought that started it, the real reason that I wanted the store bought bread had nothing to do with the taste of the home made bread. The thing about the home made bread is that you have to slice it yourself and that makes for some pretty awkward looking sandwiches. Sometimes, no matter how down to earth you try to be (for a small child) you just want to have a sandwich that looks the same as the ones that all the other kids are eating. Is that so wrong?