It has come to my attention that every post I make about my childhood makes my father seem like some sort of evil villain whose only goal is to beat women and children. That is certainly not true. Therefore, I will type a bit in defense of the man that I have so demonized with the majority of my posts.
Scanning my mind for memories, the first one that pops up is not necessarily good, but keep in mind that I am trying to think of memories, not hearing a sound, sensing a smell, or otherwise having a memory triggered. Dad thought that it was pretty damn funny to show his friends how us kids could smoke, even when we were only four or five years old. Thing is he really didn’t want us to learn how to smoke, more like we were puppies that he was teaching new tricks to. By the time he actually caught me smoking for the first time, I think I was 12, he was terribly angry about it (which was good). Not necessarily the way to raise a smoke free child though.
Again, that was a bad example. Moving on.
I liked to play with matches as a child. I don’t really know why. It was sort of like a little package that provided 20 fourth or July’s. Since matches cost (even today) way less than a dollar for fifty books, it was never noticed when I snuck them out to play with them. Most of the time I would just go outside while mom was busy and just light them to watch them burn. Sometimes I would light little pieces of dry grass (while holding that in my hand also) just to watch the shape it took as it went from the yellowish to charcoal. I really can’t explain what it was about fire that so captivated me because I really don’t know. It could have been a power over the elements thing but, honestly, at six years old I don’t think my mind was yet at that level.
One day I happened into the back yard with a book of matches, which I had stolen out of the kitchen drawer while mom was washing the dishes next to it. I fired a few of those suckers up just to watch them burn. I must note that I didn’t really ever move from the spot I was firing off the matches during this entire time. When the book had only a few matches left in it, I figured it was about time to see how much bigger the flame would be with more than one match. The problem was that since I was only five or six at the time, I mistakenly believed that only the matches were flammable, not the cover itself. As I lit the remaining matches, then watched the huge flame burn down closer and closer to my hand, I was pretty confident that it would just go out…Any second now…It never did.
The second that the flame became too hot for me to hold onto is when I dropped the matchbook. It is also one of the most vivid photos in my head. I wish I were an artist so that I could recreate the exact moment when that matchbook touched the ground. There were no ’embers’, there was no ‘smoldering’, that matchbook hit the ground and there was instant fire. It was pretty small at first; probably only a couple of square feet, which I thought I could put out alone. Boy was I ever wrong…
I was playing with the matches next to an old, broken down stationwagon when the fire started. The nearest liquid, of any sort, was in a little yellow pail next to the broken down car. To this day I am not entirely sure what that liquid was, and there was very little of it in that little yellow bucket. I think it must have been gasoline or some other accelerant though, since the second I dumped it on the fire it went from bad to holy fuck (yes I was only five or six, yes I actually did say ‘Holy Fuck’). Now the whole back yard was on fire. There was no way I was taking on flames taller than me, mostly since I didn’t have anything that resembled water anywhere nearby. I ran like hell back to the house. I was screaming “Fire!” with every step.
Mom called the fire department the very second she heard my screams, while the neighbors had taken hoses from their own homes to start battling it. It was put out before the fire department got there, yet they still had to investigate, I guess they were looking for signs of arson. In my little mind I was thinking that the fire was out so I was in the clear. Turns out those fire station guys are pretty good at finding the source of the fire. They found the matchbook, as well as the little yellow bucket, and were able to pinpoint the exact spot that the fire started, of course they didn’t have any DNA evidence so they had to let me go. Truth is that the fire department knew that I was the one who started it, even though mom said that I hadn’t been out of her sight long enough to do it. Anyone with a brain (except possibly a five or six year old) knew that that story was absolute bullshit.
Mom knew that I did, she had to have known. Yet I had to wait until dad got home to see what my punishment would be. Sometimes, when you are a child, the waiting for punishment, while knowing what you did wrong, is far worse than any punishment that the parents can give you. I am pretty sure that Dad knew that I did it the very second he walked in the door. The first time he asked me if I did it, I am pretty sure that I phrased my answer with a question mark, “no?”. When he asked me again I knew that the game was up, if there ever was a game. I told him that I did it. He asked me how I felt, I told him that I felt bad and scared. When he asked me why I lied to him the first time I had to tell him the truth, “I was scared.”
I don’t remember my punishment for that offense. What I do remember is that it did not involve his belt. Also, Dad said that it “pissed him off more to be lied to” than to “hear the truth, no matter how bad it is, the first time he asked the question”. That is one lesson that I know I have taken to heart. You can call me anything you want, except a Liar. I will take offense to that. My word has been absolute truth since that point, except for the occasional white lie to keep from injuring others feelings.
Keeping that in mind, I took dad’s girlfriend’s car for a joy ride one night (I was probably 13 at the time). My brother Dan was still living with us at the time, and was also in the car. I was probably drunk (I had had a couple of beers, but was only 13 or so, so yeah, drunk), and on top of that I actually took a hit off of a joint that one of Dan’s friends happened to have. Then we went out joy riding. Dan was pretty capable of keeping it on the road (the road being all gravel in rural Oregon), and he did a few fishtails just to show off. Once we reached the end of the road, that being the cul de sac less than a mile away, I told him I wanted to drive it back. Big mistake.
I had more drugs in me than Keith Richards (as an infant) but thought I was good to drive, even though I wasn’t licensed to drive in the first damn place. It went pretty well for the first half of a mile, then I decided to do some fishtails on the loose, gravel road. That was when all hell broke loose.
I did a couple of fishtails, just enough to throw around the gravel, then, as if some outside force were acting on the car (inertia possibly?) the whipping motion grew larger and larger. I often like to fault my brother Dan for not pulling the emergency brake, but, seriously, this car was a front wheel drive, no amount of pulling the emergency brake was going to stop the car. When I went to hit the brake pedal, my foot slipped off of it and fell directly on the gas pedal. It powered the car into the inevitable spin that I already had it in, this lead to landing the car in a ditch of sorts. If you can call a ditch a twenty foot vertical drop that is only stopped by a very small tree fifteen feet down.
When we touched down, as it were, I assessed the situation and figured that I was probably “pretty fucked”. I ran back home with my brother and told him that he should go immediately to bed so that I alone could take the punishment for this one. Dan did go to bed. I left a note on Dad’s door that said I was sleeping on the couch and really needed to talk to him. But, dad was wise to us, he knew that if I was gonna take the fall for whatever happened that it must be Dan that initiated it. He woke up Dan first, just to see what happened. Dan must not have said a word to him about it since Dad woke me up next, with no idea why I left the note on his door.
Remembering that Dad really hated to be lied to, I never lied. Well, with the possible exception of not mentioning Dan’s name during questioning. I did this, it is my fault and I will take the wrath. I told Dad that I had dumped his girlfriend’s car into a ditch. Dad seemed a little too happy at that revelation, I expected a beating or something. Still, I had to go show him where I “dumped the car into the ditch”.
It took two travels (two each way) up and down that road before I finally spotted the car. Here I must note that he was pretty pissed that I told him that I put the car into a ditch, yet it took driving by that ditch four times to find it (some ditches are deeper than others, right?). We ended up busting out a couple of tractors to pull the thing out of the ditch (Dad called it a ravine).
No harm, no foul, right?
There was a lot of harm though. The little Toyota Celica was never going to look the same again. I caved in the driver door (when the car hit the tree in that little ditch) but the rest of the damage was so not me. The car hit on the driver’s side (which was when I told dan to run and let me take the punishment) the trees never touched the front or back of the car. Somehow the front end of the little car was also pretty mangled.
It turns out that my dad had wrecked the same car only a few days before, but failed to mention that to his girlfriend. My wrecking of the car gave him the perfect scapegoat (thanks dad). He laid all of the the blame off on me, my punishment was to drag scrap from the forest (5 acres of which we lived on) back to the burn piles, every day, for a year. (thanks dad). But there was no beating with a belt.
I must note that I only know the truth about the celica since I overheard him talking to a friend about it. Which probably pisses me off even more. He should have thanked me for wrecking that car so that he didn’t have to fess up to it. Instead, I got year round forest patrol, but no beating with a belt.
I started this post to defend my father, it has gone horribly the other direction. I really have to call it an end.
Dad was a good guy. I learned a lot of lessons from him. Perhaps, in time, I will have visual or physical triggers that bring him back to mind. As of now I really don’t have anything.