Still Learning How to Fly ~ "Uneasy Relationship" (Pt.2)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 14th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As Chapter Two progresses and concludes my mom puts on public displays of anger in the mid-50's that would have Child Protective Services on her doorstep today. Times and attitudes change, thankfully.

Public Display

The Rives-Blackman Helping Hand Society otherwise informally known as The Ladies Aid held one of their quarterly potluck meeting extravaganzas later that summer at the Rives Township Hall in beautiful downtown Rives Junction, Michigan, and since my grandma Bess and my mom were card-carrying members, not only were they in attendance, but this being 1955 with a postwar baby boom in full force, a lot of other young mothers were there with their young children as well. My sister Sandi, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 months old joined the throng of youngsters in the stroller brigade that day while I joined the other four year olds in just being bored. And my boredom proved to be my undoing that day.

Again I recall the scene vividly as if it were yesterday. Everyone had just completed eating their meal in the banquet hall and the bustle of activity was great with the noise of clean-up. Grandma Bess was somewhere nearby involved in this. Mom was stooped over, kind of kneeling, feeding mashed potatoes to Sandi in her stroller. I was bored, normal for a four year old sitting two chairs away and stretched out with a full stomach. I looked over my left shoulder and saw Chris, also four years old, and he looked just as bored as me. We had played and talked together at these functions before, and he was a really nice kid, plus his grandmother and mine were best friends (today we’d say BFF’s). They were pretty tight. So I got a wild notion to ask Mom if it would be okay to go over and talk to Chris.

“No!” Her reply was loud and immediate, and for some reason unknown to me overly abrupt.

“Please, Mom.” And I made the mistake of whining.

Out of nowhere came a swift and fierce backhand, smacking me hard, so hard in my upper chest in fact that the impact lifted me off my feet and toppled me over sideways and onto somebody else’s empty stroller which had been sitting next to me. Now strollers in those days weren’t the safety-padded affairs we have today, no, not at all. What happened to me that day I’m certain helped lead to the safety-padded versions of strollers available today as I would become only one of a growing number of statistics. Nope, happenstance would have it that when I fell on that stroller I hit it squarely on my face . . . upper lip to be exact, cutting the lip and knocking out my two upper middle front teeth where my jaw struck squarely on the stroller’s front-center metal crossbar. Just neat!

Horror-struck, Bess appeared out of nowhere to pick me up and firmly apply a handkerchief to my mouth and walk me to the washroom while my mom continued feeding mashed potatoes to my sister amid the whispering throng of onlookers. I tried hard not to cry loudly, but the tears were streaming down my face, and my eyes were swollen red by this time. The pain, though intense at first, had mercifully started to numb thanks in part to Bess’s strong hand over my mouth. But somehow I knew I was going to get cheated out of a visit from the Tooth Fairy on this one, and it would have been for a two-fer! Damn.

After she got the blood to clot, the tears to dry, and assured me that I would live, we marched out of the washroom to the car, where she deposited me momentarily. She marched back into the building and what she said to my mom and how she said it I’ll never know, because it didn’t take my mom long to get herself and Sandi in the stroller back to the Plymouth, and all of us back home. In total silence. Whatever Bess said to her about this, and I’m sure she said a mouthful, was said out of my earshot, because two things changed that day.


Allow me to back up a bit. My first recollection that I can reach back into my mind and latch onto comes from that backseat in 1954 and my grandpa walking toward me in the middle of the road moments later. Mercifully, I don’t recall hitting the pavement or passing out. Yet these events are the first events I recall of my life. Nice huh?! Most folks recall going to a park, or a puppy, perhaps a birthday party, hopefully something nice at least, but nope not me. My first recollections of life on earth and subsequent trips around the sun are of my mom trying to kill me. Just great.

I’m happy to report that she never tried again. There were many times she made my life hell, but no more attempted murders. It would not be until way into my adulthood (and I’ll explain this much later how all these revelations came to me in mid-life), but I realized that undoubtedly what had prompted her attempt in the first place was more than likely an untreated bout with post-partem depression, after all my sister was only six months old at the time. I doubt much was understood about it in 1954.

However, my mother as I’ve come to understand suffered from another form of depression which would go untreated for decades, and even then largely ignored by both her and my dad, by everyone really except Sandi and me and our spouses, but more on that later.

But after I fell out of the car (official version) in 1954 and before I lost my two front baby teeth in 1955 there occurred one bold incident in the neighborhood on Varden Drive in which she exposed herself to the neighborhood, and she was damn lucky it was 1954!

This was before the white picket fence. I can’t say if it was planned or not, or even in the works, but as yet it was not up, no holes in the ground or anything. All I know is that this incident happened at some point during the summer of ‘54 after I‘d hit the pavement. I was playing outside in the backyard with my little red rubber ball. Bouncing it. That’s what one does with little red rubber balls. You bounce them. Well, in so doing, my ball hit the corner of the newly-poured cement patio that my dad had just added to the rear of the house and the ball took a wild bounce to the right and left our backyard landing completely in the neighbor’s backyard who lived to the north, and it came to rest near their back steps. While these lots were really long they were not wide, and so I merely trotted the mere fifteen or so feet to where my errant ball had bounced and retrieved it from the neighbor’s yard. Even my three-year old legs could handle that.

Evidently, my mom had witnessed this from the rear window, the one over the kitchen sink which would have been right above the patio and near where I’d been playing. Suddenly, no sooner had I returned to the yard than she came charging out the back door, grabbed my arm, I forget which one, but she took the ball, and she literally dragged me over to the nearest metal clothes pole in our backyard. And then on this sunny summer afternoon and in full view of the entire neighborhood began screaming at me about how I was supposed to stay in my own yard and never leave it! And as the tirade continued, she cut down a length of plastic clothesline from the pole and began wrapping it around my torso as she bound me tightly to the pole like one would bind a prisoner to a stake. The only difference here was that she didn’t go so far as to pile wood around me and light a fire. I thank God to this very day for such grace. After she felt that I was sufficiently bound, her harangue stopped, and she marched back into the house.

How long I was left out in the sun to bake that afternoon, I don’t know. I couldn’t yet tell time. But it was long enough for me to get sufficiently sleepy and start to nod. But before I did I noticed that the neighbor lady whose yard I’d retrieved the ball from was staring at me from her bathroom window. Looking back on it, those were the Fabulous 50’s. I now call them the age of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Nobody from any childhood agency ever visited our home to ask any questions. I’m certain no calls were made to any authorities, and I’m even more certain that my grandma never heard about any of this. My dad was at work, and I‘m not exactly certain what he heard about the events of that day, but he would have heard them from my mom‘s perspective. And so it was that the white picket fence went up just a short time after this incident. My dad was really nice about letting me participate in letting me watch him put it in, and I was fascinated. And it was beautiful! I don’t know how much my red ball incident played into it’s creation, but the fence encircled the entire backyard. Was the fence created to keep the neighbor kids out? Or to keep me in? Or both? I’ll never know. It just was. This was my life, and welcome to it. After the display of having my two front teeth knocked out my public humiliation had thus continued and been made complete. I was all of 4 years old.

Necessary Tutelage

Recall that I noted that two things changed the day I lost my two front teeth. Not only were there no more public displays by my mom, evidently Bess had issued her some kind of firm Cease and Desist Order, but beginning in the months ahead I began to have sleepovers at my grandparents, Roy & Bess’s. Just for a night at first, and then for a whole weekend eventually, but this gave both my mom and I time away from each other and proved to let some of the accumulating steam out of her pressure cooker for I was truly beginning to believe that she just hated me. I could never figure out what it was that was setting her off about my behavior. And that was the whole point! It was never anything really. Okay, yes, I was a little boy, I’d make mistakes, but I was also a good little boy as kids go. I did not go looking for trouble. Imperfect, yes. Bad . . .far, far from it. So, I’d come to believe that I could do nothing right. Whatever I did would set her off if she were so inclined.

My grandparents made it a point to get me out of the house for a weekend at least once a month, and I so looked forward to my time with them. And it was during these next few years that I got to spend a little more time with my grandpa. He was the strong, silent type who loved to read the National Geographic Magazine, and I’d sit on his lap and look at the pictures. He’d even read to me. I ate this up. My own dad would never let me sit on his lap, nor my mom. He’d push me off if I tried. I don’t recall ever sitting on either of their laps. Sad. But my grandpa Roy did. Okay, I was a stocky little kid. I am built just like Bess, but I’m tall like Roy. I’m sure that he saw them in me. He had to. I look just like them, enough so to be their child and perhaps that’s an additional reason why I was taken under their wing.

These visits culminated in my accompanying them on their summer vacation later during the summer of 1956 after I’d turned five. My grandparents were great outdoors people, hunting and fishing was their thing just the exact opposite of my parents. And so every summer they had a little village to which they’d travel up in Ogemaw County north of Saginaw exactly 164 miles north of Jackson, to a place called Cranberry Lake. Michigan has a half-dozen Cranberry Lakes, but the liked this one, and the fishing was good, and it was picturesque, and they could rent cabins there (which as I later learned Roy had helped build years earlier) for $2 a night.

It would be during these summer vacations with my grandparents for the next three summers before Roy’s eventual passing in October of 1958 that I learned how to fish which included both scaling them and cleaning them, necessary tutelage in a Michigan lad’s growing up. Also, these cabins were located adjacent to a working dairy farm run by an elderly Hungarian widow, and it was here that I got to milk a cow for the first time and watch a chicken lose its head, and even later help Bess pluck that chicken. My personal education started to leap during these years.

One other event, though innocent enough, happened during the first of these vacations to Cranberry Lake, and I’ve never forgotten it because of the impression it made on me. These cabins had no indoor plumbing. Each cabin had it’s own two-seater outhouse situated behind it approximately 50 feet downhill and downwind. However, for those middle-of-the-night nature calls involving the #2 variety, Bess always made certain that we had what she called a very decent white porcelain slop jar in the cabin. And since the cabin also had no electricity and it was really dark up in those woods we’d always keep a kerosene lamp burning on low. Well, one night just as we were getting ready for bed, my grandpa had a nature call, and being the old farm boy that he was he just dropped his drawers right there in front of me before he sat down on the pot, and I found myself looking squarely upon my first naked man!

I just stared.

It was huge.

He just chuckled.

“Roy!” Bess admonished him, but that’s all that was ever said at least in front of me, however I’ve never forgotten it . . . obviously.

Looking back, this was to be the first indicator of “I should of known then about what I know now.” But then, how could I?

(This ends Chapter Two. In the next installment I'm off to school. Will it bring me freedom?)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Child Abuse, Child Development, Child Safety, Childhood, Childhood Memories, Children, Memoir, Memories, Memories From Childhood, Memories From My Young Days, Non Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Stories

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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