My Depressed Dad Ruled Our Family

My parents had a small wedding at Grandma Flavel’s house in Akron just before Dad was inducted into the army. My sister and I have few photos of the wedding, and what we do have are of family only. There doesn’t appear to have been much of a reception. Perhaps this is due to the war. I see photos of the mothers, but none of the rest of the families. Why is this?

Everyone appears so happy at his induction, but I notice the dark circles under Mom’s eyes. By the time she visited him in Atlanta, Georgia, she was carrying me. What was it like for a young newly married woman pregnant with her first child and sending her husband off to Word War II? There were plenty women doing so. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine what was in his mind, either.

Mom, Dad, Grandma Plotner, Grandpa Jack Plotner, and young Aunt Peg in front.

What I know about Dad I learned from Mom.

He never talked of his past, or anything else, for that matter. The only time he spoke to Diann or me was to discipline us.

She excused his behavior because his dad abandoned the family when he was young. “That’s why he’s this way. That and the war—he wasn’t like this before the war.” She showed me a letter he wrote to me (I was a baby) when he was in the army. He had beautiful handwriting. I couldn’t believe the words were his, they were so caring and full of love. I have never known that man—two sides of the same coin.

I recall what his sister, Esther, said to Mom about his temper. He was never in the fighting, as he was a staff sergeant accountant sent to Japan after they surrendered. His superiors offered him a commission if he would remain in Japan. They would bring his family over. He refused, left the army and came home to Ohio where he bought a house in Portage Lakes on the GI bill, and moved our family there.

Klink family, 1943. I can’t name them all. Left to right: ?, ?, Uncle George, Aunt Betty, Aunt Peg (the youngest sister), ?, Grandpa Jack Plotner, Grandma Plotner holding cousin David, Aunt Esther and her son, Donny sitting on the ground, Dad and Mom. Maybe that’s the youngest brother, Warren, sitting in the middle front.

According to Mom, Dad’s siblings looked up to him because he was the oldest. George, his younger brother, in particular, admired him. Throughout our lives Dad was always helping George and his family whenever they asked, despite the fact they had more than we did: a higher income, a bigger and finer house, nicer clothes. George and his wife, Betty, had two boys and Dad had two girls. Dad worked on their house when ours went years without a ceiling. We visited them often, but they practically never visited us. Mom was embarrassed about our GI bill house which was never finished. 

Mom was not close to Betty, as she made more than one remark that Mom didn’t care for. Mom avoided any kind of strife. She would close her mouth and say nothing. I lost count of the times she said to me, “Don’t argue with your father, it just makes him worse.” I think, in the long run, this capitulation, itself, made him worse. He could say anything to her and she took it.

Anyone recall that show All in the Family? That was my Mom and Dad. Only more so. And it was not funny.

The house on Pillar Avenue was quite a comedown from Grandma’s home on Hill Street in Akron.

Although it contained a nice, new kitchen and a garage, the flat roof leaked, the living room was incomplete with exposed rafters, and there was no water. Upstairs consisted of one small bath and one bedroom with an alcove separated from the bedroom by a chimney. This alcove would be my and Diann’s sleeping place, me on the top bunk until we moved and I entered high school. At the foot end of the bed we had one metal closet, 24″ x 24″ x 6′ high to hang our clothes, and one dresser to share. There was barely enough room to squeeze between the bunk and the window. Toys and any keepsakes went under the bed, the window, top of the dresser, and closet.

Did we get into trouble if any of those toys were left out where Dad could find them. That old adage, children should be seen and not heard, was paramount in our house. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” To this day I hear children screaming in grocery stores and I think, “You have no idea how spoiled you are, or how easy you have it.” We became known as the “good little Klink girls.” If people only knew.

I don’t believe Dad knew how to deal with children, especially girls.

He did attempt to bounce me on his knee when I was very small, to play “horsey,” which made me laugh and screech when he pretended to drop me. He tickled me, but tickled too hard with his thick, strong fingers. It hurt rather than tickled. He didn’t know how to hold back his strength.

Dad was a wonderful artist. He made a simple wood rocking horse with red polkadots for me and later, a beautiful weather vane for the roof of our house. He was sharp with math and could have gone far if he had stayed in the army or gotten a job as an accountant.

Karen and Diann

Knowing what I know now, I believe Dad was clinically depressed and unsure of himself. I try to recall times I saw him smile or laugh. He must have when we were with his family. Surely. But less and less as time went by.

Dad drove a fourteen-wheeler and was sometimes gone for days. As there was no water, Dad had to fill milk tins with water at the nearby state park. Mom heated water on the stove and bathed my baby sister and me in large metal tubs with handles. 

One night during Dad’s absence the dripping of the oil furnace woke Mom up. It was on fire! She scrambled to get me out of bed and carried my baby sister in one arm, pulling me in the other to the neighbor’s house. She returned to the house and kept the fire from growing until the fire department arrived. 

The furnace was replaced with gas.

Sometime during these years Dad learned to be a plumber and joined a local plumbing company. He hired a company to dig a well in our back yard for water, and I recall the sound of that drill banging for many weeks. Portage Lakes, as the name indicates, is an area of many lakes with water portages connecting them, and our street, Pillar Avenue, was high on a hill above Turkeyfoot Lake. This meant we had to drill deep before finding good water. Fortunately, we found just about the best-tasing water around. Unfortunately, the cost of finding it was much more than expected. I believe this was among the first (along with the new furnace) unexpected bills Dad found difficult to pay.

I loved the outside, especially climbing.

Three years older than my sister, Diann, Mom was carrying her when I climbed a tree in our front yard. Mom climbed up to get me down and got stuck up there with her oversized belly caught between two limbs. Our neighbor, Beulah, though this hilarious, and had to calm down from laughing before helping Mom down. Dad cut down that poor tree.

This climbing habit got me in big trouble. Dad found me on top of the garage and lost the temper my Aunt Esther had warned Mom about. I don’t recall, but Mom became so upset she took me, my baby sister, and fled to her mother’s house in Akron. She told her mom he had beat me too hard for a small child. Dad came apologizing and begging her to return. Grandma told her “You have chosen your bed, now you must lie in it.”

We returned to Pillar Avenue.

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