For the Sanity of Our World

What happened to me has happened to many others. We have come a long way in this country but we have a long, long way to go. Lack of equality for women lies at the bottom of many of these problems as it does for African-Americans, latinos, and others. As you will note, my mom had no choice but to put up with my dad, which put my sister and me at risk. This at-risk situation is presently happening to countless children. A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds in the United States. I believe this is why we have so many “walking wounded” on our streets and why so many resort to guns to solve their problems. I also believe child abuse is why so many get unreasonably angry about not wearing masks. They have been hurt and are still hurting.

Reading over this sounds worse than when it happened. My life appeared nearly normal at the time. You don’t think you are that much different than everyone else. You believe your life is similar to the lives of others. I read this now and think how horrible this man was. Did this truly happen to us? This was my Dad?

There are children whose lives are so much worse and I ache for them. I cry for them. We must help them. We must. If not for the children, for the sanity of our world.

Childhelp

Dad removed us from the last people Mom could trust to help her.

One afternoon our family joined Dot and Vic and our cousins at a veterans’ club where Vic was a member, and I recall having a great time playing on a machine where I slid a disc across a slick board to knock down “bowling pins.” Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Shortly afterward, Dad declared we were not to see Dot and Vic because they “drank too much.” That was the last time we saw our cousins, Sally and Nancy, and I believe it was the last time Mom saw her sister until after Dad’s death many years later.

Mom told me Vic had been captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge and tried to escape several times. He said the Germans were always waiting. Even so, he never liked the Russians because he had seen them strap German prisoners onto the front of their tanks before going into battle. He had seen and experienced a lot during the war. Even so, he was not a drunk. He was elected to a good government job in Akron, and years later after Dad’s death helped my mom. I now believe that Dad waited for my Grandma to pass on before he dared separate Mom and us from the rest of her family. Mom didn’t have the nerve to oppose him.

How could she? During the fifties, she was a woman alone with two children and without a high school degree. She did the next best thing. She got a job as a clerk at the local drugstore at Dietz’s Landing about six miles from where we lived—to help with the bills. She waited until both Diann and I were in school, and at first worked only during the week, but later, worked weekends, as well. She accepted more hours to get away from Dad. They appreciated her there. They didn’t cut her down like Dad. She eventually learned to keep their books and run their computer, something Dad couldn’t do. He became jealous. But that’s another story.

Dietz’s Landing at Portage Lakes, Ohio. The drugstore is across the road to the left.

Our separation from family and friends, Mom’s working, the presence of my dog, Maverick, all occurred within a few years. I don’t recall how old I was when Dad first did what he did, only the occurrence. I’ve never forgotten that. Never. Mom was at work, Diann out playing somewhere. Me and Dad were downstairs in the living room. He got me on his lap, like when we played horsie. Only I was too old for horsie. He spread his legs a little, which spread mine. His fingers were thick. What he did felt good. And horrible. I recall the exact words I thought, “Do Daddies do this”? He said things in a strange voice. I don’t recall what they were, except, “Don’t tell your Mom.” I was old enough to have an orgasm. I shook, my knees and legs shook when he let me down. I went upstairs to our room, my top bunk. Where my stuffed animals were. Hugged them. I had a large panda bear, a pink rabbit named Peter. Others. I got them all around me, wanting someone to tell me I was not a bad person for what had happened. But I was. Mom would know I was bad. Everyone would. So I couldn’t let anyone know, especially Mom. She would be so hurt.

What had happened was sex.

 I knew it from the books I had read and from what kids in the neighborhood joked about. Dad left Playboy magazines lying around the house and I had seen the jokes inside about sex. Sex was dirty which was why people made jokes about it. Unless it was romantic between two people who loved one another.

Sometimes I had heard him and Mom at night and he hurt her; I could tell from the sounds. Years later she told me she nearly died birthing Diann because she wasn’t supposed to have any more children after me. The doctor said she wasn’t made to have children. She lost a little boy between me and Diann. But Dad wouldn’t “leave her alone.” In addition, she was a bleeder, unusual for women.

I “buried my nose” in books more than ever and begged to be taken to Mary’s house for visits.

I felt safe there. Her brother, Jim, collected science fiction stories and Mary and I borrowed them to read. A bookmobile came to our school but we couldn’t borrow books above a particular line for readers our age, even though we had read all the others. I read everything at our house, including Gone With the Wind, though it was supposed to be years too old for me. The drugstore where Mom worked was the only other place we could get books, but, in the 1950s, not much was available besides mystery stories for men. We did manage to pick up a few westerns by people like Zane Gray. Mom had a subscription to Saturday Evening Post which ran a continuing story, and me and Mom would wait with baited breath for it to arrive in the mail. It would be years before I was old enough to take the bus downtown to the library with Mary.

Dad walked around upstairs naked in front of me and Diann, but not when Mom was around.

Mom always wore a nightgown. I wanted to run from him when he was like that, but had to pretend it didn’t bother me like everything else he did. I quickly looked away from that thing that swung between his legs. He gave me the creeps. I feel a little sick writing about it. I cross my arms in front of me when I stop typing.

I couldn’t forever avoid being alone in the house with him.

This thing, sex, with him happened again. Upstairs on their bed. I recall bits and snatches and it scares me how parts of my memory are gone. It’s strange when parts of your memory are cut off. When you know something is there, but it’s gone. I have emotions and see and feel the chenille bedspread and a part of me says, “Are you making this up or did it really happen?” The other part says, “I know it happened, but I don’t want to think any further.” I know there were a number of these occasions with him. I don’t know for sure that any of them went beyond touching.

I do know that I was not a virgin when I had my first intercourse with my boyfriend when I was twenty-two. For years I told myself I lost my virginity from riding my bike or that stick horse. Now I know that was practically impossible.

I began eating more. Food was a comfort, especially if I ate while I read. I gained weight. Perhaps, subconsciously I thought this would turn him away. It didn’t work. 

This situation would have been bad enough if he were a loving father, but I feared and hated him. 

He killed our pets, broke or took what was supposed to be ours, made promises he didn’t keep, invaded our privacy, told Mom she was stupid.  I would go to one of my special places outside or to Maverick and repeat, “I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.” I couldn’t say a word to him, not to his face, no matter what happened.

Now this.

I wish I could recall how much time passed before I finally scared him enough to make it stop.      

Kids Need Truth to Balance Imagination

Mom loved reading, so love of books came naturally to me and Diann. If nothing else was available, I read the backs of cereal boxes at breakfast. We had a collection of Little Golden Books, and many came from Grandma Flavel and Aunt Amy, who was happily married and with a son and daughter of her own. We didn’t have kindergarten, but I read before entering first grade. Mom said she would be working at the kitchen sink and see me going by outside the window with my face in a book—walking around the house. 

Reading saved me; the worlds found in books were my escape when the real world turned too difficult and frightening. Or merely for adventure. In those days (1940s and 50s) only boys had adventures and I wanted desperately to be a boy so I could have them, too. 

I don’t recall Aunt Amy’s oldest boy, Bob, but I received plenty hand-me-downs from her daughter, Norma. I barely recall her husband, “Unca Charlie,” who I was told I loved, as he died when I was little. He and Dad went fishing a lot at “the lakes” as many called Portage Lakes where we lived. “You going fishing at the lakes this weekend?” All summer long you could hear the sound of motorboats speeding up and down Turkeyfoot Lake—about two miles to the end of Pillar Avenue, across the highway, and down the hill from our house.

Aunt Amy was a trip.

After Charlie died and her kids grew up and moved away we saw quite a lot of her. She had a house at the bottom of a steep road and practically on the lake. I used to have nightmares about getting stuck in a car that ran away on that downhill road. As I got older, maybe nine or so, I would walk to the end of Pillar Avenue and meet her because she was afraid of a beagle dog that would run out beyond its yard and bark. I eventually learned the name of that dog, and commanding him with it would stop him in his tracks. He was more bark than bite, thank goodness.

Amy loved to laugh. We had a Little Golden Record about the secret laughing place she loved to play for its funny laugh. She made funny sounds with her lips in her arm, making me and Diann crack up.

She visited us every time a storm was expected. Mom said this was because when she was a small child she had been outside when Grandma was doing the wash during a storm. Thunder and lightning struck just when Amy was splashed with a pot of boiling water. Consequently, Mom always made sure Diann and I had a great time during storms. We both grew up loving a fierce rainstorm. We had some humdinger storms in Ohio. Great, black and blue thunderclouds with driving rains. Fantastic.

Mom was always working at something.

I recall Mom bending over the wood and metal scrubbing board in the furnace room that ran between the kitchen and the garage—rubbing up and down, up and down, scrubbing that laundry clean. Next I followed her outside while she hung the clothes in the backyard on a cotton line with wooden clothespins, one pin  to corners of two overlapped edges of clothing. She said there was nothing like the smell of clothing fresh dried in the wind and sun. I remember holding clothing up to my face and that smell. When I was old enough, she taught me the correct way to hang clothes so as not to get wrinkles in the wrong places and use the least number of pins. 

This was before she received a washer, and years later, a dryer.

Mom was a wonderful cook. She made our birthday cakes, and what cakes they were: one chocolate layer, one strawberry, and one vanilla. In between each layer she lathered fudge frosting, and on the sides and top swirled high melt-in-your mouth crispy-on-the-outside seven-minute white frosting. I have never eaten a cake like that since.

Karen and Diann with birthday cake in front of Pillar Avenue house

Like many children, I became attached to animals of every kind.

We had a succession of cats, mainly to keep down the mice. Our house was on a hill—our backyard stretched up to my favorite climbing tree, beyond a wire fence to a wide and deep field that eventually led to what we kids called Meyers Woods. This field was a great spawning ground for mice, rats, and other similar critters. 

I don’t remember black Mike the First, though Diann said he would jump out from behind furniture and walls and knock her down, making her laugh. Black Mike the Second would sit on the wood highchair in the kitchen, shake paws and beg for popcorn. After Mike the First passed on we got Tiger, a huge ginger male with wide furry cheeks that followed us kids everywhere. He took no guff from dogs, either. Even the big dogs learned to give him space. Mom said she recalled seeing us kids walking in a line down the street trailed by a couple dogs with Tiger bringing up the rear. We lost him to a poisoned rat and buried the fellow with ceremony in our pet cemetery in the field out back with the other critters we found dead around the neighborhood, including birds. I wish I still had a photo of Tiger, but it was lost with other photos in a flooded basement when I was in college. Tiger was a difficult one to lose.

I got my first puppy, Tinker, when I was a tot. But Tinker turned out to be a big lug when he grew up. So big he knocked me over so Dad got rid of him. I hate to think how, considering the way Dad got rid of most animals. An early project of Dad’s was raising rabbits in hutches in the backyard. I don’t know if the group of rabbits came first or my white rabbit, Peter, came first at Easter. Naturally, I became attached to Peter, the pink-eyed, white rabbit. Perhaps it’s in my imagination that he followed me around. I do recall that Diann and I went to visit our cousins, Sally and Nancy, and when we returned, Peter was gone. All the rabbits were gone. I believe that Mom convinced Dad that having animals for sale around little girls like us was not a good idea since Diann and I could get attached to them. I doubt the rabbits were a good investment anyway.

I was told Peter went to live with our neighbors, but I knew the truth. I knew Dad had got rid of that rabbit with the others. That Peter was likely dead. I think I must have been four or five. What I am saying is don’t tell this kind of story to your kids. Tell them the truth because they instinctively know the truth. I was all that much angrier because I was being told a story instead of the truth.

As adults we tend to forget how attached children get to animals and things. We forget what a different world they live in, how very special and boundless that world is. Everything is of paramount importance. If you love, it is with all your being. Imagination and the mind is as strong as reality. Imagination helps you deal with the world. I recall a painting a young girl did of giant toes on a piece of white paper. “This is me walking in wet grass.”

Kids need the truth to balance their imaginations.

They need to be able to depend on adults for that balance, so their world doesn’t topple over. I’m not saying you can’t play and imagine with your kids. But they need to know where the boundaries of imagination and truth are. Parents must provide a safe, dependable island from where children can go out and explore their world and return.

Dad was big and strong. He would grab your arm and yank to give you a swat and raise a bruise for days. He not only yelled at us or swatted our behinds for the smallest infraction, he began cutting down Mom in various ways, making remarks about what she did or things she said.

My world and my sister’s world became one of constant anxiety. Except when he was out of the house . . . gone. 

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.