Love Games Waste Your Time

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Let a person know who you truly are. That is intimacy, real intimacy. That is a start in getting to know who they are. If they are not willing to let you in, maybe they are not worth your time.

I never wanted to play games in my relationships as that sort of game is a waste of time.

That is one area where I was, and still am, pretty judgmental. I was behind in getting on with my life—with so much catching up to do. Gee, I had been secluded until college and was a whole year older than everyone else in my peer group!

I found a copy of the 1966 Chestnut Burr online with the name of the play and photos of Bruce. He’s the one singing his heart out (with the girl) upper left.

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Maybe I should have kept my Kent yearbooks, but I went through a cleaning frenzy at one time in my life when everything I owned needed to fit in my Toyota hatchback or it wasn’t truly necessary. That’s another story.

He called me the evening after we met at the “Take Me Along” strike party. He wasn’t about to play games either. I believe we were both excited about what we had found in one another—someone who wanted to discuss what they believed in, what they wanted out of life, what their dreams were.

I’ll never forget that night together. How eager he was for me to see downtown Kent’s wet train tracks reflecting the glow of colored overhead lights after the recent rain. Plus, his dad had a sailboat; I must go sailing; I would love it. And books we discussed, plays, writers. I can’t recall it all. So many years, so long ago.

He lived in Cleveland Heights and that summer I met his folks and his sisters and learned to sail Lake Erie and even raced a once or twice. Having nearly drowned once in Turkeyfoot Lake when I was little, I fought through my fear of the water and loved sailing, though my heart often shivered nearly as hard as my stomach muscles when I stretched far over the side as we raced with the wind. There is something glorious about flying along with nothing but silence, spray and wind power. You feel it through and through; you are part of it.

I got the same feeling when I went gliding for my sixtieth birthday above the Animas Valley in Colorado. Free.

 As with most, if not all, relationships, ours wasn’t perfect.

Seams began to unravel. Bruce was not happy at Kent, cut classes, and flunked out spring quarter. He must have been aware what this meant in 1966 during the Vietnam War, and it wasn’t long before his family, friends and I were aware, as well, when he received his draft notice. As with many others, the government had been waiting to pounce.

Curious, how Bruce also had two close friends who appeared opposites on the outside. His oldest friend since childhood was Bill, president of Sigma Chi fraternity, with whom we sometimes double-dated. Bill was also a sailor, and I soon learned of Bruce’s strained relationship with his Dad by way of Bill. The first time the four of us cleaned the bottom of the boat it became obvious that Daddy T. wished Bruce were Bill, and it was probably obvious to Bruce, as well. How many years had this been going on? Did it have something to do with why Bruce had let his classes slip? With why he was letting his life lead him to the army and Vietnam? This wasn’t the only time I noticed remarks from Mr. T that were reminiscent of my own Dad’s emotional abuse.

Poor Bill. I could tell Mr. T’s attitude embarrassed him.

Maybe I should have said something to Bruce, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel strong enough in my own mind at the time. Merely intuition niggling at my brain, and who was I to say anything?

Bruce’s other good friend was a tall, gangly gay actor who I believe wanted more from Bruce than Bruce was willing to give. Yet they remained friends and he and I got along fine, as well. He was always in good spirits whenever I saw him, good company for Bruce, who I soon learned tended toward dramatic depression. It took me a while to learn that Bruce liked to create drama, which took its tole on me. He once accused my life as one of “hopping down the bunny trail,” probably because I saw my cup as being half full, where he saw his as half empty.

Curious how we both suffered the damage of having to grow up with a father’s constant emotional abuse, yet our basic approach to life was totally opposite. But I had the unfailing love of my Mom and a sister I was close to, plus those stories I shared with Mary. Was that the difference? Bruce and I never spoke of this. Yet, at the time, I was never aware of holding anything back.

A new friend from one of my classes, Andrea, or Andy, and I rented a small second-floor apartment in a house on Lincoln Street off Main across from campus beginning that summer, and two other girls shared the two bedrooms, kitchen, and attic with us. Most summer weekends I spent with Bruce in Kent or with him somewhere in or around Cleveland, often sailing. We saw Dr. Zhivago that summer, and I’ll never forget how we were equally mesmerized by the beauty of the scene with Zhivago in the frozen dacha with nothing but the distant sound of howling wolves.

One night, in particular, stands out—the night I worried I might get arrested for drugs.

I had never even smoked marijuana, but this evening Bruce took me to see a friend who lived in an abandoned store on the east side of Franklin Avenue, next to the railroad tracks west of downtown. The place was rather large, about twenty by twenty feet with a high ceiling and thrift-store type furniture scattered willy-nilly much as the four fellows lying about on it were. The place smelled musty, like old clothes and uneaten food. The only lights were a couple lamps and a candle or two. Bruce introduced me to Kurt, a talk, black-haired, rather imposing fellow who anyone would likely have run from if they had seen him on a dark night in an alley. Dressed in ratty jeans, old leathers, and tee-shirts, none of these guys looked like your typical Kent student. I sat on one of the sofas next to Bruce while he and Kurt conversed awhile, long enough that I eventually needed to use the bathroom, though I didn’t want to. What in the world had I gotten myself into this time?

That bathroom has stuck in my mind all these years. It was entirely painted black, including the inside of the toilet! But it was clean and didn’t smell.

My gosh, such excitement when I came out. Red and blue lights flashed through the picture windows in front of the apartment/store reflecting against the walls. A police car had stopped another car directly outside and Kurt was freaked. In an angry, half-whispering, anxious voice, “Anybody got any drugs on them? You better not. If you do you’re outa here.” He walked back and forth, back and forth, like a nervous leopard in a cage, and turned the lights out, leaving only the candles lit. Bruce told me Kurt had recently gotten out of prison and was on parole—he had warned everyone not to bring drugs into his place. 

One fellow eventually gathered the nerve to shuffle to the door and slip outside to find out what was going on. Turned out young girls were out drinking, driving—and getting ticketed.

One fellow peeked in from a side door in the rear that I hadn’t realized was there and said, “You gotta see this.” We all followed him into the back of the next room which had even larger floor-to-ceiling front windows reflecting the blue and red flashing lights onto the ceiling and walls. A huge Harley motorcycle stood in the middle of the room facing the windows and on it, one long booted leg stretched to the floor, sat a skinny, black leather-and-chain-clad fellow silently watching the goings-on. Totally silent. But he didn’t appear to be anxious. Merely still.

When we returned, Kurt told me, “That was Turk, our resident Hell’s Angel. He never says much.” I was a little surprised at how softly Kurt spoke to me. He had a look in his eyes I hadn’t expected. Almost pleading.

The cops left and I was included more in the conversation afterward, about how Bruce and I met and school. It got pretty late and was obvious how tired we were. “I have something that will keep us awake,” Kurt said. Little white pills. Bruce didn’t hesitate. I did, for a few seconds. I had never taken anything, never even drunk coffee. Only tea. Why didn’t it occur to me that this was the guy who had been so insistent earlier about no one having any drugs? Maybe these were legal? Probably not. But I took one. Bruce went to sleep, but Kurt and I stayed awake all night. Talking.

It occurred to me that he had put Bruce to sleep on purpose. But we did just talk. I believe he needed someone to talk to, the same as Bruce and I had originally—about what he wanted from life. Maybe he never had before. Another lost soul. He was a scary-looking guy with a big heart deep inside like everyone else. He had made mistakes and needed help. I could be there for him for one night.

He took me to breakfast in the morning, then we found Bruce and said goodbye.

I saw him once more, frightening one of my roommates merely by showing up at our door. I had another long talk with him in our attic, but I had to be clear that I could be his friend and nothing more. I was Bruce’s girlfriend, and I think he respected that. It was one of the things he appreciated about me. That was the last time I saw him, and sometimes I wonder what became of Kurt.    

Bruce became more undependable. We made plans he either showed up late for or didn’t show up at all. Then he had Bill bring me up to Cleveland one day when he was supposed to do so himself, and I waited at the sailing club for him to show for over an hour. Later I told him I didn’t want to be turned into a nag, I merely wanted to know what was going on. 

It was time to have a long talk about where we were.

It was time to tell him everything, including what I had held back. If I let it all out, maybe he would, too.

We met in the attic of our apartment, the same place I had talked with Kurt. Narrow, steep steps led up under the pitched roof where a bed covered with pillows and an East Indian spread served as our sofa. During the day light came in the window at the far south end of the room, but at night we lit a drip candle set in a wine bottle on a little carved wooden Indian table I had found at a shop in Akron. If I recall correctly, I think we also had a round, paper hanging lamp we sometimes turned on for extra light.

Tonight, though, I wanted only the candle. 

Bruce was the first person I told of Dad’s sexual abuse. I wanted him to understand why I wasn’t able to have sex with him, why I held back after so many months. I would reach a certain point and my mind went elsewhere, anywhere, furiously attempting to make sense of what was happening.

I told him I understood if he needed to find release elsewhere, or leave, but I needed him to be truthful.

After a long discussion, he wanted to work within our relationship. He didn’t think I was a bad person; he didn’t believe what happened was my fault. I recall feeling quivery and excited with relief. I felt closer to him than ever.  

What did he think of going into the army? “It’ll be an adventure.” That was it. Maybe it was one place he would show his dad what he was made of.

At the end of summer he went off to basic training and I began my junior year at Kent.

Bruce had strongly supported me in my change to an art education major, and I began taking required art classes immediately. I looked forward to these more than any courses I had taken at Kent previously, even though I would have to stay in school a fifth year to complete my teaching certificate. 

I remained rather politically conservative, having been raised that way, but I was soon to be exposed to liberal and radical ideas. Much would change within the next few years, both at Kent, which was basically a conservative teacher’s college, and with me personally.

Gotta Have a Dream

 Those early years were filled with anxiety, were often depressing, and peppered with moments of joy. Dad’s greed and anger left me with a lack of self-confidence, but filled me with determination and toughness that enabled me to face life’s problems I might not have had otherwise. Sometime in my teens I decided that when I lay on my deathbed I did not want to regret the way I had lived. I wanted to live an adventurous life, no matter the risks. I wanted to experience what I read about in books. That dream was a major part of what enabled me to get past what I faced in the present.

He never knew, no one did, how strong that dream was. Years later, days after I graduated from Kent State University, refused a local teaching job, and prepared to leave for Colorado, Dad said to my friend, Mary, “I didn’t think she’d really do it.”

It was in the summer when I couldn’t take Dad’s sexual abuse any longer, when that black bubble growing inside burst the first time. 

He’d done it again, downstairs because I recall running upstairs and making it as far as Diann’s bed, not my own and not being able to stop the tears. More than tears as it all came up, everything I had been holding onto, all of it coming out and he followed up after me. Maybe he kneeled on the floor at the side of the bed or sat on it. I don’t know but he was there and he must have been scared. I recall most clearly him saying, “I wanted you to know what boys do. It was so you would know.”

That was the end of it.

John Paul Klink, my dad
John Paul Klink, my dad

Except for the way he teased my girlfriend Janet and Diann’s new friend, Millie, who was a flirt. And the fear of riding in the car alone with him, the silence, not knowing what to say, what he might say. The way he drove, on the next car’s bumper, not being able to say a thing. Sitting there, stiffly, hands at your side on the chair, holding your breath. Or, how he’d say to Mom, “What is the matter with you, stupid? Can’t you do anything right?”

This is the same man who was chief of the Portage Lakes Volunteer Fire Department for several years.

I must push through a series of plateaus, one risk after the other.

I had to prove myself to myself in order to build up confidence, and that took years, and therapy. But it can be done. I did it.

Looking back, puberty and junior high was the first plateau and one of the worst I faced.

Though it appeared Dad’s sexual predation had ended, nothing else about him had changed, and I felt more guilty than ever, was overweight, and overwhelmed with fear and anger about him and my entire situation. I hated getting “periods” and I hated getting breasts because I was no longer comfortable sleeping on my stomach. Turning into a woman was nothing but trouble. Look what had happened to Mom? Women were prissy and used by men. In tight situations they did nothing but scream and faint and act silly and I would never do that. It was stupid.

What saved me were the stories Mary and I put together where I was always a man.

Now I was old enough to ride my trusty bike six miles to her house on weekends where we would talk our tales for hours. I often stayed overnight and we played our characters into the wee hours of the morning until I could no longer remain awake. I never realized how our altered selves saved Mary as well as me.

Sometimes her Mom or Dad brought her to our house, and in the summer we slept on cots in the backyard with Maverick as guard. I developed a love of lying out under the stars, of the soft air drifting across my face, the sounds of night all around, the smells. If I can make it happen, I would like to die like that, outside, lying under the stars.

That was summer. The rest was the new Erwine Junior High School.

Horrible. I have never been “sick” as much as I was those two years of Junior High School. The first year we wore saddle shoes and wide crinoline skirts. Those skirts came in handy since we had a math teacher who loved paddling girls. The second year we wore straight skirts and warm hose. No such thing as girls wearing jeans or pants in those days.

Poodle skirt
Poodle skirt, but we wore crinolines underneath (from an ad on the web)

 I had a tough time keeping up with my school work because I was bored with most of it. I would rather read a good book, and I did half the time. Or gab with Mary on the phone, anything to separate from the real world. One semester I received an “F” in a math class. When I saw that report card I knew I was in big trouble. Dad only had to raise his voice once. His attention was enough to terrify me and Diann.  The following semester I came home with an “A.” I can focus when I have to. That lesson has remained with me.

Supposedly, that first year in school we were allowed to choose an instrument to play, but only if that particular instrument was still needed by the band. I wanted to play the flute but, the band leader, Mr. Hadgis, had previously chosen his flute players. This was the story of my life in that local district. I, Mary, students like us, were perennially too late. The popular students always got the best book, the instrument they wanted, the tutors they needed. We received what was left. Funny how it happened that way. Ironically, some of those students quit the marching band to be cheerleaders anyway. Mary ended up with saxophone; I ended up with clarinet, Janet learned trumpet.

Poor Maverick—how he’d run when I picked up that cheap, silver clarinet. Squeak, squeak! Determination won the day, though, and I learned to play the thing.  

Dick Clark’s Bandstand was the hottest thing on television. Dad bought a stereo player but not for rock-and-roll. He played Mitch Miller records and classical music. I was weird because I liked classical music. Mary and I played it as emotional background for our imaginations in the basement of her house.

These were also the days of TV westerns. “Gunsmoke” was a family favorite. In the evenings we watched what Dad watched, same on weekend afternoons, which meant football, even if he fell asleep—no touching that channel. During the week there was just enough time to pick up Mom from work and be home by 4:00 and put on our ears for “Mickey Mouse Club.” Fortunately, nothing else was on at that time that Dad wanted to watch.

Right before my high school years we lost the house on Pillar Avenue, as Dad couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments even with Mom’s contribution. Maybe he shouldn’t have bought the TV, the stereo, the rabbits, the trains, who knows what else. All the time he’d spent at Uncle George and Aunt Betty’s working on their house instead of ours—now he had to finish our house so it would sell. Finally. Mom would miss her kitchen. I never said, but I would not miss a thing about that house, except the backyard and woods.

I was thrilled when we rented a house on Dusty’s Road within walking distance of Mary’s house a couple miles away, across West Turkeyfoot Lake Road (619). Our stories became “walking” stories, miles and miles of walking the neighborhoods and down to Rex Lake at the end of Dusty’s Road and back.

A new start. A new house, closer to Mary. I would begin high school and get into the locally famous Coventry High School Band. I decided to lose those extra pounds I had put on. Everything would be different here. Wouldn’t it?

Find Joy Where You Can

What do you do when your life is one of constant anxiety and fear? When you have no control over what happens to you? We found escape and joy wherever we could. I found them in books, in imaginative stories with Mary, in music, in food, in drawing, nature, and holidays. We had Mom to help us.

Though she was stuck in a difficult situation, Mom did the best she could.

We didn’t have much, but she kept the house clean and taught me and Diann how to help her keep it clean. We received a weekly allowance for helping to dust, vacuum and clean up after meals. The three of us often sang our way through the dishes, Mom washing, Diann and I drying. She taught us to cook and bake. I enjoyed preparing food, and liked eating good food, but hated canned peas. We were told to finish everything on our plates. “Remember the poor kids in China.” 

I loved trying out new recipes, as did my friend Mary. When we were older we planned several family meals for our parents. Dad declared he was a “meat and potatoes” man, but he ate everything we served, especially desserts.

Holidays were our favorite time.

Mom helped us make our costumes for Halloween and, when we were little, walked the streets with us, even so far as to Aunt Amy’s house on Snow Avenue. One night we imagined we saw a witch riding her broom across the full moon. 

For Easter, she gave Diann and I real woven baskets that we used over and over every year.

Mom filled them with grass, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks and bunnies, a chocolate bunny, a fancy sugar egg, and often some kind of little Easter toy. She wrapped a bow around the handle, and attached little fuzzy chicks to the handles and sides. The three of us always sat at the kitchen table and colored boiled eggs together, and she put the prettiest ones into the baskets. We never saw our baskets until after we searched through the house for them on Easter morning. She also made an Easter cake every year covered with her seven-minute icing and coconut sprinkles. In later years Dad barbecued a ham on a rotisserie outside after soaking it overnight in Bali-hi wine and pineapple juice.

Thanksgiving was reserved for Dad’s family.

We always went to Grandma Plotner’s house for the gathering of the entire Klink clan. It seemed we rode across Ohio country for hours to get to Grandma’s three-story house in Strasburg and sang “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go . . .” If it weren’t for the dark cloud that hung over me, the experience of the old rooms, Grandma’s garden, the cows in the pasture out back, and the barn where Grandma Jack shoed Amish horses would have been more enjoyable. 

The dining room was the largest, yet barely sufficient for the huge table that sat eight to a side, depending on how close the family squeezed together. Kids sat at a card table on the kitchen end. An amazing, carved, wooden cuckoo clock hung high on the wall at the other. Grandma came from Austria, so I think the clock did, too—a little bird popped out on the hour.

Grandma cooked the turkey she and Grandpa picked out from a man who raised turkeys nearby so that huge bird was always fresh. I don’t care for turkey these days because it doesn’t taste anything like the turkey from those meals. I feel the same about most vegetables because they don’t taste like those picked from Grandma’s garden.

The women brought their special dishes; the table practically groaned with all the food. We all did by the end of the meal. Afterward, the women cleared the table and crowded the kitchen to wash dishes, while the men congregated in the small living room to watch football. Equality? Unheard of in those days. This was the 1950s, even into the 1960s with this family. Though by then I was off to college and a few of my cousins were growing up and beginning to stretch their minds.

Diann and I often went for a walk, with a dog keeping us company. Snow sometimes covered the ground. Generally we would end up in the high four-poster bed in the front room off the dining area and nap away the sluggishness of the meal. 

If we needed to use the bathroom, there was a new one off the kitchen. When I was small, you had to go to the outhouse out back. I can still recall when Dad and Uncle George spent days constructing the new inside bathroom, which was after Dad learned to be a plumber. I don’t know who painted that outhouse bright pink, but it sure is pretty.

Diann and I were both horse crazy and rushed to the front window to watch the Amish trot by in their buggies. Fortunately, they gave our Grandpa plenty of work, as Grandpa Jack was a ferrier. He was also an excellent checkers player—American and Chinese. He taught me to play both, and I was so excited the day I finally beat him, many games later. Years later my older cousin David (Uncle George’s son) told me that Jack let me beat him. He did the same with David. Grandpa made me a beautiful wooden red and green painted Chinese Checkers set about eight inches square with the board laid out on top and a drawer for the marbles. I don’t know what happened to it and wish I still had it. 

So many things I owned and boxed up disappeared when I went away to college, including my photographs. Dad said they had a flood in the basement that destroyed everything. I wonder. He would never have spent the time to sort out what could be saved from what couldn’t.

Dad didn’t care for his stepfather. I understand that most of the family didn’t, except for Aunt Peg who was Grandpa Jack’s daughter. I don’t know why there was so much resentment in that family. They hated their real father for leaving them and they disapproved of their stepfather. Was it because he came from Kentucky hill country? The youngest son, Uncle Warren, never showed up at the gatherings, not Thanksgiving and not the Klink family reunion every summer. This was a family of intolerance and secrets. I suspect mine was only one of them.

Mom made Christmas the best holiday of the year.

Suck anticipation! Once we were old enough, even before school, our house, our lives, turned magical. Especially if you compared the days to our usual reality. We visited Santa Clause and had our pictures taken. Even Dad got into the spirit when we were small, so his change appeared magical, as well. One year Dad bought a black and white television; I wish I could recall how old I was, and we watched a Laurel and Hardy movie called “Babes in Toyland.” I got so excited when the wooden soldiers marched after the bogeymen I shit my pants—literally.

Diann and Karen with Santa

For years I wanted to believe in Toyland; I dreamed about it, yearned to go there, where I would be happy and safe. I would get as far as the gates but could never get in.

Toyland, Toyland

Little girl and boy land

While you dwell within it

You are ever happy then

Childhood, joyland

Mystic merry Toyland

Once you pass its borders

You can ne’er return again

 Yeah, pretty corny now, but I would wake up with tears in my eyes.

Having come to the United States from England, Mom baked a number of delicious British holiday treats passed down through her family. A couple of our favorites were lemon cheese (here called lemon curd) and mince meat pie. She stirred the lemon curd at a low temperature on the top of a double boiler until it was just the right consistency, stored it in a canning jar on top of the frig to add to tart shells she made with special tart pans she brought from England. The two weren’t put together until just before eating. Mince meat was made three to four weeks before Christmas (Cross & Blackwell mince meat only), adding diced tart apples and brandy. When older, Diann and I helped make the shortbread, lebkuchen and iced cutout cookies. Oh, yes, can’t forget the date nut bars and Syrian jam cake made with Damson plums. What heavenly spicy aromas drifted through our house! All the goodies were spread across the coffee table on Christmas Eve, with a special plate of cookies laid for Santa. Likely Dad ate those, as he had quite a sweet tooth.

Diann and I went nuts decorating. One year I painted a winter scene on the three-by-four-foot mirror over the fireplace mantle. When we were little the windows were bare of decorations; no tree stood in the living room. We could barely go to sleep waiting for Santa to jingle his way to our house. We’d whisper to one another from our bunks, “Go to sleep so he’ll come sooner.” We might see him by peering out the three-by-five-foot paned window across from our beds that looked over the roof above the kitchen.

Once morning finally came and we woke Mom and Dad and padded downstairs—there it was: a decorated and lit tree with beautifully wrapped presents underneath! Years later after we helped decorate I knew Mom stashed our presents in the back of her and Dad’s closet upstairs. I never looked because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. One of my first presents was a Lionel train set Dad arranged under the tree, a set I was never able to enjoy because he confiscated the entire thing, set it up in the garage on a table he built, bought more cars, houses, and parts, and played with it for a few years until something else took his fancy and his paycheck.

One thing I am thankful for—he didn’t drink. He couldn’t. Every time he drank beer or any kind of alcohol he developed a terrible headache. Migraines, I expect. I inherited the tendency from him, and years later a neurologist informed me that the anxiety from my childhood affected my chemistry, making me susceptible to migraines. I take prescriptions for them to this day.

New Year’s Eve was sometimes another Klink family event.

True to what I believe was an Austrian tradition for good luck (and a delicious one), homemade sauerkraut was served first thing on New Year’s Day, which meant right after midnight. For hours the women stood around the stove cooking fresh pork and sauerkraut in whoever’s kitchen the gathering was that year. Wish I still had the recipe. 

Otherwise, the evening was quiet at our house as my parents never went out and, because of Dad’s headaches, never drank. Diann and I were excited about staying up late and watching TV. There were always treats left over from Christmas. 

After all that excitement, reality set back in.

For years, even as an adult, I fought depression for the first months of the year until spring arrived when I could get outside. When I could escape the house. When the world appeared brighter. When I promised myself, “When I’m old enough I’m getting out of here . . . one day.”

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.