Another icon passed on last night. I don’t write “obituaries” when special people like Ruth Bader Ginsberg leave us because I am no good at doing them justice. But I feel so very sad for our country, for liberals, for anyone who cares as much about other people as they do for themselves. For those who are concerned about our planet.
I am angry at vultures like Mitch McConnell and Trump and those Republicans like them who are celebrating. You know they have been hoping this would happen. They have won another round today and they know it.
Do they play fair? Never.
They count on us playing fair and laugh when we do so.
What do we do?
We must learn to beat them at their own game or our country and our planet are lost.
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.
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.
Little girl and boy land
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy then
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I wish I could recall how much time passed before I finally scared him enough to make it stop.
Yesterday I read the eight-page (plus Exhibits) publishing contract. I believe contracts can be frightening when you read all the fees you must come up with, as well as where all duties lie, and there are a lot of them. All those items you discussed are now on paper in black and white—legal, or about to be.
Many folks who have been party to real estate contracts know what I mean. That feeling you get when you are sitting at the table with your agent and are signing all those documents, one after the other. It is as though you are signing your life away.
I have only one document, yet this effort to publish my novel is a risk, as it is taking a major chunk out of my savings. My only income is a small social security check each month. I had to think hard about these facts when I learned what publication is going to cost. Brooke Warner with She Writes Press mentioned $10,000, which included their fee, editing, processing, printing, shipment, and numerous other fees, not including publicity, which could be $5,000, or more. Yes, any writers out there, take a good, hard look. These costs are standard.
I decided to walk away from the entire experience for a few hours. Watched a Netflix program. Let it all ruminate in the back of my mind.
Later that evening it was as though one of those comic lightbulbs flashed on in my head. Truly.
All my life I have had jobs that I didn’t like, but probably like many of you out there, I did them to make a living. I worked my way through college to get a degree to teach art, but I moved out of state and schools dropped art from the curriculum at the time I graduated, so I couldn’t get a job teaching.
I ended up as a secretary for years, and hated it.
Took paralegal classes, but that wasn’t fulfilling either.
Worked at an art gallery and designed and facilitated their web site, but that was only fulfilling until it turned into the same process day after day.
This novel, though. Unspoken is my dream. Unspoken is about equality, which has meaningthat is worth the risk I am taking to get it published.
I have felt more alive since I learned I would be published than in the last few years. I have learned more in the last month than I have since college. I am not merely living from day to day. I am on an adventure, an adventure that will last the next couple years and beyond. That adventure is worth $10,000 and more.
Most important. To have something in my life worth living for, something meaningful. I have never had that. My jobs were meaningless, merely survival, a means of putting food on the table, paying for the car, and taking a vacation now and then.
Even if Unspoken fails, it will have been worth the journey and the risk.
Any thoughts on your journeys and risks you have taken? Do you have a dream? What would you risk all for?