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.”

Integrity and Morality have Little to do with Where You are Born

Mom said I wandered from the time I was old enough to walk. I wandered down the sidewalk from Grandma’s house in Akron when she turned her back for only a couple minutes, practically terrorizing Mom who she went up and down the street calling for me. Fortunately, an older black man took me by the hand and brought me back, asking where I belonged. 

At seventy-six I have ceased wandering. Maybe. Temporarily. Due to Covid. 

Karen and Mommy, Christmas

I found my first girlfriend when I was five by wandering up Pillar Avenue. Sylvia was my age and lived about half-mile over the hill from our house. 

I barely recall sitting on the floor in Sylvia’s beautiful home and playing with dolls. We had a short friendship, as one day she turned me away for no reason I understood. This rejection sticks in my memory to this day. What had I done? Mom was her usual loving self and attempted to make me feel better the best she could. Thank goodness, Diann and I had a mother who was always there for us, loving us unconditionally. 

I recall having told a terrible lie in school and being terrified about revealing this to Mom. For hours I was sick with worry, as we had been taught not to tell lies. I couldn’t stand carrying around the awful secret of what I had done and why. Finally I told Mom I had something bad to tell her, so we sat together on her and Dad’s bed upstairs when I finally let it out, in tears. I told her I had changed someone’s mark on a test and had been caught. I felt awful, as what I had done was the same as a lie. It was a terrible thing to do.

But she still loved me! This was such an overwhelming relief. I promised to never lie, again, and I never have.

First Grade, Turkeyfoot School. I am third from right, second row. My soon-to-be best friend, Mary, is sixth from right with the dark hair.

In reality, it was difficult not to compare myself to the girl whose test I had changed. Her name was Karen, like mine, but she came from a more well-to-do family than mine. She always came to school dressed in new clothes, she was blonde, like me, her last name began with “K” like mine, therefore, we sat before or behind one another throughout school, and, at one point, a teacher teased us about the resemblance of our last names. She never spoke to me, though. Our school, even then, had its own “cliques,” and the more well-to-do children kept to their group. These cliques stayed the same throughout grade school and pretty much into high school where they separated into “college prep” and otherwise.

I now suspect the situation with Sylvia may have had something to do with her mother, as her father was a white collar person and my father was a truck driver. We were from separate “sides of the tracks” so to speak.

I have since learned that integrity and morality have little to do with which side of the tracks one was born on. This fact becomes more obvious every day.

In spite of Dad and a few rough kids in our neighborhood, we had a pretty good life, mainly due to Mom’s unconditional love, one another, and the open fields where we lived.

Diann and I told stories to one another at night after we went to bed, often pretending we were other people and having adventures. We both grew up playing stories with our closest friends. This was a great way to escape our everyday lives. We found laughter to be a great escape, too, and sometimes got into the craziest laughing fits. We still do when we get together and reminisce.

Not that we didn’t get into arguments when we were kids. Boy, did we. Diann developed asthma and stuttered at a young age. I expect this was her response to constant anxiety. I developed migraines.

I was constantly told not to argue with Dad, not to argue with my sister. Any fight was always my fault because I was the oldest and “ought to know better.” And Diann was “sick.” This was so unfair. It appeared to me that it didn’t matter if I was right or wrong, I had no rights, either way.

“Bad” language was not allowed in our house. We heard those bad words from other kids in the neighborhood, but never in our house or from anyone in either of our families. Once Diann was angry enough to call me a “grunt,” which was considered cussing by Dad, and his temper took over. He grabbed Diann by the arm, took her outside and struck her bare legs with a sassafras switch.

We had no privacy in the bathroom. There was no lock on the door. Dad came in any time he wanted. And did. I began holding “it” in as long as I could, until I felt safe. Then—hurry up in case he comes.

We had no door on our bedroom alcove. Diann and I had no privacy anywhere in the house. Outside was the only escape, though Diann told me she used to hide behind the coats in the closet under the stairs. My place was in the tree at the top of the hill in our backyard. I loved that tree. I couldn’t climb it in rubber boots in the winter when snow fell, though. I was shit out of luck in the winter. Though the sassafras bush next to the tree was a pretty good substitute.

Mom piled us into layers of clothes in the winter, especially when we went sledding at the golf course. It must have been more than a mile to haul our sleds up Pillar Avenue and through the trees to the edge of the golf course, but the long hill at the top was worth every trudge. Diann reminded me that Dad took us the first time when we were too small to go by ourselves and didn’t know the route. 

Diann and neighborhood pooch. That snowman was a lot of work.

In later years on our own we were lucky to get in three rides on that hill because the walk back up was so long and tiring, especially under all those clothes. Layers of snow melt stuck to your gloves and boots and weighed you down, but that long, speedy glide swooshing down the hill . . . wow! Mom had sandwiches and hot chocolate ready when we returned—chilled, exhausted and hungry.

South Turkeyfoot Lake Road with golf course on right. Obviously, you can’t see the grand hill from here. Pillar Avenue is a mile or so ahead and to the right.

It’s strange to consider there actually were good times with Dad, as there were so few of them. Who was that man who hauled us both up that golf course hill, rode down it with us in glee, yet beat Diann with that switch? He would play with us one minute and frighten us half to death the next. 

Worse was to come.

Two Minds: An Adult Woman, A Fearful Little Girl

Apache Junction Sunset, photo by Karen Lynne Klink

This is a difficult post. I came to the conclusion that I was not willing to back my manuscript with $10,000 or more. I am of two minds. One is an adult woman willing and able to take risks. The other is a fearful little girl. They are the product of an incest survivor. It took a few days for me to realize that little girl had to have her say about this entire process.

My angry, depressed dad alienated our family from everyone but his relatives. Yet he presented the picture of a wonderful man to all except us. 

I and my younger sister grew up in a home with a living room and exposed rafters. We wore the same three or four outfits to school all year long. I wore hand-me-downs from my older cousin. We each had one coat that lasted until we outgrew it. Dad purposely ran over my sister’s bike to teach her not to leave it in the driveway. Mom complained to me about her fears that he didn’t pay the bills on time. Yet he found time to help his brother with his house, bought golf clubs, bowling equipment, guns, a stereo, and records.  

When we started school Mom found a job at the local drugstore. I thought to help pay bills, but years later she said it was to get out of the house and be around people who appreciated her. 

He was emotionally abusive to the three of us. We lived a childhood of constant anxiety: Diann stuttered and developed asthma; I got migraines. Mom was a loving, dear, but weak, person, who my sister and I believed we had to protect. Dad took advantage of that when he took advantage of me. “Don’t tell your mom.” I knew what he meant.

Only after years of therapy did I realize she should have protected us. 

I am grown now, but that little girl’s feelings and fears concerning money, security, and trust never go away. The adult in me jumped at the chance to follow my dream of publishing a book I believed in.  A few days later that little girl freaked out. Another couple days and I realized what happened.

I don’t have to give in to fear once I realize the truth. That’s the first step — recognizing the fear and where it comes from. I sat down and checked my finances, found it will not destroy me to lose $15,000, only make my life more difficult. I can handle that. I can reassure my little girl. I have.

I know there are survivors, men and women, like me out there. I hope this and the books I write will help us all. By us I mean not only survivors but all minorities: LGBTQ, blacks, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans, Latinos, immigrants, elders, . . . Who did I leave out? Imagine how strong we would be if we all united!

It’s why I write. That’s my platform.

Writing and Migraine

Headache by Erika

 

I wasn’t sure if I should be blogging about this, then I decided to go ahead and do it.

I haven’t blogged for ages because I just haven’t found the energy. It’s been hard to find the energy to write my novel or anything else.

Writing was easier years ago when I was on caffeine. Lots of caffeine to keep headaches at bay. Then I had more and more headaches and drank more and more caffeine and took Excedrin, eventually ending in rebound. Had to stop the caffeine altogether. Had to stop all sorts of pain medication because of rebound.

Now I am on the drug topiramate or topamax. It sort of works, the only thing that sort of works. Except for what it does to my memory and what is called “foggy brain syndrome.” Imagine trying to write with that problem.

There are more of us out there than ever—what are now called “migraineurs.” We even have our own site, Migraine.com, where we can commiserate with one another and learn about the latest advances in headache medicine. Some of you who are reading this may be one of us.

I will keep writing. I get depressed if I don’t. It just takes three times longer to get a chapter written than it used to: “I know that word, what is it? Why can’t I recall the name of that place? Describing such a scene used to come to me so easily.”

Blogging? Yeah, I ought to be blogging at least once a week. Ha.

See you, well, whenever.