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. Temporarily. Due to Covid.
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.
Mom was the most honest and moral person I have ever known, and the least judgmental.
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, my sister, 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 or any where in the house. 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.
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.
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.