I stole the title from a rather crass comment a guy made to my column, out today, where I discussed the beatings my father gave my mother. I know that’s an awkward sentence, you grammar Nazis, please forgive me. Some of the readers ripped his face off, but I chuckled. I’m sick that way.
Daddy didn’t have to be drunk to beat mom up, but he was probably drunk more than he was sober. We’re allowed only about 500 words in our columns, so I couldn’t extrapolate, but I will here. I’m going to cut and paste and my extra comments, I’ll change colors or something.
I don’t remember the first time my father hit my mother, but I’m sure I was there. Maybe only an embryo. I have a picture taken when they were first married – my father is smiling, and I wonder if my mother’s hopes were high.
Mom was born with a cleft palate sans the hare lip. She was very pretty–dark wavy hair and blue eyes, clear complexion, and a really nice figure. Her voice was probably grating, I can’t say, because it was normal to me and I didn’t notice her nasally tone until I was 13 and a friend asked me how come my mom talked funny. You know, though, she had a really pretty singing voice and she loved to sing. She sang a lot and taught us girls fun songs like “You are my sunshine” and “Playmates.” We always had the radio on. She never sang when we lived with my dad. We moved on average of every three months and much of the time, he didn’t actually live with us, he just came long enough to impregnate and beat Mom.
Those hopes were quickly dashed. Daddy drank and couldn’t keep a job, and he beat her. Once, she asked him for money to buy new shoes and he stomped on her foot with his cowboy boot, breaking bones. Yet another time, after she confronted him with charges that he’d molested her younger sister, he beat her so badly he broke her arm.
He was a cold, cruel man, given to mocking her and her speech (she’d been born with a cleft palate and never quite learned to speak properly). He would call her terrible names as she sobbed. Watching, I felt so helpless. I wanted my father to love my mother.
I loved my father more than anyone in my life until I was about 7 and began to realize what he was like. While he was vicious to mom, he was often kind and loving to me. I was his favorite. I guess that’s how Hitler’s favorite would feel.
I was 8 years old when my father came home, raging drunk, and began to hit my mother in the face with his fists. I remember blood and screams. I was so terrified that I ran to the door dressed only in my underpants to get help, but my father picked me up by my hair and flung me back into the room where I cowered with my little sisters.
I very clearly remember the thought process, the absolute horror and then the thought process, “I have to get help!! But—-I don’t have any clothes on, people will see my boobs!” Then some sort of undeniable thing took over and I headed for the door. I got it open, but he jumped over and grabbed me. He literally picked me up off the ground and slammed me. My sisters were hiding behind the couch, Chris was 6, Dessie, 4, and Annie was 2. My dad’s friend tried to pull him off Mom, but he turned around and cold-cocked him and that was that.
Later that night, lying in bed in the dark with my sisters, I listened to my mother sob softly and say over and over, “my teeth.” He’d knocked out several of her teeth.
Poor people in those days didn’t take care of their teeth, they let them rot out. Some of Mom’s front teeth were already rotting. She never smiled in pictures those days because of her teeth (think Appalachia). When I was 21 and she was 42, she came to live with me for awhile and I had all her teeth pulled and bought her false teeth. She still doesn’t smile with her teeth very much.
You don’t recover completely from that sort of thing – whether you are the victim or the helpless child observing those horrific acts. Individuals respond differently. I decided at the age of 8 to go for help. The next year my father got drunk and hit my mother, but this time I made it out the door. The police came, and he went to jail. We never lived with him again.
He died when I was 16, I hadn’t seen him for six years. I think my Dessie told Grandma about what Daddy had done to her (he abused us in many ways) and my grandma confronted him and told him to go away and never come back. My grandma was pretty formidable when she got mad and I guess he took her for her word because he left and never came back. He died of cancer and liver disease brought on by alcoholism. He was living in Lovelock, Nevada, doing odd jobs in order to stake his gold hunting. He’d complained to a doctor in town about pain in his arm and they blew him off, he was the town drunk. Later, he collapsed on the street and was taken to a hospital, where he spent weeks convincing the doctors he had family. Finally they contacted his brother and his family came, but it was too late and he died soon after. It broke my grandmother’s heart. His funeral was the first time I met his family. Well, that I recall. I think a few of them came to see us when I was very young.
There were no shelters or agencies in those days for battered women. Mom left Daddy many times, taking us girls home to her parents, who did the best they could (once, when I was only 4 years old, she and I hitchhiked the 200 miles to their home). But Grandma and Grandpa were poor and ignorant – and Mom, also ignorant – would be left flailing to feed and house us kids.
She always went back, let him come again, and we’d live with him for awhile, or at least near him. When she finally left him, she stayed with us at Grandma’s for a few months, then took off with another man, leaving us at Grandma’s (this is when Grandma threatened him). That man also beat her, not as bad as Daddy, but the relationship was based on conflict.
I wish I could say that because of my experience I became a kind person. I did not, I chose to fight and in a lesser way than my father, to victimize my loved ones. I became angry. I have many regrets and have spent years fighting those demons, as do most children born into homes like mine.
Well, nobody knows better what a mess I am than you guys LOL.
I do whatever I can to reach out and help those less fortunate. My heart aches for those children who have seen things that children should never see. Today, thankfully, our communities have shelters and resources for families escaping brutality.
I take the shelter any good stuff I have, I won’t take it to DI. Sheets, towels, good clothes, etc. , shampoos and stuff when I stay at hotels, nice pajamas and nightgowns. They won’t let me volunteer, I’m too angry.
The holidays are a time when – heartbreakingly – episodes of domestic violence seem to erupt. I urge all to consider the women’s shelter for your charitable giving. To those who have suffered as I did, or are suffering today, God bless you and give you courage and peace.
I believe this sort of things still goes on today. It went on in my home. I was verbally and physically abusive to my kids and my husband. Bill beat me up emotionally and I thought it was just fighting and making up. I seriously am only waking up to the fact that people don’t have to live in conflict, there are families and marriages out there where people don’t routinely destroy each other, body and soul.
I wonder when I go to church if there are women in the room who’ve been punched in a place others can’t see. Abuse was considered normal when I was a kid. You beat the hell out of your kids with a belt if they messed up, you smacked your wife, she threw things (I’m thinking John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara).
We as a society are messed up in many ways, but we’ve made some progress, too. Guys, look around and open your hearts just a bit. That annoying, scrawny, dirty little kid from the junkyard house down the street might need your acceptance, support, and salvation. Maybe even a little piece of pumpkin pie and turkey.
Tomorrow, my family, newly reconstituted, will spend the day together. We’ll sit down in my beautiful dining room with matching dishes, silver, and linens. We’ll be warm and well-fed and unafraid. Bill and I have made such strides and we will celebrate the day without the tension that has punctuated so many holidays. Bill’s going to deep fry a turkey and Sarah has put in her requests for favorite foods, she’s bringing her boyfriend, who we all like (and who I can totally beat the pants off in Tetris—Sarah sits between us while we frantically finger our video games LOL). Mom will be there, all 4’8″, 80 lbs. of her, teeth in, all dolled up because that’s what I do, I fuss over her and perfume and makeup and hair curl the hell out of her.
Sarah is totally bossy with her and makes her swallow her food (Mom will keep the whole thing in her mouth, she looks like a chipmunk, and keeps taking more bites). The other kids are sweet and doting and take her in and out, Bill totally adores her and she melts with big smiles, although most of the time she doesn’t know who he is. She’ll say, “Ma’am? How tall is your old man?”
Jessie and Jared and the grandbabies are eating at their mom’s house, then coming over later for pie and poker. Later, we’ll all pile in and go uptown to watch the fireworks show Cedar City puts on Thanksgiving night to usher in the Christmas season. It will be a good day.
I hope you guys have the happiest of Thanksgiving. I truly love you all and feel you are one of the greatest blessings in my life (even the ones I don’t know and those who don’t like me :)). Blogging has saved me in many ways and tomorrow when we talk about what we’re thankful for, I’ll be sure to mention you!