Tuesday, February 17, 2009

World of Darkness part one

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World of Darkness I decided to do something very hard and extremely personal. Share myself in a way that will instill in you pity, anger, disgust, even hate! Why would I do that? Not for myself but to share a story and life that would have been quite different, if not for the kindness shown by others. I know as individuals we cannot help the whole world out of its miasma.

However, a few take on the task one child at a time. They offer their homes as a place of refuge to the helpless. They are foster parents. Not all have the same motive for taking in children. For those who have the right reason I don’t know how many of the kids you help will ever return to tell you how you changed their life for the better. Maybe they haven’t even grown up yet. I hope that someday they will take the opportunity to thank you. That is why I have written this true story. I am past needing pity or someone to be angry for me. I have only arrived at being able to say thank you. Be angry for the children who are living my life today. Pity them for their inability to stop the hurt and the adults from destroying their own life and that of those around them. Then hate yourself for not being willing to see past the straggly hair and dirty face and torn clothes. Can you look past these and see wet clay? Ask yourself one question. What would you have done for your children? I know environment plays a part in how we grow up. Children are just clay. Molded and remolded until the fire of prejudice sets the clay and even a small kid becomes set, glazed and unable to be changed into anything other than what it is. Who lights that fire and pours on that heat? Who creates that environment? We do. Each of us contribute in ways we never realize to what our children as well as those of others become. Usually we do it without even thinking about it. I fear we fire our clay children before the full color and beauty of life can be applied. What may change by the second firing? Will the child be an adult just like we made the made the child? So that’s how I feel now. Once though,,, Who am I? I have yet to figure that out for myself. I am the sixth of eight children. A boy, born into what at the time I supposed to be a typical American family of the forty and fifties. Four older brothers and one older sister were my primary rivals for survival. Two brothers, twins were born after me. I can’t say they were competition in my fight. So who were my parents? Let’s just call them mother and father for now. Understand my definition of a mom or dad is not really about the ones who are responsible for our birth. Any half drunk woman or man can make a child. It takes guts and love and friendship to be a mom or dad. I had the misfortune to be born to parents who were alcoholics! Been there? Well in my day as a child, there were things no one talked about out loud. Divorce and drunks in the family were the worst things to happen to relatives. All talk about them was done quietly and in a corner.

I said I was a member of the typical American family of the day and that is true, to a point. We were large and after the war in Korea brought many men home to a slow economy, jobs were hard to come by. Vietnam was just getting off the ground. We were lucky, sort of, we were poor enough to get Relief. Oh, that’s where you got food from the government before the current welfare system was in force. It was referred to as Army surplus. Bags of rice, beans and flour with green cans of meat, well they said it was meat, and my favorite, peanut butter. They were leftovers from the war. When surplus came it was like Thanksgiving day. Our large family ate well enough on it while it lasted. When that food ran out, we ate deer, squirrel and rabbit, sometimes poached out of season. An occasional snapping turtle found itself surrounded by leeks and potatoes. We never asked where the potatoes came from. The leeks grew along the river. Most people in the small communities of the day worked long hours for small wages. Thus the problem of eating was, we did when we had food. Utilities such as electricity, however were often unavailable. We had no television and neither did many around us. Little good one would have done us since we often didn’t have electric to run a television or lights. Our lives seemed to revolve around the rising and setting of the sun. We used candles for light often but most of the time we seemed to live in a world of perpetual darkness. Not just the lack of electric for lights but darkness in the hearts of people. We were shaggy haired, dirty face kids in torn and well worn clothes. We drew dark stares and strangely angry rejections. Money was scarce and wasting it was considered the worst sin. We had no fancy car, matter of fact we often didn’t have a working car. Our parents money wasn’t wasted on plush upholstery or shiny paint. Our furniture was thread bare even as was most of our clothes. No, the money earned in our house bought liquor, beer, cigarettes and often little else. Funny though, for years I thought we were a normal family and that most people were like us! At the ripe age of five that changed. My parents were working for the local school one summer as janitors. Without a relative willing to take a dirty faced five year old along with one and half year old twins off their hands while they worked, I found myself walking, with a small hand in my fathers, the three and half miles to town. On this particular day I was deposited at the school play ground. My parents went to work and I wandered among the big swings and slides. Having been forewarned to stay off them and out of trouble, I settled into the sand box. Some sticks became soldiers and some stones were my tanks. I played there for quite a while. From behind me a voice asked what I was doing? I turned to see a boy a year or so older. He walked with the self importance of someone already in school. He wasn’t looking for trouble. I could tell, so I said I was playing war. He slid into the sand and looked my army of sticks and stones over. "I have plastic soldiers," he told me. I told him I didn’t because my older brothers had taken them all. He looked me over and I felt as though he might join in. I was squatting, protectively over my army and as I relaxed he told me his name. I hesitated to tell my name. Everyone picked on me for it and I didn’t understand why. He picked a stone up from outside the box and set it in the sand. It was at this point that my world view started to change. I saw a man half running toward us and fully expected to get hit and yelled at for being in the sand box. He stopped short and with puffing exclamation demanded of my new acquaintance what he was doing? The boy shrugged and replied, "just playing dad." The man got that look I had seen on my mother’s face often. I thought his head would explode with anger. He grabbed the boy by the arm and yanked him from the box. "You don’t play with filthy reliefers," he yelled. Turning to me, I was sure at this point I was going to get clobbered. I hadn’t a clue what I had done wrong so I braced for the hit. "You stay away from my kid!" He was much calmer in his words but his tone was deadly. "Get those stick and stones out of the sand box. It’s for school kids, not your kind." Then dragging the boy he returned the way he had come. I cleaned out the sand box amid tears and carried my army to a pine tree along the edge of the playground. I sat there the rest of the morning. I didn’t know when lunch time was since I seemed to always be hungry. I didn’t remember my folks carrying anything to eat when we walked that morning. I fell asleep leaning on the rough bark of the pine tree. I woke to my father’s prodding. He had a slice of bread in his hand. "Here they let me have this from the kitchen." I took it slowly. A whole slice of bread to myself. He seemed upset but if there was a parent who I knew would not hit me unnecessarily, it was my father. Even drunk, he never hit me. They provided lunch at the school cafeteria for the workers and he had brought the bread from the lunch table. It was plain but I didn’t care. We sat and I chewed on the soft bread. I think they were angry he took it for me when it was for workers. Sometimes, at home, I would sit close and dad would play guitar and sing. I don’t know that I was or wasn’t his favorite kid. I just wasn’t a threat to what he was and frankly I thought he was the most wonderful person alive. He actually liked me! I didn’t feel that from the rest of my family at the time.

"What’s a filthy reliefer?" I had no idea, although I knew it was probably bad. At five years old I had the benefit of ignorance on my side. "Where did you hear that!" My father stood angrily. He was a big man and one not to be trifled with. He had a reputation of having a short fuse and very powerful fists. "That man who works there." I pointed at the big shop door of the school. "He told me to stay away from his son. We weren’t doing anything bad. I took the sticks and stones out of the sand." I stood aside to reveal my army. "Stay here." I knew trouble was brewing. He said it the way he spoke when my mother and he would fight. Later he returned. He had a look of triumph on his face and yet there was sadness as well. Funny, I could tell just how he felt when I looked in his face. We started walking toward home. I was pretty well rested and so kept up as well as I could. I bounced around him like a nat buzzing about. We crossed the bridge over the river we lived near. Another mile and we walked down a familiar path. We had come here before.

I remember one particular incident along the river from my childhood. My third oldest brother had disobeyed my mother one day and had gone to the river fishing. He had the duty that day. It was his turn to watch me. I followed him to the river and to the big tree which spanned part to the distance to "the big rock." The big rock sat in the middle of the river and was everyones favorite fishing spot. The water splashed around it and fish were attracted to the rock. You could see them swimming about it in the murky water. My brother helped me get to the tree because the water was deep there. He boosted me up and I clambered the rest of the way to the big rock. Having forgotten when our mother would get home, we were suddenly reminded by the scream coming through the trees. She was home! Hearing his name shrieked like the wind of a hurricane, my would-be keeper leapt from the rock into the river. He swam to shore in short strokes and ran for the hill going up the path. It was too late. The sound of a snap told a branch had been snapped off and was about to become a switch. He moved too slowly in his wet clothes and I heard the trill as the switch cut through the air and struck home. The ‘yelp’ that followed echoed from the hill to the rock. At five years old I could swim quite well but not the fast water around the big rock. The tree which laid in the water provided a shallow bridge but it was many feet short of the shoreline and the fast deep water made trying to swim it dangerous. What seemed an eternity passed. I sat with the abandoned fishing gear. After some time once again I heard the sound of running. It seemed in his panic my brother had forgotten where he had left me. My mother inquired as to my where abouts severely. He remembered and she could be heard running behind him as he struggled to stay out of the reach of that switch which cut through air and skin alike. I refused to abandon our catch and found myself and the fish standing before a seething five foot tall fury. It was hardly my first whipping. We had meat that night. Fish, tasted best when you had to fight for it! Today, however I wasn’t with a brother, but my father. Between fishing and hunting it was how we often ate. We ambled along among the rocks and I knew exactly what were doing. I scrambled along the bushes at the rivers edge and soon crowed at my find. A long tangled length of fish line clung among the branches of a bush. I slid my shoes off and in bare feet worked my way around and soon had the whole length loose. I sat on the rocks and untangled it. It had a hook and sinker still on it. Luck was with us today! My father slid his shoes off and rolled up his pant legs. He stood knee deep in the water. Slowly moving his hands in the water he soon returned. He had two clippers for bait. One was quickly hooked and he took a stick and tied the other end of the line to it. Tossing the hook into the slow water of the river he sat down. An old paper cup became a bait can for the other clipper. I looked around and he nodded. That set me free to look for more line. I wandered up and down the area but came back empty handed. My father had two fish lying on the rocks and was already settling on a rock with another clipper for bait in our cup. We fished away and I felt like this was how life was for everyone. The sun began to dip into the trees and he finally stood. He had a half dozen fish strung on a bush branch. The branch was neatly slid through the gills. A short length of our line had made for an anchor line as the branch and fish lay in water at our feet. He carefully wrapped the line around the stick and picked up the string of fish. We walked back to the road and made our way home.

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About Me

My childhood was spent growing up on a farm in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. In those years I learned the lessons that would mold my character and moral center. In my teens I moved to a small city in southeastern PA. Like many teens I had my rebellion and found the futility of it. During my late teens I moved to central PA and in high school lost my heart to the girl who is now my wife. Presently I'm well into midlife and slowing rapidly. The things I used to do, I can't even remember. Married for 37 years, we have a son, a daughter and five grandchildren. My son has two boys, my daughter three girls, I love irony! I'm self-employed for most of 25 years in construction. Doing a project for a customer and getting their approval is wonderful and inspiring. I started writing when my children were younger. I did some stories for them and over time it became more of an interest. I now have four completed novels and several shorts and am working towards getting one or more published. One short has been published.

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