Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me…
Sticks and Stones Break only Skin while Words are Ghosts that Haunt Me. Pain from Words has Left Its Scar on Mind and Heart that’s Tender. Cuts and Bruises now have healed, it’s words that I Remember.
Recently, two of my brothers became aware of my writings. I had never actually invited them to read my stories because I didn’t think they would be interested in the least. Their reaction to the news that I was blogging about my life, including when I was a child and also including very honest descriptions of our father’s behaviour during and after the divorce, was violent and bitter. To clarify, they were violent and bitter toward me, not toward Dad. Toward me. Wait, I was the one who was abused.
I find myself deeply disappointed in them. No one was there to protect me. No one. My little brother Luke was there, but he is almost three and a half years younger than me.
I am doing my best to therapeutically write about this part of my past.
Lately, I was on the phone with my best friend from childhood, Flo. Ever honest, she reminded me that she was there too. She said, ‘Morgan, I remember arriving at your house to find your dad walking around in his boxer shorts with the no-button fly wide open. And, the thing is,’ she said, ‘He didn’t then go and put on his robe. He just stayed walking around in his open-fly boxers. It was disgusting.’
She continued with, ‘When Mark was manic (bipolar 1) he dry-humped me on the bed while I screamed for him to stop.’ Flo would have been 16 and my brother Mark would have been 21 at the time.
Last night, over our supper, I was again drawn back into the memories of the past. I told my husband of twenty-five years, Dean, about times when I would witness my dad being truly mean and abusive to my siblings. Telling them these hurtful messages:
‘You’ll never amount to anything.’
‘Be a man.’
‘Get some backbone.’
‘It’s a good thing you’re beautiful.’
I clearly recall a time when I was in the army and had a month off over Christmas. I went to visit Dad, my step-mother, Wen, and Luke who were living in a small border city then. At that time, Dad and Wen were the owner / operators of a 9-room motel. (The same motel that was the excuse for him not helping me with my University fees when I was at Waterloo and then consequently decided to join the army.)
At the time, 17-year old Luke was working as a server, trying to figure out what he would be doing for school and for the future. He could have used some gentle, fatherly guidance. He did not get that there. What he received was verbal and emotional abuse and aloofness. When I saw him on that visit, he seemed to be in a bit of a slump. He talked little. At meals he slouched over his plate with a rounded back, barely lifting his face from his food. It was heart breaking. Where was my witty, intelligent little brother who could make me laugh at any moment? Dad was so mean to him and he wouldn’t stop. He just wouldn’t stop. Every word was a put down. An insult.
I remember Dad taking us to a tacky, cheap diner for a very inexpensive meal. I was into my new army career and doing well. I was on top of the world. I had passed all the difficult training, won a great posting to Germany and had my own platoon. I was best friends with Dean and looking forward to romance with him. I knew he would be mine soon. ‘Just a matter of time,’ I would tell myself. At this diner, I was dressed in nice clothes: my new suede skirt, leather pumps and freshly pressed blouse, earrings and soft makeup…all dolled up, because it was important to be all dolled up around Dad. He had a sharp, critical eye and an acid tongue.
So, we’re sitting in a booth having a nice little chat about my work in the army. In the back of my mind I suspected that there would be a dig coming soon. And so it did. Dad says, ‘Morgan, that mole under your nose, why don’t you get it removed?’
WTF Dad. That mole under my nose??? So, this is what you’re going to talk about at this time? The mole under my nose??? My face turned dark red. I was furious with him. I should have known though. I should have known. There was always a dig. And I ask myself, what must have been done to him, for him to behave that way?
I remember this one Christmas when Dad gave my brother Job a second-hand dictionary. He actually wrapped up a used dictionary, but, before he did, he inscribed it:
Read this daily and you just might make something of yourself.
How was that supposed to make a ten-year-old feel? How?
I have striven my whole adult life as a wife, parent, sister and friend, to watch the words that come out of my mouth…that they should not hurt, scrape or strike but that my words should make others feel fine, helped, free or loved, happy or better. I have made mistakes in the heat of the moment, that I know. But, at least I am aware of the effect my words can have. We all have that power.
Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest sibs in charge. One year, my oldest brother Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones. Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June. One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce. It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it. Years later we broke it to her that it was awful. By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say: Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?
The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by my second oldest brother, Mark. It got a little scarier then because Mark had some sketchy friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty. Minty seemed fine, if a little dopey, but, Hedgeman just plain scared me. I think he was continuously high or, in the pursuit of being high.
One time, when I was about eight years old or so, Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room. Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.
He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock. He had me there. I had not one idea of what he spoke, and innocently told him that.
Hedgeman was irate. How could I not know about Woodstock?
He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history. He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing. He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.
Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it. Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, Man. I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of. I was eight. I may have mentioned that.
One time Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement. Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day earlier than planned in order to surprise us. Matt and June, then married and June pregnant, were asleep in my parents’ bed. Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us. He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.
He walked into Amy’s basement room. She was fast asleep. However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed. He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down Pearl hill. Dad called the police and told them,
“There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!”
One time, Mark and Jobe had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I. It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house. The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum.
Olive came to fetch us and take us to her house where we stayed in the basement because her husband was a very scary individual and a known bully, even though he was this prominent Catholic and a professional. The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street. I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying down of the grass.
At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break. At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our normally safe, religious and ordered home. I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.
Decades later, while telling these stories to my best friend and husband, Dean, he looked me in the eye, took my hand and told me that I had been neglected as a child.
I’ll never forget the dawning realization that yes, that was exactly why some tales of my childhood made me feel so uneasy. Dean and I would NEVER have left our son in situations like that. Anything could have happened with those weird wired young men who were Mark’s pals back then and who roamed freely through our home while Mom and Dad were away. Luke and I were lucky to escape with just the psychological scars of being neglected as young children.
To be clear, there were a lot of psychological scars in my family. It may be one of the main reasons we are all so close as siblings. We counted on each other to get through tough times. We cried, we sang and we laughed. We laughed a lot.
Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and Job lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them. Years later we would learn, disturbingly, that Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.
(Photos and courtesy of Eva Player and google images)
Many long sunny days during our summers at the lake, we would walk the two miles to the nearby town of Magnetawan, population 300 souls, just for something different to do. Sometimes I would be with a friend staying in the camp. Other times I would be with a brother, or two. On this particular day, I was with my older brother, closest to me in age: Jobe.
We were walking along on that hot summer day in the 70s. We each had a dollar to spend in town and we were feeling rather rich. We were discussing what we could do with that money. Would it be spent on fries and a pop at July’s or a vachon, black balls and chocolate milk at Jake’s General Store? July’s and Jake’s shared side-by-side real estate in the village of Mag and each backed onto a grassy patch which sloped down to Ahmic Lake which was really Mag River extended after the locks system.
Both July’s and Jake’s were tired, dusty and faded. Their respective owners, July and Jake, had since thrown up their hands to the bygone dreams of business greatness. (A few decades later, both buildings would burn to the ground in an unsolved tragedy that would rock the core of the wee village, one which still wondered at the loss by fire of their once proud Marina.)
The Tuck Stop didn’t mind. Even Seniors were ordering take-out these days and pulling up a bench seat at a red wooden picnic table in order to enjoy their chicken fingers and fries with a cold coke sipped by straw. For Jobe and I, our favourite was the foot-long hot dog. We just could not believe that a hot dog could be that long. We marveled at it each time it arrived in front of us. It was especially good when washed down with a thick sweet chocolate milk-shake.
So, on this particular day, with nary a water bottle nor a hat and never ‘sunscreen’ (what was that?) Jobe said, ‘hey Morg, let’s walk the whole way to town up on the rocks!’ Jobe loved a physical challenge. I guess I did too. Up we scrambled onto the hot, dark rocks which had been cut to form the roadway. We carried on walking, sometimes skipping from one outcrop to the next. Jobe was way ahead of me, as usual. He was faster, more daring and more physically efficient in every way.
As I walked along the rocks, a bothersome horsefly bobbed around my head, crashing into my tanned forehead every few steps. Looking up to see Jobe’s red head bobbing up and down ahead of me, I suddenly realized that there was a warm sensation coming from the bottom of my right foot. ‘What the…?’ I reached down and my hand came back to me covered in blood. The tears burst from my eyes as I screamed for Jobe.
With wild, frightened green eyes Jobe arrived by my side and knew instantly that I had trod on a piece of broken glass. He found the piece a second later. It was a nasty jagged stalagmite of broken beer-bottle glass and it was covered in my blood. Jobe half carried me for about ten minutes to the closest cottage where he pounded on the door and asked for help.
The nice lady who came to the door took me to her pure white porcelain tub and quite tenderly washed my gash of blood. She soothed me with sweet mutterings while she ensured there was no glass left inside the wound. I was silently crying and worried. Next she sat me down on a kitchen chair and expertly bandaged my foot with a gauze. She used a lot of gauze. A whole roll. She knew exactly what she was doing. Then she drove us back to the camp and made sure Dad received us before she left. Dad had a quick conversation with her, thanked her profusely and got the details of the unfortunate occurrence.
Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to stare us down with the look of thunder on his face. He was not happy.
‘Morgan, why didn’t you have shoes on while walking to town? FROM NOW ON, YOU WILL ALWAYS WEAR SHOES WHEN WALKING TO TOWN. IS THAT CLEAR?! he bellowed. ‘THAT WOMAN IS A COMPETITOR OF OURS. DID YOU TWO KNOW THAT?’
We both shook our heads vehemently, but, we DID know that. He was always talking about our competitors. How many campers they had compared to us, and so on, endlessly.
‘NOW SHE THINKS WE ARE BAREFOOT HEATHENS!’ he yelled. ‘SHE’LL SPREAD IT ALL OVER THE LAKE THAT WE CAN’T EVEN AFFORD SHOES!’ He was livid. His face was purple.
At this point, Jobe escaped out the screen door and all I heard was the wap! as it hit the frame – his red noggin’ bouncing up and down as he diminished down the trail to the shop then hard right passed the Patterson’s tent trailer and gone up into the camp, likely to find Mom and our baby brother Luke and tell them the story.
Next, Dad grabbed my skinny arm roughly with his huge hand. I was just seven years old and tiny and he was a behemoth. And Mad. He spanked me hard several times with his open hand which hit my bare legs and stung very badly. It hurt a lot and I quietly bawled and bawled, but what hurt even worse was the betrayal I felt. He was the guy who was supposed to protect me. I didn’t think it was fair to receive a beating when I was already injured but, I didn’t say a word. That would have been certain death.
He told me to get in the car and off we went to the medical clinic in Burks Falls, 20 miles away. I needed stitches and a tetanus shot. So much for a vachon and coke.
This day was horrible and getting worse by the minute. The aftermath of the cut foot was ten days of no swimming. Was I miserable?! I always wore my shoes to town after that one. Probably didn’t need the beating because the no swimming was punishment enough.
Usually natural consequences work best, I find.
But, what I am still confused about when I remember this, even though it happened to me decades ago, is just how much Dad over-reacted, in a bad way, to my cut foot. Perhaps he was having an awful day and this was just one more hassle to deal with.
But, it was me.
His good little girl.
I was hurt and scared and needed a hug. I can’t imagine beating my child who came home to me with a cut foot. It’s like kicking someone when they’re down. Who does that?
I am gonna re-write the last bit…bear with me…
…Dad closed the door of the office and turned around to look at Jobe and I with a soft worried look on his face. He gathered both of our small bodies to his chest with his big strong arms. He kissed our curly heads, mine dark, Jobe’s ginger. He told us not to worry. He was going to fix all this.
‘Get in the car you two. First it’s stitches for Morg, then it’s ice-cream.’
We smiled at our Dad who was always so good to us and fixed all our mistakes, or tried to anyway. In town, we picked out a sweet thank you card for the lady who helped me and after ice-cream we brought it to her door to thank her in person.
Even though I couldn’t swim for ten days, Dad took me fishing and we had so much fun.
If you have any comments, I would love to read them.
Please allow me to introduce myself.
I’m a man of wealth and taste.
I’ve been around for a long, long year,
Stole many a man’s soul and faith.
And I was ’round when Jesus Christ,
Had his moment of doubt and pain.
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate…
I remember the days of girlhood when I could run forever, jump high, skip rope, swim the lake and turn cartwheels. I was this little girl with black curly hair, green eyes, a few freckles and a quick smile. I was full of energy, giggles and good ideas. I knew the rules and I almost always followed them. I went to church on Sundays and sang all the hymns, firmly clasping hands with my neighbours at the peace of Christ. I was the good girl.
So, when my new parish priest made an announcement inviting girls to be altar servers, I was so happy. I really wanted to be an altar server. I wanted to ring the bell, on the altar, during mass with the whole congregation watching, like I had watched the boys do so many times.
Training ensued with Father 0’Malkey. There were ten of us and we needed to be taught what was what. How to wear the robe. How to prepare the altar. When to ring the bell. He was very strict and he taught us to be exact. Serious. Precise.
Then the day came for my debut as an altar server. It went well. I had been to hundreds of masses. I kinda had a sense of how it all worked, by then. I was on the schedule and looked forward to being the sole server during a week of early morning masses. I would ride my bike the mile to church, leaving home after breakfast at 7 am, making sure my school bag had my basketball uniform and shoes for practice after school. At 7 am the world wouldn’t even be awake yet. It was a fresh perspective. Funnily enough, it made me feel a little homesick. I shook it off and soldiered on.
Arriving at the church, I took a moment to notice the beautifully groomed grounds leading to the large oak door to the sacristy. The church was ultra modern, brick and wood with a non-steeple. Curved walk ways and parking lot surrounded by green groomed lawns, shaded by tall mature hardwoods. I parked my bike – no helmets back then. I had tucked my pant leg into my socks to safeguard it from the chain. I righted this and as I did so, felt butterflies a flutter in my belly.
Opening the door I sniffed the familiar church scent of burning candles mixed with a slight residue of incense. On my left was a wall of smooth oak paneling. Or so it seemed. I found the hidden handle and pulled. Reluctantly, and with a sucking sound, the massive closet door opened and into it I put my school bag and jacket. As I closed the door, Father O’Malkey appeared and somewhat startled me. He wore a big creepy smile as he approached, saying, ‘Good morning, Morgan!’ He wrapped his large arm around my small shoulders, his man hand landing on my budding chest. In slow motion and with an out-of-body awareness, I witnessed and felt his large hand squeeze my young breast. Then both hands took my shoulders and he propelled me to the next cupboard which held my gown and hastened me to prepare for mass, perhaps not wanting me to dwell on what had just happened.
Later that day, as soon as I could get Mom alone, I told her about it, not wanting to go back the next morning. She said, ‘Oh Morgan, you must be mistaken. Father O’Malkey is a priest. A priest would never do that.’ Then she encouraged me to be a good girl and go back the next day.
Every morning was a repeat performance by Father O’Malkey: the smiley greeting, the man-hand grope, the hastening to mass. Years later, I began to wonder if he had orchestrated girl altar servers – the first in the history of the parish – so that he would have his pick of girls to fondle.
As soon as I could get away with it, I quit altar serving and eventually, I quit Catholicism. Any organization with forced celibacy is going to be a problem for someone.
A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.
Forest E. Witcraft
Mr. Laset was the quintessential good coach: kind, unselfish, knowledgeable and competitive when necessary. He coached me throughout elementary school for cross country running, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and track. We had practices after school every day of the week. He was consistently present and consistently good to me. Over the decades I have thought of Mr. Laset many times and, every time it has been with fond memories. On that note, I just searched for him and found a phone number and gave him a call…forty years later from three provinces away. I said, ‘this is Morgan Player, I am trying to find Lee Laset.’ His response: ‘How is my best point guard doing today?’ See, he said exactly the right thing! We had a wonderful chat on the phone. His memory is fabulous and we laughed about the old days. I thanked him again and again for all of the time and encouragement he gave me way back then.
Now my story about the Walden Games…
When I was 10 years old, I was on the gymnastics team for the school. We would practise everyday after school and all day on Saturday during the gymnastics season. Mr. Laset prepared routines for the floor, finding music to suit the routine and then we would memorize and practice until we knew it cold. The routine for the balance beam and vault didn’t have music but all three apparatus had mandatory moves and lengths of routine. There was a big meet coming downtown Walden at Central High School. The day of the meet arrived. I caught a ride downtown with my teammate, Cassie, and her Mom. There were a lot of people there. Hundreds. The place was crawling with parents and gymnasts and coaches. Moms were fussing over their daughters’ hair. Dads were looking at schedules with their sons, a large arm encircling their small shoulders.
Gymnasts were warming up. When I stepped on the huge technical floor mat I was immediately impressed with its give. It seemed like I could bounce higher, split better, balance longer. I was in love with that mat. I watched some of the more talented gymnasts who belonged to clubs and wished I could one day be like them.
It came time for me to do my balance beam routine. I nailed the mount which required a lot of upper body strength, something I naturally had. I bounced off of the small spring board, placing both hands on the beam and then, with hips high, brought both feet into a wide straddle on either side of my body, but not touching the beam. I balanced that way for a few seconds and then placed my feet on the beam. From the wide straddle I made my way into the splits, held it with arms raised, fingers poised, then swung my back leg forward into a pike fold, then into the required back roll. From there, I gracefully transitioned into standing and went through the rest of my routine, conducting the required moves: standing balance with one foot held in my hand above my head; 360 degree spin and front roll and with various dance and rhythmic arm moves, made my way to the culminating move: the dismount. Mine was a front pike hand spring off the end of the beam. I did it and I stuck it. Arms up, arched back, chin high, head back. My teammates clapped and there were a couple of smiling, pretty moms I didn’t know who made me feel special. I walked off to find Mr. Laset who was working with some of my other teammates. Mr. Laset was spread thin watching over all of us.
Next up was the vault. Our score was the best out of three moves. I did a pike head-stand over, hand-stand over and high straddle over. I stuck all three pretty well and felt good about it. Mr. Laset patted me on the back and told me I had done well. So far so good.
After eating my brown-bag lunch, I checked the schedule and saw that it was almost time for me to do my floor routine. Again, I went to the mat for a warm-up and, again, I was impressed by the springy-ness of it. My music came on as I took my place on the mat. I
knew this routine cold so it was no problem to do it to the very best of my ability. The one toughest move was a hand-stand which was to be held for five seconds and then a quarter turn down into the splits. I had practiced this move umpteen times in our basement rec-room. My friend Layla and I would put on music and dance and do gymnastics: cartwheels, hand springs, handstands, splits, rolls and often we would do this in the dark. Lucky we didn’t kick each other in the head.
Anyway, in my routine, I was wondering if I was ever going to actually be able to hold the handstand for five seconds. Guess what. I DID IT! Oh my, was I happy and very proud. After the splits, I turned forward and ended my routine with my elbows on the mat, my legs in a wide straddle, my dark, curly pony tailed head in my hands and a big smile on my face.
I would like to say the crowds went wild, but, no. There were very few spectators for me.
A little while later, we were rounded up and told that the closing ceremonies would be held and that we should quietly sit in our team. I sat down beside Cassie. She had had a good day and had completed all of her tough moves. She put her arm around me and told me that she had heard that I did REALLY well. I looked at her with a question on my face. How did she know that? She had been on the other side of the gym all day. She told me that her mom had seen my points. She said: ‘Morgan, you’re in the medals’.
“WHAT???! What does THAT mean?’ I asked her frantically. ‘What do I need to do?’
‘You just need to go up there when they call your name’. Cassie said calmly. She was ultra experienced at this.
A couple of minutes later, I was called to the podium and a SILVER medal was placed around my neck. Holy cow!! I felt like a million bucks. Holy cow!! Mr. Laset patted my back and told me he was very proud of me. I had not expected this at all. I was shocked!
The meet was finished and it was time to go home with my silver medal. I imagined my family picking me up and hugging me wildly upon seeing it hanging around my neck. I imagined a celebratory supper of my favourite foods and my favourite dessert.
What actually happened was rather underwhelming and, as I write this now as a Mom, I feel quite sad for my ten-year old self who was somewhat neglected as a girl, at times. Nevertheless, I got out of the car and skipped up the driveway. Jumped up the front steps and bounced into the front door, my heavy silver medal swinging on my chest, my curly pony tail flicking happily.
No one noticed my big smile or my big medal.
Mom and Dad were arguing in their room with the door closed and my three brothers were off in all corners of the house. My three eldest siblings would have moved out by then. No one asked about my big day. No one picked me up and hugged me wildly to celebrate my success. There was no celebration meal and no fun dessert. I had this great big family, but no one was there for me that day. No one watched me compete. No one watched me receive the silver medal. I was left wondering if it mattered. Did I matter? ‘If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’
One thing for sure is that this circle of neglect is broken. My husband Dean and I have one son, Leo. We have watched all of his sporting events and Dean has coached many of his soccer teams. My parents were very likely doing the best they could with what they had in their tank. I am ever thankful for people in my life who were there for me when my parents couldn’t be. One such person was Mr. Laset. Speaking to him earlier today after forty years, made my year. The gift of his calm, smooth voice knowing and remembering me and chit chatting about our sports days in the mid-70s will be cherished. When he said, ‘How is my best point guard doing?’ Those words were golden. He was important in the life of a child. That child was me.
I bet I was the only ten-year-old kid who knew that the address of The Toronto Star was 1 Yonge Street, Toronto. I knew this piece of completely useless information because at the tender age of five years old, I had a paper route – The Toronto Star. I exaggerate slightly. The route was actually my older brother’s but, I had been given the responsibility of delivering a single paper to one out-of-the-way customer: Mrs. Wilson– about ten doors north of our house. I got paid a hefty 5 cents per week for this. It was much to my embarrassment though, when the phone would ring while all nine of us were ensconced at the supper table and Mom would look at me and say, Morgan, did you deliver your paper? Invariably I had forgotten. I would have been too busy at play to think of it. I had to then drop my fork and run off with Mrs. Wilson’s paper. As the years went by I was given more and more of the route to deliver and customers to collect from and one day I found that the whole route was mine – handed down from Matt to Mark to Job and finally, to me.
The Saturday Star was so heavy that, in order for me to be able to deliver all the papers from one load, I had to lug the bag to the top of our front, concrete stoop. I would sit on the third step and back into the head-sling of the loaded paper bag and then, leaning way over until my nose was almost touching the ground, I would stagger forward and allow the full weight of the bag to sit on my back. Not a parent-figure in site to worry about me injuring my neck. I often wondered how badly off I would be if I were to just fall the wrong way? Or, if I were to stumble, out-of-control onto the street, would the car that hit me be damaged by the sack of papers on my back or would I just simply be crushed beneath them?
Most of my paper route, thankfully, was in an eight-story apartment building, just down the hill from us that we imaginatively called, ‘The Apartments’. When I was still quite little, I wasn’t able to reach the buttons for the seventh and eighth floors on the elevator’s button panel. Alas, I had the ultimate solution. I would lumber into the elevator and somehow drop my paper bag off my head, without wrenching my wee neck, and stand on the full paper bag in order to reach the button for the top floor. I would then deliver the papers on the descending floors, using the heavy bag to hold the elevator door open as I progressed. When the bag was no longer heavy enough to hold the elevator door open, I would carry the bag, deliver the papers and then take the flight of stairs down to the next floor. The whole process was quite an art.
My career as an earner started then. I was a papergirl until I was 15. I started to baby-sit at the age of 12. I worked as a bus-girl at The Crock & Block Restaurant at the age of 15 while living with my sister Eva. I then had various serving jobs: Lafayette, O’Toole’s, Silky’s, and July’s Restaurant for five summers until joining the army at 19. Dad did not believe in giving us an allowance. We had to earn everything we ever got.
It was at Fancy’s in Walden that I experienced working for the most dysfunctional couple of crazy people I have ever encountered. I hated working there because of it and dreaded each shift. Tom, the chief cook and owner would SCREAM at his wife, Darlene all the live long day: BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE OF THE BREAD FOR FUCK SAKES! RIGHT TO THE FUCKIN’ EDGE!!! AND GET IT OUT HOT!!! YOU BLOODY STUPID BITCH. Oh Lord did I detest that place. The tension should have been on the menu because it was the most abundant item they produced. I just now googled the place. It is still open. Unbelievable. The food was good fairly good though, unfortunately.
Why work there? I was in grade 12 and needed a job. My sister Amy had helped me get the job through a friend of a friend and I was ever so grateful. Amy always had so many connections made through her work as a hairstylist. By this time, Mom was living in a tiny apartment with her alcoholic boyfriend and working as a server for minimum wage at cafeteria-style restaurant in Woolworth downtown. I would go visit her and she would look so tired. So worn out. Oh god. It would break my heart. This was her reality after raising seven children and keeping a wonderful home for us for 26 years. She did not come out of the divorce well. I could not ask her for a penny. She worked so hard and made so little.
At that time, my younger brother and I had a bedroom each in the basement of our bungalow and Dad was upstairs. I had been getting a couple of shifts per week at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Restaurant, but, it went bankrupt and it wasn’t long before I was without money. One particular day, having spent my savings, I had to ask Dad for money for necessities: menstrual pads.
He turned my down. He would not give me five bucks for pads. I was seething. I hated him.
I was forced to use cotton t-shirts cut into rags. Nice. God I hated him. It was incredible how much I hated him. I feel that hatred even now, decades later. And not giving me money, when he had plenty of money, for necessities, was just one of his many faults. The others were worse. Like when he would come barging into my room, even though my door was closed, and catch me half-dressed or naked but with the old sorry, sorry. I didn’t know you were dressing. Or he would forcibly hold me down and lick my face with his very wet, gross, warm tongue – his bad breath washing over me as I would struggle — I just want to give my daughter a little kiss. Or, he would comment on my developing body you’re getting rather hippy, Morgan, you better watch it, you don’t want to get fat. Or, he would routinely reach out and touch my bum as I would be walking past him and then exclaim yippee in a falsetto voice. Then there were the many times his robe would mysteriously open and there would be hairy, wrinkled genitals for all to see. Oh god. I would be mortified when he would inevitably do this with teen-aged Flo and Sally visiting. Show us his penis, by accident, of course, and then giggle about it as he would sneak away back to his fart-stinking room. With all that I have read, learned and experienced in life regarding body image (see The Body Positive 🙃) and now as a parent, here is one truism: never comment on a child’s body except to say how lucky we are to have one that does so much for us. Our body is truly a marvel which should be loved, respected, adorned, nourished, cleaned, clothed and loved some more.
So, my relationship with Dad was love / hate for sure. At times I would love him for his silliness and his zest for life and enthusiasm about certain topics: sport, recreation, small business, celebration. Dad loved to laugh. He would often have us all in stitches at the supper table, recounting his Skollard Hall days in a falsetto voice. He liked that falsetto voice. I do truly think he was doing his best to father us the best way he could, considering the factors at play in his upbringing and his generation and with the added factor of the Catholic guilt monitoring all that he did. Another factor in the break down of his marriage was mental illness.
Mom had been a classic Bipolar 1 (Definition: A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode usually leading to psychosis). When she was pregnant or nursing, which was a lot of the time until she was 42 and weened Luke, she did not have symptoms of mental illness. But, then it hit and it hit hard. She was hospitalized with full on psychosis several times in the seventies. I remember waking up around age six and walking around looking for mom. No one would tell me that she had been taken to the hospital: 5C – the psyche ward. (Who would know then that in thirty years time, I would have my first big struggle with mental illness: Locked Up in D.C. 🔐) She was there for weeks. We would go visit her and it was like she was a different person. She was in a fog. It was heart wrenching. I missed her so badly. I just wanted my mommy back. I would cry myself to sleep missing her so much. She would sometimes be smoking when we visited. I couldn’t believe my eyes. (Back then you could smoke in parts of the hospital. Yep. Unbelievable, right?)
In the summer, at the lake, Mom would become more and more manic. Her manic energy was put to good use with cleaning and maintaining the ten cabins of The Camp ⛺️that we moved to every summer. Lock, stock and barrel, all nine of us would move two hours North to the camp and live on the lake all summer – running the tourist resort – as it used to be known. It was truly beautiful there: 21 forested acres, half-mile of lake frontage, only 2 miles from a village for supplies, ten antique, rustic cabins on private lots with tall trees, most cabins on the water with their own dock and a sandy beach.
For many years we even had a diving tower and trampoline over the water. Dad’s idea. Dad being a teacher, had envisioned the need for a business and an escape from the city. (We would have killed each other staying in the city all summer. No doubt about it.) It was pure genius and is one of those things I loved about my Dad. He had these great ideas at times. We enjoyed idyllic summers – running around barefoot, swimming, boating, water-skiing, canoeing and socializing with all the campers. Yes, we had work and chores, but, we were paid for them and it was just a couple of hours a day. Our summers at the camp were the envy of my friends. In fact, many of my friends would come to the camp, either to stay with us in the office or as paying guests and stay in a cabin or tent.
I remember waking up early to find mom’s twin bed empty. She would already be out there working. Dad was much more sedentary. He would do all of the business-end of things: letters, bills, payments, promotions. All this to say, that mom’s mental illness was raging on, unchecked for several years. From reading I have done, because I too am bipolar 1 (Crazy Train 🚂 (part 1)…All ABOARD, Crazy Train 🚂 (part 2) ) the more episodes there are the more easily an episode will occur. The brain makes these pathways that become easier and easier to follow and so sanity slips further and further away. So, to be fair, it could not have been easy dealing with this major impediment. When Mom finally went on lithium, and stayed on lithium, things were so much better. She was stable. Stable is good.
I wasn’t the first in my family to work at July’s Restaurant up at the Lake. My older sister Eva had worked there a decade prior to me. Eva would sometime recount one of her most embarrassing moments while working there. This man would come into the restaurant almost daily. He would take a seat beside the coffee maker in the kitchen in the mid-afternoon when it wasn’t too busy. He would just sit and chat up the kitchen staff and the servers as they would come and go from the kitchen. So, Eva walks into the kitchen this one day and slaps Buddy on the back and asks him how the heck he is doing today. That would have been all fine except that when she slapped him on the back his toupee went flying off his head and landed a few feet away on the kitchen floor.
You could have heard a mosquito outside the window. After a split second hesitation and with a very red face, Eva quickly grabbed the toupee off the floor. Put it back on Buddy’s head. Smoothed it out. Told him: ‘You have very nice hair.’ Then, turned on her heel into the dining room.