Sticks and Stones

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 emphatically bitter.  To clarify, they were upset toward me, not toward Dad.  Toward me.  Wait, I was the one who was abused.

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, Kelly.  Ever honest, she reminded me that she was there too.  She said, ‘Marn, 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) he dry-humped me on the bed while I screamed for him to stop.’  Kelly would have been 16 and my brother Mark would have been 21 at the time.  Unfortunately, I think I was pounding on his back to stop.  I had no idea how to react to this behaviour.  It was outrageous.

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.’

‘You’re weak.’

‘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 heartbreaking.  Where was my witty, intelligent little brother who could make me laugh at any moment?  Dad was so mean to him and Dad 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 service 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, ‘Martha, 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 Jobe a second-hand dictionary.  He actually wrapped up a used dictionary, but, before he did, he inscribed it:

To Jobe:

Read this daily and you just might make something of yourself.

From Dad.

How was that supposed to make a ten-year-old feel?

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 my youth, before I understood that insulting was not the best way to behave, as well, and 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.

Amazing power to do harm or good with our words.

on hill

(Pictures come from google images.  Thank you.)

My Bro Jobe

Climbing out of his crib before he could walk, here is the story of my brother Jobe.

baby red headMy brother Jobe who was number five in the family line-up was a pure handful from the moment he was born.  He was a cuter-than-cute red-headed, freckled-face boy who even as a baby was making headlines around the bridge table as Mom would tell the other mothers how Job had climbed out of his crib already.  This was before he could walk.  It began there.

A couple of years later, when all was quiet and perhaps Mom was baking something in the small kitchen in the Willows (our crowded townhouse on the Main St of Walden, Ontario, ( Let the Games Begin ๐Ÿ€ ), little industrious Job climbed up on the stylish chrome and Formica table in the dining room eager to touch the glass chandelier. In that same dining room sat our beautiful upright piano that Mom had stylishly mac-tacked with orange and purple-petaled flowers (It was the 70s, Man).  chandelierAnyway, before he could stop himself, and with little pink tongue clamped to the right side of his mouth, he systematically dismantled the whole intricate chandelier, but not a piece of glass would touch the floor.  Four year-old Job had very carefully clutched each glass piece in his little hands and put each one down on the table top he was standing on… in exact order of its place aloft.  He took a three-dimensional glass chandelier and made it one-dimensional.  All Mom had to do later was carefully hook it all back up.  She was fascinated by his ability to do this, and so were we.

One time, at the camp where all row boatnine of us moved for the summer months to be on the lake and running a tourist camp, when the lake was whipped up with white caps due to an off-shore wind, Jobe thought it would be interesting to push the twenty or so aluminum boats and canoes out into the water to watch the wind take them across the lake.  Imagine the spectacle that was.  A fleet of unmanned water craft afloat in a line across a choppy eight-mile lake.  Little Jobe was fascinated, jumping up and down, clapping and laughing devilishly and pointing a chubby finger at what he had done.  Mom and Dad and our four older siblings scrambled to get the boats back, some swimming out to them, some using a motorized boat to get them.  Who would think of doing such a thing…JOBE! Corporal punishment ensued.  (Corporal punishment was quite popular back then.)

In later years, Jobe would usually be the one getting into trouble and doing more and more high-risk things.  He would dive off the top of the diving tower and off Echo Rock and the Locks — these were all very high dives and more than a little dangerous.  Jobe was the only one of the seven of us to master the back-flip-and-a-half on the trampoline. Water-Skier - Version 3 And when it came to water-skiing, he was quite impressive – slalom-skiing beautifully and even starting from the dock or the water on one-ski, which took a great deal of strength, balance and coordination.  His physicality was confident and true.  He was physically gifted. Mr Laset attested to this fact when I called him last winter to casually affirm my Elementary school memories when forty years ago he had been our beloved coach.  In gymnastics, Job would fly off the spring board, catching tons of air before his hands met the leather box-horse and with high hips he would execute a beautiful hand spring.  trouble riverAt the lake, Jobe would even ski down the Trouble River a twisty-turny, black-watered mysterious river that we all thought of as bottomless due to scary stories that we would tell by the camp fire.

Some of Jobe’s escapades required funding that he just didn’t have, nor could he easily earn.  Luckily, he had worked out a solution for his shortfall.  But first, you need to know the layout of the cottage that we called ‘The Office’, because the layout was key.  The Office had two bedrooms on the main level.  In one room was Mom and Dad’s twin beds (stylish at the time, no idea why) and a crib where Luke would sleep when he was a baby.  The neighbouring room had a double-bed where I and one or both of my sisters would sleep, and then above us, up a rickety ladder in the hallway, was ‘the loft’ where the three boys would usually sleep: Matt, Mark and Jobe.  The sides of the loft were open, such that those up there could look down through the rafters into the two bedrooms below.  Privacy?  I think not.  In fact, now that I am writing this, I remember a game in which we would reach way over on the rafters and then swing down over the beds below and drop down with a squeal, landing on the soft mattress, or anyone who happened to still be in bed.  (This was a forbidden activity, so only done when the adults were out of the office.)

So…Jobe’s funding…right.  Well, the ceiling was open into the loft, and when Dad would be inevitably taking a nap on a warm summer afternoon or on a rainy day, or on any day really, Jobe would spy Dad’s seldom-washed polyester double-knits hanging on the hook by the bedroom door.  red head boy nrStealthily, hazel eyes rolling this way and that, with a fishing rod, and pink tongue stuck out just so, he would hook said pants and reel them up, ever so quietly, stealing glances down at Dad who was crashed out on the twin bed.  The pants would seemingly float up into the loft where he then would quickly reach his small sure hand into the right front pocket and take out the roll of cash from Dad’s polyester double-knits.  (Every summer, Dad would busily sell various items to campers: ice, worms, fuel – all for cash. Cash being cash, it was untraceable, so Jobe would help himself to a twenty or two (a small fortune back then) and he would be set for his next escapade.  Of course, his hazel eyes keenly watching Dad, face slightly flushed, he would then expertly reel the double-knits back down to the hanging place in Dad’s room, ensuring that any noise he made at all was made when the loudest cycle of the snore was emerging from Dad.  With the money, Jobe and I would sometimes go horse-back riding which back then was $5 per hour! Or, Jobe would buy gas to put in the Budd family’s motor boat tank for ever more water skiing.  We did get paid for chores at the camp, but not nearly enough for all that Jobe wanted to do.

boy with pipeOne of the chores at the camp was the daily picking up of garbage using the big red wheel-barrow.  We had to wheel over the gravel roads around the 21 acres to each of the campsites and to the nine cabins and ask at the door for their garbage.  Then, to the upper or lower field, often rolling over a large rock and accidentally dumping the whole mound due to its precariousness in the wheel barrow.  With gloves on (in theory). we had to then sort it: burn the burnables in a huge 40-gallon barrel and pitch the cans, jars and bottles into the old open trailer that Dad would take to the dump every few weeks.  Sorting people’s garbage was really gross and more than a little dangerous; so was burning it, especially in a field of dry-as-bone hay.  We were burning garbage in a huge barrel at tender ages.  I would have been seven or eight and Jobe would have been ten or eleven.  I have no idea how we didn’t all have 3rd degree burns or didn’t lose an eye because something would inevitably smash or blow up.  Of course Job LIKED it when something smashed or blew up.  He would often HELP it to smash or blow up and then he would exclaim, ‘Morgan did you SEE THAT?!’ or ‘WATCH THIS!!’…BANG…  It terrified me.  I was often cowering and inching away as Job had his maniacal fun.  A side note: Jobe NEVER smashed beer bottles.  They were refundable and provided yet another nice little stream of income.

boys swimmingJobe’s temper was also famous.  He would often be a happy-go-lucky youngster, looking for fun and loving to laugh.  But, often, he was treated meanly by our father…he wasn’t the quiet, obedient academic-type that Dad wanted in a son, I guess.  None of his sons were showing signs of being university types (at this point, Luke was too little to show the signs of his future studiousness).  Dad could be downright mean with biting sarcasm and cruel comments. He would say things like, “Jobe, you could have been a good hockey player, but, then you got hard to handle.” Dad would also be quite physical, grabbing an arm, pulling hair or an ear to propel one of his children in the direction of his choosing.  One Christmas, Dad wrapped up a used dictionary and put it under the tree for Jobe.  On the inside cover he had written: Have a read of this once in awhile.  You might learn something. From Dad.

I believe this treatment didn’t help Jobe to find his way very well. His temper would flare more and more as he got closer and closer to his teenage years.  Perhaps he would be building something with hammer and nails, claw-hammer-wood-handle and if he missed that nail, there was a very good chance the hammer would end up in the lake and hopefully your noggin’ wasn’t in its flight path.

* * *

After Jobe got out of juvie, he went to live with our eldest sister Eva and her husband, Peter for a year due to he and Dad having serious personality conflicts. (A few years later, I would take a turn at living with Eva and Peter Not-So-Sweet Sixteen ๐Ÿ™ )  While living there, we forever have the funny story of Jobe’s attempt at reeling a box of beer up to his upstairs bedroom (a two-four!).  Unfortunately, he was caught due to its visibility when passing the main floor window.  Peter looked up to see a box of Labatt’s Blue floating by and thought he had better investigate.  He found Jobe leaning out his bedroom window, just about to haul in his case of beer.  Peter put the kibosh to the beer party 17-year old Job was planning on having in his bedroom.  Good try though.

Nowadays, Jobe is a farmer out in B.C..  We definitely do not see enough of his big smile, good heart or jovial laugh but, we will always have these memories to cherish, laugh and wonder at.  He certainly made memories, did my brother Jobe.

boy with grin

(all images are courtesy of google images)