Life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel. – Horace Walpole
Sometimes when I want to forget the bad that has happened to me, I travel back to the good, the first thirteen years of my life. Everyone has those good times, the times when there was no evil, no despair, no tragedies, just pleasure and love. I think the good times are meant to alleviate any suffering we have gone through. After all, without the bad our appreciation of the good would lessen. What could we compare it to?
I can remember as far back as when I was only a toddler and my mother was rocking me and saying, “What am I going to do when my baby grows up?” That means that once upon a time she loved me. It dulls the pain of her screaming when I was 18 and my father was beating me, “Hit her again, hit her again.” I remember the day my father returned from the war. I was only 2 ½ years old but I was sitting on the grass in Bovey, MN with my mom, my grandma and my siblings. We were waiting for someone to appear at the top of the hill. There he was in his Marine Corp uniform carrying a duffel bag, returning from the war. I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me and threw myself at his legs gushing, “Daddy, daddy!!” He picked me up, threw me in the air and hugged and kissed me as if it were the whole world to him. I’ll never forget. That memory removed me from the other memory, the one where he came into my bedroom in the middle of the night and raped me when I was 13 sleeping with a rosary under my pillow. I’d rather remember the first picture.
After a few years of living in Minnesota we moved to Beulah, North Dakota. I was four and had two older brothers and a younger sister. I adored my older brothers. Dad went to work as the Manager of the Occident Lumber Yard and we settled in at the far end of town near the river. My years there were incredibly happy. I learned how to swim in the river, I hiked in the woods with my brothers and their friends. I played trucks in the dirt with my brothers, my mother nearby tending to her rose garden, her hair pinned up in braids while bees buzzed nearby. We attended the annual rodeo and the carnival. I rode my first Ferris wheel with one of my mother’s friends. Mom and Dad spent time with the VFW. Dad was the local President and mom was the secretary. One of their best friends, a guy named Jesse owned the airport and on my 5th birthday he took mom and I up in a piper cub, my first plane ride. I was so excited as I looked over the side and saw my father following the plane in our car with my siblings looking up at me with envy. Those were great years, happy years. Mom and Dad were so much in love, always hugging and kissing. Dad was so affectionate and when he came home there were kisses for all, the Eskimo kiss, the Scottish kiss and the Finnish kiss. He loved music and we sang in unison with him all the time. Mom loved to cook, especially baking. Our house seemed always filled with the smell of baking bread. We belonged to the Catholic Church and their rituals ruled our life. That was okay with me. I loved being a Catholic and wanted to be a nun. Yes, life was good.
Then Dad decided to study Electrical Engineering at night while he worked during the day. The Elliott Construction company had come to town with their crew. Dad wanted to join them. In no time we packed up and left always following the work, one small town after another in the mid-west. Dad would tell us about the history and geography of every area we drove through. We sang songs as we drove, played games and joined in with whatever quiz dad gave us. My favorite was, what is the Capitol of each state? He seemed to know everything about the area we passed through, what kind of vegetation, the state flower, the local historical sites and other things I’d never thought of. He opened my mind, my curiosity. I felt saturated with knowledge and the pursuit of it would drive me throughout my life. Mom passed coffee back and forth as they drove, smoking Camel cigarettes. We were like a band of gypsies, all of our belongings packed on top of the car in a wooden carrier dad had built. We usually had a dog, always named Rusty who always looked like the dog labeled “A Mutt” in the Encyclopedia section on dogs. We all fought over who could use him as a pillow.
Growing up in the mid-west was magic and being with my mom and dad was why. We made friends with the children of the other crew members, most of whom lived in trailers. We always lived in a rented house with rented furniture. The first thing I always did when we entered the house was to taste the water. If it had a taste, I didn’t like it. Water was supposed to have no taste, just be clear and clean. Back then even the air was clean. Next would be the dreaded first day at a new school. Would I be able to make friends? I always did as I had a bubbly personality, the result of knowing I was the apple of my father’s eye. He had delivered me when I was born and talked about it as if it were a feat akin to winning the war. It created an incredible bond between us. I once asked him why he wasn’t President of the United States. He was so smart, so clever and so handsome. I worshipped him.
We lived in several different towns in Nebraska, all small, and then down to Marshfield, Missouri where my mom bought a new baby at a hospital. I knew that’s where they came from because Dad brought her there while she had a tummy ache and a few days later when she came out, she had a baby girl. She was getting worn down taking care of us four so she gave Jeanne, my little sister to me to raise. I was so excited, getting to be a mother when I was only 9 years old. I was naturally maternal and had a strong nurturing instinct so getting up in the middle of the night with her, rocking her, bathing her, changing her diapers, feeding her were all done with great joy.
Then we were off to Tucson, AZ for a year and finally back to one small town after another in Nebraska finally ending up in Petersburg. There my life became even more joyful. I loved that little town. I loved its many vegetable gardens, Rae Creek, the Beaver River, skating in it in the winter and swimming in it in the summer. I loved the people, their down to earth attitude, the way they welcomed me as if I’d always belonged. I had finally come home.
Yes, as Auntie Mame once said, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”
Then I turned 13 and my world changed.
I am thankful for those 13 years; some people never have that much.
Even the saddest of family histories have their joyful moments. Somehow, we can all recall times when we played trucks in the dirt, swung on swings, sang songs with schoolmates and mom hugged us, maybe just once. Even when taken away, those memories never really leave.