“DADDY WON’T LEAVE US!”
One summer morning in 1933, three small children stood at the top of a stairway, their faces distorted in anguish. Slight of stature and barely out of childhood herself, their mother was crying, too. But her jaw was set in determination; she had told her children that she had to leave again, and this time there could be no coming back. She was dressed for travel, her packed suitcase sat by the open stair door. Her husband, father of the children, stood under the brass marine clock, his arms folded, saying nothing. He had told the children to bid their mother goodbye, for they were never to see her again.
I remember the scene vividly. My sisters, Claire and Lila, aged six and five respectively, clung to her coat, whimpering and sobbing. Mummy stood between them, an arm around each. I confronted her squarely, holding back my tears. I drew myself up with all the indignation a four-year-old could muster and bellowed, “Yeah, you can go, but Daddy won’t leave us!”
Mummy looked at me with pain in her eyes. She quickly glanced around, brushed the tears from her eyes, kissed us all again, and whispered, “Goodbye my dears.” Then she turned, picked up her suitcase, and stepped quickly down the stairs and out of our lives. We looked down the long dark stairwell and called goodbyes until she disappeared without a backward glance.
I didn’t see her again for nearly forty years.
It was a desperate, final shot, that outburst of mine, born of the rage that could only come from having been deprived of a mother’s attention and care. I never remember her having held me when I was frightened, or comforted when hurt – which was often – or played with me or amused me. During my entire childhood I was not hugged, or told I was wanted – by anyone. As far as I know, my mothering consisted of only the most hasty and perfunctory diaper changes, and far too few of those.
Any holding I got had to be from Daddy. But he spent most of his time at his job in the granite sheds in Barre or Northfield [Vermont]. And when he wasn’t working he was resting. Or working on his car. Or gabbing with boarders. Or deer hunting. Or hurrying down to South Main Street to talk with someone. Anything, it seemed, but bouncing me on his knee, although the few times he did so I was ecstatic with delight.
So I remember mostly being left alone for long periods, lying in soiled diapers in a soggy crib. Alone in the room. Alone in the house. Alone in the yard. Alone behind the garage, and on the side lawn. I assumed everyone in the world was alone most of the time. That loneliness was what life was all about. But I made it clear that I didn’t like it, didn’t accept it.
So it was in senseless anger that I was saying, “I don’t need you, I can trust Daddy. He won’t betray me. I can do just fine without a mother, thank you very much!” (But I haven’t, you know, during these past six decades.)
Her walking out was worse than death. In death you don’t have a choice. In my four-year-old view I supposed that adults had easy choices among multiple alternatives, and that my mother had chosen not to care for, or about, me and my sisters. So I was left with the belief that my mother had deliberately chosen not to love me. Had opted to reject me. But I was wrong then. And I was wrong in those final, denigrating words I said to my mother. In my despair I had simply stated what I had to believe. I took refuge in the primitive belief that the uttering of the words would make it so. Because the truth is, I needed her as a fish needs water. And I have felt the loss with my every breath during every hour of the 60 years since that moment when we faced each other at the top of the stairs.
Indeed, since then I have floundered about seeking to fill the void left by that Beautiful Woman, without success. Oh! The tens of thousands of days and nights I have longed for her touch! Her embrace! Her voice! My eyes, even now as I write these words, puddle and spill tears on my keyboard. I have felt the anguish of that hideous loss every day of my life. But my primitive, last-ditch resort to the magical power of words was, after all, only a futile, desperate gesture. Only a silly, four-year-old’s bravado.
Because three years later, Daddy, too, left us.
This is largely the story of my struggle to repair the damage done to me in childhood: the atmosphere of neglect and violence during my first seven years in Barre, Vermont; the account of the five years of systematic battering and humiliation in Hardwick, Vt., the criminal abuse that left me permanently damaged both physically and emotionally; my six-year effort in adolescence to put a personality together under the domination of a mentally ill stepmother in South Glens Falls, N.Y.; and ending with my struggle for identity and self-esteem during training and travel in the U.S. Air Force, and showing how, following a tour of duty in the Korean combat theatre, I found for the first time - in Japan - the warmth of unqualified acceptance, affection, and happiness. .........
The disturbance induced by deprivation of emotional needs in childhood drove us to seek refuge in delusions. But we cannot become adults until we dare to confront the truth of our history. So one of my main purposes was to tear the roof off the hypocrisy of the village of Hardwick, Vermont, our quasi-foster parent Effie Houston, and father, E. Kenneth Lee. The harm that was done to us can never be wholly undone. It can only be dealt with - honestly and directly, if we value sanity and happiness.
In writing this account I also meant to make a statement about how to treat - and how not to treat - children. An understanding of what happened to me could possibly provoke some alert reader to come to sane and humane conclusions about the serious consequences of child abuse, and so to give thought to avoiding inflicting it. Not all hurtful experiences are character-building, curbside moralists claims notwithstanding. There is a broad range of punitive methods, limited only by the inventiveness of sadistic parents, teachers and "care-givers" that keep on punishing throughout the life of the child. These, at the very least, decent people can identify and renounce.
Throughout the writing, my original purpose remained paramount: to understand myself. The long and laborious collecting of resources, the intense work in the writing of it, the agony of prodding to consciousness long-buried feelings and memories, would be justified even if I had tossed the completed manuscript into the fire. For it has enabled me to gain a perspective that only deep examination of experience can provide.
The story of my growing up begins in the earliest, tumultuous years in Barre, Vermont, in the early 1930s, continues through incarceration as indentured worker for Effie Houston in Hardwick, VT, through the adolescent years in South Glens Falls, NY, and through the combat months in Korea and subsequent happiness in Occupied Japan. This chronicles my life experiences of my first 25 years.
During this time my life was shaped by four predominant forces: three women and one man. These were my mother, Madeleine Kerr Lee, my father Eugene Kenneth Lee, my "guardian" Effie Houston, and my stepmother Lucille Libby Lee. Overcoming or compensating the debilitating impact of each of these people on my psyche has necessarily occupied a major portion of my life. For it is a story of a son whose battered mother left when he was four, whose father abandoned him when he was seven, who was compelled to work for - and was severely beaten and humiliated by - a sadistic, criminal woman, and who was "rescued" only to suffer six additional years of psychological torment as the unpaid employee of a domineering father and the scapegoat of a psychotic stepmother.
The story of criminal abuse, neglect, and exploitation is followed by the initiation and development of a conscious and deliberate self-improvement program in a desperate and often despairing effort to regain some normalcy, personal identity, self-esteem and confidence. Here is the saga of a boy, brutalized to near death by age 12, who worked on himself to overcome and repair the emotional and psychological injuries in a daily effort to become a "good man". I wanted to be liked if not loved, to be respected if not accepted, to feel worthy if not admired.
The alert reader may now suspect that this is not your nostalgic reminiscence of an idealized boyhood with straw hat, dog and fish pole. I had spent the early years, especially from age 7 to 12, in almost unremitting pain and fright, and while I know now I was wholly blameless, I then believed that I somehow had made myself deserving only of unrelenting punishment. Indeed, since birth I had believed that I was unworthy of the attention and nurture of a mother, and the fact that "Daddy" left us to be tormented by the monstrous Effie Houston confirmed my conviction that I was undeserving of a father, too.
The consequence of that trauma was an emotional disease that has, at last, an official label: Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It was my private lifelong mission to develop enough emotional health and balance to live a reasonably happy life. For decades it was a struggle to make myself worthy of - and then to win - that love, that affection, that acceptance, so much needed in my early years. So from adolescence on, this story is largely a record of my endeavor to fill the vacancy left by the loss of my mother at that crucial stage of my childhood, and the cruelty and self-centeredness of my father. It is the record of determined and incessant work to prevail over P. T. S. S.
The wonder is that I have somehow survived. Indeed, countless times I was convinced I would not and that life simply could not continue. The cost has been incalculable in health, in stressful, sabotaged relationships, in torpedoed career endeavors, in psychiatrists' fees, in travel and searching, in research and study. There were self-help programs and encounter groups, and nightmarish nights, and days spent in anguish, anxiety and agony. There were years of enduring guilt, paranoia, self-loathing, and anxiety attacks. The dark depths of suicidal depression - no stranger to me - have been as deep, although not as frequent, following my escape from Hardwick as during my internment there. I have never forgiven, forgotten or denied the terrible pain, the excruciating beatings, that were repeatedly and needlessly inflicted by Effie Houston. That with the full knowledge and assent of my father, I was subjected to forced labor, and undergo some 1,800 days of torture and nights of hopeless despair, at an age when other boys were enjoying playing and learning to get along with other children. There was work and there was humiliation and beatings. There was no normal childhood or socialization. That personal holocaust, that Hardwick Auschwitz, has shadowed me during much, if not all, my life.
Prologue: "Open Water!"
Just as December, 1859, was turning into January, 1860, James Owen Bullock and his wife Emily sent money to one Elijah Reed as down payment on a farm on the Eastern shore of Lake Memphremagog. The parcel in negotiation was situated more than 100 miles to the east, in Stanstead County at Marlington, Quebec. The contract specified that the sum would constitute a year's rent, during which the couple would make their final decision about buying and putting down roots. Before the winter was out James, a powerfully built man, loaded all of their possession, plus Emily and the four children, (Alvah was only two years old,) into a two-horse sleigh to make the long drive over ice and snow from Clarenceville to Marlington.
"Four children were asleep on the sled when they arrived at the west shore of the lake after dark," so reads my grandmother Gladys Lee Reed's account of the daring journey that has become family legend. Although there is no record of it, they may have spent a night in the vicinity of Sutton or Abercorn, for they had by this time traveled more than 50 miles. "About half way across [the lake] the horses suddenly stopped..."
Even though he was made of stern stuff, James was weary from having driven the team since sun-up. He was anxious to get his family out of the freezing wind, and was in no mood, in the pitch dark, to brook any nonsense from his horses. Nevertheless he was a kind and a just man. When the team refused to proceed despite his urgent demands, he got down and walked ahead on the slippery ice to see what was spooking them. At first he could barely make it out, but it was soon unmistakable. He hurried back to the overloaded sleigh shouting to Emily, "Open water! There's open water! The horses sensed it!" And he gave them a thankful pat.
The close call shook him, for he knew he had to put his loved ones in danger. He had waited until Clarenceville area's Missisquo Bay was completely frozen over and of sufficient thickness to support his team. He had not, however considered the unusual depth of Lake Memphremagog, with its greater heat-storing capacity, and he now realized his mistake. But all this was but a flash in his fast-working mind.
He considered the situation: he and Emily had prayerfully accepted the awful risk of this trip, and now found themselves with four small children on thin ice in pitch dark at near-zero temperatures in a howling wind, with a 32-mile long lake blocking the way to shelter and safety. The blacksmith put his faith in his Maker and his own determined, iron will. Taking the reins out ahead of the horses, he began walking, leading the team northward as the icy west wind lashed at them. Emma and the children buried themselves under Buffalo robes in the sleigh.
It was many miles later and nearing first light when James found firm ice. "Quite a distance up the lake they crossed safely and came off the lake at Harvey's Landing," Gladys recorded in neat script. Emily and James hurried the bundled-up children into the frosty log cabin on the rented farm, and quickly had a fire roaring in the woodstove. They were eating hot oatmeal when James came in from feeding the steaming horses.
Had my Great Grandfather James been other than a patient, intelligent, and disciplined man, had he given in to panic and stubbornly and stupidly whipped his horses in a fit of temper and frustration, had he blamed Emily, or his God, or himself, it is not likely that I would now be sitting here on the beach at Bahia San Carlos, Mexico, writing these words. Or that there would exist any James and Emily Bullock progeny to read them.
1. Ken and Mad
Madeleine Kerr, an illegitimate child being raised by her grandparents in Barre, VT, developed a vigorous aversion to the regimentation that public school imposes, failed the eighth grade and was obliged to repeat it. She did so, but that was enough for Madeleine. The intelligent but independent-minded teenager, an avid reader who was addicted to learning, announced to her sympathetic "parents" that she would henceforth educate herself, and dropped out of school. She began her study of the ways of the world by frequenting movie houses and attending the dances in the pond-side pavilions around Barre. That was the summer of 1925; "Mad", as she was known, was 15, Clara Bow and Rudolph Valentino were thrilling audiences on the silent screen, and the top had just blown off the rigid standards of morality and behavior.
It happened that in the early fall of that year, 21-year-old Kenneth Lee, a hard-working stonecutter, was seeking the soft and sweet companionship that would counter the harshness of granite work and assuage the grating edge of loneliness. As the fall of 1925 marched toward Christmas, the feisty 15-year-old Mad took notice of "Ken", one of the best dancers despite his shyness, and felt flattered at the attentions of this adult seven years her senior.
There was lots of dancing, plenty of (unlawful) drinking, and many hours of petting logged in parked sedans during that winter of 1925-26, and when spring broke the full-of-life girl-child was herself with child.
2. The Twenties
The Twenties, later dubbed the "Roaring Twenties", were neatly bracketed by the adoption of the Prohibition Amendment in January 1919, and the great stock market crash in October 1929. Between those two events occurred some of the most rapid and radical changes in the fashions, manner and morals in American history.
The Wright brothers had made the first airplane flight in 1903, the year Ken was born. In 1913 Henry Ford created the assembly line to produce the wildly popular Model T. When Mad, age 9 and Ken, 16 were being assigned Bible passages to memorize, electricity was not yet in widespread use, there were no radios, or electric refrigerators or washing machines. Gaslights were common in city homes, kerosene lamps lit farmhouses. Horses reared at "horseless carriages", there were few paved roads and no traffic lights.
Entertainment seekers paid ten cents to see Charlie Chaplin, Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford on a flickering screen. Enrico Caruso became the first recording star on Edison's curious invention, the cylinder record. 1919 was the year that Johnny came marching home from "the war to end all wars", and women demanded, and got, the right to vote.
Now, six years later, the nation was embroiled in unprecedented social chaos. There was wholesale public contempt for the laws prohibiting liquor, and Al Capone declared the legitimate stock market was a "racket", and went into wholesale booze smuggling. Crime ruled the streets, and membership in KKK numbered four and a half million. War surplus provided criminals with the best in pistols and machine guns, and late-model automobiles provided easy escape from lawmen. Violent labor disputes and importation of Sicilian Mafioso made honest business risky at best. Authorities were helpless to control a society gone berserk.
3. Vermont's Brawling City
Young Mad and Ken had heard about the Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald drinking parties several years before, and about the national crime spree, and were aware of local crime, too. And they knew of "private" parties in Barre where everyone got loaded and fell - or was pushed - into the swimming pool, or the punch bowl. The parking lots of the dances they attended were packed with upholstered and curtained sedans, the windows of which steamed up by the ardor that is the special privilege of youth. And the "private clubs", open to anyone with the price of a beer or a shot of Cutty Sark, invited them to join in the bash.
The Barre of 1925 was not innocent of spirited merry-making and knock-down-drag-out affairs. At the time the town was chartered in 1793, according to a historic sketch in the 1936 W.P.A. Writer's Project, a town meeting was held specifically to choose a name. Two men from Massachusetts - Thompson of Holden and Sherman of Barre - engaged in a spirited debate, each insisting on adopting the name of their respective hometowns. When the contest degenerated first to heated argument and then to blows, Thompson knocked Sherman to the floor and jumped on him. But Sherman, in a surprise move, swung from below. He "slugged Thompson until the latter rolled away groaning, and lay still." The victorious Sherman leaped to his feet and announced to the meeting, "There, by God, the name is Barre." No one stepped up to challenge him.
4. The Honorable Thing
............ My sister Claire was born December 29, 1926, and Lila on February 24, 1928. Ken, impressed that his in-laws were making money by taking in boarders, and forgetting that his wife was a teenager with two children and a house to care for, added three or four boarders' feeding and washing to her workload.
5. Pregnancy Number Three
........ When Lila was born in February 1928, only 14 months after Claire, Mad was still without a washing machine. She grew weary poking diapers around in the big copper boiler on the kerosene stove. She knew that Ken made top wages in the stone shed, and that he made money from her work for the boarders. And she knew washers were inexpensive at Montgomery Ward's, where Ken bought his high-priced deer rifles and pheasant shotguns. To make matters worse, infant Lila developed Cholera Infantum, and nearly died. More wailing, twice as many bottles to boil, twice as many diapers to change and wash, yet her husband ignored her pleas for a washing machine.
Mad yearned to return to the dancing and partying that raged beyond her door. When Ken was at work she sometimes took a moment from washing and cooking to stand in the doorway and fantasize bolting and disappearing forever.
While Ken tried to accommodate her requests for evenings out, he was tired from the long, hard days at the stone shed. June 7, 1928, however, was an exception, for it was Madeleine's 18th birthday. They went to the Pleasure Club, and celebrated long and loud.
Ken managed to maneuver the car home safely, as he always could, even with one arm around his wife. And Mad, who loved her husband very much - otherwise she would have left him long before - showed her love when they arrived home and went to bed. At mid-June she missed her period, and she worried about it all month. When she missed it again in mid-July, she got a physician's report: "Congratulations!" - she was pregnant again.
Claire, now 19 months old, needed constant watching, and Baby Lila was a sickly infant at five months. Now a third baby was due in seven months, and Madeleine knew immediately that she would not - could not - do it. Not that she disliked children, but she had never weighed more than 90 pounds, and knew her inability to handle the present conditions made the prospect of a third child preposterous.
"I'm not having this baby," she told Kenneth one night. "I simply can't do it." Well, we'll see about that, b'Jesus and little fishes, he snapped. She was to grow up and do her duty as wife and mother. "Cleave unto her husband" and accept what God hath handed her, like everybody else. But Mad could quote her own share of scriptures, and had listened to enough of them for one lifetime, thank you very much. "Let God wash the shit off their asses, then!" yelled Mad ferociously, and Ken cuffed her hard, his face reddening, his chin jutting out, his lower lip trembling in rage. Mad fought fiercely, but Ken wrapped his strong arms around her tiny body and locked them, trapping and overpowering her, as always. In a few minutes they knew they were enjoying the embrace, and there followed the long, loving, making-up stage. As always.
After a week of seeing she was adamant about the abortion, and threatening to leave him, or of having the operation on the sly, Ken reluctantly agreed to it. Mad's mother passed the word that Dr. Tobey would perform the service whenever she was ready to go.
On a Wednesday afternoon in August Kenneth took off work and drove his wife to Dr. Tobey's office. But the prospect of terminating a fetus much disturbed Kenneth, and the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" had loomed in his mind these many sleepless night. Whether it was by design or by fate will probably never be known, but when the nervous couple arrived at Dr. Tobey's office, they stood on the steps and read in unison the sign on the locked door:
CLOSED WEDNESDAY AFTERNOONS
They never went back. We can only suppose that Ken prevailed upon his child-wife to stay and have the baby, promising that he would make things easier. He would buy her a washing machine. He would help with the housework. He would take her dancing. The fetus under negotiation developed to term; it was born "alive" on March 2, 1929.
It was a boy - your humble and grateful narrator, me.
CHAPTER TWO: BARRE, VERMONT
After my mother had disappeared from our lives altogether when I was four, (it was not a voluntary departure on her part, as family myth contends,) - and that was after three years of frequent absences - we children had no choice but to face the fact that we were motherless and were likely to remains so. Accordingly, we put all of our considerable affection, loyalty, faith and hope in "Daddy."
But Daddy's love was not without a severe price: it came at the cost of holding the memory of our mother in contempt, and promising to never, ever contact her, or see her, or communicate with her, for as long as we live. Thenceforth, her letters were intercepted and returned unopened, and any attempt of hers to see us was prevented. Even 20 years later, my mother's search for us through the Red Cross, having reached our doorstep, was blocked by EK and the inquiry was abruptly cancelled. He even told us about it, so confident was he of his children's unquestioning acceptance of his version of family history, paragraphs and entire chapters of which were heavily revised - or fabricated altogether.
But for an incident in 1969, (I was age 40), I would never have known the full story herein disclosed. Until then I had not challenged the limitations imposed by my father since childhood: "Don't ever contact your mother. She left you, she didn't care about you, and she doesn't deserve to ever see her children again. She preferred going to dances and beer halls to taking care of you. She didn't even show up in divorce court. The court gave me custody of you because she was not a fit mother."
For nearly forty years I believed every word he said about my mother, and any slight doubts that arose in my mind about his account of family events during our early years I shoved into a tiny corner of my mind. Even in adulthood, as I plunged forward in my quest to understand the roots of my internal battle of emotions, I steadfastly resisted the question that had popped up a million times: Where - and who - is my mother? I suppressed my curiosity for two reasons: first, I feared the wrath of "Daddy" (yes, - even at age 40), and secondly, I wanted very much to believe that he was right. If I was steadfast in my loyalty, I believed, I might yet win his acceptance and love.
But one day my view changed abruptly. While on a visit to South Glens Falls, I stood in his kitchen talking with my sisters, and EK suddenly stuck a faded snapshot in my face and demanded, "Norman, can you tell which of these women is your mother?" It was an old picture of two women dressed in the style of early '30s.
I examined the two figures, hesitated, then guessed, "That one?"
"Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You picked the wrong one!" and he doubled over, slapped his knee, and turned to the others: "Imagine it!" he choked, "he couldn't recognize his own mother! He - he picked the wrong one! Hee-hee-hee-hee!" and his face was red with the spasms of laughter and I looked on, stunned by the shock of his hideous, outrageous ridicule. I said nothing aloud. But my mind roared: "You son-of-a-bitch! I've been blindly loyal for forty years, and suffered horribly. Starting today I'm no longer your loyal Boy Scout Boy, pledged to dismiss my mother as an unperson. I'm going to find her, if she's alive, and hear her side of the story."
Soon after that I drove to Vermont and looked up Uncle Ivan, a bachelor who had avoided contact with us children since toddlerhood. "I know where she is," he said. "She's in Chicago. Just look in the phone book under 'Campbell', on South Colfax."
I called, we exchanged letters, and I took a flight. There I found a little old lady in an apartment full of cats. For several days we talked like old friends over cold cans of Budweiser, exchanging information non-stop in the most poignant and significant discussions of my life. We had a great time, laughing and crying together. To her, I was "Little Norman"; to me she was just an enjoyable little old lady - who was loaded with powerful information.
Pieces of personal history fell into place completing a picture of the past that had always been curiously strewn with gaps. And I was privy to revelations that left me stunned. The deluge of information answered so many questions raised over a span of four decades, and filled so many blanks in family history, and disclosed so many startling details for family events in Barre, that I returned to Chicago for a second visit to confirm and clarify what she had told me.
I learned that for nearly four decades we children had been told deliberate lies about our mother and the circumstances under which we lost her. I learned that but for my father's fear of exposure for a misdeed, my sisters and I need never have grown up motherless; his gnawing guilt feelings drove him to treat his young wife and children with appalling cruelty in a cover-up of events for which he felt responsible; it was never necessary for the family to break up. Openness and trust and honesty would have prevented so much suffering.
I learned about his brutality in beating her, throwing her downstairs, and imprisoning her in the attic. He drove her from our home, and blamed her for desertion. The only thing important, from our father's point of view was that his sin be kept secret, sparing him the embarrassment and shame of exposure. Because that was his top priority, we suffered hideous torture for five years from a sadistic woman in Hardwick, and an additional six years of torment from a psychotic stepmother, and a struggle for emotional balance and psychological integration all our adult lives.
1. Beckley Court
Mobility got me into trouble well before I could walk. Daddy was raking leaves and Mother, in midst of housework, I presume, would have him watch the baby. She carried me out and set me on the ground. Diapered, on hands and knees, I immediately made a beeline for Daddy. Unfortunately, the direct path led thru a pile of leaf ashes that had burned earlier. A large patch of red hot coals still burned beneath the innocuous-looking ashes. Screaming in pain, I could not extricate myself. "You were flopping around like a fish out of water," Daddy later described the scene. He took me to Dr. Goyette's office, nearby. For a long time my knees were bandaged. Since I was in the crawling stage, it was almost impossible to keep the bandages on. I still wear the burn scars today, sixty years later.
The moment I learned to walk, (later, at Harrington Avenue,) I went directly to the stove and pulled down over my head a tea kettle of scalding hot water. Then I took to falling down stairs. I loved to climb the stairs, and willingly accepted the risk. One morning when Daddy and Mr. Cameri, the milkman, had been engaged in conversation by the outside door, I tumbled the entire length of the stairs, hitting every step on the way and landing in a heap at their feet. They had talked far too long, as usual, and I was tired of waiting for Daddy to return. Evidently no one ever thought of installing a gate at the top. Claire and Lila, too, had tumbled down the stairs, altho far less frequently than I.
2. Family Picnic
I was two years old when Daddy and Mummy put Claire, Lila and I into the big blue Pontiac and drove to the countryside for a picnic ... We readied to leave, to ride down that dark dirt road through heavy woods to return home. Abruptly our worst nightmare was transpiring before our eyes: Daddy and Mummy had jumped into the car and were driving away without us. Claire, age four, screamed and took off on a dead run after the disappearing car, with Lila, a year younger, close behind her. I was alone.
Altho vastly confused, I clearly remember reviewing my options in that moment. It was obvious that we were being abandoned. No way could I catch the car. If the car slowed, my sisters might possibly grasp the rear bumper; but with my tiny legs, there was no chance of my ever catching it. If my sisters caught the car, I could not count on their holding it for me. Even if the vehicle slowed to a snail's pace, the distance was now much too great for me to catch up. They would have to stop and wait for me, and that was precisely what they were not doing.
A picture of resources for the night flashed thru my mind: shelter from pine branches, a covering of leaves and pine needles, [I had had camping experience even then] berries for breakfast. I decided, nonetheless, that if I could prevent it I would not stay alone in the darkening woods where ferocious bulls stomped and snorted behind every tree. Therefore, I must try to catch the car, even tho it seemed hopeless. Huffing and puffing, falling further behind my screaming sisters at every tiny step, despairing yet making a desperate effort, I ran and ran.
After a time I could see, in the distance, the car was rolling to a stop. I saw Claire and Lila clamor in the door, and I heard the bawling and the tumult. It took a long time for my chubby legs to close the distance. After my sisters boarded, I fully expected the car to pull away before I reached it, leaving me to face the hostile woods alone.
Huffing and puffing and finally climbing into the back seat, I found my sisters still hysterical and sobbing. If there had been any comforting, or any apologies, they had taken place before I arrived. Daddy was laughing, saying, "We wouldn't leave you - didn't you know that?" And I, surprised at being "saved", was simply overcome by exhaustion, and the confusion and insecurity of existence.
For a long time I wondered what explanation Daddy might have given for putting us thru that terrible experience. And what was said during that eternity when my sisters had reached the car and I had not? I asked, but was not told. I needed to understand. I still wonder. But what I did understand was that when parents choose to disappear down the road, a little guy is powerless to do anything to change that. And that was "life", like it or not.