“Memories of a Rotten Childhood”, Chapter 2

Childhood Fears.....

Two or three years ago I started this memoir.  I was encouraged by a few really good writers, some of them professionals, to continue writing these memories from childhood. When we write about our past, if we are honest, it isn’t easy.  Childhood back them might seem ‘easier’ but the 50’s and 60’s had their own trauma.  Probably in part because there were few child/parent guidance books out there except for Dr. Spock, and my parents never read him.  I don’t know of many parents back then that did.  Perhaps life was safer for children then, but then again, we were just ‘weeds’ and expected to survive and grow with little attention.  Living in the countryside of rural New Jersey had its dangers, but except for falling through the ice and drowning or drowning in the rivers and canals, being thrown by horses, or falling off beams in big barns…there didn’t seem to be the ‘usual’…as in what we find now….of predators out there with us in their sites.  Of course these things happened, but not to us.   Not then. We didn’t have the padding or the helmets back then that our children now have.  So much has changed in our ideas about child-rearing.

I will rewrite all of these chapters later this year and try to make some sense of them.  Until I do, this chapter is for Margie.

Lady Nyo


On my ninth birthday during a bitterly cold January, my parents organized a party down by the river. The meadow had flooded the nights before, the water freezing, and the whole area was a skating rink.  My father made a bonfire and we roasted hotdogs on sticks.  Children were easy to please then. 

We all had second-hand hockey skates handed down from older brothers. Trying to skate around the stubble of the flooded and frozen meadow, we looked for a clearing of ice.  The morning was frigid but sunny, and the promise of a winter holiday so close after Christmas was a bonus.  My present from my parents was a pair of figure skates.  This is very funny to me now because I was the worse skater around. I had weak ankles and could never propel myself forward.  I spent most of the time on my backside, my legs sprawled out before me.

I will write about Laura in this piece. She was my nemesis from kintergarden to high school when we finally lost each other amongst the two thousand other students.  She tormented me all through grammar school. I still carry the scars on my hands where she scratched me.  Laura loved to hurt, catching my hands and ripping the tops to shreds, screwing up her mouth as she did so.   I looked at my hands the other night and thought fondly of Laura. She would have made a fine sadist. She’s dead now and death gives us a way to think better of the dead.

The birthday party was a flop. Laura, same age as me, started to cry, and wanted to go home.  She couldn’t stand it was my party and I was supposed to be the center of attention.  But it was a lousy party anyway; the sun came out, melting the ice on the meadow, and no one could skate anymore. We were shackled by heavy skates breaking through thin ice to the dried winter grasses below.  That was no fun at all.

Life was predictable with Laura.  I would enter a classroom and she would make farting noises. Walking down the hall, pressing my textbooks to my flat chest, she would stick out her leg and trip me.  All this didn’t seem to stop us from playing together at our houses, and I remember the one bathroom in their small house was papered with huge red roses on a black background.  I was fascinated by that wallpaper because it was strange, exotic,  and nothing my own mother would allow in our house. Mrs. H. fit the wallpaper: a black-haired woman with tight- waisted skirts and petticoats underneath and something I only recognized later as peasant blouses with elastic at the shoulders. She looked like a Gypsy and so did the roses on her bathroom wall:  a touch of the exotic in our beige New Jersey early 60’s life.   I was intrigued by a skirt she wore one Christmas: a red circular skirt with a large white poodle applied in felt.  It was beyond tacky, with a swinging white cord for the leash and a pompom tail sticking out in yarn.   I was horrified to open a present from a neighbor and find the exact skirt, this time in green, with the same damn poodle.  My mother made me wear that skirt all through the holidays.  The Gods work in funny holiday ways.

Laura was a talented pianist, banging away on an upright, playing the testosterone- driven  Tchaikovsky and other 19th century pieces that boys should be playing, not girls. I heard a neighbor whisper that to my mother during a school program. It wasn’t original to me: I knew nothing about testosterone back then.  Laura was also a talented artist, seemed to have a future, probably with a whip. She was a perfectionist and I think that may be one of the qualifications. I saw by the backs of my hands one of her budding talents. Too bad she didn’t live out her years: she had promise in many things.

I remember one day I got on the school bus after being laid low by the death of my horse.  I was weak from a week of crying non stop and fasting.  I walked to the back of the bus, pale with grief, and heard Laura say loudly:  “Well, now she can’t brag about her horse anymore.”

The hatred began in earnest.  I was standing in line in the hallway, and crying with her torment.  She was scratching my hands with her pointed little nails. I think she sharpened them with me in mind. With tears coursing down my cheeks, I slapped her, not so hard, tentatively across the face.  She slapped me back, harder, and to trump that, grabbed my hand, and bit hard.  More tears (mine) and ran from the line. I was such a wuss.

I think I cried all through fourth and fifth grade.  Then I learned disobedience got me attention, especially from Mr. Blessington, our teacher in fifth grade.  These were the years of corporal punishment.  Parents expected the teachers to ‘reform’ you and if you didn’t come home with punishment, the teachers weren’t doing their job.  The 60’s were a tough time for fannies and teachers. 

I would act out, and Mr. Blessington’s ears would open and his antenna would rise up on his head.  All in all he did let me pass on a lot of the back comments, but I pushed it, knowing what was coming.  A public spanking.  At first, I was mortified, enough to shut my mouth for a few weeks, but then the urge for attention and laughter was too great and I would do something he couldn’t ignore.  I can still remember the gleam in both of our eyes as I walked towards him, both of us knowing damn well what would happen.  He would make me lean up against his desk, and then slap me with his ruler over the fanny.  I would either bear it silently, or would cry with grief, depending on my mood and claim for sympathy. I got to go to the girl’s room and spend ten minutes collecting myself.  I spent ten minutes in a bathroom stall thinking of my sins and creating others and after a while, this became routine for both of us.  It was the spanker and the spankee living in a particular balance. 

Mr. Blessington was my teacher in sixth grade again, but by then my brother, one year behind me, had ratted on both of us, and Mr. Blessington never spanked me again.  A visit from my mother stopped all that.  By then I was a grown-up girl with other interests than being class clown.

Laura was still my tormentor, but she had her own issues at home.  Her little and prettier sister Alice for one.  For about five months she left me alone and I began to breathe easier. I wasn’t ever sure just what was going on with Laura and Alice, but I was glad for the breather.

One day, during the summer in this wide-spread farming community, there was a gathering of little girls at Laura’s house.  I was part of the party in the basement. Laura had a big collie named Prince, a beautiful ‘Lassie” dog, yellow and white and a corn field right outside the back yard that stretched for miles. I remember taking a corn cob and lip-synching pop songs from the radio.  Then we all ran amuck in the corn field, the stalks high over our heads.  I remember seeing a silver streak in the sky, and standing in awe of the sight. Of course it was a plane or a jet, and what I was seeing in that blue sky was the exhaust.  But at that age, I didn’t have any knowledge of such things.  It looked like an omen from God.  Perhaps it was, because one of the girls screamed and we ran towards the sound.  Prince, beautiful dog, had dropped dead in that cornfield.  We formed a cortege to carry his warm and lifeless body back to the house, wailing like a miniature Greek chorus.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2009, 2011

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7 Responses to ““Memories of a Rotten Childhood”, Chapter 2”

  1. Margie Says:

    The most mean thing I could think of to say was, “well, she can’t brag about that dog anymore” – but I would never say that – not the dog’s fault! This is like a movie to me, I know those kids even though we didn’t know each other back then. I played in those cornfields and with those kids, and I visited the house with the strange wallpaper, although it was in my town, not yours. Quite disconcerting! Seriously, though I liked this – thanks for sending it to me!


  2. ladynyo Says:

    ROTF!! Yep, my village, but I think back then ‘my village’ was pretty damn universal….LOL!

    It IS like a movie…my husband, who has worked in films for years (a while ago)….said the same thing. I think it’s the narrative style that lends this? Don’t know, but the chapters are some funny, some very tragic, but mostly a mixture…like our childhoods.

    We are of the same age and the same state and I think these things travel far in our memories….you have your own “rotten childhood”……and the pattern doesn’t go off too much.
    Some people absolutely HATE that title, but that is probably because they are in there….And I have (sometimes) changed the names to protect the ‘innocent’ which weren’t even for those long ago years. As more people die off I will ‘tell the truth’ about what they really did during our childhood. Funny, I found writing about the death of my first horse traumatic and could get…after all these decades…only a few paragraphs out….Childhood stinks in some areas.

    Laura was a real menace to me. She was the personal bully I had during all those years. Funny though, she was a total nerd during highschool…and seemed to disappear completely. She has so much talent, piano, drawing, but in the end? I haven’t a clue what really happened to her. I did have a dream about her a few years ago, probably from writing about her, as she turns up time and time again in this work.

    Thank you, Margie, for reading this and your lovely comment. Strange wallpaper should have alerted us to stranger people!




  3. Joan Price Says:

    Wow, the beauty of your words shines a glowing spotlight on the intensity of your emotions. You’re an exquisite writer. I loved this post. It’s both innocent and searing with the perspective of years later.

    Joan Price
    Author of Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex (http://www.joanprice.com/nakedatourage.html) and Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty (http://www.joanprice.com/BetterThanExpected.htm)
    Join us — we’re talking about ageless sexuality at http://www.NakedAtOurAge.com


  4. Joan Price Says:

    Wow, the beauty of your words shines a glowing spotlight on the intensity of your emotions. You’re an exquisite writer. I loved this post. It’s both innocent and searing with the perspective of years later.

    Joan Price
    Author of Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex


  5. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! Joan!

    I’m waiting for everyone to DIE so I can tell the TRUTH about these times….LOL! Of course, it probably won’t happen that way….

    Thank you so much, Joan. I have just restarted working on “Rotten” and it draws upon so much memory and yes, pain. Childhood is an impatient time, waiting to grow up. And being grown up? We reside in the memories of childhood.

    These chapters look innocent, but the pain of remembering is contant. It peeks out from places you have forgotten and like ghosts, these memories don’t leave you alone. (there will be a chapter about a ‘ghost’, too, as I had this experience when I was 12 in that house.) You as a writer would understand this deeply. We make the best of what we have lived, and hope the scars aren’t too deep. But they always are.

    For those readers who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Joan Price’s blog or books…I can highly recommend them. She is a writer who is generous, generous, to her subjects and to those she interviews. Take some time and at least read her blog. Being ‘naked’ at any age is full of issues, but she has shown a beacon of sanity on these issues of aging and sexuality. My life is better because of Joan’s insight.

    Thank you, Joan, for taking the time to read this chapter of “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”. And thank you for your praise. Coming from such an excellent writer, it is held close to my heart.



  6. Liras Says:

    Wow! Lady N, just w-o-w!
    You painted this so clearly, I feel like I was there.

    I had a bully for a short time, in 3rd grade. I stood up to her and had a minor tussle; she caved and tried to become my friend. I, of course, rejected her advances and never looked back. tee hee heee!

    She came from a troubled home and something about me, just set her teeth on edge.


  7. ladynyo Says:

    Ahhhh, Liras, third grade is a baaaaad time for most of us. It seems bullies reign.

    Probably because you weren’t a wuss made her teeth on edge…LOL!

    I’ve been working for about a week, again…on this “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”. It’s become something of a healing process because childhood wasn’t easy or nice. I am finding that the response to this series is because some of what I write touches a universal nerve.

    Joan Price, who is a very published author, said that she could relate to this series, and I think a lot of people can…our childhoods were fraunt with issues, mostly made by bullies and parents and competing adults-with-parents.

    Yeah, Laura caved too, in high school. She was probably a pathological narcissist, when I think back, but there were a few of those, too close for comfort.

    Thanks, Liras, for reading and your comment.

    Lady Nyo


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