Posts Tagged ‘the beautiful Collie’

“Memories of a Rotten Childhood”, Chapter 2

May 27, 2011

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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