Confessions from the Pumpkin Patch - First Three Chapters
Confessions From the Pumpkin Patch contains adult content. Discretion advised.
Edited by Renee Minicozzi
Cover image by Karlyle Tomms
Copyright: 2014 Karlyle Tomms
All rights reserved. No portion or part of this book may be reproduced, copied or transmitted in any form, electronically or by mechanical means, including photocopying, recording ro by antyinformation storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person alive or deceased is purly coincidental, or character descriptions have been used only with permission from that specific individual after whom they are patterened. No character in this book is a duplication of any person known to this author.
Printed in USA
I would like to dedicate this book to Marcia Hayden Young who not only taught me to believe in myself but taught me to cherish and express my creativity.
I've heard it said that any life worth living is worth living well. Perhaps they should have said: “any life is worth living.” At least I believe that. If you are here, it is because you are meant to be here. Maybe we are all here just to live our own story, only that. Maybe the only thing we have to do is watch our story unfold as though we are watching a movie we have never seen before. It's our movie and we have the starring role, but we have no idea how it is going to turn out, not really. I don't know that my story is special in any way, no more special than anyone else’s. It seems to have manifested the way that it did despite my plans and intentions to play it out a different way.
There is a term in psychology called “scripting.” It has to do with how various influences in our upbringing script us into a certain story, a certain path that we subconsciously follow. It could be that, in a way, we are all scripted to become what we become, that our thread in the fabric of humanity is already colored before it is woven. We may have little or no choice over the patterns in our thread, but we can choose how we weave it into the patterns of life. We all have choice, but no matter what decisions we make, no one controls their destiny. Choice combines with destiny to create each unique story.
I'm fascinated by the idea that there are billions of people on the planet and each one of us has our own unique story. Some of us write our stories, however, most only live them. All of us talk about the little stories that make up the novel of our lives, whether in a cocktail conversation or a talk given at a lady's luncheon. Our stories intertwine and weave the fabric of humanity. All of our stories create a pattern of existence that includes all the stories that we each experience and all the stories of those who have gone before us. This is the one tiny thread that I have woven into the fabric of humanity.
For what it is worth, this is my story.
My name is Lovella Titwallow. Don't laugh. I married into the name. I have to say that it was a significant improvement over my maiden name, Fuchs. Yes, I know how it looks. That's not how it is pronounced. The “u” is long. Fuchs as in “F-you-chs.” I learned over time to put a line over the “u” when I signed my name in an attempt to tip off the reader that the pronunciation is not to be confused with that other four letter word which is so popular in human language. It did no good. People still pronounced it the way that it looks. Perhaps it is because I myself enjoyed the other word so much.
I was born in 1948, and I am from a small town known as Climax, Pennsylvania and right now you are thinking, “What a coincidence.” The town itself, if it can be called that, is merely a bump in the road just a couple of miles from New Bethlehem which is itself nothing but a very small town.
Very funny. It's all very funny isn't it, the little tricks that life plays on us, the little scripts we seem doomed to play before we ever realize what is really going on. It was Shakespeare who said, “All the world is a stage and the people merely players.” The old boy knew a little something, didn't he? How could he know what a drama my small town life would become?
When I was in elementary school I dreaded the first day of class when a new teacher, who had perhaps never seen my name or failed to be warned ahead of time, would call first roll. It would go smoothly until she or he stumbled into the space between the E and the G. Even then, Foster, Forrest or Freed fell off the tongue like apples off a tree. Then my name would follow, and there was the inevitable silence as a teacher pondered exactly how to pronounce it. There was the “Fa-chez” pronunciation, the “Feu-kees,” the determination to say anything but “Fucks” even though that pronunciation was obviously the first to pop into the unsuspecting educator's brain. If I possibly could, I would try to get to the teacher before class and give the correct pronunciation of my name. This was my effort to redeem myself after the first grade teacher mispronounced the name saying it, for some reason, exactly the way it looks. No sooner had the words fallen off her lips when Johnny Sigmund shouted, “My Daddy told me that's a dirty word!” The teacher's purple face and rapid stuttering attempt to cover what she had just said led me to realize that there was something drastically wrong with my name.
From that point on, all was lost. Of course, everyone in class wanted to know why it was a dirty word. Some went home, used the incorrect pronunciation, and asked parents why it was a dirty word. They didn't get much, but those who asked older siblings came back to school edified and cruel. After that, any time the name was mispronounced, there followed a room full of cackling children, all of them gleeful at my embarrassment. The giggles would begin even if I dared to raise my hand to try to get the teacher's attention before a tragic mistake was committed. I therefore learned to sit there in silent indignation and embarrassment.
Outside of class the taunting began. Boys would comment as I walked by, “Hey, I hear Lovella Fuchs.” They pronounced the name correctly in their taunt, but the meaning was obvious. Another boy might say, “Yeah, that's right, I fuched her last night.”
I would either keep walking in silence, attempt to ignore it, or I would turn to them and shout, “Fuchs you!” Eventually, I decided that I would embrace my name and all the implications therein. I would honor the word, appreciate it, live up to it and use it as often as I felt necessary. Who cared whether there was an “h” or a “k” in the name. I would treat it as though it had always been a “k.” By the time I was in high school when boys would say, “Hey, I hear Lovella Fuchs.” I would turn, smile and say, “Damn right, and good at it!”
My father, John Fuchs, worked in a peanut butter factory and was an alcoholic. He spent his days in the factory, and the family was never lacking for peanut butter. He held his drinking for the weekends, at least early on. He was a short man, 5’ 6”, and he had a round little belly that protruded over his belt like a basketball. His belly did not flop over his belt, which is good I suppose because he liked to wear the most gaudy and outlandish belt buckles. His hair was mousy blond and made a horseshoe around his bald head. Thankfully, he opted out of a comb-over, still there was one tiny little tuft of hair growing just in the middle above his forehead, and he always let it grow too long. Often, I begged him to cut it. Once I caught him passed out drunk, so I shaved it off. When he came to, he almost cried as he looked into the mirror. I never considered what insecurities that little tuft of hair might have been covering. I felt so guilty that I never touched it or mentioned it to him again, but I was forever at a loss to understand why that little patch meant so much to him.
My Mother was a church lady, of sorts. She was more a cross between a church lady, a fashion model wanna-be, and Satan himself. Her name was Drucella. The “ella” has been a part of female names on her side of the family for as long as time I suppose. It was a tradition that all female children should have a first name ending in the “ella.” Who knows why? Hence my name Lovella. My grandmother was Claudella. My aunts were Johnella, and Cloella, and so on, and so on. The “ella” was like some sacred script that must be added to the name of any newborn female if she was to be considered a true part of the family.
My mother was in church every Sunday and every other time the door was open for any church or church-sponsored activity. I don't think there was ever a Bible study or a pot luck that she ever missed. She wore her hair, which was near jet black when she was young, high above her head. I would say in a “bee hive.” However, it was more like a hornets' nest. Her temper, like a hornet nest, was swarming with venomous stings. Sometimes she would sting and you never knew what hit you until it started to hurt. When she was really angry the swarm would overwhelm you into either fleeing or submitting. Sometimes all you could do was duck and cover. Over time, I learned to swat.
As mother began to age and health diminished ability, her hair came down in a salt and pepper rat’s nest. She had given up the bee-hive before that time, yet she kept it stacked above her cranium for all of my childhood. It seemed like a warning that at any moment the swarm might be released. I have to say, however, that when she finally got rid of that stupid stack above her head, I was both shocked and appealed.
I was an adult and married before I ever saw her with her hair down like a normal woman and then again after she had lost her mind and had been placed in the nursing home. When she was younger, she was the utmost of prim and proper. She was slim and at least three inches taller than Daddy, almost skinny, and very careful about her food. Her cheek bones were high enough to provide an extra support for her yellow, plastic rimmed glasses. Never a hair was out of place, and she wore a dress and high heels for everything, even when cooking or cleaning house, and, oh yes, she always smelled of vanilla or cinnamon.
I was an only child, pity's sake. How I longed to have a brother or sister who might share the torment with me, but it was never to be. I developed a fantasy that after the consummation that produced me, my Mother never allowed coitus again. I could imagine her saying to herself, “That was disgusting. I'll certainly never do that again.”
I was both adored and tortured as a child. On one hand, my father was anything but perfect, and on the other hand, my mother demanded absolute perfection. Daddy’s love was always diluted by alcohol, and perfection was the price I paid for Mother’s love. I suppose one of the reasons I speak the way that I do is because Mother was constantly picking at me, training my words, my diction, my accent so that I could be her perfect little offspring. The shame of her Kentucky heritage was to be remedied, I suppose, by perfect diction.
“Ar-tic-u-late, Lovella!” Her words will forever ring in my ears. It is a wonder I didn't develop a tic from all the harassment. Instead, I developed a very precise manner of speaking from a very young age. It was the one gift, I suppose, that I could give her. In time, it may have been her gift to me.
In the evenings after a perfect dinner on Mother’s perfect china and after the dishes were washed and put away, we would sit in the living room and watch shows like Red Skelton through the static of a preliminary model of black and white TV. Of course we had one even though many at the time did not. Mother was going to see to it that we had the best and the latest regardless of whether we could afford it. I could have cared less. I would sit in my corner chair reading and occasionally looked up when Mother would cackle in laughter at a joke that, even as a child, I found inane. Daddy would usually fall asleep on one end of the sofa as Mother sat on the other end perfectly upright sipping her iced tea.
In his sleep, Daddy would often snore and fart, and this would gather a quick dart of the eyes from Mother and a momentary microsecond of disgust on her face. Then her eyes went back to the television as she watched every moment, every second of everything that came across the screen. Even if it was a complete failure of broadcast and nothing but snow and hiss, she would watch intently expecting the picture to return at any second.
At precisely 9:00 PM Mother would turn off the television and begin jabbing my father in the ribs with a long scarlet painted fingernail. “John! Get up! It's time for bed!”
He would moan, growl, open his eyes, take a breath like some kind of horror film monster and stretch before staggering off to bed. I often wondered if he had tiny little scars on his rib cage from being poked with that fingernail.
As for myself, Mother would merely give me a stern look, and I would go to bed. However, I would often read until late in the night with a flashlight under the covers so Mother wouldn't catch me. Then I would struggle to wake up the next morning. Nonetheless, I would always get up at first call for I did not want little fingernail scars in my own rib cage.
Breakfast would be ready before Mother called me to get up, and by the way, she would never allow me to call her Mom or Mommy. I was required to call her Mother and nothing else.
The way she cooked, I thought it must be a torture for her to stay so skinny because the breakfast table alone would consist of pork chops, bacon, or sausage, with hash browns, eggs, buns, pancakes or French toast, and this was every morning. She sat there and nibbled bits of everything, but never what appeared to be a full serving of anything. At the same time she would consistently admonish my father and me to eat.
By the time I was ten, I was allowed coffee, and this became something I looked forward to every morning. What a god-send. It was liquid alert. I would pretend to be more awake than I was as I watched the steaming black miracle fall into my cup. If I had my way, breakfast would have been coffee and a few bites of egg. However, Mother rationed the coffee as though it was a prison camp commodity.
Mother always drove me to school and Daddy to work. She would state that she absolutely had to have our one car during the day as she had meetings to attend and things to do. It was more likely that she had to have control. She would get us up early enough that breakfast would be put away and dishes would be done before we left the house. I never understood why this could not wait till after she returned to the house after dropping us off, but it was part of her perfection and her routine. She never left the house without everything being perfectly in place first.
On most days I think the car simply sat in the driveway after she had delivered us, but she did often go to the church during the week to sit on some lady's committee or something. How everything looked was very important to Mother, and church was part of her plan to appear in the best possible light. She was a Methodist, a church she must have chosen like the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Churches” because it was just right, not to ritualized like the Catholics and not too fundamentalist like the Baptists.
On Wednesdays the battles began. Daddy would tell her that he had arranged a ride home with a friend after work on Friday. Of course this meant that he was going directly to a bar with one or more of his drinking buddies. He would make up some kind of story about having to help someone fix their vehicle or something, but Mother and I both knew what he intended to be doing. Mother would make plans every Friday night to have a family from the church over for dinner and insist that he would have to be there. This would then become among the strangest of arguments as she would announce her plans at breakfast on Wednesday morning.
“Johnnnnnnnn”, she would say, dragging the name out as though it was the last note of a ballad, “I'm having the Millers over for dinner on Friday. I know that you will want to spend time with Mr. Miller as he owns a burgeoning company, and I'm sure that he will be able to help you in the development of your career.”
“Well Sissy,” Daddy would respond. “You see, Honey, I have plans for Friday, and I just can't be here.” Sissy was his nick-name for her. I'm not sure why.
“Oh really, dear?” she questioned through lips that teetered on the brink of being pursed. “What plans would those be?”
“Well you see Sissy, there is this fellow from work who knows this fellow who is one of the big wigs over at the factory, and he is sure that this fellow he knows can get me a better paying position, maybe even foreman.”
The sing song note would drag out long and slow, and there would be the slightest little pop at the end.
“What would this fellow's name be?”
Daddy would stumble, searching his mind for the right words, for he was never quite smart enough to rehearse before Wednesday morning and, therefore, not very good at lying.
“I don't know the name of the other fellow that this fellow at work knows, but the fellow at work, his name is Jim.”
The angrier Mother became, the more it sounded as though she was singing rather than talking, or perhaps it was more like the buzz of the hornets.
“This fellow—Jiiiim—” she would twitter, “If this person he knows can provide high powered positions, why isn't he procuring the job for himself?”
“Well you see,” Daddy continued, “there's two jobs open, and Jim likes me and likes to work with me, and he wants both of us to talk to this fellow so we can both move up in management and make more money.”
The more intimidated Daddy became, the more his voice would wheeze.
“Weeellllll,” Mother would sing, “I don't think I can cancel the dinner with the Millers for it has been planned for some time now, and it seems to me that Mr. Miller, as an entrepreneur, would be in a better position to further your career.”
“But Sissy, now,” Daddy would plead, “this is planned too and Jim is expecting me to be there.”
When Mother’s song of anger came to a crescendo the insults would begin.
“I would think, Joooohhhhnn, if you were the kind of man who wanted to present a good example for his impressionable daughter, you would want to have dinner with good church-going people, instead of rallying about the whims of a factory worker who, if he could advance anyone's career including his own, obviously would have done so!”
This would go on between them over breakfast until one of them gave in or there was a stalemate. If one of them gave in, there would be weeks of subtle resentment to follow that would be expressed in trite little insults on Mother’s part, and something usually like farting at the dinner table on Daddy's part. More often than not, there was a stalemate. I hated when that happened for it meant that the argument would continue every moment that they were awake together until Friday evening. I would watch in silence, more as though I were watching a living television show rather than the life of my family.
When there was a stalemate, it would go on to the last minute on Friday. Mother first picked me up from school. Then she would drive immediately to the peanut butter factory so that she could stalk and spy on Daddy. My torture would be an hour to an hour-and-a-half sitting in the car with Mother as she repeatedly expressed her displeasure about Daddy. As we waited for him to emerge from the building, Mother would pontificate about how much he had wronged her. She never could seem to accept the fact that Daddy's drinking was more important to him than any career opportunity.
“I don't know why your father insists upon doing this every weekend, week in and week out.”
By this time the sing-song quality of her voice had been replaced with sharp piano-key tone like a child pecking out one note at a time, and rarely being able to put melody to it.
“I do everything I can to give you and your father a lovely home. I keep it spotless. I make sure that there is a lovely meal on the table—on time, every time. The laundry is done. The cupboards are kept well stocked. I have no idea why he wants to do this to me. Doesn't he know that everything I do, I do for my family—and God, of course? I must put God first, but I never let my church activities interfere with what I do for my family, and your father doesn't seem to care at all. I make a lovely nest for him, so you would think that he would want to come home to his family every day, not just week days.”
The first time that I recall her doing this stalking thing when the factory let out, Daddy came out of the building, unsuspecting, chatting with his drinking buddies. Mother was lying in wait and trotted up to him in her perfect high heels as fast as she could. “John! John!” she exclaimed. “We have to go! There's been an emergency at the house. Lovella has been hurt.”
She had insisted that I hunker down in the car seat so Daddy could not see me. The window was down, so I could hear their conversation and I was peeking up over the door frame. I thought it was going to be a joke, but soon learned that Mother did not really have a sense of humor.
“What?” Daddy responded, face filled with shock, for no matter what else, it was a fact that Daddy loved me. “What is it? What's the matter?”
“We have to go now, John!” Mother went on. “We have to take her to the emergency room.”
“Well why haven't you already taken her to the emergency room?” he asked. Suspicion peaked.
Mother went on with her lie.
“She was crying for her Daddy, John! She wouldn't go without you.”
The first time it worked, but that would be the last time. Each time Mother tried a ruse she would have to make it more complicated and better thought out than the last one.
Daddy began sneaking out of the factory a different way. He didn't change his behavior, she didn't change hers, and he delighted in telling her that his co-workers would frequently tell him that he was married to a real “nut case.”
This went on for years, stalking Daddy at the factory, and sitting in the car silently as Mother both complained about Daddy and rehearsed her deception.
“Your father knows I love him. He has always known that I love him. I only want him to be the man he was meant to be. I only want him to succeed in life, and where is he every Friday night? I have taken such steps to introduce him to good people, people who can help him, help us, people who are pillars of the community. He always has something else to do every Friday night. Regardless how I try he is still working at this factory. He says he has meetings he has to go to on Friday evenings. I just don't believe there are any real meetings. After all these years working at a factory, he has never even gotten a slight promotion. He should have, at least, gotten some kind of promotion by now. I don't know what he is thinking going off every Friday night when he could be home with his family and with good friends—good people who could help him get somewhere in life.”
I learned to read a book and tried to ignore her. The truth is she knew exactly what he was thinking and so did I. She pretended that I didn't know and would make all manner of excuses for him at the same time that she was trying to force him to make a different choice. One day in the car when I was about twelve, during her ranting I said, “Mother, does it ever occur to you that Daddy likes to get drunk?”
“Lovella Chevon Fuchs!” she exclaimed, (yes, my middle name is Chevon.) “Whatever would possess you to say such a thing?” Mother was so very dramatic. I suppose I got that from her although my drama is a little different, and I would like to think, a little more sophisticated.
“Mother,” I said, “he's drunk every weekend. You know it. I know it. Why pretend that we don't know it? Maybe he just likes to get drunk.”
She was stunned for a moment in silence, breath held, and then released like a balloon held tight for far too long. After a moment she said, “Perhaps you are right dear.”
Nothing else was said. I was stunned that she would ever admit that anyone else could be right. She sat there, silent, spent, as though exhausted from all those years of trying. For a moment it seemed as though she was going to cry, but she didn't. I never saw my mother cry until after she was in the nursing home, mindless and vulnerable.
After a moment she started the car, and we drove home. I don't know what kind of reaction Daddy had when he came out of the factory to find that she was not there. Perhaps he thought it was one of those nights when he managed to trick her and sneaked out a different way, but he didn't come home.
Mother and I arrived to an empty house. She had long since stopped actually inviting anyone over for Friday dinner. She found that Daddy, if she could get him home, would inevitably get drunk anyway and would simply embarrass her in front of her church friends. That night we walked silently into the house. I sat down in my chair. Mother sat in her place on the end of the sofa. After a while she turned to me and said, “Dear, what would you like to have for dinner?”
I looked up from my book, stunned and speechless. For the first time ever in my life, my mother asked me what I wanted.
“Surprise me,” I said, as I stuck my nose back into my book.
I met my best friend in the first grade. Her name was Gretta Tannenbaum. At the time she had stringy brown hair that her mother always braided into neat little pigtails standing way too high above each ear. She had no front teeth, a pug nose and black rimmed glasses with lenses thick enough to be used as submarine windows. We met because the bitch stole my swing!
It was recess and I had gotten a nice swing toward the middle of the steel giant swing-set that was just outside the first grade class room. I was swinging along when I noticed what I thought was a quarter lying on the gravel. I stopped the swing and went to investigate. It turned out to be only a bottle cap. When I turned to reclaim my swing there was Gretta with her skinny little ass in the very swing I had claimed. I ran immediately up to her, grabbed a pig tail in each hand and yanked her backwards out of the swing. Then it was on. I dragged her to the ground, topped her and began slapping her with both hands. She retaliated by grabbing my hair with her one free hand and pulling me by the hair to one side.
In those days my hair was very long and black like Mother’s. Mother insisted that I let it grow long and called it my “glory.” She would also never put it up like hers for she clearly distinguished between adult and childrens’ hair styles. In this case it turned out to be my liability. Gretta was able to use it to yank me over, and the next thing I knew she was on top of me with slobber drooling from her mouth. Unimpeded, without teeth to block its way, it fell into my face as I twisted from one side to the other in disgust. Thankfully, the teachers were soon there to pull her off me.
Next, we sat in the Principal's office, chairs side by side facing his desk. He was a bloated man with jowls that hung on each side of his face outlining his thin little lips. I sat there imagining him to have the nose of a pig. His name was Mr. Buckner. He was a kind man, I suppose, and always seemed to be well-intentioned. His voice would squeak occasionally between a light whisper wheezing tone.
“Now girls,” he proclaimed, “we don't fight in school. It isn't nice. It isn't lady-like, and I am sure that your mothers have taught you how to be young ladies.”
“She stole my swing!” I shouted.
“Did not!” exclaimed Gretta.
“Now girls,” Mr. Buckner went on. “We don't shout either. It isn't nice and I know you both want to be nice girls, don't you?”
“Well, she did steal my swing,” I pleaded again.
“I thought she was done with it,” said Gretta.
“Now girls,” responded Mr. Buckner, “we must learn to share. We must take turns with the swings. There aren't enough swings for every child to have one all the time. We must share. Don't you think it is nice to share?”
Gretta and I looked at each other more in confusion at his approach than anything else. If my mother had been handling this it would have been quick and simple. She would have pinched my ear hard enough to leave a bruise, and she would have stated firmly though clenched teeth, “You will not behave in this manner!” Those were simple, clear instructions. Enough said. I would have gone on about my business until the next infraction. I later learned that Gretta's mother would simply have turned it over to her father who would have lectured her incessantly about how she was embarrassing the family.
Mr. Buckner folded his fat little fingers in front of his pig face. “I am not going to punish you this time, since it is the first time, but I'm afraid if you do this again, there will have to be consequences. Now I want you to give one another a hug and say that you are sorry.”
We both looked at him with shock and horror. He said he was not going to punish us, but what greater punishment could there be than forcing me to hug and apologize to the bitch who stole my swing? We looked at each other with identical horror and disgust.
“Now girls,” he continued, “we must make amends and apologize for wrong doing. I want you to hug now and say that you are sorry for what you did.”
Neither of us moved.
“Go on girls. Do as I say.”
Slowly and silently like repelling magnets, we rose from our chairs and stood before one another.
“Okay, girls. Big hug.”
We embraced one another rather like two porcupines attempting to avoid the other's quills.
“I'm sorry I pulled you off my swing,” I said. I did not give up claim to the fact that it was my swing.
“I'm sorry I drooled in your face,” she said, and at this moment Mr. Buckner applauded slapping his fat little hands together as he chuckled in his airy, little voice.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, girls. That was very sweet,” he said. “Now wait in the hall, and I will call the hall monitor to escort you back to your class.”
As we stepped outside the door of his office Gretta leaned toward me and said quietly, but clearly, “Doody head!”
My response was to lean back to her and whisper, also ever so quietly, “Bitch!”
Once outside the door she said, “I can't believe you called me that. I would call you that, but my mom says I shouldn't use dirty words.”
“Oh?” I said. “And you think doody head is not a dirty word?”
“Well it's not as dirty as bitch,” she said.
“Doody means shit, doesn't it?” I growled. “Isn't shit a dirty word? You just called me a shit head.”
She looked at me, eyes wide like a startled owl, and then a smirking smile crawled across her face.
“I can't believe you are saying those words,” she giggled.
“Why not?” I said. “They are part of the English language aren't they? Who made the stupid rule that it is okay to use some parts of the language but not others?” Never mind the fact that I would never in a million years (at least not at that point in my life) have allowed Mother to hear me using those words or that argument.
“I never thought of it that way,” she said. Then she looked at me, eyes darting to either side to be sure no one else was listening as she giggled the word, “Bitch.” She quickly covered her mouth with the tips of her fingers as the following embarrassment hit her.
“Twat!” I said in immediate reply and she cackled out loud.
From that point on we were the dearest of friends. We had found common ground. We always shared the swing after that, not because Mr. Buckner had admonished us to do it but because we wanted to. In addition we became quite a team and very skilled at intimidating others on the playground to give up whatever place we wanted.
By the time we were in the third grade, our mothers would occasionally allow us to sleep over at one another's home on a week-night. Daddy would not be drunk through the week and so Mother felt safe enough to allow it. I would later have to beg her into allowing weekend sleep-overs which she seldom ever granted for fear that Daddy would embarrass her or that stories about the truth in our family would get out.
When Gretta came to my house we left Mother and Daddy to the living room as we retreated to my room to play. Mother required at least an hour be devoted to home work so we would at least pretend to be doing homework until she stopped checking on us about 7:00 PM. Then we would sing songs and play games like patty-cake or play with dolls. What girl doesn't love dolls? Sometimes we would play the “secret game.” The game always began with a little rhyme and after the rhyme the person who sang the rhyme would tell a secret to the other. By the time we were teens there was practically nothing that we did not know about each other.
The first night we played the game after Gretta taught it to me, I sat on the bed and sang. “I have a secret that I must not tell. If I tell it to you, you must not tell.” Then I said, “My Daddy gets drunk every weekend.”
She gave me a very curious look and said, “What's drunk?”
I could not believe that she didn't know this. I said, “Well, do you know what whiskey is?”
She said, “No.”
“What about beer?” I said.
“Oh,” she said, “that is the stuff that grown-ups can drink but kids aren't allowed to drink.”
“Yes,” I said, “and beer contains alcohol, and whiskey is a hard liquor which is a stronger alcohol and when people drink it they get drunk.”
She giggled a witty giggle and said, “When I have a lollypop, I'm a hard licker.”
I couldn't help but laugh and said, “No, it's not that kind of licker. It's liquor.” I spelled it. “L. I. Q. U. O. R.”
We went to the dictionary where we found: “Middle English licuor, from Latin liquor, from Liquere. Date: 13th Century: A: a usually distilled rather than fermented alcoholic beverage. B: a watery solution of a drug.” We knew little more than we knew in the first place. What I knew at the time was that alcohol, whatever kind he happened to consume depending on his mood, made Daddy drunk.
“Okay,” she said, “but what is drunk?”
We went back to the dictionary where we found: “a period of drinking to intoxication, or of being intoxicated.” I hated dictionaries for this very reason, having to look up word, upon word, upon word because each word that was used to define something was more complicated than the last. Finally, we looked up intoxication where we found: “an abnormal state that is essentially a poisoning.”
This set me to tears. I never realized before that point that my daddy was poisoning himself every weekend, and I began wondering how soon he would die.
Gretta grabbed me, and hugged me. “What's the matter? What's the matter?” she exclaimed.
Mother having ears like a bat, heard me from the living room. The next thing we knew the door to my bedroom opened, and there she stood. “Is everything alright in here?” she questioned.
I slammed the dictionary closed, sniffled back my tears, and quickly made up a lie. “We were just reading about a bunny who lost his mother,” I said.
“Aw, that's so sad,” she said. Then she smiled a crooked little smile, closed the door and retreated back to her television.
I took a deep breath and said to Gretta, “My daddy is poisoning himself. What am I going to do?”
“I don't understand how,” said Gretta.
“He gets drunk every weekend,” I said. “It says here that drunk is an abnormal state that is essentially poisoning. We have to stop him.”
“But we're just kids,” said Gretta. “How can we do that?”
“Maybe I just need to talk to Daddy,” I said. “Maybe if he realizes what he is doing he will stop.”
I realized in that moment that Mother’s stalking every Friday night was her attempt to stop him and it didn't work. I resolved that the following day I would talk to Daddy about his drinking, but first I had to make sure that Mother wasn't around.
Gretta and I talked for another hour or so and then went to bed, early for me. She slumbered quietly beside me, but I didn't sleep. I had to come up with some way to make sure that I could get Daddy alone to talk to him. Finally, I decided to ask Mother for a red velvet cake to have over the weekend. I knew that she would have to shop for ingredients and I would tell her that I had to study for a test so I would not be able to go to the grocery store with her. The next night was Thursday and it would be a perfect time, but I had to make sure that I told her after we picked up Daddy or she would just drag me to the store between school and picking him up.
The next afternoon we were sitting at the factory waiting to pick Daddy up. There was no problem with this on any day but Friday.
When Daddy came out of the factory, I got out of the front seat and into the back. Daddy spotted our car in the usual place, and I waited for him to get into the front seat. I knew he would not want to go to the store or wait outside for Mother to shop.
Shortly after Daddy got into the car I said, “Mother, I have a math test tomorrow. If I make a really good grade, can I have a red velvet cake for this weekend?”
“How do I know you are going to make a good grade?” she questioned as she drove us home.
“Well a red velvet cake would make me try harder.” I said.
“I don't even have the ingredients to make one,” she continued.
“Well, can you stop and get them?” I questioned. I knew this would get Daddy and sure enough it did.
“Hold on there now,” he protested. “I've had a long hard day, and I don't want to be diddling around a grocery store after work.”
“But Daddy, please,” I pleaded.
“No! Now I told you, I'm tired!” he exclaimed.
Mother knew where this was headed and more to keep the peace than to please me she offered, “Why don't I just drop you off at home, John. Then Lovella and I can shop for cake supplies.”
“But Mother, I have to study for my test,” I replied. The test, which I had known was coming, was merely a ten question weekly, but Mother didn't have to know that, at least not until after I got what I needed. It worked.
“Okay, then,” she submitted, “I will drop the two of you off at home while I run by Safeway to shop.”
“Thank you, Mother,” I said, gloating in my victory.
Daddy and I were not long inside the house when he plopped himself on the sofa and was about to turn on the radio to listen to the evening news. Even though we had a television he still preferred the radio news. I knew I had to catch him quick, before Mother got back. I sat down on the sofa beside him and said, “Daddy, I have a problem, and I really need to talk to you about it.”
He stopped with his hand halfway to the radio knob and turned back to me. “What's up, Punkin' Patch?” he said as he jostled my hair. Daddy always wanted to listen to the news after work, but he also loved me very much and would never hesitate if he thought I was truly in need.
“Well, Daddy,” I began, “last night, I was looking in the dictionary and looking up words, and I know you get drunk on weekends, and—”
“Hold on there now,” he said protesting with guilt, “we don't need to be talking about that. That's not stuff kids need to talk about with parents.”
“But Daddy,” I persisted. “I looked up the word drunk and it said it was poisoning.”
“No it's not,” he said. “It is just getting a little off your feet once in a while. It's just a way to relax and blow off a little steam after a hard week.”
“But Daddy, why would the dictionary say that it was poisoning? That means it could kill you.”
“Honey, it's not going to kill me,” he said. “Alcohol has been around for thousands of years. Lots of people drink. It doesn't hurt anybody.”
“Then why can't kids drink it?” I questioned.
He grunted with exasperation. “Because it is not for kids,” he said. “Some things you got to be mature enough to handle.”
“But if it's not good for kids, it must not be good for you,” I continued.
“We don't let you drive yet do we?” he went on. “There's nothing wrong with driving. You're just not big enough to do it yet. It's like that. You have to be an adult first. Some people drink and some people don't. It doesn't hurt anyone.”
“Well, I know Mother serves sherry to the Millers when they come over, but they only have one little glass and they don't get drunk.”
I continued to plead with him. “Daddy, sometimes you don't come home all night on Friday, and when you come back on Saturday, you look sick, all puffy and red, with swollen eyes and stuff.”
“Ah, that's more from not getting enough sleep than it is from whiskey,” he said. “You stay up late. I've seen you at breakfast about to fall asleep in your hash browns. Sometimes we both stay up a little too late, don't we?”
“You're not going to die?” I questioned.
“Well, I hope not,” he replied. “I've got a lot of living yet to do. Now you go on and study for your test and worry about kid stuff, and don't worry about grownups. We will take care of ourselves. Besides, it's our job—your mother and I— to take care of you, not the other way around.”
“You promise you are not going to die.” I pleaded.
“I promise, honey,” he went on. “I am not doing anything on Friday night but trying to blow off a little stress from the work week. That's good for me.”
He hugged me and said, “Now, go study.”
I smiled a nervous smile and went to my room. I closed the door with trepidation. For no matter what Daddy said, I worried about that word, “poisoning.”
I got an 'A' on my test and got my red velvet cake. When Mother got the graded paper she shook it at me. “Lovella! This is just a weekly test. I thought you had a big exam. How dare you put me to all that work for something that you do every week and can practically do in your sleep?”
“I'm sorry, Mother,” I said. “I was just really worried about this one. It's mostly division.”
She let out a sigh more like a steam engine releasing the brakes. She slapped the paper down on the kitchen table and glared at me. “Well. I'm glad you got an 'A'. You did very well.” She grabbed her apron from the hook and set about preparing dinner. I took my paper and my books to my room.
After dinner that night I sat in my chair reading while Daddy snored on one end of the couch, and Mother sat upright on the other. My mind, however, was not on the book. Although I loved Daddy and defended him with all my might, and though I wanted ever so much to believe him when he said that he was fine, some years later I came to the painful realization that he was wrong about alcohol poisoning him.
In the meantime that little worry was occasionally forgotten—but usually nagged at the back of my mind.
I went on as usual and loved him as best I could.
Mother always insisted on church every Sunday morning, tedious as it was. When I was small I simply obediently complied and rather enjoyed the separate time for children coloring pages of Jesus and such. However, as I matured and was forced to enter the main service, I found it difficult to distinguish from yet another day of school. Add to this the fact that I was obliged to disagree with anything that I thought Mother wanted. Therefore, church was a condition of circumstance that I was doomed to despise.
By the time I was twelve years old I had begun a regular Sunday morning protest starting at the breakfast table where I knew I could employ Daddy's defense. Apparently, through all the years of their marriage he had also obediently complied with her expectation that the family would dutifully show up at Sunday service. Although it must have been difficult for him to rise on Sunday morning, he probably had managed to sleep off his inevitable hang over on Saturday afternoon.
Mother dressed Daddy for church. She would have nothing of his gaudy belt-buckles on Sunday mornings. I suppose he should have counted himself lucky that she tolerated them through the rest of the week. Sunday was a time for her to show off her family and display her pretentiousness to the community. Mother was all about the show. No matter what might be going on at home she was going to display nothing more than absolute perfection to the community. She had scraped together enough money on Daddy's small salary and her own fund-raising (usually yard sales) to buy him two well-appointed suits, a few ties and a couple of white dress shirts. Every Sunday morning she insisted that he wear them against his constant protest. However, this did not come until after breakfast.
The Sunday table was displayed with the same opulence as every other morning, and we were both summoned to the table. The consolation was that it was the only morning of the week that we were allowed to eat in our pajamas. Mother had perhaps learned her lesson about this when Daddy happened to spill a cup of coffee across the front of one of the hard-earned suits she had purchased for him. She would never make that mistake again. From then on, breakfast time was moved up thirty minutes and dressing for church came afterward.
I knew Daddy hated going to church. He hated dressing in those suits. It simply was not him. Rather than find and marry the man she wanted, Mother had found it more of a challenge to marry a pig’s ear and attempt the miracle of making him into a silk purse. I suppose if she were to succeed, this would mean that she was indeed truly good. Nonetheless, despite all her efforts and Daddy's occasional willingness to act the part, he remained forever who he was, a simple man who wanted little more out of life than to enjoy it.
My first attempts at getting out of church were through faking illness. Of course this didn't work for Mother was determined that she would stay home and care for me if I didn't feel well, and then I would hear the dialog of her resentments about missing church repeated over and over as I was pretending to be ill. Daddy on the other hand was quite pleased to have a day with no suit, and he would either go back to bed or to his work shed near the house which was his sanctuary from Mother.
For the longest time, it was easier simply to go. After breakfast, I would retreat to my room to put on my Sunday dress. I could hear Daddy complaining from their room. “Drucella! Now, Drucella, that tie is too tight. You don't want me to faint right out in church.”
“John!” she would demand, “the tie is not too tight. It is simply pulled up to the collar where it is supposed to be.
“Well,” Daddy protested, “don't you think we could just leave the top button unbuttoned and kind of pull the tie up over it?”
“I will not have you looking like a hobo who found a suit coat in a dumpster!” she would shout, and I knew that she was, at that moment, pushing the tie up to his throat in a gesture indicating that he would either comply, or she would hang him with it then and there.
After I dressed, I would come out to find Mother, always in her finest, standing there with a hair brush and a bow. It was off to the bathroom where she would sit on the commode and have me stand in front of her as she pulled that toothed, plastic demon through my hair.
“Aowaoh! Mother!” I would complain, “That hurts.”
“Well, Lovella,” she lectured, “if you would occasionally brush your own hair and keep the tangles out of it, we wouldn't have such an ordeal to go through to make it look nice for church.”
By the end of it all my hair was smooth as silk and the top tied back over the underflow with a bow that perfectly matched the dress that Mother had set out for me earlier. Then it was off to the living room to gather Daddy who would be sitting sullenly waiting to follow her instructions.
Her pretentiousness didn't wait for church. It began right there in the living room on Sunday morning. “John, would you please pull the car around?” She would say this every Sunday morning.
This meant that he was to pull it from the driveway out to the street and wait for our descent down the front porch steps. He was never allowed to pull it to the street ahead of time because that would have looked unseemly for him to be sitting in the car all that time. Instead, he had his instructions to wait in the living room and go out to pull the car to the street at just the right moment so that Mother and I, hand in hand, could descend down the porch steps and across the walk where he would be waiting like a chauffeur to open the passenger door for us. Mother would cross the walk with her head up as though she were a movie star navigating the red carpet before her adoring fans. I, on the other hand, considered it absurd even as a young child. Yet, this was our ritual every Sunday morning. I would be guided to get in first so that I could sit in the middle between them. Then Mother would enter the car, seat herself like a Queen, and carefully brush her dress as though the mere act of movement might have soiled her. Daddy would then carefully close the door, as he was not allowed to slam and would come around to the driver's side. Then it was off to church.
I think this was the only time that Daddy was actually allowed to drive. The rest of the time Mother did all the driving.
There wasn't much of anything that Mother considered worthy in Climax, so we attended church in New Bethlehem. On the way there, she would verbally prepare us.
“John, last week I noticed you nodding a little during the sermon,” she chided. “Please make every effort to stay awake. I wouldn't want you to miss something that might save your eternal soul.” On she went. “And Lovella, Mrs. Dickens said you were giggling in Sunday school last week. Please do try to be appropriate.” Daddy would drive in silence. I would usually try to bring a book to read—and I would occasionally pretend to listen.
The local Methodist church was a rustic but ornate brick building with a tower on either side of the front steps. The steps crossed the entire front of the building in a wide expanse with a rail down the middle. Atop each tower was a cross. I suppose that having two steeples and two crosses somehow made it better than other churches having only one, and I could imagine Mother choosing it for that very reason. If there had been no church in the area with two steeples she would probably have chosen the one that had the tallest steeple regardless of the denomination.
There were two front doors leading into a single large alcove with marble flooring. This then led to a center arched double door that led up the center isle of the sanctuary. On either end of the alcove were smaller doors that led to the outside isles near the windows.
The sanctuary was filled with burgundy carpet, and flanked on either side by tall, arched stained glass windows. Oh what a glorious setting for a Savior, who lived on handouts, admonished the care of the poor and protested the corruption of wealthy rabbi in ancient Jerusalem. As a child, I thought it was all so very pretty, but as I aged and actually read the Bible, I came to think of it as just another example on a long list of hypocrisies. I was determined that I would never be a hypocrite. If nothing else, one day I would be honest.
When I was young, the minister was a tall handsome man by the name of James Martin. He was at least a couple of inches past six feet. He had dark, straight hair, a square symmetrical jaw and blue eyes. After service he stood at the arch leading from the foyer and greeted the parishioners as they left the building. Mother would collect me from Sunday school and insist that Daddy hold my hand as we filed down the center isle toward the exit. I came to assume that this was so she could have both hands free when she greeted Reverend Martin.
She kept her lace hanky out all through the service to touch her face and show that she was moved by the sermon. As we approached the Reverend she would stuff it inside her left hand and lay three fingers of her right hand across his palm as a “lady-like handshake” and tell him how much she enjoyed the service.
“Reverend Martin, as always,” she would begin, “it was both empowering and simply touching. What an inspiration you are to us all.”
Daddy and I would smile and nod, rarely ever saying anything ourselves. I imagined Mother wishing that she had married a man like Reverend Martin rather than Daddy.
By the time I was twelve, the Methodist church, as Methodists are prone to do, had traded Reverend Martin for Reverend Zimmar, a funny looking little man who left much to be desired in the looks department. He wasn't much over five feet tall and had buck teeth protruding slightly over his lower lip so that he had the appearance, somewhat, of a chipmunk. When he spoke his name, he drew it out at the end as though trying to make sure to emphasize the last of the two syllables. “How do you do, I am Reverend Zimm-aaaaaaaar.”
After this my desire to go to church completely faded. At least when Reverend Martin was there, I might have enjoyed looking at that pretty face for an hour. When Reverend Zimmar came around it was at the same time I left Sunday school and began attending regular services. That clinched it. I was through with church. Reverend Zimmar's sermons were about as entertaining as watching paint peel. I could find little context in his sermons to get excited about, and except for drawing out the ends of some words in a way that was similar to how he pronounced his name, he spoke in a sedative monotone. Daddy and I would both nod before the end of his sermon, and Mother would attempt to keep attuned to the service with a painful pinch, a big perfect smile and a dart of the eyes toward the podium, yet I knew she was just as bored as we were.
There came a Sunday when I was nearing my thirteenth year that I decided I had been pinched enough. I determined that I was not going to go to church anymore and I announced this at the breakfast table the following Sunday morning. I could have announced it at any time through that week, but I knew that I needed to take her by surprise and I knew that I would need Daddy's support.
On the Sunday following my decision Mother had made her usual opulent breakfast. I sat at the table eating my eggs and biscuits, sipping my coffee, carrying on as though there were nothing out of place from any other Sunday morning. About a third of the way through the meal, I announced. “Mother, I've decided that I am not going back to church.”
She looked up from picking tiny pieces off her plate as though she had just heard a joke and said, “You most certainly are going to go to church, dear.” She smiled as she took a sip of her coffee.
“No, Mother,” I went on. “Indeed, I have decided that church is not for me, and I will not be returning to Sunday services.”
Daddy looked like a deer caught in headlights. His eyes grew wide as he watched the stand-off begin. He must have known that there would be no way for him to escape being drawn into it.
“Lovella!” Mother rolled my name off her tongue with a growl in the tone. “You will not defy me, young lady! You will go to church and there will be no more argument.”
I turned to Daddy who was nervously cutting his ham. “Daddy, you don't like to go to church either do you?” I questioned, knowing what the answer would be if he told the truth.
“Well, I—I believe you have to listen to your mother, Punkin' Patch.”
“But what's the answer to my question, Daddy?” I persisted.
“Well, I…” He was glancing over at Mother as she glared at him like a lion stalking a rabbit. “I, ah, can't say that it's my favorite thing to do on Sunday morning.”
“John Fuchs!” Mother exclaimed, “Don't encourage that child.”
“Well, I was just saying how I feel about it, dear.” He receded. “I know it's good for the soul and all.”
“Mother,” I interjected. “I am almost thirteen years old. I have reached the age of accountability and it is my decision that I will not go back to church.”
Mother stood up, leaned over the table hands flat to the table top and said, “Lovella, how dare you speak to me in this tone?!”
“I am simply saying that I have the right to make my own choice about this,” I calmly continued.
“No, you do not have the right to make your own choice about this!” she exploded. “You are a child, and you will do as I say.”
Daddy's need to protect his little girl finally kicked in as I had hoped it would. “Now, now, Drucella,” he pleaded, “There is no need to get all hot under the collar about this. Teenagers get like this. You know it’s all part of growing up.”
“What?!” Mother twisted toward him. “What did you just say?”
I half expected Daddy to back down at this point, but the rabbit stood up to the lion.
“Kids reach a point where they want to think for themselves,” he continued. “It is a normal, natural, part of growing up.”
“You have got to be kidding me!”
Mother grabbed her plate, paced to the sink, threw it in, food and all, and then turned. “She is not even thirteen years old yet. She is not old enough to make that kind of decision, and besides her soul will burn in hell. Is that what you want? Do you want your only child's soul to burn in hell?”
“Now, Drucella, you're getting a little extreme there now,” said Daddy as he turned in his chair. “You don't know that she won't change her mind in a few weeks and go back. She's just expressing a little rebelliousness that's all.”
“I'm not going back,” I said. “Neither one of us goes to church because we want to. Neither one of us goes because we want to save our soul from damnation. Daddy, you go for the same reason I do, because every Sunday Mother insists on it, demands it. This is not about saving our soul. It's about Mother trying to pretend to be hoity toity for everybody in town.”
At this point Mother went into a full-blown tornado rage. The hornets were out. She spun across the kitchen and up to my face as I sat leaned back in the kitchen chair. “Why you insolent, ungrateful, little brat!” she screamed. “I have given my life to this family! I have kept this house, sent you to school, cooked, ironed, cleaned, and saved coupons and for what? So you could sit here and disrespect me and say such horrible things to me?”
Suddenly she caught herself, as though murder was not far from her thought, and she stood back. Calmly, but quite deliberately, she said, “You cannot believe how much effort it is taking for me not to slap you right now.”
She looked over at Daddy who sat there silent and shocked. “Very well,” she said, “The two of you no longer have to go to church. God forbid that you should feel that I am forrrrrrcing you.”
She pulled herself up as tall as she could stand, “I will go to church on my own, by myself, and when people ask me where my lovely family is I shall tell them that I am widowed and childless.”
She turned and marched stoically out of the room pausing for a moment at the door as though waiting for us to shout, “No, please wait!”
We said nothing, and Mother left the room. Daddy and I continued to sit at the kitchen table half in shock, half in glee. We finished our breakfast and I did the dishes while Daddy sipped more coffee and read an old newspaper paper. Later, we heard her cross through the living room and stop before opening the front door. We heard her release a long and defeated sigh. Then the latch clicked, the door closed, and she was gone.
After church, she behaved as though nothing had ever happened.