Kindergarten ended in May 1942. In late July, Mom and Dad and my little brother returned to Kansas City. Within a few weeks, we had moved to a farm. Mom was raising chickens, we were eating their eggs, and I was attending a hillside country school overlooking the Missouri River.
Between our July reunion—I have no memory of this—and my starting first grade, two things happened that filled me with renewed fear. The first I’ll share today; the other on Thursday.
In early August, Mom, Dad, my little brother, and I began looking for a place to live. After a long day of no luck—the war had brought many people to the city and available apartments were few—Dad parked the car in front of a gloomy brownstone.
Mom went inside. Within a short time, she closed the front door behind her, descended the steep front steps, strode toward the car, leaned in the open passenger window, and said, “Well, another one that won’t let us have kids. Let’s put our two in gunnysacks and throw them in the river. That’s the only way we’ll get an apartment.”
Of course she was kidding. But I didn’t know that. I’d just spent a year not understanding why they’d left me behind when they went to Parsons. In my mind, throwing me in the river was just another way of getting rid of me.
I did wonder what my little brother had done that would make them want to throw him away. I can remember so vividly sitting in the back seat of the car and wondering that.
My little brother in the stroller, a cousin, and me when I had just turned four.
For the next three years, until my little brother was six and began sleeping on our farmhouse couch, I tried to protect him both day and night. Our shared double bed was in a corner, shoved up against two walls. I lay on the outside; he, on the inside.
He fell asleep quickly. For as long as I could keep myself awake, I lay worrying that our parents would throw us in the river that night. But I had a plan to foil theirs. I lay with my left ankle over his right one. If my parents stole into the room and tried to pick him up before me, I’d wake when they lifted him and scream bloody murder.
Who did I think would hear me? We lived out in the country for heavens sakes. Who would hear?
No one. But I figured my screams would scare my parents. They’d drop us on the floor. We’d leap up, race down the rutted driveway and onto the highway, flag down a car, and get away. I’d find us a family to live with. After all I was six. Then seven. Then eight. Then nine. I could work. I’d earn our keep.
For three years, I slept like that each night, sure my parents planned to dispose of us. When they didn’t, I decided that for some reason unknown to me they'd put aside their plans. By the time I'd reached that respite, I was hiding knives, hatchets, and hammers under the mattress at night. I’ll share the reason for that new fear in a future posting.
A counselor has told me that for most of my seventy-five years, I've lived with post-traumatic stress syndrome. I thought that was nonsense. But as I recount these memories I begin to see what she meant.
(. . . to be continued on Thursday)