Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Last Straw

(Continued from Tuesday . . .)
On Tuesday, I shared with you the brownstone memory. That evening at dusk, Mom and Dad decided drove us to Baltimore Avenue and parked on its unlighted street that paralleled the busily traveled Main Street.

Dad and Mom in the early 1930s on vacation.

            When they alighted from the car, Mom said, “Dodo, watch your brother. We’ll be back in a little while.” Then she added, “And don’t get out of the car. Stay there ‘til we get back.” They locked the doors, walked to the corner, turned right, and were quickly out of sight.
            My brother asked me to tell him a story, and I recited from memory some of the books Mom had read me when I was little. He knew the stories, too, and would chime in on important sentences. We spoke of Ping and Ferdinand and Babar. He told me he really wanted a dog. I asked him to describe the dog he wanted and he did so with all the enthusiasm of a three-year-old.
            An interminable time passed. Dusk melded into twilight. Twilight faded into the dark of night. My brother fell asleep against my shoulder and I concluded that Mom and Dad had changed their minds. They weren’t going to stuff us in gunnysacks and throw us in the river. Instead, they were going to desert us in this car and go back to Grandma’s another way.
            Clearly. Obviously. They did not want either of us.
            I didn’t cry. Instead, I began to plan. I would take my brother’s hand and lead him down to the corner of Main and 39th Street, which I knew was always busy with people. I’d have him sit on the sidewalk by the drug store. I’d go up to passersby and ask if they’d take two little children home.
            I planned exactly what I’d say: “I can dry dishes and sweep and sing my little brother to sleep at night. Please take us home. I’ll work for you. Please.”
            Then I planned a little more. I’d point to my brother and say, “See how darling he is with his curly yellow hair? He’s lots of fun. You’ll like him, and I’ll work for you.”   
            With my plan in place, I unlocked the door, opened it, and reached for my brother’s hand. Just then Mom and Dad arrived back at the car. “Dodo!” Mom screeched in an angry voice. “What are you doing getting out of the car? I told you to stay inside and watch your little brother.”
            Sure now that they’d find a place to live and leave me behind again, I burst into tears. Mom held me against her belly. “What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked.
            What’s wrong? What’s wrong? I thought. And I began to hit her with my fists. All the anger and hurt and pain and frustration of the past year bubbled up and into my fists. I hit her until she grabbed my hands and held them still.
            “Stop that. Stop that right now,” she ordered.
            But then she became once again the Mother I’d known for the first five years.
            “It’s okay. Whatever is wrong is okay,” she said and she kissed my forehead and let me sit in the front seat between her and Dad on our way back to Grandma’s. She held my little brother on her lap, and on the way she and Dad sang “White Cliffs of Dover” and “Back in the Saddle Again.” I knew that Gene and Champion, Dusty and Arthur were singing along from the back seat.
            During that kindergarten year, I’d so missed the singing of my parents.
                                                      (. . . to be concluded on Saturday)


  1. Oh, so sad. I wonder why they were gone so long? And your plan, I remember making one like that myself, long ago. I planned to go to a neighbor's house and ask to be taken in with my sister. You have brought some very old memories to the surface.

  2. Forty years or so ago, we all used to leave our children in the car when we had to go into a store for 5 minutes, but NEVER longer than that. How could your mother have thought it was all right to leave you for hours --if she was thinking at all? You may have finally made peace with her, but I haven't! I am very angry at the woman whyo seems to have had NO regard for her children's feelings. There are some people who should NOT have children--except that then you wouldn't have been here. I am SO glad you have found peace within yourself.

  3. I had a younger brother and sister. In my magical thinking my parents just never came home and I planned to secretly take care of my little brother and sister myself right there in the house--obviously never giving it a thought as to bills and where more food and supplies would come from. I believed I could do it since I had babysat them since they were both still in diapers when I was only around 5 or 6 myself.

    I can so relate to your planning in the back seat. I remember a mysterious neighbor lady repeatedly calling as soon as my mother's car left the driveway and threatening to call the authorities to have us kids taken away because our mother left us kids home alone all the time. So my greatest fear was that they would split up us three kids if they came and took us away.

    I finally told my mom about the phone calls. She snorted, laughed, and said, no one is going to come and take you away. The matter was closed and insignificant to her--and she just kept right on leaving us alone. The anonymous woman never did turn her in, but I made lots of plans, too.

    Hey, we are survivors. The hardest part for me has been to unconditionally forgive, but I am getting closer. :):)

  4. I hope that moment finally woke your mother up! I want her and your father to love you, cherish you, realize what a gem had been bestowed on them.

    I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment.

  5. It is such a universally painful place to be - a little girl who bears the weight of her siblings on her shoulders. This is one of the things I have vowed never to do as a parent: make my girls feel as though they have responsibilities they couldn't possibly begin to accommodate. What a brave, practical soul you were to make these plans. I imagine your brother felt terribly safe and secure in your love and care.

  6. Dee, your story is so sad and then, I read here about Rita's experience and I find myself uncomprehending, not understanding at all how any Mother could leave her young children alone, untended, locked in a car or a house, for any length of time, for whatever reason! I honestly do not know what to say! Fishducky has spoken for all Mothers worldwide to whom this would be anathema!

  7. Another vivid, painful story that evokes so many feelings. I could really empathize with that scared, determined little girl making plans while her brother sleeps on her shoulder. Isn't it amazing how you, at this age, can go right back to that your feelings as a little girl -- and your mother really had no idea how her actions and choices affected you and why. I think the fear of abandonment is so very strong in children. I was frightened about that myself at times when I was a child. But I was never in a scenario, like you, when I felt that was becoming reality.

  8. For a person who had so many trials competing to erode your confidence, you've become a very fine woman. ~Mary

  9. This post seemed to break through to the mother, that she recognized "something is wrong". I sure hope so!

  10. Dee, you endured so many heartbreaking episodes as a child. I just can't imagine a "real mom" doing those things. I had a step mom who took me and my siblings to work with her in downtown Portland. She also left us in the car, but I was older, just after sixth grade. It gave me more reasons to hate her, yet I didn't dare leave my little sister and brother, or leave the car, as we were threatened to stay. It seemed like many hours to me, and I remember getting hot, but, we survived. Adults can make pretty bad choices at times.
    I continue to look forward to reading more about your childhood.