~chapter eight~ ~children: the mother blood~ ~part one~ ~lockup~

WordWulf By WordWulf, 13th May 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Domestic Violence & Abuse

~that way-down place where fear is born~a parasite gnawing at your bowels~places to go & things to do~behaviors to learn & practice~whether you like it or not poor boy~you tough it out with the other prisoners~but guards teachers administrators~big shots all they demand respect~in their domain prisons jails schools~stand up & pledge allegiance~do that every day & you’ll think it’s natural~it isn’t~I never did go for that shit~


~nothing to learn~
~whom follows the example~
~trade wisdom for freedom~
~paupers & fools~

Winter, 1960
Denver, Colorado

Freeland Elementary School rose up out of the ground across the street from where we lived. It was a huge edifice, an intimidating and imposing three story structure of brick and mud. I felt the house crouched beneath the sidewalk across the street watching us with its wooden window eye as Momma took Jackie and Phillip and me to register there. We all held hands across the busy street, 29th Avenue, and all the way up the wide stone steps to the tall front doors. Other than my visit to Union Station, I had never seen ceilings so high.

The lady who signed us up was nice and polite. She gave Momma an application for the lunch assistance program. Since we were new to the school and Mom hadn’t provided our previous school records, the school office would have to conduct a background investigation and confirm the information Momma gave them. The building was packed with rambunctious children and impatient parents but, all things considered, it didn’t take very long to register. Once we were through the process, there were kids (they were called hall monitors) to show each new student where their classrooms were. Mine was on the third floor and I was scared to death. This school felt bigger and busier than the train depot to me. Certain I would never be able to find my classroom when I started school the next day, I did my best to hide my anxiety.

When we returned home, Momma divided a package of lined notebook paper between Jackie and me. It was thin-lined and, though I was sure I had been instructed to bring wide-lined paper, I kept my mouth shut about it. Momma had enough problems without being told she had used the pennies scraped from the bottom of her purse to purchase the wrong kind of paper. Phillip was going into the second grade. The school would provide the supplies he required. Jackie and I were likewise given a pencil apiece. I looked at it up close: a number two, good. Momma told Jackie and me to bring home a note specifying additional supplies required because she had forgotten to ask for the list when she was registering us. It didn’t matter much because there was no money available to buy anything until Daddy finished his next roof. In his words, the family was ‘tapped out.’

Momma had a big surprise for us that afternoon. Broke we might be, but she had saved back a couple of large cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, the real thing. Wonders of the universe, there was even a box of saltines to go with it! From that moment on, I became aware that catsup and tomato paste heated in water made a pale substitute for tomato soup. They didn’t even belong in the same category as the real thing. There is colored water and there is soup. I was finally in a position to appreciate the difference and what a difference it was. The same applied to powdered milk as far as I was concerned. There is water, dyed white and named milk, and there is milk. I thought about things like that all the time and believed there must be those who had a taste and preference for powdered milk or else why would it exist? One thing was for sure, it was a staple in the Sterner children’s diet because it came to us free along with the other government supplied commodities we received. It also occurred to me that foods like powdered milk and Spam might have been created for the sole purpose of lining up the poor once a month so they could be marked and counted. That’s the feeling I got whenever I went with Momma to apply for them. She filled out forms, gave information, was added to and deleted from lists, told to sit here, wait there, go home, come back; don’t come back. I worried about the government finding about our pop bottle business and throwing Momma in prison forever for picking up commodities while her sons had pockets laced with pennies.

Daddy didn’t come home that night, so I stayed up into the later hours talking to Momma. She kept trying to send me to bed but I was too nervous to sleep. I was apprehensive about starting school the next day. The three storied monster watching from across the street owned me of waking moment and refused me respite. Phillip was happy and excited, eager to get started on the second grade. Jackie accepted it as a sentence, in no way singular in its gray proclamation of doom. I balanced delicately on a precipice between them and envied them equally their ability to simply go to sleep.

Momma's face across the table from me was a splotched red and white, with the gray of bruising holding her eyes. The inconsistencies in hue were most clear at night ‘neath its artificial glow of light. In the bright and natural light of day, one would hardly know she had worn a helmet of steaming hot spaghetti worms (not that normal people had occasion to imagine such). A full and glowing five plus months pregnant now, she had a small round basketball belly. She was in the habit of placing a hand on the top part of it and rubbing back and forth. How much did it know of us already, I wondered, this other. Yes, there would soon yet be another and the voices of seven children singing and crying in the house.

As the lingering night wore on, Momma became more and more worried and fretful about Daddy. Tomorrow she would begin to work additional night shift hours at the Dog House so she could be at home caring for my sisters during the day while my brothers and I were at school and Daddy was at work. She needed to know that Daddy could be depended upon to care for us at night while she was away. I didn’t share her faith and hope but would never say so in her presence. Faith and hope were all she ever really had and she was mine. Here we were on the eve of change and already Daddy seemed to be calling himself absent.

“Something’s wrong!” Momma said suddenly.

Alarmed and fearful at the suddenness of her statement, my eyes on the hand on her belly, I said, “Did it move, Momma? Are you okay?”

With an effort, she lifted herself from the chair and walked over to my side of the table. She hugged me and rocked my head in her arms. I was surprised at the hardness of her basketball belly, which I had certainly never touched, and considered this to be the first embrace from my new brother or sister.

“It’s not that,” Momma crooned to me. “Where would I be without you, my boy and my hero?” She kissed the top of my head. “Your Dad should have been home long before now. I had better take a walk down to the store and make a couple of phone calls. I have to find out where he is.”

“I’ll go with you,” I offered. I was afraid when we went out late at night, Momma and me, but ever more when she went out walking by herself.

Momma, as was her habit at times, put a soft hand on each side of my face when she spoke to me. “You worry too much, Tommy. You’re too, too young to worry so much. I can take care of myself and, much as I always enjoy your company, I need you to stay here and keep an eye on your brothers and sisters.”

She rummaged through her work apron and found a few bits of change. She smiled at me, put a coat on against the chill of the soon autumn night and walked out the door. I watched her go then opened the door and looked out just as she disappeared around the corner in a puff of cigarette smoke. I checked the door lock then set out to roam the small house. First I counted heads on the bare mattress in the bedroom then sat down at the kitchen table and listened to the radio talk and sing.

Momma was gone for what seemed like an awful long time. Just as I was about to go wake Jackie up to watch things so I could go out and look for her, there was a light tap on the front door. I opened it and there she was. Now there were tears on her burn fresh face.

She came in and I left her alone, just stood watching, as she poured herself a cup of coffee. Her trembling hands dug for matches, then lit a Pall Mall. Little puffs of smoke escaped from her nose and lips as she spoke to me in a voice tired beyond the night.

“Grandma Webster got a call from the Denver Police Department where your father is being held. She can’t go get him out because she is too upset with problems of her own. Grandpa Webster has moved out and had her served with divorce papers.” She paused and stared blankly across the table. The wreath of smoke around her battered face reminded me of the scars of our lives.

“What are we gonna do, Momma?” I asked the question I would never ask.

Momma got up and reached for her purse. She opened it, took out a large bottle of cheap aspirin and sprinkled some into her hand. These she popped into her mouth and washed down with a glass of water from the sink. It was one of those surreal moments when another in your company slips away. There they are, right in front of you but... She used a spoon to crush a half dozen more aspirin into a saucer. These she pressed into the holes of her aching teeth. She lit another cigarette and drew deeply upon it. She had her Cherokee Grandmother’s high cheekbones and, with her cheeks drawn in, she reminded me of an Indian princess.

“I’m sorry, Tommy,” she said, “What did you say, honey?”

I bit my bottom lip and looked away from her face. “I said I wish your teeth didn’t hurt so much.”

“Thank you, Tommy,” she said distractedly. She mumbled a bit, twisted her mouth around this way and that. I supposed it was to keep the aspirin wedged into her teeth. She gave me a sad smile. “Do you have any idea what time it is, honey?”

“The radio man did his midnight thing just before you got home,” I replied.

She stood up and took a deep breath. “I still have time then. Grandma Webster said she would help with money if I can find a way to go over and get it from her. I’ll go back to the phone booth and call the Dog House. If Ringo is there, maybe he’ll give me a ride to your grandmother’s house.” She tapped her cigarette on the ash tray until the ashes dropped off the end of it. “As soon as I get hold of the jail and see how much the bond is to get him out, then another maybe, Ringo can give me a ride downtown to the bondsman then to the jail to get your Dad out.” She stamped her foot. “Damn it!”

“Whatsa matter, Momma?”

She clenched her fists so tight her knuckles became white. “This isn’t fair; it just isn’t right! You kids start school tomorrow. If I can’t find someone to watch the girls...” She sat down, put her head in her hands and wept.

I reached across the table and touched her hand. “I can get Jackie and Phillip off to school, Momma. I’ll watch the girls while you get Daddy out of jail, then I can start school the next day. They don’t do that much the first day anyway, you know that.”

“I would just walk away,” Momma said.

“You would what?”

“I swear, Tommy,” she said softly, “If there was a way for us to make it, I would take all of you kids and just walk away.” She stifled a sob. “Just look at me. You should never see anyone like this, especially not your mother. I am so sorry, Tommy.”

She scared me when she was like this. I couldn’t understand how she could even consider such a thing. We had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. All of our relatives had suffered us enough. Daddy’s work and bar friends had suffered us. If the authorities got involved, they would never keep us kids together. We were too many. Momma was always saying Daddy would eventually straighten up and go on the wagon forever. In the end, everything would finally be okay. Momma had to be strong, she just had to. My parents were falling apart and changing right in front of my eyes and not for the better from the looks of it, never for the better.

Momma touched my hand and startled the darkness from my thoughts. “You’re as jumpy as your Daddy,” she said. “Listen Tommy, I don’t want you to worry about all this. You should be in bed getting rested up for school tomorrow. I’ll do what I have to do to get your Daddy out of jail and things just have to get better. I don’t see how they could be any worse. I don’t know what he’s in there for but maybe this will be that wakeup call he needs to hear that will straighten him out. You go in there and lay down with your brothers and sisters where you belong. I have a couple of more phone calls to make.”

I opened my mouth to protest but was stopped as she pressed a finger to my lips. “You let me handle this. It is mine to do. Your Momma is a big girl. You go in there and be safe with your brothers and sisters. When you get up in the morning, I’ll know more about what’s going on here. I’ll fill you in then.”

There was nothing more I could say, so I went into the bedroom, took off my shoes, pushed my brothers gently aside, and claimed my space on the mattress. At times like this, I wished I had a pillow like those people on the radio were always singing about. The mattress just didn’t cut it. It was old and stinky, the property of someone else’s tears and an unforgiving sponge for my own. Thinking about the radio reminded me of the song that lady was always singing, ‘Stand By Your Man.’ There must be a lot of ladies in the world like Momma if someone wrote a song about them. That was just too sad to contemplate, and in doing so, I fell into a troubled slumber.

The next day I helped Momma get Jackie and Phillip ready for school. Jackie refused to speak to me because I didn’t have to go to school. There was butter and sugar for our oatmeal but only enough bread for half a peanut butter sandwich each for lunch. Peanut butter and butter were also provided to the family through the commodity program. I sometimes wondered how we would survive without commodities. I knew the answer to that; it was the answer to all things. Momma had found the commodity program for us. Even without them, Momma would have found a way.

I stayed home with my sisters while Momma went to a phone to arrange transportation. She had never driven a car and couldn’t afford one anyway. Come hell or high water, she’d find a way to get Daddy out of jail and transportation to bring him home. There was a bondsman she had used several times before. He knew Momma and would trust her to a payment arrangement. Henry Vito was a nice, aggressive man in a not-so-nice, aggressive business. So, once Jackie and Phillip were safely off to school, Momma put on her makeup, finished her coffee, and left. She had made arrangements to meet Ringo at the Dog House. He didn’t have any money to add to the bond kitty, but would take her wherever she needed to go to get Daddy out of jail.

It was a great relief for me to not have to go to school but I was haunted by the reality that, the longer I was able to put it off, the worse that first day would be. It took three days of running around to raise the money for bail and get Daddy out of jail. Then there was the problem of retrieving his truck from the police impound lot. A cop had found him passed out alongside the Platte River in his truck. They took him to jail and impounded his vehicle. His case was under investigation but it appeared he would plead guilty to public drunkenness and receive a year’s probation under a deferred judgment plea.
2885 words

Inquiries: wordwulf@gmail.com
©2014 graphic artwork music & words
conceived by & property of
tom (WordWulf) sterner 2014©
~also available at Amazon ~
~chapter one~
~chapter two~
~chapter three~
~chapter four~
~chapter five~
~chapter six~
~chapter seven~
~my heaven~


1958, 1959, Alcoholism, Art, Colorado, Denver, Family, Fear, Free, Lockup, Memoirs, Missouri, Mommas Rain, Money, Mothers, Parenting, Philosophy, Photography, Poverty, Religion, Saint Louis, Sons, Survival, Tom Wordwulf Sterner, Violence, Wikinut, Writer

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author avatar WordWulf
I write novels, poetry, songs,nonsense & lies. Sometimes truth sneaks in when I ain't lookin'.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
14th May 2014 (#)

interesting indeed...

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author avatar WordWulf
15th May 2014 (#)


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