I never met my real father. I have ONE picture of him standing in my grandparent’s back yard with my Mom. I met my stepfather somewhere between the age of 5 and 6. Just before I turned 11, I lost my Mom forever.
I have two very vivid pre-adoption memories. The first is one I will never forget and might explain my aversion to haircuts to this day. I mentioned that my Aunt Marge lived next door to my grandparents. Her first husband, Uncle Ray was the family barber. I think I was four or so, and had lovely ringlets of hair and everyone decided it was time for my first haircut. I can still hear those clippers and my screams of terror as I saw my hair falling on the floor around me. Now remember, I went in the Air Force and had my head buzzed, but I was prepared for it. The trauma of that day helped me decide to keep my sons as hairy as possible before they had to be subjected to the horrible cyclic ritual involving scissors and clippers.
My second memory is much better. I’ve written in previous posts that my Grandfather worked up the street. I can never remember him having a car. I do recall however, looking out the front window each day watching for him to be dropped off. As soon as his ride’s car door began to open, I would run for the dining room table and hide.
Perspective is relative I suppose, but my Grandfather was a big man. I’m guessing at least 6′ 4″. To a four-year old, he might as well have been a GIANT. He knew I was hiding, but every day he followed the same routine. He’d plop down his lunchbox and started to pretend to look for me, asking “now where could Chuckie be”? When he sat at the table I smelled the distinctive aroma of his workplace. I would learn later in life though my own experiences that the smell was of metal shavings and oil.
My Mom’s family were true Irish Catholics. My grandfather apparently did his share of living up to the his nationalities reputation while in his youth. But while I do remember him drinking a shot of whiskey every day, I never saw him drunk. While he certainly got angry, I never saw him out of control. I never adopted his drinking habits and made every attempt to never lose control of my inherited Irish temper.
I must have been between 5 and 6 when my Mom married my stepfather. I never went to Kindergarten and instead went right into the first grade. My grandparent’s got the Saturday Evening Post and I taught myself how to read. I was way ahead of the rest of the kids with regard to reading comprehension and found myself leading groups of readers with the blessing of the teacher.
I never met my stepfathers Dad, but I very much remember his Mother. I remember walks with my Mom from our home on East 57th Street to a butcher on East 65th, right across from Morgana Park, home of the some of the best softball in the United States. My Mom would pick out a duck and they would cut off its’ head and drain the blood into a white container which would be the main ingredient for the Polish delicacy known as Czernina. My Polish grandmother made delicious noodles but I hated the “duck blood soup” she made. She lied to us and told us it was “chocolate” soup, but in addition to that container of blood we brought home, the other ingredients were vinegar and prunes. Sure took away the glory of those wonderful noodles!
I do not remember exactly when she died, but the house must have been built by her husband, who I never met, and my stepfather. Despite being a Polish neighborhood, I didn’t know of anyone else that had a yard like ours. We had mulberry trees, plum trees and a crab apple tree. Quite plentiful for the size of the yard. Just beyond the back porch sat a plaster fish pond with plaster toad stools around it. I really don’t remember the fish, but I do remember it being filled in with dirt to become a nice flower garden.
Just beyond that, under the crab apple tree was a plaster horse that had to be about 5 feet high. My sister tells me the father sculpted all these items and also how the horse met its untimely demise. I’m inserting a painting by Van Gogh of a horse, but you’d have to have seen the horse to believe it. It stood on all fours, had fake jewel eyes and actually for little kids, was quite a sight to behold. As I got older and got the job of cutting the grass, I rued the day I had to push that mower through the avalanche of dead rotting fruit and around that plaster maze in the back yard. There was no “weed wacker” invented yet, so I had to use hand clippers to do the trimming.
I left home at the age of 16 and went to live with my grandparents. Of course, I never told anyone at school and even though it took me an hour and a half each way, I didn’t miss out on graduating friends, some of which, I had known since grade school. I enlisted in the Air Force about a year after graduation and it must have been about this time the horse met its’ fate.
Miscommunicated instructions led my Sister and Brother to take hammers to the plaster horse. My stepfather came home from work to find the last vestiges of HIS childhood had just been destroyed. My Sister doesn’t remember when, but apparently the fish pond/flower garden soon followed and the unique plaster art was soon gone for good. And to think that I’ve watched made for TV movies about neighbors suing each other over eyesores in their respective yards. If the producers only knew…