My dad never hurt me or any of his children however he did beat my mom regularly. He was violent when he was drinking alcohol. They went bowling once a week and they were both drinking.
I can remember seeing it with tears running down my cheeks. I also would start shaking all over from fear. I ran to our regular babysitter’s house for help all of the time but all they would do is sit me in their lap and wait it out before they took me back home. I didn’t understand why nobody would help my mom.
When I was born in 1954 there weren’t any laws against beating your wife. I found out recently that half of the states in the US still don’t have laws against domestic violence. If I was getting married I would find out what the laws were regarding domestic violence in the state I lived in first.
My dad ran away from home at age 17 and he was raped. He went to basic training in the army to fight the Korean War but on his first leave of absence he was hit by a car. He had compound fractures in both of his legs and a head injury that put him in a coma for three weeks. He recovered at a VA hospital in Battlecreek, MI. My mom went to the hospital with a girlfriend to visit her boyfriend. My dad was his roommate. That’s how my mom met my dad. On their first date my dad was still in full casts on both legs but he took my mom out dancing. Mom told me that my dad danced all night with her using crutches. I can just picture that in my mind.
After my mom got pregnant with me, my dad bought her a brand new trailer to live in. Grandma was upset with the situation so my dad stayed at Grandma’s through his work week and spent the weekends with my mom. I was born on the fourth of July so my mom used to say I came out with a bang. I was born with collapsed lungs and only weighed 5 pounds. Back then a lot of 5 pound babies didn’t survive. I was also in an oxygen incubator for three weeks. My mom and dad got married after I was released from the hospital. I was three weeks old and I got to go to the wedding.
My sister, Ruth was born the following year in the month of July also. My dad had a very bad accident at work. He worked the 2nd shift at a major corporation that made cars. He was operating a press there. Dad slipped on some oil and hit the knee button and the press came down on his hands. All of his fingers were severed. I was about one and a half years old at the time.
My aunt Margie was fourteen when she was baby sitting us while mom and dad were bowling and drinking. Aunt Margie witnessed one of my dad’s violent behavioral attacks against my mom. My mom told me she was never right again. Aunt Margie always hid when we came to Grandma’s and they would send me to find her and get her to go to her room. I was kind of scared of her because she was so weird but I would look for her. She usually hid in the bathroom, in the garage, or sitting on the basement steps. It was easy to get her out of the bathroom. All I had to tell her was that I had to go to the bathroom really bad about three times and she would run out and go upstairs to her room. She never left home. She never had a job. She never went to the store. She never drove a car. Like I said, she never left home. Sometimes they would tell me to go upstairs to visit my aunt Margie. I didn’t know what to say or what to do so I would ask her to put finger nail polish on my finger nails and toe nails. She would do it but she wouldn’t talk to me.
After my dad went through being raped, being hit by a car, and the accident at work he became paranoid. He would only eat food out of a can because he thought my mom was poisoning him. He thought my mom’s friends were Mary and Joseph, Jesus’s parents. Then he would refuse to take a shower or get off of the couch to go to work. He told me that we weren’t his kids. We were his brother’s children. Dad had to have several surgeries because gangrene would set in his fingers. His hands were crippled but they really did a great job considering it was in the 1950’s. Mom didn’t except a one time settlement fee from dad’s work place. She made a deal with them to give my dad a lifetime guaranteed job. I think she made the right decision.
Dad’s behavior got progressively worse so my mom and my grandpa had to get him declared incompetent in court. When the judge asked my dad what his name was he said he was “Jesus Christ.” The judge had him put in the state mental institution. My dad’s diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia. During his stay there they gave him Electro Shock Treatment several times a week. It’s called ECT for short. I always said, “ECT took my dad away from me.” I felt that way because three years later when he got out of the hospital my dad didn’t have any emotional feelings at all. He never kissed, hugged, or told any of his four daughters that he loved us.
My mom couldn’t get a divorce from my dad because back then they didn’t allow divorces if a spouse was in a mental institution. I can remember living at a campsite. It was a small trailer with one bedroom and no bathroom. My mom and I shared the fold out couch and my three sisters were in the bedroom. I can still picture all of us with sun suits and flip flops on walking to the community shower and bathroom facility. At night we had to use a big pan that was under the bed. I would stay awake all night when I had to go to the bathroom because I was afraid to move. If I woke up my mom she would have been mad at me and would have hurt me. My mom turned her anger against my dad on to us. She would beat me. I was so scared of her I have trouble relaxing my muscles when I lay down at night. When it was nap time I would stay rigid out of fear that when she checked on me she would know I wasn’t asleep. I had asthma and couldn’t sleep much anyway. One time my mom walked into Grandma’s house and threw my baby sister against the wall to the right. She bounced off of the wall and landed on the couch. I ran over to her to see if she was okay. I was changing diapers and feeding babies because my mom would lose it and hurt them. Every time I heard one of my three sisters cry I ran in to take care of them. I was also feeding them. Mom didn’t feed us most of the time. I stood on a chair to wash dishes because mom would get mad about dirty dishes in the sink. I remember that from when I was age 3-5. The family took my sister away from my mom and she lived with a cousin but we called her an aunt. She kept my sister for a year before they would give her back to my mom. I remember visiting her at my aunt’s house.
My mom found a boyfriend and I got a new sister and a brother. They managed a hotel across a large boulevard that had a park. We weren’t allowed to go there. I can remember helping make beds all of the time. When I got to take my sisters out to play I took them to a car junk yard and told them not to get their dresses dirty or mom would know where we had been. I just wanted my sisters to have some fun. We had a lot of fun pretending we were driving to exotic places and seeing beautiful landscapes. It was fun to pretend we were someplace else safe from fear from my mom and her boyfriend.
I can recall mom taking me on a train one time. We went inside a bar and all of the men gave me change to play the jukebox. I liked the song, Make The World Away by Eddie Arnold. Mom’s favorite song was Your Cheating Heart by Hank Williams Sr. That’s the only song I ever learned the lyrics to because I would sing along with my mom when she sang Your Cheating Heart.
Mom took me and my three sisters from her marriage to my dad to Philadelphia PA. She took me aside and said to me, “Bonnie I have to go to Chicago to look for work. Your dad is sick. Take care of your sisters. She kissed me goodbye on the cheek. Tears were running down my face like rain. I don’t recall the name of the friends of hers that she left us at.
I do remember that he was always yelling at Mary to put her shoes on right. I would put her shoes on the right feet when ever I noticed she had put her shoes on the wrong feet. One time she sent me to the store to get the large glass bottles of Pepsi and I dropped them and every one of them broke. I was scared to go in the house so I sat on the edge of the concrete porch. She came out and sat beside me and said, “It was too heavy for you wasn’t it?” I shook my head yes and she said it was alright. So all I remember is that me and my three sisters were sleeping in the same bed. I was taking care of my sisters the best I knew how and that my mom was taking a long time finding a job. After a few months went by with no word from my mom we ended up on a plane back to my dad and grandparents in Michigan.
I was real excited to get to see my dad because I hadn’t seen him since he went to the hospital. I was 6 years old and I had my 2 year old sister in my lap by the window in the plane and Ruth held Mary on her lap. When the plane was taxiing in I looked out the window and saw my dad waving his arm and hand as high as he could. I don’t think he was supposed to be down there where the planes were coming in but I was so happy to see him. We were all happy to see him and dad was smiling and he was glad to see us too.
Without any warning Ruth, Mary and I were taken to a Catholic orphanage. Martha was too young so Grandma kept her at their house. Mary was holding on to me tight screaming and crying while the nuns kept pulling her off of me. That went on for what seemed like forever. She kept breaking lose from them and running back to me. It was breaking our hearts. It still makes me cry when I think about it. The nuns separated the three of us into different wings according to our age. All three of us were separated. Martha quit talking and she devised a plan to get to see me. She wouldn’t obey her teachers at school. She would stand at her locker with her little fists clenched while gritting her teeth and wouldn’t budge. The teacher would call me out of class and I would whisper in her ear, “I Love You, and I would say I’m going to help you put your coat, boots, hat, and gloves on so you can go out and play for recess.” She was okay with that but it was only temporary. They had to get me out of class three times a day to talk to her.” Martha loved playing in the sand box at the orphanage playground so I would chase any kids away from it so my little sister could be the one place she liked to be.
I stood by the fence looking at the house across the street and prayed for the day my family would be back together again. Ruth and I had severe asthma and all of the other kids were running up and down the stairs while we were struggling to get up one step at a time. Back then they said asthma was caused by emotional problems. The nuns made me eat a teaspoon of Vicks with a little sugar on it. It was awful tasting and it didn’t help. Sometimes they gave me an aspirin and told me to let it dissolve in my mouth. I think that made it worse. I was up struggling to breath every night for hours before I could go to sleep.
My dad would come to see us every month bringing either chocolate covered cherries or peanut brittle. After about a year I started giving it away to the other children. Sometimes we got to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to spend the night. I was my Grandpa’s shadow. If he was pulling weeds in the garden I was too. No matter what he was doing I was helping him. Grandpa kept a bottle of Old Grandad whiskey on the top shelf near the sink in the cupboard. I can recall him drinking a shot of it and giving me a shot too. I drank it down quickly just like he did even though it burned going all the way down. Grandpa would say “now don’t tell Grandma.” That was our little secret.
My dad always gave us money when we would scream about the ice cream truck coming down the street. Dad would say, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” It was only a nickle for one scoop back then. All of us had our own bank accounts and we were taught to save money. We had little chrome barrel piggy banks with a key that Grandma kept. If I wanted a dollar I had to wash and and wax my dad’s car or do his laundry in the wringer washing machine and hang the clothes out on the line. Getting ice cream was the only thing I remember getting for free.
Dad had a station wagon for several years and when he picked us up or was taking us back to the orphanage we would play a game. The game was to sit on a blanket at the very back of the station wagon, look for cars, and if nothing was coming I’d yell “Stop!” and my dad would hit the brakes so we could slide all the way forward on the blanket. We would do that until we got bored with it.
Even though we had to go to Mass 6 days a week and clean the orphanage on Saturdays I managed to have fun. They had these great big machines with circular brushes and it could be changed to buffers. While attempting to use the machine I was having trouble keeping it under control. I was just a little girl in grade school. I recruited my two sisters to sit on top of the machine and get vibrated to death so I could buff the floors. They had fun and I got the chores done.
I was also chosen to lead the Easter Parade one year and I thought that was a great honor. They were strict at the orphanage but they weren’t ever cruel. We saw movies about the Saints and God and Jesus. One time they let us go to the movie theater. I didn’t know the way there so I had to follow the older kids there. My sister, Mary had almost drowned in the pool. She was at the bottom of the deep end of the pool. I somehow managed to communicate with the lifeguard without speaking because she saw her after looking at me. She jumped right in and saved her just in time. Mary has never forgotten when she almost drowned to this day. Anyway we came to a bridge and Mary decided she wasn’t crossing it because she was afraid of the water and drowning. I tried and tried to get her to cross it with me but she wouldn’t budge. The older kids were starting to get out of my site and I was scared we would get lost. Finally I said “If I ride you on my back and you close your eyes, will you cross the bridge?” She agreed to cross the bridge that way. It was tough for me to get her across because of my asthma but I did it. We got to the theater to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie, The Birds. That movie scared me to death. I was afraid of birds for several years after that. That was the one and only time I can recall going to the movie theater. We saw a movie at the orphanage every month.
When school was out the nuns would put us all on the bus and head out to I don’t know where but it was at least an hour away. I can remember singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall and the nuns didn’t care that we were singing about beer. The place we went to was called The Villa. It was out in the country. The girls were on one side of the street and the boys on the other side. The sleeping arrangement was like an army barracks. There was a building to eat in and a Chapel for Mass. They had two horses, a trampoline, and a swimming pool. We rode the horses bareback until Ruth got thrown off of the horse and got her head stomped on by the horse. We wouldn’t get on them any more after that incident.
The last summer we spent at the orphanage the nuns chose me to memorize a speech and dress me up just like a nun. I had the wings on my head, the habit, and the big rosary with a cross on it around my waist. I looked like a real nun except I was too young to be one. They took pictures of me and I gave them to relatives over the years. I got to the doorway of the Bishop’s room and forgot every word of the speech. I had a dozen red roses to give to him too. The Bishop said, “You forgot?” I shook my head yes and he said “Come over here and sit on the bed.” I don’t remember what was said after that but I was glad I didn’t get into trouble for forgetting what I was supposed to say.
Even though the nuns weren’t mean to us there was a huge void in our lives. There wasn’t any love, no hugs, no kisses, and no tucking you in to bed at night. I was in charge of the Rosarian Group in the orphanage. Instead of my parent reading me a good night story I had to kneel on a very cold hard floor and say the Rosary out loud every night. I was taught to love God and Jesus but we weren’t shown any love. My dad was incapable of showing love for us also. It’s hard to grasp the concept of love if no one has loved you.
I would like to find a way to show the children in a US orphanage that people do care about them. Some how I feel like I have to find a way to show them what real love is too. I am donating all proceeds from the sale of my book of poems toward helping The Forgotten Children. The least expensive place to purchase The Chill Turned Warm is at https://createspace.com/5083547/ You can get the Kindle book at amazon.com.
A young couple took the three of us to the circus and then to their house one time. She took me into a separate room and told me “We want to adopt you but you have to choose one of your sisters.” I very quickly replied, “I can take care of them!” Well that was the end of that. I’m glad too because I wouldn’t want to give up my sisters for any reason.
My sister Ruth was hit by a car and killed at age ten. Someday I’ll tell you what happened next. My little brother hitchhiked all over the US and went home without finding work. His girlfriend was breaking up with him over the phone and Frankie shot himself in the face with a shotgun and killed himself. I have grieved their loss immensely. I greatly loved both of them. You know people always say the grief will go away after two years. They are wrong because I have never gotten over my sister and my brother’s loss.
Hang on because it’s going to be a bumpy road full of holes when I continue telling you parts of my story. It’s a true story.
Thank you and have a great day!
Bonnie Gail Carter