Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from my manuscript detailing my own abuse. Please see “My Story of Abuse” under the category link.
My earliest childhood memories were of a cute little white house we lived in that sat back off a very busy highway. It had a big yard for us to play in, but I can remember the semi’s going by really fast and the wind they made would blow my hair all around, and it would throw dirt all over me if I got close to the road. It was scary if you stood too close to the road. I may have been four years old when we moved from Shinnston to this little white house in McKeefry.
Dad was a coal-miner—had worked in the coal mine since he was fourteen years old. That’s where his first spinal injury came from when a timber fell on top of him when he was twenty years old. He knew a lot about coal mining and loved it. He and my Uncle Junior got a job working in the mine in Wells-Spring. It was a two and a half hour drive from Shinnston. So, Uncle Junior stayed with us while he was working and then went home to Aunt Maggie and their daughter on his time days off. Aunt Maggie was Mom’s sister and my favorite Aunt. She would have “fits” of some kind and would have to be put in a special hospital from time to time.
The cute little, white house only had two bedrooms, so Uncle Junior slept in a bed about a foot away from me, Darcie and Crystal’s bed. Mom and Dad had the other bedroom. Mom would fix Uncle Junior hot tea every morning, and pack his lunch along with Dad’s in a round metal pale. The bottom of the pale held drinking water, and then a little tray sat on top with their sandwiches, fruit, and a sweet snack. Sometimes, Dad would leave his sweet snack for me when he worked day shifts. I would be real excited when he’d come home and hand me his pale—sometimes there would be an apple, or a banana—but when he left me the sweet treat that was always the best! We were never allowed to touch the treats for their lunches. Sometimes, there would only be wires or stuff he took from the mines in the bottom of his pale.
He and my Uncle Junior use to carry these stinky lights with them to see in the mine. The were called carbine lights and the smell made me sick to my stomach every time I smelled them—they’d take my breath away.
My other Uncle stayed with us too. He was a drunk and didn’t work. He slept in the basement. He and Dad looked a good bit alike, but they’d argue often over my Dad being a “bastard” child. My Uncle Dave would get all drunked up with my Dad and they’d start fighting. He’d say, “Joe—ya’ bastard, I love ya’ just the same as if you were a full brother. Ya’ know that don’t ya’?”
I remember Dad being really upset over being a “bastard.” He said, “The Bible says, “No bastard can ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” So, he was always convinced when he died he’d go straight to hell. I felt real bad for him, and hoped he was wrong. I didn’t want my Dad to go to hell, but he read it to me out of the Bible. So, I guess it was true.
I never remembered my Grandpa, Dad’s dad. But Dad told me, “You didn’t miss nothin’. He was just a drunk and a horse trader. Why he’d pump up old nags with a hypodermic needle to make ‘em look like they had these big muscles and then dope ‘em up and they’d prance around like a racehorse.” And, he’d get a lot of money out of the old nags. “I remember one time Dot; I thought he’d beat your Uncle Dave to death with a bullwhip in the barn. Thought for sure he was goin’ kill him.” Dad said.
Dad didn’t tell too many stories about growing up like Mom did. He told us there were eleven of them—not counting the one that died in the war. Billy was only twenty-two years old when he got killed. Dad seemed to miss him a lot and talked about him all the time when he and Uncle Dave got drunk.
The only other story Dad told us about growing up was about dinnertime at their house. He said, “My sisters would reach across the table and take my food off my plate.” And then he’d have to go hungry. He was one of the youngest ones in his family. My Dad knew his real dad and he was supposed to be a real nice man, but he died before I was ever born. Seems like Grandpa took a three-month fishin’ trip and when he came back home, Grandma was pregnant with my Dad. I don’t think Grandpa was very good to my Dad because of it.
Mom didn’t like any of Dad’s family and picked no bones about telling him. Uncle Junior wasn’t too bad, but she was tired of him living with us, and packing his lunch, and cookin’ for him too. But, that was her sister’s husband and she had to do right by her sister.
One night, Dad and Uncle Junior were working—it was late at night. Uncle Dave was drunk again and arguing with my Mom over something. I was afraid of him when he got real drunk. He was okay when he wasn’t, but that didn’t happen a lot. He told me one day, as he sit and watched me trying to catch a bird, that if I put salt on his tail, I could catch him. He got me in a lot of trouble that day for taking Mom’s salt shaker and then, I didn’t even catch one bird.
But, he had gotten really drunk one night and Darcie and I were sitting on the couch in our jammies watchin’ T.V. Crystal was doing the ironing. Uncle Dave was down in the floor crawlin’ around. Mom walked in the room and said, “You son-of-a-bitch you can’t fool me—you ain’t that drunk.” He was crawlin’ towards Crystal and now I was afraid. Mom said to Crystal, “If the bastard touches you—lay that hot iron on his damn back.” I was kinda’ afraid of him after that night. Crystal didn’t have to burn him, but I could tell she was scared of him too.
My uncles lived there a long time with us before they finally left. Uncle Junior’s family finally moved to McKeefry too, but my Aunt Maggie didn’t like it sa’ good. So, Uncle Junior went back home with her after a few months to search for another job in Shinnston. I can’t really recall when Uncle Dave left us, but he’d still visit us about once a year in his traveling-trailer home.
Our neighbors, Mary Anne and Frank were real nice people. Frank teased me all the time and told me how pretty I was—it embarrassed me, and I never knew what to say back to him. They had two kids, Cecile and Ricky. Ricky was only a year older than me and some times we’d play in the dirt together with trucks.
One day, Mary Anne and Frank yelled for us and wanted all three of us to come over to their house. When they got us inside, they told us to close our eyes—they had a surprise for us. I felt a little funny, but went along—I wanted a surprise. We opened our eyes and they held three, beautiful baby dolls out for us to see! They were all the same except for the color of their gowns. They were about a foot tall with Southern Belle bonnets on and long gowns made of layers of ruffles and lace. One was yellow, one was blue and the other was a rainbow of colors! She was easily my favorite, and Frank said, “Dottie, you’re the youngest—you get to choose first the one you want.” I was so thrilled and took the rainbow doll from Frank and thanked him. I never really knew why they’d bought us the baby dolls, but I cherished mine. Darcie took the yellow one, and Crystal took the blue one.
Dad always had huntin’ dogs—usually beagles. He had Duke tied up on the hill close to a little shed. One day Dad was practicing shooting with his bow. He accidentally shot poor Duke—arrow went right through him. Dad was so upset over killing his favorite huntin’ dog. The little shed was a ways from the house and Mom’s clothes line ran from it down to the back of our house.
One day, I remember something awful happened. Dad and I were in the shed, but I don’t remember what we were doing. There was a lot of commotion as I try to remember, but I went racing from the shed and running down the hill towards the house. I was crying and really afraid. Dad was whipping Crystal with his belt really hard and she was crying really loud—I don’t know where my Mom was, or why he was beating poor Crystal. But, I was running down the hill and there was this huge black snake stretched the whole length of Mom’s clothesline—he had to be fifty foot long! I was running as fast as I could and crying. As I ran down the hill, I kept looking down trying to figure out where the black snake’s end was, but all I could see was the black snake…he went on and on and I was so afraid of it. I was trying so hard to get away from it and to the house. Something was wrong with my clothes.