My mother married my father when she was 32 and he was 43. She had worked as a telephone operator for almost 11 years but she gladly quit so that she could be a wife and a mother.
She told me many, many years later that she had been very afraid that she would end up an “old maid”. My mom had even refused to be her sister’s maid of honor years earlier because she was so upset and jealous that her youngest sister, Maxine, was getting married before she did.
My parents were married April 30, 1955 at Angola, Indiana. I was born near the end of November later that same year.
When I was 10, I did the math and I was puzzled that there were only 7 months between the time they were married and when I was born. I knew at that time that babies were born after 9 months, so why was there a 2 month difference?
I asked my mom about that and she told me that I had been born premature. Okay, that made sense…for a little while.
When I was 12 I looked at my baby book and it said that I had weighed 7 pounds, 1 ounce when I was born. Hey….!
This time I told my mom, “You lied to me! Premature babies do not weigh 7 pounds when they are born! You were pregnant when you got married, weren’t you?”
She refused to look me in the eye as she mumbled, yes, she had been pregnant when she married my dad. I was angriest because she had once more lied to me than about the fact that my mother and father had “sinned” before marriage.
It now seemed very weird to look at their wedding pictures and know that I had been there too, a wee little me all curled up inside my mom.
My mom and dad’s marriage was an often rocky one and their frequent conflicts and parenting styles were really difficult for me and my two younger brothers.
My father was a very old-fashioned person. When the term “chauvinistic” became popular during the 1960’s and the 1970’s, that fit my dad to a T.
Men worked, took care of the bills, made all of the financial decisions, while women took care of the house and the kids. He tried very, very hard to keep my mom, and later us kids, within those strict places and roles.
So it increasingly became very confusing when my mom would frequently involve me in her many schemes to circumvent my dad’s rigid expectations.
We all grew up with the standard rules: Don’t lie, always be honest, mind your parents and your teachers, work hard, pay your bills on time, be frugal with money, and always save, save, save as much as you can.
But my mom often did things that contradicted those rules. The first movie I ever saw, “Where The Boys Are”, was a wonderful and fascinating experience that I shared with my mother when I was five.
However, that enjoyment was dampened quite a bit when, on our way home, she made me promise that I would never tell my dad or my brothers that we had seen that movie or had had banana splits afterwards. This all had to be kept a secret!
I found out later that she had originally told my dad that we were going shopping for school clothes for me because I had already outgrown the clothes bought for me when I had started kindergarten several months earlier.
He gave her a little bit of money and she did buy me one dress, but the rest of the money was spent on the movie and the treats.
My dad gave my mom an “allowance” and always made a big production of giving it to her every Friday night after he came home from work.
I was too little to know the prices of stuff or whether or not what he gave her was adequate for what she needed but my mom apparently chafed at having to always ask my dad for extra money.
But instead of acting like an adult herself and discussing these things with my dad, she always resorted to sneaky, manipulative ways of getting what she wanted. Those methods of hers that she never gave up trying to accomplish, were things that I gradually discovered about her over the years.
What was much, much worse is that she made me an involuntary partner to her lies and sneakiness. I was constantly afraid that I would slip and break my promises to not tell anybody about the activities that we would often do.
Wasn’t what she was doing a lie? Wasn’t that wrong? Didn’t that make me a liar too? Would I die and go to hell like the “bad children” that were so vividly described in the many “Uncle Arthur” Christian story books my mom got for us kids to read?
Another thing that my mother often did to me was that, as the oldest child, I was responsible for my brothers. I had to always keep an eye on them and make sure they stayed out of trouble.
She put those heavy responsibilities and duties on my shoulders when I was only 6 years old! My brother, Keith, was 5 and the youngest, Eugene, was 3 years old at that time.
The second we left school and came home or when we woke up in the summertime, those responsibilities for me began. They didn’t end until my dad came home at 3:30 pm when my mom would resume being the responsible one for all of us kids.
If my brothers did something wrong that was called to my father’s attention and he then yelled at my mom, I was punished for it later when he wasn’t home.
My mom’s favorite form of punishment was the coffee cord. Their electric percolator had a long, detachable black cord with a metal spring at the end that plugged into the percolator.
She would double up that coffee cord so that the socket plug end would line up with the end with the spring on it. Then she would whip us hard on the butt or the backs of our thighs with those cord ends.
That hurt like hell! We frequently had large welts on our butts and our legs from those coffee cord whippings.
My mom devised another sneaky, manipulative scheme to circumvent my dad’s financial stinginess in the summer of 1962 when I was 6 1/2 years old.
She decided to sell subscriptions to the “Highlights for Children” magazine door-to-door. And my mom decided to not tell my dad what she was going to do.
Because we only had the one car, my dad’s 1954 Buick Special, she would sometimes wake us kids up at 5 in the morning so that she could drive my dad to work. Then she could have the car all day. Sometimes my dad would get rides to the Buick car factory with some of the other men who worked there too and who also lived nearby.
So after breakfast my mom would bundle us kids up in the car and she would drive to far away neighborhoods all around the city of Flint to go door-to-door to try and sell those magazine subscriptions.
We were forced to stay in the car and I was ordered to make sure my brothers stayed quiet and out of trouble.
My mom would park in the middle of one street, walk back to the end of the block, then go to each house, up one side then down the other. Then we would go to the next street and so on.
We would be gone until 2 or 3 pm when my mom had to race us back home to pretend that she hadn’t been gone all that time. My dad would come home from work at 3:30 and he never suspected a thing.
Now my brothers, as well as I, were sworn to secrecy about my mother’s activities. We were frequently told to never say a word to my dad or we would “get it.”
We hated being cooped up all day inside the car! We had a few books and some toys but those quickly lost their appeal to us. So we would often chase each other over the seats, sliding over and around them like little otters.
Sometimes we would play with the steering wheel or the windows. One time Eugene was having a ball honking the very loud horn until my mom, with a very red face, stormed out of the house she was in, and yelled at him and swatted him. Then she yelled at me for not doing a much better job of keeping him out of trouble.
Sometimes when it was a very hot and humid day, we would get out of the car and chase each other around it and then sit, exhausted and tired out, on the shadowed side of the car. But then I would get yelled at and punished for all of us being out of the car.
Why my mom expected three very young kids, ages 6, 5 and 3, to be able to be perfectly behaved for five or more hours, cooped up in a hot car, has always been beyond my comprehension, then and now.
She finally became so exasperated with our squabblings and our complaining that she decided to drop us off at the nearest park or school yard so that we could play while she worked.
That was a lot more fun at first than being cooped up in the car all day but sometimes that was not so fun either.
Most schools had an outside drinking fountain but sometimes they didn’t work. Some of the parks had drinking fountains but some didn’t. And that summer seemed especially long and hot and muggy to me. We were frequently very thirsty.
One time after my mom had dropped us off at a park, it began to thunder and rain hard. We were all snuggled up underneath a tree, trying to keep warm and dry. Staying under that tree was the most dangerous place to be during a thunderstorm, but we didn’t know that.
After an hour my mom finally came back to get us and we all gratefully got into the back seat, shivering and drenched. We cuddled up together with our teeth chattering, begging to please be taken home. My mom finally and reluctantly agreed.
Later on in the summer, my mom dropped us three kids off at Hilborn Park that was near the intersection of Detroit Street and Pierson Road in Flint.
It was a sunshiny pretty day and me and my two brothers were having fun playing tag with some kids who were also in the park.
After that we each got a chance to use the large swing set. I was in the middle of my two brothers, swinging as hard and as high as I could, stretching my legs up towards the tops of the trees that surrounded the swing set.
Suddenly a much older and bigger girl, who had tried bullying me and my brothers during the game of tag earlier, came up behind me and shoved me out of my swing seat.
I went flying off the swing and I landed a distance away on my hands and my knees on piles of very wet and moldy leaves.
I got up, dusted myself off, and I began to yell at that older girl, who was now smilingly using my swing. She told me to shut up or she would beat me up.
Knowing when to quit while I was ahead, me and my brothers then contented ourselves with playing follow the leader, me, as we jumped from one large boulder to another.
Keith then asked me in a very puzzled voice, “Jeneane, why do you have blood on your dress?”
I looked down and sure enough, there were a few large splotches of blood and smaller drops of blood all down the skirt of my dress.
Puzzled myself, I checked my legs and my arms. When I turned my hands over, I began to scream when I saw that there was a huge flap of skin hanging down from the palm of my right hand. There was blood dripping down and it looked like I had guts or something underneath that blood.
Oddly enough I had felt no pain until I saw my mangled hand. I didn’t know what to do, I was so scared and frightened at seeing so much blood, my blood, and seeing what looked like the innards of my hand trying to fall out.
I started jumping up and down on my boulder, holding my right hand up, while I screamed, “I want my mommy! I want my mommy!”
Keith ran over to the pile of leaves I had fallen into after that mean girl had pushed me out of my swing. He pawed through the leaves and then he held up a broken pop bottle and he brought it over to me.
“This is what cut you all up, Jeneane.” Well, knowing now what had done so much damage was really no comfort at all to me but I calmed down as I told him to please make sure he throws that pop bottle into the trash barrel so nobody else could get hurt.
One of the girls we had been playing tag with, came up to me and told me that her mom was a nurse and that she could fix me all up and make me better. She turned and pointed to a house that was at the back of the park and said that that is where they lived.
I hesitated because I was always ordered to never, ever leave the park or the school we were at upon pain of getting whipped with that coffee cord. But my hand was still bleeding and it hurt so bad that I only wanted somebody, anybody, to make it all better.
So I thanked the girl and I told Keith and Eugene to come with us while we had her mom, the nurse, check out my hand.
That girl’s mother was already on her way through their back yard to meet us because she had seen the whole episode. She told her daughter to take Keith and Eugene into their living room and have them watch television with her.
Then that nice lady gently lifted up my hand and examined it. She put her arm around my shoulder and gave me a big hug as she told me to come on into her kitchen and she would clean up my hand and bandage it for me.
She got out milk and cookies for her daughter and my brothers and took them into the living room. Then she came back, closed the kitchen door, and gave me milk and cookies to munch on too while she left to get her first aid kit.
The lady gently held my right hand and began to use tweezers to pull out the slivers of glass that were poking out of my palm. To keep my mind occupied and less focused on what she was doing, she began to ask me questions, not in a mean way, but in a nice and interested manner.
I told her my name, how old I was, how old were my brothers, where I lived and what school I went to. She continued to pick out more glass pieces, as well as little pieces of dirt and leaves, out of my hand as she asked me why my brothers and I had been playing all by ourselves in a park so far from our home.
I explained to her that my mom was trying to sell magazines door-to-door for money and that we all got too bored cooped up in the car all day. My mom thought it would be better for us to have fun playing in parks or in school yards while she worked.
Then I realized that it must be getting late and if my mom came back and found us gone from the park, I would get a whipping.
I then tried pulling my hand away from that lady’s grasp as I told her we had to go, my mom would be really mad at me if we weren’t in the park when she came to pick us up.
She gently pulled my hand back as she told me she had to finish cleaning it up so my hand wouldn’t get sick and then hurt more.
She then called to her daughter and my brothers and asked them to go play in their backyard so that they could keep an eye out for our mom when she drove into the park.
I started worrying and panicking because I didn’t want Keith and Eugene to be out of my sight. I told her we really had to go but the lady insisted, in a nice way, that everything would be okay, my mom would not get mad but that she had to keep cleaning up my hand.
Then she told me, “Keep looking out the kitchen window, honey, and you will be able to see your brothers and also watch out for your mom too, okay?” So I relaxed a little bit and the lady continued to clean up my hand.
After she had washed it in a big bowl of nice, warm, soapy water, she softly swabbed some red stuff on my hand and then she bandaged it up all neat and tidy.
Just then my brothers and I, at the same time, all saw my mom pull into the park and I jumped up from the chair. I gave that nice lady the biggest hug as I gratefully thanked her for taking care of me and my brothers but I had to go before my mom got mad at me.
I ran out of her house, took Eugene’s hand in my left hand, and we all three ran as fast as we could to where we could see my mom standing next to the car, looking around, wondering where we could be.
What I didn’t see was that nice lady, who was behind us, was hurrying to meet my mother as well.
I saw my mother frown when she noticed my bandaged hand and just as the three of us began excitedly telling her what had happened, that lady joined our little group.
She introduced herself, explained that she was a registered nurse and that she had been the one who had cleaned up and bandaged my hand. Then she asked if she could speak to my mom in private.
With a bewildered look on my mom’s face because she didn’t yet understand what had happened, she ordered us kids to get into the back seat of the car and be quiet. Then the two of them walked off a little way to talk.
I whispered to my brothers to be very quiet as I slowly rolled down the back window so that I could hear everything better.
The lady told my mother that she had witnessed that bigger, older girl come up behind me while I was on the swing. She told my mom how that girl had pushed me out and that I had gone flying and landed on a pile of leaves.
And apparently there had been a broken pop bottle under the leaves and that is how my hand had been all cut up.
The lady explained to my mom that she had cleaned up as much of the shards of glass and debris out of my wound as she could, washed it in soapy water, and then had put an antiseptic wash on my cut as well.
The lady said that I really needed to either go to an emergency room or see my doctor as quickly as possible. That flap of skin needed to be stitched up but the lady was concerned that perhaps some tendons or ligaments had been cut as well but it was extremely important that my hand be looked at by a doctor very, very soon.
Then the lady told my mom that she had been very impressed with how well I had behaved. She explained that I had been more concerned about the welfare of my brothers and about not making my mom mad at me for having to leave the park than I had been about the immense pain of my cut hand.
The lady then told my mom that there were a few things she had to mention to my mother. For her to just think about them as friendly advice and concerns, from one mother to another.
I saw my mom stiffen up at that as she asked the lady to please continue.
The lady said that she didn’t know if my mom was selling magazine subscriptions out of an absolute financial necessity but that it was a horrible idea to keep leaving the three of us kids in school yards and parks for so long by ourselves. My mother really needed to come up with a much better solution to put us kids in a safer environment.
The lady told my mom that I was an unusually responsible child for being so young but that I was much too little to be completely responsible for myself, as well as for my two younger brothers. I silently thanked that lady when I heard her say that because I had always hated being put into that situation too.
The lady asked my mom if there were any friends or relatives who could keep an eye on us while my mom worked. My mom replied, between clenched teeth, that she could not afford to pay for a babysitter for three children, that doing so would take too much money out of the little bit she was earning.
Then she asked my mom to please carefully think over the concerns that she had mentioned. The lady said that she knew that my mom would never forgive herself if anything more serious ever happened to any of us kids in the future.
And then she gently reminded my mom that there might be some uncomfortable questions asked by some authorities if anything bad ever did occur to us children.
My mom’s face became beet-red and I thought, uh-oh, the fireworks are going to start because I also saw my mom close her hands up into tight, hard little fists.
My mom curtly thanked the lady for bandaging up my hand and for taking care of my brothers but that she had no business talking to her like that about a situation that she didn’t know a thing about and that was also none of her concern.
Then my mom stomped back to our car, got in, and flew gravel all over in her hurry to get out of that park as fast as she could.
She drove home as fast as possible to be there before my dad arrived after work. She yelled that she knew that me getting hurt had somehow been my fault. Maybe I had said something mean to that girl but I must have done something because my mom just couldn’t see why that older girl had just shoved me out of my swing for no reason.
I tearfully protested, and Keith did too, that I had done nothing wrong! I hadn’t said anything to that older girl before she had shoved me out of my swing seat. I did yell at her afterwards but that was all I had done, honest Mom!
And Keith backed me up too as he told my mom that it was all that older girl’s fault, that she had been a big bully, not Jeneane!
My mom just shook her head in angry denial as she kept giving me dirty glances in the rearview mirror.
We didn’t make it home before my dad did. He was there waiting for us at our house, wondering where we were. When he saw my bandaged hand, he started yelling at my mom that she had better have a good explanation.
She told him what had happened, but she left out the part why we were at the park by ourselves. Then my dad asked me and Keith to explain what had happened.
We had to tell him why we had been left alone at the park when he asked us to tell him the truth. He glared at my mom, and she refused to look at him.
Then my dad carefully unwrapped the bandage from my hand and he began to silently swear under his breath when he saw how badly I had been cut.
I started crying because I was so afraid of all the tension in the room and from also seeing my hand all mangled again.
My dad gave me a hug as he told me that he was going to take me to see our physician, Dr. Berman right now. And that if I was a good little girl who didn’t cry when the doctor looked at my hand, he would buy me an ice cream cone afterwards.
Well that stopped my tears in a hurry! But I almost started crying again when my dad angrily told my mom that this conversation about this situation would be continued when we got back. My mom then glared at me again.
While Dr. Berman had me sitting up on his examination table, licking a lollipop, he put a shot into my hand to numb it. I did not like that poke at all! But with a lot of curiosity, I watched as he took a needle and black thread and he stitched that huge flap on my palm back together. It was just like how my mom mended the rips in our clothes!
Dr. Berman told my dad that I was extremely lucky that I had not completely severed an important nerve, but that it had been nicked a tiny bit. He said that I had also nicked a tendon but that he was sure that he had stitched it up so that it could heal back together.
He also told my dad that I had to come back and have the stitches removed and that maybe at that time, he would give me some exercises to do with my hand to strengthen it up.
I could tell my dad was getting angrier and angrier as he thanked the doctor and lifted me off the table. He stomped out of the doctor’s office, holding my left hand, and then he told me we were going straight home.
I said, “Hey, what about my ice cream cone? I was a good girl, I didn’t cry once!” But my dad said that he would get me an ice cream cone tomorrow, that he had some important things to discuss with my mother at this time.
Peeved, I grumpily scooted down into the front seat. I had been really looking forward to having an ice cream cone. This had been a very horrible day and I really thought I deserved my ice cream cone, humph!
I had heard my mom and dad shout and argue lots of times before but not like this time! My dad yelled so long and so loudly I was surprised the police weren’t called.
He told my mom that she was the laziest and most irresponsible woman he had ever known. He was so pissed that she had been lying to him, but what was worse is that she had forced his kids to lie to him too about what was going on while he was at work.
He yelled, “Margaret, for such a smart woman, you sure can act so damned dumb!”
My dad angrily yelled that she had had no business just dropping us kids off, all alone, in school yards and in parks every damned day! And what the hell had she been thinking, expecting little Jeneane to take care of her younger brothers all by herself for hours on end!
“I give you all the money you need to run this house but you act like I’m supposed to be a rich man! If I hadn’t taken over the money and the bill paying and the grocery shopping, you would have spent us out of house and home within the first three years we were married!”
My mom screamed back, “I have to beg and beg for a little bit of spending money from you! You treat me like I’m some sort of slave! I just wanted to have some money of my own that I didn’t need to answer to you about or to anybody else!”
My dad thundered back at her, “Your first job is to take care of the house and the kids and even that you don’t do right! What if Jeneane had been hurt worse or what if one of them had been kidnapped! You just don’t leave three small children in a park, alone, for hours on end! What the hell were you thinking, Margaret?”
Then he continued, “But whatever I can do to make sure that this does not happen again, I’m going to do! You will not be allowed to take my car during the day while I’m at work. I will try and give you a little bit more each Friday but it is going to be for the household and for the kids, not just for you to go off and spend as you wish on yourself. And that job? Forget it, Margaret! Understood?”
My mom didn’t say another word to him, she just stomped off into their bedroom, slammed the door so hard that the house shook and then we distinctly heard her lock it.
My dad, still fuming, turned around, went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator. Then he went out the back kitchen door and slammed it so hard too that the house shook again.
I made Keith and Eugene go into our bedroom where we all played with our toys as silently as we could.
After about an hour we heard my dad’s car start up and we went running to the living room windows and watched him pull out of the driveway to head towards Fenton Road.
We were all getting very hungry so I went into the kitchen and got out some crackers and some apples and I carefully poured us all small glasses of milk.
We took our food back into our bedroom, ate it, and continued to play as quietly as we could but then we heard my dad’s car pulling back into the garage.
He came in with several large paper sacks that had a few grease stains on them. My dad then dumped everything out on the dining room table and it was a feast of wonderfully greasy and meaty cheeseburgers and piles of golden French fries and onion rings.
As us kids dove in, happy as clams over these unexpected treats, we watched as we munched as my dad knocked at their bedroom door.
He told my mom that he had gotten us cheeseburgers, French fries and onion rings from Gerty and Ed Dugay’s bar.
That was my dad’s favorite hang-out and it was just a few blocks down from us on Fenton Road. When I was just learning how to talk, I could only say “Dirty Ned’s” so that became our funny nickname for the bar.
My mom coldly told my dad through the door, “No, thank you, I am not hungry.” He shrugged his shoulders and joined us at the table in helping us wolf down the feast.
My mom did not leave the bedroom all night and I think my dad ended up sleeping on the couch.
Things were still very tense in the morning. My mom silently got all of us breakfast and then she went into the living room and sat down in the recliner.
After a few minutes though, we all heard my mom start to quietly cry. That broke my heart because who wants to see their mom cry?
I went and stood next to her chair and I awkwardly patted my mom on her shoulder as I told her, “Mommy, I’m sorry.”
She suddenly turned around and slapped me across my face! She yelled at me, “You should be sorry because it’s all your fault! It’s always all your fault!”
Then she started crying even harder as she ran back into her bedroom and slammed the door again.
I just stood there, stunned. Keith and Eugene were still sitting at the table with their eyes so big and huge in shock as well.
My eyes began to well up with tears. I went into our bedroom, climbed back into bed and pulled the covers up over my head.
I was only 6 1/2 but I was already only too used to being blamed for so many things according to my mom. But this was much, much worse. She had never slapped my face before.
That was a turning point for me. And not a good one either.
Aren’t our parents supposed to be the ones who know what truths are and are not? And aren’t they supposed to be the ones who teach us right from wrong?
And aren’t our parents supposed to be the ones who love us unconditionally? And aren’t our parents supposed to be the ones who will fight for us, not against us?
These are things I instinctually believed but these things were being torn to pieces, leaving me baffled and confused and hurt and angry.
We were told to not lie but my mom lied a lot of the time, and worse, she asked me to lie for her.
I had done that for her so why was I now being punished when the problems she had created fell apart on her?
How could everything be my fault? But she’s my mom, isn’t she supposed to know what is true and what is not? So maybe, somehow and in a way I could not yet understand, maybe she was right, that I was always to blame.
I think that was the beginning of my gradual increased distrust in people, yet at the same time, it was also the beginning of my gradual increasing and overpowering need to feel loved and accepted and wanted. For the things I was most definitely not getting from my parents. For the things I most definitely had to have.
Yes, that was also the beginning of an eternal war between me and my mother. I distrusted her but I so desperately needed her love and approval.
She resented me and blamed me for the way her life had turned out and maybe she needed me to be her constant scapegoat.
We both turned blind eyes to so much for so many years. She turned blind eyes to the many faults that were in herself. I turned blind eyes to them as well, sometimes deliberately choosing to believe they didn’t exist.
And I’ve always hated noticing that ugly scar on the palm of my right hand. It reminds me of the day when a child’s innocence was ripped apart.
And it’s funny: just like it took too long before I felt the pain of my mangled hand, it also took me too long to fully realize all that it represented.
About 35 years too long.
And I never did get my ice cream cone either.