Forgiveness is a strange concept. The old saying, ‘Forgive and forget’ is a very difficult one for me. Our church preaches things like “Turn the other cheek”, and “Love your neighbor”, but I believe that dealing with the incident first may be the only way to truly forgive and forget. I have not dealt with the incident yet, and it occurred over 40 years ago. I doubt that I will ever forgive or forget.
Mom called the other day to tell me that our former neighbor has recently been diagnosed with stomach cancer. I believe she was surprised by my lack of compassion. I have always been a compassionate person, but for some reason, I could not reach deep enough to forgive this person. My mom pleaded with me to try and find a positive thing to say about this person, but for once in my life, I could not find even the smallest bit of praise for her. “Hope her family manages to deal with it” I said, knowing that even this small bit of compassion may be enough to rest my mom’s mind.
The woman in question lived next door to me when I was growing up. She was married to a very cowardly man who seen lots but said little. He worked as a mechanic and an auto painter, in a small garage that he built alongside their home. For the sake of the family, I will say that her name is Rose, and his name is Peter. Rose and Peter lived in a small bungalow that was about 3 minutes up the road from my house. As a kid, I played with most of their 7 children, as at least 4 of them were in my age range.
If I ever considered myself poor, they were poorer. Poorer in a way that they would walk up and down the aisles of the school bus chanting “Any crusts, any buns, anything you didn’t finish in your lunch can?” I still wake up at night hearing the children’s pleads for hunger. If an experience like that isn’t something to tarnish a small child, what is?
Jake was the oldest of the seven, and also the hungriest. He would literally beg the other children for any type of food item, from a dried out molasses bun to the crusts of sandwiches the other kids chose not to eat. And when he found food, he was like a hungry wolf on a piece of meat, eating it quickly in fear that someone would take it from him. I once seen him beat up kids for their food, and it didn’t matter their size. Hell, he was used to taking a beating; he could easily handle anything the big kids could muster to throw at him. I remember on one account, Jake traded a rusted out dinky for a tin of Vienna sausages. He told the boy that he could hold it until he finished eating the food, then it had to be returned so that he could use it to trade for more food.
The beatings; the almost daily beatings seem to stand out in my head even more than the begging for food. These children, all seven of them were physically and emotionally abused at the hands of their very cruel mother. Most of the beatings took place right in front of whoever was at the house at the time, which, unfortunately, was me. I can clearly see her make the child in question stand in front of her, and proceed to slap him or her across the face until they cried. One this occasion, Jake shed a tear after the third slap. When tears started to roll across his tiny face, his mother hit him over and over, until he managed to hold back the tears. Most of those beatings occurred because the kids did not hear her yell at them for any particular reason or because she had been having a bad day and wanted to punish someone.
One time, Rose beat Stephen because he was outside with me, feasting on Sour Tongues. These small and very sour plants grew low to the ground, and were thought to cause worms in children. Despite the fears to get worms, we ate them anyway. My parents would warn me of the dangers of having worms, such as stomach aches, sickness, and maybe a trip to the doctor, but my friends parents, they had a different approach. Rose chose to beat it into the heads of the kids with the back of her hand, or to take away one of the few food items the children had to eat.
Meals for my friends consisted of the same diet every day. For dinner, they were each permitted one slice of bakery bread, with one smudge of butter. For supper, the kids always ate white beans, cooked in salty water. This was the meal every day of their lives. There were other food in the cupboards, such as sausages, cookies, and other mouth watering items, but the kids were not permitted to eat this food, as it was for the mother. The kids did not touch Rose’s food; they were afraid of the consequences.
Another incident saw this family adopt a dog. Rose took a liking to a small gray dog who I will call Tramp. Tramp was a cute little thing, but none of the children were allowed to play with him. Instead, Rose spent days nurturing and playing with the puppy. As a pup, Tramp was always given more food than the kids. When they were given their ration of one scoop of white beans, the remainder of the food was not distributed evenly to the hungry children, instead, Rose gave it all to Tramp. Tramp was spoiled until he was no longer a puppy, and until Rose no longer found him cute. Once the pup grew older, he was tied on to the power pole outside the yard, often going days without food. During this time, the children were not allowed to feed the dog, and were not allowed to give the dog water on hot days. Rose said that food was too valuable to give to a stupid dog. As expected, the dog could not go on like this, and one very hot summer day, Tramp died from starvation. Rose lied next to the tiny dog, and cried. This action confused the entire community, but looking back on this now, I realize that this woman must have been dealing with a very serious mental health issue. I know that she has never received any help for this problem.
Clothing for this family consisted of hand me downs from other families. Their mother, Rose, used the small amount of earnings Peter made to go to her nightly entertainment, Bingo. Rose did not miss a bingo game for anything. Her children did without so that her gambling habit could be fed. Rose had her bingo games, Peter had his snowmobiles.
Peter raced snowmobiles for enjoyment. Despite the children virtually starving to death, Peter always made sure that he had the latest sled parked next to the old cement step at the side of the house. On weekends, Peter would take his sled to all the races, and when he was lucky, he would bring home the small tin trophies that he was awarded for being the best racer in his class. People called him brave and fearless. People who did not know him called him those things. The ones who knew what he was really like called him many different names.
Peter was a very lazy husband to Rose. Often leaving her with all seven children, he would venture out for his leisure time, leaving her to carry water and wood to the house. Peter was so lazy, that rather than go into the forest to cut firewood, he chose to burn the walls of his home, and even the wood siding. The house looked like a shack. My dad constantly offered to assist Peter with cutting firewood, but he refused, saying that he did not like this type of work. It seemed that neither Peter nor Rose were willing to sacrifice anything for their children.
When the kids received beatings from their mother, they would turn to their father for help, but he was such a coward, he would turn his back to his kids, and allow them to undergo whatever cruelty Rose had planned. In my mind, he was no better than she, because if he wanted to help, he could have taken them away from all the cruelty and violence. Peter chose to ignore the punishments. I remember on one occasion, Stephen pleaded with his father to help him, but he ended up getting beat even worst for asking for help. I remember seeing Peter turn his head as Rose beat the child senseless and left him lying on the ground.
On day, while Rose was still pregnant with Mike, my parents offered to take Patricia, who was the baby at the time. Rose had to go into the hospital due to complications with her pregnancy, and she had nobody who would volunteer to take the smallest child. When mom and dad arrived home with the little girl, they noticed that she needed changing. The time of the day was 4 o’clock, and it was apparent that the little baby had been wearing this soaked wet diaper all day. Removing the diaper proved a challenge, as most of the skin around the diaper came off with it. Her skin was badly burned, but mom managed to care for her. They had Patricia for almost three weeks, and mom found it very difficult to give the baby back, knowing that she would be subjected to the neglect as soon as she was under her mother’s care once again.
I believe the most difficult part of this experience, and the part that has affected me the most, was the fact that Rose put me in the middle of most beatings. I can still see her standing over Jake, pounding his face over and over, and repeatedly asking why he could not be a good child, like I was. I felt so guilty for this. On occasion, I even thought of trying to be a not so good child, because then, she would have nobody to compare their behavior, and then maybe she would stop beating them.
One of my aunts, Aunt Laurie, I will call her, felt compassion for the kids. Her husband had recently passed away, and her home was in need of repairs. Jake offered to help her out, in exchange for food. Every day, Jake was at the door, bright and early, waiting for a bit of food to tide him through the day. Aunt Laurie treated Jake very well, rewarding his hard work with fine cooking. On one occasion, Aunt Laurie tells of a time in which she found out that Jake’s birthday was coming up. For this day, she chose to make a big chocolate cake for his payment. Aunt Laurie still remembers the moment that she went into the kitchen to get a knife, to cut the cake. Upon returning, she was surprised to discover that Jake had eaten the entire cake in just minutes. She knew that those kids were starving, but back then, there weren’t services like Child Youth and Family Services, and even if there was, it took a very bad situation before kids were removed from their families.
The kids remained with their parents until they were old enough to leave. Stephen was one child who left but was clearly not ready. At fifteen, Stephen was a child with a great deal of hurt building up inside. He was very rebellious, and always said that if he had seen something he that he had wanted, he would take it. One day, Stephen noticed a can of Maple Leaf sausages in the cupboard where his mom kept her treats. Starving, he took the can of meat and proceeded to eat. When Rose came into the room, she caught him eating her food. She slapped the bottom of the metal can, almost cutting his face, and proceeded to kick him out of the house. I don’t remember where he went to live, but I do know that now, some 40 years later, he has spent most of his life behind bars.
Of the seven children, I personally know that most of them have children, and that none of these children have ever met their grandparents. I would guess that this is the kid’s way of protecting their children from their cruel mother and cowardly father.
The last time I seen Rose, she was in a line up at the local supermarket. I remember biting my tongue, trying my best to be polite, and not tell her what I thought of her. She had the nerve to look at me and complain how, after all she has done for her kids, that none of them will let her spend any time with her grand-kids. My tongue still hurts from that day.
A while back, I heard that Peter, the father, had been diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. Now, Rose has Stomach cancer. Getting back to the opening paragraph, the one about the old sayings, there is another saying that I believe is fitting in this story, “What goes around, comes around”.