Friday, May 6, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 20: Kings had their troubles but they could afford beautiful horses

Daddy was not doing any better with his control over his drinking. He perforated an ulcer while he and a hired man were on a trip to Richfield to buy supplies. He was helping lift a hundred pound sack of feed, when he said later he felt the tear, and the next thing he knew he was throwing up blood.
If he had not been within a block of the Richfield hospital the doctors said he would have died. As it was they had a difficult time saving him the ulcer was so large. He had to stay in the hospital two weeks after they got the bleeding stopped. Even when they let him come home, he was so white, he reminded me of a corpse. I knew very well he had barely escaped with his life. It showed in his ghostly face which did not come back to normal for several more weeks. 
But wouldn't you know it, this did not stop his drinking. Oh he went easy for a while, and every little while he would come in and drink soda water if he felt any pain. Unbelievably he was able to heal up his ulcers in this fashion, that and trying to eat when he was drinking so the stomach acid would not burn another hole. He never had another problem with a bleeding ulcer, but he still had crisis after crisis with his drinking.
He was coming to the end of his drinking days whether he wanted to accept it or not. He was going to have to quit or die. I got used to Mother saying every year the doctors did not give him another year to live the way he was drinking. I did not know what would happen to the family if he did die. It was going to be terrible. Life with Daddy could be pretty bad, but without him I thought we would know poverty like we never had before. 
Mother would have to sell out as she could not run the ranches, whether she knew it or not.  No woman could do that hard ranch work no matter how smart she thought she was. 
I thought if only Daddy would realize how bad off his daughters would be without him, maybe he would to do the impossible for a bad drinker, quit before he left the world entirely.

I am sure as a result of the stress in my life that winter I came down with a strange childhood disease. Nobody else in town got it. Mother called my last year's teacher, Mrs. Hansen,  to come and look at me. I broke out in a fine rash and had a terrible headache and fever. I remember I felt resentment when I was the sickest and went out and told Mother visiting in the store and she said for me to take an aspirin and go back and lay down. She would never sit with the sick. I felt sorry for myself as I suffered through a long afternoon alone.
Jean Hansen thought I might have scarlet fever but it wasn't bad enough so maybe it was scarlatina, a milder form of the dreaded childhood disease that used to kill kids. I thought it was bad enough to be scarlet fever, myself. I had an uneasy feeling about this disease. Especially when my skin all peeled off in long strips. That was very weird. Nobody around there had ever had that symptom before.
Nothing happened the following summer since Mother had a hired girl, Leah Coleman working for her, helping with the always heavy bottling season. But the summer after that Leah announced she had to quit working for Mother at the end of July, to get ready to move to Salt Lake. 
Not long after she left,  I started with terrible fatigue early in the morning, so bad I could hardly drag myself out of bed even when I was expected to work hard all day. The heaviest part of the bottling season was on, which was work that could not be put off. I could not afford to be sick. I could be dying, but the bottling still needed to be done so we would have food for winter.
I got through rest of the summer the best I could contemplating the idea that maybe I had leukemia or rheumatic heart disease. I had gone up and stayed a week with my Aunt Vesta in the spring after she suffered the tragic loss of her first child who only lived a few hours after a very hard birth. I met a little girl my age while there who had been spending a year in bed with rheumatic fever. She could not go to school. She could barely play. We did play a little, but when I started having chronic fatigue symptoms several months later, during the last weeks of summer I thought of how horrible it would be to be confined to bed by the doctors, staying home with Mother. I could not bear the thought.
I decided I would just go ahead and die without telling anyone I thought I had leukemia. Until I passed away I intended to keep riding horses. 
When school started, to my great relief I revived when I could sit down most of the day. My terrible fatigue finally eased after a few weeks in school, and I started feeling fairly normal, but I figured I had received a warning. 
I realized I was becoming a little fragile from the effects of my hard life of secret worry and stress from so many different directions. I was going to have to be more careful, but what could I do to save myself? I would be very apt to start dragging again the following summer when the bottling season started.
I had known that strange disease was a bad sign. I was the only kid in town that came down with it. No child in town had more stress than I did, with molesters, a father who was on the verge of death all time, not caring if he lived or died, and an impatient mother always in a rage at home, so taking it out on the children of the father who was to blame for her unhappiness. I did not think Mother was a whole lot different than the resentful hired men, getting back at the owner's children. She was cruel to us because she was so mad at Daddy for not quitting drinking and becoming a good husband. He was tender hearted enough that it hurt him when she hurt us, and she knew it.   

I thought she did not know how difficult quitting drinking was going to be for a man like him. He was into habits far harder to break than she could possibly imagine not suspecting what I did, so he could be a normal husband. I thought he was pretty much set in his ways at his age. I had already read The Grapes of Wrath when I was still eight. I preferred intelligent writers like Steinbeck who seemed to know a lot about farm people. I was apt to learn something about adult problems that plagued me reading his books. I had found another book of his called "Of Mice and Men" which affected me a lot too.  It was rare though for even the smartest novelists like Steinbeck to say anything about Daddy's problem. His affliction, an unnatural attraction to his own sex acquired from childhood molestation probably,  just wasn't written about, let alone talked about by any people I knew. 
You would think it did not even exist, and poor Daddy was committing suicide over his dilemma, I was sure. What on earth could be done to convince him nothing was that bad? He did not have to commit suicide over his secret addiction that seemed to be killing his very soul and will to live with its awfulness.  I would have had to say his double addiction was what seemed too much for him, although doctors probably only saw one, his addiction to alcohol.  If a man was twice damned maybe he could not save himself.  

The year I was ten and in the fifth grade I enjoyed Edison Alvey from Escalante as my teacher. When he would ask us to write stories I outdid myself. The last story I wrote for him was about a girl who committed suicide! I wondered about that one, but it just came naturally to me, flowing easily from my pen. Not that I was going to do it, I didn't believe in committing suicide, but the story just came to me, so I wrote it down and passed it in to Edison. 
That one might have alarmed him as he told my mother he thought maybe I might be a genius but he did not quite know how to handle my gifts. I decided I better ease up a little before I got myself in trouble. I knew it wasn't a good idea to write about real life in school, but Edison was so appreciative of my talent, I had just gotten carried away. Threw caution to the winds, you might say, hoping for praise.
Edison knew all the popular songs and initiated a music class where we would sing the songs he wrote on the board. I recall “Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree” and that's about it, since I was never able to carry a tune well enough to distinguish myself with music. Edison was the only music teacher I ever really had.
Edison also took us on nature hikes. The most memorable one was to the Ice Tanks down past Sadie's Nipples. We were all made so happy by this long wonderful hike that Dynamite or RayL as I called him even dropped his usual truculence and walked along beside us without saying anything derogatory to Barbara and me at the end of the long day.
I was happy just to have him treat me a little bit nice as that was the year that I had thought I just could not go on any longer without Dynamite at least knowing I liked him. I knew Elaine did not like him so I felt free to go ahead and try to tell him the truth about having loved him since I was in the first grade.  I talked Barbara into trying to tell him this for the sake of her hopelessly romantic friend Gerry when she arrived early at the school in the morning.  She acted reluctant to approach the moody Dynamite, but I kept urging her to at least try, so she finally agreed. 
On the morning she was to tell him, I could hardly wait to get to school.  As soon as I started walking up the path in sight of the school, RayL saw me and walked swiftly up to me and snarled, "You god damn son of a bitch!" And turned on his heel and left. 
I thought I would literally die at first from such a wounding, and his words hurt me every time I thought about them for weeks. Barbara just shook her head when I told him what he said. I decided Dynamite might never be able to stand a girl up close who loved him, he was so full of dark emotions. 
I had no doubt he hated my dad with a passion that knew no bounds for having such great horses while his dad had only one. He could probably no more have loved me than he could have loved a rattlesnake. I just accepted RayL's hate for me from then on that just got worse with my over aggressiveness.  He and his Uncle Cecil were of the same breed, frustrated cowboys who were too poor to fulfill their dreams of owning fine horses and lots of cattle and land.  It must be awful, I thought, to be so poor. 
It was no wonder RayL loved Elaine and always would.  Her family was large and poor. Or at least not as well off as our family, as their dad had more children to keep clothed and fed.  
I did not think my dad was that rich, but we were Kings.  I guess our name counted for something, too.  We had our troubles, but Grandpa did own a lot of horses, at least 40, and my dad owned quite a few too.  Still compared to some rich people, we were not rich at all.  
The huge King ranch in Texas dwarfed our little spreads.  I guess it just depended on what people thought around us who were a lot poorer than we were, so poor it embittered them and sent them over the edge.  
I hoped that RayL would soon be able to go down to my Grandfather's ranch and help with the breaking of the broncos to earn a bronco of his own.  Having his own horse might save his sanity.  But he would be working with his Uncle Cecil.  Oh dear.  Would be become another victim or would he be taught by him how to really hurt the hated Kings?  

No comments:

Post a Comment