Monday, May 23, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 23: Daddy drinks a bottle of rubbing alcohol and I go crazy

I was always in a quandary about my dad, my teacher in the art of cow punching. I generally divided him into the good dad and the bad dad, who mainly existed on weekends which he reserved for getting drunk. During the week he was an admirable hard working dad who knew how to do everything on a ranch, knew when it was time to clean the ditches and get the fields ready for planting, knew when it was time to cut the hay, knew how to train a horse to work with cattle, and exactly when he had to round up the poor cattle on the winter range and bring them home before he lost them
 He even knew how to tell funny stories and for years he would tell them if I asked him to. One of the stories that I liked the most was one about Iry Thompson.  He said Iry Thompson went to work for Perse Leavitt and so when Alf Wadcott, up in his seventies, called up Perse one day, Iry answered the phone.  Alf said, "Is this Perse?"  Iry said, "No, this is Iry."  So Alf hung up the phone and rang Perse again.  Iry answered and said no, he was Iry again, when Alf asked if he was PerseThe third time Alf called Perse and Iry answered,  Alf exploded, "Iry, will you git off this god damn phone.  I'm trying to call Perse Leavitt!" 

The first really bad thing that happened that winter was that Uncle Glen who was working at the time in Oakland, California after Aunt Hazel divorced him was found dead in his apartment, a suspected suicide.  He wasn't even fifty.  Aunt Hazel and the kids that were still at home were living in Bend, Oregon.  Glen had been home to Boulder to visit only a couple of times since he had been banished.  
I always thought banishment from the country was kind of a strange sentence, which he accepted rather than being charged with a crime which would undoubtedly have resulted in a jail sentence.  I did not know how long his banishment was supposed to last, but he came home about a week each time, did not drink, and behaved very mildly while he was visiting around town. 
He came to visit our home, one of the few Kings ever to do so, but he had been good to visit his brother Reed's home, too, when they were living there.  Aunt Thirza said Glen was the best help to her of anyone when Reed's nerves were very bad and he would not sleep.  That is, after Uncle Max was killed who was Reed's best friend in all the world at the time, since they carried the mail together, probably the last time Reed ever had gainful employment.  
It was hard to believe Glen would actually commit suicide when Grandpa was so old, which would surely cut his family entirely out of the will.  I did not know if Grandpa intended to disinherit him or not after the trouble he got into.  But I thought it was surely too bad that Glen was not in the country when Aunt Nethella came back to help on the ranch before either Grandpa or Grandma King died.  
If he could have helped take over the running of that ranch, Aunt Nethella would not have been able to take complete control of it.  Or rather what she did was take control of it and turn it over to the hired man to run, which I did not want to see happen. Perhaps in her mind, Glen's banishment needed to be forever, but Aunt Nethella did not realize that Cecil was no better.
I thought Aunt Nethella was naive for a rancher's daughter just from having been sheltered.  She never had to do 'boys' work as I did. Her dad had plenty of sons to do it, for a while. So she did not stumble onto the activities that were none of her business, had never been any of the women's business. I didn't think she had any idea how dangerous that ranch had been for kids.

Years before her husband had gone to the barn to do chores and slid off the haystack onto the handle of a broken pitchfork, which had penetrated deep enough into his bowels to kill him.  She told me this strange story about finding him.  She said when he did not come back from the barn for a long time, she went to look for him. When she came up to the corral she saw two little men standing there out of the corner of her eye.  She said she did not recognize them.  They almost looked like dwarfs. She said she decided later they were messengers from the spirit world there to warn her about what she was going to find. 
I think she had been so traumatized by the fatal accident she hardly ever came back to the ranch again except for brief visits in the summer once she had graduated from college and secured a school teaching job in the northern part of the state.  I think she and Aunt Neta both decided to raise their boys just as far away from that ranch as they could to keep them 'safe'. 
Well, fine, but now that she was back on the ranch she did not seem to know how to go about making the ranch in Boulder safe for kids, despite her in charge. She might have discouraged Glen from thinking that after his history of alcoholism, divorce, and criminal behavior he could ever come back and play an active role running that ranch, but she did not seem to realize that he wasn't the only bad egg in Boulder, he was just the one who had been caught because his victim was a girl instead of a boy.  

I still couldn't imagine why Uncle Glen would give up on life altogether, but the way Aunt Nethella acted after he was found dead bothered me.  She held a graveside service for him and we were not encouraged to go. She seemed to think he had acted too badly to be mourned by anybody around there. She also insisted none of the family was to talk about him having possibly committed suicide. I had grown up with Uncle Glen around, as he visited the ranch often, ate dinner there with his folks, and talked politics.  I knew him better than I did her.    
I could not see that Glen acted a whole lot worse than my dad did especially, under the influence.  He had done a very bad thing yes but I doubted if even the parents of the girl wanted to see him commit suicide. They agreed not to charge him because he was the father of seven kids.  Two of his seven kids had already died. 
He had done some good things just like my dad had. He was a capable hardworking rancher who had been well trained by his dad.  It had just not been in my nature, even with what I knew about my drinking dad, to give up on him and his brothers that easily.
I was very worried about how Glen's death was going to affect my dad.  And I did well to worry because it was not long before Daddy drank a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I don't see how that could have been anything but a suicide attempt. 
This was the second bottle of rubbing alcohol that my dad had drunk, but he had been talking about committing suicide for a long time.  Mother had described in her history how he had threatened to commit suicide so often when we were living in the cheese factory house, that she finally told him to just go ahead, but to shoot himself out in the orchard where he would not mess up the house.  I shuddered when I heard such tales even though by then I could see Mother had lost all patience with his suicide threats. She wanted him to shut up about it if he wasn't going to do it.  
I figured that he had feared she was falling in love with Reed, her hired man at the cheese factory, and now he probably feared she was falling in love with other men who hung out at her store.  I already knew she had a 'case' on one of his drinking buddies. Daddy probably knew it, too. She could never hide her feelings. I could read her like a book, and Daddy probably could too.  
Daddy knew as well as I did that her tubal ligation may have removed the last bit of hold back she had. Mother was fearless when she decided to do something dangerous even if she thought she could burn in hell for it.  Her powerful emotions could always overcome her reason.  

Mother still did not 'know' exactly how my dad might be straying as I suspected he still was.  In fact, I knew which one of his drinking buddies was his present favorite. But not knowing everything did not keep my mother from being as angry as if she had known it.  In fact, possibly angrier.  She was like somebody being repeatedly stung from some mysterious direction, and not able to figure out what or who was the culprit.  

She became so infuriated with Daddy drinking a second bottle of rubbing alcohol she said she simply would not take him to the hospital, he could die for all she cared. I had to view her intention to let him suffer through his crisis in on our couch as an indication she had gone near crazy.  No normal woman was going to be that hard-hearted with a bunch of this guy's kids to take of, too.  She was seething with resentment, like a pressure cooker on the verge of blowing sky high.  
He did lay on the couch unable to get up for five days. I guess the other kids brought him water or whatever he was able to ask for. I didn't ask him if I could bring him anything. I just felt compelled to go check on him every little while to see if he was still alive. He turned sort of gray around the second day and beads of cold clammy sweat broke out on his forehead at one point. In fact, I thought this was the closest I had ever seen him come to his death while drinking at home. 

 My theory is that this incident constituted the ultimate in stress for me over his drinking. He usually did not threaten to do his dying right on our living room couch.  

I could see Mother was not going to change her mind. She probably was even disappointed when he began to rally because then he started to beg her to go into the bedroom for sex! Yes!

I was not used to seeing my dad beg my mother for sex, either. I could almost read his mind, “I am too weak too go find sex from the hired man, so she is going to have to make me feel better.” 
His children listening to his vulgar demands for sex probably infuriated my mother more. I know they disturbed me.   Finally she cursed, “All right, you son of a bitch, let's go get it over with!”
They went in the bedroom in the late afternoon, and since the bedroom door was warped and did not entirely close, by coming near it,  I was even able to look in on this bestial act.  I seemed not to be able to help myself.  I walked over and looked in on them, feeling kind of detached. My mother cursed him and called him names the whole time they were having sex. 
I remember making a resolution that  I would never have sex with a man, husband or not, unless I wanted to. This was going to be my iron rule when I grew up and married. 

I suppose the stress of wondering whether my dad was going to rally and then witnessing this violent act of sex on top of everything else did somewhat unhinge my mind and send me a little crazy.

When we went to wash the supper dishes after my dad and mother retired into the bedroom for the night, what I did was walk into the kitchen and flop down in a chair, feeling like a rag doll that had lost all its stuffing.  I looked around in complete despair, deciding that this grim state of affairs due to the perpetual drinking of my father was never going to end.  I started a helpless little crying spell. I did not know if I could ever stop.   
My sister Margie took one look at me and ran screaming into the bedroom, “Mother, Dad, Gerry is crying for no reason!” She really meant nothing had happened to me she could see that should have made me cry!  
They both ran out and tried to talk to me but I just ignored them.  I felt like I had gone a little ways off in a little world of my own. 
I did not respond to any of their suggestions that I might want to go upstairs later on either. I just kept on ignoring them like I didn't hear them.  Finally the whole family went to bed and left me there. It was like they didn't dare disturb me too much for fear of what else I might do for no reason! I finally got tired of crying by myself and climbed wearily up the stairs to bed. 

I swear to you that is all that happened, but in a few days I was being told that I had suffered a nervous breakdown. After my parents consulted with my Aunt Nethella, she called and petitioned Aunt Neta to take me into her home up north a year ahead of time I presume before I cracked up entirely. Aunt Nethella also advised Mother and Dad not to work me so hard in the summer. 
I don't know how she knew how hard Mother worked us, but Mother must have been scared into doing more of the bottling herself because I actually noticed a difference. 

That is how I lived through the following summer without dying of whatever ailment had manifested the end of the summer before. I knew that ailment could possibly be fatal and it had been persuaded to retreat into the shadows with a restful school regime but would come to visit me again if I was ever severely stressed and overworked again at the same time.

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