Monday, April 19, 2010

MEMOIRS--Chapter 20--Danger in Boulder, trouble with dying, both my dad and me


Chapter twenty

During the summer Margie and I headed off down through the pasture to Grandma's house. We had to walk through Grandpa's lower half of the pasture to get to the gate leading down the sandy hill to the ranch house. A black milk cow with a crooked horn hated kids, and when she spotted us she would let out a little beller and start running toward us, so we had to keep an eye out for her to make sure we could make it to the fence before she caught up with us.
Then when we got to Grandma's house we would have to climb on the fence and then start calling for Grandma to come out and hold old Jack, the dog, so we could proceed on into the house safely. Jack hated kids, too, but we were determined to visit Grandma, so we weren't going to let the animals who didn't like kids stop us. Grandma would always feed us supper and after a while Mother got tired of us saying we had already eaten supper and forbid us to eat supper to Grandma's any more. I could not give up my supper to Grandma's for anything, so when I went by myself, I would still eat supper to Grandma's and come home and eat another supper so Mother would not get mad.
Well, the summer I turned ten I encountered another dangerous animal in the pasture, quite unexpectedly. This time I was riding a horse bareback heading for the gate to Grandpa's pasture. Suddenly Cecil, Grandpa's main hired man now, appeared on foot and stopped me. He said 'How about a ride?” Before I could say anything he jumped up on the horse behind me and the next thing I knew he put his hands around my waist as though to hang on and moved them up and began to fondle my little button breasts. Was I alarmed! I had not even gone into puberty yet and did not expect to for another two or three years. I was nothing but a child. I thought that Cecil knew this was an unacceptable act of aggression, but his resentment of my dad's status as a privileged King's son found outlet in scaring me. That was just about as far as he was thinking. My dad would just have sneered at him had he tried to express his feelings about the unfairness of life to him. He could hurt Daddy far worse through doing something unacceptable to his daughter! He was mad enough that what he might pay for such an act did not penetrate. He only thought he would restore a sense of power to the powerless. To me this was another version of Bill and his motives all over again.
Cecil jumped off the horse to tend the water leaving me to wonder how I could protect myself from still another predator. Cecil was loved by his sisters. He was handsome, a skilled cowboy, but still opportunity was limited for a cowboy unless he could somehow come by some land and cattle. Only that year I had come to love Cecil's oldest sister Ruby who became our baby sitter. I was happy now when both Mother and Dad took off on a trip and left us with Ruby who would tend the store and spend the night, cooking delicious meals for us.
I didn't see how I could upset her by telling anyone about her brother's rather frightening transgression down in the fields. What would he do next? I decided I could not be going down through the pasture alone where he could very well be tending water. It was not safe. He hadn't done enough for me to raise a hallabaloo about it as I saw it. I just would not be able to explain how dangerous I thought this gesture meant, and what it signaled in Cecil's control over his emotions.
Not that Daddy was doing any better with his control over his horribly destructive drinking. I think this was the year that he perforated an ulcer while he and a hired man were on a trip to Richfield to get feed, among other 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 had been so large he perforated. 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.
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 take 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 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 died. It was going to be terrible. I thought if only Daddy will realize how devastated we daughters will be, maybe he will attempt to do the impossible.
I am sure as a result of this additional stress in my life that winter I came down with a strange childhood disease. Nobody else in town got it. Mother called my teacher Jean Hansen to come and look at me. I broke out in a fine rash and had the usual terrible headache and fever. I remember I felt the most 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. She was too impatient. I felt sorry for myself as I suffered through the afternoon alone.

Jean Hansen thought I might have scarlet fever but it wasn't bad enough so maybe it was scarlatina, apparently a milder form of the childhood disease that used to kill kids. Not bad enough! I thought it was bad enough. I had a bad feeling about this disease. Especially when my skin all peeled off in big long strips. That was very weird. Nobody had ever seen that symptom before.
Sure enough that summer after Leah Coleman announced she had to quit working for Mother to get ready to move to Salt Lake 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 bottling season was on. That 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 now contemplating the idea that maybe I had leukemia or rheumatic heart disease. I had gone out up and stayed a week with my Aunt Vesta 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, but when I started having chronic fatigue symptoms in the last month of summer I thought of how horrible it would be to get confined to bed, staying home with Mother! I could not bear the thought. So this problem was just not anything I was going to discuss with my parents. They could not be expected to handle it well either.
I decided I would just go ahead and die when the time came. Until that happened I intended to keep going, riding horses and attending school as long as possible. To my relief I revived when I got to sit down most of the day when school started. My fatigue finally eased, but it was a warning. I was beginning to be a little fragile. I was going to have to be careful. But what could I do? I would be very apt to start dragging again the following summer when the work all started.
I had known that disease was not a good sign. No child in town had more stress than I did, with molesters, a father who was not normal and was trying to kill himself as a result, and an impatient mother who was not happy so took out her misery on the children of the one to blame. I did not think Mother was a whole lot different than the other predators, getting back at his children by being cruel because she was so mad at Daddy for not quitting drinking and being a good husband.
I thought she did not know how impossible that would be for him. I did not think he could change. From what I could gather from all my reading, he was pretty much set in his feelings at his age. I had already read The Grapes of Wrath when I was still eight. I preferred intelligent writers like Steinbeck. You were apt to learn something about adult problems from him. It was rare though for even the best novelists to say a lot about homosexuality. It just wasn't written about either, let alone talked about. You would think it did not even exist, and poor Daddy was committing suicide over being one, I was sure. What on earth could be done to save him?

Header Boulder terrain with our place just across the road below the pond in the center. Daddy in Boulder, riding Dinah. Picture of Mother's store building taken after it changed hands. The house in Boulder after trees grew up around it, and Daddy's barn. Last photo is of the El Cow Rancho Motel Mother and Dad built across the road north from the house. Mother is standing in the doorway of her store.

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