At the age of 5, we moved into a new home. I remember the first time I saw it. I don’t know where my two older siblings and dad were, but this particular evening, my mom just had my brother and I, which was pretty unusual. She said we were going to look at the new house. I knew there was a possibility of moving, but didn’t know it was already a done deal. It seemed like a castle compared to our previous house. It was one story but stretched out two or three times further, and had an acre of land in the front and half an acre in the back. There were four huge trees in the front yard, lined up close to the house, and a sweet willow tree in the back. It was on a dead-end street, and we were on the corner lot.
The house had a large living room with huge picture windows on both sides of the room, a beautiful stone fireplace and a hallway that led to 2 bedrooms and a full bathroom. The pathway between the kitchen and my bedroom, made a complete circle, going from kitchen to living room, to the front entrance, then my bedroom, hallway, and back into the kitchen. The bedroom had two doors – one on each end of the room. I couldn’t understand the reasoning for this, but it did make things a lot more convenient, especially since there was another bathroom next to this bedroom in the hallway. The bedroom, which I shared with my sister, was amazing! It had a large picture window as well, which gave a beautiful view to the front yard. When I found out we were actually going to move into that house, I was unable to contain my enthusiasm and ran that circled pathway over and over. My mom ordered pizza and the three of us sat on the kitchen floor while we ate and shared our excitement. An interesting moment to look back on, because in the end, the 3 of us were going to be the only ones left in the house when we eventually moved out a few years later.
My oldest brother was 12, my sister was 10, my other brother was 6, and I was 5. This is the home I began piano lessons. I also learned to climb a tree at this house and rode my tricycle up and down the sidewalk. I hung my doll’s clothes on the backyard clothesline and hid under the willow tree. This is the home in which my sister and I had a lovely lavender canopy bed that we shared. Even though we didn’t go to bed at the same time, it was comforting knowing she was going to be there at some point. In the summer, when it was still light out at bedtime, and I had too much energy, I used to kick the bed and covers over and over until I wore myself out. Once we were tucked in, getting out of bed was frowned upon. It was ingrained in us that it was a serious infraction. For example, one night my sister was suffering from excruciating pain in her ear, but she was too afraid to tell our parents. She ended up with some hearing loss because she didn’t get help right away. The threat most often used to keep us in line was “I’m going to get the paddle!” and my sister and I didn’t want to risk feeling that paddle against our bottoms.
The paddle was just that – a wooden paddle. It looked like a miniature boat paddle, except the handle was short – just the right size for hanging onto. On the flat panel, there were pictures carved. I didn’t know it had pictures until I saw the paddle as an adult. It had a carving of a single guy, then the guy getting married, and then a picture of the couple with a crying baby. The implication was, once you get married and have a kid, you’re going to need this paddle. It was hand made by one of my dad’s patients. I don’t know if he meant it as a joke or not, but my dad certainly made use of it.
I think my older brother probably got the most hits from that paddle. He was definitely threatened with it more than anyone else in the house. I knew from observation, you didn’t want to get hit with it. I did my very best to be a good girl. I was able to avoid getting hit by the paddle until one day, my dad decided to come home unexpectedly for his lunch break.
I was the only one home from school. I was sick with the flu, and was in bed when I he came home. I heard the surprise in my mom’s voice as well, and he came in to see me. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked.
I thought this was going to be a nice moment with my dad. He was after all, a doctor, and maybe since the other kids weren’t around, he would take care of me. I expected him to feel my forehead and ask me about my symptoms, but instead, he gruffly said, “You’re not that sick, get out of bed, and come to the kitchen table and eat with me.”
I was astounded. What was he talking about? Come and eat with him? I couldn’t hold any food down at the moment. “Surely,” I thought, “he was kidding.”
I heard him yelling at my mom, saying something about complaining that he’s never home and now that he came home for lunch, he expected us to sit and eat with him. Looking back, I’m sure he must have been drunk, or on something. His rational brain was not functioning. He was an alcoholic and as a doctor, he could get any medication he wanted. He had my mom on diet pills for years, and even gave my older brother and sister pills to sell at school, once they were in high school. Yet, as a small child, I had no idea what was going on.
He came in again and started yelling at me. He told me if I didn’t get out of bed and eat with him, he was going to get the paddle. I refused to leave that bed. The truth meant everything to me. If I got out of bed, it meant that I was lying about being sick. I was determined to keep my integrity during his insanity. He came in with the paddle, flipped me on my stomach, pulled down my pajamas and started to beat me. It hurt at first, but I went numb. He hit me over and over, and while I lie there, crying, I told myself, “He’s going to have to kill me before I get out of this bed.” I was willing to die to keep my principle of truth.
He finally stopped, probably out of exhaustion. He said, “Now get up and get in the kitchen, or I’ll spank you some more.”
He left the room and headed for the kitchen. My mom came in – and I saw shear terror in her eyes. “Please, please, come to the kitchen,” she begged.
“No way,” I thought. “Not after all of that.”
She pleaded some more. I could see that she was truly terrified. “Please,” she said. “You don’t have to eat. I’ll just pour you a cup of 7-up and you can just sit there until he leaves.”
The 7-up was a cue to me that she acknowledged that I was sick. That was what we always got when our stomachs were queasy. I looked at her with my tear-stained face and took it all in. She shook with fear. I decided I had to get up for her sake. So I sat at the table with my drink, while dad ate in silence. My mom just stood in the kitchen by the sink hoping he would leave soon.
Once he left, she thanked me and tucked me back into bed. I don’t remember it ever being spoken about again.
About 10-15 years ago, I was visiting my mom in Wisconsin. She said, “Oh I have something for you!” She said she had been going through some things and found something she thought I would like. She pulled out that paddle with a look of glee on her face. Look what I found! 3 houses and over 35 years later, I was holding that paddle. That’s when I noticed the carvings.
“Can you believe it?” my mom said. A patient made that for your dad. Isn’t it neat? I want you to have it!” I was disgusted. I couldn’t believe she was treating it like it was some treasured heirloom. When I told her I thought it was appalling that she still had it, she looked at me like I was from mars. “Don’t you want it?” she asked, perplexed. I guess she never got hit by it, and apparently blanked out about all the times we got hit with it. I decided that I would take it so that it could be dealt with appropriately. When I got it home, I broke it into pieces (with Rusty’s help) and burned it in a fire, so it could never hurt anyone else again.