I never felt a bond to where I was born. I hated that place. I hated that I was not from one of those farms up in the mountains. I hated that I was from the down town part of a small town. This particular small town sits between two big mountains. When you are as small as I was, you look up at those geologic wonders with awe! The dark green heaven-kissing mountains were intense, robust, and imposing. They were ever present and I saw them as God looking down on me. Those mountains spoke to me every morning and every night. They were witness to my growing up. The first thing I saw when I left to my first day in kindergarten was the big green powerful mountains saying “Hello froggy! Have a good day!” My nick name at home was little froggy. The mountains and that little nickname made me feel special. But those two big green mountains were the only things I loved about that town.
My mom was already a widow when I began kindergarten. It had been six years since my father passed away. If you do the math, you’ll see I was not even one year old when Dad died. Mom was all I had. Actually, that’s not true. Fortunately, she wasn’t all I had.
I had school. School was always awesome for me. I absolutely loved going to school. The classroom I remember was filled with so many colors, books, and posters. I always looked at the drawings in the books and got immersed in them. I felt I was part of each story read, each poster displayed. I was part of that classroom. I wished I could stay there.
My mother’s reputation in that little town by the valley was as resonant as the view of those green mountains. Everybody new who the widow was. My kindergarten teacher was lovely enough to never mention anyone’s parents. She was always like a mother to all of us. At least that’s how I felt. But one thing you need to understand is that I have always looked for a mother in every woman that has crossed my path. Her classroom was the most desirable place for me to be.
Dad is someone I don’t have any memories of. I do know he looked like my brother from a photo of him that was somehow rescued from the trash when I was about 20 years old…that was the first time I saw what my dad looked like. My mom used to (in her anger) describe a man who was abusive to her. But her complaints and threats that sounded like, “if your dad were here you would have never done this” always carried this deep hurt that cried out loud how much she missed him. Everything I know about him I learned from mom, brothers, sisters, and strangers.
My dad was a loving father, as one of my sisters would describe with great sorrow. He was a very hard worker who loved his eight children very much. He loved going on trips and to visit family members across the country. Dad was a lead project coordinator for a construction company. He married mom when he was 23 years old. Mom was 17. They had 13 children by the time he passed away. I am counting four miscarries and one little boy that died from a very bad fever when he was 5. Dad died in a terrible construction accident. He was crushed under a collapsed wall of dirt. He was only 42 years old. I was only three months old and it seems to me that when she lost him, she also lost herself.
Right after Dad died, as she often mentioned, my uncle (Dad’s brother), who was a greedy man, knocked at our door. Mom wasn’t surprised to hear his demand that she give him a portion of my dads “family land” in order for us to continue living in Dad’s house. My mom was left no choice but to give away all she had. All except for the house my dad built. With the provider gone, my mom, who was a stay-at-home mother, had to find a way to care and provide for eight children.
My oldest brother Joseph was eighteen years old. He decided to adventure and found a place to live across the country. There he met the love of his life who was with him until he died many years later. My oldest sister Mary who was 19 also left to another city and I would meet her when I was seven years old-at a time when no one knew what to do with me. When my dad died my sister Cybil was 17, my sister Linda was 16, my brother Ozzy was 14, Arnold was 12, Grace was 4, and I was 3 months old.
Life kept going with a big void. We all kept growing and the mountains kept watching. By the time I was school-age, my mom was working at a bed and breakfast. Many men – some married, some single, and most disgusting – relentlessly pursued the widow.