A memoir of my childhood and resulting journey back into the South.


This came from the first entry ever in this website/weblog.



1

Let me tell you a story.

It starts with two high school kids named Bill and Val. Bill comes from a family of five kids who have moved around a lot. Before they moved to Endicott, NY, they’d lived in Rhode Island and Maine before that. Bill has two older brothers, Joe and Doug. He has one older sister, Sandy, and one younger brother, David. His mother’s name is Marj and his father’s name is Joe Sr.

Val also comes from a rather large family. While Bill’s family is Presbyterian, Val’s family is Roman Catholic. Val’s mother Norma has single handedly raised Val and her five brothers Terry, Scott, David, Chuck and Dan and her one sister Karen, by herself. This had to happen after Norma’s husband left her.

The kids were all happy on the outside when their dad left. He’d been an abusive drunk and hit Norma a lot. On the inside, they were pissed and upset and sad. But they held it in and didn’t show it, because the Sinclairs weren’t much for showing emotions. That was their way.

So Bill met Val when they were freshmen. Bill got into a lot of trouble in school. Generally a bright kid, he didn’t do his homework, he skipped the majority of his classes, but he could come into class and take a test and get an A. Today, Bill would be labeled as AD/HD and be given a drug to help him concentrate. Instead, while Bill grew up, he found a trade instead, something to occupy both his mind and his hands. He started fixing things.

It started with bikes when he was a pre-teen. As he grew taller and stronger in his adolescence, he advanced to anything with a motor. Boats, cars, tractors. He got fairly handy with fixing things. In fact, he could tear anything apart and fix it up better than it had been in the first place. Shop classes become the only ones he would consistently show up for at school, the only ones he got A’s in.

Val excelled in other ways. She played varsity softball and earned Honor Roll grades. You could say she was attracted to bad boys, because Bill would be one of them. With his class-ditching, beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking way, he would be named a rebel of sorts. But there was something about his self deprecation, the totality of his loyalty, the intensity of his green eyes, the burnished copper of his hair that got to Val.

As for Bill, Val would be his opposite. Straight-laced Catholic with a totalitarian mother, good grades, perfect attendance, five brothers?

Naturally, they fell in love.

Four years later, they were still together. Val graduated a year ahead of Bill. Bill wanted to spend the rest of his life with Val, and Val the rest of her life with Bill. They had to do it fast, too, because they’d made a mistake and Val was expecting in the winter of 1980.

December 8, 1979 with their respective families present and with a justice of the peace officiating in Joseph Taylor Sr.’s home, William Taylor and Valerie Sinclair were joined in Holy Matrimony.

January 9, 1980, their first daughter, Jamie Lynn Taylor, was born at 2:44 a.m. at six pounds, five ounces.

Bill missed the birth because he’d gone out for a pack of cigarettes. However, it wasn’t his fault. The doctor had told him it would be hours before his child would be born.

Bill and Val struggle at 18 and 19 respectively to remain financially solvent. Bill still attends the high school because his mother is making him finish and get his diploma. He also works as an auto mechanic and attends classes at the tech school to gain his certifications. Val works as a secretary when she is recovered from childbirth.

In June 1980, without any huzzah, Bill graduates from Union Endicott High School. He elects not to walk in the ceremony and has the school mail the diploma to his mother. He says she’s the one who really earned it.

She still has it.

The next two years pass in a tumult as Bill and Val try and raise a baby and figure out who they are. After all, they are only barely into young adulthood themselves, only really kids playing dress up. What are they doing having a kid, anyway?

Val gets frustrated and moves to New Hampshire, leaving Bill and Jamie in New York.

Bill writes letter after letter, trying to figure out what he’s done wrong to chase away his wife, what he can do with his kid, what he’s supposed to do as a young husband and father. Val doesn’t reply for a long time. Bill spends a lot of time getting in fights in bars. Fights so bad that he “reds out.” He sees red and pummels the guy and other men have to pull him off so he doesn’t kill anyone. Throw him in the snow to snap him out of it. Bill’s mom does her best to bring him back to reality. His sister Sandy is in school in New Hampshire, as is his brother Doug. David’s still in high school, too young to help out, really. Joe Sr. isn’t much for words and isn’t home enough to help in action. His work provides well enough for his family but takes him away from them all too often. Marj runs the show and the boys know it.

Six months after Val left, Bill gets a letter from Val. She apologizes, says she loves him, doesn’t know what came over him and asks him to move up to New Hampshire with her.

He goes right up to her. Why not? She’s his wife, the mother of his child and he loves her.

Ten months later, on November 28, 1983 their second daughter, Aubrey Leigh Taylor, is born.

Now Bill and Val live in an apartment in Wolfeboro, NH, the Oldest Summer Resort in America on Lake Winnepesaukee. The town boasts a population of only 3,000 during the winter months. During the summer it doubles to 6,000 with vacationers. The apartment is on the second floor of a building with a butcher shop on the first floor. Next door is Hunter’s IGA, where Bill works running the dairy department, no longer working as a mechanic. Val works as a waitress full-time at night, allowing for Bill to watch the kids at night and Val during the day.

This is when Jamie’s memory starts.

This is her first memory:

She is hiding from her father.

And she is scared.

*

Remembering what made me hide is easy. I do think I was somewhat of a provoking kid. This time, I’d taken frosting from the cupboard and nicked some from time to time. Dad found out, got mad. I hid. Simple as that, yet it became the start of the tension between me and my father. He got down on the floor and talked to me. “Telling the truth will get you in less trouble. All I ask you to do is tell the truth. Lying will just get me more mad.”

I stayed under the bed, looking at him.

“Get out of there,” he said.

No way. Coming out from under the bed would mean the belt, I wasn’t stupid.

Stupidity is something that tracked me doggedly. A retaining wall stood between the small grass yard of the apartment building and the parking lot of the IGA. Small red aphids crawled along the top, which was even with the grass. I would sit and play with the aphids, squishing them to see the red goo, watching them run along my arms and legs and between my fingers.

The one day some strange old man came up beside me and started a conversation.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said, scootching away.

He started asking me questions about where I lived and what my parents did and how my day was and why I sat on the wall. The last question, I could answer. “Squishing aphids.”

“You know what they are?”

“Yeah.”

He moved closer. I ran into the house. No more sitting on the wall.

New entertainment quickly made itself available to a four-year-old with an active imagination and no TV time. My mother and I had differing ideas about what made good play ideas. One favored activity would be to play in the dirt of the driveway next to the apartment building. Sandcastles and mud pies were the beginning, but then I found a really neat thing. I could drop dirt onto my head and then get it all out. Great fun, very tactile. Mom found out when she stepped outside to check on me.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

I gave her the innocent look of having no clue what she found wrong.

“Stop that!”

I’d already stopped when she’d yelled. Mom brought me inside and made me take a bath. End of that activity. The same day, I switched from calling my mother Mommy to the shortened Mom. I think we never shared the same idea of fun.

At some point during all this, Mom and Dad decided to have another kid, all without consulting me first. I wanted a brother, but they kindly gave me a sister. She shared my room with big crib and all the baby stuff that came along with it. The night Aubrey was born, Gramma, Dad’s mom, watched me. She woke me up to let me know that I had a sister and I promptly fell back asleep, figuring that this new sister would be sticking around for awhile.

I’d spend the rest of my life trying to sell her for a penny, with no takers.

Dad got more irritable. I started getting some weird childhood signs of “Hey, I’m the oldest and you’re ignoring me for this new kid” and my parents didn’t respond well. Nose picking, the fascination of small children exploring new orifices, became one of the new habits. Dad hated it and made it quite clear to me. I spent time sitting on my hands, sitting in a chair with Dad watching me from his bedroom, grounded from the TV, grounded from going outside, made to watch my Dad and sister watching TV and being angled so as not to see it from my chair in the kitchen.

I suppose Dad became more frustrated as his oldest child persevered in a habit that he couldn’t stand. I suppose I kept at it because it elicited a reaction out of him, getting me attention that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

One night, with Mom at work and Aubrey asleep, Dad sat me at the kitchen table. Told me to stay put. He got up and fetched a large butcher knife. Then he took my wrist, splayed my hand on the Formica table, and put the knife to my right index finger, pressing slightly with the blade.

I froze.

Dad said, “I’m going to cut off your finger. It’s the only way that we can stop you from picking your nose.”

Immediately, I could think of several other ways to get me to stop. He would cut off my finger? Out loud, I said nothing.

“Is that what you want?” he asked, pressing. “I’m going to have to do it. It’s going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.”

Somehow, I didn’t buy that. My eyes stared at the blade, glinting from the overhead light. Glancing up, I noticed him staring at me. I started back, unable to say anything. I believed him completely and tried to figure out how I’d feel without that finger. And we sat.

Time passed, but it’s differently when you’re little. Minutes are hours and days and weeks, all blurring into the most immediate moment. In the moment, you’re stuck in forever. Then the knife lifted. Dad said, “If I catch you picking your nose one more time, I will cut off your finger.”

End of the nose picking.

Stupidity kept me going. The next day I found an iron sitting on the ironing board, plugged in and ready to go. Mom sat at the kitchen table, going through coupons.

“Mom, is it hot?”

She didn’t look up. “I don’t know.”

I’m not sure what receptors in my brain stopped functioning at that moment, but I’m fairly sure they were needed at that time. My hand crept up to the iron, paused over the front, and then laid itself smack down on the iron bit.

I screeched and held my hand. Mom jumped up and rushed me to the sink, sticking my reddened hand under the water, bringing relief for thirty seconds. Once she took it out from under the water, the pain returned, my finger on fire.

“It’s on fire!” I said.

“Well, that’s what you get for putting your hand on the iron.” And she went back to her coupons. “Don’t put water or ice on it; it’ll hurt longer if you do that.”

Interesting. The next few days, I watched with fascination as a blister formed on my index finger (the same index finger that Dad had said he would cut off), swelling my finger to twice its normal size. Life went back to the attention on the baby and I did my own thing, now without sitting on the retaining wall or putting dirt in my hair or picking my nose. Mom ended up popping the blister by accident when she handed my sister to me after changing her. Draining blisters are top on the list of gross things.

“Don’t get dirt in it, it’ll get infected,” Mom said.

Right. No more playing in the dirt. A few days later, I managed to find the pepper right before dinnertime. Dad let me take it out of the cupboard and study it.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Pepper,” Dad said.

“What’s it for?”

“You put it on food.”

At this point, I believe he was waiting for my next stupid act. He wasn’t disappointed. I unscrewed the cap, inhaled, and sneeze for the next half hour. I didn’t touch pepper for the next fifteen years.

My early years are spotted memories. Before I turned five, I had my only two instances of encopresis (crapping your pants) and enuresis (peeing your pants). Oddly, both occurred with my mother and while she did laundry. Possibly on the same day, but the child-time blurs it.

Mom brought me to the only Laundromat in our small town. This Laundromat had no bathroom and being four, my bladder was quite small. After half an hour, I realized that I had to go.

“Mom, I have to go.”

“Hold it.”

I stood in the middle of the aisle, between the humming dryers and the banging washing machines.

“I can’t.”

She glared at me. “You don’t have a choice. You can wait.”

Five minutes later, the emergency was over. Mom yelled at me as she cleaned up the urine and brought me to the car. After packing me up, she put the laundry into the back and took me back to the apartment. My clothes got changed and I was put on a kitchen chair to sit and think about what I’d done.

Though, there really wasn’t much to think about. I’d wet myself in front of quite a few people at the Laundromat. Mom folded laundry and occasionally glared at me. Another urge struck me.

“Mom?”

“No talking.”

“But Mom…”

“Shut up.”

And again, five minutes later, the back of my pants got warm. I stood.

“What?” Mom said.

I ran to the bathroom, Mom ran after me, scolding me the entire way. From then on, excretory functions got contained to the bathroom.

We had a downstairs neighbor who ran a grocery/butcher type shop. From her, I remember two things: Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies and Jesus. Not together, of course, and the cookies were the first thing that struck me. Whenever I visited downstairs, I’d be given a couple. This neighbor also watched me and my sister whenever both my parents went out. Usually at night, when Mom worked and Dad went wherever Dad went.

One day, this neighbor came up from the doorway that lead to her apartment. She looked very serious and sat me down at the kitchen table. From the table, I could see the doorway to my room, the living room, and the doorway to Mom and Dad’s room. The neighbor took both my wrists, forcing me to look at her.

“You need to admit to lying.”

I frowned. No recollection of lying to anyone.

“You told a lie, that’s a very despicable act. You need to admit to it and apologize to it. You hurt me when you lie, and you hurt Jesus.”

More confusing. I had no idea who this Jesus person was.

She let go of my wrists and dug through her handbag. A picture followed, placed on the table in front of me. Oh, good, maybe I will recognize him.

Nope. No idea. Some old guy with long brown hair and a beard and surrounded by a white halo. “Is he dead?” I asked.

“Only for a short while,” she replied.

How could that be? Once you died, you died, and that’s that. I stared at her, empty of anything to say.

“You need to apologize to him. He will never forgive you.”

For what?

She watched me. I watched Jesus. Nothing changed. She stood up and placed the photo on the counter. “You can say your sorry when you decide to. I have better things to do.” She went downstairs.

I watched Jesus, not wanting to apologize and wondering what forgiveness was.

*

Some time later, kindergarten began and I set about to learning. Mrs. Hale was my first kindergarten teacher, she had the prettiest gray hair and soft blue eyes. We colored and sang, took naps and listened to stories. Our teeth started falling out and she kept a chart up of each of us, recording how many teeth we lost. I loved it.

Halloween came and I expected to go trick or treating for my first time. I waited expectantly all through school, ran home right after, and waiting for Mom to go to work and Dad to come home and take me.

Instead, he said we couldn’t go, he was sorry, and we’d go next year.

I yelled at him.

He yelled back and sent me to a kitchen chair. After half an hour, he called me into the living room and presented me with a bag of blocks. To me, the blocks were better than candy and I played with them till I fell asleep, drooling on a rectangular one.

The next day, Dad announced that we were moving, and I’d have to change schools. I don’t remember if I cried.