“Quick, Run. Find someplace to hide … Yeah, up the stairs, Go, Quickly, He’s coming. I run up the stairs and dive underneath Grammy’s bed. She is following and stands in the doorway; protective, resolute … You will not hurt that boy !!!
Dad is screaming and shouting, swinging a bat in his hands … You Were a Mistake and Should Never have been Born.”
This scene is repeated many times during my childhood.
Human beings transit many seasons in life, and for every season there is a birth, life, growth and in the end death brings up the rear. This story, my story, is a story about seasons, and how I came to be, who I was, and who I am becoming right now. I am a child who was born in Generation X.
In 2011 “The Generation X Report” (based on annual surveys used in the Longitudinal Study of today’s adults) found Gen Xers, defined in the report as people born between 1961 and 1981, to be highly educated, active, balanced, happy and family oriented. Citation, Wikipedia
The city of my birth, New Britain, Connecticut, was a small town with pleasant neighborhoods, multi-ethnic families, a local school, parks and stately family residences. It was a time of plenty for us. I was born to a working class family. My father was in the machine industry, my mother worked in the medical field, and my grandparents worked for the best industry in town, “The Stanley Works.” One of the biggest tool manufacturers in the North East.
My father, war torn, returned from fighting in the Viet Nam war, imported a wife from Canada, and impregnated her. My mother, being a Quebecois Catholic girl, from a very Quebecois Catholic family, one did not impregnate a woman and leave her destitute. I believe that my grandparents were not very happy about this, in the end, my father married her in 1967, which is subsequently also the year I was born.
We lived on Kennedy Drive … Did that mean anything? I think not. Our home was a split ranch with three bedrooms. We had an outfitted basement with the required record player where we played Sonny and Cher, The Mama’s and the Papa’s and the Jackson Five. We had a large kitchen which led off to an outside deck, raised above the back yard, which gave us ample space for a sand pit below. It was a great home. Our neighbors represented many different countries from around the world. My best friends, Jimmy and Steven were from Poland. Theirs was a very kind and warm family, they lived across the street. I had several other friends who lived on the street. We all went to school together. We were quite the melting pot of America way back in the 1960’s.
I have few memories of this place, a Christmas full of snow, an aluminum Christmas tree back lit with a color wheel, dad putting lights on the house, the holidays at Grammy’s house. I do remember walking to and from school. And I have specific memories of classrooms and a teacher, I see places, but not faces.
I am told a story by my mother once … It was my father’s birthday and I had climbed into the kitchen sink, taking with me the flour pot, the sugar, coffee and I had even gone to the trouble of emptying all the tea bags into the sink, attempting to make a cake for daddy … There is also the day I learned about fire … Mom holding my hand over a hot fire on the stove.
If Gen X’ers are said to be family oriented, that indeed would be true. Because I had family in spades. Those first years of my life were managed by all the women my family could throw at me. During this time, all of my family lived no more than twenty minutes away in any direction. While my parents worked, I was shuttled between grandparents and aunts and uncles.
I would not be lying if I said that this was the best time of my life. Being the first born son, I was spoiled and the women did their best to give me everything they thought I would need, when I became an adult.I had three years on my brother, who in turn was created, specifically to be my rival, my challenger, the son who was meant to be born, never to see eye to eye with me, for the whole of my life.
I learned how to take care of a home, I learned how to garden and grow food for the table, I learned numbers by “The Price is Right,” and my ABC’s by “Sesame Street. It was a time of plenty. Family was all we had in those days. And it was a good family, if I do say so myself.
My first memories, nursery school in the basement of a church, Kindergarten in a two classroom building with a large “mud room” between them. Music lessons and the production of The Wizard of Oz, where I played the cowardly Lion. First grade with Miss, Hesslin. Her son, played on my father’s softball team.
Neighborhoods were safe, in those days. Parents did not think twice about allowing their kids to walk to school, because we lived not far away and we did not have a bus to take us. There was a covered bus stop halfway between home and school, where we would gather on the way home to share what we did not eat during lunch that day. I remember the smell of paint, in art class. The library, and the smell of books. I remember playing out in the yard at school, the field trip to the farm, the bull fighting ring, the animals. And sharing milk out of cardboard containers.
My paternal grandparents lived in a split ranch house, with a huge yard around the periphery, gardens located alongside the house. In the backyard, were two gardens. In one corner, a vegetable garden where Grammy grew tomatoes, peppers and all kinds of other things. In the other corner was a rock garden, with brightly painted rocks painted rocks bordering a tiered flower garden. There were century old willow trees in the front yard, maple trees and pines.
The lot next door, held the remnant of a century old building that a family once lived in, but now were ruins. The empty lot was strewn with the refuse of cuttings that Grammy threw over the fence, which took root and raspberries, blackberries and flowers grew aplenty.
The house had two bedrooms, one for Grammy and the other for Grandpa. They had taken to sleeping in separate bedrooms because grandpa was a drunk. (more on that later) There was a full bath upstairs and a laundry drop chute that fell into the basement for washing. There was a laundry line out the bathroom window, connected to another century old tree in the backyard to hang the washing to dry.
My grandparent had lived in this house for decades when I came along. In the living room was an old 78 record player with thick vinyl records, and a grand fireplace, where the Christmas tree was always set up. The den, was a small squat room, with a sofa, a chair for grandpa and the television. Many a night were spent in that room.
In the kitchen, the heart of the home, was an aluminum table seating for eight, and a plush chair that sat besides the door. We never used the front door, unless we were going outside to sit after dinner to enjoy the scenery. The entrance door was in a mud room, sitting between the garage and the main house. My grandmother’s green thumb was present everywhere in the house.
Across the street lived a large family with three generations of them living under the same roof. Mom and pop, on the third floor, sons and daughters on the second, and grandma living in the attic, which was a fully appointed space just for her. She was an old woman and only spoke Italian with Grammy. Grammy was multilingual, and talented beyond her means, when it came to gardening, cooking and gabbing.
Grandpa was a solid man, but he had his problems. Alcohol being one of them. Grandpa was a bottle hider, and a drinker, at any time of the day. Larosas Tavern was fifty paces from the front door, and so was the liquor store. The men of the family spent a pretty penny in both those institutions. And to this day, circa 2015, Larosas is still there.The old house has since been knocked down and the side yard was appropriated to build a larger parking lot for the tavern.
Grandpa had bottle hidden all over the house, so he could get his nip, at arms length from where ever he stood or sat. Alcoholism would be the running theme throughout this story.
Grandpa had his endearing qualities as well. I remember him taking me to a particular ice cream/soda pop place, by a lakeside. You could have your pop and ice cream, then drive just up the road to a park where we would park the car and toss stones into the lake. I don’t remember either of those names, but the memory is clear for me.
My Maternal grandparents had split up and Grand Pere was already living in a home. Memere and my uncle Michael lived together for many years, for a time, they even shared a one bedroom apartment, where I would sleep on the sofa when I would visit. All of us lived a short walk away, meaning I could walk from our home to either house within minutes.
Memere was the woman who taught me about faith and family. Both my grandmothers did that, each in their own way. The Italian on one side and the Canadian on the other. The maternal side of the family boasted six children, Michael, the youngest son, followed by Paula my aunt, Leo, Pete and Guy, my other uncles, and my mother bringing up the rear. My father being an only child bemoaned the extended family and resented and hated them from the get go.
It was safe to say that as long as there was family present, my father’s death wish for me never happened.
My Aunt Paula and Uncle Roger lived a bit away in the mountains. The drive to their house was through cathedral century trees lining the road one traveled. There were apple orchards and all type of family homes dotting the mountainside. The house was a multilevel home, with a rumpus room, converted from a two car garage, a stately living room with a King Edwardian dining table that sat the entire family. The kitchen was small, compared to the other homes I visited in my childhood. In the 1970’s they built a pool in the backyard, which was a large hillside that dropped into a pond, fed by a stream, that ran behind all the houses on that side of the mountain.
There were many family gatherings in that house, when the Quebecers all came to visit during the summer vacations.
– Naked and Sacred –
As a young child I have fond memories of old churches and polished pews and candles flickering in dark corners of the building, statues of saintly persons who looked out over the congregational spaces and the dark corner grottos making sure we knew that they were watching over us and praying in tandem with the many who came to find peace, solace and faith within those walls.
I remember that day that my Memere took me to that grand church all alone, just her and I and God. It was an afternoon event; she brought me here for mass on a regular basis. These were the days of the old missal books and rosaries, women wearing lace over their faces, it was an ethnic parish church attended by many from ethnic communities all around.
On that day she took me to the church, she had a purpose. I remember this as if it was yesterday because, in my minds eye, this was very important to her. We went to light some candles and leave our offering in that little tin box attached to the candle display, we sat in quiet supplication and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and we lingered to hear the voice of God speak to us. I am sure that Memere and God had brokered an agreement over me.
After a while she got up from her place and she gathered me to herself and we walked to the edge of the banister that protected the main altar from people walking up on the dais. The banister was open, as if to welcome us to step up there – so with great pride Memere walked me ahead of her until I was standing on the dais before God. I must admit there were no words that were spoken to me; this is where the agreement must have been made. Memere looked up that the altar, then at her favourite statue and then beckoned God to look down upon us and take us into His arms and protect us. In that moment I believe I had been “consecrated” to Christ and to God and the Blessed Mother, not to mention Marguerite D’ Youville. (This will be explained later in the timeline)
Memere had a “tight” relationship with God. Her homes were shrines to the family that had gone before us, to the saints who protected us, and the God who gave us life. I always felt naked before God in her house. As if God sat with us daily and saw us for whom we really were simple God fearing folk. I never for one moment feared God. There was nothing I could not say to Him nor ask of Him, but I also knew that there were things one just did not ask of God, because greed and excess were not part of Memere’s lexicon.
I learned to pray the rosary as a young boy, we went to mass frequently. I don’t know if my mother and father were aware that I had so much “sacred time” in my early life. I am sure she knew that if I was with Memere that I would go where she went and I would love her for taking me and I would love the adventure of going to see God all the time.
The church of old is not the church of now, unless of course you live in Montreal and have living “great” relatives who live in a convent not far from home.
Being the first of two children in a family firmly grounded in the late 1960’s brought a lot of opportunities to me as that first child. I had three years on my brother. Three years are a big deal. I had the adoration of the matriarch’s of the family; I had three years of unadulterated wisdom taught to me over time. My time was my own; there was no one to deflect that attention away from me, which endeared me to the hearts of the women of the family. But secrets existed, secrets that would one day turn my life upside down.
My father was an abusive man; he came back from Viet Nam with major issues. I was born out of the man who came back from war, damaged and lost. He took a wife of Canadian blood, gave her an ultimatum and got her pregnant. I was there at the wedding, my mother carrying me in her womb, walked down the aisle that day and agreed to bear his children and live by his rules and regulations. My father, the racist, bigot that he was wanted to force a continental divide to rise from the ground to separate that which made my mother who she was and force her to become the woman he required.
That divide never rose, and my father’s resentment of the maternal “nursery” that I entered as a child began. I guess this is why I am so maternal, because all the men in the family were war shaken and damaged. They worked all the time in business, in the fields and in factories. It was up to the women to rear the children into the people we were to become. My father’s resentment of my presence was well known.
Later in my life I would be told of the fact that my father wanted to kill me, that I was a mistake and should never have been born. He tried many times to snuff my light out as quick as he could. The one thing that he did not expect was the backlash that came in the form of vociferous rebukes by the matriarch’s of the family, hence my “consecration to God.” If I was consecrated to the Almighty, then my father’s plan for ending my life would never come to fruition.
I remember being chased through houses by drunk men in my life, I remember my grandmothers standing in doorways between me huddling beneath a bed, hiding for my life, and my drunk and angry father fighting with them to let him “do it already!” He wanted nothing more than to wipe me off the face of the earth. The women of my family tell me that he fought often with them to abuse me and to hurt me and eventually to kill me.
They were not going to let that happen, my mother was powerless to try and stop him, why, they had an agreement, and she was his bitch, and she did what he said without argument! That was his way unto this very day.
When I was born he gave me my name. I was given to the earth as the man he loved from the war, who died in the war, so every time he looked at me or said my name or heard my name called, the memory of “one dead soldier” would rise to the fore. What kind of man places that kind of sadistic torture on himself? Was he hoping to exorcise that memory from his brain by personal reprogramming? I think there was more to this story than met the eye. Yes, there was, it took me decades to divine the truth from those who knew, and in hindsight I was able to complete the puzzle.
At age 30 I changed that name and exorcised it from my life, it was the final conflict that separated me from my parents. Being gay – HIV Positive and changing my name was three strikes, I was now damned to live without parents. He made damn sure of that.
Needless to say, faith was a priority; God would protect and save me. My grandmothers agreement with God was non negotiable with any one else. Not that my father knew she had this deal on the table. Women are tricky characters you know! When Memere beckoned upon those she regarded as spiritually powerful, hell hath no fury like the wrath of an angry saint and my grandmother generating the turbine of retribution with her dedicated prayers.
Who was God? And why should I care? Because it was beaten into me that I was a mistake and should never have been born, for 18 years my father made it his life’s work to destroy me mentally and emotionally. Later on in my 30’s the revelation of my sexual abuse at my father’s hands would rise from my sobering mind. And you think HE had issues?
I went to church, as a young boy. I would complete all my sacraments in the order of succession. I would be in communion with the church I would pray my rosary and my novenas. God was present in my daily life. I was always naked when I was sacred. There was nothing I held back from God, because my relationship with God was between him and me. To stand before God is to be naked in his sight.
How much more sacred could it be?