After thinking about it, I’ve decided that this post (probably a chapter if this was a real book) should cover the years from when I was five until age eleven when I got rheumatic fever.
They were the Ray Clemens years. A really dark time in my childhood and I don’t remember much about them. I have just spotty memories of a few things that happened. As I said last time, we lived on Haskell Street in Battle Creek. I attended Ann J Kellogg Elementary School for kindergarden. My kindergarden teacher’s name was Mrs. Penny. She is probably the only teacher whose name I remember until high school.
It’s funny what you remember. On my first day of kindergarden, I remember sitting on the floor. On a rug, I think. We all had rugs that we took naps on at some point during the day. Anyway, I was fine with being left alone for the first time. But I remember one boy whose mother brought him into class and he definitely didn’t want to come. He was kicking and screaming and finally the Mom sat him down and scolded him and then left. He sat there and sniffled the rest of the day. Probably a future serial killer.
Here are some isolated memories of those years, in no particular order, because I have no idea what order they came in, just that they occured on Haskell before I was eleven:
1) I wanted a bike really bad, so I begged and begged until Ray agreed to get me a regular 2-wheeler bike. No training wheels for me. He decided I would learn to ride a bike the right way. So he sat me on the bike and we went to the top of this long hill that was near our home. I thought he was going to run along side of me to keep me steady in case I fell, but no, we got to the top of the hill, he put his hand on the back of the seat and pushed and off I went. I first time I had ever been on a bike and I was flying down this hill all alone. I was terrified. I’ve never forgotten that feeling. But like being thrown into a pool to learn to swin, I knew I had to master the bike by the time I reached the bottom of the hill or I was dead meat, so I did. By the time I was to the bottom, I had conquered the balance and was pedling and riding like a pro. He scared the heck out of me, but I did learn to ride a bike really fast. Never tried that on my own kids, maybe I should have.
2) A minor incident I remember was – my mother always told me to be careful with Tom, my younger brother. I was the big brother and I was supposed to keep him safe. Well, at some point after learning to ride the bike, I decided to take Tom on a ride. I put him right behind me on the seat and off we went. Well, we hadn’t gone 10 feet and Tom got his foot and leg caught in the spokes of the back wheel. It torn the pant leg and put a long gash in his leg. Of course, he screamed bloodly murder and so, I took him home to Mom. She was very upset with me and took him to the hospital for stiches. He has a scar on his ankle to this day from that incident. Not sure if they took the bike away from me as punishment or not. But I never did think it was really my fault. If he wasn’t smart enough to keep his leg out of the spokes, why is that my fault. Of course, he was only 3 or 4 at the time.
3) I had a friend named Joel. (Don’t remember his last name) He and I got into all kinds of trouble. The only thing that has come through the years is a time when he and I were riding our bikes about a mile from home and we stopped in front of this store that, I think, was a drug store. It had a display of pocket knives in the window and Joel and I looked at those knives and boy, did I want one. Just think of all the cool stuff you could do with a neat knife like that. So, Joel went in the store and distracted the clerk while I stole the knife from the window display. It was surprizingly easy. It might have been the start of a life of crime for me, except when I got home, I was dumb enough to play with the knife in full view of my mother. She knew right away that it was new and I didn’t have it before. So, she asked me where I got it. I told her her I bought it. She asked where I got the money for such a nice knife, since she knew I didn’t have any. So, I broke and admitted the whole thing. Of course, I blamed it all on Joel, but that didn’t matter to Mom. She and I immediately drove back down to the store. She made me go in and apologize to the owner for taking the knife and give it back. Luckily, the man didn’t press charges. He said something like “boys will be boys” and let me go with just a talking to. I look back on that incident for making me the honest type of person that I believe I am. It really could have gone the other way.
4) My mother worked a full time job (as did Ray). So, I was left in the hands of babysitters much of the time. I remember one time coming home and finding no one there. Not sure why or where everyone was, but there was no babysitter, either. There was, however, a collection of hot dogs sitting on the dining room table. Maybe they were for dinner and my mother had stepped out for a minute, I’m not really sure. I just remember eating hot dogs. I must have eaten 6 of them at least (remember, I was, like 8 years old). I got so sick to my stomach that I started throwing up all over the place. There was thrown up hot dogs in the dinning room and the hallway and the bathroom. Boy was I sick. This was what my mother came home to that day. What a mess.
5) My only other memory of those years are of Ray and his abuse of my mother. I can vividly remember laying in my bed listening to them fight in the other room. Of him hitting her and stomping out of the house. Of her crying. Those were tough times for her. Ray was a violent man as well as a womanizer. I don’t think it’s slander to talk about him now. He’s dead and besides, is it slander if it’s true? I can’t go into any detail because I’ve probably blocked out most of it, but my mother finally came to her senses and divorced him. For some reason which I’ve never understood, he got Tom in the settlement, so Tom went to live with him and I stayed with my mother. I think that is one reason Tom and I were never very close as brothers.
Shortly after the divorce, we moved to 68 Kelley St in Battle Creek, Michigan. This was right next door to my grandparents house. Both houses are there to this day and if this memoir ever gets in print, I will include pictures of the houses. We lived on Kelley for many years which I will continue with next time.
Hope you all are enjoying this as much as I am remembering it.