Spiritual Autobiography (E)

The house we lived in St. Joe when I was born was just a little square box on Penn Street on top of a hill with a garage downstairs carved into the side of the hill like a tomb.  I remember the wake in that house after my mother died because everyone was talked in hushed tones.  My father’s mother cared for me for several weeks.  Then, he found a caregiver in Savannah, MO named Mrs. Windmeier to watch me in the daytime.  One day, I fell off the low concrete wall on to the sidewalk in front of her house.  My dad took me to the doctor who said I may have a concussion.  I don’t think I did have a concussion, but this kind of stuff was creating pressure on my dad about my welfare.

I was four years old when I made a friend named Beth who lived on the other side of our neighbor.  She was going to start kindergarten at the same time as me.  Beth’s family became a haven and a way to get out of the new house on Nickell Drive where I was having emotional difficulties with Doris during the day.  Beth’s father was an administrator for the Missouri State Hospital in St. Joseph, MO.  Beth had two older sisters that were older than Mary Ann.  Sometimes I would sleep over at Beth’s house and go with her family to the drive-in to see a movie.  They had a farm in Cameron, MO.  One day they said I could swim in a pond there, but my feet sank in the mud, and I cried until her dad rescued me.  Missouri has muddy rivers and ponds. I never did swim in that pond.  Beth was shy in kindergarten which I hadn’t ever noticed as a characteristic before we were in a group of kids together.  After a year of school, Beth’s family moved to Jefferson City, MO.  Beth and I exchanged two or three letters a year after the move.  When I was 9 years old, Beth invited me to visit their home in Jefferson City, MO, and my parents agreed to the visit.  They drove me to Jefferson City, and Beth’s parents drove me home to St. Joe after a few days visit in their suburban home.  Beth wasn’t afraid at all to go into the city.  Jefferson City is a much larger city than St. Joseph. Her mom dropped us off downtown one day to visit stores, and I think we went to see her dad at work. Then her sister picked us up after her classes.  I remember entering and exiting elevators in an office building.  This trip was very liberating in my childhood development.  Beth and I exchanged letters all the way through high school.

Once I entered the school system, I started to develop my own sense of self that wasn’t always dominated by Doris.  I also made lots of friends who threw lots of parties.  I got to know where they lived on the side streets near Nickell Dr.  One Saturday, I visited Gregg who lived just on the other side of the field behind our house.  That was my first experience trespassing through someone’s property but no one tried to run me off their land, and the shortcut saved about an hour’s walk around through the streets.  I learned to ride my bike.  On my bike, I could get to a new residential area off of Karnes Road where I made more friends because these kids rode the same school bus as I did.  The first time that I wanted to ride my bike to and from the grade school, Doris said I needed an escort. The trip would mean crossing the North Belt Highway.   I asked Kevin who was in my class, and he thought it his duty to accompany me by bike.  Riding bikes with Kevin thought me that my childhood fat would slow me down and make me too slow to keep up.  This was my first experience of real exertion.

I made friends with the janitors at the grade school, Mr. & Mrs. Ed.  They had an apartment in the school building, and they also were the security for the building.  One day, I knocked on their apartment door.  Mrs. Ed invited me in to visit and introduced me to her Myna bird that talked. Mrs. Ed worked in the morning in the school cafeteria.  Mr. Ed swept the school halls all day long with a big dust mop. Of course, I said something to Doris, and she told me not to go visit them anymore. They may not want me to visit, and this behavior wasn’t good social class relations.  We joined the country club a few months after that.  What I enjoyed most about class relations was when central air-conditioning was installed in the house.  Missouri is so humid. Summer there is miserable without central air-conditioning.

The last time that my dad spanked me was after the electric garage door opener was installed.  I pushed the button to close the garage door when the car was running.  My dad was working in the front yard.  He heard the garage door and yelled no.  He ran into the garage and spanked my butt.  That was such a surprise, but my dad was really afraid and looked like he was in shock.  No one told me that my mother had committed suicide or how she did the deed until I was eighteen years old.  My dad just made rules for the family, and one rule was that no one could talk about my mother so her death was a black void or mystery to me.  I had to look for evidence.  Mary Ann was an eyewitness about Doris and my dad’s relationship before Shirley died.  She said that when my dad visited their apartment, the kids would get locked outside until my dad left there.  The photo of my mother’s gravestone said she died in 1965.  I asked Doris if she knew the date.  Doris said she thought that Shirley had died on Mary Ann’s birthday which was March 22nd.   After I had graduated high school, and after Teresa had told me about my mother’s suicide, I visited the St. Joseph Public Library and searched the microfiche of the St. Joseph Gazette articles around the date of my mother’s death.  The news article that I read said that my mother had written a suicide note which was given to the St. Joseph police.

When I was five years old, I became an aunt.  The grade school principal came to my classroom to announce to all that I was an auntie.  Teresa had a son named Michael.  Two years later, she had another son named Jeffrey.  She never did call Doris “Mom,” but Doris did go out to Colorado for one of the deliveries of these children.  Teresa would stay at home and raise her sons.  Her husband Steve organized for the meat packers union in Greeley and negotiated collective bargaining agreements. He was also a long distance runner.  When Michael was three years old, he started distance running with his dad.  Teresa’s family often went to the mountains on the weekends to see the wildlife like the elk.  Steve was an outdoorsman also, fishing and hunting.  Those boys may not have learned the native way to track animals or fish, but they learned much more from Steve in Colorado than they would have learned in Missouri.  Our ancestors know life in the mountains not Missouri hills and not the Oklahoma dust bowl.  The mountains call us westward, the Rocky Mountains and the Tetons. Over time, Teresa grew more knowledgeable about wildlife, their ecosystems and habitats and the role of conservation and of national parks.

Doris didn’t want me to volunteer her for anything at school.  One time though she agreed to serve as a class chaperone when the class rode a train from St. Joseph to Kansas City. A bus took us home from Kansas City.  Doris was a great seamstress.  She made clothes for my Barbies from scraps of material that wasn’t enough to make human clothes.  She also made costumes, and sewed on badges for Brownies and Girl Scouts.   My first experience with improvisational acting or play-writing was when I played the character of St. George.  St. George supposedly slayed a dragon, but no one knew many facts about that dragon fight, so we could adlib.  We put boxing gloves on the dragon and made a comedy of  the play. My fourth grade teacher was Carol Fredericks.  She lived in that residential area off Karnes Rd.  I think it was in her class that we made Paper Mache puppet heads.  Doris made puppet costumes for a play I wrote about the Jesse James Gang.

One Saturday, my dad asked me if I wanted to go see Ken.  I said yes.  We went to his legal guardian’s house.  Ken was working under the hood of a car in the driveway.  He liked car motors and the like.  He liked corvettes and knew quite a bit about corvettes.  One day, he came over to the house on a motorcycle with an extra helmet for me to ride with him.  It was a big interstate bike, and the ride was smooth like a car.  Ken and my dad made up after Ken graduated high school.  Ken lived with and then married Debbie.  I was the flower girl in their wedding, and Debbie’s brother Dale was the ring-bearer.  Ken and Debbie had traditional gender identities and fulfilled traditional sex role expectations. Debbie was a hair stylist and wanted to own her own hair salon. Eventually she would start her own business and do hair from the house that she and Ken bought in North St. Joe after they married.  Ken attended Missouri Western State College for a year or so.  Then, he decided that he didn’t want a desk job.  He wanted to go to truck driver training school.  He and my dad installed CB radios in their cars.  They would sit in the driveway and talk to truckers like they were on the road.  Eventually, my dad helped with a loan for the down payment on Ken’s own rig.

After sixth grade at Hawthorne Elementary School, we began two years at Bode Middle School.  In the summer after sixth grade, Lisa moved into the neighborhood.  Her parents bought the one house with a pool.  I was so glad their daughter was my age.  Her mother was a nurse who worked at night and slept during the day.  Her father was a PGA golfer with no gig during the day so he chauffeured his daughter Lisa and her friends to and from everywhere.  Since Doris often didn’t want to drive, I was sure glad for a ride. .  Lisa also walked with me to register at Bode Middle School which was further away than Hawthorne and also to Hyde Park.  We usually both rode the school bus to and from school.  There were more mixed group activities on the weekends like roller skating or put-put golf or parties. My dad would often drive kids on Friday nights when I knew he was tired.  My parents always wanted kids to like me socially, but when they didn’t contribute with driving I felt socially pained.  Doris had a nervous condition and couldn’t see very well at night

St. Joseph had one major shopping mall then, East Hills.  When I was a toddler, Teresa took me to the mall on the public bus. Teresa was definitely a 1950’s child.  After she grew up and moved away, I would often go Christmas shopping at East Hills Mall with either Ken and Debbie or Richard and his wife Marilyn or sometimes on Saturday with a friend.   Later, Mary Ann would take me to the mall when she was a teenager.  Mary Ann was of the Age of Aquarius.  Mary Ann and her friends from high school would go to East Hills Mall and bum money from people, making up all kinds of stories about why someone should give them money.  I think that they were living the counter-culture because I couldn’t tell my parents who were conservative Republicans.  Some of Mary Ann’s friends were older and living on their own in apartments with black-light posters and lava lamps.  Our parents eventually let Mary Ann install a black-light in her room where she listened to her stereo and burned incense.  Since she usually had some money, Mary Ann always had Levis which Doris made us buy with our money.  I couldn’t seem to make my weekly allowance add up to a pair of Levis.  Doris also said I couldn’t wear makeup or nylons until I was fourteen.

My dad wasn’t lazy.  He learned to work wood as a teenager in wood shop class.  He built a big wet bar in the downstairs level of our tri-level home.  It was made of wood with some kind of black linoleum covering over the counter top.  He bought black barstools and lots of bar-lighting.  He would have our neighbors, Larry and Dorothy, over for drinks almost every weekend.  Then, he found a plan to build a redwood deck on the back of the house.  He had a workbench and loads of tools in the garage.  This was a big project, and he did most of the measuring, cutting, and building work himself.  The deck looked fabulous when it was finished, but the new owner of the house didn’t want the bar so we moved the bar to the Leawood condominium with us in 1977.

At the end of 1976, Crouch Brothers Freight was sold.  The new owners transferred my father to Palo Alto, CA.  My father was very dismayed at the high cost of living in California.  He began to look for a new position in the Midwest.  He was hired as Executive Vice-President of Mid-American Truck Lines in Kansas City, MO.  Then, he and Doris put the St. Joe House on the market, and began to look at the Kansas City real estate market.   They had narrowed the search down to Leawood and Overland Park, KS when they took me with them to look at possible homes to buy.  The morning that we left to look at homes, my dog Foxy was put to sleep by the vet.  I didn’t get to say goodbye.  They told me at the hotel that night, and I cried a lot. Foxy had been my friend for fourteen years and my closest emotional support.


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