You learn things about people when you live with them and it wasn’t too long after I turned nine that I learned my father was an alcoholic. Not that I understood what impact that would have on my life – that took more time.
Daddy got home from his weekly bowling night after I was in bed but not asleep. I was really excited about a green plastic dinosaur that I had gotten as a “give-away” at a new gas station. Does anyone remember the Sinclair dinosaur?
I was excited about this new toy and couldn’t wait to show it to Daddy because I knew he would like it too. He came in my room and reached down to pick me up (I’m not sure why because I was holding the dinosaur for him to see but for some reason he picked me up) lost his balance and dropped me on the floor. It was a defining moment in my young life; one minute in his arms, the next minute on the floor.
In the complicated way that alcoholism affects a family, being dropped on the floor wasn’t the traumatic event that night. I was startled but not hurt. It was the aftermath of my mother yelling at my father – “I told you not to go in there – you’re drunk – I told you to stay away from her when you’re drunk . . .” I didn’t know what “drunk” was but I knew it was making the people I loved yell at each other. I wished I had never tried to show Daddy the dinosaur. In the way a nine year old processes information I thought all of the bad stuff that happened was my fault. I should have waited until morning to show Daddy the dinosaur and this never would have happened. My heightened sense of responsibility for things over which I had no control began that night.
So if you’ve been enjoying this romp through my happy childhood and are beginning to worry that this is going to turn into one of those blogs where I rant and rave about my miserable life and blame other people for everything that went wrong – don’t worry. All in all, my life’s been very good. Every family is dysfunctional in its own way – we were no different. There were lots of times when my father wasn’t drinking (usually when his father JBK came to visit) and as my mother readily admits, he was never a “mean drunk.” Apart from my new awareness of our big family secret, a lot of great things happened when I was nine.
I continued going to school from Nana’s house and began third grade with a teacher named Miss Winifred Schenck. (I only remember that because her name is on my report card.)
The third grade teacher I remember was Mrs. Prunty who took over when Miss Schenck left in November to get married. I remember my grandfather visiting my class and talking about Thailand. He sat in a special rocking chair and the students gathered around at his feet. My grandfather – I felt special because of him. And if you look at my grades – I was not only Special but EXCELLENT (in everything except P.E. – too bad my Saturday bowling credits weren’t transferable.)
So I reached double digits and new and exciting things were happening in my life. For one thing – I finally got a girl cousin. Peggy Ann Kingsbury was born in April 1964 and even though she lived in Indiana, I got to meet her in the summer of 1965 when she and her mother came with JBK to Richmond after attending a Kingsbury family reunion in Sturbridge, MA.
There’s a lot of information in JBK’s July 14, 1965 family letter about the family reunion in Massachusetts and his three week stay in Richmond, but I’ll share his description of being with his two sons, their wives and his two granddaughters. As a parent of grown children, I appreciate how nice it is to have time with both of your children together so I know this was a happy time for JBK.
“Bry, Ceil and Kathy met us in their new Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and we were soon happily at home in their house. Kathy and Peggy Ann loved each other, and grandpa had little to do for the next three days. On Saturday we all went to the airport to meet Deane who flew from Indianapolis via Chicago to take his family home. He had only 30 hours in Richmond, but the time was well spent with trips to the “farm” in Powhatan County, the new house, an evening of bowling, a steak dinner on the lawn, and lots of talk. The big surprise was Bry and Ceil’s new house. After ten years of moving they found a house that looks almost ideal. It is in a very nice neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the river (the James) upstream where the water is clean but only ten minutes’ drive from their old house and still convenient to Bry’s laboratory and Ceil’s mother’s house.”
He goes on to describe the house in great detail and tell of trip we took to visit my other grandfather in North Carolina. While my mother was bowling in Winston Salem, NC I spent the weekend with my two grandfathers and my father at Fontana Lake in Western NC. Granddaddy Broski (my mother’s father) was not a significant figure in my life (Nana remarried Buck before I was born and I was very close to him) but I do remember the trip to Fontana Lake and the mountains of NC. I did not remember that JBK was with us so it is great to have his detailed account of the trip.
JBK spent the next two weeks helping us move into our new house at 3736 Shore Drive – the first house my parents owned. The window you see in picture #1 was my bedroom window. I had a beautiful set of white bedroom furniture with a canopy bed with a light blue eyelet bedspread and canopy. I LOVED that canopy bed. I was never a girly girl but that canopy bed made me feel like a beautiful princess. I’ll write more about the house in my next post but I want to close with a quote from JBK’s letter about a golf game he had with my mother and her friend Van at Hermitage Country Club in Richmond (apparently one of Richmond’s finest golf clubs by his account.)
We had a fine game with a nice old Negro caddy who gave us modest advice about how to play. I was standing with him when Ceil made a shot and he said, ‘they ain’t a woman in Richmond that can hit a ball like that.’
Yep – that’s my Mama – she was quite a golfer. And JBK never missed an opportunity to praise her skill. She continued to out play most of the men in her life well into her 50s. So instead of another descriptive phrase like “daughter of a golf legend,” I’ll choose an adjective for my tenth year that describes how I was beginning to feel – Responsible.