Family

I’ve beeing putting this off. It is too emotionally intense and there is so much I want to say, so I’m tackling this in bites. I hope some of my readers don’t mind a bit of soap opera. This is essentially an emotion dump.

My wife, daughter and I went to visit with my families back east. My biological family was having a family reunion at Hogback Lake KOA near Angola Indiana, about halfway between the South Bend branch of the family and the Detroit, MI branch. Since I was there it would be a couple hours drive north to visit my cousin Jim. I love the summer climate and the verdant forests and fields. I love the clear lakes and cool rivers. At first, the trip brought up good memories of nature and occasional friendship. But then reality sets in.

I wish I could live in a world of euphoric recall, where the good things are accentuated and the bad things are diminished. I know many people have that trait. (It is particularly common among drug and alcohol addicts and it is a common cause of relapse.) It shows up in most people as nostalgia for the good old days. If it helps one to neutralize an unhappy past, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, it isn’t a strong trait within me.


Before the trip started, I tried contacting my adoptive sister. She was unreachable. I did some research online. It appears she died in Kalamazoo, MI on Dec 12, 2018. The funeral home site had no obituary, no photo, and no record of anyone commenting or sending condolences – a lonely death. I wasn’t listed in the surviving relatives. Her husband died back in 2014, so I assume she’d moved to Kalamazoo to live with her daughter – my niece. My sister’s name was Elizabeth Ann but she hated Elizabeth so she went by Beth or Ann.

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My father in WWII.

I am easily found and have been living at the same place, name, and phone number for 30 years but neither my niece nor my nephew thought to notify me. Ah well!

N.B. Several years after my sister died I was contacted by my niece. She said she wanted to connect with me as her only remaining family and told me things I had no idea were going on. Like how much my sister hated me because I was the smart kid who got to go off to college and she went nowhere. That’s why she didn’t respond or stay in contact. But my niece had finally decided that family was more important than anything else.

Then suddenly she became unreachable. She had passed away. Never found out why but my wife and I suspect COVID.

My sister and I were adopted at about the same time with her being 10 years older than I. At that time the household was full of other children. My mother boarded children for the state who were considered too old to be adoptable. It was a secondary source of money for the household.  My father worked long hours in a factory fifty miles away. I have little memory of this. The boarders were all gone by the time I was five.

One of the few memories I have of this preK era was being dressed up in a bright red party dress. I think I was standing on a table at the time and I’m not sure of my age. No other memories of it and nobody is alive to ask. I suspect I was being used as a mannequin for a little girl but that is just speculation.

Another preK event sticks in my memory. When I was 3 years old, I climbed out of the back of our station wagon while my father was driving it up a hill behind our house. Somehow I fell under it and the rear wheel drove over my chest and head. The doctors were amazed that I survived. I don’t remember the event itself but I have memories of the memory of brief flashes of my hospital stay. Does that make any sense?

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Mother, circa 1940

I was given a wind-up stuffed doggie while I was hospitalized. They named it “Lullabye” and of course, it played Brahm’s Lullabye, the only early childhood possession I still have. (I am fiercely protective of it to this day.)  I made a complete recovery.

OTOH I had untreated amblyopia and never saw a dentist until my mid-teens and the cavities hurt too much to bear. I sliced my wrist open when I pushed on a pane glass door window and it shattered. Blood spurting everywhere. No doctor, no stitches. Still have the scars today. I fell and drove an inch-wide piece of stump wood into my arm. No doctor, no stitches. Still have the scar today. When I was a toddler bouncing in a jumpy seat suspended in a doorway, a spring broke and cut a deep gash in my head. No doctor, no stitches. Still have the scar today.

Do you note a pattern here? Yet I was covered by my father’s Blue Cross…

When I was 7, one evening I had a stomach ache. My mother immediately dosed me with castor oil. To her, everything was the result of constipation. Later that night, my appendix ruptured and my father carried me to the car and drove me to the hospital. (All I could do was curl up in a fetal position and scream.) They had to wake up the doctor who then did an emergency appendectomy.

I could not get a break.


My legal first name is Fredrick but everyone called me Ricky. I honestly believed that was my official name until one fateful day (4th grade maybe?) when I discovered what my name really was. I don’t remember how the discovery was made but it was a bit of a shock. Started referring to myself as “Fred” and signing homework that way, much to Mom’s amusement. (She was sure it would “pass.”) It wasn’t long before I discovered from my cousins that I’d been adopted. Another shock. Didn’t believe it until I confronted my parents. Stupid secrets!

My only two friends in the world were Jim, my cousin, and Mike, a boy who lived a mile away and had some kind of learning disability and propensity for fighting. There was also Kevin who fancied himself a revolutionary and took my social clumsiness as a kind of social rebellion but that was later in my teens.

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I would have been two and a half. It was deer season and dad almost always got one. That figure to the right might have been my sister.  The black tar paper shack was already on the property when my father built a basement and had an old two-story, five-bedroom house moved onto it (off-picture to the right). It was full of fascinating junk to explore like rusted tools and old magazines. Immediately behind the shack was an old apple tree I used to swing on. Far away and down a hill were two gigantic oak trees.

There were no biological children. Mom had had a hysterectomy when she was young to solve her “female” problems. I guess it was fashionable at one time. She’d also been kicked out of her own home when she was 16 and spent 2 weeks in a mental institution. Since Mom and Dad slept in bedrooms at opposite ends of the house and on different floors, I assume sex wasn’t a thing.

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That’s me, 1964. By that age I was fearless and feral. Far away and down a hill there were a pair of giant oaks on my right. On my left is a stand of poplar trees. Within that stand is an unused chicken coop. (Last chickens got eaten when I was about 5, IIRC.) Mike, and his brothers, and I converted it to a secret base. Even put in a hatch and a tunnel for an emergency exit. I would use it as a safe place when I was alone.

Sis and I shared the same bed and bedroom. Bathroom privacy was almost unheard of and the back yard was often the guys’ urinal of last resort. It was a five bedroom house with only one bath but at times there were as many as 8 kids and two adults. (Over time I think she boarded a dozen different children.) When the boarded children moved on, I stayed in Sister’s bedroom until the age of 8 when Mom decided it wasn’t proper any more.

Sister came home from a date once with her dress wrinkled in the wrong way. Mom was

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Me in 1967

furious and Dad gave her a belt whipping. And that was the thing a good Christian parent would do in those times and that area.

At the time sis was a kind of defacto mother for me and did most of the housework but I don’t remember that. I was your typical obnoxious younger brother who liked to get under Big Sister’s skin. I do remember getting into a fight at school and her then getting into it with the other boy’s sister.

We were never emotionally close. I think my Asperger’s got in the way of a close relationship. Once she left home to get married, that train left the station for good. Probably because we were so different and probably because she disliked both our adoptive parents – as much as I would soon grow to dislike my adoptive mother.

When I was 15 we moved just outside the big city of Midland into a &^%$#@! trailer park. Parents sold our 80 acres on a stream with a 5 bedroom house for a pittance and then burned up most of that money in legal fees suing the guy who bought it. Three years later we moved into a house in town. Soon after that, she died. Cancer of the bladder had metastasized and slowly eaten her up over the course of 7 years..

I didn’t cry. I hadn’t even visited her in the hospital much. For as long as I could remember, she was an angry, vindictive, and paranoid woman. She was forever telling me how stupid I was and that I’d never amount to anything. She liked to beat me with a wooden yardstick until I was big enough to take it away from her and told her, “No more!” When I was a bit younger she would coerce me into sleeping next to her in bed. I’d be trapped between her and a wall and unable to leave without waking her up. Nothing sexual involved but it irritated the hell out of me.

I used to have a lot of photos of my life in Michigan. When my mother died, my father threw them all out. Hence almost no photos survived., not even of my sister. (Ought to have some from the last time we visited but can’t find them. I did find a photo of her husband Roger in his obit.) I have about a dozen random photos he missed. Ah well. I remember what she looked like so it doesn’t really matter.

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Dad in the 80s.

After Mom died, Dad stopped drinking and became a kind and gentle person. He was never anything but supportive of my sister and me after that. Until she lied to get him to give her money. Eventually, he married again.

Things got worse between my sister and me when my father died 15 years ago. He had caught her lying about needing money for household repairs. He’d made a number of large cash gifts to her. There were no such repairs to be made; instead, she was blowing it on bingo. So he took her out of his will and left everything to me.

I let her take all the furnishings from the house but when I sold it I kept the proceeds for myself. It wasn’t a lot of money, even given the location. I was looking ahead to sending two kids through college (Her children were grown and long gone. Neither had the slightest interest in college.) and he had specified the inheritance was for that purpose.

I’d been informed that he was in the hospital by my step-sister. She (who I’d never met) left a cryptic message on the phone about him being ill (no details) and I started making plans to fly out. It was when his neighbor called that I found out how sick he really was. He had stroked out in his living room and his neighbor had found him. I needed to get out there right now. I called off at work and took the next available flight but he was dead by the time I got there.

Step-sister was scheming to try to get the house he’d left for me. Per my lawyer, she didn’t have a legal chance. But it had been her mother’s house before the marriage. So I gave her an estimate about how much it would cost to fix the house and make it livable and offered her half the house if she’d split half the cost. Suddenly lost interest.

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Dad and wife number 2

I’d already suspected she would refuse. I sold it “as is” to someone who was going to rent it out to college students from the nearby Northwood Institute. College students have a different concept of what constitutes “liveable”.

When my adoptive sister and brother-in-law came to California a few years ago to visit and go to Disneyland, we weren’t even aware. Found out long afterward. She wasn’t interested in making any kind of contact, so I wasn’t going to pursue the issue. But now she’s dead and only a week after my biological mother. I could at least have made it to her funeral if I’d known. 😦

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4 Comments

  1. Pete Davison

    Sorry to hear of your loss, especially the circumstances under which you discovered it. I hope getting all those thoughts and emotions out there on the page helped even a little bit. Take care of yourself, and remember there are people looking out for you if you need them.

    Like

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