Friday, June 15, 2012

An Unpleasant Childhood Memory

Blame it on Pennsylvania humidity that tests our sanity each and every summer? Why do I keep having so many flashbacks to my childhood?    Blame it on the depression?  Why were my parents screaming at one another under the grape vine arbor that night?  I was only 5 years old and just wanted to see happiness and frolic in the backyard.   I didn't speak Slovak, so I had no idea what any of the fight was about, but I knew they were angry because they were spitting their awful words at one another in a violent way.  All of the other kids were asleep in the big beds we shared, but I was standing at the window, trying my best to see what the commotion was.  Mother did most of the shouting, with Papa interjecting every so often.  I just know the neighbors heard all of it. The same way I heard all of it.  I never forgot those sounds, or the paralysis they induced that night.

Pa worked for many different mining companies, but for a few years he was at Glen Alden Coal Company out in Nanticoke, which meant that the coal we used to heat our home was blue coal.  This superlative made us the envy of all our neighbors, and kept our winters cozy in the giant feather beds we shared with our brothers and sisters.  Papa was always working, going from company to company, seeking better salary and better conditions.  Mother enjoyed being able to buy a new frock only once every 10 years, but it was so much fun to spend time with Mother and my sisters when she enjoyed being a girl.  The four daughters eventually began to sew our own clothing from patterns, just the way Mother had taught us.  We also earned extra money doing it for others.  Once my own daughter was born, it was like a lid was placed over her heart, like she wasn't interested in anything.  I think this phenomenon is hereditary, because I grew to feel the same way deep inside my own heart.   I cry all the time nowadays, I don't even know why.   I began gardening back then, and I still do it to this day, even though Daddy's grapevines and the pretty trellis are long gone. The morning sunlight still grows regal hollyhocks each and every summer, and they are the talk of the block, a summer Katsellas Tradition, you might say.  My goodness, don't tell anybody that the only reason we planted them way back then was to camouflage the outhouse!

Mother and Papa had escalated their quarrel, and someone was being struck with fists.  It sounded like she was slapping him, and that he was defending himself.  I quietly ran outside and hid in the flowers to see Papa's shirt ripped in pieces but still clinging to his heaving 6' 6" frame.  He was sobbing, and he looked so vulnerable and hurt; nevertheless, he snarling and still engaged in battle. His face had a monstrous glare, and I had never seen a barechested male before.  He seemed to posses an animal-like force, and he was covered in thick black hair.

Mother's face was bright red as her open hand came down across his face.  He bounced back to immediately slap her in reciprocation.  Watching a strong man hit a diminutive woman made me frightened, and seeing Papa so upset reduced me to tears and panic.  He then picked up a crucifix and threw it to the ground.  Was Papa angry at God?   The crucifix shattered to pieces, and Mother blanched.  I know my childhood eyes were not deceiving me, for I had never seen anything like this before.  The sound of the broken porcelain echoed into the night until everything became silent but for the crickets and night birds off in the distance.  They were both staring at one another, moving in a circle like dogs in a fight, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. 

Then I watched him raise his left hand to her, snatching the collar of her dress violently,  tearing it into two pieces that instantly fell from her body.  She stood motionless for awhile and then jumped into his arms with an unusual, almost primal gyration.  Were they moving in slow motion with one another, or was my scared little brain playing tricks on me?   Did any of this really happen?   She began kissing him passionately.  I still remember Mother's naked silhouette against Papa's dark fur, but now I worry if this was all a dream of my own since it happened so long ago.  Papa stiffened his body, shot his arm around her waist, and took her down to the floor, returning her ardor and passion.  They weren't yelling anymore, but I was still frightened.  At this point, I decided that I had seen enough and ran away from this horrifying scene.  I had never seen two people so angry before.   I was glad they never found out that I had been watching them, for I truly would have been a goner.

Yours in the Love of Christ,
Mrs. Walter J. Katsellas, Jr.

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