Rough draft


Chapter 3   1954 - 1957

High School

During my high school years, I began to hate the summers, because the connection to the outside world stopped; no tv, no social life with peers and no movies, not to mention no internet, which wasn’t invented yet.


My 9th and 10th grade experiences were a continuation of being teased and made fun of by other kids. I didn’t have conversations with boys because I was too afraid of them. 


I didn't seem to have much interest in things other girls were interested in; boys, hair styles, perfumes, dresses, etc. Boys only poked fun at my skinny body with no hips and joked about my tiny boobs. When I began wearing a bra kids would pull the elastic in the back to snap it to get my reaction. I was tall and skinny with red hair that nobody except my brother had. Not much about my physical body resembled a girl. It was tough to have no social life with kids outside of school.


I felt so quiet and shy in my defective and ugly self, it scared me to be in social situations because I’d usually get picked on for something I said or did, so I became convinced I must be no good. But wait…they make fun of my last name and how I look too. My last name is Butcher, so I get called “Butch” which feels condescending. I don’t know what to do. I am so angry at myself for being stupid, skinny, shy, round shouldered, red haired, freckled, four-eyed, because I wear glassed now but worst of all is a girl named Wilma called me “Ugly” on the softball field on two different occasions. I cry inside, and my spirit shatters.


The worse part is, I never knew why I was so repulsive to others. Robert always punched me in the arm when he passed me. Once I saw Jean glaring at me with hate in her eyes and I hadn’t done a thing to her. I had even stayed over at her house once and was always friendly toward her. 


I hated the way I looked all throughout school, but I couldn't change anything, so I just endured the ridicule. Somehow though, I'd hung on to a deep feeling that I was loved by Jesus, so I believed something about me must be worth loving. Even though I felt disliked by my parents and brother growing up, I did feel that Jesus loved me, because I was told that in Sunday school also.


Ma continued communicating her disapproval of my skinny, nervous body and reminded me of her being a husky young girl, which sounded like perfection. Many times I heard, "You take after Daddy, he was skinny when he was young." She didn't seem to like Daddy very much either, often putting him down for one reason or another.


I knew I was unacceptable to her and finally realized she couldn't love me because my body was too unlike hers. Besides being skinny and biting my nails I had bodily grimaces and movements which she questioned me about once, "Why are you doing that, referring to my shoulder movements?" I said, "I feel uneven and it makes me feel even."


I remember her strongest scoldings, "You should be ashamed of yourself." Another famous scolding both my brother and remembered was, "Take yourself out of yourself and look at yourself." I think by doing that, I was supposed to see my shameful self as negative and change. 


If I ever cried or expressed my feelings, I was immediately admonished. Crying wasn’t okay. The voice of Ma’s scoldings usually were, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” or “Take yourself out of yourself and look at yourself,” so I gradually stopped expressing my feelings. Why were my feelings so terrible? I kept wondering that, but no answers came. 


Families, at least mine still in the fifties, as well as the forties, didn't ever mention feelings, let alone discuss them, but I didn’t know that. 


Suffering alone in silence was almost unbearable. One school day it was so bad, I said to Ma after school, “I’m not going back to school ever again,” but she just tried to reassure me saying, I’d get over it. 


Not only do I keep my great love of Nature inside, but I keep my pain and shame inside also. I always felt like Kenny hated me. There were many weeks we didn’t speak to each other. But other weeks we played chess together. We'd have brief discussions about kids at school, but not about anything of an emotional sort.


As a young girl, I wondered and thought about many things. I didn’t know any role models, mentors, or family members to ask important questions to. There were no such thing as school counselors or anyone who could encourage me or explain what was wrong with me. I grew up assuming my feelings just didn't matter to anyone. So since there is nobody to share them with, I keep them to myself, but they eat me from inside and led to an adult life of quiet desperation.


I spent myriad nights after getting in bed, contemplating why kids hated me. I often desperately wished that my emotional pain was physical bruises, so other people could see how much I was suffering. Almost fifty years later I wrote about my pain in a poem....


Broken Spirits

Physical pain, so easy to see

A ragged little boy with scars on his body 

that automatically scream

Please, please, please somebody help me

We rush to his aid giving sustenance freely

Feeling badly for him we didn’t help early

We shout to the world this shouldn’t happen

and make up a law to punish the batterer

The plump little girl sits silently near,

Waiting her turn for someone to hear

Shy to speak up but polite as can be 

While screaming inside somebody,

somebody please, please help me

Her spirit long broken by unkind words

Hurt not recognized, pain not heard

Nobody listens so no one can know

All of her suffering, where does it go

In a short while we’ll all just forget

The sweet little girl who sat on the step

but long we’ll remember the physical scars

And thoughts of the boy will tug at out hearts

Karen Fenton  ~  September 2002

That next summer, Kenny and I went with Daddy to see Mr. Ranks, a farmer Daddy wanted to visit. He had tame rabbits in cages and Kenny and I loved watching them. We pleaded with Daddy to let us each have one. He said we could if we build a hutch for them first. Excitement hit me right away. I could hardly wait for Daddy to show me how to build a rabbit hutch.


There were many old boards and rusty nails from a broken down building out back of the barn. I loved to build and had a natural talent for it. I used Daddy’s handsaw, hammer and a foot long section of a railroad track, turned upside down where it was wide and flat, so we could pound old nails straight on it. It worked extremely well. Daddy got us some half inch wire mesh for their cage floor so their small droppings could fall through. 


I named my grey bunny Pauline. Kenny’s was a half black and half white Dutch rabbit. I ended up building two large ones total, because Pauline soon had babies. It wasn't long before Ma made us move them all to the back of the barn, where she couldn’t smell them. We failed to keep their living space clean.


Then I had a strong desire to build a dog/doll house for myself, ‘cause there is still enough old wood. I built a floor and walls and even an attic with a small square hole leading up to it. I was so proud of my “house.” I could actually crawl into it. Kenny tried to copy me, but his “house” had crooked boards and cracks you could see through. Not mine, it was solid and square.


In mid-summer Daddy mowed tall grass and let it dry out for hay. One day after he mowed a patch of grass, I discovered a nest of baby field mice very close to the ground, so close the mower blades went right over the top of them. My first urge was to take them home and keep them as pets, but then I thought their mother would miss them, so I didn’t.


One time I found a traumatized field mouse in the hayfield and kept him as a “pet” for a while in a wooden box in my bedroom. When I asked Ma how come their tails are shorter than regular mice, she replied, “Field mice are a different breed than house mice and they’re much tamer too.” 


All the many cats accumulated on the farm seemed to love catching chipmunks, mice, birds and bats. Kenny and I rescued them whenever we could, hopefully before they died. The most interesting victim I saved from death, was a bat. To my surprise, when I stretched out its long webbed wings, I saw little claws on the ends of the wing joints. To my teenaged self that was an amazing discovery. 


I showed Kenny and we decided to take the bat upstairs to his bedroom for an experiment. We'd learned bats made an echo to keep from bumping into things and we wanted to see if it was true, so we hung a rope across the room with a blanket over it. Then we watched the bat fly around and around and it never bumped into the blanket, so we knew his echo worked, but we wondered why we didn’t hear any echo sounds. 


Each summer during haying season, Kenny and I had to help Daddy in the hayfield by tramping down the hay as he heaved it up with a pitchfork onto the truck. Tramping hay was the hottest, stickiest job ever in the heat of summer and I hated it. Hayseed stuck to my sweat and itched. That was the worst job ever.


When I was old enough, I did get to do something I liked, which was to help unload the hay from the truck into the barn. Daddy backed the truck into the barn under the big hay fork which was hung on a high pulley. Then he lowered and opened the huge fork down on to the hay in the truck. I hooked Mousie’s tracer up to the pulley rope and slowly drove him out of the barn until Daddy hollered “stop.” The big fork of hay would travel up and back and he could trip the fork, letting the hay fall where he wanted it. 


I also got to sit on the raker as Mousie pulled it around and around the field raking up piles of dried grass. All I had to do was guide him and, when the raker was full, pull a lever to leave a pile. One day after I finished raking, I had the most terrifying experience of my teen life. I was motivated by my long desire to ride a horse and asked Daddy, “Can I ride on Mousie's back down to the barn...can I, pleeeze?” 


Daddy helped me up on his back and then said, “Hold on tight to the harness handles and go around to the back of the truck and follow me down.” 


I say, “Okay” and tried hard to make Mouse go around behind the truck, but he had other ideas. He knew he was done for the day, so he just headed straight down the hill to the barn, galloping at top speed with terrified me hanging on “for my life.” I had visions of Mousie going straight into his stable, knocking me right off of him, ‘cause his doorway was only as high as he was. I was so glad Ma was in the barnyard and stopped him. I was off in a flash. Poor Daddy ran all the way down from the field, so afraid I’d fall off.


Sometimes there wasn’t enough hay from our farm to fill the barn so Daddy would go buy someone else’s grass, cut and dry it out, then haul it home. On one of these occasions I went with him and after our lunch he gave me money to go buy whatever desert I wanted at the store. It was completely up to me what I bought. I'll never forget the feeling of being completely in charge of getting whatever I wanted! 


I bought a cake with maple walnut frosting. Daddy liked it too and we each ate half, but he said, “Don’t tell Ma” and I never did. That was the closest time Daddy and I ever spent together, other than playing checkers. Daddy was a checker champion. There was no beating him at checkers. He taught me well, ‘cause nobody else could beat me when I played adults.


Even though I got out of a lot of farm chores and could stay in the house, I didn’t learn how to cook or clean or make bread; I only learned how to make cakes, fudge and cookies. I didn’t even have to keep my bedroom clean, I just did that on my own, when I felt like it.


Just before Kenny died in his seventies we had a phone conversation in which he explained how he hated that I could stay in the house and he had to do all the chores. I was quite stunned to hear that. He evidently never knew that Ma wouldn't allow me to do most "farm chores" and that I belonged in the house because I was a girl and farm chores were for boys. Of course he blamed me for staying in the house, but after he died, I realized that must have been the reason why he was so jealous of me growing up and didn’t like me for the most part in our later teen life.


Ma often told me that because Kenny was a boy he was very important on a farm, to do the chores. It's expected for sons to do farm work.” Then she’d say, “Had I known I’d end up on a farm, I’d have had six boys. Girls need to be trained to be in the house and do house work.” 


Kenny and I always seemed to be in competition with each other. I was always jealous of him because he was allowed to do things I wanted to do but couldn’t, because I was a girl. I could do most things better, like building. There was so much Ma disapproved of especially my apparent inability to just be the girl she wanted. She often compared me to Kenny and he was always superior and much more approved of than I, even society preferred boys to girls.


My “boy” self wanted to run and climb. I named one of our trees in front of the house “Sneakers-on” because you had to have sneakers on to climb it and I loved climbing it, but Ma disapproved. 


“Why can’t I climb trees?” I asked her one day.


“You’re a girl and you have to be careful, you might tip your womb and that isn’t good for a girl. It is okay for boys to climb, but not girls. Girls are not as strong as boys, their organs are more delicate, so you shouldn’t be straining yourself. It bad for your inside organs. Boys are built for rough and tumble, but girls aren’t.”


“Why...?” I persist. 


“Just obey me and don’t run and climb.” 


Her reasoning seemed mainly to stop me from acting like a boy. But for me it felt most natural. I loved running and climbing, as well as building. I felt thwarted, so I ran and climbed anyway, because it felt good and was fun. I'm a better climber than Kenny is too, even if I am a girl. I kept “Sneakers-on” as my tree and Kenny could climb the less desirable one nearby, but I sometimes let him climb “Sneakers-on."


I would often try to take advantage of Ma’s beliefs about being a girl, like when Daddy stood over me at the water pump and made me pump the water to fill the bucket for the cows that came to drink. I protested that it hurt my insides, but Daddy didn’t buy that. I also protested carrying wood in for the kitchen stove, 'cause it was too hard, but he didn’t buy that one either.


One of the things I did “in the house” was listen to fifteen minute soap operas on the radio, like “Just plain Bill,” “The Guiding Light,” “Lorenzo Jones,” etc. often with annoying static. I began to hate every weekend with only homework and no socialization. I so wanted to socialize with other kids, outside of school, but I knew there was no chance for that...ever. 


Sometimes, just before going to sleep, something deep down inside me clearly says, “I am great.” It is a feeling or a knowing that came to me more than once and it felt so true, even though I have no external evidence of it. I found myself believing that something inside me was great, without knowing what it was. I just knew it was certainly not my body, for sure. I kept believing it my whole life, regardless.


I remember after a leg whipping, Daddy would usually say, along with some explanation for the punishment, “You know Daddy loves you.” But I was never able to believe that. I didn’t know what love felt like anyway, so I couldn’t tell for sure what he meant.


I was fifteen after my Sophomore year ended and I spent that summer in Wakefield, MA., with my cousin Margaret, her husband and four sons. That was a great summer. One day when I wanted to buy a couple of pairs of pants so we go to a clothing store. I end up buying two pairs of boys “Chino” pants that fit me perfectly with nice deep pockets. I loved them, more than words can say. After exiting the store, Margaret asked me in a negative tone of voice as we were crossing a street, 


“Why on earth did you buy boys pants?” 


I could only look down at the street and feel ashamed. I never got new clothes on the farm for school. All I wore were “hand me downs” from my Mom’s friend’s in MA. Girls had to wear skirts or dresses in school and this was the first time I bought new clothes from a store. My joy was crushed.


That Fall in my Junior year things at school seems to get much better. The principal Mr. Gibson, asked Kenny if he wanted to play boys basketball. He was the tallest boy in school. I was also asked if I wanted to play on the girls team. We both wanted to so Mr. Gibson drove us home from practices and games. 


I was thrilled that I could play basketball. I thoroughly enjoyed feeling somewhat important and not so flawed anymore. I began to develop a bit of self confidence because I loved playing and was fairly good. I sometimes played forward, which I loved, but mostly played guard and I noticed my reflexes were extremely fast.


I didn’t like that we could only play on half a court when the boys could play the whole court, but girls had different rules that didn’t allow us to run the full length of the court. I knew girls had to be cautious about running. I am usually insecure and afraid of other kids, but the name calling and negative attitudes towards me seemed to have stopped. I didn’t experience any more ridicule or name calling, so that was a great relief. I began to feel almost normal and somewhat valued. It felt freeing somehow.


One day Kenny told me how to sneak into the principal’s office and look in my student file to see my IQ score. So one day, I did and saw my IQ score was “above average.” I was pleased and felt a bit more self confident, especially after Mr. Gibson sat me down one day and told me that a classmate Jean, who was a straight A student, didn’t score as high as I did on the IQ test. I was immediately amazed and almost didn't believe him. How could Joan get straight A’s with a lower IQ than I had. How could that be? But as Mr. Gibson suggested, I might be able to get higher grades, knowing this.


I spent the following summer before my Senior year with Ma’s friend Myrtle, her four foster daughters and her grown son, Ronnie, in Wilmington, MA. I was sixteen so Ron got me my very first job as a waitress in a restaurant. I didn’t even know how to serve customers coffee or anything actually. I was extremely naïve. I had no idea how to talk with adults. I was fired after only one afternoon. Then he got me a job at an icecream roadside stand that his friend owned. I was almost fired, but Ron must have persuaded my boss to let me stay. They gave me a hairnet and I kept the job for the summer. 


I had a crush on Ronnie because he seemed to value me and was so helpful. He also showed me how to drive his car and took me for my driving test which I passed with flying colors. The DMV instructor commented how impressed he was that I used the emergency brake and gradually released it while backing up into the street, after turning into a driveway to reverse my direction. I felt a new pride in myself. 


Ron had promised Daddy he’d buy a car for him, unbeknownst to me. I wanted a car, so I save up about three hundred dollars from working and Ronnie took me to buy my 1941 green Chevy. He won’t let me drive it home, but I am pleased to have my own car. When I go to show Ma my car registration, after telling her it was my car, I found it has been taken from the steering wheel, where it was supposed to be kept. Daddy had taken it. Ma said that Ron had promised Daddy a car and that was the car, it wasn’t mine she said. I was stunned and angry. I felt so betrayed I didn’t speak to Daddy for several years after that. We never discussed anything about “my car.”


I continued my ongoing anger at Daddy, since he “stole” my car and I began to hate the farm and life on it. I still had no chance to socialize outside of school. I had no friends, felt unloved, ridiculed and put down by others my whole life so I was ready to run away. I had a solid plan in place to escape the farm, on my own. I told Kenny my plan. After graduation, I would pack a suitcase and go down on the road and hitchhike away.


During the fall of my Senior year I was able to drive my friend Barbara's parent's car to Lewiston, thirty miles away. Barbara gave me the highest driving comment I ever got. Her honest and high comment, "You drive like a man” made me so proud of myself.  


Mr. Gibson the principal, had made me call home to get Ma’s permission to drive to Lewiston. After Ma said, “No you can’t drive that far",” I pretended, with a facial expression of excitement along with a fake smile, that she was saying I could drive. Then I hung up and lied to Mr. Gibson with phony excitement saying, “She said I can drive, but to be very careful!” He believed my “act.” I felt full of self confidence, even though I tricked my them both into letting me drive that distance.


I'd outwitted the principal, with my superb controlling tool I'd learned when I was a four year pure deception.


I had zero input to our Senior yearbook. I hardly knew who was in charge, but I noticed the popular kids gathering information for it. The quote that they put beside my senior picture was, “Do you not know I am a woman, when I think I must speak.” 


I was unhappy with that quote because it seemed condescending and not something I would say about myself beside my picture. I was outspoken, having never been taught etiquette or polite social behavior and speech. But they did publish a poem I wrote for an assignment once, which reflects my ongoing love of Nature.


Winter Scenes


This day, made bright by winter’s distant sun,

can be, at times, so very, very cold.

This oak tree, once alive with budding limbs,

is now so desolate, bleak, and barren.

These fleecy clouds, so many miles away

turn loose their flaky holdings around us.

These meadows, now blanketed by winter,

were once alive with animals of summer.

This chilly wind, preceding icy calm,

sails laden clouds on to blot out winter’s sun,

and send a spotless covering down on earth’s

gloomy fields.


Karen Butcher   age 17    1957


At graduation practice I was told to take shorter steps when walking down the aisle because my gait was "too much like a boy’s," too long. None of my family came to my graduation. I told Ma she didn’t need to attend, that I understood she didn’t have a ride. I knew Daddy didn’t have time to drive to it anyway, ‘cause there was always farm work to be done.


After the ceremony was over, I needed a ride home and Barbara and her boyfriend had told me they’d take me, but instead they wanted to go off by themselves for a short ride and come back to get me. I did not understand and panicked believing I'd be stranded, so I followed her to her car. I insisted they don’t leave me. After Barbara tried unsuccessfully to reassure me they’d be back shortly, they relented and allowed me to go with them. I sat in the back seat while they drove to the top of the hill and kissed. I had no idea why they would do that. 


Ma suggested I go to live with my Aunt and Uncle in Quincy, Massachusetts. She told me I could get a good job in the city and there was no work for me here in Canton. So I agreed to go live with them, much relieved I didn’t have to go through with my hitchhiking escape plan.


I was seventeen and a half when Uncle George drove up to get me in June of 1957, seven years after he first picked us up at the train station and took us to the farm in 1950. I was equally joyful to be leaving the farm now to start an adult life in the city. So began my almost adult life; extremely naïve, not knowing social skills and zero relationship skills.