Unedited Draft

 Kaiven's Young Life    

 ~ My Early Years ~

1940 - 1950 MA.

 

World war two had begun in Europe three months prior to my being born on November 29, 1939. Pearl Harbor was attacked the week after I turned two and we entered the war. Blackouts happened. I remember Mummy telling me she had to crawl on the floor with a flashlight at night because we didn’t have blackout curtains on the windows. One night a policeman yelled up to her to, “Douce that light!”

My earliest memory is when I was three years old. I was standing at my mother's knees ready for bed when she told me, "Run and get the hot stuff." I knew where it was, so off I trot down the long hallway into the living room to fetch it. 

I watched as she painted the smelly colorless liquid on my tiny nails before climbing into bed. It was supposed to stop me from biting them at night, but it didn't. I got used to the bitter and continued to compulsively bite them throughout childhood, long into adulthood until eighty. Along with that seemingly unbreakable almost lifetime habit, there lived  within a nervousness and anxiety that didn't end until I finally discovered the source of my lifelong struggle with fear, anger and despair. 

In retrospect, I had to watch my new infant brother taking what I naturally perceived as my lost place, being held and cuddled in her arms daily, feeling safe and loved while nursing. Mother, being a practical woman probably told me something like, "You're a big girl now, you can eat grownup food. You don't need to nurse anymore."

This was an emotional trauma that rewired my brain away from a normal and natural development. I felt tremendous pain, anxiety, nervousness and anger, from my perceived loss of my mother's warmth, affection and attention. This caused me to begin to bite my fingernails, whenever I re-experienced that loss by watching my brother receive that which I'd lost.

When I was first able to have thoughts, I perceived something must be wrong with me, but I didn't know what it was. Mom often said to me growing up, “You never let me pick you up or cuddle you like your brother did." So it was all my fault. I felt misunderstood big time. I continued to want her love and approval desperately, but never was able to receive it. I grew up believing the worst about myself; that I must be flawed and defective somehow.

My next memory is after turning four. I had a somewhat scary encounter with other kids from in back of our six family dwelling. As I took my pots, pans and shovel downstairs to dig in the dirt in front of the house, I remember Mummy’s instructions, “If the kids from the back come out front, you come right upstairs.” I never forgot those words. I believed the kids must be bad and dangerous.

I don’t know how long I enjoyed playing before a few kids appeared from around back. I immediately gather up my pots and pans and tell them a story I made up on the spot. I calmly said, “I'm taking these upstairs and I'll be right back out.” I remember wanting to sound convincing. I felt like I was cleverly escaping them, so they wouldn't do something scary to me. 

It worked, they let me come upstairs, for which I felt relieved. I had outwitted them. Then from the second story open window, feeling quite safe, with my two year old brother Kenny, beside me, I holler down to them, “Ha, ha, I’m not coming back out."

One evening in April, some boys in the back of the house were playing with matches and threw a lighted match into a barrel which had some oil left in it. I was almost to sleep when I heard a loud crash as a ball of fire come through the window at the foot of my bed. The next moment, Mummy came in with Kenny in her left arm and scooped me up with her right, we head downstairs.

Outside she hands me off to a woman who carries me across the street to a neighbor's. I remember feeling the large, soft furry collar of her coat. We were put into a double bed in a front room. From inside I heard the clanging of the firetruck and I wanted to look outside and watch what was happening, but I wasn't allowed up.

Kindergarten to Fourth Grade

Our new home was on the first floor of a two bedroom, three family house on Norwell St., a few miles from the one that burned. Mummy was thrilled to be on the first floor with a large yard on the right side of the house for us kids to play in. The left side was for the second floor family. Our phone number sticks in my memory...Ge (for Geneva) 6-2339.

That Fall, three months before I was five, I began kindergarten at the Sarah Greenwood Elementary School in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston. Mummy showed me how to walk the block to the schoolyard gate. After turning the corner to the school, there was one spot where I could see our living room window and Mummy told me to wave each morning to her, as I passed by. There wasn't much concern for safety while walking to and from school in 1944, even though I was still just four years old.

The school yard had a black wrought iron fence around it, with bars four inches apart. In addition, there was an iron fence down the middle of the school yard, separating boys from girls. There was no play equipment and when the bell rang, everyone, except kindergarteners, had to get in a line, pair up and hold hands. Then on a teacher's command, file in to the building, one class at a time, beginning with first graders.

I remember the doorknob to my kindergarten class was just above my eye level. Every afternoon we had to put our heads down on our arms on our table and become quiet for a while. The room became darker as the lights were shut off. That is all I remember about kindergarten. 

My most frightening experience happened when I was In first grade. On this afternoon after school, we were told we had to file out the back of the building. This, instead of the normal way which was through the schoolyard. As soon as I realized we were heading in a different direction than usual, I became seized with terror, convinced I wouldn't be able to find my way home from where we were headed. I began screaming in panic as my line filed out. 

“I don’t want to go home this way, I want to go home my own way,” I cried out, over and over.

My teacher Miss Kelly, kept telling me. "You'll see where you are as soon as we get outside," but that wasn't enough to calm me and I continued crying in panic.

“Look,” she said, “no one else is crying." 

When I looked at the other kids faces in my line. They were all looking at me and none of them were crying. I was puzzled, but I kept quiet until we reached the back door. Once outside, embarrassment took over as I recognized the back part of the school area and great relief flowed through me.

My most embarrassing and shame filled experience was in second grade, standing and bending over my desk. My head was about 5 inches above my paper and with pencil in fist, I scribbled intensely back and forth on the yellow paper with blue lines. This felt really good for some reason, like expressing anger with heavy, dark pencil lines. Suddenly I hear my teacher's voice above me, in a tone similar to my Mummy's when I did something terrible. 

"What do you think you’re doing? You should be ashamed of yourself. Go show that to Miss Kelly and see what she has to say about it.” 

Cloaked in embarrassment, I speed walk down the long wide corridor, pretending I was on an important errand, (in case anyone saw me.) I pass by Miss Kelly’s room, only glancing in through the door window, knowing I could never have gone into that room and shown her the shameful thing I'd done. I just walk to the end of the hall, paused by the stairs, then headed back to my classroom walking slower. I sneak into my classroom right to my seat, hiding my shame as best I could. When my teacher asks me what Miss Kelly said, I lied saying, “She thought it was awful and terrible.” 

Later on, when filing in from recess, both teachers were talking in the hallway. As I pass by, I hear my teacher ask Miss Kelly, "Did you see Karen's paper?" Oh no, I thought. Bolting quickly through the double doors to my classroom, I headed for the coat closet to hide. Soon a classmate finds me and says, 

“Miss Bowles wants to see you, right now.” 

Stalling as long as I dared and fearing the worst, I looked down at the floor and walked sheepishly towards them, suffering more humiliation, shame and embarrassment than I knew was possible. Mummy had warned me to never tell a lie, which was a huge sin. 

Eyes glued to the floor and feeling not much higher, I insisted that Miss Kelly wasn't in her room when I went to show her my paper. My obvious lies must have convinced Miss Bowles I was sufficiently punished and I was allowed to return to my classroom. I learned to never scribble angrily on paper again and definitely never lie, the consequences were way too painful.

During my school years I accumulated so much fear and anxiety that it became difficult to concentrate on what my teachers were teaching and what I was supposed to learn in books and on the blackboard. These internal fears seemed to interfere with being able to concentrate on reading and fully understand lessons. This learning anxiety continued throughout grade school and into college years when I got tested for a learning disability called Attention Deficit Disorder.

At home, Mummy encouraged me to go play in the neighborhoods of friends from school because there were "bad" kids in our neighborhood. My Jewish friend Harriet and I played outside, or sometimes watched “Howdy Doody” on her TV, after school. I didn’t have a TV at home. One particular afternoon we were playing in Harriet’s back yard and I hadn’t noticed the street lights coming on, which was my signal to go home, so Mummy came after me. As we walked home I felt extremely humiliated because other kids could hear Mummy scolding me for not coming home when I should. I carried feelings of shame in me all the way home.

Every Sunday morning, Mummy marched Kenny and myself off to church, while the neighborhood kids would often call to us. When we turned to look, they made faces at us. On Sundays we weren't allowed to play outside and certainly not play cards. We were Puritan Fundamentalist Christian Protestant, which Mummy claimed was the only right religion. 

One time I had the idea to dress Kenny up in girl’s clothes. I thought it would be so funny for Mummy to see my creative ability by "turning him into a girl." After he was all decked out, I marched him out for her to see him as a girl.

Mummy had previously informed me that she had always been a "husky" girl and frequently told me that I shouldn't be so nervous and skinny, however what she said next sent shock waves through my whole body.

Fully expecting her to have a good laugh when she sees him, instead she says, “My, what a nice husky little girl,” promptly putting him on her lap and hugging him close to her showing a definite approval of him. Standing frozen in shock, a sad and painful rejection feeling came over me and I didn't play dress-up with my brother anymore. 

I still can see Mummy holding him on her lap with her right arm around him as I stood, glued to the floor to her left, as she spoke those words which I never forgot and cuddled her "husky son turned daughter." I grew up knowing I never allowed her to cuddle me for some reason and shouldn't have been so skinny, but I was to nervous and anxious for either to have happened. 

I had bright red hair, freckles, and buck teeth. In third and fourth grades, kids called me Red, Freckles and Bucky, both in the neighborhood and in school. No other kids around in my school had red hair, except my brother. I was easy pray because I was so scared. Everyone believed redheads were naturally stubborn and I believed that too, but never understand how or why it was so. Four-eyes was added to name calling after I got glasses. I hated looking so different.

One day as Mummy and I were walking to the store, I was admonished for not holding my head up and swinging my arms when I walked. My shoulders had already begun to “round,” probably from a subconscious desire to hide from the world. I felt ashamed and I didn't know my arms were supposed to swing when walking. I became all the more convinced I was flawed and defective, especially because Mummy knew everything, I thought.

The neighborhood bully Jerry, must have known I was scared, when I was sledding with other kids down a hilly sidewalk near his house one day. When I stopped at the bottom of the hill Jerry was suddenly standing over me saying,“That's my sled, so give it to me, now.” 

“Okay” I said, with a plan in mind, “but I have to unwind the rope first.” 

The rope I pull it with was wrapped around the steering handles. Plotting my escape internally, I stand the sled up in front of me and begin unwrapping the rope as Jerry watches and waits. After it is unwound, I immediately let the sled drop to the ground and take off running. I hold on tightly to the rope as I dart into the street without looking for cars. I keep running ‘till I reach my house. When I turned around I didn't see him at all. I felt pleased I was able to use my ever increasing skills to outsmart him on the spot. 

I craved attention and affection so much that I ended up doing things to get me that attention. Unfortunately that gave me the label of being a “brat.” But there was one time I felt honestly recognized. I was around nine and my adult cousin George came to visit. Out of the blue I heard him say, 

“Karen, how would you like to go and get an ice cream with me.” 

I was pleased beyond belief. It was a first friendly request from an adult. We got a ten cent double decker and sat in a booth at the store eating our cones together. I felt so liked and special. Maybe George did like me, even though I was a shy, skinny, red headed brat with buck teeth and freckles.

For Christmas when I was eight, Mummy gave me a doll family that I fell in love with. Nancy was first, than Sarah, named after my Mom’s friend. Then Roberta who eventually received a full head of my red hair. She had to be taken to a “doll hospital” in Boston for that procedure. Needless to say I was delighted to see my own hair on Roberta’s head, that I could braid. When I looked closely at her head I saw that several strands of hair were put into tiny holes in her plastic head. 

I believe my parents loved me, but I just never felt their love inside. Mummy definitely approved of my interest in doll playing of which I spent many hours, days and weeks doing. It was just about the only thing she ever approved of me doing. It fit her version of what the Bible said girls were supposed to be doing. She had saved many of my baby clothes which I used to dress Nancy and Sarah. I spent many happy hours, playing with dolls. I had a doll high chair, a crib, a doll house, along with a small table, chairs and a set of dishes. Mummy thought I'd be a good mother if I learned how by practicing with my "doll children."

The next Christmas Mummy broke down it seems, and bought me a boy's toy, which was an “Erector set.” My cousin gave one to Kenny as a gift and Mummy must have known I'd be wanting to build with it too. My erector set became a favorite thing to play with. Kenny and I spend many hours building together, each with our own set. My dolls, my erector set, a cardboard desk I loved when I was three and paper doll books which I enjoyed for a while, were all I remember having with as a youngster.

I learned that boys got to play with all the fun things, like bikes, trucks, trains, scooters etc., but girls could only play house and dress dolls. These were my mother's rules, strongly enforced by society in the forties. Kenny however, had things I wanted to play with so much, but I was told that girls didn’t play with those things. I'm told boys grew up to drive big trucks and machines and girls grew up to be mothers and care for the children and her husband. I longed to play with “boy toys.” Mostly I wanted one of those cars with pedals in it and a steering wheel to “drive” it around, but that was too expensive even for Kenny to have.

Walking to the library one day, I stopped to watch a big yellow backhoe, digging dirt out of the ground in huge scoops. I was fascinated by that, so I stood there to watch. After a couple of minutes, a boy yelled from across the street, 

“What are you looking at that for, you’re a girl,” with emphasis. 

I felt humiliated, ashamed and a bit angry, ‘cause I was only watching, but feeling so embarrassed, I felt I had to walk on. I knew females didn’t drive machines, but I found it fascinating anyway. Now and many other times, I wished I was a boy so I could play with the "boy toys" I so loved.

I had a constant need for Mummy’s approval, even as an adult. But despite many years of trying I never received it. Every day I tried to “be good.” Daddy would frequently tell me to “be a good girl for Mummy.” That seemed to be my daily goal which I hardly ever achieved, except once that I remember. I got up early one morning to tell Daddy about it. Standing at my bedroom door I called to him in the kitchen before he went to work. He eventually heard me and came to see what I wanted. I said to him quite proudly,“I was good all day yesterday,” to which he seemed pleased.

The only other thing Mummy approved of about me were my legs. It was on a Sunday morning when I was nine or ten. Both my parents were lying in bed and Mummy was looking out to the kitchen where I was mixing up scrambled eggs for breakfast. I had my back to them and heard Mummy tell Daddy, "Karen has really nice looking legs." That was the only positive thing Mummy ever said about my body. Eighty years later, I still feel good about how my legs look.

Daddy had an ice and oil business. He chopped ice in the icehouse just down the street and loaded it in his ice truck daily. Often, he had to carry heavy blocks of ice on his back with ice tongs, up two flights of stairs. Daddy was kind of a “checker champion." At least he enjoyed checker playing a lot. Every once in a while I went with him when he played checkers with one of his customers.

The one thing I really loved doing for Daddy, was stacking nickels, dimes and pennies into one dollar piles on the kitchen table in the evenings. These were his coin earnings for the day from his customers. Even though he had only a fourth grade education, he could keep records for his business and he seemed to appreciate my “help.” 

In March of 1950, I was looking out the kitchen window as Mummy came up behind me and explained that we were all going to move to a farm in Maine with hundreds of acres of land. I asked her, "How big is an acre?" 

She responded, “Imagine the whole block, over to the next street with no houses on it; that would be an acre.” 

“No houses at all?” I asked in astonishment, trying hard to imagine so much land with no houses on it. It seemed impossible to me. 

“Nope, not one house,” Mummy replied.

Mum had become convinced the city was a bad influence on us kids and wanted to take us away from it. At the same time Daddy was getting rheumatism and having a hard time carrying ice up flights of stairs. So sometime in the late forties, Mummy persuaded him to buy a farm in the country, away from the "terrible" city and become a dairy farmer, like his father was, in Nova Scotia. She had savings from when she worked as a chamber maid in a hotel and eventually used it for the down payment on a 327 acre farm of mostly woods, in the middle of Maine.

Excitement begins to fill my heart. I ask if I can stop going to school a whole week before we move and Mummy agrees. I also beg her to let me cut bangs for myself so in my new school the kids would not know bangs were a new hair style for me and probably make fun of me. She reluctantly agreed.

It is April 10th, 1950 and Mummy’s enthusiasm is contagious. I was ten and had excitedly waited for the day when we would say good-bye to Norwell St. and hello to our new farm in Canton, Maine; population six hundred. Daddy had already driven up with Uncle George ten days earlier. Mummy had everything packed when the movers came for our furniture on moving day.

We took the trolley car with its electric wires overhead, to the train station in Boston. Then got off and boarded the steam locomotive bound for Maine. 

The acoustics inside the Pullman car created a noticeably muffled sound as we walked down the aisle to our dark green fuzzy cushioned seats facing each other. I carried Kenny's and my turtles, Sammy and Tillie, in a glass baking dish. Little did we know then that they would not survive the freezing temperatures of winter in the farmhouse, with no heating during the night.

In late afternoon Mummy, Kenny, Sammy, Tillie and I arrive at the Livermore Falls railroad station, seven miles from the farm. There's nobody at the station to meet us, but Uncle George soon shows up and drives us the seven miles to our farm. We get to the farm only to see the moving van stuck in our long driveway mud, resulting from the melted April snow. Kenny and I watched in anticipation as the movers carried our furniture and boxes up the rest of the driveway.

It wasn't long before we bed down for the night on mattresses on the floor.

~~~~~~