What I remember about the place on Beech Street in Coffeyville, Kansas, was that it had two bedrooms for six people and, as a kindergartner, that seemed plenty big to me.
We’d already moved all over the state during my short life but had landed back in Coffeyville (our hometown) for reasons I’ll never know. Although we’d lived in many homes before and after Beech Street, it was a memorable place.
What I remember about that house was that we four kids shared a room, and I slept in a rollaway bed with my late sister who was six years older than me. There might or might not have been another bed; I just know my other sister and brother slept somewhere in there. I also remember sneakily eating chocolate kisses (a very rare commodity, so it must have been Christmas or something) and my mama suddenly appearing, insisting that I give her some sugar (if you are from certain parts of the country, you’ll know that means a kiss, not an actual sugar hand-off). I panicked, but she wouldn’t relent, and the minute I offered the tightest lipped, fastest kiss in history, she asked, oh-so-innocently, “Do I smell chocolate?” I was so busted. I also remember I was madly in love with the singer Robert Goulet (my first love), and instead of doing our assigned chores in our parents’ absence one day, my siblings all pretended to be Robert Goulet as I chased them around the tiny apartment in the throes of passion. I was busted, once again, as Dad came home unannounced at the most inopportune time. As he walked in, I was alone at the top of the entry stairs, arms in the air, screeching, “Robert Goulet!” Of course, we all got spankings, but I’ll never forget that moment of truth, which felt suspiciously like when, as an adult, you see police lights in the rearview mirror of your car. It sucks.
What my sister remembers about living on Beech Street is talking to the kids who lived below us on the ground floor through a hole in our closet floor. And speaking of floors, my brother remembers sleeping on the floor a lot in that house.
But they both remember dad telling Mom he needed some “time to think” as he went away on a weekend trip with an 18-year-old girl he worked with, leaving Mom shattered. My brother remembers Dad returning with red patches on his elbows from when he was “thinking” in his motel room while he was away. My sister remembers that Dad was particularly out of control sexually in that house on Beech Street. And she also remembers something about him buying her first bras because he didn’t want her to be embarrassed in gym class as a girl who didn’t need a bra yet; she was confused because she wasn’t embarrassed about it to begin with. Obviously, someone had boobs on the brain, and it wasn’t her! And we all remember dad moving away to New Mexico with that teenager. Still, I didn’t feel the intense relief they did because, as I’ve made abundantly clear in previous blogs, his abuses were focused on my siblings while I was apparently eating chocolate and fantasizing about Robert Goulet. My sister remembers that he told our mom something ridiculous – or sick – or ridiculously sick – about the fact that he was a sex addict and that she and our late sister were getting “too old,” so he had to go. I don’t even want to spend a second analyzing that one. My brother remembers we were very, very poor after the old man left, having only Mom’s income, but he “embraced the poverty” as he collected pop bottles to help with money during the “glorious summer of hope” without Dad.
And alas, we all remember moving from Kansas to New Mexico in an old VW Volkswagen with broken windows that our uncle helped Mom buy. I don’t know if Dad ditched the 18-year-old, if she ditched him, or if he just actually missed his family. I only know that he beckoned, and we went because that’s how it was. Not exactly the Brady Bunch, but apparently, we were a family package through thick and thin.
So, that’s how I learned to be a better chocolate thief and to be more subtle, or at least timelier, with my romantic passions for Robert Goulet. And that’s why my sister probably packed bras she didn’t need when we moved.
And why my brother learned that being super poor was better than a whole bunch of other things a kid shouldn’t know about. And that’s how we ended up on a Navajo reservation where I eventually thought I’d be eaten by werewolves.
If that last line confuses you, refer to previous blog entry, Vampires, Werewolves and Zombies, Oh My!
Otherwise, we’ll see you next time as we have an intense storytelling session involving a meal of pork and beans and peaches. For reals.
You won’t want to miss it.