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My father is talking, and flirting, with his brother’s wife.  I am running around playing games with my cousins in their big yard.  My uncle and aunt have their own business, run at that time out of their garage, repairing appliances such as washers, dryers and refrigerators.  These are the relatives who live the closest to us, a scant couple of miles away.  I’m a child of about ten or so and we are out in front of their spacious brick house, visiting.  They also have a fabulous swimming pool set in the rolling landscape of their green back yard, and on occasion, my siblings and I get to join in the fun of swimming – although there is always some  awkwardness to be overcome when my Dad gets around women in swimming suits because of his incessant come-on lines and tickle fests with them.  He always seems to feel the need to man-handle, and takes great pleasure tossing women, screaming, into the cold water.  On this day, however, we aren’t swimming.

My dad is getting ready to leave, but I’m having fun!  Summer is in the air, and the hot smell of the living, breathing South floods my youthful nose.  My cute, lighter-haired and fairer skinned boy cousins are chasing me all around and the buzzing of the insects drawn to the sticky, sweaty hair plastered to my face just adds to my squealing delight.  Refreshing breezes brush my moist skin, cooling me down as I fly past the other children, trying to avoid being grabbed – which seems to be the only point of this impromptu game.  These are the times when I feel the most alive!

I’m hiding out behind the tailgate of my dad’s blue Ford pick-up truck when, looking around, he calls out for me, “Deneen!  Where are you at?  Come on!”

I playfully pop out from behind the truck, giggling, and run around it, delaying.  “Deneen, come on!  We gotta’ go home.  Come get in the damned fruck.”

I come running up from behind the tailgate a second time and skid to a breathy halt in front of my father.  “Go get in the what?” I ask mischievously.  “What do you mean?  What’s a “fruck“?

My father pauses as he looks into my eyes.  “Go get in the Goddamn vee-hickle before I beat yore ass!”  My dad is smiling at me, seemingly good-naturedly as his gaze follows my last (required) run around the tail-gate before I alight, at last, through the door of the truck, planting my panting self firmly in the cab.  I wonder now what he must have been feeling inside when he heard my words.  Looking back, I realize that I was actually being mean.

On the ride home, as the truck bounces us up and down on the worn cloth seat, our traversing the long dirt driveways in awkward silence, I want to apologize but can’t find the courage to speak up.  As with most things in life, I have been taught that it is far better to pretend that a hurt has never happened than to bring it into the open and confront it.  I maintain my silence, burying inside my guilt over making fun of my father, worrying about whether or not I might be responsible for having made him feel bad.


My father never learned to pronounce his “tr’s”.  This was rather unfortunate for him because being a farmer called for the pronunciation of a lot of words that start with “tr”:  tractor, trail, trees, trailer, truck…tracks.

My mother and father began dating when they were very young and married by the age of eighteen.  My father was a good-looking man who was thin and darkly tanned with slick, black hair that was short cropped to his ears, but fell in longer waves across the crown.  He came across as jovial and good-natured most of the time – but he often also found himself the butt of jokes.  He had awkward ears that stuck way out, horrible grammar and a naïveté that made him an easy target.  My mother tells of a dinner when she was first introducing her boyfriend to her family,  a boyfriend who would soon earn the nickname “Barney” from her brothers, after a character on the, then popular, “Andy Griffith Show”.

“We were all sittin’ ’round the table and Paul and my brothers were talkin’ ’bout huntin’.  Your Daddy was telling a story about one day when he was huntin’ and he said, ‘We come up on where a animal had been, and we knowed it was a deer ’cause we could see its fracks.’  My brothers were all laughin’ at him because he couldn’t say ‘tracks’ and I got so mad!”

“Tr” was by no means the only sound combination with which my father encountered problems, but it was the only one that he never mastered.  When growing up, he had a speech impediment which made him pronounce all manner of things incorrectly.  Understandably, my father hated school.  I grew up listening to stories of the trouble that was caused over trying to force my father’s attendance to that great, public institution.

He was born poor, into a family of ten other hard working children, making eleven in all, one sister being younger than himself.  His mother and siblings grew and raised their own food – all while trying to keep the alcoholic patriarch from selling the land out from under the family and leaving them homeless.

Part of the time, my father’s family actually made their home in a chicken-house that had been converted to support human-kind.  I’m sure that the poverty and living arrangements of the family didn’t add to my dad’s social status amongst his peers, although he did grow up in a time when being “dirt-poor” wasn’t unusual.

When he was an infant, he apparently cried and cried, and was in constant pain.  His bowels couldn’t move on their own, and my grandmother had to give him enemas until he was three years old, just to keep things going.  My suspicion is that my father had Hirshsprung’s Disease, an inherited disease that would one day affect my own son.  At the time that my father was a baby, there was no surgery for such a condition, doctors were scarce and it is  a miracle that my grandmother kept her child alive.  As it was, he may have suffered some amount of brain damage from lack of nutrition if his food wasn’t being properly processed through his bowels.

I’m told that he was a spoiled child, always held, and quite close to his mother who apparently walked the floor with him night after night while he squalled with pain.  He was the baby boy.  Boys are generally more valued than girls in the South where I grew up, and with his being a sickly child, I can see where he might have gotten a lot of attention.

When my father was three years old, his mother suffered a stroke, and people who knew her before said that her personality changed dramatically after it.  I only knew her after, of course, but I was told that she was a much happier and less paranoid person before.  She had to learn to do a lot of physical things over again, so I’m not sure how able she was to care for her still young son, and her baby daughter, directly after her stroke.  I have wondered if my three year old father experienced the symbolic death of the mother that he had known, only to have her replaced with some other mother who must have seemed a stranger.

Positive attention was not the only attention that my father got in the family of his origin.  His brothers were all rough rabble-rousers, as southern boys are wont to be.  I know that he went through a lot of hell as the older brothers picked on him.  For instance, swimming lessons in my father’s family were accomplished by throwing the child out into the middle of the lake or river – whatever body of water happened to be handy, and watching them sink or swim.  This was how my father’s brothers “taught” him to swim.  This wasn’t considered cruelty, it was just how it was done.  This was teaching at it’s core, mountain red-neck style!  I can say that he did learn to swim, becoming quite a good swimmer when all was said and done.

Public School lent no mercy to my father’s situation.  Older boys were amused by my father’s inability to speak plainly.  They learned which words he couldn’t say and thus began a ritual where they would corner him, beat him up and hold him down, forcing him to repeat the words that he couldn’t say over and over while they all laughed at his scrawny, struggling, helpless self.

Trying to get my father on the school bus was a task for the mighty.  No amount of threatening or even actual whipping could make him stay at school.  One of his older sisters shared with me this story:  “I would hold him by his arms until the bus came.  I would hold him right up to the doors, and when they would open, then I’d let him go so that he could step onto the bus.  He’d scoot off sideways and run down into the woods as fast as his legs would go.  We couldn’t catch him.  If he DID get to school, he’d just sneak off and go on down in the woods.”

In the sixth grade my father officially quit school.  He never even learned to read.  When I made it to school myself and began to learn to read, my mother tells me that I had excited dreams of bringing my books home and teaching my father.  At night, when I was inventing fantasies in my young mind, this was what felt important to me.

When I go into the memories of my younger selves, I can taste the hope on the edges of my mind, and relive these visions of helping my father.  I remember loving my father, admiring him, even, and wanting him to have a better life.  Desperately, I wanted to use my new-found, five-year-old knowledge to help him.  My father, to my disappointment, was never interested in any such help.  I’m not sure if this was a sign of contentment, or acceptance, on his part for how things were – or if my intellect always made him feel smaller…and ashamed, right from the very beginning of our interactions.

What could have been an opportunity for bonding, became an opportunity for ridicule.  My reading must have intimidated my father.  He must have felt his authority as a parent diminishing before his eyes as I quickly picked up on the school-work that he’d so adamantly run away from.

My father called me names and made fun of me for liking books.  He used to say, “The whole damn house could burn down ’round you and you’d burn up with it ’cause you’d have yore nose so far stuck down in a goddamn book that you wouldn’t notice!”  He was right.  Books took me out of my existence.  Books took me to places that I never thought I’d get the chance to see, and introduced me to people who were very unlike myself and my family.  Books became my lovers, my protectors, my escape.

I find some irony in the fact that the very mechanism that led me to flee from a life I was in no way equipped to handle, is helping me to travel back into that lost life and reclaim it as I share my story here.  The words that you are reading upon these pages, are a magical, healing transport through time.  By bringing the pain and dysfunction of my past into focus, by remembering the frail humanity of all of the parties involved, I can begin to relax, release, and rejoice.  I can forgive my relatives, and myself, for our mutual “humanness”, and at last, I can begin to let it all go.

Posted in My Inheritance.

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6 Responses

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  1. Mike Bernier says

    Now I’m starting to better understand the environment you grew up in. It shows just how much about your past I didn’t know you had to deal with all those years ago. I appreciate the opportunity to learn about it now, and look forward to continuing the journey with you.

  2. Julie Carriker says

    Your story is fascinating, and you tell it very well. This is a lifestyle far removed from mine, so I especially appreciate your willingness, and your ability, to share it.

    I hope it is giving you the closure and the insight you need.

  3. Deneen Ansley says

    Mike – A friend of mine said recently, “Maybe when people read what all you’ve been through, they’ll be a lot nicer to you!” I don’t know about that. From where I sit, everybody has troubles and heartaches and tragedy to overcome. I don’t see my situation as any worse than that of most other people when we talk and get down deep, past the surface stuff that we all present to one another. It just seems to me that this hard stuff is in no way unique to me, but that most of us aren’t very good at talking about it. This makes us feel, unnecessarily, alone.

  4. Deneen Ansley says

    Julie – All that I can say to that is that you may very well be lucky that this lifestyle is so far removed from yours! Then again, I AM getting some good stories out of it, so I guess if the Universe wanted to “plop” a writer down anywhere, into my life was a pretty good ride to put me on. Doesn’t mean I was always happy about it while going through it!

  5. charlene says

    i really do love reading what you write, be it the easy parts or the hard. i love seeing you as a little girl, at play with your cousins. it takes me back to when i was small, remembering the times that i had myself that were carefree. i just wish your life would have had more of those sweet times.

    wonderfully descriptive writing! and again, more great insight into the puzzle of how your family fit together. i’m so glad you are telling your story.

  6. Deneen Ansley says

    Charlene – There were many, many sweet and wonderful times in my childhood, and I plan to write about those, too. I’m not sure why the bad things are coming out of me first. Perhaps in having people understand these horrible things, they’ll be, as I am, all the more appreciative of the good times when they do come along.

    It’s wonderful that I can take you back to your childhood! I can imagine us both there, playing together – as we do in the present as real-life (almost) grown-ups.

    Thank you for sharing my pain – and I make a solemn promise to you that as I spill out more of my life across these pages, you will also see BEAUTY!

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