(cont) Tell Me
My Sister Mary Was Like My Second Mom
“Daddy has been doing this to me since I was in first grade,” Mary told Les. Mary was eleven years old and it was 1947 in Chico, California.
“What? You can’t be serious!” exclaimed Les in unbelief. Les was Byron Sr.’s, our real blood father, best friend.
“Daddy started exploring with me when I was a baby, always touching me down there,” was Mary’s remorse, as she laid in the bed with her hands covering her tears which ran down her face.
Les had just enticed Mary to his house and forced her to have sex with him. They were lying on the bed. She was so exhausted from the struggle of trying to force him off that she could hardly move, as she wept.
Byron, my twin brother, with Patty, and me, had followed them there. We had snuck under the bed. We were listening and scared of getting caught by them, so were not making a noise.
“Why didn’t you tell on your dad?” Les asked, showing concern that this had gone on all of Mary’s life. “I’m sorry for forcing you to have sex with you,” he added, “but you turn me on so.” No wonder, Mary had beautiful natural blond hair and hazel green eyes.
“Daddy said he would kill me! And Mama! Our whole family, if I told on him. I was too afraid. We used to live by Butte Creek in a tent in the foothills and he would have gotten rid of all of us in the forest. He has guns. Nobody would even know….or miss us, because we have no relatives.”
“Well, I am going to tell the cops on him,” Les reassured her, as he got up and put on his pants on. “But you can’t tell anyone about me forcing you to have sex with me, or something MIGHT happen to you and your family!” he threatened.
“Please don’t hurt us,” Mary started to beg him. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” as she wept more. “You said you had something for me, so I came here with you,” she wailed, through her sobs. “You’ve done to me exactly what Daddy does to me, every chance he gets, taking me off alone, pretending to Mama I’m needed to help him do things. Then he rapes me.”
“Just do as I say and no one will get hurt,” Les instructed. “Byron will pay for what he’s done to you all of these years. Now, get yourself together, and let’s get out of here,” Les demanded, irritated at himself at what he had done. His tone of voice told all.
“I wonder what he thinks he just did to Mary,” I say to myself. “I’m only seven, but I know that he just raped my sister. Here, she was begging him not to. ‘No! No! Please don’t! No!’ she cried, trying to wrestle him and push him away, but he wouldn’t take, ‘no’ for an answer. Just because he’s stronger, he gets away with it! I’m so angry that I can’t do anything to protect her.”
All of this time, we were still under the bed, as quiet as church mice, afraid of getting caught by Les.
“We can’t tell anyone we were under the bed,” I whispered to Byron and Patty, as we crawled slowly out from underneath the bed, watching to see if they were coming back into the house. “He will probably kill us, and Mama, and Mary, if we do.”
“I’m scared, Sissy (I was called “Sissy” ever since I was two, when Patty was born, instead of Myra, except at school),” as Patty’s trembling voice confirmed my own fear. She wasn’t quite five years old. The tears ran down her cheeks, as she whimpered, afraid they’d come back and hear her. She threw her arms around me - as if I could save her!
“I’m just so furious that we couldn’t help Mary. He probably would have killed her and us if he knew we were under the bed. It’s a shame he had guns and hunting knives or maybe we could have ganged up on him – four against one,” I complained as I held Patty closely. Her arms were clasped tightly around my waist as her tears flowed freely, getting my dress all wet. I could feel her little body tremble.
“Let’s hurry up and get out of here, before someone catches us in here,” Byron heeded, ashen, as he led us to the back door – Patty’s hand-grasp even made my hand hurt. We scurried across the yard, hoping no one would see us, and we rushed home.
I’m sixty-nine years old, now, and none of us has ever talked about this nightmarish event. Maybe, it’s time.
* * * * *
“I’m sorry, Mommy, that I couldn’t tell you,” Mary wept uncontrollably, sitting, bent with her face in her hands. “Daddy said he would kill you and all of us kids if I told anyone. When we lived by the creek and I was little, he was touching me down there. I cannot even remember when he didn’t. When I started to first grade, he would tell you he needed me to help him with his fishing and hunting. He would take me into the forest where no one was and rape me. It hurt and I bled, but I was afraid he’d kill all of us, if I told you,” Mary continued. And wept.
“ ‘I’ll kill you, Tony (his nickname for Mary because she was his first child and he wanted a son instead of a daughter),’ Daddy told me. ‘I’ll kill all of you and bury you right here! No one would ever know it.’” Her body shook, as she told it, tears flowed non-stop.
Mama held Mary closely, as us kids crowded around them, hugging them, in a huddle.
Jennifer started to cry, again. She had really wailed when the cops came. She wasn’t even a year old, yet. Mama rushed to get her out of the crib.
The cops had just finished arresting Byron Sr. and taking him to their car, and we were all in shock. We were afraid to tell Mama and Mary that we were under Les’s bed and heard him say he was going to report Byron Sr. to the cops. Mary, Byron, Patty, and I had already been in bed, on the mattress on the floor, when the cops entered our shack. Our heads were under the covers and we were giggling, quietly, like it was a game. But, Mary wasn’t laughing. She knew how serious this was.
“Shh,” she ordered in a whisper, “they might question US. I’m afraid of Daddy AND the cops.”
Byron Sr., our real father, got sentenced to five years in San Quentin. No one ever told on Les. He got away with raping Mary.
* * * * *
“Now, we can swing by our knees from that bar,” Mary said joyously to us kids, pointing up to a small metal pipe that was anchored onto a four by four post on each side which a friend had just put up for her.
“See how much fun?” she added, as she climbed up, got onto the bar and swung by her knees, then, flipped over and landed on her feet onto the ground.
When she was swinging upside down on the bar, I was looking at her scar on her shoulder. I thought back to the story that was always told about it:
“Ow!” Mary started screaming as Mama tripped over her.
“I told you to stay in the chair, Mary!” Mama screeched, when the boiling syrup for the Seven Minute Frosting poured down Mary’s ear, neck, and shoulder.
At ten years old, to stay in a chair, was too hard for her to do.
They rushed her two hundred miles by ambulance to San Francisco Children’s Hospital. Now, as an adult, she has an inch wide scar all the way down her shoulder.
Ballet and gymnastics had been Mary’s main interest after she started to junior high school in 1948. She had blossomed, at twelve years old and was beautiful, looking like Marilyn Monroe, with her wavy permed blond hair style.
Every penny she earned from babysitting and working in the orchards, went for her lessons.
All of us kids worked in the crops – picking prunes, almonds, peaches – along side our parents since we were tiny.
“I want to try, Mary,” I begged, after Mary flipped off of the bar. “Help me up.” I was eight years old. If she could do it, I could!
As she boosted me up, I grabbed hold onto the bar and put one leg around it, and then, the other. Then I started to move my arms to make myself swing, the way Mary did, my legs bent tightly around the bar, so I wouldn’t slip off. Finally, I got the hang of it.
“Whoa, this is SO fun, Patty. You try,” I hollered, as I swung back and forth by my knees. I can still do this on my chin-up bar at sixty-nine years old.
“I’m afraid I’ll fall,” she cowered. She was not quite six years old. We finally convinced her that we would help her and she wouldn’t get hurt. When she got the swing of it, after much coaxing to try it, she was a whiz.
How may hours, we spent on that bar, when we were growing up!
* * * * *
“It’s all my fault, Mama. I should have been watching them,” Mary cried, when she got home and found out what had happened.
It was 1951. Mary was fourteen years old. Byron and I had just turned eleven and Patty was almost nine. Our drowned Jennifer was four-and-a half.
We had been at the swimming hole and forgotten about Jennifer, when we went downstream. Hours later, we ran into some friends, who asked us where Jennifer was. We went back to the hole and found her at the bottom at the deep end.
Mama held Mary as she gently patted her back.
“It’s all my fault!” Mary repeated over and over, again, between big jerking sobs.
“No! It’s not your fault!” Mama encouraged sadly, holding her tightly, so that her body would stop shaking. “You’re not responsible for the kids (referring to Byron, Patty, Jennifer, and me). Granny is. That’s why I had her come to live with us when Daddy went to prison.”
“If I had been with them, Jennifer would not have drowned,” Mary moaned.
Mary always blamed herself, after that, for Jennifer’s drowning. I still blame myself because she was with Patty and me, and I was the older one that was with her. And I had forgotten about her!
* * * * *
“Mama, my horse is dead. It’s dead!” Mary wailed as she came running into the house.
“Now, who would do such an awful thing?” Mama queried, rushing to hold her in her arms.
“They said it’s star thistle poisoning. How can stickers kill a horse?” she lamented. “How can I ever live without my horse?”
She had a friend, Charlotte, who had let it graze in her pasture.
“This is very rare,” the vet told Mary, when he had come to see her dead horse.
It was as if a friend had died, but we could do nothing about it, but mourn. I thought that she would never get over it.
The next year, Mary’s friend, Charlotte, shot herself in the head because of her abusive father.
* * * * *
“Myra! Myra! I have killed you, Myra,” I heard Mary yell as she shook my limp body, by my shoulders. It seemed like I was far away, hearing an echo, like in a canyon, as I regained consciousness and started to stir.
“Are you okay?” Mary gasped, her fear subsiding.
“I don’t know,” I groggily groaned. I opened my eyes to see Mary kneeling beside me, her face ashen white, almost touching mine.
“I was afraid you were dead,” she said with a sigh of relief. “Are you okay?” she asked, again. She started hugging me, as if I had been a lost doll.
“I’m alive,” I began. I really didn’t know if I was okay.
“Let’s see if you can stand up,” she interrupted, taking hold of my hand, with her other hand under my arm pit.
“I just feel like I can’t breathe very well,” I gasped, as I started to cry and tried to get to my feet.
“I think you just got the wind knocked out of you,” Mary encouraged. “See if you can walk,” as she helped me to stand.
It was 1951. Mary was almost fifteen and I was eleven.
“I never would have jumped that log, if I didn’t think you weren’t going to hang one,” she admonished.
“I WAS ready. I guess I just didn’t hold on tight enough,” I defended.
I remembered back to when Mary first got Plata.
“Myra, I’ll take you for a ride on Plata,” Mary offered, as she rode up, excitedly showing off her new white horse. “Her name is Plata, which means ‘white.’ I got her for $50.00.”
She reached her hand down to me, then bent her foot, so that I could step on it, and pulled me up behind her. There was a blanket across Plata’s back, who stood absolutely still during this whole ordeal.
“This is called ‘bareback’ riding, when there’s no saddle,” Mary told me, as if reading my mind, of this new experience. “Hold on around my waist,” Mary instructed. Plata started to walk.
“Your new horse was nice to not move while I got on,” I said as I slowly lost my fear, and held on tightly.
“I don’t want to fall off and break my neck,” I told myself.
“He doesn’t even care that we are on his back,” I said out loud.
“He is a she,” Mary corrected. “Of course she doesn’t mind. She’s trained.” Mary had helped break horses when they were wild and was an avid horse lover. She always talked about owning a “dude ranch” some day - a dream that never came true and she in now seventy-three years old. She always drew pictures of horses and also, drew clothes for fashions.
What a jewel Plata was. She didn’t get excited about anything. She had blue eyes, which meant she was color-blind, Mary had said, and was gorgeous. “We’ll go over to the bridle path. Keep hold of me!” as we trotted off.
It was five blocks to Bidwell Park. When we came to Big Chico Creek, Plata walked across in the shallow part, while we rode on her back, to the north side, where the bridle path started, running east for three miles. This was half way between the One Mile Dam and Five Mile Dam which were cemented swimming pools in the creek.
Mary taught Patty and me to ride Plata. I’d climb on, pull Patty up behind me, and off we would go to the bridle path, “bareback.”
Mary would comb Plata, and bathe her, and shoe her. She loved Plata.
We heard that if you put a horse hair in water, it would turn into a snake. We filled up a gallon can with water, put some hairs in it, from Plata’s tail, and watched for at least a month. The long hairs never did turn into snakes. We realized we had been lied to.
“Look at the blue ribbon that I won at the horse show,” Mary bragged as she came into the house, one day. She was jumping up and down and waving it. She could make Plata jump and ride around obstacles, and do all of that fancy stuff. She finally had gotten good enough to win ribbons. And she won a lot.
I’m going to sell Plata,” one day Mary told us, sadly. “I want to become a nurse and I need the money for tuition.”
“Oh, no,” I cried. “We’ll never get to ride a horse again. You can’t sell her.”
In my whole life, I never ever had a chance to ride bareback, again, or canter with that smooth lope, again, which was a feeling like floating on air. Neither did Mary or Patty.
* * * * *
“Look at all the money I got for tips, tonight,” Mary beamed, emptying her pocket of all the change.
She had taken a job at sixteen years old, which was the age requirement. She had just had her birthday.
It was at the new drive-in hamburger stand. A car-hop was the position. We had never heard of such a thing. She was to waitress the people in their cars as they drove into the parking spaces that encircled the restaurant.
By rolling their windows almost down, a food tray would fit on the lip of it. A metal arm came from the tray to the car door to balance it.
“Let’s count how much is here,” Mary enthusiastically invited us to share her excitement which penetrated us like wildfire, as we looked at all the coins. We were poor and never had money, so it was like being in Heaven or a goldmine.
This was Mary’s favorite job. She was bouncy and cheerful with good looks, so made good tips, even though it was minimum wage, which, I think, was twenty-five or thirty-five cents an hour.
* * * * *
“Come see the baby parakeets that have just hatched,” Mary called to me. I came running over to the aviary at Phil’s house, where Mary had her parakeets. I could hardly wait to see the babies.
“Oh, they are so tiny and cute,” I said excitedly. “I want to hold one,” I begged.
“No, we can’t touch them or they will be abandoned,” Mary warned. “I don’t want them to die.”
I remembered back to when Mary got her first parakeet.
“Say, ‘Pretty Boy,’” Mary said to this beautiful blue bird. “The Budgerigar Society book said that’s how to teach them to talk,” she told me. It was so exhilarating when he started saying, “Pretty Boy.” I had never heard of a bird talking, let alone, seen one talking. Mary said he was a boy, because he had blue on the top part of his beak.
“Hello,” Mary taught him, next. Every time we would come in, Pretty Boy would say, “Hello. I’m a Pretty Boy.”
Mary taught Pretty Boy all kinds of words.
Then, Mary got a female parakeet, which had yellow on the top part of her beak. Pretty Boy stopped talking. Neither on of them would talk anything, but bird talk.
“I’m sad that Pretty Boy won’t talk, Mary,” I pouted.
“The Budgie book warned this would happen, Myra.” Mary said sadly, trying to cheer me up.
But, raising babies was her next feat and it worked.
* * * * *
“I knitted this suit all by myself,” Mary bragged, spinning her shapely body around for us to see her lavish light turquoise two-piece skirt and sweater outfit.
“I love it, Mary,” I praised, admiring her suit and her beauty. She, again, looked like Marilyn Monroe with her gorgeous blond hair in a new permanent and her sexy form-fitted suit. I really looked up to her and idolized her tenacity and hard work.
“I’ll teach you how to knit and crochet,” she volunteered. “A friend at college taught me how to do it. It’s all in these books,” she said, as she showed them to Patty and me. I crocheted a beautiful doily with pineapples and a ruffle around it, which I still have.
* * * * *
Mary graduated from Chico State College, when I graduated from Chico Senior High School in 1958. The Army had paid for her training, when she joined the Army. She moved to San Francisco for a job at San Francisco General Hospital. Having married the year before, she had gotten pregnant, so the Army released her, because they didn’t allow pregnancies.
* * * * *
“I’m not going to have Robbie’s stomach pumped this time, Susie,” Mary told me disgustedly, when I asked if I should call emergency.
It was 1959 and Mary had moved to Alta Dena in Southern California for an opportunity in OB/GYN at Glendale Hospital.
“He’s had it pumped three times in the past two months,” she went on. “Enough is enough! If Robbie dies, he dies. I’m sick and tired of his getting past the locked gates to the kitchen and getting into the cabinets to drink that ant poison!” she added. “I don’t think he drank very much, anyway.”
“You’re the nurse,” I answered, in reservation, bewildered that Mary would take the chance. I had taken a two week vacation to come down from San Francisco to help her. She had been sick with a bleeding ulcer. Robbie was a one year old. A handful - and then some!
He was sick a bit, from the poison, like he had eaten something bad - not throwing up and he was still going full bore. I was feeling like Mary had made a wrong decision and so worried - and so relieved that he didn’t die! Maybe he was becoming immune to it, like a touch of the flu or when you get a flu shot. I guess Mary could tell by his symptoms that he was okay, since she was a nurse. I still wouldn’t have taken the chance. If he drank poison a thousand times, I’d have had his stomach pumped a thousand times.
* * * * *
“Daddy said that he would kill me and my three kids, if I didn’t have sex with him,” Mary wept to Byron, my twin brother. “He always comes over to my house when the kids are in school,” she added, as she lost all composure.
It was 1976 and Byron Sr. was allowed back into the Chico area. In 1957, his five year parole from San Quentin and staying 500 miles from Chico was over. Mary was raising her kids by herself. She had put her husband through college to get his Master’s Degree, by working double shifts at the hospital. He became a professor at Chico State College, had an affair with a colleague, decided to divorce Mary, and get married to this “other woman,” matter-of-factly, as if all of this was okay.
After Byron Sr., our real father had recently forced Mary to have sex/raped her several times, Mary finally got a vacation and drove up to Portland, Oregon, to tell Byron, our brother/ my twin.
“He’ll kill us! I know he will! He has all of those guns!” Mary continued, as she convulsively sobbed.
“I’ll KILL HIM if he ever touches or threatens you again,” Byron huffed, angrily, almost hollering. Our brother was big and weighed almost twice as much as skinny Byron Sr. - Byron Jr. was also was an avid hunter.
That was the end of that! When Byron Sr. went up to Portland to see Byron Jr., the next week, my twin threatened his life, and he never approached Mary again for sex, or to even make passes.
* * * * *
Phil/Daddy’s (Mary always called him Phil and never Daddy, as I did) death in 1974 and Mama’s death in 1986 were both severely traumatic for Mary. Each took a year to die, after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer – Daddy’s was in the lungs and Mama’s was in the pancreas.
Mary lived in Chico, where they did, so it was devastating for her to see the cancer gradually take over their bodies. Being a nurse, she had seen a lot of people die, but not her own parents.
Mama and Phil/Daddy had always showered Mary with lots of love and care, and helped her with a lot of her needs. They also did a lot of special things for her, like taking her out to dinner and bowling, often.
Mama and Daddy’s going to be with Jesus, left a big void in Mary’s life. All she had left was her three kids.
* * * * *
What with Byron Sr.’s destroying Mary sexually and mentally, beside her husband leaving her with three kids, she is Manic Depressive/Bi-Polar. AND suicidal! The medications have all kinds of side affects and don’t work that well. She has been dismissed from more than one job from this disorder, losing her nurse’s license the last time. By the time the psychiatrist released her, all of her retirement money was used up. She finally got her nurse’s license back.
In 1998, at age sixty-two, her jobs were still all night at one convalescent hospital and three days at another. Dead on her feet and single after three divorces, after helping support a daughter who is going to college for her Master’s Degree and is single with two kids, Mary was still struggling.
The one good thing is, that she does take vacations, away from it all, although this has gotten her more in debt.
After Mama died in 1986, I would only go to Chico for my high school reunions, every five years. I stayed at Mary’s house each time, so we had wonderful visits. Mary would also come down to Southern California to visit me.
Our sister, Jenny, flew from Texas for her fiftieth high school reunion, so I went back up to Chico, again, in 1998, two months after my fortieth high school union, to see Jenny.
The last time Jenny had been in Chico was for Mama’s funeral in 1986. Mary, Jenny, and I had a wonderful visit - this was the last time we saw Jenny, because she died of a stroke two years, later.
Byron, my twin’s fortieth high school reunion was in 1999, since he was held back in first grade, so graduated a year after I did. He drove down from Portland and I went back up to Chico, and we stayed at Mary’s house and we had another fun visit.
Two times, in the last five years, which was 2004 and 2007, I have driven to Oroville, where Mary now lives, then she drove us up to Portland to visit for a week at Byron’s house. The last time, Esther and her son with his wife met us there and it was a wonderful visit.
It’s still hard to go to Chico without much sadness of Mama and Daddy not being there to welcome me.
My sister, Mary, has been like a Mom to me - she even changed my diapers when I was a baby. She has always given me lots of love and prayed for me and encouraged me.
* * * * *
It was 1999, when Mary phoned me and said, “I have a brain tumor. It has taken over my pituitary gland and they will be doing emergency surgery at University of San Francisco Hospital.”
“I’ll drive up to Oroville, today,” I responded, deciding on the spot.
I stayed with Mary for a month, taking care of her every need after the surgery. It was non-malignant and they got it all, by making a cut under Mary’s top lip, lifting her nose, and operating through her nasal cavities, into the brain. We were fortunate we had the number one Specialist in that field of surgery. The only repercussion is that Mary can’t smell anything, because all of those nerves were cut. I was so afraid I would lose Mary, but God had mercy on me and spared her. She’s my last sister, out of seven of us girls.
* * * * *
If I’m thinking of Mary, I pray for her, sometimes calling her up. She does the same thing for me. When any major problem arises, we’re on the phone, praying together, just like we did with Mama.
Mary’s hope in life is Jesus as her Savior and she prays constantly for herself and others. If someone has a need, she’s right there, just like Mama was, to help.
Now, in 2010, Mary has eight grandchildren, who she visits often. She works Saturday and Sunday, on day-shift at a convalescent hospital in Oroville, only five minutes from her house. She just had her seventy-third birthday. In November 2009, she thought she had a heart attack and was all night in the hospital. Tests show there is scar tissue from a heart attack, before, which was a surprise, but this one wasn’t a heart attack, and the doctor said she could go back to work. She had been working on Friday, also, but the doctor told her to work two days a week, instead of three. Her finances are still a problem and she is very weary, but she has a cat and a dog to keep her company.
She loves working in her flower and vegetable gardens and has a green thumb. Amaryllis with big beautiful flowers and orchids in her kitchen and front room is her latest craze for the last ten years.
When I saw Macadamia Carmel Clusters at Costco and couldn’t afford to buy them, I was so upset at us almost losing our condo, which put us in such a bind financially. The next week, when Mary phoned me, I told her – just sharing my sadness at my dire finances. She sent me the money to buy the candy – she would give me her last penny, if it came to that.
I’m so blessed to have her.
Mary is amazing! A wonderful sister! Like my Mom!
“Jennifer is at the bottom of the swimming hole, Myra!” my sister, Patty, screamed to me. Patty was standing on the creek bank, looking down over the deep part of the water, right below her. This is where we always dove into the water.
We had run into our friends on the path, along the south side of the creek.
“Where’s Jennifer?” one of them had asked me. I looked at Patty. Both of us were shaken.
We were at the Big Chico Creek, between the One Mile and the Five Mile Dam swimming pools in Chico, California. There were also swimming holes above the Five Mile with ropes tied to tree limbs, to swing out on and drop into the water, but it took a long time to walk way up there.
Everyday, during the summer, we spent swimming at the creek. It was July 1951.
Jennifer was four-and-a-half years old.
I had just turned eleven. Patty would be nine after the summer. Our sister, Mary, was fourteen. She had not gone swimming with us. My twin brother, Byron, was off swimming with the neighborhood boys, upstream.
“Oh, my gosh! Jennifer!” I exclaimed, as Patty and I looked at each other and took off running back to the swimming hole.
We had gone downstream, playing in the water, and searching for pollywogs, headed toward The One Mile, forgetting all about Jennifer.
Our hope was that she was still playing in the middle of the stream where the shallow part was, a twenty-five square foot area.
Jennifer didn’t know how to swim. Five years old was the requirement to get free Red Cross swimming lessons. Next summer was her turn. We were very poor. Mama couldn’t afford private swimming lessons. Each one of us kids had anxiously awaited our turns to be five and get the free lessons.
It took about five minutes for us to run back up the dirt road which was the path along the creek. This was our favorite swimming hole to swim in. It had a large shallow area, surrounding a deep drop that we would dive into from the bank of the creek.
When we last saw Jennifer, she was playing in the very shallow area.
“Where could she have gone to?” I queried, searching the far side of the creek bank bushes.
Our hunt ended when Patty started to scream, “I can see Jennifer way down at the bottom of the swimming hole.”
“Where? I don’t see her,” I panted, as I ran up beside her to look down into the water.
“Way down there,” she pointed, as she bent over the side to get a better look.
“Jennifer’s not moving at ALL,” I exclaimed, as we craned our necks to see her, lying at the bottom.
She was straight down at the deepest part of the swimming hole, where we would jump or dive in, to swim.
The dirt road path was about fifteen feet from where we were standing.
I became hysterical when I realized Jennifer was drowned. I felt paralyzed. It was like I had gone crazy, screaming at the top of my lungs. I was so shook up that I couldn’t even go down to get Jennifer out of the water, so Patty had to. She pulled her to the top.
“Grab her arms, Myra!” Patty cried.
I was shaking like a leaf as I made myself reach for Jennifer, pulling her out, as Patty pushed her up onto the creek bank. Terror filled my being as I looked at her.
“Her eyes look like a dead fish’s eyes that has been in the water a long time. Look at those white things hanging off her eyes!” I screeched. “She’s drowned!”
“She’s white as a ghost!” Patty interjected, climbing out of the water and sobbing, gasping loudly, as she tried to get her breath from going way down under water to get Jennifer and lugging her up from the bottom. “Her skin looks like she was blown up like a balloon!” she whined, as she grabbed me to hug me. We were both in shock and so afraid. We had never seen anyone dead, let alone our little sister, lying there dead.
I jerked away and ran over to path, still shrieking, leaving Patty a few feet away with Jennifer’s body.
I screamed and screamed, jumping up and down, waiting for someone to come and help us. Finally, a car came along with a man and a woman in it. The lady’s door was closest to me. She jumped out and rushed over to me, eyeing Jennifer’s body with Patty bent over her and weeping.
“Stop screaming!” she yelled, grabbing a hold of my shoulders. Her voice sounded as if I was far away from her or in a tunnel. It seemed to echo. She was shaking me. Shaking me and hollering at me! After a while, it DID make me stop screaming, to my surprise. I was later told that I would have gone crazy if she hadn’t gotten me calmed down.
“Jennifer’s drowned!” I sobbed to the lady. She’s drowned. It is all my fault. We forgot about her and went downstream. She was playing in the shallow end, where she always plays. She must have gotten to where she couldn’t stand up. She was unable to get back on the shallow part. I can’t believe I forgot her,” I wept.
The man had already gone over to Jennifer and Patty.
“She’s dead,” he said with extreme sadness in his voice, like she was his own child. “She must have been under the water for a long time, from the way her skin is.”
“Please, go call the police,” the man said to the person in the first car that came along. He had gone and stood in the middle of the dirt road, waving his arms up and down, when he saw the car coming, dust flying behind it.
An ambulance arrived and took Jennifer to the hospital.
“We’ll take you home,” the nice lady told Patty and me.
“Show us how to get there,” the man said, as we all climbed into their car.
* * * * *
“Mommy, Jennifer drowned and the ambulance took her,” I wept. “We were playing downstream. I forgot all about her, Mommy,” I lamented.
“It will be all right,” Mama consoled us, as she put her arm around me, and her other arm around Patty, trying to comfort her bawling daughters. We put our arms around Mama from each side.
“How can it be all right, Mama?” Patty wailed, through her sobs, as she looked up at Mama. “They said Jennifer is dead. She’s drowned!”
“Everything will be okay,” Mama answered as she tried to soothe us. “Jennifer is with Jesus.”
Her saying this still didn’t seem to make me feel any better for the heavy guilt that hung over me like a big black cloud, ready to burst.
“Thank you for helping Myra and Patty,” Mama said, looking up at the man and lady. “It was nice of you to bring them home,” she continued, hardly getting it out. I looked up to see the tears streaming down Mama’s cheeks.
“It was good that we came along when we did,” the man said in a kind voice. “I’m sorry she was under so long, or we might have been able to save her.”
They left right as Phil and his son, Larry, came up. I liked that Phil was our next-door neighbor, because he always watched out for Mama and us, ever since Byron Sr., our father, had gone to prison in 1947 for raping my older sister, Mary. Phil was like our guardian angel.
“What’s all of the crying about, Jenny?” he queried, his brow furrowing, as he frowned.
“Jennifer’s…….drowned,” Mama sobbed, so broken up that she could hardly talk for Phil to understand her. “My baby’s dead,” she wept, not being able to keep her composure any longer. I just realized that Mama was only thirty-five years old when Jennifer drowned in 1947 - so young, compared to my being sixty-nine years old in 2010.
“She’s drowned,” I whimpered, looking up at Phil from my secure hold on Mama. “It’s all my fault. MY fault! I forgot about her.”
“Now, now,” Phil encouraged in his wonderful soft voice, as he put his arms around Mama. Patty and I were still clinging to her, too. We were so torn up from this awful nightmare that we could hardly stand up.
“Just lucky Phil is big and strong,” I said to myself, as he held our trembling, sobbing bodies, trying to calm us down.
“What’s all the crying about?” Mary asked. She had just arrived home, to see Phil holding all of us.
More weeping ensued as we all tried to tell her what happened.
“It’s my fault, Mama,” Mary wept. “I should have been watching them.”
“Granny is responsible for them, not you,” Mama averred.
Later my twin, Byron, came home. He never cried when he found out, holding it all in. Boys weren’t supposed to cry.
Granny, who was Mama’s mom, was the last of our family to know about Jennifer’s drowning. Mama had brought Granny from her property in Alturas County to take care of us when Byron Sr. went to prison. Granny always ran around town all day, collecting stuff for the Salvation Army for them to sell, so was very rarely home during sunlight hours. Once, she had been in the crazy house for castrating her father, who had made her pregnant with Mama and Mama’s brother, Uncle Louie. The last straw was when he made Mama pregnant at age 15 and he made her put her newborn baby boy up for adoption. Anyway, Granny was not all there, from all of this dysfunction of her dad.
* * * * *
“Stop it, Larry,” I giggled, whispering to him. Then I glared at him. He acted like he’d done nothing wrong. Byron was sitting on the far side of him. Patty was next to me.
We were at Jennifer’s funeral.
“Larry was Patty’s age and was always tormenting me with tickles in the ribs. Having just done so, I jabbed him in the ribs with my elbow, as he defended with his arm. I wanted to get up and kick him, but I restrained myself, so I wouldn’t make a bigger scene.
“How dare you tickle me when I’m so sad! I hate you!” I scorned in his ear.
“Shh!” Mama leaned forward, looking past Patty, catching my eye. She put her finger to her lips and pursed her mouth, admonishing my laughing and whispering loudly, making a scene. People around me started glaring at me.
“I feel so humiliated,” I frowned, sulking, and talking to myself. “Here, people are staring at me. They probably think that I think it’s funny that Jennifer is dead. Why does Larry have to cut up now, at such a serious time? It’s MY fault Jennifer is dead. Why does he have to play around at a time like this?
“It’s the worst day of my life. I just want to die! How could I be so terrible to forget about Jennifer and let her drown? Why does something so terrible have to happen to me?
“Why can’t I lean over right now and explain to Mama that Larry tickled me?” as I came back to why I’m in more duress than I already was. “I am sadder than anyone else at this whole funeral. I’ll never be happy again!
“Jennifer was so beautiful when she was alive. Her skin was so fair and her cheeks so round and red. Now, her face and neck and hands are all white with powder on them, like that flour paste we make at school. They made her look so terrible,” I repined, still talking to myself.
“Her face is round just like Mama’s. I love her hair. It’s blonder than mine, almost white. And so fine, like silk.
“She was always playing without a care in the world. Happy. Singing. School is starting in two months. How excited Jennifer was that she was going to start to school.
“‘How many days, now?’ she’d ask me everyday. She loved Sunday School. Now, she’ll never get to go to school or Sunday School. How could she be any happier in Heaven?
“Now she’s lying there. Dead! In that coffin!
“Mama is crying so much. I wish I could comfort her. I wish she could understand that I am so very sorry that I forgot about Jennifer.”
* * * * *
“Oh, it has a little white lamb on top,” I said to Mama. “Jennifer would like it.” I couldn’t stop my starting to cry again.
“Jennifer Jean Wing,” Patty read through her sobs.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want,” Mary read, trying to control her emotions.
Each of us was going to pieces.
“Born October 7, 1946,” Mama continued, as her tears ran down her cheeks. “Deceased July 3, 1951.”
Byron, my twin, frowned, as he tried to show no emotion, as he wrung his hands.
I felt like no one in our family would ever smile again.
How can anyone hold so much sadness? Would we ever get over Jennifer’s drowning at such a young age?
No, we never have.
When we would go to the cemetery to see her tombstone and grave, we would go through all of the discarded beautiful ribbons and bows which were thrown out after the flowers had wilted.
We put them all on Jennifer’s grave to make it look pretty, because we knew that she would have liked them.
* * * * *
“Help me! Help me!” I screamed. “I’m drowning. Help me!” I would scream myself awake.
I had just had another nightmare of drowning. They came often.
A huge whirlpool in a big river was sucking me under and I was drowning.
No one was there to save me.
Worse nightmares came when each of my three children was born. One of them was drowning, or I was there, drowning, too.
My deepest fear was that one of them would drown when they reached four-and-a-half years old, which was how old Jennifer was, when she had drowned. I was so glad when they were ALL past THAT age.
My nightmares stopped in 1975, when I got the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I was thirty-five years old. Jesus took the nightmares away.
Jennifer’s drowning will always be as if it happened yesterday, though. It’s like watching a rerun on TV. So real! So fresh! And never goes away.