Category: Childhood

That incredible time in which you can close your eyes and be a pirate, an astronaut, or a hippopotamus.

The Roast

… a story of labor, gluttony, and disgust all involving a roast beef

The last couple of posts discussing my childhood abuse were a lot harder to write than I thought. I still have a couple to go, and I have been procrastinating. For now, I would like to share a quick tale of a Pug Dog, A Roast Beef, and a Crazy Woman.

Pee-Wee the Pug
Pee Wee the Pug Dog

I think it’s clear that I loved my Pug Dog very much. We were inseparable. He was my best friend, my partner in crime, and my constant companion.

I have already discussed my Mother’s lack of cooking skills in The Vomit Story, so not necessary to elaborate there. Pee-Wee and I had a secret dinner time partnership. When Mother would present some disgusting gray meat-like substance for dinner, I would cram as much as I could in my mouth, chew it into an appalling ball, and then cough. The “meat” ball would shoot into my hand, which I would then dangle beside my chair until the dog spotted it, grabbed it, and would take it into a corner to feast.

Now and again, a dinner time miracle would happen. My crazy Mom would present a Roast Beef, which will be forever now be known as “The Roast,” as delicious looking as the cover of this post. No bland gray meat here, just juicy, delightful goodness. I swear sometimes I could see sunbeams breaking through the clouds illuminating the dinner time miracle.

Our story begins with one such roast. The table laid with care, the family, all happily placing dishes while laughing and joking, looking forward to a delicious meal.  A delightfully normal moment in my atypical childhood.  

“The Roast” was placed, in all its glory, in the center of the table.

We finished getting ready for dinner; drinks were being prepared and such when my Mother suddenly let loose with a bloodcurdling scream that could have awoken the dead.

I turned around just in time to see the dog on the table with “The Roast” in his mouth.  My Mother yelled, “God Damn Mother Fucking Dog!” and grabbed the broom. Startled, the dog turned and proceeded to drag the meat off the table. He bolted to the back door hauling “The Roast” with him like a prey, trailing behind him a parade of my Mother, alternating between screaming obscenities and trying to thwack him with the broom, and a bewildered Father and Son following at a safe distance.

When we caught up to the dog, he was hovering over his prize snarling.  Poking, cursing, and crying, my mother wrestled “The Roast” from the dog.

Covered with sand, twigs, teeth marks, and heaven knows what else, she carried the once wondrous piece of meat to the kitchen and to an orchestra of curses and rants, she haphazardly rinsed it off in the kitchen sink.

I’ll be honest here; both my Dad and I were afeared. We stood silently by as she attempted to make “The Roast” edible after its dog induced adventure.  When she finished, she matter-of-factly slammed the meat on the table and announced. “Dinner is Fucking served!”.

Hastily carved and plated, my serving came complete with bite marks, sand, and the odd bit of debris. I knew it was a bad idea, but it was so gross I could not help myself: “But Mama, it has bite marks and dirt on it.”

“Eat it or I will wring your neck!” she replied, continuing, “I busted my ass all afternoon on this, and you WILL enjoy it. OR ELSE”.

I looked to my Dad for guidance, but he was head down silently eating.  I did the same without my partner in crime.  He was in the doghouse. Literally and figuratively.

The Smiths – Meat Is Murder

“Kitchen aromas aren’t very homely It’s not comforting, cheery or kind It’s sizzling blood and the unholy stench of murder”

Thank God, I’m a Heathen!

… in which Mr John had to choose between Jew or Jesus and chose none of the above.

A short story about religion, God, and a confused child: child abuse can come in many forms. This one was pretty bad.

Growing up, I was raised as a Jew. I went to Hebrew school, and my mother took me to the temple. She spoke often of her relations who remained in Poland and died in the Holocaust. I knew a fair bit of Hebrew and peppered Yiddish into my conversations.

My great uncle Kajetan. The most amazing mustache ever. Sporting medals earned in WW1, died in 1942
Will Laroche, studying to be a priest
Why he left was a mystery.

My adoptive father was Catholic. This wasn’t a bad thing, as we got to celebrate Christmas AND Chanukah. As I grew older, (and this was explained to me later), my father wanted to go to church. He was, as it turned out, profoundly religious, and at one time had studied to be a priest.

So, one day, we all went to church, followed by Sunday school. This was a long time ago, and all I remember was confusion and anger and being scared. Being tossed into the deep end of a religion with no explanation is pretty traumatic; even more so if it’s Catholicism.

Jesus died for your sins” – I sinned? When? How could Jesus know if I cheated on a test? I wasn’t even born when he died. It makes no sense.

Jesus rose from the dead” – I knew about zombies, and I was having a hard time dealing with God being a zombie.

In the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost” – GHOST! What ghost?

Me with Xmas Present
Another Happy Kid on Xmas

Go up and get Communion, It’s the body of Christ” – You mean that is a piece of Jesus’s corpse? Yuck.

Each weekend for years, I went to the temple on Saturday and church on Sunday. At Sunday school, I was introduced to the “real” nature of Zombie Jesus, The Holy Ghost, and my Eternal Soul. To me, it was stifling and scary.  At Hebrew school, we learned about all sorts of cool stuff, memorized and recited prayers, baked Challah bread, and it was fun.

Sadly, the longer this went on, the more I became disenchanted with both religions. Kids discovered I was practicing both faiths. The Jewish kids, who had once been my friends, now teased me about Zombie Jesus and the Holy Ghost. The goyim (catholic kids) called me Christ Killer and Jew Boy.

At one point, it was explained to me that the parents wanted me to experience both of my heritage religions, and this could guide me to make my own choices later on in life. However, moving forward, though, we would be a Christian family. I was gutted. To further drive home the point that I was now officially Catholic, I was sent to a Catholic middle school.

Under the council of my friend, Suzy (I will formally introduce you to her later), I was persuaded to “go with it,” “keep to myself” and stick out the two years. She was convinced that when High School came around, I would be allowed to go to North Miami Beach High School (where she went), and everything would be great.

This advice was ignored. I was an angry, rebellious asshole, and so I entered “Jesus school” with an impossibly lousy attitude.

I remember early on being asked to write a paper on “What Jesus Means to Me.”  I concocted a narrative.

The nuns did not appreciate this at all. Back then, corporal punishment was the rule, and I got bare-assed paddled until the welts bled. That afternoon I was given detention with one of the few teachers that weren’t a nun. She convinced me that blending in was the best for me and to “go with it.”  I still contest that there is no wrong way to answer “What Jesus Means to Me.”

It took a while for me to get the message. Once, during some talent thing, I selected stand-up comedy. I wore nude pantyhose under my pants with a giant cock and balls drawn on them. I started my act my dropping my pants and announcing, “I’d like to share something with you all that I am very proud of.”  I was drug off stage by the ear and beaten yet again. They just never got my humor.

Eventually, I was assimilated into the Catholic culture. They made me an Altar Boy, and I read the pre sermon thing. I also discovered dope. The second year of middle school was much better. I kept mostly to myself and learned that the wind blew just right behind the outdoor bathrooms, masking the smell of a joint. Add in some quaaludes, and middle school became acceptable. I didn’t have a girlfriend, but I did deflower a few girls. I had my first great crush, but the fact she had a 17-year-old boyfriend meant anything with her was off the table.

As my sentence (the school term) was coming to an end, I looked forward to joining Suzy at North Miami Beach Senior High. These hopes were dashed, though. My parents were so proud of how I had become such a good Christian student they were going to send me to a Catholic high school. They wanted to protect me from “the bad influences.” They didn’t know that I was “the bad influence.” I went to high school, and no one had any clue about my “origin story.” The “Offical Story” was that I was a Catholic, and that was it. Easy, straightforward, no conflict.

After high school, after marrying a Secular Pagan, after seeing all the horrible things people do in the name of God and their religions, and all the horrendous things that have I dealt with my life, I have settled on Apathetic Agnostic.

I didn’t know that was a thing until recently, but it fits how I feel; no debate without the word faith involved can prove or disprove “God.” To that regard, if there is a “God,” then great. If not, then that is fine as well. “God” has no direct effect on my life. If there is an afterlife, then “Yay,” otherwise, I will just be gone.

In spite of all my heathenistic and sinful ways in my past, today, I choose to live with only one goal; to be kind. If kindness were the predominant goal of corporations, bureaucrats, and individuals, most of our problems would be solved, and life would be joyous and beautiful for us all.

The Dandy Warhols – Godless

“Let’s keep God and criminalize religion.”

Why Would You Do This to a Kid?

… in which Mr. John talks about the formative influence of mental abuse

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” This adage, popularized in the mid-1800s and enforced on boomers and late boomers like me, was supposed to help steel you from verbal abuse and bullying. Verbal and mental abuse is like death by one thousand papercuts. It changes you, twists you into something you barely recognize.

John at Five
John at Five

Here I am at 5, enjoying a pretty care-free life. I didn’t know I was being abused. I was innocent and just thought that this was normal. My abuse at this age was “knowledge.” Knowing things that no little person should know.

The freak. The strange kid.

Pee Wee
Pee Wee. My First Great Love.

As a youngster, I knew the word “suicide” and that my Mommy tried it twice. It makes for some fascinating playground talk until a parent gets wind of it and tells their child to avoid “the weird kid.” I had a puppy! I loved to play with bugs and snakes and climb trees! I wasn’t weird!

Confusion.

librium
When the Librium bottle was out, all bets were off.

As early as I could remember, my mother would wake me up in the “middle of the night,” which as a kid, could have been 9 pm or 3 am; the result was the same. We would have a “Party.” Sleepy eyed, I was greeted at the kitchen table with cookies and milk. Then I would listen to “tales from my mother,” otherwise known as “how to mind fuck a little boy.”

Fear.

She shared all sorts of things that a little boy shouldn’t know; how my sister died, how my “real father” was a dick and did all kinds of horrible things to her, stories of her childhood and how her parents beat her.

Betrayal and Anger.

As an adult, I know now that she was stoned, drunk, mentally ill, and venting to a captive audience. I wish my father had stepped in and put an end to it at the time. He had his issues and drowned himself in his job, so he either couldn’t see what was around him or could pretend he didn’t.  I do not doubt that she made his life hell too.

Paranoia.

The Pennsylvania Hotel
The Pennsylvania Hotel Hellertown, PA, My Mother’s Childhood Home.

One gruesome and scarring story was about a pet puppy she had. Supposedly it was a dachshund puppy, and her parents made her keep it in the cellar when she wasn’t playing with it. According to the tale, one night, the little puppy was nosing around behind a large refrigerator. It stuck its nose through a grate and had the tip cut off by the compressor fan. She woke up in the morning to find the pup dead, having bled out from its wound. The story continued that she was beaten for the incident and denied pets moving forward.

An epilogue to the story was that she later found a lost kitten. Her mother made her put it in a sack and drowned it in a well.

She talked of cutting the heads off of chickens, being raped, and more things that I successfully pushed from memory over the years.

Unwanted Accident. Anger and Guilt.

july-fourth-1970
4th of July 1970. I still remember that red and white check shirt. I need to go back in time and tell me to get that hand off hip

One revelation that I can’t forget is her announcement one evening that she didn’t love my adopted father. The consolation was that she was learning to love him, but she married so that I would have a family. I was unplanned, and she made this great “sacrifice” for me. In 1962 Wilfred was 41, and Mother was 28.  Now I am older. I realize how fucked up this was.

Night after night, this continued for years.

Broken Mother.

Sand Art as a Metaphor
Sand Art Bottles

One night Mother went away, and I stayed with neighbors for a while. When she returned, the green and black pills were gone. Years later, I figured out that she had overdosed on the benzo and anti-psychotics she was on and after had a time out in a mental facility.  After that, things were better for a time, at least.

My abuse over the years wasn’t neatly layered upon me. It came in waves, sometimes subtle, others violent and painful.

Data visualization was one of my specialties when I was an application developer, and sand art in a bottle is a perfect visual aid of how my abusive childhood was.

Our story of this angry child will continue.

Pink Floyd – Mother

“Mama’s gonna make all of your Nightmares come true. Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you.”

How to Ruin a Childhood in 4 Easy Steps – Prelude

My early childhood was pretty damn good. I had a puppy, friends, and loving, caring parents. As mentioned in the Orchid Thief, my mother nurtured my love of our natural world and taught me to be kind and caring. This was “The Official Story” everyone was told, rather than have to explain or admit to the truth.  We’ll have a chat later as to why “The Official Story” is different from a lie.  The reality is that four specters rose to ruin a wonderful little boy; mental abuse, violence, religion, and sex.

Our story begins before my birth.

My late sister Debbie Gammon

My Mother married one Franklin Gammon, a TV repairman from Ohio in 1955 when she was 21 years old. In the same year, on December 11th, they had a child, Debbie, and they moved to North Miami Beach, Florida, into what would later become my childhood home. I would assume that this was an unplanned marriage due to the timing and the era.

The Gammon Family
It’s a happy family.

As far as I can tell, they had a happy life up until my sister, Debbie died in 1958.  One moment she was a perfect child, the next she lay dead in my Mother’s arms, asphyxiated by a tumor that had fallen across her windpipe.

That tragedy leads my Mother into an understandable downward spiral into mental illness, suicide attempts, drug abuse, and more.

Debbie died on July 12, 1959. I was born in 1962. What happened between those points in time turned my Mother into a monster. I pretty much think that my ‘supposed’ biological father was a massive dickhead.

Franklin Gammon and Deborah Gammon
Good ole Franky was never one to shirk out on bottle feeding.

What transpired in the two and a half years between her death and my birth is mostly a mystery to me. I know there were two suicide attempts. One was a good old wrist slashing (but no one told her down not across), and the other was a hardcore throat slash. Also during this time, of course, was a stay at an Institution. I was likely conceived in May of 1961 but the stories told to me by my Mother about that time period are a concoction of lies, half-truths, and misdirection. What my Mother hadn’t calculated was that her bullshit would be unraveled by “The Internet”.

Wilfred Laroche and Lily Cave
Wilfred Laroche and Lily Cave , notice some distinct Native American features.

Meanwhile, Wilfred (my adopted Father) was married to one Lily Cave in August 1960. It was a short-lived marriage and they divorced in June the next year when she apparently left him and he spent a number of months recovering from the trauma in a Mental facility.

I was born in February 1962, my mother divorced Gammon in April of 1962 and she married Wilfred in July of 1962. My life was a cluster fuck by the time I was six months old.

A new happy family was started, and we will continue this story with mental abuse.

Late Mid-Century Racism

… No one is born a racist

If you were white and alive in the late mid-century, the odds were that you were prejudiced. My childhood neighborhood was all white and mostly Jewish. If a person of color was seen walking down the street, it was assumed they were a maid or a gardener. If that person was running, this was cause for a call to 9-1-1.

I hope you will forgive me for the use of the following term, but I feel it’s essential to this tale or I would not use it.

My parents used the term “Nigger” like it was just an ordinary word like say, cat. One of my earliest memories was at night when they put me to sleep. I remember them saying, “You be good now, or the Niggers will come and get you.” I wasn’t sure who these monsters were, but I wanted to be good.

Growing up, I didn’t understand. Why was “Colored Town” such a terrible place? Why were these monsters going to get mad? Why were my parents so scared?

My First Best Friend

electric-football
It vibrated, and the men had magnets on them. You could “throw and catch.” After a few hours, you realized that it sucked.

When I was in third grade, my best friend was Charlie Devoe. We were inseparable. We did everything that best friends did in those days; traded baseball cards, made up grand adventures of Pirates and Dinosaurs and Spacemen. Life was pretty perfect. I had no idea that Charlie was “a Nigger”, he was just my friend. Some kids were fat, others had freckles, one kid had no legs, and some of us were white or tanned or brown. No one cared.

I had been given the mecca of all toys back then; Electric Football! This was a silly contraption only the cool kid’s had, and I HAD ONE!

Charlie was so jealous and begged to come over to play. I asked my Mom and she said, “Sure.” She had never met Charlie. I remember cleaning my room and getting the game set up, “just right,” and when the doorbell rang, I rushed to the door behind my Mom. She opened the door, saw Charlie, and said: “We don’t want any” and slammed the door shut. I yelled that this was Charlie and in her infinite racism announced: “I won’t have any Niggers in my house.”

I ran out of the house to find Charlie walking down the street crying, and I remember hugging him, telling him that I was sorry, that he was my best friend forever and that I loved him. We were friends for life.

In fourth grade, things got confusing. My parents were talking about “busing” and how horrible it was. They made it sound scary and evil. I was informed that “they” would be taking good white kids out of schools and busing in black kids from “Nigger Town.” Charlie and I didn’t care. It would be more friends.

The Fan is hit with Poo

Fifth grade started, and things were much different. I looked for Charlie and found him hanging out with a bunch of other kids. I ran up and was so happy. The biggest kid, James Hill, asked what a “Honkey” wanted with a bunch of black kids. I told him that I was Charlie’s friend and that I wanted to “hang out with you guys.”

For my trouble, I was pushed into the dirt and told that if I ever messed with the Black kids again, I would get my ass kicked.

Not being one to give up, I persisted in trying to talk to Charlie. He said he was sorry, but I just didn’t fit in anymore, like my mom wouldn’t let us play together. I was crushed.

During recess that day, I went to the group and pretty much demanded to be a part of it. James Hill said, “If you don’t go away, I am going to kick your ass!”. Using a word that was often used around my house, I said: “Fuck You!”.

Now, James had a good foot in height on me and outweighed me by a lot, and realizing that I had bitten off more than I could chew, I started to cry and ran away, with James hot on my heels.

Running as fast as I could, my crying turned to rage, and at that moment, I learned to fight dirty. Losing was not an option. I dropped to the ground and curled up into a tight ball. James couldn’t stop in time to avoid me and tripping; he flew face-first into the dirt. I got up, jumped on his back, grabbed his “fro” (complete with an afro pick with a closed fist on the end of the handle) and proceeded to pound his face into the ground over and over streaming a mixture of every obscenity and racial slur I had ever heard.

I didn’t get in trouble as I was “defending myself” and no one dared to mess with me for the rest of that grade or sixth. I was weird and brooding, and no one wanted much to do with me. My half-ass conversion from Judaism to Catholicism didn’t help that either I suppose. (Yet another ‘another story!’ moment)

The experience left me with the new determination that I must always “Fight to win at any cost.” I also secretly loved it. Seeds were sown that day.

My mother said, “I warned you,” and I hated her for it. If only she let Charlie play electric football.

Regret, Learning, Being Human.

I carried the scars of racism for a long time. In large part, I became my parents. I was a racist pig.

Years later, I dated a black girl. She was funny and kind and understood correctly “The Charlie Story” and what it did to me. She “taught me” how to bury the hatred of losing a racist friend and helped me come to terms with everything that had happened.

From best friend to racist, to interracial girlfriend, to respect and care for human diversity. It was a journey that was well worth it.

To this day I occasionally have nightmares about “The Niggers” and making friends is very hard for me.

I can’t get my head around the term “African American.” Until we stop labeling ourselves or each other, as a species, we are doomed to repeat a cycle of violence, distrust, and pain. Love. Respect. Be Human.

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