Sunday, October 25, 2015

I can peel an apple in one long strip, almost perfectly, with a paring knife.

This is something I watched my grandmother do hundreds of times, seated, peeling away, creating springy piles of peelings.

When I think of her, this is often the picture that pops into my head.

Grandma seated in a rocking chair wearing an apron, handing out thin slices to children gathered around her.

My grandparents cared for many children, for many years.

They ran an emergency foster home, and would accept the most profoundly special needs children.

Growing up, I thought it was completely normal to have children arrive in the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, with nothing.

When I was a small child, the house was full, sometimes with teenagers, and sometimes with children my age, and usually at least one baby.

When the children arrived during the day, they looked scared and lonely and sometimes battered.

They were unkempt and often unruly.

My grandmother would write their names and dates of birth in her gray blank book.

She didn't do a whole lot of talking.

Sometimes she washed the children, or treated them for lice.

Sometimes she fed them, even if it wasn't a meal time.

She was a straightforward, no nonsense and practical woman, that kept new crib mattresses in the rafters of the barn, and barrels of children's clothing in the basement.

I liked the babies best, and the teenagers least.

The children my age were sometimes nice to play with.

Sometimes they were scary, or terribly damaged.

Joan, who had been burned from the chin down, with scars that looked like a doll that had melted.

Oskar, who's mother had thrown him from the car window, who was blind and severely brain damaged.

I knew that I was never to comment on these things, or be unkind.

I knew that I was lucky to have a family that loved me and a brain and body that worked well.

My grandparents judged the parents of these children harshly in private. I would hear my grandmother filling my grandfather in on the newest arrival.

A 2 x 4 upside the head, would serve that creep right- you would do a dog the way he beat that baby

An alley cat would have more mothering instincts
My grandfather would leave the house in the dark, wee hours of morning, to work his job at the dairy, arriving home around 2:00.
He always came in the backdoor, removed his hat and shoes, washed up, greeted everyone and laid down on the sofa for a little rest before supper.  

How he slept in a tiny parlor filled with children, I have no idea, but no one was ever shhhhed. 

At suppertime everyone gathered around the huge round table that seats 15 comfortably and 20 if you squeeze in. 

Mealtimes are when you could really see which children were worst off, may had been in bad times for a long time. 

There were ones that would pocket food, or wolf their meal down and ask for more. 

There were the ones that were too afraid to take any food at all. 

One time the sheriff brought three children that had been picked up at the dump, out past Oregon City. 

They'd been living there for a while and they were filthy.  

Celeste, Sergy, and Harlan ( who was a three year old girl, which I thought was outrageous, since my that was my father's name!). 

Grandma was making ice cream cones, scooping one for everybody, and handing them out.  Those kids just stood there, and finally, the littlest girl stuck her hand out, palm flat, like she had no idea in the world how to take hold of the cone. 

That just about makes you sick, when a little kid caint take an ice cream cone.  That ain't right. 

That family stayed quite a while, and were eventually brought back into care three more times over the years.  

Sometimes my grandmother would tell the social workers not to bring a child back anymore.  It got to hard, to see them bounced back and forth, when she knew the birth parents were not going to be able to get it together to keep their child permanently, yet they kept right on sending them back.  

There was a photo of a toddler on my grandmother's dresser, a little boy with black hair, named Stephen John, that I knew was dead.  
He was dead and it made my grandmother terribly sad, even though he had died in the 60's long before I was born, I knew his story. 

My grandparents had fostered him, because his mother was mentally ill and couldn't care for him.  
They had him from infancy until around his second birthday, and my grandmother loved him dearly.  
He had been sent back, and died from chicken pox that hadn't been tended to.  
My grandparents paid for his coffin.

That was before you were born Heididoll, poor, poor Stephen John 

I liked to read the gray book with the names of all the children.  

Sometimes there was a little story too.
In the late 60's and 70's there were lots of teenage girls that "walked off", went out for a smoke and never came back.  

 went off with the hippies I imagine

In my mind mind I saw flower children dancing away, to some magical place.  


  1. You have lead an extraordinary life so far and this could easily be the beginning of a book it is so well written. :)

  2. I would love to hear more about your grandparents. What did they look like? What stories did they tell you? What was their house like? What did these experiences do to you, as you grew up and chose your own path?

    Love your stories, your writing and your imagery. Thank you.