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EVERY LITTLE SECRET THING
By Jean Lund
A serious writer always has a project in the works.
All material on this site has North American Rights
This autobiography is for my grandchildren. I want to let them who I am incase they ask someday because there is no-one who really knows, not even their parents. So my story is dedicated to Amanda, James Tyler (J.T.), Alyssa, Vincenzo (Vinny) (who is my heart light and was actually my inspiration to write my life's story) and Joey my little munchkin and Vinny's baby brother.
Someday I will be happy...
In the spring of 1951, my mother, Patricia O'Brien found out that she was pregnant again. She already had a son who was four years old named Bobby. Bobby's father, Bob Lund was a second generation born Norwegian born to Pearl and John Lund who lived in Jasper Minnesota. The young couple lived in an apartment in Minneapolis and had a very turbulent marriage. Many times my brother was left unattended by his unemployed father while our mother was at work. She would come home to find him in his crib and his feces smeared on the wall. She had finally had enough and called her parents asking them to come get my brother so she could move out, file for divorce and get settled in a new place. Our grandfather, Bob O'Brien came to the house to get my brother only to be met by Bob Lund, who claimed he was frightened for his life. As the story goes, he smashed our grandfather in the head with a hammer causing a concussion and claimed it was self-defense. No one ever said if Bob got in trouble with the law or not. Our grandparents had already moved one hundred miles north of Minneapolis to their cabin on Long Lake. They had built the cabin themselves when my mother and her brother and sister were young children. The family would make weekend trips up north from the city like so many others with cabins around the lake. They could swim, water ski, fish, or just relax. Grandpa worked in a nearby town named Pierz, a mostly German and Polish population, selling farming equipment. It was the late 40's when my brother, who was only two years old went to stay with our grandparents. He settled in quite quickly and soon had a wonderful bond with both Grandpa and Grandma who lavished him with attention that made him feel safe and loved.
In the meantime Patricia, better known as Patty in the family and her younger sister June decided to pursue their desire to be performers. They played guitar and sang in supper clubs around the Minneapolis area. In doing so they made contacts with people in other acts, and learned of a traveling burlesque show. Eventually they were offered to join the act so the sisters decided to venture out into the world with the hopes of making big money and maybe even becoming famous. Patty and June became one of the first underwater dancing acts which gained them some notoriety but their real thrill came when they were offered jobs in burlesques own strip tease shows. Patty and June worked together and although Patty was the headliner using the stage name Desire`, June was really the more beautiful of the two. Yes, your great grandmother was a stripper and I was able to find a few pictures of her after she passed away. When she got older she was most embarrassed by the fact she had worn pasties and did bumps and grinds on stage. She threw out her 8x10's and gave her costumes away to a retired couple that were nothing more than next door neighbors. This didn't sit well with me because as her daughter, I would have thought she would have given them to me. I was pretty bent out of shape for years, but after her death I came to realize that it was a profession she was no longer proud of and most likely didn't want me to remember it either. At least there are a few pictures so there is some history left behind.
When they hit Milwaukee, Wisconsin June met and fell in love with a bartender named Pete Karegeannes, a first generation American born Greek. They fell so head over heels in love that Aunt June dropped out of the act to marry Pete. Patty continued on and made quite a name for herself as Desirè. She continued traveling, and eventually hooked up with a saxophonist named Bill Widecomb. Bill played in a band that traveled with the Tommy Dorsey band. She really experienced life and once was booked along side Lucille Ball before Lucille was ever famous. She was making good money, sending some to her folks, but she never came to get her son. In the meantime my brother had a stable life. He had grandparents who adored him. He lived in a cabin on a lake where Grandpa would take him fishing and teach him how to swing a baseball bat. Although they expected his mother to come and take him back one day, two years had passed and by age four they had grown attached to each other. Patty was always good about sending him birthday and Christmas presents and calling to check up on him and talk to him on the phone, but while each year passed, the peace and tranquility of living in the country had become a stabilizing factor in his life. He was happy and well loved by our grandparents.
In the spring of 1951 Patty and Bob Lund saw each other again in Minneapolis and there was talk of reconciling but it didn't happen. Later Patty discovered she was pregnant again and I was the outcome of that short lived reconciliation…..supposedly. I really still don't know to this day who my father was and if she did she took it to the grave with her. Worried that her folks would be angry to find out that she was pregnant again when she hadn't even kept her son, she turned to my Aunt June and Uncle Pete who had since married and had been unsuccessful in their attempts to have a child of their own. After several long discussions they agreed to keep her baby, adopt it and raise it as their own. It must have been a relief to Patty not to have to fess up to her folks. The fact that she was pregnant was kept a secret and as the due date loomed closer Patty drove to Milwaukee and stayed with her sister until the birth. Aunt June had planned for me, buying baby outfits, a crib and getting all excited at the fact that she would soon be a parent. They had also agreed to pay all the doctor and hospital bills. So it was on a snowy winter's night with Harry S. Truman as president and a week before Christmas, just after midnight when I entered the world. December 18th, 1951. Not much hair but blonde like my Aunt June, I came home to my new parents…..and my mother. She then stayed with them longer than she should have. My Uncle Pete told me that she didn't like me at all and cursed at me for ruining her life. But then perhaps she felt remorse. Maybe she was thinking about the fact I had a brother and that we should be together, but something made her change her mind. I was never really given the exact reason. But the two sisters began having arguments over who would feed me, who was going to change me, which one would give me my bath or rock me to sleep. I, in turn from the stress most likely was full of colic--and cried all the time. It couldn't possibly have been a contributing factor that they gave me scallions to teethe on or whiskey in my bottle to knock me out!! As the weeks went by, the fights got worse over whose child I was. It must have escalated pretty bad over the course of my first six months of life. Patty called her folks and sprung the news on them about whose baby this was. So my grandparents, Bob and Harriett O'Brien along with my brother took off and drove non stop 500 miles from central Minnesota to Wisconsin under the pretense of visiting and to see the baby. My grandparents must have spoken to Patty alone (maybe even prior to coming) and told her that it would be best if both children were together. Tragicly my Aunt June and Uncle Pete were not told of the plans and a “plot” so to speak was born to get my Aunt out of the house while my Uncle was at work and then my grandparents just loaded me in the car with the clothes on my back and took off. My Aunt June adored me (and I would be reminded of this many times in later years by my cousins which really became annoying to listen to) and I can only imagine the heartache she felt as "her" child had been taken away. My Uncle Pete was also devastated and enraged as he had paid all the hospital and doctor bills. There was nothing she could do legally as no paperwork had been signed. What a horrible thing to do to someone! Especially your own sister and daughter! Uncle Pete told me that until the day she died, my Aunt June was never given a reason for my being taken away and that while raising their own three children she always set a place at the table for me. Uncle Pete who lives in Scottsdale Arizona has confirmed this story as of this year, 2005 while I write this. It is hard to fathom that no explanation was given. Was it really that way or was a reason given that was just plain unacceptable? I've been told that I screamed and cried the entire drive back to Long Lake. I also broke out in hives on my face and butt from stress. I have pictures of myself when I was just around a year old. I'm clenching my teeth and my hands are clasped over my ears at some noise I'd heard. I still hate loud noises to this day. At any rate the drama in my life started in the womb.
I had a hard time the first few years of my life. Oh, I was well taken care of. Well fed, had new clothes and was happy and loved. I quickly won the heart of my Grandpa over and as far back as I can stretch my memory I was his “pet”. But those first few years I had clung to him heavily and when-ever he was out of my site I would completely lose it. I actually recall crying so hard for him when put to bed one night that while leaning too far over my crib I fell over-board landing on my head; flashes of white light radiating out from every pore of my skull. I don't remember anything more about the fall, or even if I was taken to a doctor. The closet doctor and hospital was 15 miles away so you didn't get to a doctor too often in those days unless it was a real emergency. I guess my cracked skull wasn't a matter of urgency! Grandpa quit his job in Pierz at the farming equipment company and went back to work in Minneapolis in order to make enough money to feed his second family. He stayed there all week coming home on Friday nights. At such a young age it seemed an eternity to me. With the bond I had established with him I would wail and claw at the door every Sunday night as he left until he finally had to start leaving after I'd been put to bed. I only remember that I never wanted him out of my sight. Looking back I see it was a terrible feeling of abandonment that I would carry with me all of my life. When I was about four years old I asked my grandparents if I could call them Mommy and Daddy. Although we had phone calls from Patty while she was on the road, and she would come to Long Lake to visit every couple of years or longer, my brother and I had roots in this house. I wanted a Mom and Dad and since I had been with them since I was 6 months old I felt like they were my Mom and Dad. My friends had a Mom and Dad. My cousins Kathi and Mike had a Mom and Dad. My Aunt June and Uncle Pete went on to have three children of their own; Elaine, Peter Jr. and Steven. So everyone I knew had a Mom and Dad but my brother and I. Bob Lund certainly was never in the picture. I suppose my asking stirred some serious discussion at night while we were asleep. I think they brought it up to Patty on her next phone call. She talked to my brother and me and asked if we wanted to come live with her or if we want to stay living there. By this time she has quit "showbiz" and was living with a boyfriend in Miami Beach. We both wanted to stay. And so, we were legally adopted and began calling them Mom and Dad. I felt complete……………..almost. So from this point forward in my story, Mom and Dad were really Grandma and Grandpa.
Dad kept making that trek one hundred miles to the cities (Minneapolis) for work every week for years. When I got older I still missed him terribly all week long but stopped crying. Every Friday night around six p.m. would find me at the end of our long dirt driveway by the side of the country road. I stood watching and waiting for his car to come up over the hill like a loyal pet. He would hit the top of the hill and see me waiting and flash his headlights off and on to let me know it was him. At the sight of those lights I would spring up into the air jumping and twirling in glee. After all, not only was my Daddy home but he always brought bags of food and presents. It was like Christmas every Friday night. Growing weary of the long commute and time away from his family, Dad took an offer for a job selling Fords for a friend who owned a dealership in the town of Little Falls. Being only thirty five miles from home, he could commute to and from every day plus he got to drive a brand new car every year as a demo. He made great money and was able to provide well for all of us. We never went without or lacked for anything. By living on the lake and surrounded by a rural farming community we were often the envy of the kids on the local farms. It came from the fact that our food and clothes were store bought verses families of ten, twelve or more children each wearing hand me downs and food from their gardens and slaughter. The funny thing was that Bobby and I were just as envious of them. We often hung around our friends homes right around lunch or supper time hoping to be invited to that delicious home cooked meal. We often traded our lunches at school with other kids and both sides seemed to think they got the better end of the deal!
My childhood was the kind that books were made of. The kind of stories that you never hear anymore. The all American kind of close family. We sat down to dinner together every night. We said prayers before all meals and while being tucked in to bed. My Mom never learned to drive and hadn't worked since moving from Minneapolis to Long Lake so Dad was the family chauffeur as well. Mom's last job was as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant in Minneapolis before either Bobby or I were born. Mom and Dad's son Dan lived in in a suburb of Minneapolis called Coon Rapids with my Aunt Mary, my cousin Michael who was two years younger than Bobby and his sister Kathie who was almost two years younger than me. They would come up north to spend a week-end once in a while and Uncle Dan, an avid big game and duck hunter would bring his hunting dogs and train them in the lake in our front yard. We didn't venture too often to their home as we liked to stay in our own. That's how much we loved it and each other.
We always spent holidays together. Dad would bring Mom home a beautiful bouquet of roses on Valentines Day and we would give them extra cards from the box we filled out for school mates. We had overflowing Easter baskets full of multi colored jelly beans, chocolate eggs and bunnies, yellow baby chick marshmallows and new clothes, hats and gloves for church service to celebrate Jesus being risen from the dead . We celebrated with corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day as the O'Brien family. Even though Bobby's and my family name would have been Lund, a Lutheran Norwegian family, we were raised Irish Catholic. Sparklers and fire crackers were a big show for us on the 4th of July as Dad would BBQ. My brother and I had wonderful Thanksgivings with a huge turkey, homemade dressing and watermelon pickles that Mom had canned herself. All the rest of the trimmings and pumpkin and mince meat pies were made with love from Mom's hands. The Macy parade on TV would be the big family treat, followed by football which my brother watched with Dad. Many years we would wake up to our first snow fall just in time for Thanksgiving. But our Christmas's are what stand out most in my memory. It was the same tradition year after year and it was fabulous. My Dad and I would drive the quarter of a mile up the same hill I use to wait for him to come home over, to Krafe's country store to pick out our tree. We went when Santa was there so I could sit on his lap and give him my list of what I wanted and when done he would Ho, Ho, Ho, and hand me a candy cane and a popcorn ball wrapped in red or green shiny saran wrap from a bag on the floor at his side. Then Dad and I would walk over to the old fashioned meat counter where just below the glass panes sat big silver pails full of Christmas candy. Chocolate covered peanuts, hard candy ribbons, chocolate covered cherries and chocolate covered sea foam. We would return home and put on Nat King Cole, Perry Como, or the Mormon Tabernacle and sing Christmas carols as we decorated the tree. Oh how I loved the lights and the bubble bulbs! Our cards were taped with love along the eave of mother's piano and she would play Silent Night and Joy to the World as we continued singing. There was a lot of love in our house. Finally at the end of the day, just before bed, the cookies and milk were set out for Santa. It was so hard to sleep for the excitement of listening for the sleigh and reindeer, but time got the best of us as we sleepily drifted off for the night with the only sound being the heat coming from the registers in the house.
Our legs raced to the living room in the morning. Eyes wide with glee, we would look at all the presents stretched out from under the tree. There at the front were presents lined up from Santa just waiting for us. Dolls and a buggy, bikes and sleds, an erector set, a train set, lots of things from our list telling us that Santa knew we had been good. The stockings we hung the night before were filled with small toys and candy. After we opened our gifts, we ate breakfast and Bobby and I would go outside to play in the snow with our new toys. Often it was snowing heavily and the eaves of the house and the trees were full of icicles. We had a blast sliding down the hill in the front of the house ending up on the frozen shore of the lake. We built snow forts, had snowball fights, played Duck-Duck, Goose-Goose and laid down swishing our arms and legs back and forth to make snow angels. We'd take the snow shovels and clear a big area on the frozen lake in front of the house and lace up our ice skates and play tag. Later exhausted, and numb with cold and hungry we would head for the house and the smell of turkey that filled the air. Mom would make us sandwiches with milk and then Bobby and I would play some new game or color in our big coloring books of the Lone Ranger or Wagon Train and some doll ones for me. Every year Dad would use his car to pull his ice house out on to the lake and my brother and I would take turns spending time in it with him fishing for Great Northerns, Walleyes and Croppies. Come New Years, sick of turkey, we'd have a delicious baked ham and all the trimmings and watch the small black and white TV as we waited for the ball to drop in New Yorks Times Square. Dad would allow us a small glass of Manechevitz wine to toast at midnight and then we'd fall in bed happy, full and exhausted. Although we had fun in the winter, there were many brutal storms as well. Some where the snow drifts were so deep we had to pay local farmers to use their snow plows to clear our road to the highway. I wore a ski mask many times because with the wind chill the temperature would easily be forty or sixty below zero. Without the mask a face would be frost bit in a very short time. When it was too cold to play outside I could be found kneeling on the couch in front of the living room window watching the beavers going to their nests on the lake. Or I would look for rabbits bouncing through the yard. Mom would take an aluminum pie pan and put a chunk of suet in it and nail it to the back porch railing so the chickadees and other winter birds would have something to eat to help keep them warm. When not watching the world go by I played with my doll house and my Barbie and Ken dolls.
Eventually spring made it's entrance and our hearts would fill with joy at the sight of snow melting and watching bits of grass begin to sprout. I would once spend time on the shore of the lake watching the ice get thinner, knowing it was too dangerous to try to walk on. The real sign that spring was here were when the robins started showing up and finding grass and twigs to build their nests to prepare for their young. I was always happy too because I knew it wouldn't be long before school was out and summer would begin. I can still see Mom out in the yard planting a garden. She dug up the dirt in a good size section of the yard and planted rows of tomatoes, beans, carrots, peas, lettuce and even some corn. As the dirt turned over, I would gather the worms to use for fishing later on. There were wild gooseberries, raspberries, and small strawberries that we would pick and put in an empty coffee can to bring home for Mom to make jam out of. We helped her harvest the vegetables when the time came. Mom would then stew the tomatoes and cook all the other vegetables and can them for use in the winter. I really loved summer. We had a small boat with a motor and a fishing dock where I learned at a young age how to bait a worm and cast a rod. I even cleaned my own fish. Swimming on hot summer days was a favorite of mine but there were many times when the breeze would gather momentum and the skies grew dark. We would listen to the static on the radio for tornado warnings so we'd be prepared if one was heading our way. Several times we would open the trap door and climb the wooden ladder down to the cold basement with the cement walls until we knew it was safe. I would run to the couch and open the drapes that faced the lake to watch for whirlpools lifting the water into the air and lightning. When the crackling thunder shook the house I would run petrified to my Mom and Dad who would hold me and make me feel safe. After the storm passed I'd return to the window and look at the rainbows that arched over the far side of the lake. And the day would return to its hot humid self.
I can still visualize the old Maytag wringer washing machine in the kitchen. Being naturally curious, I once stuck my hand in and watched it roll my arm up to my elbow before I screamed for Mom to help me. There were several clothes lines in the back yard that were tied from one oak tree to another. I would walk along side Mom, too short to reach handing her the clothes pins. During the day, I'd catch bull and grass frogs and gently study them by watching their throats pump in and out before setting them free. Dusk was and still is my favorite time of day. I loved to watch and listen as the world slowed down and when nature could be heard. When the sun painted beautiful colors on a canvas horizon that made me feel as though I could reach out and touch it. When the deepest red sun filled my soul with so much passion, I thought I would explode. When thousands of crickets began their symphony and the bullfrogs croaked as backup. I loved being outside at night as a child, catching lightning bugs in a jar and watching them illuminate for a while before setting them free. But my most favorite thing of all was listening to the loons on the lake flapping their wings in the water at dark as their calls haunted and pierced the otherwise silent night. One might think that I was a lonely child but I was very much in tune with mother earth and it's creatures and that's where my heart was.
Then there were the summer vacations. What an exciting time that was! I was about 8 years old when we started traveling. We used a tent the first couple of years and then Dad bought a small Jayco pop-out trailer that slept four. Every summer we would leave home for two weeks and head out west. Dad preferred the rugged west and we saw and did amazing things. Our first stop would be overlooking the Bad Lands of South Dakota, a mini Grand Canyon of sorts but it always bored me as the area was desolate and without greenery I was use to at home. From there we moved on to the Black Hills which was always our first night of camping. We visited Mount Rushmore, went horse back riding, drove to a state park where the deer and the buffalo roamed, literally, visited old ghost towns and western museums. We would wander the old western towns of Deadwood City and Keystone looking in gift shops and historical buildings. The next night would find us in Devils Tower Wyoming where we sat around a rangers campfire at night while he told the Indian myth of the bear who chased two Indian children to to the top of the tower and tried to claw his way up and that's why the tower had vertical lines around it. Mom, Bobby and I snorted as we tried to stifle our laughter when as always, Dad's attempt to BBQ steaks went up in flames and landed us a charcoal dinner! The more he'd rant and rave, the more we would pretend to wander the campsite looking around so we could let out our laughter much the same way one would quietly expell gas. My brother and I would search for decent logs and twigs to build our own campfire and happily we roasted marshmellows which took the place of a partially burned dinner. Staying in Wyoming we would camp at Jackson Hole Lake at the base of the Grand Teton mountains which to this day is still one of my favorite places. We would camp there for a couple of days so we could travel on to visit Yellowstone National Park where bears roamed the highway stopping traffic looking to be fed. Although the signs warned against feeding them, Dad cracked his window and gave one or two a bite just so he could take a picture. We also visited Old Faithful and all of the other hot mineral spring gysers that like clockwork would take turns spewing hot water that smelled like rotten eggs as high as 30 feet in the air. From there we would pull up our camp site and head north into Montana and roam the ground where Custer's battle, the biggest slaughter in history between the red and white man took place with the white man defeated enormously. I might mention here too that Ma was always for the native American Indians, no matter what tribe. She always said she wanted to be buried wrapped in a blanket above ground just as they were. So while Dad would choose cowboy souvineers at gift shops, Ma would always find something native American for her keepsake. Personally, I was scared to death of Indians at a young age and can still remember Dad having me stand next to a Chief in Keystone South Dakota to have my picture taken. One look and you can see the terror on my face as I stood frozen in fear that at any moment I would be scalped, but hey! I was only 8 or 9 years old and all I ever knew about Indians was what I saw on TV! We continued on heading south, camping in the Great Rockies of Colorado, over to Salt Lake City, Utah and then headed south to the beautiful red rocks and canyon formations that make up Bryce and Zion National Park. I stared in awe at the beauty that lie before me. It was so different then the gentle rolling hills and flatlands of Minnesota. This was like another planet to my young eyes but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. We would head east to the Grand Canyon where once again nature's beauty made my eyes open wide. Although they had donkey back pack rides down steep narrow trails, I think my Dad was the only one who would have been game to do such a thing. The trails had no protection to keep one from falling off the side of a cliff to certain death. The trails were only big enough for the pack mules to walk single file with no room to even turn around. I don't think so, thank you very much!! So we camped and since it really was a desert floor the nights were pretty chilly as we bundled in warm clothes and jackets until about ten the next morning. Heading home, we drove through New Mexico and stopped to gaze at adobe huts built right into the sides of mountains with what appeared as no way to get to them. Nearby was a site seeing tour to the bottom of Carlsbad Caverns where it was very cold but the colors and formations were incredible, unique and amazing to look at, with some eerily illuminating colors.
Every year we would travel for two weeks in the summer, often re-visiting places we really loved and many times detouring to see new things in out of the way places. We even made it to the California coast a few times where by the early nineteen-sixties, our mother Patty was living. She was re-married to Buzzy Bailey who was a regional manager for southern California Safeway stores and together they bought some duplexes as real estate investments in Inglewood. Patty also began working for the Inglewood post office so her life was good and we had great visits. There was no pressure of who was who and who belonged where. Bobby and I had long had grandma and grandpa as our Mom and Dad and although we cared about Patty, we called her by her name. We would stay at a motel with a pool nearby which was a real treat for us lake babies and go to the wharf in Redondo Beach and play in the ocean. We also took in Marineland which no longer exists but it was a scaled down San Diego Sea World back then. But it was always good to head back home. While Bobby would sleep curled up in the back seat, my bed would be made from two sleeping bags rolled up, one on either side of the hump in the middle of the floor of the back seat. While we slept like the children we were Ma and Dad would drive late into the night until we got back to Long Lake. And every year I felt the same. I would be woken up late where the only lights available were the headlights shining on the front steps of our house. June bugs were soon traveling in the lights path near the door. I would look at the grass that seemed as though it had grown two feet and hear the sound of millions of crickets playing late in the night welcoming us home. Happily, yet dreary eyed I would go in the house and crawl into my familiar bed and sleep soundly until morning.
Autumn was my favorite season. I would rake piles of leaves just so I could walk away and take a flying leap into them and cover myself until no one could see me. I loved watching the colors change on the trees, the beautiful peaceful colors of fall. Orange, red, gold and brown, mixed in with some last man-standing greens of summer. I loved putting storm windows and doors over the screens and wrapping the bottom of the house with tarp paper to prepare to keep some of the cold out that was right around the corner at winter. I'd sit on the dock on the water and watch several hundred yards away as beavers would drag branches of trees off the shore and swim in the water building their nest for the winter. I'd listen to the crows cawing in the trees preparing for the cold weather ahead. Their call also served as a notice for me that summer had ended and school would start again. Soon the branches were bare, the green grass had turned brown and the air had the smell of fire as people burned the piles of leaves they had raked.
Now that I am older, I look at old photos of my youth with such fondness that my heart feels like it's bursting with love. My childhood was the happiest days of my life. Our family was very traditional. My Mom stayed at home, while Dad went to work. We played in the yard, swam in the lake, rode bikes on country roads, many of them dirt, and hung out with kids on neighboring farms. Everything my brother and I had, had been store bought. We had new clothes, new shoes, lunch buckets with handles, new toys, and store bought bread. We always had our snack of a peanut butter and jelly or a lunch meat sandwich and a glass of milk at the kitchen table and then off we'd run to play some more. I think my brother would agree with me that although Ma was an awesome cook there was really some good home cookin' across the street at our friends on the farm. They had home-made bread, and milk fresh from the cow. No matter what they offered (and they always offered) their food had the best dang taste. Looking back now I don't know how they could have given food to us as most of the farms had large families, anywhere from ten to eighteen kids. I am sure they were envious of my brother and I having everything new and the best of everything, but my brother and I were also envious of them. They had lots of brothers and sisters to play with; they had kick butt food, and a lot more acres of land because of the farm and tons of animals. My brother and I were never allowed to have a pet. I know Ma and Dad had a black lab named Duchess when they first moved into the cabin and still had her when my brother came to live with them. But one of the neighboring farmers shot and killed her claiming she'd been stealing their chickens and Dad never got over it. So no pets for us....well eventually I did get a black lab mix I named Butch. But until then we would just go to the neighbors who had plenty of cows, chickens, cats and dogs and sometimes a pig or two. At night Ma would put things out for the wild critters and often we would turn on the outside light to catch a raccoon eating her snack. Occasionally there would be a few deer roaming near the house and once when we pulled open the kitchen drapes there was a bob cat sitting on the outside sill! Even though we were inside I was scared to death. To me it may as well have been a tiger! Although bears roamed the woods, they usually stayed deep in them but every once in a while we would hear of a bear sighting further around the lake from where our house was. Mom also put food out for the birds, seed in the summer and a chunk of suet for the chickadees in the winter. There were June bugs that would hit the screen door if we turned on the light and if walking in the yard after dark we could hear bats occasionally swoop right over our heads. But it was a very peaceful life.
I played Barbie's in my room or wandered around outside exploring the world. I think it's safe to say that I was a tomboy when I was young. I had a red Annie Oakley cowgirl hat with a string that tied around my neck and a holster with two guns that I loved to play with. Between our dining room window and the small woods that separated us from the cabin “next door” was a big gray rock that slanted on an angle. One of most favorite memories was that big old rock and it is still there as of my visit home in 2006 even though it's someone else's home now. I would climb on it and fire at all the “Indians” or I would sit on it with a leg on either side and pretend it was my horse. Or I would often just sit on it and look out at the lake and watch nature in all of its splendor. My brother and I played together too although I may have been a pain to him since first of all I was a girl, secondly I was five years younger and lastly he wasn't too happy with my arrival to begin with. He use to pinch me hard when he could just to be mean but then we'd turn around and make up and play together. My best recollections of us when we were still young was of he and I swimming together in a small blow up pool near the shore of our home before I was a good enough swimmer for the lake. And of playing with soldiers carved out of wood in a man made sand pile at the base of two old oak trees, building snow forts and having snowball fights or in bad weather staying inside and playing Monopoly or Chinese checkers. It seemed we celebrated the good life every day. After all it was only 1957 and life was still really good. Ozzie and Harriett good. So my childhood rocked! It was the best times of my life. A lot of love, no stress, well fed, dressed and cared for. Most of all it was a simple time. When doors were never locked, where neighbors always welcomed and helped each other never expecting anything in return but a handshake or a hug.
I remember that daydreamed a lot as a child. I stared at leaves up close, and caught frogs and studied their features before setting them free. I spent time laying in the grass searching for four leaf clovers and finding shapes in the clouds formations. Dusk would always find me staring west towards sunsets rich in orange and red as I wondered what was "over" there. I wanted to keep chipmunks for pets, and watched beavers build their nests in the lake readying themselves for winters, looked in awe at the beauty of the many colors of autumn; my favorite season to this day although I really miss it in Los Angeles. I took paths in the woods for miles or made my own, worrying my mother for fear of bears and bob cats. One day I traveled to the far end of our lake where there were no cabins, just thickets and marshes and took a step and started sinking quickly. I had heard my Mom talk about quicksand and I was afraid that I had just found some. I must have been around nine or ten years old but I kept my cool even though my body was slowly disappearing getting close to my knees. I had sense enough to grab hold of a thick branch on a tree and pull myself up and gingerly set myself back down to see if there was solid ground. Once free I ran home feeling absolutely petrified and got my butt chewed out by Ma. I felt a sense of satisfaction though that I had traveled near danger and won. That would be the start of a life long sub-conscious attraction to danger.
When I turned eleven I felt a change in the air. John F. Kennedy was still in office and I lived in a family of conservative Republicans. I don't recall seeing my Mom or brother being very emotional, but my Dad and I probably made up for it. I was very independent in my thinking, bursting full of emotions. I never saw my mother cry and the only time I saw my father cry was when he spoke of his mother, Rosella Collins Conklin who he always loved and missed. He never spoke of his father, Alfred because he was full of inner turmoil, rage and feelings of abandonment by him. He blamed his father for leaving the family which he believed caused his mother to have a nervous breakdown. She somehow got addicted to morphine and was sent to an asylum where she died in 1926 when he was 17 . Dad always raged on about his half sisters from his mother's first marriage to Ernest Collins. He said they all hated him and put him in an orphanage after his mother's break down where he escaped at age sixteen finding work on the trains to support himself. Sadly, he carried that bitterness and pain internally all of his life. But he was still a man capable of love. He just didn't have the ability to love more than one person at a time and since I was his “pet,” Mom and Bobby didn't get all from him that they should have. He often seemed gruff but he was kind and loving and always remembered special events. He also was very capable of using his arms to give good hugs to everyone. Mom on the other hand was more than reserved. Although she was cheerful, singing occasionally while she cooked or cleaned, she wasn't much on human contact. I remember many times trying to get her attention, to spend some time with me, but she always seemed busy running the house. So I would improvise and ask if I could help with the dishes and was allowed to get up on the step stool beside her to dry the plates and silverware. Or while she was ironing I would ask if I could help and she would let me press her and Dad's square white cloth handkerchiefs that didn't need many creases. She was a great story teller and would sit on the couch between my brother and I and read to us. I felt so happy to be able to snuggle up next to her. Only now and then would she put her arm around me. Even though she wasn't very demonstrative with her love, we felt loved all the same because she was always sweet and kind and happy. Now at eleven years old I was becoming more curious about life and coming to understand emotions and questioned her about something I found odd. I asked why she slept in the bedroom all the time and Dad slept on the fold out couch in the living room. She said he had a bad back and that the fold out was more comfortable for him. My young mind thought they should have bought a new bed but I didn't say so. I also noticed that other than a peck on the cheek when he left for work I never saw them kiss on the lips like the movies on TV but decided not to ask her about that either. Every once in a blue moon I would wake up to find them both in Ma's bed but at that age I just shrugged it off to Dad's back feeling better.
The truth was that Mom had turned off any real emotion years before. Like Dad, her folks had divorced and there were a lot of kids to be divvied up and she too had to spend time in an orphanage. Her father had re-married and eventually so did her mother and she went back to live with her family. After Mom left the orphanage she found work as a waitress and became quite the flirtatious young woman back in the twenties. She told me stories years later of how she would make a date with four boys for the same time and have each one meet her a particular street corner and then she would be a no show, but would be somewhere in the vicinity hiding, watching four guys at the same time waiting for her. She howled with laughter at the memory. But one time she must have met someone that she liked enough to meet alone because things went too far and the next thing you know she was pregnant. After she found out she was pregnant at age nineteen, she found out that he, a young Jewish man, was also married. Feeling betrayed, she faced life as a single mother. Her sister Katherine was dating Dad at the time and he was bold enough to lie about his age (he was really almost two years younger) and offer to break up with Katherine and marry Ma so the baby would have a legitimate father and that's exactly what happened on August 2nd, 1926. My biological mother, Patty was born on January 26th, 1927 as Patricia Ann O'Brien. I was an adult before I found out that my Dad (grandfather) was not my biological grandfather. Mom's lack of ability to have human contact must have been driven further by having a husband who cheated on her while she raised their young family. The name Helen Bussey haunted her until well past her children's adult lives and into our life being raised by them. Since she was one hundred miles away from him while he worked in the cities, I am sure she imagined another hundred Helen's out there sleeping with her husband. And every once in a while she would take a dig at Dad and bring it up. Ma told me once that while he was seeing Helen she put ex-lax in his chocolate pudding so he would have diarrhea when he went out with her. She seemed to gloat when she told the story and then would throw back her head and laugh. Ma came across as a sweet angel but there really was a mischievous side to her. Once I hit puberty she told me about an uncle that tried to molest her and my Aunt June so I think over-all Ma held great disdain for men. That was probably the reason she wasn't very affectionate.
I was eleven years old when I felt myself being overcome with all kinds of new feelings, mostly romantic ones. I looked at boys differently. I watched love scenes on TV with more interest. My heart swelled with desire for that “fall in love” feeling I saw portrayed on the screen. I wondered where my true love was. I also always had a strong connection with nature but suddenly I felt an even deeper connection with all the beauty that surrounded me. I was bursting at the seams to get my feelings out yet I felt too shy to share them with anyone. It almost hurt to hold all the visions inside my head and at times I thought I would go mad. Then one day I picked up a pencil and a tablet and started writing what I saw in my head, and what I felt inside my heart. Out poured poetry on paper about the trees and lake and critters. About the sky and the sun and the moonlit nights. The fireflies, and autumn leaves and snowflakes. It just wouldn't stop. I felt a huge release when I wrote and I kept my writing pad tucked away in the top drawer under my socks and underwear. Then late one afternoon while laying on my bed daydreaming about my Prince Charming, I sat up and looked through my window towards the west as a blazing red sunset stretched across the sky. The sun was huge and streaked with passion as watching it filled my soul. I stared without blinking as if in a daze and imagined a man and woman walking on the beach on the Pacific Ocean two thousand miles away. They were holding hands and would stop and gaze into each others eyes and draw in a long passionate kiss and continue walking slowly barefoot along the water. I thought then that I would never in my life see the ocean but oh how romantic it must be. And that night I started writing poetry about love. It was also the night I fell in love with writing and I was so drawn to it that I couldn't stop. That's when my “almost” a writer career was born.
Other changes started happening around then as well. I wanted to spend the night at a friends who lived by Krafe's Corner but Dad wouldn't allow it. No explanation was given other than he didn't want me staying at someone else's house. So I asked if my friend could spend the night with me instead and he said no. He didn't want anyone staying at our house either. I was very disappointed and Ma went to bat for me and got him to agree to let me have her stay at our house. Dad seemed to become colder in general after that. I turned twelve that December and had started trying to spread my wings a bit and Dad seemed to gradually become grumpier than I'd ever known. Bobby was sixteen and big into sports in high school in the town of Onamia seventeen miles away. He was a team captain and excelled on the football, baseball and basketball team. The farm boys across the road all played too so he got rides to and from practice and games with them. One day out of the blue Dad told him that he couldn't play three sports anymore. That he would have to give one up. And just like my spending the night with friends, there was no logical explanation for it and once again Mom tried to reason with Dad but this time it was to no avail. He gave up football and carried on but surely must have felt disappointed and bewildered. Dad rarely made it to the games because he worked forty miles the other direction and worked long hours selling cars. I'm sure that was a big disappoint for Bobby as well, not having a father rooting him on.
The summer of 1963 found my brother in love with a girl named Meredith in his junior class and me being excited that I would be starting high school that fall and once again be in the same school as my big brother. We had both attended a one room school house with one teacher that taught first through sixth grade just down from Krafe's Corner near home. It looked like a regular Little House on the Prairie school house and was pretty much run like one. I was a clown in elementary school, always wising off, sneaking and passing notes, and doing whatever I could to make the kids in school laugh. Our teacher used a wooden ruler to slap our hand ten times when we got in trouble. I was always getting the ruler but it was worth it as I lived to make people laugh. But I was also a good student and got good grades, excelling in spelling and writing which probably helped contribute to my desire to write later on. But Bobby was five years older than me so when I started first grade he was in sixth and we only had one year together at the elementary school. I was really looking forward to riding the bus with him and going to the “big” school in town.
The summer of 1963 we took our last family vacation out west together. Bobby was kind of depressed about going as he was in love and didn't want to be away from Meredith and Dad sensed that. And with my expanding wings I suppose Dad was having separation anxiety and didn't know it but our camping trip felt more like a duty than our usual summer fun. We couldn't wait to get back home and yet when we did I felt sad that it was over. I could feel something had changed but couldn't put my finger on what it was. September came quickly and excitedly I started high school. We didn't have a separate junior high back then. We all shared the same school so high school meant junior and senior high. It didn't take me long to become the class clown in seventh grade and a semi-embarrassment to my brother. He was well known in the high school because of all the varsity sports he played and because he was so tall and thin he had been nicknamed Spider. I was a loud mouth, wise crackin' joke makin' girl, just looking for attention. I would yell at him when he was with his friends in the hall and I could just see him wither up but I thought it was funny to embarrass him. I was proud as could be that he was my big brother and so well known and liked. I wanted to be as popular as he was. I quickly became boy crazy in love with everyone I saw. The boys always made comments about my big eyes and finally nicknamed me Buffalo because they said my eyes were the size of a Buffalo's. Not a very feminine nickname but I accepted it and soon used it as material in my jokes. I wasn't the prettiest girl in the school so I didn't have boys beating down the door to walk me to class but I did keep their interest by using humor. It became pretty obvious to me fairly quickly who the most popular girls were and they were all from town. They were in their own little clique and looked down on the rest of us as country bumpkins which really hurt my feelings inside. But I continued to use my humor to at least be a small part of their group while at school but the reality was that my friends were more the ones I rode the bus with who lived on farms.
It was Bob's senior year and prom night was coming up. He and Meredith had been going together for a year and it was obvious that they were serious about each other. Dad had bought him an old used Ford to get around in and he brought her to our house to meet the family. She was cute as a button and so tiny next to my brother. She was all of four foot eleven next to his six foot frame but she was well mannered and kind and if there were any reservations from Mom it might have been that she was Lutheran and we were Catholic. She too was involved in things at school singing in the choir and playing drums in the band and a cheerleader just to name a few. I don't think Dad was too impressed at all but it seemed as though nothing much impressed him anymore. I don't really think it was Meredith. I think it was just him and whatever he was going through on his own. It didn't matter because wild horses weren't going to keep them apart. Bob had invited us to come see the school play as he and Meredith had parts in it. Ma and I went but of course Dad didn't. He never seemed to make time for any extra curricular actives that his son was involved in. They graduated high school in 1964 and Bob went off to college at St. Cloud State. He was drafted right after finishing so he joined the Navy in April of 1967, married Meredith in August and took his bride with to his post in Italy. Their exciting life together was just about to begin. So was mine but mine was a far cry different than theirs.
Dad started coming home later at night and often with the smell of beer on his breath. He had long days waiting for customers to come in to buy a car, and sales were slow so he decided to start going out to the people. He hit the bars to have a couple of beer and schmooze with the locals and by golly if it didn't work! He was given a new Ford every fall when they arrived on Theilen's lot so he would always have a demo with him to give a test drive to anyone interested. He was quite the salesman and by yukking it up with the folks in the taverns he could take them for a spin right there on the spot and get a down payment. He'd pass out his business card and make appointments for the buyer to come into Little Falls the next day and do the paperwork. He really hustled and made good money and provided well for his family. Ma never knew when to expect him for supper but Dad was always good about calling and letting her know about how long he'd be. So she'd just keep his in the oven on low so it would be warm when he got home which was usually by 10 pm. I missed my brother but Dad and Ma and I still did family things on weekends. We'd take a drive to another lake and set up a BBQ and just hang out for a picnic, and we still took our camping trip out west after Bobby was gone but it felt like a puzzle piece was missing. There wasn't much joy in it, almost as if we were going through the motions trying to relive earlier years that had been so much fun. Things had changed. Time had flown. There was almost the feeling of grief like when someone died, but we did our best to enjoy the trip anyway. My mother Patty was still in Miami Beach after getting out of burlesque and took up breeding cocker spaniels, and either selling then or entering them in shows. She would still ask if on occasion if I wanted to come live with her painting a really wonderful picture of the beach and Palm Trees and no cold or snow, but I had my Mom and Dad and our house and this was where I wanted to stay. She came to visit us while she was still living there and brought her latest beau with her. I really liked Sidney. He was sweet and kind and he brought me a small musical jewelryy box that had a ballerina twirling in front of three mirrors when you opened it. I never forgot him for being so nice to me and I kept that box well into my adult life. But their relationship ended in the early sixties when she caught him with another woman. After she nearly killed him by pinning him with her car against a brick wall, she packed her bags and headed west landing in Reno, Nevada. There she worked in the casinos and out of the blue married some guy named Frank Plummer that she barely knew. She divorced him four months later and then stayed with an older man named Chris who became a good friend and father figure to her. Tired of the fast pace of a gambling town, a year later she headed for Los Angeles landing in Inglewood in 1963. She was hired at the post office and met and fell in love with a man named Al (aka Buzzy) Bailey who was the manager of a local Safeway supermarket. They got married and she also helped him manage real estate properties he owned. That's where Ma, Dad and I headed in the summer of 1964 without Bobby. We visited Patty and Buzzy in Inglewood California and that was my first time seeing the same Pacific Ocean I had written about when I was eleven years old. I couldn't believe I was standing two thousand miles from home on the same beach of a place I had only daydreamed about! I loved California and the palm trees and the weather. I hoped we would get to visit again someday.
When we returned home, there was still enough time left before school started that I could call my friends and be a typical teen. It was easier to spend time with them now that Dad was working longer and not around the house. I would have friends come over or go hang out with them and we'd listen to the kind of rock and roll that was popular then, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Vee, Elvis and a lot of groups that came out of Detroit also known as Motown. We'd giggle about boys and just be typical girls swooning over our music idols that we were going to marry one day. When the Beatles arrived on the scene in 1963 all us girls lost our minds! I remember sitting on the floor as close to the TV as I could get when they came on the Ed Sullivan show. I let out screams all by myself driving my folks crazy. I cried just like every other young girl and swore I was going to marry Paul McCartney one day. And then the most incredible thing happened. My little rich, spoiled cousin Kathi who lived in Minneapolis got tickets to go see the Beatles when they came to play in the Twins stadium in the spring of 1964. And guess who was just spoiled enough to get to go with her? My Dad rocked! He paid the cash so I could go to a once in a lifetime event and that is something I will always treasure. What was even sweeter was that our seats sat right over the dugout the Fab Four entered and exited from. What a moment in time! Life was still pretty innocent and sweet, but that was about to change.
Our family had always been an all American apple pie family. Family togetherness with aunts, uncles and cousins visiting from time to time from far away. I have wonderful childhood memories of life in the country. Dad smoked a pipe with a wonderful cherry blend aroma. He also smoked cigarettes. Ma didn't. No one drank except for the rare occasions when Ma and Dad would go up the road to Krafe's for supper. Bill Krafe and Dad would belly up to the small bar he had at the back of the store and chug down a Hamm's or Grain Belt beer or two while shootin' the breeze. Or from the other end of the lake, Florence and John Henderson who owned a small resort with rental cabins would come over once in a while to play Canasta and drink a few beers. Dad was always great at getting on some rampage over something, working himself up until he was pounding his fists on the table, but everyone else was laughing and enjoying it so it must have just been the way he told stories. The more he ranted, the harder everyone laughed. The only time I ever heard Dad really get mad and rant and rave was after Ma's sister Katherine Cox (and his former girlfriend that he dumped to marry Ma) came to visit. Katherine was a very strong willed woman, had a very curt mouth and a tendency to make Dad feel inadequate somehow. She also was a very bossy woman and in his eyes she took charge of his house while visiting. He buttoned his lip while she was there; most likely intimidated by her, but poor Ma had to suffer the wrath of his rage against the woman after her and Uncle Rex left. Aunt Katherine was always very good to me. I never found her to be the way Dad said. She tried to help me learn manners, to stand up straight and would always let me look at her lovely jewelry. She was a successful business woman and way ahead of her time as far as women's rights. Many years later I found a newspaper clipping praising her for her work and keeping up with men. I also found a letter from her to Ma laughing and saying "I've always had rights!" I admired Aunt Katherine and Uncle Rex who came across as rather timid but was very intelligent. No wonder seeing that he was a professor at the University of Fargo/Moorhead and had won many awards. I felt bad when in her later years, Aunt Katherine had a breast removed and was bed ridden with rheumatoid arthritis and lived in an assisted living home where she died ten years later. It must have felt terrible to be all alone, yet she somehow had driven her family away including her only child, my mother Patty's cousin Dawn.
I don't recall any fighting in our house. It was a very peaceful, loving childhood and even at a tender age, I appreciated my life. But I was lonesome a lot when I was younger. Bobby was five years older and had more friends then I did because the local farmers seemed to have more sons than daughters. And he really didn't want to play with a girl anymore once he hit his teen years so it was just me playing with my Barbie and Ken dolls by myself. I wanted a sister so bad but it was more than that. I had this over-whelming sense of a missing part. Like a piece of me was missing and was out there somewhere. I had an internal longing and yearning for that piece to come back and it just never got filled. It was a feeling I kept to myself but I thought perhaps I was confusing a sister with my biological father. Bob Lund's parents, John and Pearl Lund lived in Jasper Minnesota. I had no idea where that was and had never met my paternal grandparents. I guess Dad hated the whole family ever since Bob Lund hit him on the head with the hammer. The doctors told Ma that Dad might never be quite the same or that he may change later in life. But Bobby and I were allowed to write our grandparent's letters. They always wrote back and sent birthday and Christmas presents and we would send them a copy of our school picture. I loved my Dad with all my heart but carried a curiosity with me about my natural father. I always asked about him in my letters and although Grandma Lund always answered my letters, I was disappointed when time after time there would be no response to the questions I had asked about my father. Still it wasn't Bob Lund that made me feel this empty space in my soul. It was the sister that I longed for and it made me feel incomplete. I soon felt even lonlier as Bobby graduated high school in 1964 and left in the fall for college at St. Cloud State. I don't know if that was the thing that put an increasingly changing Dad over the edge or if the things about to happen had already been in the works. Either way, my brother was damn lucky to not be living at home anymore and for me it was the end of life as I had ever known it.
Dad started coming home later after work and I don't think Ma was too happy about it. I think memories of Helen Bussey came back to haunt her and remind her of what her husband was capable of. And she had good reason to be suspicious. But if worry was on Ma's mind at the time she was either really good at hiding it or I was oblivious to it. After all there hadn't been anything in our family to ever have to worry about. No illnesses, no deaths, no financial worries. I don't recall anything out of the ordinary other than noticing that Dad wasn't home by the time I went to bed but I knew he had to schmooze customers after the end of their work day to try to sell them a car so I never thought twice about his absence. Seeing Ma standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes by hand and looking out into the darkness through the window wasn't unusual. I always figured she was thinking about what chores she would be doing the next day. Little did I know that this time she was watching. Watching and waiting for the few headlights passing on the highway to see if one would be him turning in the drive-way finally home for the night.
One night after I had gone to bed and was sound asleep, I woke up to sounds of crashing. It took a moment for me to realize that it was more than something just falling. I heard my Mom yelling, “If you want this house broken up, I'll break it up!” and then the sound of dishes hitting the floor. Stunned, I made my way out of bed and opened my bedroom door which led right into the wide open kitchen. There stood Ma with the cupboard doors open grabbing dishes out and smashing them full force onto the linoleum floor. With my mouth wide open in shock I listened and somehow made out the words that she was saying. It seemed Ma had called around to the bars looking for him because he was late and she found him in a drunken stupor. He found his way home later and then told her that he was seeing another woman. That's when the shit hit the fan and the dishes started flying. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I don't even remember where Dad was standing while Ma was losing her mind. I had lost my own with the shock of it all. It happened so fast and there was no warning. I just stood and listened in total disbelief and tuned most of it out. I only heard Dad say something about loving someone else and that he was going to get a divorce. Ma grabbed a butcher knife out of it's holder on the wall near the back door and started chasing him around the small table in the center of the kitchen. Scared out of my mind, I ran screaming to her, “Mom, Mom, don't please don't. MOM!!!” I put myself between the two of them and begged them to stop. I don't remember much else except he left and, Ma paced the floor, and I hugged her and cried. While I was trying to figure out what it all meant, Ma was probably wondering what was going to happen. All the things that run through your head when you discover infidelity. Who is the other woman? How old is she? What does she look like? Where did he meet her? How long has it been going on? How serious is it? Is he going to leave? What will I do if he does? A million things must have been racing through her head. There were no tears. I would imagine the idea of grieving wasn't even close to her thoughts. At the time she was only filled with rage and questions. Whatever she was thinking, she was holding it in….for now. I found myself trying to comfort and hold her rather than her assuring me that everything would be alright. Once I went back to bed, my own questions started showing up. What did he mean he loves someone else? What did he mean he wanted a divorce? Was he really going to move out? Would he really leave me? Where would that leave me with him? What would we do if he moved out? Ma didn't drive and had no job. How could he do this to my Mom? Was this just a bad dream? I drifted off a bit before the alarm clock rang and it was time to get up and get ready for the school bus to take me to school.
The rest of my childhood is spotted with blurs. I only remember bits and pieces. Dad didn't change his mind. He didn't stop seeing the woman. He continued to stay out late and come home half baked or not at all. Suddenly Ma was smoking cigarettes one right after the other. And she paced the floor. And I was looking for an escape from all the sorrow and madness. Ma finally found out who the woman was when she got on the phone one night and spoke with Ma while she was with Dad. I don't know what was said but I do know Ma was yelling. And finally we at least knew something about her. Her name was Josie Boser. She was a bartender in Pierz where Dad hung out trying to sell cars. Evidentially there must have been a lot of slow nights. What was worse was that she was only twenty one years old, making her thirty years younger than my Dad! How could he?! I imagine that was an even bigger blow to Ma as she wondered how she was going to compete with someone who was little more than a kid. My heart was broken for my Mom. She was the best mother in the world and didn't deserve what was happening to her. I felt overwhelming anger at Dad but also my nerves were shot and my own heart felt broken. I was Daddy's little girl. He was the one I cried for before I could walk. He rocked me to sleep in his big red rocker every night and carried me to bed. And I sleepily kneeled in front of him on my bed to say night time prayers before he tucked me in. He taught me to ride a bike, to swing a baseball bat, to bait a hook so I could fish, spoiled me rotten with anything I ever wanted and a million other things. There were pictures all over of me on his lap or standing beside him with my little hand wrapped around his index finger. He was my everything and suddenly I had been left behind. Ma and me both. It was beyond devastation.
One of the things I would do to escape was to go to the Catholic church two miles away, often walking. The church had a separate building where catechism was taught on Saturday mornings but it also housed an indoor basket-ball court that served as a roller rink on Friday nights. The local kids would rent skates and play crack the whip or skate to rock and roll music. I went to be with friends and get away from the madness. It wasn't long before I met a whole new group of friends. The guys dressed like the the "bad" boys from Grease. They were wild, smoked and drank beer. They had cars and were cute. They came from the nearby small townships of Lastrup and Harding which was closer to Pierz and where my Dad seemed to be spending all of his time now. So I took up drinking and smoking and making out with guys. I hadn't been successful in getting an “in” with my high school's clique so I gave up but still had fun with them during classes. I was still the class clown, a gift I had brought with me from the little one room school I attended in elementary. The kids at school in Onamia dressed in a fashion known as “Baldies.” Today they would be called preppies. The one's whose family had some money. There were Baldies and Greasers. I dressed preppie but still never felt like I fit in. The Greasers on the other hand wore pointed black boots that zipped up in the back or side, black jeans, leather jackets and the guys wore their hair slicked with grease. They all had 56 or 57 Chevy's and a girl beside them with their arm around coppin' a feel with one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. Attracted to the under current of danger and the ready acceptance I received from the gang, I opted to start running with the Greasers. Not only did they drink beer but they had access to hard alcohol and it didn't take long before I was chugging down Vodka and Whiskey, Slow Gin and Peppermint Schnapps straight out of the bottle and puking my brains out on some dark deserted highway along side the car. But I had fun. I had new girlfriends to hang out with and fun with the guys and still the class clown, would do just about anything crazy to get attention and approval.
One night I got the brilliant idea to have my friends drive me into Pierz. I was pretty buzzed and wanted to go find my Dad in the bar he was hangin' in with his hussy. So off we went and I half staggered my way into the bar, which also served full dinners and there sat my Dad at the counter. I stood at the entrance and warbled out my slur, “Hey DAD!” He and everyone else in the room turned to look. “Hi ya Dad…I just am out wiff my friends and thought I'd stop in ta see ya.” It didn't take him long to figure out I'd been drinking and he said as much. “Oh, don't wurreee Dad…I'm shober. Look! I'll walk a shhtraight line for ya.” And I managed to put one foot in front of the other all the way up to the stool he was sitting on. I asked where Josie was because I wanted to meet her and he introduced me to a gal behind the counter that was ugly as sin compared to my Mama and had hips as wide as the door I'd just slung my way through. I thought to myself right then and there, `This ain't gonna last!! She ain't half as good as Ma.' But I kept my mouth shut. I wasn't interested in her. I was interested in getting my Dad's attention. And I succeeded. Josie's sister Irene happened to be there as well and she was the same age as me. Josie introduced me to her and suggested that Irene go hang out with me. I was reluctant but in the back of my mind, I thought why not? If I stay close to this Bozo and her sister, I can stay close to my Dad and that was all that really mattered to me at the time. And so showing him I could walk a straight line again, off I went out the door, Irene behind me laughing. I thought well if he can drink, so can I!
Things started getting a bit twisted then. Unbeknownst to Ma, I started hanging out with Irene, staying over night at her house with Josie sleeping downstairs. Ma just knew I was staying overnight at a girlfriends and she never really pressed to know my exact where-abouts. I imagine her mind was full trying to figure out where her husband was and what his next move was going to be. Irene and I got hammered a few times and she introduced to me all the cute guys in Pierz. We double dated at the movies a couple of times and then one night Josie came into the bedroom to try to hang out for a little bit. She told me that she loved my Dad and that they were going to get married and that if I wanted to come live with them, that it would be great. I could have my friends over for cokes and hang out etc. She really tried to paint a nice picture. It was then that I kind of woke up out of my alcohol fog and realized what I had been doing. Sleeping at the enemy's house just because I was trying to win my Dad back, not only for myself, but for my Mom; for our family. The gamut of emotions that filled me in that moment were unbelievable. I was filled with horrific guilt for betraying my Mom by allowing myself to interact with this whore of a woman, and I felt rage and sheer hatred for her for destroying our lives. I told her I would think about it but couldn't wait for the night to end and come morning high tale my ass back home and confess to Ma where I'd been.
Ma forgave me because that's the kind of woman she was. Hell, she would have probably forgiven Dad had he stopped cheating and came home and asked. She wouldn't have forgotten, but she would have forgiven. He didn't though. He continued to stay out at night, sometimes not coming home, but he didn't move out. He didn't file for divorce either, leaving Ma and her life up in the air. She finally had to have someone to talk to and really didn't have any friends. She pretty much wrapped her life up in her home and family. So she broke down and called my mother Patty in Los Angeles and told her what was going on. Patty was furious to say the least and stayed in touch with Ma often to find out what was going on. She planted the seed in Ma's head that maybe she should start putting money aside and move out to California. Patty said she would take care of her and me. But Ma was a typical Taurus. They planted their feet and stayed rooted to their homes. She had helped build this house from the ground up when her own kids were little when it was nothing more than a one room cabin. She pounded nails and carried lumber as they added on to the house over the years, eventually making it big enough for my brother and I to remain living with them and have our own rooms. She had her own belongings in the house that she had hand picked out and decorated herself. The last thing she wanted to do was to uproot and especially to the uncertainty two thousand miles away. But her life at home was filled with just as much uncertainty at the moment.
Still trying to subconsciously run away from it all, I kept running with the wild crowd. New people from Minneapolis bought the empty cabin through a small patch of woods to the north of our house in the fall of 1965. The following spring I spotted a girl around my own age. Hungry for friends that were nearby I was quick to go over and introduce myself to Cindy McDermott. She was a shy nice girl whose grandparents had bought the cabin and like me had raised her. But hers hadn't adopted her like mine had. It was common ground for us right from the beginning. McDermott verses O'Brien, both raised by grandparents calling them Mom and Dad and both Catholic. I invited her to go to the roller rink and she accepted. We really got along well but she learned soon that I had “undesirable” friends. She was a good kid and worried a lot about getting in trouble, but in the end I corrupted her and she was smoking and drinking with my friends. She didn't drink much at first, afraid of getting caught by her folks and being in trouble but she smoked and had a beer or two and hung out with us. As time went on we almost always stayed over night at each others place when she was up from the cities for the weekend or during the summer. But mostly she stayed at my house. There was a small shack house on our property that had a twin cot, a small closet, a small old wood burning stove and my Dad's ham radio equipment in it. But it was big enough for us to sleep in and listen to our vinyl records. It was also big enough for us to sneak boys in late at night and hide them in the closet if we thought my parents were coming. From time to time we got grounded for coming home late but Cindy and I rigged up two cans with string and dragged it through the patch of woods a good hundred and fifty yards and actually got them to work! So we talked through the cans when we couldn't be together planning our next escapade or talking about the boys we had crushes on. But mostly it was Cindy telling me what I did while drunk on my ass the night before and us laughing ourselves sick!
Meanwhile Mom was trying to be creative at winning her husband back. She actually invited Josie to the house for dinner. To say I felt bewilderment at the thought would be an understatement. I thought she had really lost her mind but she said, “If they are in the house together, then at least I know where he is.” I couldn't stand the thought of that whore in our house but stayed home for dinner to see what would happen. The conversation of course is a blur in my mind today, but I remember clear as a bell that she was playing footsie with my Dad under the table and I felt like I was going to puke. Dad had become a real boozer now that he was messin' around with Josie so there was a case of beer in the kitchen and all three were drinking around the dining room table. Completely disgusted with the scenario, I helped myself to as many bottles as I could down, hoping there wouldn't be enough for anyone to get drunk and cause a scene. I was the only one who got drunk and passed out in my bed. I was so unhappy about my home life that I started sneaking into the cupboard where they kept the hard liquor. There were several bottles in there, including gin, vodka, whiskey and Ma's favorite Apricot Brandy. I found and took a small flask and took it to school hiding it in my locker. During recess, I would grab it and go into the bathroom and take a few drinks. Needless to say between boys and home life stress, my grades dropped dramatically. I was always in trouble but still only for being a class clown. I never acted out my anger. I had stuffed it down so far that I didn't even know how much I really felt. I just became funnier and funnier doing crazy things that from time to time got me suspended for a day or two. And a few times I ditched school altogether with a girl named Brenda Beaulieu who was a Chippewa Indian from the reservation and a very intimidating mean girl. But we were friends and she had a car so we skipped school and went driving and drinking. I wasn't much good as a liar because once she drove me to pick up a blonde haired, blue eyed boy I liked in the town of Garrison and all three of us hung out until I knew I should get home. She was driving me home when all of a sudden we hear honking behind us. Lo and behold it was Ma and Dad and I about shit twinkies! We kept driving and he kept honking waving his arms for us to pull over until I told Brenda she better stop. We pulled off the side of the dirt road and got out. I introduced Brenda as my friend and the guy as her brother. Nothin' like trying to pass off a full blooded Chippewa girl and a blonde/blue eyed guy as brother and sister! So much for my attempt to cover-up! Grounded again! Grounded really meant nothing because Dad was never home to enforce it and Ma was so stressed over her cheatin' husband that all I had to do was whine about how something special was happening and could I be grounded “next week” instead and she always gave in. I would do that over and over and “next week” never ever came.
One night I came home fairly sober for a change and found Ma in the living room on the fold out couch where Dad would normally sleep. She was in her pastel blue silk long nightgown stretched out and moaning. It didn't take long to realize she was passed out drunk. I went to the cupboard and the Apricot brandy and half the bottle of whiskey were gone. Before I could turn around she started vomiting in the bed. I was only fourteen years old and there lay my sweet Mama puking up chunks of hamburger dinner all over the bed and her nightgown. My heart was broken to see her like that. I sat her up and pulled off her gown and stripped the sheets off the bed and got her cleaned up and in a new nightgown just as my Dad showed up. He walked in and saw what was going on and started to make an attempt to help. It was more than I could bear as I lifted her up and carried her in to her own room and bed. I looked back over my shoulder and yelled, “I hate you….I HATE YOU!!” When I woke up the next morning, he had left for work……….or someplace unknown.
I never quite understood Ma's thinking but there must have been a method to her madness. Realizing she couldn't keep asking the enemy over for dinner, she finally demanded that Dad take her along one night and I decided to go along to watch what would happen. We drove into Lastrup, a little four corner town and there at the bar sat the big fat ho that had destroyed our family. My Mama who had always been a classy woman bellied up to the bar with them and in disgust and confusion I went with Josie's sister Irene into Pierz to drink and hang out with the friends I made there. These guys weren't my true friends. My true gang was from Harding but I had spread myself thin trying to balance out being there for Ma and running with my own group. I hitched a ride later that night back to Lastrup where I was dropped off at the same cheesy bar. I walked in to this dingy tavern and heard Strangers In the Night playing. I imagine either Dad or Josie put the dime in the juke box for that one. All three were pretty drunk and when it was time to leave Dad asked me to drive. I freaked out because I had never driven a car before much less have a license but it was obvious that none of them could. So Ma climbed in the front passenger seat, and Dad and Josie got in back. I chugged along taking a side country road hoping no sheriff would catch me behind the wheel. Josie was slurring her words and becoming more and more hostile towards my father. She started screaming at him for letting me drive saying “You never let me drive your car.” It was a sign of jealousy that I was getting something she wasn't. Perhaps that really was a sign of an under-current with respect to the fact that Dad had not yet left his family to start a life with her. As the argument escalated in the back seat my hatred and rage for her escalated as well. Finally my Dad yelled for me to pull over. I pulled off to the shoulder and the two of them got out and continued their battle. Sick of it all I got out to stand up for my father and got pushed by Josie down into the ditch. I fought back like a wild animal until she bashed me in the head with a rock. Dad stepped in at that point and punched her in the face knocking her false teeth out. Drunk and enraged she crawled under the car and kept screaming for someone to run her over. I scrambled up the hill and got behind the wheel and was about to oblige her when my Mom started screaming, “JEAN! DON'T DO IT!! YOU'LL GO TO JAIL!!!” And I screamed back, “I DON'T CARE! I HATE HER GUTS! SHE'S RUINED OUR LIFE. I WANT TO RUN HER OVER!!” But Ma kept talking to me until I calmed down enough to put the car back into park and take my foot off the pedal. Nothing would have made me happier though then to crush this woman to death under the wheels of the family car. Life continued and I continued to run with my friends and drink. I came close many times to being promiscuous but could only manage heavy making out and petting. Mom made a habit of drilling into my head how bad, wrong and painful sex was. And more than likely just to scare me so I wouldn't get pregnant she threw in, “And when-ever you do have sex, it's ten times more painful to have a baby.” So I could be close to passing out from too much alcohol and would come to just in time to say no. Her drill tactics caused me to be sexually dysfunctional for the rest of my life so I guess you could say she succeeded and then some. By 1967 it was well known that Harriett O'Brien had a “chippy chasing” husband. It was the talk of the neighboring farms and single family homes alike. It was the talk of Lastrup, Pierz and Little Falls where everyone knew my Dad when he was a salesman at Theilen Ford until Ted Theilen started selling Chevrolets. Then Dad went into partnership with a friend and opened Lighthouse Ford which sat at the south end of the main drag in the town.
Aunt June and Uncle Pete were still living in Milwaukee so were too far away to be of any help to Ma. Aunt June, who had been a Daddy's girl too when growning up, now hated her father just the same as me. Uncle Dan and Aunt Mary lived in Minneapolis a hundred miles south and were very busy with work and raising a family but Uncle Dan was broken hearted that his Dad would be such an asshole to his mother. And Patty continued to push Ma to pack up some things and bring me with to California. Ma's Aunt Kate lived in Minneapolis and decided to come up to the lake and spend a week. She too knew what was going on and came to be of moral support for Ma. Aunt Kate was a tiny woman and older and it was the only time in my life I remember seeing her. She stayed in my room while I slept in bed with Ma. Ma got the idea to invite Josie back over for dinner again so her Aunt could check her out and I'll be damned if Dad didn't have the nerve to bring her! Naturally the kitchen table was full of cases of beer and they even hit the bottles of hard stuff in the cupboard that night. I, as usual, would sneak into the kitchen and grab some beer and go off and drink it somewhere. The hard alcohol must have set off a bigger chain of violence as Ma and Josie got into an enormous argument with Ma spewing accusations at her of “being a tramp and a whore who would screw someone's husband,” and Josie firing back, “Why don't you give it up old woman? He's mine now!” Huge disappointment and anger filled me when Dad sided with her instead of Ma. I turned my back for a minute and missed the actual punch, but Dad took a shot at Ma and punched her right in the eye. Aunt Kate ran and hid in my bedroom. It was momentary chaos in the kitchen and I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, shoving Dad as I screamed in horrified panic, “STOP IT….GET OUT, GEEEET OUUUUT OF THIS HOUSE!!” My comment was meant for Josie but Dad and Josie both left in his car and I looked at Ma and her face was severely bruised. I cried and cried in anger and pain and worry. I got her a cloth with some ice and then she told me to call the Sherwood's across the road. Lawrence Sherwood came and drove Ma to Little Falls where she stayed overnight in the hospital. They took pictures of her face and the shiner she had on her right eye but she refused to have him put in jail. He stayed away for a few days until he called one night and said he'd been in an accident. He was okay and the car had some damage but what I found more interesting was A) He called Ma. Why? Was it because when it came right down to it he still loved her? And B) Ma had always kept a cloth Aunt Jemima doll and a pin cushion on top the fridge. One day I noticed the stick pins sticking out of the doll and asked Ma why. She said, “I've put a hex on your father and that woman.” Ma and I had that conversation just two weeks before Dad had the accident. That was pretty spooky. It would be years later before I learned it was a form of black magic. You might be wondering why I am sharing all of these stories with you. It's because they are part of my life. A huge part, that shaped me and how I lived later. Because they were the beginning of a life filled with chaos that I could remember. I couldn't remember the chaos during Patty's pregnancy with me or those first six months in Milwaukee. But I could remember these years and how it was me trying to take care of and comfort Ma, rather than the other way around. After Dad smashed Ma in the face, I think she finally decided we should go to California and stay with Patty. It was obvious to her that this time Dad wasn't going to give up the woman and she had no way to support herself and me or get around when she needed to.
One would think that someone would have thrown in the towel but they didn't. Why Dad just didn't up and leave I don't know. Ma was trapped. It must have been a horrible feeling to be fifteen miles from the nearest town, without a car, not even knowing how to drive and living with the fact you couldn't stop your husband's affair. But Ma, God love her, tried everything there was. We went on what would be our last “family” vacation camping. Ma invited Josie to come with us for Gods' sakes! and she came!!! What a fricking disaster that was! We were camping in Devils Tower Wyoming when Dad and Josie went to shower and Mom looked through someone's suitcase. She found naked polaroids of Josie taken with Dad's camera. Craziness ensued and we quickly packed up and had to drive together through South Dakota and half of Minnesota. This is all another blur to me, surely from the shock I must have suffered at the time. I cannot tell you anything more that happened but they should have all be locked up in the loony bin at this point! After careful and I'm sure quite painful thought, Ma told Dad that she and I were going to Inglewood California to stay with Pat in the spring. For me that made 1967 a colder winter than any snow that came.
I was as sad as could be that winter. I stared out my window taking in every naked branch on every tree, and thinking back on my young life and memories. How did this happen? This was my home!! I didn't want to leave here. I didn't want to leave my friends. Yes, California was a nice place to visit with the ocean and the palm trees and warm weather but it wasn't home! And Cindy was my best friend and didn't come up north to the cabin much in the winter. I had to tell her by writing her a letter. I asked if I could stay with her and her folks or if she knew any place where I could stay. I would have rather run away from home than go to California. The next few months were a blur until I saw Ma packing boxes. It made me face reality and I hated it. I was devastated. I lie on my bed and stared at my room and counted all the knots in the knotty pine walls. I walked the house staring at everything and roamed the yard trying hard to engrave every inch of every piece of every thing into my mind. Dad was going to have to drive us to California. He had lost face in all the neighboring counties as everyone thought he was a louse for screwing around on his wife and they wouldn't buy a car from him. He just wanted us to load up enough things to fit in the trunk and in the camper trailer. This gave me hope and made the idea of moving seem more like a mini vacation because I was sure that once we got away from “her” things would get back to normal so we could come back home. But just incase I wanted to give my friends things to remember me by. I gave away all of my record collection which included every Beatles single there was to my closest friends. I smacked myself in the derriere about that about 20 years later but was glad I had kept their albums! But at the time I felt like I was giving a piece of myself to those closest to me by giving something that was in my room, on my wall, on my dresser. I wanted them to have something that was a part of my life and where I lived that life. While we packed our clothes I packed the Beatles albums, my record player, my high school year books, and the small soft Norwegian doll that my grandparents on the Lund side had given me for my birthday one year. I also took the ballerina jewelry box that Patty's boyfriend Sidney had given me.
The spring of 1968 came and the plans to move came into frutation. Ma finished packing up boxes of belongings and filled the little Jayco pop up trailer. The snow had melted and winter's dark death had been reborn by way of the leaves turning green and the birds and squirrels dancing on the grass. The red winged blackbirds could be heard singing in the marshes beside the deserted highway. When the day came to leave, I had an emptiness overcome me like I'd never felt before. Not even like when I was little and would scream and cry when Dad left for work. Not even like when my real Mom left after visiting. Not even like when my one and only dog, Butch was shot and killed by a local farmer or when the chipmunk I caught in a trap died from fright before I could let it go. My heart felt like it had been yanked out completely leaving the hollowest space I'd ever known. I wandered the outside, going down to the shore in the front yard, watching the ripples on the still lake where the fish took their breath. I gazed across the water to the cabins in the clearings with thick trees on either side. I remembered the buzz of summers when the speed boats were roaring pulling skiers and children's laughter on the docks of the cabins to the north. I visualized all the summer storms that darkened the skies and the rainbows that ended on the far shores. I saw little Jean stuffed in winter clothing, wearing a heavy coat and ski mask waddling out over frozen water to the ice house or to fetch her sled that landed nearby. It sounds silly but every blade of grass meant something to me. I circled the house and stood on the big gray rock where I had played when I was younger, conquering anyone imaginary who tried to threaten the land that belonged to me. As I walked that walk I felt death and through survival instinct only, kept repeating to myself that we'd be back. When the time came, my mother, father and I got in the car and backed away from the house heading down the dirt road driveway to the highway. I can't imagine what Ma was going through. I don't think I gave her feelings much thought back then. But at sixteen years old, as if going through puberty wasn't enough, I was now being taken against my will to a land that may as well have been a planet away. Still to this day, I can recall without faltering, the left hand turn out on to the highway as we headed south. From the moment we made that turn, my head turned back out the rear window and I watched the house fade until all that was visible was the garage near the highway. I bore my eyes into the garage and everything that surrounded it as we made the assent over the hill where I finally lost sight. I felt like I was going to puke.