August 31, 2018

I was a "Juvenile Delinquent"

Usually, when my siblings and I were called home from playing in the neighborhood we'd hear the plaintiff drawn out calling: C O O N N N I E E  D E B B B B I E E and so on. The parents never searched the street for their kids - we knew when playtime was finished or we were called home for another reason - always singsong in inflection. The memory of the name "song" warms me - all the kids knew - "be home when the street lights come on" - common in the 1960s.

But one afternoon my father altered the singsong calling with me. My skin still pricks with the memory.

I loved trees … climbing them, hugging a special tree, kissing a favorite limb, sitting under a huge umbrella of autumn leaves - did I mention climbing? As a card holding Tomboy, climbing was my favorite activity - the higher the better.

One lazy, hot summer afternoon I was watching a ballgame at the local elementary school when a tree called my name. I swear it whistled at me.

The tree wasn't big but the limbs were delicious looking, attracting my attention. So, up I went. An o so gentle crack brought me to the ground. The lower limb had, as you can guess, broken.

A dark colored car was parked by the field and a man came out of the vehicle (much like a Twilight Zone mutant), approaching me. He claimed to be a "Juvenile Delinquent" officer and wanted my name, address, and threatened my shaking 10-year-old self.

I ran the couple blocks home but the car beat me and was parked in front. Being it was day time I knew my dad was home as he worked afternoons at the prison. So obviously, I continued running down the street to my "safe" place - a treehouse in a neighbor's yard. The slats in the house were wide open revealing everything and boy, saw my greatest fear heading my way.

"Connie" dad shouted. No plaintiff drawing out of my name. "Connie, come here - NOW!" Was that a belt in his hand? I wondered as he drew closer to me. I knew I was in very bad, very bad, trouble, and it would hurt. My fear was intense as I climbed down from the hut coming face-to-face with this very, very, very, angry parent who grabbed my arm and half yanked and dragged me home.

As we entered the house, I looked out front and "the car" was gone. Dad was livid, saying that he had the embarrassment of having this "officer" come to the house (telling on me), demanding payment for the ruined tree ($16), which now we didn't have for clothes and food. I was a "fool" and a juvenile delinquent - and the officer issued me a JD card (which I never saw) as proof.

To this day I don't recall if he whipped me (and also have no memory of ever getting whipped), but vividly remember his cutting words. 
I was never to climb another tree (right!) and was grounded for the next month.

In his defense, Dad was a veteran of World War II and also a survivor of "Shell Shock" as it was called then … now PTSD. He was unpredictable and easily angered, didn't like sudden loud noises, but also loved his seven kids and worked hard to raise us. But, at times, I was afraid of him. 

Why is it that certain words are burned into our very soul, perhaps changing us for the rest of our lives, coming back in dreams, thoughts, and family lore? In the "early days" parents didn't know the psychology and power of words. Some don't know even in these Dr. Phil days of confrontation and reconciliation.

My love of trees never changed, preferring the outdoors to indoors, sharing the woods with my children - trying to develop their love of nature. Tomboys and optimists are not easily deterred!

Do you have a memory of where words hurt you?

2 comments:

  1. Yes, I have memories of words, spoken to me as a child and as a teen, that changed me.....watermelon mouth (for talking too much and sharing a secret??) and obscenities that made me feel that I was a bad step daughter, woman, mother, person....spoken and written words stay in your mind....they are not easily forgotten. Thank you for sharing your story, Connie.

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  2. I think raising a parent is so difficult and feel for youth today in this struggle. I have never belittled my children (to my knowledge - but of course, even a small sentence spoken in anger can be toxic without us knowing). My dad was a good man but having great responsibility for 9 mouths to feed, ill health, and a war veteran - must have created monsters in his own life. Sorry about the hurt you experienced Kim Greve.

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