My sister, Pati, has been text bombing me with memories of our childhood in Colorado.
Around 1964 our parents moved us to the boonies. Erie, Colorado was a small town which was hard to get to from the highway. Now it is no longer the boonies and has easy access from Interstate 25.
The long dirt road that lead to the few acres our dad purchased for our trailer house holds many memories. Now those memories are buried beneath a blacktop road.
Our neighbors included a family with a teenage daughter and adolescent son, along with their parents. The girl’s father would have a conniption fit when Pati and I would visit the daughter. We, Pati and I, were filthy little mongrels.
Hygiene, personal or otherwise, was something we were not familiar with. Our hair got combed only when our mother was home from one of her frequent admissions to the mental hospital in Denver. Bathing was not something we did.
Two little girls with matted hair, dirt encrusted toes, dried mud on arms and legs. Me stinking of urine because I was a bed wetter, and the both of us seeking food from anyone that would talk to us.
I was a truant. With little to no adult supervision I would tell Pati I was not going to school. The bus stop was a long walk down several dirt roads. During the winter months that trek was akin to walking 100 miles. Ragged coats that were too small for either of us left us shivering in the cold morning air as we waited for the bus. Shoes too small for our growing feet had big holes in the soles that soon filled with wet slush, soaking our socks making my toes feel like they would freeze and pop off like toe-cicles.
Being in the warmth of our trailer was far more desirable to me than going to school.
Our dad was a brick layer. He would leave in the mornings long before the sun came up and be home long after the sun went down.
Bread was a tantalizing sight. Pati and I were under strict orders to not eat it because it was for his lunch. Tiny cans of “Deviled Meat” was slathered on the bread as he made his lunches. Pati and I watched as he packed his lunch bucket each night. He would make coffee in the mornings and fill his thermos after he had his morning cup with a couple of unfiltered cigarettes.
When we woke up in the mornings Pati and I would root through the trash can for the treasure of a nearly empty Deviled meat can. Each of us swiping a finger around the sides and bottom of the can then suck the goodness off. Some days the can held coffee grounds, cigarette butts and ashes, potato peelings, and other trash. We’d pick it out then fight over who got to get the first lick.
All the food in the house had to be cooked. Neither Pati nor I were brave enough to figure out how to use the stove. After the butt whippings we got for being close to the knobs and hollered at about burning down the house because of a careless or selfish act we steered clear of that device. Our dad, when he was home, would do the cooking.
Pati and I tried every combination we could think of to make raw potatoes taste good. Rolling them in sugar, sprinkling salt and pepper on them, slathering a coat of Miracle Whip over the top, even liberally smearing butter over the raw potato. Nothing made that potato taste good. It did, however, make the gnawing and noisy bellies quiet for a bit.
Saltine crackers were the next food item we would attack. Unlike the potatoes located within our reach, the crackers were put up high in the cupboard which called for a bit of climbing. Pati would push a chair up to the sink counter, climb atop the chair then step up on the counter. The crackers were above the fearsome stove. She would delicately place one foot between the burners. Touching the surface with a toe then quickly jerk it back just in case the stove was hot.
I’d get a heel in the mouth sometimes after one of her jerks. A split lip, blood dripping down on the dress I had worn for that entire month, or longer, and a fight would break out. Me slapping the back of the offending leg, her kicking out at me ever more energetically. She hanging onto the cupboard door knobs and trying to keep her balance as the doors swung open then hastily closed with a bang.
The fights were vicious. Name calling. Slapping, kicking, and then hurling objects at each other that were within reach and sure to land a stinging blow.
Things would degenerate from there. Pati would hop down on the chair while I was distracted by a growing goose egg on my head from a ceramic bowl she took out of the cupboard and fired at my head.
Pati would leap from the chair and wrap her scrawny legs around my waist and she would commence pounding her fists about my head and ears. Trying to pry her off if me was next to impossible to I’d slap her with an open hand anywhere I could leaving stinging red welts on her legs.
We’d end up rolling around the floor with clumps of dried mud brought in by our dad’s boots and left there. All the while slapping and punching each other. Calling each other names and vowing we hated one another, wishing the other dead.
Pati and I were locked in a battle of survival. For food to sustain us. We loved each other and hated each other. We were fierce and angry little girls.
Today, as grown women, we are learning to love each other for who we are now. We are amazed that we survived our childhood.
Being placed in foster homes didn’t change much for us. At least we had food. Later we would be taught personal hygiene.
Ghosts from the past still haunt us.