Friday, June 12, 2015

Turning Point

I wouldn't be twelve until June. But the Ruskin Heights tornado and all which followed that week made me grow up fast. Mother was focused on Dad and his grief and loss. And I was left in charge of my five month old sister and my not quite ten year old brother with Aunt Amy.

I had not a clue about baby schedules and what Aunt Amy once knew she seemed to have forgotten. Mother's schedule with funeral directors, etc. caused Debbie to be weened fast. Aunt Amy and I puzzled over how to mix formula. She was the mother of my two high school aged cousins. Debbie showed an instant distaste for Gerber. Aunt Amy and I resorted to blenders. Amazing what you can blend up. To this day I can recall infinite detail about Aunt Amy and Uncle Bill's kitchen. It had windows all along one wall. I was happy in that kitchen mixing up baby food for my sister with my Aunt Amy while the other adults seemed to have vanished.

Uncle Bill, my mother's brother, and Amy's husband was a police detective.  Post tornado was a busy time. Nobody had second cars in those days, so Aunt Amy and Gary and I with Debbie in a stroller, would take walks to Swope Park and picnic or visit the zoo. She called the monkey's our cousins. It seemed to have no connection to the devastation at Grandma's block, and where her house had stood. Dad said it looked like what he had dropped bombs on during the war. Till that moment he had always been a pilot. I had never connected him to bombs.

Nor had I seen the would as dangerous. Now I knew it could wipe away houses and towns and people. And cousins were not safe unless they were monkey's in a cage. Or that Dad's cried or mothers weren't available when you needed them. Or babies were such a lot of work.

But what I remember most about that week of parading relatives was the death of my Great Uncle Judge. He was my favorite. And we got to have dinner at his house after the funeral of Grandma. He was his wonderful laughing self. Always bigger than life. I can still see him as he stood in front of the mantle. Whiskey tumbler in hand. Dad, with his own tumbler, was at the other side and they were swapping tales. I sat on the floor with my sleeping sister in my lap and worshiped them both as if they were wizards because they made me laugh.

The next day he was dead. Mother decided it was his funeral I could attend because it would be open casket. I was in a brat mood that day. I had been good for too long already. I had not told about Cousin Bruce, or that Aunt Amy and I missed a feeding for my sister, or that we were not using the formula, or that monkeys were our cousins, or mother was running a fever. But I was absolutely not accepting the rigid waxy figure in the coffin as my Uncle Judge. And said so. Out loud. In spite of him shushing me.

Nor was I happy they were putting the beautiful cherry wood and brass coffin in the ground. And when in the cemetery it dawned on me they had done the same with Grandma just a couple days before I protested. I was going to have nothing to do with this barbaric practice. And said so loudly. I grabbed my sister from her stroller and took off across the beautifully manicured memorial garden. Why are they called gardens?

Mother's fever was because of mastitis probably because of weening Debbie too fast. In the dead of night Dad took her to the emergency ward and I was convinced they were not coming back. Mother would always blame the infection  on Debbie kicking her when she tried to make her  nurse. And for the tumor which formed once we were home. And the subsequent cancer.

I just knew the world had once been puddle wonderful and now it was a dark and dangerous place.


  1. For the first time I am reading what actually happened. I knew about the tornado and the loss but never the details. A casket going into the ground is bad for an adult to watch, never mind a child. How very sad that certain events take away a childhood very, very quickly.

  2. Thanks for reposting. I missed this last year. Powerful piece of writing. I had no idea you went through so much so fast, so young. Did not know you were so much older than your sister. That is a similar relationship I had with mine, 8 years younger. No wonder you sre such an amazing strong woman now. Survive or else.


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