the son of a thief

This is part of a small series but it can also stand on its own. If you would like to catch up it would honor me, the first post is called Inconspicuous absence, the second the 4th of July, the third is called The sewing machine and the curio cabinet.

A year into middle school my Uncle died. He came home shitfaced one night, began yelling at everyone in sight, when he collapsed on the floor. A massive aneurism had gone to his brain. I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t elated at the news.

now that you’re caught up, here we go…

It was difficult for me to reconcile my feelings when my uncle died. I hate to say it, but yea…elated covers it. I was a mixed-up 13 year old kid and I lacked maturity. I was relieved that a man that I hated out of personal experience and a steadfast devotion to my father (and the truth) was gone. I was happy at the prospect of being able to see my cousin and hang out on Railroad Avenue again. Unfortunately, I had only considered my angle. My selfishness had clouded my judgment. I hadn’t considered how my cousin felt about it.

All of my cousins were devastated. To this day I struggle with reconciling how powerful the paternal bond is and how they could love a man like my Uncle. The comparison’s are easy, I just had to compare him to my own father. My Uncle was mean, violent, closed off and capable of some pretty white-trash shit; my father, who was not much better off financially, was kind, pleasant and a very decent man. That aside, my cousins were grieving. Little did I know that part of their grief would be to “dig in” on the lie. I would soon find out that I still wasn’t welcome on Railroad Ave.

I was the unwelcome son of a thief.

My mother had a theory, which she shared with me during a moment of despondence. Jealousy. My father, and this is not an opinion, was the only success story in the family. Margie married a poor man with little earning potential and remained in the poor home with uneven floors and plastic on the windows that she, Ellie and Dad grew up in. Ellie was destined to live with her parents forever. Dad, on the other hand joined the military, got a good job when he got out, married his high school sweetheart and bought a house. In support of her theory, she told me that we were regarded as “lucky”, and “the rich ones”. I found this amusing, we were stable and I never wanted for anything, but we were lower middle class at best.

I saw Mike at school. He took the loss of his father really hard and I left him to it. I don’t think he fully understood my contempt for his father and when he talked of him it was all I could do to put on a fake and sympathetic face. It was a tough time for me as well. I thought that once the Wicked Dick of the West was gone, everything would be great. That was not to be the case. Even if Mike welcomed my family on Railroad Ave, the rest of the family did not.

The sewing machine and the curio cabinet


This is part of a small series but it can also stand on its own. If you would like to catch up it would honor me, the first post is called Inconspicuous absence and the second the 4th of July.

Once it was determined that my drunk Uncle was not to be calmed down by anyone, I was grabbed by the arm and we quickly left. I had absolutely no idea what had happened but what I did know was that it wasn’t good.I certainly didn’t know that it would be the most formative moment of my childhood.

Now that you’re caught up, here we go.

The Sewing machine

Have you ever seen a TV show in which the scene is a car pulling away and all you see is a child in the rear view looking out the rear window in disbelief, exaggerated by hands in the window?
Well, that was me.
I had just been ripped out of one of my favorite places after watching my father get into a shouting match and endure an expletive-laden verbal onslaught over something that he was as confused about as I. Of course, he at least knew what the accusation was. I myself did not. Until mom sat me down.

My drunk uncle had accused my father of stealing a rare gold coin.

The whole thing was incomprehensible to me. There were two glaring improbabilities of this situation. First of all, my father was not a thief. Nobody would ever believe that. Additionally, I don’t believe that he ever had it. If he did, he would of drank or gambled it away. Yet, he pursued his campaign against my family with fury, vitriol and astounding longevity. It would be years of threats against us and his family should they betray him and have contact with us.

I felt awful for my father and I was angry on behalf of him. He was deeply hurt and it was hard for me to watch as he processed it. I was also sad that I had lost my childhood hangout and most important, I had lost access to my cousin Mike. It felt as if I had lost my best friend. To make it worse, I had no idea at that time how long it would go on or how bad it would get. What I did know was that my Uncle wasn’t letting it go. His anger and resentment would begin with forbidding his wife and kids from speaking to any of us, the punishment was explicitly clear. He would beat them. He threatened to kill my father. Months would turn into years and his anger never subsided. It would result in my father eventually filing a restraining order against my uncle.

A little about Uncle John. I have tried up to this point to write this as if my cousins were reading it. I want above all to be fair. In that vein, perhaps it is a little unfair to call him my “drunk uncle.” It would be more fair and accurate to call him “that drunk, wife-beating, child-abusing rapist piece of shit Uncle.”

A father of six, Johnny (John Jr), Debbie, Cindy, Greg, Laurie, and Mike, he was a controlling “I’m home, my dinner had better be on the table or there will be hell to pay” alpha asshole. The first anecdote to illustrate this that comes to mind is a story my mother once told me.

My mother is a gifted seamstress. Margie, after years of watching my mother make her own clothes finally asked her to teach her how to sew. My mother loaned her one of her many sewing machines to use. One fall afternoon, as they were at the table sewing, my uncle came home from work. After he stopped at the local watering hole first, of course. He had a pretty good glow on. He entered the kitchen, ignored my mother as he always did, and demanded to know where his dinner was. Margie politely and cautiously told him that she lost track of time and that she would get it in a minute. My uncle picked up the sewing machine in front of her and threw it across the room, shattering a curio cabinet and many of the curios within. Margie stood in horrified disbelief, my mother fled the house and quickly drove home.
It was no accident that the POS picked the curio cabinet as a target. It was a hand me down to Margie and it was dear to her. They were very poor, there weren’t a lot of nice things in the house. He meant to hurt her.
He succeeded.

This pales in comparison to the many beatings he gave her. It was also no surprise to find out later that he sexually abused at least two of his daughters on multiple occasions. I certainly remember the beating he gave Mike when he found out that he and I had secretly gotten together for a game of basketball. Mike shrugged it off. I was horrified.

It was the last time we got together until Middle school. My Uncle couldn’t do anything about that.

A year into middle school my Uncle died. He came home shitfaced one night, began yelling at everyone in sight, when he collapsed on the floor. A massive aneurism had gone to his brain.

I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t elated at the news.


The 4th of July

This is part 2 of a series. It can stand on it’s own or you can honor me by checking out yesterday’s post

Railroad Ave

My home town was incorporated in 1853 but the area was first settled in 1651. The building that is now the Town Hall has an enormous carved granite plaque on its walls dedicated to its founding fathers. My family is represented by 4 brave men, 3 of which died in the Civil War. Equally represented on the wall are the Smith’s (not their real names).

My family was always a presence in town, the Smith’s spread out all over Metropolitan Boston as aggressively as they proliferated in town. It was only inevitable that the two families would one day merge.

In the late 1940’s my Grandparents on my father’s side, along with a few cousins all moved to an uninhabited stretch of land along the abandoned Railroad tracks behind the Fire Station. It was an undesirable lot of land in many ways. On either side of the tracks was wetland that was prone to flooding every Spring. The ground was soft and needed to be fortified to build on. The insects were abominable in the summer. The Fire whistle on the nearby station was devastatingly loud. But the prospect of one family owning a whole street was attractive. Despite the family legacy of my family in town, we weren’t a family of wealth or influence. We were poor. 4 modest dwellings soon went up as 3 cousins I barely knew, and my Grandparents set up residence.

Railroad Avenue was born.

By the time I was born in 1965 my Grandparents had long since moved to the other side of town. Grandpa was forced into early retirement, sick with Emphysema from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. He wasn’t able to afford the maintenance of a house. Ellie, my father’s youngest sister moved with them and assumed the role of caretaker. Her other sister Margie took over the house with her new husband, my uncle John and would have 6 children. My father had moved out when he joined the Army in 1960.

My parents purchased a home barely 2 miles from Railroad Ave in 1964. Dad was an Oil Burner repair man/Oil delivery driver for a fuel company that coincidentally marked the entrance to Railroad Ave. He would work there until it closed in 1970. Until that point, my earliest memories consisted of my mom and I meeting him after work and walking down Railroad Ave where we would hang out with my cousins. It was a happy time for me, my earliest memories are of playing with my youngest cousin Mike, who was my age. Learning to ride a bike on the puddle-ridden dirt road of Railroad Ave remains one of my happiest moments. The many cheers of the large group of beloved family members still echo in my head. This would be indicative of most warm summer days of my childhood. Until July 4th, 1974 when it all came crashing down.

July 4th was a standing holiday on Railroad Ave. Despite being avid campers in the summer we were always there. Family and friends showed up with coolers of beer, armloads of food and enough fireworks to level the town. For nine-year old me, it was the best day of the year. We ran around like heathens, played wiffleball and watched the legendary horseshoe tournament that almost always came down to my dad and one of my older cousins.

On this particular 4th of July the horseshoe tournament was interrupted by my uncle John, who came tearing out of the house yelling for my father. When he located him, he pushed my dad and began screaming about how my dad “stole it.” When pressed for details and a rational explanation he continued to attempt to fight my father, who fended him off admirably. A shouting match ensued, sides were taken and the day was inexplicably ruined for all. Once it was determined that my drunk Uncle was not to be calmed down by anyone, I was grabbed by the arm and we quickly left. I had absolutely no idea what had happened but what I did know was that it wasn’t good.

I certainly didn’t know that it would be the most formative moment of my childhood.

Old Wounds

I sat with head bowed, choking back tears in the front row of the funeral home. My children were to my left, my wife on my right. She clutched my hand. As if the day wasn’t surreal enough, it was the first time she had even touched me in years. We listened intently as the minister patiently read the obituary to my father. I’m not sure why I was so moved by the words as he spoke…I wrote it. To everyone else in the room, including them, the words were fresh. I’d like to think the eulogy was good, the amount of tears falling gave me a good indication. One word I purposely and aggressively peppered into my dedication to my beloved father was honest. It had double significance on that day. It served as a theme and also as a great big message to them. It was my intention while writing it that my overuse of the word “honest” made them squirm in their goddamn seats.

Later, as I stood graveside in the cold rain of the early December day, people approached me one by one and wished me well in their own way. All had an account of Dad and told me brief anecdotes of the times he had made an impression on them. The crowd thinned as everyone went back to their lives, many of the cousins held back. One by one they approached me and said something encouraging about Dad. I barely spoke to them. I stared straight ahead and nodded solemnly.

The only thought echoing through my brain was still waiting for that apology.
I was being harsh, I knew it. I didn’t hate them. I didn’t even dislike them. They were family. And it was a long time ago. I was simply feeling the full and mighty wrath of decades of resentment bubbling to the surface over an incredibly formative moment in my childhood.  

How do I just let go of something that almost ruined my childhood and scarred my father, the most honest man I ever met, for life?