We didn’t move to Alaska from Los Angeles the August of my 6th birthday with coats suitable for an Alaskan winter, so my mother had to buy us all ones. The one she chose for me was an illogical choice in the first place, and a terrible set-up for trouble for me, though of course I didn’t know this at first and had to learn it the hard way.
I loved my first grade teacher, and to this day I have clear and vivid memories of my classroom. I remember the first time I saw it snowing. I ran to the window and put my face so close to the glass to watch that I steamed up the window and had to keep wiping a space so I could watch the millions of large snowflakes floating to the ground. My teacher let me stand there as long as I wanted to. I had never seen anything so beautiful.
We had to travel a long ways on a school bus morning and afternoon. I suppose that’s where I committed the unpardonable crime of getting the white fake fur ruffs on the sleeves of my new turquoise parka dirty. The coat also had a white fake fur band all around the bottom and had an attached hood lined with the white fake fur, too.
I was completely taken by surprise at my mother’s instant rage at me the day I first came home from school with the white no longer perfectly white. What I remember besides her screaming and beating me was that she moved a stool into the back laundry room off of the kitchen and made me climb up and sit there. She put the coat in the washing machine and then dried it.
(One large ‘section’ of my mother’s abuse of me, that was also connected to her litany, was her obsession that I was a ‘dirty child’. There were many terrible abuse scenarios surrounding this issue over the span of my childhood. Another large section of her abuse of me surrounded her obsession about me being a liar.)
Only she didn’t let me get off of it. I heard everyone talking, smelled dinner cooking, heard the family sitting down and eating it, heard the dishes being done, heard my sisters and brothers head to bed. Then my mother came back to me, still angry as she let me know I would be spending the night on the stool so I could think about what an ungrateful bad girl I was and so I would be sorry by morning. She let me know that I better not get off of that stoool no matter what.
I was hungry and tired and sad and scared, and I had to go to the bathroom but I didn’t dare leave that stool. In the morning after everyone had gotten up she told me to change my clothes and she had me go to school as usual. I had no idea HOW I had gotten that fake white fur dirty in the first place, so I had no idea how to keep it from happening again. From that time onward I never again played on the playground. I walked to the middle, stood still and waited for recesses to be over. I carefully held my arms tight at my sides when I got on the bus and off of it, and tried to be careful when I sat in my bus seat. I made sure I touched nothing that could get that white dirty, and it took all the focus of my just-turned-6 attention.
From Mother’s November 11, 1957 letter to her mother:
Linda is driving us crazy. Mom she’s a TOM BOY and acts as such at school. I’m determined for her not to wear levis to school (most do). But she ruins everything she wears: tears, holes, ground in dirt. She’s harder on clothes than John is! I don’t dare let her wear skirt you sent except to Sunday school! I’ve lectured, explained, preached and spanked. Well, she no longer lies – I’m thankful for that and is sweet and helpful in house but oh you should see her come home!
Her beautiful turquoise jacket and white fur is filthy. First day she ruined it, I washed it heartbroken (it’s a beauty and expensive) and made her wear old jacket for one week. Then let her wear it again – same thing – and always blames other children! I gave up.
Then I bought her a lovely pair of garbardine [sic] beige pants and plaid flannel – 5.00 and I need some myself as I only own levis (one pair). Yesterday she came home and two holes right through in knees. I never would’ve treated my clothes like that!
So levis for her!! And she doesn’t care! Why try?
Today I’m going to try to get refund on lay-a-way of her clothes to apply to others. It’s no use – we can’t afford to buy her things to ruin first day. Maybe when she’s older she’ll care!
Meanwhile oh how I need things. I don’t even have overshoes yet – whole family is outfitted and I have no winter coat even or wool slacks. I’m tired of it, believe me and Bill says nothing ‘til I have money. Meanwhile Linda ruins her clothes! ! ! !
Well, from now on I think more of myself and less for her! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Must close. Much love Mom and thanks a million for your letters. Give love to Cahills and next I write to Charlie. Give HIM my love Please!
P.S. Forgot to tell you she was crawling on cement on school pretending she was a dog! ?