At a recent writing conference, I listened to an author relate why she felt motivated to write books about True Crime. As she spoke, I had flashbacks to a similar experience.
I was about 8 years of age, walking to school. My school was about five blocks from home, but I had walked by myself since I started school. All the kids did. Usually there were adults out doing errands, hanging wash, or otherwise engaged in outdoor activities. No one thought anything about allowing children the freedom to roam the neighborhood. I was headed home, and this time, I was alone.
As I was walking, a car pulled up beside me. “Hi,” he said. “Can you help me?” Being a good little child, wanting to help, I walked over to the car.
“I am lost. Can you tell me where is the Jaffa Mosque?”
I was standing a bit away from the car, and he called me over. “Could you come here? I want to show you something.”
I walked closer to the car and looked in. He was wearing a suit, a grey suit as I remember. Why that weird piece of information stuck in my 8-year-old head is beyond me. On his left leg, he had a white handkerchief, and on the handkerchief was something looking weird, and strange. It was spurting liquid as he stroked it.
“Can you get in the car, and take me to the Jaffa Mosque?” he said. As I looked at him, I backed away. I have no memory of what happened then. I suspect he rapidly drove off because someone approached. The author, at the conference, said she was saved because another car approached as the fellow was preparing to make a grab for her. She also backed away. However, unlike me, she was smart enough to memorize part of the license plate. Her report to the police resulted in the apprehension of her predator. He had killed six children previously, and she was to be his seventh. As for my predator, my guardian angel was working overtime.
Since I had never seen a penis, it did not occur to me this is what he showed me. It took many years of remembering to realize he was showing me a penis having an orgasm. I just remember weird fascination with this milky, whitish substance I saw.
Needless to say, the experience was memorable, as sixty years later I still recall it vividly.
This author, and I both agreed we hated receiving emails about the “good ole days.” You know the ones. The ones that tell you how innocent life was in the fifties. How innocent children were in the fifties. They tell you how mother stayed home with the children, and dad’s worked. Every home was a “Leave it to Beaver” paradise. And no one had to worry about children because molestation, and pedophiles did not exist.
I agree that I am very grateful I was raised when I was. I am grateful I had the freedom to roam the streets, and the woods. I had a private life no one, especially my parents, knew anything about. I left in the morning, and was gone until sunset. We played in the neighborhood, but we also roamed. I lived near a railroad yard, and we played inside of boxcars. We climbed boxcars. We hitchhiked on the trains driving between the Acme warehouse, and the meatpacking plant, where we watched them slaughtering cows. I collected eyeballs, and hearts for dissection in school. We climbed boxcars, walking across the tops of them. My friends had the courage to jump from one to the next. I could never manage to do so.
We climbed, and played in old abandoned warehouses across the street from where I lived. My mother came to the door one day, just in time to see me using a cable wire, we had found in side the building, as a repelling rope to come down the side of the building. Why she was so upset, I do not know. I was safe. I made it down. “You need to act like a lady?” she screamed at me later. “You need to stop playing with boys.” “huh???” I said to her. “Girls don’t do things like that.” “Oh!” I replied as I headed out the door to find my friends. “Girls are boring, and beside. I do not like to play with dolls.”
In many ways, this was an idyllic life. In many ways, it did fit those emails I receive, telling me how great the “good ole days” were. But there was a dark side. A dark side no one mentioned.
At twelve, one of my girlfriends was kidnapped, raped, and left behind the Acme warehouse wrapped in a sheet. The perpetrator was never caught. I am not even sure the police took it seriously. The gossip from the adults, I remember hearing blamed the child. “She probably did something to deserve it.”
I remember a case in the local courts, when I was about the same age. The woman had come to court to accuse a man of raping her. The prosecutor took a coke bottle, passing it back and forth in front of her. He asked her to stick her finger in the bottle. Of course, she could not do it. The prosecutor then said to the jury, “see no woman can be raped, unless she wants it.” Women are coke bottles; the woman must have lain still. She must have wanted it.” The man was found innocent of rape. The woman, probably permanently scarred for life.
At thirteen, my best friend was raped. The local minister from the church, across the street from her home, raped her. She was seeking a father, since she did know hers. Nancy would go to the church to talk to him. He was always warm, and welcoming to her, unlike her life at home. He made her feel loved, and cared for. She told me about him, and how she talked to him. She then told me what he did to her. She admitted she was afraid, as it had happened twice. I convinced her to talk with the people for whom she babysat, since she could not talk to her mother.
She did talk to them, and they tried to protect her. When they went to the police, they were told there were no witnesses, and they probably did not have a case. Nancy had told them about my being molested, so they came to my mother to convince her to let me testify. She refused. My parents were trying to protect me, in their own way. But I hated them for this, for years.
Meanwhile, the minister went to Nancy’s mother to talk. Convincing her mother Nancy was telling lies, he further convinced her mother to have Nancy committed to the local state mental institution where she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. I never saw her again. When she was released, she disappeared.
My parents remained convinced they had done the right thing, and besides, as they told me, it was my fault I was molested, and her fault she was raped. My mother called the preacher’s daughter over, after I had told them what happened to me. Mother spoke to his daughter, not to him, and in a very circumspect manner told her to tell her father to leave me alone. She was a very close friend of mine. We often hung out after school, at another friend’s house, watching American Bandstand, oohing and awing over the regulars, pretending we were there, as we danced. After this talk, with my mother, I never saw her again. The family moved not too long after, I understood, from his daughter, the family had been forced to move before because of the same reason. I lost another close friend.
When I was in junior high, and high school, I also walked back, and forth to school. Since I played in the orchestra, I had evening concerts to attend. I either took the bus, or I walked. My family did not own a car. Walking presented it’s own challenges. I Learned early how to be aware of my surroundings. We knew which houses were safe to run to, in case of being chased. We identified cars whenever they passed us, marking to see if the vehicle passed more than once. This let us know if we were being followed. Normally, when this happened, the driver would travel down the block for a bit, then stop, and get out to follow on foot. It was then time to run to the safety of a nearby house. Weird thing was, once it was felt the danger was passed, I was permitted to proceed on my own the rest of the way home.
Now one would think the school bus was a safe location. We rode the local buses often, and we became friendly with the bus drivers, always greeting them when we got on and off the bus. There was one driver named Charlie, who was particularly known for being a serious grouch. I always made a point of saying “Hello”, in the hopes of brightening his day. One day, as we reached the end of the line downtown, where I needed to change buses to go home, I started to get off the bus, and he had locked the bus doors.
Charlie started to come down the aisle towards me. I can still see him. His face was red and beefy, and he was salivating. He was breathing heavy, and his eyes looked weird. His body took up most of the aisles. Although I was a large girl, he outweighed me by at least 100 lbs., or so it looked. His face had morphed into pig like features with heavy jowls that shook. It also appeared to me he was salivating.
“Let me off the bus, “ I said, very emphatically.
“No, I am going to give you something to remember me by.”
“I want off this bus,” I stated again as he drew nearer. I was at the back of the bus, and by this time, he was about a third of the way towards me.
“If you do not let me off this bus, I will scream.” I drew a deep breath, filling my lungs and beginning to scream. Outside the bus were some people, and I hoped they would hear me.
“Alright, alright,” he yelled, “Just shut up, and I will let you off. “ He went back up front, and pulled the lever to open the doors.
When I arrived home, I did tell my mother about what happened. Looking at me, she said, “This is your fault, you are too friendly with men. Men are disgusting they only want one thing. It is your fault for talking to them. Stay away from them. Shame on you.” And we wonder why, it took years for me to work through these issues in therapy.
“The Good Ole Days” Eh?!?!?!? Before we refer to the fifties as the time of ideal living, let us remember there was much no one spoke about. Yes, police were friendly, as long as you were white, and not doing anything contrary. Police brutality was common, as were hangings and prejudice. My family, were immigrants to America. They came seeking a better life. They did find a good life for their children, but they also found prejudice.
I was raised during the McCarthy era in the USA. Teachers took loyalty oath to the United States. I had a teacher who explained to us one day in third grade, how anyone born in America was superior to anyone born in another country. Being the inquisitive child I was, I raised my hand.
“Teacher.” I said. “My parents were born in another country, and I was born here. Does this mean I am superior to my parents?”
She looked at me, and slowly said, “Yes, it does.” When I later told my mother she did not see it that way.
My sister was not allowed to join the Rainbow Girls, because her parents were both born abroad. The local chapter changed this ruling, due to the intervention of a high-ranking Mason. My sister then refused to join.
Prejudice, police brutality, racism and especially pedophiles were common but no one said anything. It was behind closed doors. Victim blaming was common. But today, with the advent of Internet and increased media, the public’s attention is immediately drawn to these events. I, for one, am grateful this has happened because it has eliminated, to some extent, the ability to “get away” with abusive behavior.
At the risk of being redundant, I repeat myself. I am grateful, I was raised during the fifties. Although difficult, I had one thing children do not have today, Freedom. We were able to roam, and we grew up independent. Although we ran into bad characters, we knew how to take care of ourselves. We were not coddled, and protected from reality. Every age has its difficulties, and this one seems to have brought significant fear. Maybe this is why we all want to look at the fifties as the “golden age,” the “good old days.” There were parts of it that were good but there were parts that were hell.” The golden beast had an underbelly of malice, and anger.
I write this to shine a light. We need this light to clean out the wrongs done to children. We need this light to clean out the wrongs done to us, as adults, when we were children. If we have a boil, we need to lance it, and then drain it, in order to heal. It looks worse before it finally heal. We are in a time when cruelty is coming to light. Many of us prefer to hide from, and to actively deny it ever happened. It will not go away. Change is at hand. If I am in a darkened room, and I hear what sounds like rattle snakes, shall I just turn my back in the hope they will simply slither away, or shall I shine a light so I know where they are, and therefore, protect myself from stepping on one accidentally. It is time for all of us to awaken, and to accept responsibility. As it is said, we cannot change the past, but we can learn its lessons to change our future, and to make a better world for our children.
I showed the above piece to a close friend of mine, and he wrote this response. Thank you Jay, for allowing me to share this with all of our readers.
An Insight About Insights
by Jay Kendall
It’s amazing how an experience can alter our perspective—how it can open our eyes and change the way we see the world. And by telling about it, writing about it, we help others become aware. We bring things to light. We are all teachers pointing out and saying, Look. Hoping they will see and understand.
But the fact that we can see and understand is in itself important, because that awareness changes the energy. Have you ever been with a group of people who are trying to solve a problem, and no one grasps or sees the merit in your idea? Then a few minutes later, someone else presents the same plan or idea, as though it’s an original thought, and that person is praised and credited with the solution.
And no one remembers that you had anything at all to say about the issue. If you try to take the credit, you’ll be seen as a pariah. But if we have the presence of mind to step away, we appreciate that the idea, the awareness, is what has importance, not us. We are the conduits, channels of energy—like lightning rods. The role of the teacher is to convey the thought—to provide the spark that will light the lamp.