short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Stabbings of Rollie

Development of self-worth was not a natural part of what passed for nurturing at our home. As the oldest and most defiant, I received perhaps the greatest number of beatings, but I did not receive the worst of them. That was reserved for Rollie, my younger brother, who was a happy-go-lucky, live-for-today fellow with my spirit of defiance when accosted. Rollie, as a teenager, could easily have dropped Ma to the floor but had sufficient residual respect for her role as a mother not to use his physical size to return the hurts she delivered to him. He mainly used words, but no words admitting being hurt ever slipped past his lips. Not even when he was stabbed twice, once by Ma and once by Dad. In both cases, he remained defiant.

I have a somewhat hazy memory of the first stabbing. It was not undertaken for any reasonable motive. Reasonable people don’t stab their children, so there could not be any good reason for doing so.

In any event, Ma stabbed Rollie in the buttocks for putting the hamburger planned for supper that evening in the roadside mailbox where no one could find it, something he did for spite for Ma’s beating him about something else. (Rollie, like me, could be spiteful; “don’t get mad, just get even” tended to be a modus operandi.) Realizing that she had drawn blood, Ma became even angrier, not at herself as one might think, but at Rollie.

“Look what you made me do to you! You bastard! Don’t you dare cry, or I’ll do it again. And don’t you dare tell, or I’ll do it again. This is all your fault. If you would behave, you would have no problems.”

None of us ever knew what “behave” meant. Ma’s expectations differed from moment to moment, depending on her mood.

“Go wash your hair, bitch,” Rollie retorted in defiance, referring to the fact that when Ma’s hair was dirty she was at her meanest. I often said the same to her, including using the word, bitch, or other equally pejorative label. Through example, she taught us a rich vocabulary of colorful epithets at a very early age. We never used them at school or in the community, but we had much practice listening to and using them at home.

“Don’t you tell me what to do,” she threw back at him. “I’ll show you who needs a hair washing!” And she grabbed him by the hair and pulled him to his knees. “Now, say you’re sorry. Beg me not to hurt you some more!”

“Hell, no, bitch,” he said. “You beg me to forgive you!” I understood Rollie. I would never beg or ask for mercy, either. Fighting back, not begging, was what kept our self-esteem intact.

Rollie twisted away, wrenching himself free from the hand that was holding him by the hair. “Hey, bitch,” he taunted her in defiance, “You want to try for the other side? I have two cheeks. You only got me in one!”

Of course, he did not wait for an answer. He took off running. She would not be able to catch him, and by the time he would return, she would either have washed her hair and mellowed or would have found another child to beat. This particular event, this stabbing, would be over. It was a completed disciplinary action.

Years later, Ma would not deny the stabbing but would try to justify it. “I did not stab him,” she told me in a conversation in 1998, “I hit him. I just forgot I had a knife in my hand.” As if hitting were all right!

Dad, too, had a moment of pure rage that left a permanent scar on Rollie’s body. It was the end of the summer, and we had just finished haying the lower field. Hardly anyone in our rural Maine farmland had the modern automatic haying equipment that bundles and ties hay into cubes or rolls. We had to do everything the old-fashioned way, which meant by hand and with people power.

Dad had been driving the tractor. Ma and we three older girls had been pitching into the wagon the made hay, i.e. mowed hay dried in the sun (hence the expression, to make hay while the sun shines). The three younger boys had been treading the hay and were now riding back to the barn in the hay wagon. We did not have a large hayfork that could be lowered from the upper story of the barn and mechanically sweep the hay through the upper story window into the hay loft. Instead, we had to drive the tractor into the barn and use pitchforks to pitch the hay up into the loft, forkful by forkful. It was a lot of hard, physical labor. The only ones big enough at the time to toss hay that far were Dad, Ma, and we girls.

We began tossing the hay. The boys were told to climb into the hayloft, take a pitchfork, and weave in the forkfuls that we threw up there. In order for hay to stay put in a hay loft it has to be interlaid, with bundles of shafts being “tied” into other bundles of shafts, in ways that parallel gathering hay from the field by pitching it into the hay wagon while someone walks around the wagon, intermixing the forkfuls of hay being thrown into it, in order to make it lie flat and not fall out. In farm parlance, this is called treading hay. Hay wagons with well tread hay can carry as much as double the size of the wagon. When hay is subsequently taken from the hay wagon by pitchfork and thrown into a loft, the intermixing of shafts breaks down and the hay has to be “re-tread,” so to speak, while being thrown into the loft.

Rollie, for some reason, could not keep up with the amount of hay coming in his direction. Without being tread into the mix fast enough, forkfuls kept falling back into the hay wagon. Dad was clearly at the end of his physical endurance. It took only a word from Ma to put an end to his emotional endurance, as well.

“He’s horsing around again, Bartholomew” she said to Dad. “I can’t do anything with that kid. Just get rid of him.” She was always talking about getting rid of one or another of us, I being the one she most frequently wanted to get rid of.

Unexpectedly, in a burst of rage, Dad threw his pitchfork into the hayloft. It was not clear whether he was angry with Ma for what she said because Dad really did love kids or whether he was out of patience with Rollie.

Regardless of what prompted Dad to throw the pitchfork, he did it. It went sailing through the air and, still with a good deal of force behind it, sliced through Rollie’s lower leg and nailed him to the floor of the hayloft. Rollie stood still, speechless, for a stunned moment, realizing that he was pierced and pinned.

We were all shocked, so much so that I don’t remember if Rollie said a word, if anyone said a word. Wordlessly, Dad climbed the built-in ladder to the hayloft and worked to free Rollie from the pitchfork. I don’t remember if Rollie screamed. I do remember Ma sending my younger sister, Danielle, scurrying for bandaging. Danielle became so good at the home care of wounds that it is no surprise that she is a top flight nurse today at a leading medical center. Danielle applied the bag balm, a wondrous salve that we used on the cattle when they had cuts and abrasions, and wrapped Rollie’s leg. No doctor ever saw what happened to Rollie, and it must only have been by the grace of God that his leg healed with no more damage than a scar as a reminder. None of us, though, needs a reminder.


This excerpt comes from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009), prior to copyediting and publication. The book is essentially my conversion story with all the gory and glorious details. It also contains stories about "The Burning House," the name that my brother-in-law William Smith (Danielle's husband) gave to the home where we grew up and to a poem he wrote about it. I would say that the images in the poem are quite accurate descriptions of the emotional state in which we lived with one exception: we did not perish but managed to escape, each in his or her own way, and have worked most of our lives both to help each other and also to do whatever we can to make the world around us a better place than the burning house where we grew up.

"The Burning House"
by William Smith
copyright 2009

I dreamed a dream of a burning house
With brothers and sisters and a cold bitter spouse.
The halls were all crooked, the doors were ajar.
I heard all their cries from the road in my car.

I put on the brakes and came to a stop
While an old jackrabbit went hippity hop.
I looked back again, and the house was ablaze.
The people inside just looked in a daze.

The curtains were tattered, the roof was not straight.
The hinges were knocked off the broken front gate.
The paint was all weathered, and the shutters hung loose.
A shadow on the barn door looked like a noose.

A kid outside shouted, "There's a fire there, you see".
But Mama kept screaming, "Come back here to me".
"No, I cannot, ‘cause your house is on fire".
But nobody listened as the flames grew still higher.

Once in a while a child would run out,
But Mama and Papa would just scream and shout.
The kid in the yard would utter a scream
As a child ran back in as if in a dream.

Soon the house burned right to the ground.
The kid in the yard made not a sound.
I opened the door, and she sat on the seat.
She didn't look back because of the heat.

I stepped on the gas, and we sped away.
I opened my mouth, but what can you say?
"They had to go back," was her soft reply.
All of them chose their way to die.

I turned on the light; she was just seventeen.
She was the prettiest girl I'd ever seen.
I'll never forget the night I stopped there,
‘Cause I married that girl with the long, flowing hair.


  1. Dear Elizabeth,
    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I will also go and read all your other blogs.
    I would never say "I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL," but I do know some of your pain on a first name basis. I too, made it my mission, to see that the world was a better place, but without my faith in God, I could not see that the world was a very nice place....until I began to blog and made some awesome friends and I have tried to be a friend to those not so awesome.
    Thank you for sharing your childhood...a life no one should experience, let alone a child. I shed tears for you but I can see...what the devil intended for evil, God turned for his glory and to set you free.
    I just want to reach through the computer and give you a big hug and tell you, I am so very sorry you were treated that way. It is heart wrenching.
    Angel hugs

  2. Elizabeth,
    You are one beautiful lady. I think you know that already. I cried.


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.