Finding The Ladder.


First of all, this story is not intended to denigrate or berate anyone, least of all, any of my family members. It is also not intended to elicit any sympathy for what I have been through. It is a way for me to, figuratively, put on paper an intention to understand the mechanisms in my life that have molded my personality and to somehow address the issues I have in my life that I know are rooted in my past. To straighten my room and dump my baggage. I want to make amends with people in my past, if I can, and more importantly, become a better man and husband.

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We hear the expression everyday about climbing the ladder. Did we all start on a ladder, or did we have to find a ladder to even start our climb? I know I had to find one. I wasn’t born with a ladder coupon in my hand or a ‘Get a ladder free’ card. I’m sure both of my parents went through the same thing. I’m almost certain they did.

Mom was poor.
Dad was poor.
I was poor.
We were poor.

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I certainly was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, certainly not into affluence. I had to locate a ladder in the beginning. No one led me to one. I was left to find this out at a very young age. There were problems in my family, as I have stated in my other blog entries, so this is not new information, but my writing about it now is a new attempt on my part to understand those ‘happenings’ and to attempt to get a grip on my feelings about them and the family members who were responsible for them. They made a profound impression on me, unintentionally, which took me 50 years to see. These issues started in my life from the beginning but I did not become aware of them until just a few years ago, and now I want to untangle this web.

So, in looking for this ladder, I have, of course, gone through many changes and endured many different situations. I have always been aware of the fact that something has made me what I am, but what was that? What did I go through that made me who I am? I have always cared for people, as I heard recently from an aunt on my father’s side. We hadn’t spoken to each other for many years, but through Facebook, we started a new conversation. I have always loved Linda as a family member, which she certainly is, but she was a fun person in my life when I was a boy. I was never afraid of her as I was with other family members. I have never really known my father, so he really wasn’t a threat until my high school years.

Through my pre-teen years, I saw a divorce in my family. I saw my dad leave the home, which left mom to hold us three boys together. I watched in utter fear as he struck my mother with a hand in any configuration suitable for the event. There were a few members of my family who stepped in to take care of us three boys, mainly from dad’s side. My grandmother (dad’s mother,) Ellen whom we called Gammy (Gah-Me) because we couldn’t pronounce grandmother efficiently, was my main caretaker and extreme buddy and fishing pal. Actually, that name was my doing, but it stuck. Not many members from my mother’s side cared to, rather, were not allowed to step in and help guide us three boys to a comfortable social existence with the adults who were constantly around us. Mixing with our cousins was usually a result of one or all of us being passed on to an aunt OR uncle, or, an aunt AND uncle to be looked after until some unstable situation was remedied in our mother’s life.

My father left when I was eight years old for nearby Seattle and greener pastures. Kevin was five and little Kary was three, leaving us all on our own, effectively. Mother was now in a situation of having to work constantly to keep us fed, clothed and in a comfortable living environment. This eventually pushed me into a position of being a ten-year old guardian for my brothers so my mother could hang on to a little more cash to be spent on us boys’ well being and care rather than a baby sitter. There was a serious financial crack in all four of our lives developing and it would get worse. I don’t know today whether my father considered this, whether he intended for the hardships to develop or if he was just being vindictive, or, as I post in another blog, made the decision to get out regardless of the outcome he would encounter later. I probably will never know. Regardless, this was a situation which would take years to develop and become utter destruction to our family fabric and sanity.

Just after my father left, as I said, I was left to be in charge. I was taught to cook, feed, wash, launder, patrol, and every other consideration I would need to understand, to attend to growing children and keeping them healthy. How to go to the store, on my own (try sending a twelve-year-old kid to the store by himself with a small grocery list today. The authorities will be knocking on your door without your child. He will have been taken into protective custody before they show up at your door) and bring home milk or bread or butter, etc. I did this all of the time. Suffice it to say, I didn’t live the normal childhood most kids did. Occasionally my Gammy would take me for a day or two and pay the baby sitter so my mother wouldn’t have to. I would end up fishing or going to the circus or carnival. Anything I wanted to do, Gammy made it happen. She was my savior back in the day.

Well, of course, this did not last forever. I was growing into my teen years, but Gammy was still always available. I was enamored with the music and styles of the day. Bell bottoms, the Beatles, wire rimmed glasses (which my mother refused to allow me to wear because John Lennon wore them and I would eventually end up ‘taking drugs’ if I wore them also), the normal teen afflictions. (Fortunately, my interest in the music scene led to my becoming a professional drummer. I had the talent, or at least the potential, but I just needed the nudge which, incidentally, did not come from my home environment or from anyone in my family.) One thing that was hard to understand was that while my mother worked as a bartender in the local area, in many establishments that hired live bands to perform nightly, she would grab the drum sticks dropped by the drummers during performances, bring them home to me to use on my bed, which served as a drum set, but would chastise me for making noise and “beating on everything.” I have never understood that. At least I became interested and will talk more on that later.

Now, with all of these distractions firmly in place and being well fed, I started to become a bit rebellious. Not violent, greedy or drug addicted, just a kid who ‘knew everything,’ at least I thought I did, as is always the case. I didn’t act out or draw any police attention, but just became belligerent to my mother, who at the time, was the only adult authority figure in my daily life. Dad was gone, my aunts and uncles always had issues and problems with my mother, so no one ever came around to check on us three boys. We basically ran amok. When we were living in south Aberdeen along the Wishkah River on SW Front Street just across the road from Saginaw Shake and Shingle I started smoking cigarettes with my pal Scott Birdsall. I also had my first beer, which I hated, with Scott and Warren Perry.

7th Street Theatre, corner of 7th and J Streets, Hoquiam, WA.
I saw my first concert here at the age of 15.

Sometime around the time I was 13 years old, mom moved us all to Hoquiam, WA., 2nd and N St., middle of the block on the northeast side of the street, which is a town sandwiched up against the west end of my home town, Aberdeen. Also, around this time, mother started to see me as a young adult. This became evident as she started to allow me out of the house on my own. Yes, it was that bad. In fact, school was really a baby sitter for us three brothers. This was enforced with us having our butts beat if we scored bad grades in school. So, all around, we lived with a virtual cyclone fence around us 24 hours a day. She allowed me to attend a concert of local bands at the 7th Street Theater on the day (July 21, 1969) Neil Armstrong said “One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” I don’t remember if this gig had a name or not, but it was pretty cool. I got to see a band called “The East Fork Flood.” named after a branch of the Hoquiam River that flooded on occasion. The band was impressive to me, still a young boy with aspirations of playing drums somewhere, somehow, someday. Of course, this being the absolute first time ever to see a band on a stage in a concert venue was just all I could take in, and the drummer was good, even with today’s memory of 45 years on.

Now, as I have mentioned, I was growing up in my mother’s eyes. She must have considered that I was going to need some space because I was cut loose. I got to stay out after school, go to local concerts (in a small northwest town [Aberdeen/Hoquiam]) and generally run around with my buddy Scott Birdsall. We rode bikes everywhere. We never walked anywhere. Yeah, those were the days. I got to see Iron Butterfly when they came to the Hoquiam High School gymnasium.

Well, now we are living in Hoquiam on N St. between 1st and 2nd St. Big old tall two-story with a grandmother’s apt. in the back. The year The Beatles ‘White Album’ was released. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, Creedance Clearwater Revival’s first album, Wheels of Fire, etc. Things I will never forget.

By this time, a man named Wayne Cole had become a permanent part of my mother’s life, and, consequently, us three boys’ lives. What a joy. Wayne had a violent streak in him that my mother either knew about upon inviting him into our safe space and decided to endure, or was about to find out about it. There is more about this in my “The Little Boy Who Could” blog entry. I don’t see any reason to go over it again here. Regardless, this situation lasted a couple of years. We ended up moving back to Aberdeen a few years later and I continued to mature. Moving ever closer to that ladder, or maybe, even, up the ladder, at least on the first wrung.

We lived in so many places in Aberdeen/Hoquiam that I am hard pressed to write about them all.

The 7th Street Theatre today, after renovation.
The 7th Street Theater today, after renovation.

By the time I was fifteen, I was biting my nails voraciously, growing my hair out, immersed in ‘acid rock’, (but not using any drugs at all) wearing bell-bottoms, but yet still not blending in at all with anyone. We had moved back to Aberdeen to a house on Harding St. just south of Huntley St……I think. I know that Wayne Cole’s family lived over here in south Aberdeen. I visited their house many times and we even went to a few Thanksgiving Dinners there. They were nice people. Wayne wasn’t so nice. I never liked him and would have been happier had he never been a part of my mother’s life, or mine, or my brother’s lives. At this writing, he has been dead now for at least a year, so he had to be close to 70 or 80. I don’t wish death on anyone, but I don’t miss him and wasn’t saddened by the news other than he could have been a nicer guy had he tried.

Now, my life was just about to change in a big way.

My mother had now hired a baby sitter, Linda Watts, for my two brothers because she wanted me to have a bit of freedom. They were 12 and 9. I was 15. I took advantage of this, actually was told to, and got a job at Swanson’s Grocery in south Aberdeen under the permission of a work permit. South Aberdeen was commonly called “South Side.” Emphasis on Side. Upon taking this job, mother advised me that I would now need to pay rent. Yes, at 15 years old. I would get out of school at Miller Jr. High and rush to Swanson’s Grocery (217 North Boone St.,) change into my white dress shirt, cute black tie and black pants. We were allowed to wear tennis shoes so we wouldn’t slip on the floors. They didn’t really look good with a pair of black slacks, tie and white shirt, but the employer was covered. I can respect that, and at the time, I got to wear my Converse ‘All Stars’ while I was working. I was, indeed, cool. Rare for me. (Actually, I was never cool and still am not.) I would pack customers’ groceries into their bags and wheel them out to the parking lot in a cart and drop them in their cars. Nothing glorious, but I stayed busy for a summer or two and bought toy models, bike parts and sodas for myself.

One day, after school when mom was working and I had the day off, Linda and I were at the house and my two brothers were somewhere else, I don’t remember where. Linda came on to me and I responded. Lost my cherry at 15 years old. This went on for about a year, finally, Linda left. I never did fall in love with her, but certainly got ‘broken in” correctly. Many years later, at least 24, I was at the Satsop Tavern playing pool and having a beer or two with my since passed on friend, Bob Dahlstrom, and she walked in. She may have known who I was or not, maybe didn’t see me, but I can’t see that she didn’t. Sadly, I did not approach her. She is still a fond childhood memory today, over 40 years later.

Time to relocate again.

The house on Young sat here. The steps of the porch sat at the edge of the bushes.
The house on Young St. sat here. The steps of the porch sat at the edge of the bushes in the middle of this photo.

We now lived in North Aberdeen on Young St. across from Mitchell St. Led Zeppelin II had been released. I’m a little short on memory through this period, but I am sure we lived here for at least two years, mainly because I know I reached my 16th birthday in this house. Wayne Cole was still around and Pat and his sister Sheri Kerrone were my best friends. They lived on the one block length of Mitchell St. across from our house. The entrance to Mitchell St. is behind the camera here.

One very memorable birthday for me took place in this house. My 16th. Oh how boys and girls love their 16th birthday. It’s as if you are finally out of your teens, but not out of your teens. It’s like pre-18. Certainly a wonderful landmark in a young adults life.

Here are the details. As I said, I was nervous all the time. Biting my fingernails till they bled. Long hair, ‘hippy’ clothes, typical teenaged boy. Well, Wayne Cole (I never came to like him) and my mother had lots of bar buddies. For my 16th, they all put together a wonderful surprise party. I came home from school one day in January of 1970 and everyone surprised me with whistles and party favors. We all sat down to the kitchen table, Wayne, Mom, Gene Carlson and a few other people whose names I can’t remember. The first gift was kind of small, but I anticipated something wonderful would be inside. A pair of fingernail clippers fell out onto the table. A look of puzzlement came over my face. Everyone just sat there and smiled and laughed. Nothing was said, except my mother said “Always keep them with you so you can use them when you need to.” Next, a comb, then a pair of scissors, and finally, a pink dress. As you can guess, I wanted to crawl away into a hole. The dress was to address my ‘hippy’ clothes. Yeah, they were meant to be mean, but I will never forget that birthday for all of the wrong reasons. They spared no expense to make it special for me.

Now, earlier I mentioned that I was a nail biter. I certainly was, and when stressed, I was a nail biter extraordinaire. I chewed my nails till they bled, then the cuticle would become mildly infected. Just nasty, but the stresses I was under from some of the bullying, being made fun of because of my mother’s activities in this small town, welfare glasses, etc. kept my nail-biting going good and strong. Well, how is my mother’s ‘free nature’ an issue? Here it is. The parents of other children in Aberdeen who knew my mother would obviously talk about it in their homes because their children, whom I went to school with, would tease me with insults about my ‘slut’ mother. Even at that age, I knew where they were getting this information from. “He doesn’t even know who his father is” was a familiar phrase, and often used. They called me “Hey Spazzden” referencing my last name. It was rough and hurtful, but if I reciprocated, I was seen as the unruly one and was punished accordingly either by the school authorities, the bullies or my mother. Yeah, stress to the max. Maybe others would take it better, but I was always a shy, gentle kid, so I never wanted to challenge the bullies, but when I did, I was always sure to get my butt whipped because I wouldn’t fight back, a trait bullies feed on in an individual. I just couldn’t do it.

So now, the last of my preteen years were coming to a close.

After yet another move, to where I can’t remember more than just a couple of scenes in my old brain, I was just about to be moved to Seattle to live with my father because my mother saw me as unmanageable. So, due to my bad memory, I really don’t have much of a story here, but I’ll relinquish what I can.

I DO remember that somehow I now owned a telescope that was a wonderful tool. I know it came from my father, one of the very few gifts I had ever received from him. It was very powerful. My deductions were that at its highest configuration, it ran about 300x. I know I could see the rings and red spot on Jupiter. The moon was as clear as looking at your hand in front of you. Looking at anything you could see in my immediate neighborhood was fruitless. This thing was a monster. A wonderful diversion from my daily activities which never were rooted in any kind of productive intentions. At one point, my younger brother, Kevin, took it apart and ruined the lenses in it, and with that, a little bit of joy I had, had turned to dust. It was good while it lasted.

Many years later, he came to me with another telescope. He felt bad about what he had done so many years ago, but had no idea how empty that apology actually was. Considering all of the powers influencing me at the time, this replacement may have done as well if it had been a rock. I love my brother, but this was no peace-offering from my point of view. He will never know what this meant. He would have done better to just come to me and apologize and leave it at that.

So, mom approaches me and says, “I’ve had enough, you’re going to go live with your father.” This did not come to me as a threat, rather as a way out. I packed and caught the bus. Dad came and got me at the depot in his big black Continental. –Life must be good now that you have abandoned your family for this tough life you live.– As we drove to Perkins Lane where I would live, I thought heavily about what was going on. New school, new friends, new step sisters and brothers, new experiences.

The house was right on Puget Sound located along the west slope of the Magnolia district in Seattle. Very nice.

Now, there is much I can write here, but most of it would be a rewrite of what I have posted at “The Little Boy Who Could.”

The goodies I haven’t placed elsewhere is that after becoming a pain in my father’s ass, I was shipped off to Aberdeen again. Seems it’s easier to throw something away than to fix it for my family, doesn’t it? I found a job and a place to live. Eventually, I suffered a broken leg at work, asked my mother for some help, she relented, I moved in with her, (Ugh) and received benefits from the state through this occurrence. When the check hit the mailbox, my mother kicked me out. I moved to Cosmopolis with my brother and took time off to heal.

A year passed and things got better.

At this point I need to start another blog entry to cover the years since that I have lived on my own.

There is more to come. Watch this blog for changes to this story and for new stories. By the way, these are all absolutely true. I need to do this to get rid of them, therefore, I am including as many facts as I can remember.

Hitting the Streets” is the next step in the recollection and review of events in this process, documenting my years of homelessness. Yeah, that was a trip.

As stated on my other entries, if I have elicited a change or new thought process in you through this story, comment on it. Please refrain from vulgarities or denigrating comments. This entire process is meant to help, not ruin.

Thanks for looking,
Kelly J.

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