By Christopher Green
When we moved from Marlow over to Beach Parkway, my life, as I knew it, was over. Sure, my folks fought and my parents both drank, but so did almost everyone else on the street.
At least I was led to believe that.
My mom had suffered a miscarriage that summer and I think she was relieved, because having three children to raise on her own was already almost too much for her to handle. She knew she had made a terrible mistake marrying my dad. She also had to suffer the chill from her mother that stretched all the way from a little town called Clymer, PA on other side of Pittsburgh clear to Cleveland, OH.
She was determined to make it on her own. Even I could see that as a seven year old.
As my father loaded up what was left of his father’s machine shop, a moving van once again was loading up our stuff. The house on Marlow had five bedrooms and three floors with a basement.
We didn’t have nearly the amount of stuff back in 1965 that a family of five would have today, but my mom had a pretty extensive sewing room, as she saved money by making more than half of her own clothes. But still, I don’t remember where all that stuff went, but it didn’t follow us to the five room flat over on the seedy side of town I mentioned in an earlier post.
Did I mention she was a Home Ec Teacher over at Brooklyn High School? Her steady income from teaching allowed my dad to quit the Chevy Plant out on Brookpark Rd. and head off to Mexico City to chase down a dream that, I found out later, turned into an alcoholic nightmare straight out of The Days of Wine and Roses.
I remember coming home from Garfield Elementary School, school number three, in case you are counting, to learn that my dad had left for Mexico while we were at school. I was in third grade. I cried and cried because he never actually said good-bye to me; he just left.
I remember my brother telling me over and over again, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
I know my brother had lost all respect for my dad. A pretty hard cross to bear for a fifth grader. I remembered him coming to the defense of my mom as my dad attacked her in a drunken rage more times than I care to remember.
We adapted to life pretty well, it turns out, without father.
What I looked like in 3rd grade.
Big stuff happened to me. It was discovered that I needed glasses. It was also discovered that I was pretty smart little fella. I remember being called down to the principal’s office one day without any explanation.
I was scared shitless.
He had me in his office. He was older than God. I think his name was Dr. Lee. He motioned for me to sit down and then asked, “Why do you think I called you down here, Christopher?”
I had no idea, so I just kept my mouth shut.
It turns out I earned the highest score for all third graders in the city of Lakewood on the Iowa Tests that year. Iowa Tests were biannual measurements of progress back then. Kind of like the proficiency tests that are all the rage now only with far less prep.
From that day on, I was forever not living up to my expectations. I kept scoring high on the damn Iowa Tests, but it never really translated into spectacular classroom performance. I was still earning mostly B’s and a few A’s, but it was never enough.
During this time, my mom decided that she had better start planning for a future without papa, so she started to take night classes toward her master’s degree.
My mother as a Teacher and a Student.
Consequently, my mother was gone a lot and so we had a string of Bee-hived hairdoed Babysitters. One in particular changed my life. After putting my sister into her crib for the night, she came into my brother’s and my bedroom and started to talk to us about the birds and the bees.
Now I was enthralled as she told us all about the penis that we had and the vagina that she had. No, she didn’t show us, at least I don’t remember her showing us, but she did point out her cone shaped breasts and told us how they figured into the whole process.
I often wondered what made a teenage girl want to share her knowledge of sex with a couple of kids.
Of course, I shared my knowledge with my fellow students over at Garfield Elementary School and they were just as interested as I was. I don’t remember if I got in trouble, but it was around this time that I started to get into fights.
As soon as that school year was over, we moved back toward the center of Lakewood to a street called Elbur. We were back in a house again and I was getting ready to attend my fourth school for fourth grade in the fourth house we lived in.
Franklin Elementary was difficult for me because it was then that my parents started their three-year long divorce battle. My mom was sure about it as soon as the U-Haul bound for Mexico pulled out of the driveway. I know this now because that was her “experimental period.”
There were at least three men that I can remember scratching and sniffing around the house.
My dad never looked at divorce as a serious option until the papers were served. He went on a two-week bender after that.
After we moved into the house on Elbur right after school let out, my dad slinked back from Mexico City without all the machinery he had taken down with him, no job and no prospects to speak of. My mom laid down the law and dad took up residence with his mother and sister over on the other side of Lakewood.
So started the divorce years.
This was when my dad took me to that “doctor” I mentioned back in the post titled How I Found Myself in this Situation. The almost four years we lived on Elbur were rough in many ways, but also some of the best times of my life.
Because I kind of sided with my dad in the war of the Greens, I bounced around back and forth between staying with him and living at home. It started my “not wanting to be forced into making decisions” behavior pattern. It’s how my dad operated and so I guess I favored him in that way.
One really strange summer night, my mom, who was very drunk, pulled me into her room and decided to find out what I would look like as a girl. She put lipstick on me, did my face all up in rouge, put her wig on me and then made me parade around her room calling me her pretty little girl.
I have to admit I was hot for a fifth grader, much better looking as a girl than a boy. Still, it wasn’t me and that was the one and only time I ever did the drag thing.
Is it any wonder I started to act up more often at school and was sent to the principal’s office more times than I care to consider? I was getting in fights all the time, disrupting classrooms and just being a major pain in the ass kind of kid. But they did cut me some slack because everyone knew my mom was a teacher and everyone knew we were, “That family in turmoil.”
My mother also had her first serious health problem that wasn’t related to her reproductive organs. They found nodes on her vocal cords. I remember I was in my fifth grade music class playing a flutaphone at the time when my mom was to go into surgery.
I started to cry and I just could not stop. Of course, no kid should be crying by the time you get to the fifth grade unless you got the crap beat out of you on the playground. But there I was, sobbing about my mother having to go to surgery. I had seen enough Ben Casey shows to know anything could happen on the table.
Little did I know then that this was just the beginning of her health problems.
It seemed like my whole life was crumbling down around me.
Then, the summer between sixth grade and dreaded Junior High, Ed appeared.
By this time, Dad was resigned, but not able to come to grips with the divorce. My mom had settled on Ed and he had two boys around our age. They started slowly integrating us into a family. Remember, this was all happening during the Brady Bunch era. It proved unfortunate to all concerned that we were behaving more like the bastard children of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s characters in “Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?”
Of course, there was trouble. So much trouble that I started to sneak a few drinks of booze here and there and stealing cigarettes from my mom. My dad did not make matters any easier by letting me drink a quart of beer with him now and then. This was back in 1968-69.
It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough to see in hindsight that I was miles down the road toward as AA future while my peers were out enjoying their childhood by playing say kick the can. I was through the portal and on my way to that part of my life I call “those nagging, destructive behavioral years.”
But what really made me an oddball kid was the inordinate amount of time I spent in the company of alcoholic adults. Both my dad and aunt were full blown and practicing drunks (why they call it practicing, these two had it down pat, I’ll never know). There was no moderation. From sober to staggering drunk. Five drink minimum.
They would get all jaked up at the Polish Club and I went along willingly. Millie never had children and she had finally found her man, a real nice Polish guy with a ticker hanging by a thread.
They had a little butcher shop in Lakewood and Frank, that was his name, made the best Homemade Kielbasa this side of Krakow. Frank used to wear these black leather pork pot hats while bartending at the Club on the weekends.
There was this one particular night that really exemplified just how fucked up my childhood was. I was with them at the club, sitting in a corner stuffing my pie hole with bar food and seven-up, reading a Hardy Boy or a comic book, I can’t remember which.
All of a sudden, I was the center of attention. They both got it in their minds that it would be fun to watch me dance, so they pulled out me in front of this table full of drunken Polacks.
They just would not let up. They were relentless and so I started to dance. And they all laughed at the chubby kid dancing away. They were laughing at me, not with me. I will never forget that humiliating night as long as I live.
But that wasn’t the worst of it.
One the way home, my dad and my aunt Millie started to fight about where I was going to stay. I wanted to stay with Millie, so I got out of the car and walked up on to the porch with her. She couldn’t find her keys, so my dad jumped out of the car ran up to the porch and grabbed me yelling, “You aren’t staying with that drunken cow.”
Millie grabbed one arm and my dad, standing on the steps, one foot on the porch, one foot on a step, grabbed the other and they were literally pulling me like I was a fucking turkey wishbone.
I finally ended up with my dad. He had the stronger pull.
Like I said before, Tennessee Williams couldn’t make this shit up.
Meanwhile, as seventh grade beckoned, my dad had still not signed the divorce papers, so Ed and my mother could not get married. They had a picked out a house out in Westlake, which was about ten miles further out from Cleveland than Lakewood.
I knew we were moving and I knew I did not at all like the situation. I didn’t want to leave my dad like that. Staying true to form, I just never participated all that much at Harding Junior High.
All the kids I knew from Franklin went to the Junior High closest to us, Emerson. My mom had heard Emerson was trouble. I think she just didn’t want to go back to that side of Lakewood.
School number five was Harding Junior High. I didn’t know anyone and didn’t care to. I was sullen and angry at the world.
What saved me that year were the two-week long trips to Mohican State Park I signed up for. It was a chance for us urban kids to attend a sort of camp. I don’t know how I was able to go twice, but I did.
During the second trip, they held the first Vietnam War draft lottery. The counselors for the camp were mostly from Ashland College. They were acting as counselors as part of their course work toward teaching degrees.
I remember one of the counselor’s birthday was September 14. The reason I remembered was because that was the first date drawn in the lottery.
It was horrible. The girls from the college were crying and I remember he just took off into the woods. The radio reception was bad, but I had smuggled in a good plug in radio with a built in antenna. They were huddled around my “illegal” radio.
This all is important to my life because it was one of those defining moments for me. Almost overnight, I became politically charged.
We had already lived through the Cleveland racial riots and the profound and personal fear and loathing those events inspired. The assassinations of MLK and RFK, the riots at the Chicago Democratic convention – they were all just part of the turmoil. But now, with the counselor picked to go to war, a war that was splashed across our TV screens almost every night, this had become a war I suddenly had a stake in.
Two weeks later, we moved out to Westlake and my Lakewood years were over.
I came to Westlake with a chip the size of Gibraltar on my shoulder, a reputation as a troublemaker and underachiever and the product of a divorce, which was still fairly rare at that time.
But that is for another post and another day.
Suffice it to say all of this gets me to where I am today. I am still a smart ass, I am still an attention whore and I still cannot shake my love for the politics. And it all ultimately contributed to the health situation I find myself in more than forty years after the fact.
I wanted to post a picture of my mom and dad in their early, happy years. How I came out of those two looking the way I do is anyone’s guess…