Part of chapter 10... One portion to share.
======================“Even with all those unhappy things happening around me, one event has always stood out because it changed me, in some ways, for the rest of my growing up years, and, in a way, for the rest of my life. That day I learned a big bad lesson. I felt that from then on I was responsible and I could trust myself better than I could trust anyone else.
“It was a day in late fall. I was a six-year-old first grader. My sister Niki was about a year-and-a-half old and Patti was a really young baby. Mom said she had to go into town and pick Dad up from work and that she’d be right back. She also showed me that she had a meatloaf cooking in the oven and there was a catch pan in case grease should spill over. I don’t recall being particularly disturbed at the idea of being alone. Patti was in her crib and Niki and I played in the living room.
“Suddenly, I noticed smoke pouring from the oven. I ran to the kitchen and opened the oven door. When I did, I saw fire. I closed the door, and ran outside to the walkway. I ran back and forth calling for mom. Part of my brain, of course, knew this was crazy, that she couldn’t possibly hear me. The other part, though, was very frightened and desperately needed help.
“After yelling a few times, I decided I needed to get the girls out of the house and find someone. This was not easy. I couldn’t take both girls at once, because I couldn’t carry Patti and hold Niki’s hand going down the stairs to the road. I took Patti from the crib and walked with them out to the top of the stairs. A few steps down the hill, Dad had built a landing before continuing with the stairs. I managed to help Niki down and still hold Patti. Then I laid Patti on the landing, walked Niki the rest of the way to the road, telling her to sit and wait for me, and she sat in a mud puddle. I ran up to get Patti. To my horror, she had rolled off the landing into a patch of thick, tall and sharp weeds we called snake grass. I’ve never been certain whether snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, actually lived in the grass, but since I could sometimes watch them crawling around on the rocks below the window while we ate, it would have taken a lot to convince me that there weren’t any in that patch. I didn’t have a choice, however, so I swallowed my fear, jumped down, grabbed Patti, put her on the landing and jumped back out, probably in as lightning-fast a move as I’ve made in my lifetime. Patti had a small cut on her forehead, but that was all. I carried her down to the road and then started walking with the girls towards town looking for help. After about a quarter-mile’s walk, I saw some cars parked in a yard. I went to the door and knocked. When a man answered, I said, ‘I live in the Bird House and it’s on fire.’
“That got action! He called the volunteer fire department in town. My parents had stopped in for a beer at the local tavern and someone hollered to them that the house was on fire. Of course, everyone in town that could, came out along with the firemen. It was quite a show.
“I was very frightened about what had happened. I needed my parents to tell me that I’d done the right thing, made the right decision. Then firemen came back and said the fire was contained to the oven and there was no other damage. Some grease from the meatloaf had splattered onto the coils and burned. That was, of course, good news. My mom, though, was angry. In front of everyone, she swore at me and yelled, ‘Why didn’t you just turn the stove off?’ Some of my school mates laughed at me. Dad didn’t say anything. The crowd broke up and headed back to town, and it was all over.
“Later that evening, dad explained to me that mom was scared and that’s why she acted so angry. The subject was never brought up again in our home.
“When I was a senior in high school, I dropped in to see a friend in town and was introduced to an older man who was visiting them. After thinking for a minute he asked, ‘Were your parents very tall? Did you live outside of town?’ When I said ‘yes’, he laughed. He said, ‘I’ll bet you were the little girl who came to my door and said the house was on fire. We had just come back from my wife’s funeral. You sure took our minds off our troubles.’
“I’ve sometimes wondered who the people were at his house. I’m sure someone took Patti and held her and that someone took care of Niki while all this was going on. I don’t remember any of that. I just remember being afraid and humiliated. I don’t think I asked for help very often after that, either. I began to figure out that I couldn’t trust my parents, and that’s a very sad spot to be in. What’s worse, when other more terrible events happened to me, I didn’t tell my parents about them. I just tried to figure out how to handle them on my own, events such as staying out of the way of people I knew wanted to hurt me.”