** Quick note: Some names have been changed. All events are from my memory and conversations had or overheard.
At my grandmother’s home I felt suffocated. I loved her but was weary of her. She had this air about her that was deliberate. In her life, Grandma Pearl had been married and divorced about five different times. She was an abused woman by men and yet she was fiercely independent; cancer would eventually take her over leaving her helpless and dependent – two things she could never tolerate. Two of her children were of the same father (my dad being one of them and my aunt Harmony the oldest child being the other – both favored their father) and the youngest was from a separate but short marriage that again ended in abuse. Pearl ran her own beauty shop out of her converted garage where she catered to the local women and Canadian women who would cross the border to visit her. The shop was rancid with the smell of permanents curling women’s poor over processed hair. I distrusted Pearl because I did not understand why I was there. My mother had always let me read and explore; my grandmother was not keen on me reading and felt I should stay put while she worked. A 2 year old being asked to sit still? I was more of an ornament in the shop than a grandchild. In my own personal revolution against my grandmother, I hid constantly from her and would wander away from her house while she was working. Once I hid underneath her car. I stayed under there for hours looking at the rocks beneath her tires; studying the different sizes. She finally called the police. I could hear her making up all sorts of explanations of how I got our of her sight: I was so small! Anyone could lose a child that small! I was a beautiful child and anyone could have duped her into looking the other way while they stole me! It was probably my mother in a haze come to steal me! I thought this was hysterical listening to my grandmother fib to a policeman. I started to laugh and within a few minutes this large man’s head peered beneath the vehicle asking me to please come out. I did and the consequences to my behind were severe. My hiding would send her into a terror which always ended poorly for my bottom. I don’t imagine she ever wanted to be in a position of explaining to my father or my mother that she had lost her grandchild.
My dad came to visit two times while I was there. I recall his masked horror during the first visit when he saw that she had cut my long, thick, blonde curly hair into a boys cut. Apparently she did not feel she needed to tend to my hair in conjunction to working 7 days a week and watching me until it was time to drive me to California. Or maybe it was because she kicked her then husband out of their marital room and had me sleep with her. She always complained that my hair got in the way of everything. She never left me in the room alone with anyone and insisted whenever we were in the same house (even into my teen years) that I sleep in the same bed with her so she could protect me from harm. I was an intensely shy child who wanted nothing to do with any stranger which was a likely byproduct of my mother leaving me with unknowns; this was Pearl’s way of protecting me; trying to help me feel safe. Strange yes, but devious no. There my dad was looking at me and commenting “What did she do to your hair child?” Out came my grandmother asking if he liked it. Before he could respond, she let him know that my hair was too thick for a child’s head and this was the one way she could brush it. My dad’s expression surely gave him away; Pearl had turned his little girl into a little boy. She added that no girl this young should be reading and it would do good of him to stop sending me books to read. I was just 2 years old and had been reading to myself for a few months now. My mom and dad had taught me to pick out the alphabet and spell our names off of the cereal boxes at the grocery store when I was a little over 12 months old. Pearl did not approve. She preferred little girls learn how to be little ladies. What man is going to want to marry a girl who acts smarter than him? This coming from a woman whose taste in men needed tending.
The one time I recall feeling close to Pearl was after she had warned me not to pet the dog next door. Of course the first chance I got I went to the fence to pet the yellow lab who was about three times as big as I was. Placing my small hand through the metal opening of the wire fence I opened the gate, I stepped inside the gate and I was on my back with a 30 pound dog on top of me blood draining from my chin. The dog had gashed my small chin and Pearl beat the dog to within an inch of its life. She took me to the emergency room for stitches and held me on her lap ride back home in between her lap and the steering wheel. She cooed and coddled me; she made me feel safe. The dog, however, would run every time either myself or Pearl stepped outside. I can’t imagine what the vet bill must have been but the dog certainly learned its lesson about attacking small children; or at least just me.
It was shortly after this that Pearl packed me up with her husband and drove me from the Canadian border to Sleepy Hollow, California. A small neighborhood with all of its streets named after the characters in the famed book in the complicated Marin County. As we got closer to my new home I looked up out of the windows and all I could see were these tall trees; they canopied the street we were on for what seemed like hours. Pearl kept calling it “Buttercup Road,” but I would come to know it as Butterfield; the main road through the 3.5 miles of asphalt that connected my house to the rest of San Anselmo, California. A few turns off “Buttercup,” up and endless hill and I was in the arms of my daddy. There was a stranger present whom my dad kept in close vicinity to. I wrapped my arms tighter around my dad as he attempted to introduce me to the stranger. “Say hi to Oliver. This is our new home and this is Oliver’s house.” I would not answer. I would not perform any pleasantries. I would not look at him. I was scared he was taking me away or worse that my dad was leaving me with him alone. Another person I did not know and I had no confidence when my dad would come back. The tears started and I would not allow my dad to put me down for the rest of the night. Oliver was worried.
To be continued………..