Becoming a Big Brother

by Big E

Tags: mt/ft, True Story,

Desc: : A young man becomes a big brother to the girl next door.

I won't bore you with a lot of background information; that will come as we go along.

After World War II ended people were looking for new homes all over the West Coast. People had seen how nice the weather was and how much room there was to live and raise children. After all the cold winters, floods and tornados, Southern California is where my parents started looking and they became just part of the ones looking for their place in the sun.

Now that the war was over, real-estate developers were doing things fast and simple and efficiently and that was the way they built houses. In 30 days they would come in and clear the land, put in the streets and utilities and lay out where the houses would go. There would be four or five floor plans and they just laid them out with the only change being that sometimes they would flip a floor plane over. After they laid out all the plans, next would be a swarm of ex-service men that were construction people, foundation people, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, and painters. They would start building homes at one end of the development and just keep going till they reached the other end.

It would take the buyers longer to go through the process of getting a mortgage and clear escrow than to build these homes sometimes. After I grew up I did some research and I found the paper work on the house that my parents bought and it showed that our home went from start to finish in just 17 days. Dad used to stop by the new house every night on his way home from work to see the progress. When our house was almost finished on the inside we moved in. The walls were still a little damp from the plaster, so we had to wait a week before the walls could even be painted, but Dad was raised as a painter so that was fine with him. This way the walls would get a better paint job.

I remember on the day we moved in our new home, seven other families moved in on the same street as well. That night we were an instant neighborhood, with kids, dogs, and cats; everything was there. Our new neighbors came from all over the United States. There were small families, large families, and even single families. Everything was new, the houses, the streets, the schools, and most of all the people. We had neighbors from Texas, New York, Minnesota, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, and even our home state of Montana. When the housing development was completed there were 486 families making a new life for themselves in beautiful sunny California.

For some unknown reason my mother only had one child and that was yours truly. All around me were families with three to seven brothers and sisters. Sometimes I felt left out, not having any brothers and sisters, but on the other hand I didn't have to share my parents' love or any of the things other families had to share. I had my own bedroom, my own toys, I didn't have to share with anyone and no hand me down cloths. When I was 9, I got a paper route delivering the Examiner in my neighborhood each morning.

I had my newspaper route about two years. One morning as I was turning on our street after finishing my route I saw the police and a fire truck at the house next door. I put away my bike and I walked over and I asked the fireman what happened and he told me that Mr. Puckett had a heart attack during the night and died. Mrs. Puckett and her daughters, Ruth and Lorraine, were sitting on the porch crying. A few of the neighborhood women were there helping them and doing all the things women did back then to take care of things for them.

It was about a month later that Mrs. Puckett put the house up for sale. She wanted to move back to Iowa to be with her family. The house sold in just two weeks and they moved shortly after that. Dad said that with the profits from the house she would be able to get a farm back in Iowa and not have to worry about anything financially for a long time.

Mrs. Puckett paid me $10 to keep the lawn mowed and watered till the new owners moved in. The Puckett's house stayed empty for what seemed a long time.

But about two months later on a Saturday morning I was doing my paper route and as I came down our street I saw a moving truck parked in front of Mrs. Puckett's old house. There were 8 or 9 men unloading the truck and they all had Army clothes on, not uniforms but work clothes. They didn't talk much; they just picked up things and took them in the house. By 9 o'clock the truck was empty and they were gone.

Major Laurence Goodwin and Family was now the name on the mailbox. They were now part of our neighborhood. My mother made one of her really good apple pies that afternoon and took it over as a welcoming gift. Being that they were our new neighbors I went along and since dad was working overtime it would look better for mom though if I came alone. Major Goodwin opened the front door and invited us in. He introduced us to his wife, Mrs. Sharon Goodwin, and their 10-year-old daughter Carol. We found out that they had been waiting for their belongings to arrive from Japan where they had been stationed and that was why it took them so long to get moved in.

WOW! As I looked around I could see that everything was already put away. ( It took mom 3 weeks to put all our stuff away and we didn't have as much as they did.) The dishes were in the china cabinet, the sofa and chairs had little doilies on them, they even had the books in the bookcases and there must have been at least a 1,000 books. And that was just in the front room. In the kitchen Mrs. Goodwin was making chicken soup and I swear I could smell homemade bread. After a few minutes of small talk we excused ourselves and went home.

My parents are the kind of people that made friends very easily with out being too pushy.

We found out one thing very soon about the Major: he would not let anyone call him by his first name. It was always Major Goodwin or Major. Even his wife called him Major. Carol just said "Sir".

Now this was a change from the way I was raised to show respect for your elders, that was for sure.

Whenever Mrs. Goodwin came over during the day and "The Major" wasn't around she was always smiling, a very warm and friendly woman, always willing to help with school, scouts whatever. However, when "The Major" was home she would be very reserved and quiet and stayed home. Their daughter Carol was just the same way. The one big difference in the way he treated Carol was he treated her as if she was a soldier, yelling orders at her, calling her names and NEVER, EVER, paying her a complement or telling her how good she had done. It always was "can't you do it faster" or "do it again and let's see if you can do it better this time, you slack off".

My parents and I could hear him yelling all the time. Our bedroom windows faced their house and we liked lots of fresh air so the windows were always open a little even in the winter.

In school Carol was the smartest kid in her class. She was so smart that she was promoted up a grade in the middle of the school year. Now she was in the same class as I was in and she was 2 years younger than everybody else. So you can just imagine how out of place she may have felt. The other girls called her a little baby and the boy's were not into girls yet so they just left her alone. So in a class of 45 students she felt like an outsider, the black sheep so to speak.

Mom and Dad raised me to be very open and to look at people as they were, not at how others thought they should be. I have been told all my life that I am the most unprejudiced person that they have ever meet, and I can say that I am very proud of that part of myself. So when Carol was left out of all the groups in school I sort of took on the responsibility of being her friend. And since we were next door neighbors we would walk to school every day together. We would have lunch with each other and after a while some of the guys started to sit with us; they liked the stories Carol would tell them about life in the Army. Then after school we would walk home together. In class she sat in the back on the left side of the room and I sat up in the front row so that I could see the black board better; later on they found out I needed glasses.

During our walks to and from school we would talk about all kinds of things. With her being an "Army Brat" she had been all over the world. Carol was born in Stuttgart, Germany, then the Army moved them to London, England and from there to Odakyu, Japan and now to Sunny Southern California. Carol would tell me about all the things she'd seen and the people she'd met but she has never been able to make any close friends. Just as they started to settle in, they would move again. Mrs. Goodwin was getting tired of all the moves and she told the Major that this was going to be their home from now on, no more moving. I guess he didn't like that. He would come home from the base and within an hour you could hear fighting. Every weekend they'd start fighting earlier and earlier, and it would go on longer and longer.

The summer of 1950 my Mom got a job working in a doctor's office doing the billing. She would go to work about 8:30 and get home around 6 o'clock. In the fall Mrs. Goodwin had decided to go back to school and get her degree.

Carol and I spent lots of time together that summer. Some mornings she would get up real early and ride with me on my paper route; she even helped when it came time to do the collecting every month. We split the tips 50/50. Some days we were together from 5 in the morning to 8 that night. But on the weekends she had to be at home with The "Major".

During that summer, on the weekends when her parents would start fighting, Carol would sneak out through her bedroom window and come over to our house. So it wasn't all that odd when Carol would show up and stay a while until The Major would calm down. Then Carol would go back to her room through the same window she had come out of earlier.

Whenever someone came to our house and knocked on the front door, I knew Mom and Dad would say, "Why did you knock? You know it's unlocked, come on in, you're always welcome." Then they would say, "We are just one big family so just come on in and make yourself at home." I remember one time just before I got my paper route we went away for the weekend to the zoo in San Diego. Sunday evening when we got home we found that my aunt, one of my Dad's sisters, had come for a unexpected visit. Well, Aunt Mae decided so what if we weren't home, what was the difference, so she stayed in our home all weekend just as if we were there. She read some books, watched a little TV, slept in my bed and had a very relaxing weekend. On Monday morning she kissed us goodbye and off she went, leaving me with a little surprise under my pillow. There was an envelope, and in it was a savings bank book in my name with one deposit in it. And a note telling me to learn how to invest wisely. That is how I made my first $100.00. I did invest it, but more about that another time.

By the time school started in September the Goodwin's were going at it starting Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday. The Major felt that his wife was being unfaithful to him by wanting to go back to school and not staying at home to be a "good little Army wife". He said that, it made him look like a bad husband not having his woman at home all the time, and why hadn't she given him the son that was customary for the women in his family to do. He would say these things and a lot more. You might be wondering how I knew all of this, well you must remember that this man was "US Army" from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. I don't mean that all the people in the Army are this way, but he was used to people doing what he said and not asking question or questioning his judgment. Plus, the Major believed that if you say it real loud it would sound like it came from God Almighty directly. With my bedroom windows open all the time, I could hear everything he said.

During the week it was just about the same for Carol and me. We would walk to school, have lunch, and go to the library and study after school, then we would walk home. Sometimes after school Carol and I would study at her house. This way if her father called she would be home and he would leave her alone and not yell about her being over at our house too much. Mrs. Goodwin was going to school in the mornings and did her studying and everything else in the afternoons. I thought that Mrs. Goodwin did everything to perfection. Their house was one of those you would see in Better Homes and Garden Magazine. I'm telling you this because no matter whose house you go into you can always find something not quite perfect, but not in Major Goodwin's house. He would not have it, it had to be perfect at all times. One time I even saw him looking under the top of the toilet tank lid for mildew.

As I was saying, it was the same every week until the first weekend of February. Saturday, when the mail came, Mrs. Goodwin's report card came in. At first the Major had told his wife that she was not to go back to school. Now that he knew she was getting straight A's, which was better than he ever could when he was in school, that just made him madder. In fact, later on I found out it took him five years, going full time, just to get his BA with a grade point average of 2.1. The Major exploded into a rage that you could hear all the way to the beach. Carol climbed out of her bedroom window to tell me that he started yelling and throwing things, then he started drinking, straight out of the bottle, no mixers, no ice, just tip the bottle up and swallow.

I guess it was after he finished off the bottle of Jack Daniel's we heard him drive off in his wife's car saying he was going to go get more to drink.

About midnight the telephone woke me up. I could hear Dad talking, telling somebody that he would go and would pick somebody up.

The next morning was Sunday. After I finished my paper route I went back to bed and slept until 9:30, when Dad got me up telling me to get dressed, that we were going out to something called a "Brunch". While I was getting dressed I could head Mom and Dad talking to somebody in the living room. When I came out I was shocked to see Mrs. Goodwin and Carol there. This was the first time Mrs. Goodwin had ever been in our house on a weekend in all the time that they lived next door.

So off we went, just the five of us. We had a great time but I was wondering all the time where the Major was. After we finished eating we went for a walk down by the beach. Carol and I were used to walking together so we took off leaving Mom, Dad and Mrs. Goodwin behind. Carol started telling me what had happened on Saturday afternoon. After the Major finished off his first bottle he went out to get some more but he changed his mind. He decided to stop at the Officers' Club, and started drinking even more. About 11:30 the bartender cut him off, telling him to go home. The bartender thought that The Major was living on the base so he didn't call him a taxi to take him home. When he left the club he only got about two blocks when he made a left turn and up a telephone pole, totaling his wife's new car. The military police arrested him for drunk driving but he was an officer, and not wanting to hold him in the brig overnight they let him call somebody to take him home. That was the call that woke me up in the middle of the night. When Mom and Dad got the Major home he passed out on his bed. Dad made a suggestion that maybe Mrs. Goodwin and Carol would like to go to breakfast on Sunday with us. Mrs. Goodwin asked if she and Carol could take all of us to the Officers' Club Brunch instead.

For the next couple of months everything was real quiet next door. The Major pled guilty to drunk driving on a military installation and was confined to the base for 90 days and given a written warning. This meant that his next promotion would be a long way off, Dad said. During this time, Carol and I were spending a lot more time together both at school and home. Mrs. Goodwin decided that with the Major confined to the base she would take all the classes she could so that she could get her degree as soon as possible. With Mrs. Goodwin going to school all week, she and Carol only had their evenings and weekends together.

Just before Easter Dad got some money as part of the estate from his Aunt Betty. He said that newfound money should be spent in newfound ways. Well, the first thing he did was to remodel the house. Dad had the front of the house moved out 8 feet and added a fireplace, as well as adding almost 10 feet to the side where our bedrooms were, giving us lots more room. When they were remodeling the house they put a door in my bedroom to the outside so that I could come in and out without waking Mom and Dad up all the time. Mom wanted to redecorate everything but just didn't have the eye of a decorator. Mrs. Goodwin did, though, so Mom asked her for help. It was during this time my mother and Mrs. Goodwin became very close friends.

In June school was out so I would go over to Carol's house and just hang out. Mrs. Goodwin told me that I should call her by her first name even though The Major felt that having a teenager calling you by your first name was a sign of disrespect. So I started calling her Sharon from that time on.

Sharon would teach Carol and me how to bake cakes, pies, cookies, and we even learned to make bread.

I learned a lot that summer, especially that I could be as good a cook as any woman. My apple pies and carrot cakes were the best around.

In July we were going on vacation: Carmel, San Francisco, Northern California and the Giant Redwoods. I asked Dad if he would ask The Major if Carol could come with us? To everybody's surprise and amazement he said that would be fine, that Carol needed to see more of California since they would be moving again soon. Well, this was the first we had heard anything about them moving. The next day Mom went over and talked with Sharon about why they were moving, knowing full well that Sharon was not ever going to move again.

We left that Saturday morning for our vacation. We put everything in the back of Mom's Dodge station wagon. Without going into all the details let's just say I have never had so much fun with my parents. We went to San Francisco, up to the Redwoods, Sacramento, and Lake Tahoe. Wherever we went Mom and Dad would go one way and Carol and I would go another. It was like we were two couples having a great time together. I could even see that Dad was starting to like having Carol around. When we would stop and look at things he would take her hand and point out things to her just as if she were his daughter, things that he learned about when he was raised here in Northern California. A couple of times we were at the beach at sunset and we would be watching the sun go down holding hands, Dad, Carol, Mom, and me. It was the fastest two weeks I had ever known.

We got home late on Sunday and on Monday morning after I finished my paper route I came into the kitchen to get some breakfast, and standing by the table with her back to me was Sharon; she was talking to Mom real quietly. Without looking at me she said good morning, took her cup of coffee and went into the living room. When Mom left for work Sharon went with her.

After I had my breakfast and cleaned up the kitchen, I went over to see Carol. The house was real quiet so I went down the hall towards Carol's bedroom. She was laying on her bed crying. When I say crying, I mean she wasn't just crying little tears like when you bang your toe. I mean she was sobbing. I sat down on the bed and put my arm around her and held her to me and just let her cry. I didn't say anything or even ask anything. I held her in my arms and brushed back the hair from her face. For over an hour we just sat there holding each other. When she finally stopped crying I was holding her in both of my arms to my chest like a little kitten. I said nothing, I just waited for her to do or say whatever she wanted. Carol unfolded herself from me and lay down on her bed and slowly went to sleep without saying a single word. I didn't want to leave her alone so I went into the living room and looked for a book. The first book I saw on the shelf was "The Enemy Stars"; it was brand new and hadn't even been read yet. I went back to Carol's room, tossed a pillow on the floor and started reading.

About 11:30 I heard the back door open and close and heard someone walking down the hall, Sharon was looking for Carol. As she looked into Carol's room she could see Carol and me and that Carol was asleep and I was sitting on the floor reading book. I looked up and I was shocked at what I saw. Sharon motioned for me to follow her down the hall, I got up very quietly and I pulled the quilt up over Carol to keep her warm. As I walked down the hall the house had an eerie feel to it. All the times I had been in their house, this time it somehow felt very different, sort of the feeling you get once or twice in your life, sort of impending doom. When I came into the kitchen where there was more light I saw something I had never seen before on a woman. I have seen boxers after a boxing match and even after somebody had been in a car accident, but never had I seen anybody alive that looked like this. Sharon's eyes were black and blue all the way back to her ears, her nose was bandaged, her lower lip was swollen and cut, she had a cut on her chin as well. There was a bandage wrapping a splint on her left arm and big round bruises on both of her upper arms, and around her neck. I'm sure that there was more that her dress was covering up.

When I had seen her earlier that morning I just saw her from the back, and now I could see why she didn't turn around when I came in.

As I sat down in the kitchen she told me that my mom had taken her to work with her so that the doctors could take a look at her "little accident" and fix her up. She hadn't gone to the doctors at the base because they would have asked a lot of questions that she didn't want to answer. Sharon was talking to me for the first time as if I was an adult, not the 14-year-old friend of her daughter, who lived next door. I gave her a kiss on her bruised cheek ever so lightly, and went home and cried.

Nobody saw The Major for two weeks. After my paper route was done, I washed up and went next door every morning, Carol and I fixed breakfast for her and Sharon. After breakfast I would help clean up. Carol and I would just hang out for the rest of the day making sure that Sharon didn't have to do anything. We even went to the supermarket together and did the shopping. Mom and dad didn't say much about me being over there. They would come over after dinner and see how things were, watch a little TV, have coffee and whatever Carol and I had baked up during the day.

One morning as I was starting out on my paper route and I saw Major Goodwin was parked out in front of his house asleep in the front seat of his car. I went over to see if he was OK. The window was open just a little from the top, but the smell of booze was so strong I just left him there. I went back to the house and got my Dad up and told him about seeing Major Goodwin being asleep in his car out in front. He got up, put on his pants, and told me to go on and deliver my papers and he would take care of it.

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Story tagged with:
mt/ft / True Story /