It has been twelve years since I left this town. Before that time, Sis and I had been living with Dad on a little side street in West Brattleboro, VT. Today, I had just come over Route 9 from Albany, NY. I had never traveled this road, but there was a sense of nostalgia. I was looking for traces of my mother--where she was and what had happened to her. When last here, Dad was breaking up our home and he said we couldn't take anything with us.
Burn everything were his orders. "I have to go downtown to the bank and clear out my accounts. Everything in the desks and drawers gets burned. We will be leaving here by daylight tomorrow." Andrea helped me pick up the stuff of Mom's that we had been directed to dispose of and take it out back to the burn barrel. We collected everything. There were many pictures, our school papers, including some even from as far back as when Mom went to school. The box that was under the bed held a bunch of stuff that Sis and I had never seen before. There was a mountain of papers out by the incinerator barrel when we collected everything we could find.
Big Sister put herself in charge. "I want to say good-bye to Sally. Please, will you burn this stuff Adrian?" I started, but the papers burned slowly, especially if you put too much on top of the fire at once. No way did I want to stand around doing this while she was saying so long to her friends. I chucked Mom's old school stuff in the barrel and still had boxes to go. It would take another two hours to burn it all and I was sick of it! I scooted across the street to one of my friends. I felt like the world was coming to an end and I wanted to get him to help me.
Mike Bickford convinced me to store what I had left in his attic where we often played. Why did I do this? Some of it was because I didn't want the chore, and some was because the pictures were the only ones of Mom. Maybe someday I could come back and give them to Mom when we were together again. Some of the stuff I might like to keep for myself right now, but Dad was insistent that everything we had was to be trashed or burned.
Mom was in prison and Dad was too ashamed to stay here in the Northeast. He had secured a new job in Texas. He convinced us that we should start a new life for ourselves some place where people wouldn't know about our mother. We were leaving behind what had been a terrible three months for all of us. Mom had been caught on I-91 coming up the thruway from Springfield, MA. She had fifteen hundred dollars worth of drugs in the car.
She was always a loving person to Sis and me. She was small and slightly voluptuous. As far as we knew she wouldn't break any law, and especially not one like she was charged with.
Mom claimed that she didn't know anything about drugs. The State Police had received a tip, stopped her, and searched the vehicle. Of course she gave them permission, because she was unaware. When the drugs were discovered, she was soon on her way to jail. The stash was found under the front seat. Dad bailed her out and she was home. He hired an attorney to represent Mom. She cried most of the time until her trial, not believing this was happening to her.
Andrea and I couldn't believe it either. Sometimes it didn't seem as if Dad was supportive enough. For the last year or so, he had been cold toward Mom. He wasn't loving like he used to be with us either. It came down to Dad being the boss and he brooked no arguing back from any of us. He often fought with Mom and cussed her out, stating he didn't know the woman he had married. When her trial came up, there was no chance for her. A known dealer testified that he was supposed to receive the drugs. He claimed this was after Mrs. Hunter had approached him earlier, saying she was going to have a load to sell.
Sis and I heard the verdict and only had a few minutes to hug Mom before she was led away. Two weeks later she was sentenced to three years minimum in prison. A week after Mom was installed in her prison cell, Dad gave us the orders to burn everything.
Dad was never a father to be demonstrative. Very seldom had he ever raised his voice to us, or ever spanked us when it was deserved. There were never any hugs or kisses either. Looking back, I guess Dad could be considered without emotion. And we had never seen much affection displayed toward Mom during all of their time together either. They had slept in the same bed, but kept to their own sleep schedules.
The house we had been living in was rented. Dad told us the furniture was to be sold to a second-hand dealer. Our stuff was given to a place that sold everything and the money went to benefit the elderly. Included in this were all of our toys, the kitchen utensils and the dishes. Dad even sent what few tools he owned to the same place for them to sell.
He packed a few bedclothes and blankets in the back of the van and we headed for Texas. Losing your mother and moving from the only home you have ever known, was traumatic to a girl of eleven and a boy of ten. Not only that, we had to have trust in someone who had never shown much affection for either of us.
"When will we see Mom again?"
"I can't say, Andrea. It will be at least three years. That is the minimum time she was sentenced to. If she doesn't follow all of the rules and regulations, it might be longer. We can only hope. It would be best if you didn't think about her. She committed a crime and now she has to pay for it." That was all of the sympathy we received from our father. Immediately after reaching Texas, I wanted to write to her. Dad said to write the letter and he would mail it from his office.
It was hot and very dry in this section of Texas. Dad worked in an accounting office in a larger city near the town we lived in. He had rented a small house, and we were expected to keep the house clean for him and get our own meals. We didn't have to get his, as he always ate in the city before coming home. Our diet was pretty limited, consisting of mostly cold cereal for breakfast, and either hot dogs or hamburgers for the other two meals.
School was a shock to both of us. These people were very different from the ones we grew up with. This was a German community and there were also Mexicans everywhere. Many spoke in their own language when in their own homes. Also the Texas drawl was hard to understand at first. And--we were Yankees. This may have been a holdover from the carpetbagger days. We certainly were harassed about our origins.
To compound the situation, Andrea and I were quite intelligent and that bothered our schoolmates. We were taunted daily and it was a trial for us to leave the school grounds at the end of the day without getting into trouble. Our savior came in the form of an elderly spinster who was a displaced Vermonter. She had been teaching in the area for thirty years. We were invited to her home after she helped us escape a pair of bullys.
She instructed us in class behavior, so that it wouldn't challenge those that were envious of our capabilities. "Never get more than ninety-seven on a test. When answering a question, hem and haw as if you don't know, and then the answer will be a surprising guess to you as well as to the teacher if it is correct. At this point in your life, it isn't going to matter what test score you are marked with as long as you know the subject. Things will change for you when you attend a larger school and your roots won't be so evident."
Miss Rena Harris became the friend and mother we were so lacking. When Dad sat us down and informed us that Mother had been stabbed to death during a fight while in prison, Rena Harris was the only one we could go to for consolation. She was the only one that cared and she cried not only for us, but with us. I was twelve at that time. Two weeks later, Dad moved a woman into the house. In some ways our life became easier. Sandra Beeman could cook, so finally we had meals that were at least a change from our usual diet.
It also had its drawbacks as well. The house was small and Dad was a pretty randy person. I don't know what you call a woman like that, but Sandra met Dad bed-bounce for bed-bounce. Two months after her arrival, Andrea and I had a new stepmom and we would be having a halfsibling in just a few months. I hated Dad and Sandy--Dad mostly. Maybe it was just jealousy. I was too young to know my feelings.
A larger dwelling was purchased and we moved to a more populous area in the city where Dad worked. Our student troubles largely disappeared because we could lose ourselves in the body of students. We didn't forget our Miss Harris and anytime we could find bus fare, we made the trip to visit her. She encouraged us to learn, learn, learn. "You don't have to let everyone know how smart you are. Someday your knowledge will pay off. You children have had some unhappy times, and they may well continue. You must find satisfaction in yourselves and in your accomplishments."
Our stepmother was a lot younger than our own mother had been. She was only twenty-three when she and dad married. We never knew, of course, how dad had acted around our mother when they first married. If he had acted the same way toward her as he did around Sandy, we felt he would have loved us more and would have been more supportive of Mom during her troubles.
Andrea and I couldn't forget Mom, and we often talked to each other about how life would have been if she hadn't gone to prison or had not been killed while incarcerated. We held each other and cried on the date we had marked on the calendar when she should have been released. We couldn't understand why we never received replies to the many letters we had sent off either. The prison officials should have allowed her to send us a birthday card, or cards at Christmas.
It was only natural that we turn to Sandra as we were always with her. We helped with her babies. Two of them were born by the time Andrea graduated and the third came on the day of my own graduation. She never talked about her life before we knew her. We were aware through various slips of the tongue that she was from the Northeast. I guess she must not have known much about our mother because we would be thinking of Mom and go ask Sandra for an answer. She never had much of a reply and the subject always seemed to change. I said we helped with our half sister and brother. For awhile Andrea was intrigued with having a newborn in the house, but as she got older, the babies were a bother to her when Sandy asked Sis to care for them. I was just the opposite. I wanted nothing to do with them at first, but as they grew from baby to little individuals with personalities, my love for them grew as well. And too, Sandy seemed to appreciate it. I would do most anything to hear praise from my stepmother. Was this surprising? I never thought much about the relationship we had, but we certainly were fond of each other. Andrea had a full ride to college. After all, she had graduated in the top one percent of her class. She went back east to Pennsylvania to study. Her hope was to go out in the field for some government agency or one such as the CDC. Medicine and agriculture held many opportunities.
I was lonely. This was the first time that Andrea and I had been separated. Dad expected me to help more with his young family. Two kids and one pregnant wife before the third one came. Six months before this one was due, we had our first full blown row and when the dust settled I had no place to live. Sandy cried as I informed her I couldn't live there anymore. Still though, in the back of my mind, I was looking for some love from my father. I would have returned it at any time if he showed any affection at all.
Sandy's sorrow touched me as nothing else could have. I had other thoughts about my stepmom as well. One time I was asked to baby-sit Phyllis while Dad took Sandy out to dinner. When they arrived home, she hugged me by way of a thank you. God she smelled nice and at almost fifteen I was well aware of her figure. Two months later she started to swell with her second child, a baby to be named Richard. It didn't matter for I carried the memory of that hug down through the years.
Miss Harris again was my savior when I had to move out of my home. Maybe I was her savior as well, for she was as lonely as I was. We made quite the pair as we sat across the table from each other. Me studying and Miss Harris correcting the papers of her students.
Knowing that Dad and I probably would never reconcile, I doubled my efforts studying and was one of two up for valedictorian at graduation. Not bad to miss the award by only one person. It was just that I wasn't as well rounded. Sports and extra curricular activities had been difficult to take part in because of the situation at home. Andrea came all the way from Pennsylvania to congratulate me and stayed with me at Miss Harris'. Dad wouldn't attend graduation and Sandy couldn't because this was the day she birthed my half sister. I didn't know this until I saw it announced in the vital statistics. The baby's name was Tammy.
She did go to visit our father, but he was as unsociable to her as he had been to me. His thought was that both of us should have stayed in his home to help his wife. Sis escaped to college and I might have stayed at home if he hadn't been so difficult. My leaving had put more of a burden on Sandy, which bothered me, but I couldn't take Dad anymore. Andrea and I began to see that Dad was extremely penurious, especially with those he had little love for.
Not so, Miss Harris. She had known us for six years. Just before Sis left for the east where she was working the summer between classes, Miss Harris came up with a generous surprise. She informed us that she was setting up an account that Sis and I could draw on if we were ever short of funds. This was also to be used to make our life more pleasant, so if we saw a concert or ball game we wished to attend--the money was there. The amount was in excess of $50,000. "This is for being so kind to a lonely old lady that doesn't have a family. I have so enjoyed knowing both of you."
We considered her as family. She was the only one we knew that loved us. "That old lady will always have a home when she retires. You and I will have a home of our own by that time. One of us will see that she is taken care of. Think about it. She is the only one that has shown us affection since they took Mom away."
"You are so right, Adrian."
I worked the summer after graduation in Texas, servicing the pumps that extracted oil from the wells. I joined my sister in Pennsylvania the last of August for my first year of college. I was attending a university near where she was enrolled, so we arranged to live together in an apartment. It was like old times again. For the first time in many years, I felt I could relax. Before this, I had eschewed having a car to drive or going out on dates with a girl, but now we purchased a vehicle together. Not that I hadn't been out occasionally, but my studies had been my first priority. Sis had lived much the same way.
This changed. Now we both knew where we were headed in life and saw there was time to broaden out just a bit. I dated some of my sister's friends and she dated some of mine. I suppose this was watching each other's backs. She never introduced me to someone she felt was wrong and I did the same for her. Both of us were sexually active to a degree, but not overly so. Our apartment was big enough so we both could entertain dates and not disrupt the other.
Neither of us worried about becoming rich. That wasn't our goal in life. Andrea wanted to help mankind. Harking back to when our mother had gone to trial, I still felt justice had not been served. Andrea and I couldn't have known about justice at the time, but we felt it just the same. I intended to study law some time in the future with the goal of becoming an attorney.
I was faithful to my studies and, finding them not overly difficult, I looked forward to when I could go back to Texas to visit Miss Harris. My time with her was short the next year, as I was able to land a job on one of the oil drilling rigs in the Gulf for the summer. It was rough, dirty work, just the opposite of what I did at school. So far neither Andrea nor I had touched the account set up by Rena, our benefactor.
The next three years passed. Dad's oldest child, my sister Phyllis, was seven. I hadn't been to see him and his family for two years. I made the effort as I planned on staying somewhere in the east when I completed my fourth year of schooling. There was tension when I was resentfully invited in. Sandy seemed more glad to see me than my father was. I received my second hug from her and I had the evening meal with them. Dad went out for the evening and Sandra glared after him as his car left the yard.
"I'm beginning to hate your father. I don't think he loves me, if he ever did. He is so cheap it is hard to feed the family with what he allows me. I'm so tired all of the time. He has enough money for us to live better than this. He has always had money, he just never spends it."
"I can't believe that. We have always been poor."
"Not since I married him. I brought almost a hundred thousand dollars to the marriage. He claimed your mother left him more than that when I hesitated turning over what I had for him to manage. He let me see a statement showing upwards of a half million. This was so I would agree to name him manager. He doesn't know it but I know where he keeps the spare key to his lock box."
"Sandy, do you have any way to protect yourself if he leaves?"
"He is my husband. If he left, the court would give me half. I'm not really worried. It is just that he is so cheap."
"Does he act the loving father with the kids?"
"Not really. Not like he did when they were first born. Why?"
"Because that is the way he acted around Andrea and me. Over time, he just drew away from us. You must have noticed. I hope things turn out okay for you. Both Sis and I feel Dad pushed us out of his life and he doesn't want anything more to do with us. You know until my blowup with Dad, I enjoyed living here. It was just that he demanded so much from me, I couldn't take it. I think he was happy I left when I did. I do think of you sometimes. I don't know as there is anyway I can help you in your situation, though. I'm going back to school in a week. I'll stop by again before I go."
"Thanks Adrian. It has been nice seeing you again. You're a pretty nice guy."
I told Andrea all about my talk with Sandy and we wondered if Dad was getting ready to dump her and her kids. "I wonder if he wasn't glad Mom got caught with drugs so he could dump her. He must have been happy when she died so he didn't have to split his money with her. He immediately took up with a new woman that had a few dollars. I bet he is worth more than a million dollars by now."
"Well if he dies, I think we should put in for some of it. Mom must have contributed to some of his wealth. I guess there is no way to find out so we will never know."
Andrea had completed her courses and graduated from college. She was now taking a post graduate course. This kept us together for another year. When I graduated, I planned on going to law school. More and more, Vermont drew me back. The state had a very fine accredited law school and that was where I applied. I would be wracking up some serious debt, because my scholarships ended when I graduated.
Rena Harris was still backing Sis and me, so we weren't worried about running out of funds. The account had gained almost thirty percent, because we tried to replenish the funds we used while working summers. The route I planned to take to see the law school campus was to fly into the Albany, NY airport and then rent a vehicle. I decided to detour to my old hometown of Brattleboro while I was there.