Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chapter 17 Muke Muke

After the canoe I contented myself with a native girlfriend. I first met her when she came around selling fruit and vegetables. When we would not buy she would just sit around on our steps. She wasn't real nosy or bothersome. She just sat quietly and watched what we did and how we ran our house. She was really sweat. She also had a "come hither" passivity about her that drew one towards her. I felt it very difficult to stay away.

Soon we were offering her cookies like one would give to a child or a stray dog. She was simply there, peacefully taking us in. She stayed around , watching with those brown "doe eyes," and watched - a porch sitter. We simply acquired her. She was very mature, as most of the young African women were, even at eleven years of age. I would sit on the porch steps next to her and talk.

I watched her full brown breasts slide against her loose fitting blouse. Soon she was bringing us gifts. This posed a quandary, because in Africa, one can't receive a gift without giving one in return. So, once or twice, we gave her a can of meat. A gift of meat, being a very scarce commodity, was a rare treat, and we never gave a can of meat to any other native.


One day she invited me to see her parents. As my parents liked her and trusted her, they let me go.  Since she lived across the river, I paddled us across in my canoe. We sauntered off into the jungle, me following her. I still don't know why, but she seemed to have an inside line of direct communication with me and my family that made us trust her. On the way down the path to her village, we ate some fruit that she picked, and some luku.

When we got to her parents house we had a full meal. We ate, we talked, we laughed. I don't know what kind of a special occasion this was supposed to be, but it must have been meant to be something special. I only realized that later because we didn't see her again for a full year after I returned that day. When I next saw her she had a three month old child. She was only eleven herself. She told me that she had married shortly after my last visit. She said that when she was full with child her husband had left her and gone to the city. She did not know where he was or when he would be coming back.

She seemed to be suffering a great deal and we did our best to help her. She had a quiet dignity about her suffering that was appealing. It seemed to me that she suffered in such a natural way, without complaint, more like the dignity of an animal. I thought it was beautiful, not like the white man suffered. Life for the natives is hard, but they accept it, and it gives them a dignity I wish I had. There really wasn't a lot we could do.


There were also two white missionary girls that I liked to play with. They were the Delaney girls, Katherine and Jill. They went to school in the capitol with me and their parents were stationed at Bangala just like mine. It was fun having girlfriends to play with. I especially had fun the day Katherine decided to go on an outing with us boys. She was the older of the two and also the quieter one. We didn't really know her as well as her sister. So we were surprised when she asked to go along.

We took off on this particular day to the swamps for one of our exploration excursions. The water was always full of bugs and fish and turtles, and always lots of fun. We could go swimming too. Jimmy, Carl and I took her with us up the road and over a hill to the springs. We called this one, Skeleton Spring, because it had bones all over the bottom, protruding from the white sand. I imagined that the natives performed some secret rites of passage there that the missionaries knew nothing about.

When we got there, as was our usual practice, we stripped and dove in for a swim. It was really thrilling to be swimming naked in front of a girl. We loved it. It was an actual acting out of every pubescent male's fantasy. Katherine would not go so far as to take everything off, but she did undress down to her panties and swim with us. 

Then we carried our clothes and went walking along the miniature dikes around the springs. It must have been a funny sight - three little boys with three little erections pointing skyward, tripping along with Katherine faithfully following behind. We spent the whole afternoon with her playing and swimming but we never touched. It was thrilling enough just being with her. She never went along with us again, but this one time had been quite a thrill. We never talked about it, we didn't tell our parents, and she never did it again.

Our little adventure with Katherine was a very innocent and spontaneous event. But an occurrence a few weeks later was very different. This was something arranged by our parents. Even then, I could not figure out why this occurred. For some reason, Katherine's parents and my parents decided to have us sleep together. I think the plan was to get us all acquainted with the facts of life before we were actually able to do anything about it. I'll never know. None of us had yet gone through puberty. We were just arriving.

They arranged for me, the older of the boys, to sleep with Jill, the younger of the girls, and for Carl, the youngest of the boys,  to sleep with Katherine. I think this was done to be sure that if something did happen, no one would get pregnant. Anyhow, all of this was arranged and simply sprung on us kids. Obviously we accepted.

I arrived at the Delaney's that night in my striped pajamas, toothbrush in hand. I was put to bed with Jill, in a back room, in a large double bed. Just before we retired, Mrs. Delaney came in and put out the light. As she closed the door she whispered, "Now remember, don't play doctor." I couldn't believe it! They had arranged this - they had set it up, putting me in bed with their daughter, and then telling us to do nothing. Did they really mean "don't play doctor, or was this a suggestion? I never knew, and still don't to this day.


Having been put in this situation by our own parents, under their authority, I wasn't about to do anything even remotely like playing doctor. That was something to be done in secret, without the consent of parents. We talked, we talked until late into the night, and then fell asleep. It was sweet dreams for me, but dreams only. I never even touched her, except maybe accidentally in my sleep. My pajamas never came off.

We awoke as innocent as when we went to bed. We were quizzed in the morning by her parents. Later I was quizzed by mine. We maintained that nothing had happened - the truth. I asked Carl after he had spent the night with Katherine, what they had done. Again, nothing! They told our parents the same. Who would have done different? We knew our parents were right outside the door with their ears pressed against it. All I can figure is that maybe they were trying to be sure our libido's were pointed in the right direction. Well they needn't have worried about mine.

Planned nights like the ones my parents arranged, nor the spontaneous ones out in the jungle, really cleared things up for me about sexuality. It was all just a big mystery. There were just too many intricacies and innuendos. I read as much as I could about it in the Encyclopedia Britannica. But all their stuff was about how the primates mated and what their sexual habits were. The only other source for this kind of information in Bangala was the pulp novels and detective story paperbacks the missionaries kept for diversion. I read a lot of those. I learned to love to read. These paperbacks took me into a whole other world, one with a lot more license than the one I lived in.

Many of these pulp novels were mostly sexual in nature. The plots weren't usually the most elaborate. I used to watch my father read them. I would watch until I would see him smile, then I would walk by and glance at the page number, later when he wasn't around, I would read that page to see what he was smiling about. When I read them they were usually sex scenes. So I knew a little bit about my father that he wasn't aware of. My parents never really seemed to realize that I read these books. Maybe I was too discreet. I can say they certainly were more interesting than my school books. My school books were dull in comparison.

Whenever I found a book that was particularly dirty, and I didn't want to get caught reading it, I would go hide with it in the woods. I would climb a large tree to my favorite perch and read. No one ever found me there, and no one ever suspected that I read in the woods. I learned to be careful though. One time I got so caught up in the book that I forgot where I was and fell out of the tree. Scared the heck out of me. Luckily the soft earth saved me from breaking any bones. Finally I made a hammock and hung it in my favorite tree. Now I could lay and read all day. I would take breaks only to listen to some rare bird sing his song, or watch a chameleon crawl up a limb.

Many nights I would continue to read by candlelight. With wax dripping on the hand that held the candle, and the other, holding the book, I in heaven. There were many worlds in these books that I had no other access to, and they really enhanced my life, to say nothing of allowing me to exercise my sexual fantasies. Many of the pulp novels were simple vehicles to deliver sex. That's what I thought, anyhow. At my age that was often enough. The climax of most of these books was when the hero seduced or was seduced and there ensued a furtive tumble in a convenient bed. None of the books were concerned with much else but the pursuit of the female and eventual penetration. But I was still looking for more detail. Clinical, down to the bone.

So I searched harder than ever for more books with more detail on the subject. It was actually very healthy for me to have had these pulp novels available. My masculinity and my sexuality were under constant assault from the suppression and repression all around me. With the exception of the anomaly of our arranged - spending the night with the girls, I lived in a world of religious fanatics, puritanical, rigid and conforming to the core. These novels freed up my sexual inhibitions and lessened the repression. In these novels, passions were expressed, amplified, and acted upon. The heroes knew what they wanted and searched for the willing female. When they found her, they vented their passions, and that seemed good. Passions were not condemned, they were satiated.

The atmosphere I was raised in was entirely the opposite. Passions were condemned as "of the flesh," and bound to bring you down. They were to be kept under control or denied altogether. They were sinful, of this world, not the one we were supposed to be striving for. Sex was for procreation, not for fun, and it was only for married partners. As a male, our nature was condemned. We were dangerous, and females needed to be protected. This attitude made me feel guilty for my feelings. I was sinful just by virtue of having lustful feelings. These were to be curbed by whatever means possible.

What made it worse, was that at the hostel we were always held up in comparison to the girls. They were passive, submissive, good! We boys were unruly, bad, and depraved creatures. We were punished daily for our supposed transgressions. This overly frantic desire to control us only made us more rebellious and less willing to behave. If only they had just let us be. We would have been good little boys. But we never got that chance. What misery the myth of being guilty by virtue of original sin caused. There is no escaping original sin. So while we wanted to be good, we were never perceived that way, and so nothing was worse by what we did. With no choice to be good, being worse than we really were, was freedom. We therefore misbehaved with a vengeance. The quiet little girls were constantly held up to us as the better example of the human race. I am surprised we didn't all wish we were girls, we were hounded so much about the whole business.

At least I was not at the hostel now. And since my parents were busy educating and converting the natives, I was left rather much alone, which was very good for me, as supervised behavior is exhausting. Aunt Daisy wasn't here looking over my shoulder. I was home in the bush having fun, reading twice as much as I did when I was in school.

This summer I was particularly interested in an old maid that lived in the house just below ours. She would invite me down to her house to give her back rubs. I am not sure if my parents knew what I was doing or not. For her though, I imagine it was the closest thing to sex she ever got. She certainly seemed to get excited when I touched her. But I never suspected anything other than she needed some musculature relief. If she had wanted more, I never picked up on it. Or maybe she was too repressed and didn't know she really wanted more.


She had another interesting pastime. She liked to raise little dogs - a type of cocker spaniel. She had the male and her spinster sister had a the matching female. Every Christmas, the two spinsters would get together and help their dogs make puppies. It was a big production in their household. The matter became more and more serious, as after several Christmases, and much coaching and watching, there were still no puppies. Although they reported lots of supervised matings, no progeny happened.

They commissioned Uncle Totty, the "go to guy," to build a cart with wheels so they could push the male around on it. They had finally come to the conclusion that the male was just too short to get his organ up in high enough to get results. They would help him! Well, the cart worked, and the sister's Christmas pastime finally paid off. Their bitch produced a litter of pups. I would have loved to have watched those two old maids pushing that cart around with that male dog on it, humping away.


end chapter 17

Chapter 16 Canoeing on the River

I finished the seventh grade and we were all sent home for the summer. Bangala was a nice place to spend the summer. It was wonderful to be out of school. Uncle Totty had a large dugout canoe that had been made to his personal specifications. It was large enough to hold more than a dozen people. It had a squared off rear end so that it could accommodate an outboard motor and it was painted bright green. With the motor engaged, it would cut through the water like a speedboat. When the dry season came and the river revealed its sand bars Uncle Totty would invite us out to picnic on them.

On this particular day Uncle Totty invited my family along. Picnic lunches were packed. Uncle Totty's family, ours and one other family went on this escapade. We piled in at the dock below our house and off we went. As usual some of the natives in their little canoes tried to paddle along and keep up with us. The crowd on the shore waved goodbye. We quickly outran the smaller canoes and were in the open river.

Picnics were very strange to the natives. They thought they were some kind of a rite, a ritual with a significance that they did not understand and we could not explain. We had quit trying to discuss this with the natives since they never believed us when we told them a picnic was simply that, nothing else.

There was an island in the river a mile or so down stream, and it seemed to help form a number of large sand bars. We stopped on one of them. Most everyone went in swimming but I didn't. I don't know for sure if I was just being anti social or if I was truly afraid of getting eaten by a crocodile. Anyhow, I didn't go in the water. I had heard many stories about people being eaten and this island was uninhabited. I thought that no one really knew for sure if this was a safe area to swim or not. I sat on the edge of the canoe and watched the others swim.

Suddenly there was a rustle in the bushes at the edge of the river and a bevy young girls emerged from the river bank. They were carrying fishing baskets. Apparently they had come to the shallows between the river bank and the sand bar to fish. Seeing us there was a real surprise. They chatted amongst themselves for a minute and then they scampered across the water towards me. The water only came up to their knees. They were naked except for a few beads and G-strings. I watched wide eyed as they came bouncing towards me. They were all young teens and their firm breasts bounced on their chests as they came approached.

I stared with my blue eyes wide! I could see that their eyes were bright with discovery too. The canoes that had tried to follow us had been left behind our furrowed wake, but these girls had been blessed with stumbling across us. They weren't from the local village, so white people were especially interesting to them. They came within ten feet of me and then stopped. I was the only one out of the water, so they stood in front of me, and pointed and laughed and smiled. They discussed me as if they were looking at a prize animal at a farm show, or maybe more like an animal in a zoo. They could not figure out what we were doing here. Their smiles showed rows of ivory white teeth.

They were quite entranced with this unforeseen circumstance. And with me sitting here all by myself, they were not afraid. Soon they began to tease me by purposely jiggling their little tits at me, and moving their hips in suggestive motions. They were completely uninhibited. One of the older ones came forward with a big grin on her face, walked up to the canoe and sat down beside me. She moved her naked buttocks against my thigh. It was more excitement than I was used to. I looked out at the water and could see my father looking intently at these goings on. I could feel the pressure of his stare. I dared not move. I didn't know who I was more afraid of, her or my father.

I sat transfixed on the spot. She spoke to me but it was in one of the dialects that I did not understand, so I just smiled back. I wanted to run off with her and her friends. They seemed so free, so easy, so poised. Not stiff, not fanatical, like the missionaries I was with. But my reverie was short lived because Uncle Totty came barreling out of the water and chased them off. They ran like a bunch of rabbits, toppled into the water, and waded back to the river bank. Then they stood and watched us till we left.

Later that afternoon one of Uncle Totty's friends almost drowned, but Carl and Jimmy saved him. Two weeks later I heard from some of the natives that a large crocodile had been killed just off that very same sand bar. I was convinced that it I had gone swimming I surely would have been eaten. I never swam anywhere except right off the dock in front of our house. I knew it was safe there.

That summer my father commissioned a little dugout built for my brother and I. It was made from a firm white wood and just big enough for two. We quickly mastered the little craft and soon were able to cross the river and land where we wanted to. This was not an easy task as the current in the Kwilu was very swift. You could not paddle directly across the river. It was just too fast. To do it we had to first paddle upstream along the shore where we could push with our paddles on the bottom of the river. Then, when we were far enough upstream, we would nose out into the river, still pointing the canoe upstream.

One had to cross at a diagonal going upstream to cross, as the current was too strong to just head directly across. We would paddle as hard as we could. By the time we would get to the other side of the river we would have been pushed back downstream to about where we had started on the opposite bank. But we could do it, and soon did it very well.

Sometimes, I would take the canoe across by myself. If I arrived on the other side, upstream from my intended landing point, I would turn the canoe around and go with the current, still paddling. Boy could I get up some speed! I could then come swooping into the dock like a real master. Sometimes I would bring natives across that needed a lift. Once I brought a woman across that was in labor and she left blood on the bottom of my canoe. I considered it the mark of a hero.

These canoes are highly maneuverable and quite suitable to water, but nonetheless, require a certain acquired skill. Standing up in one of these dugouts is a real balancing act. They are narrow with a round bottom, and barely stay upright when empty. Anyone not familiar with these canoes, finds it almost impossible to stand  in one. Carl and I could stand up well in them because we had had practice in the swamps. We knew how to keep our balance.

Each person riding in one of these canoes needs to have the skill. Even if there are two experienced people in one of these canoes, a third person with no balancing skill, will topple the canoe every time. All three persons end up in the water, often with the craft left upside down. This was brought home to me very clearly when my dad decided that he was going to learn to use our little dugout.

My father came down to the river in a pair of army green shorts. Typical attire for him in the tropics. The natives, perceiving that something different was about to take place, followed him down to the river. A small crowd gathered while my father instructed Carl and I to unhitch the canoe from the tree root where it was securely chained and padlocked. We were frightened, as we did not want to anger him. We were sure he would end up in the river, soaking wet.

We spent about five minutes explaining to him how hard it was to keep one's balance in the dugout. He found it very difficult to believe. We wanted him to sit in the middle between us and take a couple trips across the river first, then try some paddling. But he insisted that he was going to stand up and paddle. There was nothing we could do to avoid a spanking, so we obliged.

Needless to say he couldn't do it. He couldn't stand up and keep his balance for even a few seconds. Over and over again he turned the boat over, dumping the three of us into the river. The natives on the bank were howling with laughter. Some of them were laughing so hard they couldn't even stand up. Several fell off the riverbank into the water. They had never seen anything like it before. I felt like one of the three stooges.

My father grew angrier and angrier. He couldn't believe that it was this hard to stand up in the canoe. Since Carl and I could stand and paddle, he thought that he should be able to. He thought Carl and I were doing something on purpose, because we couldn't keep the canoe from tipping over, every time he stood up. He yelled and screamed at us. The natives howled even more. Here was the white missionary father trying such a simple thing and failing. Over and over and over he tumbled into the water. Over and over again we tried.

We knew if dad could just relax and take a few trips sitting down, that he would get the feel of it, and be able to do it. But he wanted to do it now. It didn't appear such a hard task. But he just couldn't do it now! When he finally gave up, after more than an hour,  he made us put up the canoe and come with him. He scolded us all the way up the hill to the house. He was sure we had done in on purpose so as to discourage him. And he was furious with the natives who had had such a great afternoon's entertainment.

In the days that followed, my father did not ask for any more practice in canoe maneuvers. My brother and I were free to paddle wherever we liked without him. What a blessing! I had an ulterior motive for liking to cross the river. While paddling up the shore I would always pass women bathing. That, for a pubescent boy was a real treat. The women didn't care if I looked. Since I was paddling by, ostensibly to cross the river, I seemed innocent enough. Some of them found me amusing. So I crossed the river a lot. My stares never hurt them. I would head out across the river, paddling with my back to them, so they wouldn't see my erection, poking out my little shorts. Once though, one of them did notice, and they all laughed when she pointed it out.

Once a fish as big as my canoe turned in the water, just beside my boat. The sun caught the scales on its side, and I could see him clearly in the water. In the flash of the reflected light, I was scared to death to see how big it was. I stood frozen. And I did not return my paddle to the water until I had drifted much further downstream. I didn't do any more canoe crossings for a number of days. It took a while for the fear to subside. The murky dark water was always frightening to the imagination, but to see such a big fish swimming next to me, seemed a real threat.

Since most of the natives did not have canoes, I was often asked to give rides. I never refused. It made me feel important. Another time, I took a woman and her newborn baby across to the hospital. Actually this was stupid,for many of the natives did not swim. They would bath, but swimming was not typical. If I had dumped the canoe over, and the rider drowned, I would have been killed.

The natives still believed in old testament justice, "An eye for an eye." Even in the big cities it was like that. If you had a car accident and someone was killed, often, the driver would be pulled from his car and beaten to death. A cultural reaction. The police in Leopoldville had instructed the missionaries to not stick around if involved in an accident. They told us, "Head straight for the nearest police station and report it, but don't stop." When I got tired of my canoe, I played. Sometimes I took walks with a native girl I liked.


end chapter 16

Chapter 15 THE NEW HOSTEL

With the field clear, Uncle Ron began digging the foundation, filling it with rocks and cement. Uncle Ron was an ordained minister, not an architect. This however, was not a stumbling block. He would build it as best he could. That's how the missionaries got so much done. They just did it. Then they lived with it. They weren't the poor me types. There were no building codes, and a white man could build just about whatever he wanted. Miracles were performed under this can do system - chaos with a mission. Uncle Totty flew in from the bush once in awhile to help; he was the official builder sent out from our mission board. The place was built without professionals, much of it done with child labor, both willing and unwilling. By the end of the year, the new hostel was up and running. We children and our hostel parents moved in. What real joy!

This house was full of children. Adults seemed superfluous. Twenty four people in all, and only three adults. It was big, it was beautiful, but mostly it was ours. The hostel was in the shape of the letter Y. The large center area was for playing games and for meetings and devotions. One wing was the kitchen and dinning area, the eating area facing the center. The other two wings, one for boys and one for girls, were dormitories with a central bath and shower. Uncle Ron and Aunt Daisy roomed at the entrance to the boys wing. An Australian spinster roomed at the entrance to the girls wing. You can guess what her job was. Keep the boys out!

This brings up the subject of sexuality. It was a huge paradox to be in Africa, while being children of strong Puritan lineage. At home, around our missionary parents and guardians, sex was taboo, while outdoors among the natives, sexuality was pervasive. You could start just by looking around, sex was being performed by every kind of insect, lizard, bird, toad, rodent, and by the pigs, goats, sheep, chickens and ducks that roamed freely. The desirable hens had no feathers left on the back of their necks because that's where the roosters grabbed them. The tropical jungle was a regular sex parade.

On top of that, the African children seemed to mature much earlier than us white children. Most girls were pregnant by the time their breasts were developed, and they went on being pregnant till they died, or passed menopause. It was very noticeable. I could never figure out why. No birth control and no restraint - a big cultural difference! The average native life span was around forty years, so short that marrying and having children early was a necessity. All the native women in their teens had children.

From a young boy's perspective, I was enticed early, as bare breasted women were everywhere, especially in the bush. Nursing was done constantly by the majority of women, and so breasts were always in view. And of course, sex had to be a constant to keep the flow of children coming because half of them died before the age of three. So many children died that a family would get two or three to adulthood out of six or seven born. So children were expected to grow up fast, and be productive as soon as possible.

We white children in comparison were kept children as long as possible. Most certainly we were kept away from sex. As best as that can be managed with sex going on all around. Africa was teaming with life and everywhere you turned their was one animal on top of another or one insect stuck to the other, end to end. It didn't take much to figure out what all the bugs, toads, lizards, chickens, goats and sheep were doing.

I always thought that the missionaries wanted to keep us children as long as possible to lengthen the time for indoctrination. For I can readily say that the most dominant feeling I had as a child was that I was being indoctrinated. The longer we were physically and psychologically dependent, the longer the adults had to structure our minds in their manner. Missionaries were good at this. One could paraphrase a famous poem and say, "A child is a child, is a child, is a child." The missionaries wanted us to be children for life - psychologically at least. They took over whole native cultures didn't they? They were expert. So missionary children like myself learned to daydream - the only mental freedom we had. No one could see in here. And I learned to hide very well. What other choice did I have? Unfortunately, years of practicing this led me to be hidden from myself.

Sometime during the year of the new hostel, I got hold of a BB gun. It wasn't mine, but belonged to a friend who didn't use it. It didn't work at the time that I discovered it, but I talked him into letting me fix it. I did get it fixed and had my mother send down all the BB's I had brought from the U.S. Every day after school I would go hunting. I must have killed ten to fifteen birds each afternoon. I also shot lizards and toads, but BB's don't kill them and they would just run away wounded. Soon I could gauge the effect of the wind and the pull of gravity, making with every shot, the appropriate adjustments. I shot any bird available, and spared none. If it came into view, I shot it. I even shot tiny little hummingbirds. In order to lessen my guilt I would give the birds, even the smallest of them, to the natives. They ate them, as they ate anything that moved. I watched them once cook a hummingbird I provided in with some beans. It added just a touch of meat flavor.

The hardest birds to kill, or even get close to, were doves. You could hardly get close to them. They were a very shy breed. There were two kinds. The "Road Dove," so called because they fed mostly along the sandy roads in small groups, and flew off at the slightest sound. Then there were the large "Gray Doves," more the size of pigeons in the U.S. One almost never even saw these. They kept mostly to the tops of the large mango trees. They staked out perches high in the trees from which they peered down. I always wanted to get one of them but I never did until one time when my sister came down for a visit.

She was out walking and spotted one. She yelled, "Come. Come, there's a big dove out here by the palm tree. I can see it." I grabbed my BB gun and ran outside. I could see the dove, it was on the ground. I put the palm tree between me and the bird and walked quietly up to the tree. The bird still did not see me. I raised my rifle, aimed and shot. Three feet into the air the bird leaped and fluttered, then faltered and fell flapping desperately on the ground. I ran out to it and caught it. I held it down with one foot and shot it through the eye. It stilled suddenly. That was a trophy. Once I killed two gray doves with a friend who had a pellet gun. It was more powerful and so we could shoot at them in the top of the trees. We cooked them and ate them. Not bad really. Just not much meat to it. After that though, I began to hunt less. I felt that there really wasn't much meat there for killing such beautiful birds.

I had very little sympathy for other animals. I don't know why. Part of being male I suppose. As I grew older and began to feel some guilt, I began to rationalized my behavior. I would tell myself that certain animals were pests, or that others were just so ugly they deserved death, just for looking that bad. But these were all just excuses. One of the ugly species I justified killing, were the local fruit bats. They fed at night in the mango trees. They made a lot of noise. And they really were ugly.

A fruit bat is very large. The wing span is often five feet. From the middle of each wing protrudes a bony hand that was once a forelimb. If that weren't frightening enough, the face reminds one of a moose, only with pointed ears and many soft folds of skin around the nose and mouth. The folds are part of a smelling apparatus for feeding in the dark. The first time I saw one up close I would not even touch it. We had shot it out of a tree just at dusk, right outside the hostel. It was wounded in the wing and tumbled out of the tree to the ground. We played with it for many hours, eventually, killing it.

We missionary kids were always forming clubs. Each had its own clandestine purposes and operations. As long as a club could keep exclusive membership or retain their secrets it survived. Once these aspects were lost, the club would falter and die. What was there to attract one, or to preserve, once the mystique was gone? The tree house clubs were the most fun. There were many formed and many tree houses built. But building a tree house was just the beginning. The real fun was fighting to keep other boys our of your tree house. There were many great battles fought when a rival gang would desecrate your club's tree house. Oh what terrible fights we got into. Sometimes they would last for months, with battles being fought every day or so. The boys that couldn't run very fast had to learn to stand and hold their ground or stay in and read.

Once in a great while you might be able to get a girl to go up in the tree house with you. If you could accomplish this, it was great storytelling. You could say you got a kiss, or played some doctor game. Your prestige would go way up. If you were actually seen in a tree house with a girl, you would be talked about and discussed, which was greatly desired by all.

Sneaking around the hostel in the still of the night was a wonderful thrill. Though it was frowned upon by our foster parents, they had to get some sleep. We boys would creep down the girl's hall in the dead of night, fantasizing all the nasty things we would like to do. One night I was dared to go all the way down to the end of the girl's wing. Not being able to refuse, due to my reputation, I went. Just when I got there, the whole rest of the gang made a big noise, clapping and screaming just outside our beloved spinster's door. Out she came in a flash, and I only had time to duck into a closet. I must have stayed there hiding for several hours. I was certain that I would be discovered. She even opened the closet door several times, but she never saw me. My heart was pounding like a cannon. I thought for sure she could hear it, and know I was there. Finally, after I felt she might have gone back to bed, I crept out. I snuck quickly back to my bed and stayed quite tame for several months. I was really upset with the rest of the gang that had tried to get me in trouble. After that, I contented myself with raiding the kitchen fridge for several months. I didn't want to be accused of something in the spinster's imagination.

This year there were several of us older boys that were approaching puberty. There was a natural arousal and interest in sex. We watched the dogs and cats do it. We watched all the animals do it. We were very excited by all these new feelings. Girls seemed unfathomably desirable. When we were with any of the girls, and witnessed some of the compound dogs mating, it was even more exciting. We would look at the girls' eyes and faces and exchange questioning looks. Sometimes we would make replicas of our genitals in the sand and the girls would make replicas of theirs. Sometimes they would blush, or look sheepish, which is a real turn on. It was all very new. Very exotic. One time we filled the whole sandbox with genitalia and then had a mad barefooted frenzy, pounding them into oblivion. We didn't dare leave them for fear the hostel parents would see them. We would have reaped a whirlwind of wrath and vengeance if we had. Luckily this never happened.

One day, when we were playing in the sand, we boys noticed that Becky would not take off her T-shirt. This was unusual as she had always been like one of us boys - a real tom-boy. This really gave us an opportunity to tease her. We did.

"Hey Becky! What's wrong with you? Can't you take off your T-shirt anymore?" I said.

"Are you a lady now?" said another.

"Don't you feel funny not taking off your shirt?"

"Are you going to get a bra soon?"

"My father said I was not to take my shirt off anymore," she countered. We teased her mercilessly that day, and for several weeks afterwards. Poor girl, she really wanted to be one of us, but her body was taking her away from us. It was only a short while after this that we began to notice little budding breasts through her shirts. When she got sweaty from playing hard, her T-shirt would stick to the little buds that stuck out of her chest. Her dad must have seen them coming. We would get her to play four square and basketball with us just so she would sweat and we could peak at the revelation inconspicuously.

As we boys that were reaching puberty, we felt more of the urge, and began to sneak around the compound at night. We spied in the bathroom windows from whatever hiding places we could find. And we would run at the sound of footsteps that might be someone out to catch us. We spent many hours waiting in the bushes outside bathroom windows, patiently waiting for any glimpse, however fleeting of any of the missionary wives or older daughter. There wasn't a single woman on the compound that one of us hadn't seen naked.

My brother and I discovered that you could get up in the attic of the hostel by climbing through the porch, which had no ceiling. We would sneak up through there and go over the girls showers and lift up a ceiling tile. We could see them showering plain as plain as day. That was great fun. We kept that one a secret. It was too good to loose by spreading the word and having some bozo get caught.

There was a pretty risqué business going on during evening devotions too. While we were supposed to be listening to the Bible readings and singing hymns, we would be looking up the girls bathrobes. The devotions were directly after showers. So we would all be in our night cloths. Some of the girls could never sit and keep their legs together. While Uncle Ron read in a high monotone from the "Good Book," and Aunt Daisy led the hymns, we boys would be peering up the girl's robes and down their tops. They were naked underneath. We boys shared a lot of pleasant sights. One of the girls, Jill, with quite voluptuous breasts, was so oblivious to our stares, that we could literally stand there and just stare at them. She never noticed. She could never keep her legs together either. One night Uncle Ron saw what was going on and ordered all the girls to wear underwear under their robes to devotions.


end chapter 15

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chapter 14 Back to the Congo

The best year that I could remember was now over. I was on my way back to Africa, the humid, green, hot, unpredictable Congo. Not the Belgian Congo any longer, just the Congo. The name would soon be changed to Zaire, and the capital city would be called, Kinshasa, not Leopoldville. I had had a year's vacation from the pain of always being a foreigner. Now I was off to be one again. I hoped it would be better this time.

We took a Pan Am plane back to the Congo, and again, the first leg was to Belgium. It was still the major airline hub to the Congo. We returned to a free country, no longer a colony, and we hoped more peaceful. We returned to Bangala the place we had left just a year before. For some reason, our house, singled out from all the other missionary houses, had been lived in during our absence. My father had always been friendly with the Congolese, inviting them into our home and often for supper. It seemed that this may have been the reason that the natives felt free to live in our house while we were gone, but not in any of the other homes.

I stood in the middle of my room and cried. I felt violated. Rape must feel something like this. Although most of what I could remember was still around, it had all been used. My clothes had all been worn. Some were now yellowed and had holes worn in them. I went through all my things and felt the old familiar pain, the mental anguish of my childhood. Nothing was really mine, everything that was mine had been desecrated, handled by someone else, without my consent. It didn't cheer me to hear the other missionaries telling how their houses were exactly as they had left them - even to the point of twenty francs of change still on a dresser where it had been left. All I could think, was, "Why my house, my room, my things!" I knew life wasn't fair, but this violation was too constant.

We spent the summer in Bangala, a vacation of sorts. I got used to the new situation, and then it was time to go back to school again, in the big city, Leopoldville. We occupied the same yellow tow story hostel we had had before. This time however, we were on the second floor and we had new hostel parents. Uncle Ron and Aunt Daisy. On our arrival we were told that this year, a new hostel would be built. The new one would be built as a hostel, designed just for that purpose. That too was good news. It made us feel important. Being shuttled around all the time had never made me feel important, a theme that was pervasive for me.

There was a very fortunate occurrence regarding school. This year, a Mennonite sect from Kansas had set up an English speaking school. It was an international school that took in missionary kids as well as other foreigners, mostly the sons and daughters of the foreign service and large companies with staff in the Congo. I was elated to be going to school, taught in English, for the second year in a row. I had been luck, and was now in class at my grade level. I had caught up.

The year started out okay. Then uncle Don came down with hepatitis, some called it yellow jaundice. It was type A, the kind that was spread through bathrooms. Every male in the hostel got it. Uncle Ron was partially better when all us boys came down with it. Uncle Ron almost died from it. We kids thought for sure we would die from it. Oh, were we sick! Yellow to the bone, pissing blood and vomiting till our guts seemed inside out. One by one we boys got sick. First a yellowing of the skin became noticeable, then the whites of our eyes turned yellow, then the weakness and nausea. Then our urine would turn blood red with bile and then the vomiting would begin. I was the last to get it. I was so weak I could barely lift my head when the others were feeling better. I only had the energy to vomit. So while I was so weak I couldn't move the other kids were well enough to take advantage of me. They couldn't get out of bed so they entertained themselves by making soggy paper wads and shooting them at me with rubber bands.
Splat, splat, one after another the wet wads hit my head. I complained to Aunt Daisy, but every time she came in they hid them. Since she couldn't catch them she didn't think it was as bad as I made it out to be. So much for a another start at school.

We were all thin and very weak when it was all over. We were told by the doctor not to play any sports for a year, and not to do physical labor either. But that advice lasted about as long as it took us to get outside. We didn't hesitate to play. We just quit when we were so tired we couldn't stand. There was also work to be done. There was a new hostel to be built. We kids were invited to help. Since so many projects in the mission field are team efforts, and much of the labor voluntary, kids were allowed to help. We actually did do quite a lot of work. It was one of the few things that made us feel important.

Uncle Ron was in charge of construction, although he had never built a house before, nor had he any education in building construction. He just got advice from Uncle Totty, another missionary, but with extensive building experience. Uncle Ron showed us kids where the field was to be cleared and we set about doing it. We had a lot of fun. For instance, is there anything children like more than being destructive? I certainly enjoyed being destructive as a child. Anyhow, the first order of the day was to knock down the old servants' quarters and cook house. We weren't given any specific instructions, just permission to level it. We proceeded to do just that, with whatever tool we found. We made a game if it, and carried out the scheme. The servant's quarters was long narrow series of rooms - baked mud bricks held together with mud. It had served as decent lodging for many years, but with a gang of boys cut loose on it, it was rubble in no time. We played war games, threw bricks and rocks, pushed walls, and kicked and screamed. It never seemed like work. Soon the place was leveled. All that was left was a pile of sand which we smoothed out level with the the ground.

The next order was to cut down all the trees, mostly palm trees that were in the way. That too became fun and games. Uncle Ron, to speed things up, offered us 50 francs for every palm tree we cut down. If you have ever tried to cut down a palm tree, you know it is not an easy task. The reason is simple. The palm tree rises from the ground on its roots. The older it is, the higher it sits on its roots. Sometime the tree may be sitting four feet off the ground. These roots are one mass of solid spongy tough fiber. Cutting into this bulbous mass of root is like trying to cut steel with a rubber spatula. The spongy roots give when struck with an ax or machete, and the tool bounces back at you. No damage to the root. But dangerous to you. Very frustrating.

I started out with a lot of enthusiasm on one particular tree. My enthusiasm didn't last long. I took a break and began to think how I could get the job done the easiest. I had two ideas. One was to get someone else to work for less than I would get paid, and secondly, I would see if I could cut one palm tree down in such as way as it would fall and hit another tree. It would surely knock that one over too. At least that is what I thought. I bragged about my idea, but Uncle Ron told me it couldn't be done.

The next day I recruited an older African student to help me. I told him I would give him a stick of gum if he would cut the tree down for me. He agreed, I don't know if he did it for the gum, or just for something to do. Perhaps he thought if he got involved, he would get a regular job out of it. I don't know. But he did proceed and I instructed him as to how I wanted the tree to fall so it would hit another one just thirty feet away. We did it. He cut while I watched. By that afternoon, the first tree fell. Just as it reached its full thrust of the fall, it hit the other palm tree which it uprooted and tore from the ground. They both lay fallen and I was ecstatic. I had been brilliant. A real capitalist. A creative artist!

I ran to Uncle Ron for my 100 francs, 50 for each tree. He didn't believe me at first, when I told him what I had done. He had to come see for himself. He was sort of pissed off that I had done what he said couldn't be done - and by a child as well! When he saw that I had in fact done it, he had to give me the 100 francs. He knew that the second tree that was uprooted was no accident either, because I had told him ahead of time what I had proposed to do. But being the adult, and the hostel parent, he made me give 50 francs, half of what I had earned, to the student who had helped me. I really resented that since I had already given him his stick of gum. What is fair? All in the eyes of the perceiver.


end chapter 14

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chapter 13 Lovington

There was a town in a valley not to far from Hossburg were my cousins lived. The cousins were Uncle John's and Aunt Helaine’s children. I loved being at their house. It was so warm and human, not cold as so many places I had lived. Uncle John was gone a lot driving his coal trucks, but still we felt that he liked being with us children best when he wasn't working.

My cousins were a friendly bunch and very positive in outlook. Bad things happened, but they took them in stride so well, you almost couldn't notice. Since my aunt and uncle had five children of their own, they understood children and related easily to me, my brothers and sisters. It seems that if we weren't at my grandfather's we were at their place.

Their house was also on route 15, about twenty feet from the edge of the road. Trucks roared by day and night. At night they didn't even slow down and you could look out the front door and see them whizzing by at seventy miles an hour. Few dogs or cats survived living at this house on the highway. A few smart ones with a natural instinct for the dangers of the road, did survive. Uncle John and Aunt Helaine lost a couple horses to route 15.

Right out the back door was a white picket fence that kept the horses corralled. It was very nice to look out the kitchen window and see the horses. When we were young and small they kept ponies and small horses. We rode them most of the summer. When we weren't riding we would be playing in the pasture. Playing in the Tioga river. There were a few places deep enough to swim in, and there were plenty of small pebbles to skip on the water.

My aunt Helaine had run off with Uncle John when she was just fourteen. He was in his twenties and back from the World War II. He had been a bombardier on a B-15 with war stories to tell, and a purple heart. My grandpa, the preacher, had a lot of trouble keeping his kids home. What with my dad eloping with my mother, and Helaine running off at fourteen. He hadn't liked Uncle John from the very beginning. The two of them kept a quiet tolerance most of the time. Grandpa used to say that he knew Uncle John's family and there was some genetic predisposition to epilepsy. He didn't want his grandchildren picking up any of that. But grandpa turned out to be right as several of Uncle John's children were epileptic. It never slowed them down much. No hiding it. We talked openly about it. It never became a stumbling block for any of those affected.

After a summer in the U.S., my father decided to go back to the mission station at Bangala, even though it was not safe. So he left us, mom and 4 children, and went back to the Belgian Congo. We kids were glad he was gone. Life would be easier with his overbearing authority weighing on us. We spent our time playing to our hearts content. My grandfather built a go-cart. It was pieced together from old mine carts, washing machine parts, and an old lawn mower engine. It looked like a little red box-cart, except it had a real motor. We rode it up and down the driveway bouncing in and out of the potholes. We chased rabbits in it, and sometimes tried to scare the old landlady. She may have been more of a sport than we gave her credit for, because we never heard a word from Grandpa about bothering here.

When we tired of the go-cart grandpa dug a pond. The rains filled it and he made a little boat from two car hoods from a junkyard welded together. Those old hoods had sides and when welded end to end, made a nice metal boat. We paddled around in that little pond by the hour, making believe it was big a big ocean. We were pirates of the open seas and dug for buried treasure on the Tioga river bank. We convinced ourselves that pirates had come up the Tioga and buried their treasures on the banks, right where we were digging.

Sometimes we took off along the railroad tracks as they followed the river. We liked throwing rocks at all the snakes that liked to lay in the tracks basking in the sun. Sometimes we took a BB gun or pellet gun along and shot at them. We tried to kill rabbits too, but we just hurt them mostly. Blinded a few, at least in one eye, before they got away. We shot a lot of robins too, even though Grandpa would remind us that they were protected by law and we weren't supposed to.

One of our favorite pastimes was to go out to the city dump at night and watch for bears. We would park along the rim of the dump and leave our lights on. Often bears would take advantage of the light and rummage through the garbage in the glare of our headlights. When the bears moved on we would drive home slowly spotting dear, raccoon, and other small animals. It was very exciting. When all was quiet on these leisurely drives, we would beg grandpa to quit smoking. He had had several heart attacks already, and cancer of the throat. We didn't want him to die and take away all our fun. But he never would stop. He liked it too much.

During the day people would go to the dump and shoot rats with a 22 caliber rifle. Not much else to do for entertainment in these hills. I didn’t like guns with bullets. I liked air guns because they were quiet. The others hurt my ears. I was in the minority though. Most of these hill people liked guns and hunting. I guess grandpa got tired of just looking at bears and decided he would get his youngest son a bear gun. What he bought was a 303 English infantry rifle. He found it at an Army Navy surplus store. Only paid seven dollars for it. It had a wooden stock that went all the way down the barrel. He sawed the extra wood off to make it look more like modern rifle. He smoothed down the edges, sanded and polished it, and what a beauty it turned out to be. He called it his bear gun. Sonny killed a lot of deer and a few bear with it over the next several years.

I didn't like killing dear. Squirrels were about as big an animal as I really wanted to shoot. My grandfather would shoot squirrels right out of the trees. He was a good shot. He would make us squirrel caps with the tail hanging down the back. We even ate some squirrel meat, but it was very stringy and tough and hardly worth the trouble.

The days got shorter and so did the fun. Then the fun ended when school began. I was taken to school early to take a bunch of tests. These placement tests were to see if I could be moved back up a grade or two. I passed the fifth grade level test with a D, so they passed me to the sixth grade. If this hadn't been done I would have been behind in school my whole life. I wanted to be with my peers just like everyone else.

The school bus left from the center of town. I had to walk there to catch it. It used to drive me crazy because this was the opposite direction of the school. After all the trouble I went to get to the bus stop, the bus would pass right back by my house to get to the school. To walk a mile in the cold and snow, then wait outside for fifteen minutes at the bus stop, only to pass my grandpa's cozy house a half hour later seemed absurd!

None of my cousins were at the school with me. They lived a few miles away. A little grammar school was just up the road from my Uncle John's house, and I would have liked to live with them and go to school half a block away, but their house was already crowded. The two cousins that were old enough to go to school were taught at home because of the epilepsy problem. I felt slighted because they got special treatment and I wanted some too.

I surprised myself and did fairly well in school. I think part of the reason was that my father wasn't there to criticize me. I did much better on my own without someone hanging over my shoulders telling me to study. I got no satisfaction out of studying for my dad, only for myself. I felt getting average grades. I didn't need to get straight A's, as my father thought. While he was gone, I didn't even flunk math. Neither did I cause undue trouble for my teachers. They thought I was normal. What a change of experience for me. Didn't get in many fights. I liked the absence of my father and relished in the freedom from constant overseeing. The good food and good television also did me a lot of good. I even got a little chubby from my indulgences.

That winter was not as fun as the summer had been, but it was good. My feelings about myself were on the mend. It was a year of much less mental pain than I had gotten used to. The change did me a lot of good. Turned out to be one of the best school years of my life! I don't associate a lot of pain with that year; that's how i know. The lack of constant torment allowed me to blossom. I knew my father had had a troubled and tortured childhood, but I didn't understand why he couldn't do better. After a year, things had settled down in the Congo. It was time for us to return as well. My father sent for us and it was back to the bush again.


end chapter 13

Chapter 12 - Apalachia

We drove the two lane blacktop through the hills to the small town where I had spent the first few years of my life. I hadn't been back for four years. Seemed like forever. Like so many other mining towns in the area, Hossburg seemed to by dying -- it was at least, at a standstill.  The coal veins had given out and the young had been moving out in droves. Those that stayed behind, or where left behind, managed as best they could. My grandfather ministered to them from a small Baptist church, white clapboard, with a baptismal picture behind the pulpit. He had stayed with this small church in the dying town for a long time. He could have had a big church in a larger city, but he preferred the intimacy of a small town and a small church. He never went back to the big city and the big congregations.

Route 15 runs right through the middle of town. My grandfather's rented house was just off the highway down a gravel drive full of potholes. That summer we kids spent a lot of time and effort trying to fill the holes, just because we loved him so much. He played with us; so we worked for him, whether he asked for our help or not.

My grandfather only had three quarters of the house - the downstairs and half of the second story. The other half of the upstairs was occupied by the landlady. She kept an eye on us, so that the whole family under surveillance. But, we never saw her much and were glad that we didn't. We kids used to love to jump off the steps that led to her apartment, round the back of the house. They were steep with open side rails. We would climb them and jump out the side, daring each other to jump from one step higher. I don't remember any of us ever breaking a limb, but it is difficult to understand how we did not.

At the top of the stairs was a door that the landlady rarely used. It was her back door. One afternoon while I was watching TV I saw how a thief was able to get into someone’s house without breaking in. He saw through the keyhole that the key was on the inside of the lock. He slipped a newspaper under the door  and placing a nail in the keyhole, pushed the key out of the lock. The key fell onto the paper. From the outside, he pulled the newspaper on which the lock had fallen out under the door. I did the same thing. It worked and I unlocked the old lady's door. I invited one of my cousins along and we went through all the lady’s things. We got caught and I got whipped. I never did a thing like that again. I thought I was smart, but my dad made me feel otherwise.

The house was white and fairly large. It had two porches - very nice to sit on. My grandparents mostly lived on the first floor and so when we moved back in, we got the upstairs. The stairs going to our part were at the back of the house. My parents got the first room at the top of the stairs and we kids got the other room. My youngest sister got a crib in with my parents.

Once I caught the room on fire. I had cut the cord from lamp and plugged it into an outlet. The wire heated up in my hand and melted the plastic covering right off. I dropped it to the floor and it ignited the curtains all along the window. I ran yelling "fire, fire" down the stairs. My grandfather came running up. He grabbed the wire with a pair of pliers with rubber handles and yanked it out of the wall. Then he and Grandma pulled down the curtains and stomped the flames out. Luckily, I didn't burn the house down. He didn't say much, but I got whipped when my father came home. Grandpa did burn the house down a few years later.

From upstairs I used to like to look out the window. It was a sort of private view of the world from there. No one but we kids were ever up there so it was sort of like "our window." I could see the Tioga river at the end of the yard. It was still beautiful, although not like it used to be. It had an orange color now, run-off from the abandoned mines. The water that now seeped into the river had turned every rock a burnt orange. The rocks covered the banks and the bottom of the river. Sewage from the towns along its banks also ran into the river. Once we surprised ourselves, and Grandpa too, when we caught a fish - a small perch. Grandpa couldn’t believe it came from the river, except that it too was dyed orange. He made us swear we wouldn't eat it. We tried to keep it alive in a fish bowl but the fresh water killed it.

Across the river, past the railroad tracks and up the hill was a hospital. It was the one where my burns were treated. One of my brothers was born there too. Sometimes I would sit and watch the drain from the hospital to see if any amputated limbs floated out, but I never saw any. Below the window was the cellar. My grandfather spent a lot of time down there. Mostly in the winter though, when he had to shovel coal into the furnace. I liked to watch him do that. It made him look powerful. One year he spent much of the summer down there switching it over to gas. Looking out the window, off to the right of the cellar, was an old doll house. That's what we called it, but it had originally been a storage shed. We had to smoke a hive of bees out of it once. That was fun. And even the stings were worth it!

Further down to the right there was an old chicken coop. Next to it, a red barn, left over from when this land had been a farm. Most of my grandfather's descendent's learned to ride bike by riding down the hill from the barn to the road. It wasn't too steep so you could learn to coast down it before you had to peddle. I learned on that little hill too. Beside the barn was a small woods. In the middle of the woods there were some old mining carts. There was some old mining track laying around as well.

Rabbits and small animals were plentiful. We had lots of rocks from the river to throw at them. There were lots of snakes too, attracted to the rock for cover. Many of them were copperheads and rattlers. In the summer when we would go blackberry picking with Grandpa and Uncle John. They would tell us to "Watch out for the rattlers." But none of us ever got bit. Once we saw a black bear in the woods and grandpa made us stay out if it for a few days.


My grandfather kept a hammock in the woods. He liked to lie there by the hour just looking up at the sky. I always wondered what he was thinking, but I never asked him. He liked resting in the woods cause grandma never came out there. He counted on that. Besides, he was watching the kids. He loved watching us play. Didn't want to play with us, just watch. And we liked that. The older he got, the more he liked kids, and the more he spent time with us. He always said adults could learn more from kids than the other way around. That's what he used to tell me anyway. I asked him why he didn't go back to one of the big churches in the city where they would pay him better. He always said they needed him more here. I am sure he was right. I think he liked being needed. He was only happy making sacrifices. A trait my father seemed to have taken from him.


With all the traveling in my life, and all the changes, it was always nice to return to Grandpa's house. This was the only place that ever felt like home to me. Every other place was just that, some other place. I especially liked the dinning area. It was not a separate room from the kitchen, but an extension of it. It was usually crowded, and we never knew how many people would be there for a meal. You see, we kids were driven back and forth between Uncle John's and Grandpa's according to our whim of the moment. It was like having two homes.

However crowded the dining room may have been, we could always squeeze in another person. This was because the dining table was long and narrow, and had church pews on either side. You could just about squeeze as many people on one of those benches as you wanted to. You just sat closer and tighter. The table itself was really a large picnic table. At each end of the table was a metal folding chair. At the head of the table, on the wall, was a large picture of a child in a highchair saying his blessing. That always seemed to remind me that I was in a preacher's home. One could feel very important sitting at the head of this table, with the picture behind you, and the church pews on either side. Very medieval in feeling.


The kitchen was just that, a serviceable area with a pink counter top, an old toaster, and one or two other appliances. Not the kitchen of a great chief, but Grandpa could make that kitchen sing. He even rigged up the old fridge so it worked even after the handle broke off. In its place was a large spoon. It had a whole drilled in one end attached to the inside latch. You just pulled the spoon to open the door. It worked well and was a good conversation piece, except that Grandma hated it. There were a lot of jerry-rigged house parts in this area, as there was little money for repairs.

The rest of the house was run down too, but cozy. There were lots of old pieces of stuffed furniture that years ago had already taken on the shape of the human form. Where the fabric had worn off, there were covers put on and tucked in at the edges. There were rug pictures hung on the walls. Very common in this part of the country. Mostly they were animal pictures: bears, tigers and deer. Also there were numerous drawings and paintings of my father's, ones he had painted as a boy. They were all lost when Grandpa burned the house down. They were mostly scenes of the woods and the outdoors. Things I never saw my father interested in, maybe he just outgrew them. I often looked at them and wondered where that little boy was, that drew those pictures, and why I couldn't find him in my father.


I especially liked the early morning breakfasts my grandfather made. The smell of his special style of scrambled eggs mixed with the smoke of his Pall Mall cigarettes, non filtered, was a sure call to breakfast. He always seemed to know who would be up and always fixed just enough. I never could figure out how he did it. Sometimes it was just me and him. What a delight! Those times made me feel so important. So special. I can still remember his pale skin beneath his white hair, a cigarette hanging from his lips as he spread jelly on toast. Sitting in one of those large pews with him at the head of the table seemed like dinning with royalty. Nothing ever made me feel more important than that.


After breakfast, in the summer, it was nice to sit on the kitchen steps, smell the morning air, and listen to the birds.  The dew would still be on the grass, giving it that  special sheen. The rabbits would be out getting their breakfast lazily, till we let the dogs out. To the right of the steps, railroad ties were propped up against the house. They held up the house where it had ceased to do this for itself. Grandpa had floated them across the river from where they had lain for years -left over from when the tracks had originally been laid.


After the dogs did their business, the day began. My job was to play hard and my Grandpa's was to drive around town, stopping and visiting with the different people and  families that needed help. He really heard some good stories. He liked to tell them later, usually after most of the members involved were dead. He did a lot of funerals. Most of the people left in town were older, many of the men had black lung disease. Even the doctor died young, and grandpa told me that his heart was broken because his wife ran around. Grandpa bought the Doc's old car after he died. It helped him keep the good old Doc's memory alive. But he got a good deal on the from the doctor's guilty wife.

Grandpa always wrote his sermons on Saturdays. But he thought about them all week, and sometimes even discussed them with me. Sometimes we kids were the inspiration. We would hear in the sermon, something we had been talking about during the week. The sermons didn't seem that hard to write; he wrote one draft and delivered it from those notes.

He had a little study off the living room. It jutted out from the house like an afterthought. But because of this, it had two sides of windows which gave it a nice view. The room was unheated, but he used it in winter too. His sermons often reflected the weather and the view from his study. In the summer his sermons were warm and beautiful and optimistic. In the winter, they were somber, cold and chiding. He'd catch cold in that unheated room in the winter, and would often have coughing spells during his Sunday morning delivery. Having to stop and then continue. Several times he actually caught pneumonia from being in there half a winter's night. If I were up late on a Saturday night, I could hear his three fingered pecking on the old black manual typewriter.


Grandfather ran his church from top to bottom. He painted the walls, hung the pictures, fixed the plumbing, and every Saturday dusted and mopped the sanctuary. Sometimes I wondered if he knew that the church didn't mean as much to others as it did to him. Maybe he was working too hard? I never told him what I thought about the church. I certainly never wanted to help clean it. I just hated to see him do it. Yet, he never complained, never asked for help. He just did it.


Sunday mornings were more like a rat race through hell than preparation for worship. There was too much duty involved. All this feeling of duty overrode everything and made us solemn. Grandpa would be tired, because he had been up half the night, harried and hurried, wanting us to all be ready on time. He didn't want his family to be late and set a bad example. But grandma was always late. I don't think she wanted to be there on time, the way she always managed to not be ready. I really thought she did it on purpose. I guessed she hated him. She certainly didn't seem to want to have much to do with him. She lived her own life - had her own pet projects - missionary support work. What better time to show contempt than Sunday morning. She did manage that. She really made his life miserable. Rather than fight with her he usually ended up leaving before the rest of us so he wouldn't be late. We would follow later when Grandma was ready. Good thing Grandpa had two cars.


His cars were both the same, so he must have liked that model Buick. I can't remember how he managed that, being so poor, but he loved his cars. They were the original V-8 car, the 1958 Buick. God those were slick looking, gangster type cars. Black with those silver eyes on the side of the hood. He thought these were quality cars and he kept them up himself. Dad used to love to drive them. I liked riding in them because they were so smooth.


Grandma would usually arrive with the children just after the service had started. How appropriate. Made her point every Sunday, just like clockwork. Grandpa would stay mad the whole rest of the week. The church really did have a small congregation, and the choir always had a poor showing. Half the time no one showed up to sing in the choir. So my Aunt would sing solo - impromptu. She would have to sing solo because no one had come to church early enough to put on a robe and sit in the choir section. And there was almost never a choir practice during the week. Just not enough members. If we children or other young adults happened to get to church early on a particular Sunday we were usually drafted into the choir. It wasn't easy to refuse. So any Sundays that we were there early, my brothers, sisters, and I would sing. We knew most of the hymns so all that had to done was put on a robe and sit in the choir section. Sometimes we didn't even know what we were going to sing until my aunt would pass a note to us telling us what page to the hymn was on.


All my grandfather would have to say was, "And now we will have the next musical number," and we would stand up and sing the chosen hymn. The old ladies in the church probably didn't hear well enough to know whether we had practiced or not. Maybe they didn't care. But I really don't think the congregation was aware of the spontaneous nature of their musical entertainment. From the church pew the services seemed to run fairly smooth. We knew all the hymns by heart, so we could always sing them fairly well. When my aunt sang solo she always did a good job too. We helped keep grandpa's church going. Altogether we made the old church seem better than we knew it was.


Sometimes without warning grandpa would announce in mid-service that his grandchildren would sing a song in Congolese. There was no such language as Congolese. In the Congo there were 250 different dialects, we sang in Kikongo because that's what our African hymnals had been written in. At Bangala we had spoken Kituba, the local dialect. He would never ask us ahead of time if we wanted to do this. He would just slip it in on us. He suspected we would refuse. I never liked singing in a foreign language in church in front of a bunch of old ladies. It never made me feel special, more like a fool actually. Freaks in a circus would better describe my feelings about it.


We had been foreigners long enough and it had hurt to be reminded. We didn't like being exploited any further. For much of our lives we children had felt on display, open to ridicule, for being different. We had been gawked at, spit on, beaten - this was more of the same. We didn't like being different, we'd had enough of that. We wanted to fit in, blend with the crowd. We didn't feel that knowing a song in a foreign language made us special, we just happened to know it from living overseas.

So, here we would be, dressed in our sweet little Sunday clothes, cute and clean as china dishes, feeling just dead. We sang our little songs and while the old ladies smiled we were dying inside. I would have liked to spit in their beady little eyes, and on their mink stoles, that were just a little deader than they were. While I would be singing, I would be thinking back to just a few weeks before, when I had been in Africa sitting in church with wall to wall native children who didn't give a damn about Jesus. They were only there because it was the only thing going in town. They were mostly there to look at the white kids. They would sit scrunched together on the pews in front of us, all turned around looking at us the whole time. They paid no attention to the sermon, only to us- talking about us, looking at us, even reaching out and touching us. We were like animals in a zoo. A zoo without walls, yet one could not escape. Singing in front of the church in Hossburg felt no different. Still on display, still feeling used and abused.


Finally I had had enough. My grandfather gave his usual announcement that we would be singing immediately following the prayer. While we were supposed to be praying, with our eyes closed, I made a ruckus and waving my arms till my grandfather opened his eyes and noticed me. I looked him right in the eye and shook my head, "No." He saw that I meant it. After the prayer he announced that he had changed his mind and went on to something else. He never asked us to do that again. He knew I would never do it again just to please him. Being used by a minister of the Lord is no better than being used by anyone else.


My own father never came to my grandfather's church. He was usually out somewhere else conducting services of his own. Sometimes he would drag us along and we would always end up having to be witnesses for Christ because we were "missionary kids." This made us special, the kind of special I hated. But my father thought his mission overruled any objections we might have. We were messengers for the Lord whether we wanted to be or not. That same feeling of being a circus animal would overtake me and make me feel disgusted with my father and everything related to the church. We would put on a performance, but that is all it was, a hollow, shallow piece of work. It was always well received by the congregations in spite of my developing hatred of them. I may have looked tame on the surface, but inside I was seething.

As the year progressed I felt more and more like the whole church scene I was involved in was a psychological cage. The cages varied according to denomination, but they were still cages. Some were like gilded cages, others stainless steel, some like rusty cages. I heard the same nebulous stupidities every Sunday. I saw the same blank ignorant faces and felt the same subtle cruelties. I was being raised in the church, but was learning to hate everything connected with it. Even as a child I knew that my feeling was odd. Most of the other children didn't catch on to what I was seeing and feeling, and I didn't know why. Were they dumb? Did they just not care? I didn't trust the adults around me, and I didn't trust the kids around me. I felt like a total outcast. How was I to trust my own mind when all the adults and other children didn't see things the way I did? It was like seeing red when everyone else saw green. It took me years to figure out that my own mind was worth trusting and that I was right, at least for me.


As for my father and his faith, I never resented him for it. If he wanted to risk his life and sacrifice his health and well being, that was his choice. I only objected to his dragging us along. My mother was passive and we children were captive. We had no choice. This was his trip, not mine. I didn't want to go on this ride. My health and my mind were my own, and I felt he was responsible for protecting me, not subjecting me, to this mental torture and traveling hell!


I did not want to make the sacrifices he did. I didn't want to make sacrifices for the natives, even less for the little old ladies in the small town churches. Their lives were already spent. Why should I be their Sunday morning entertainment. I didn't have my childhood for myself, it was given away to others, and I couldn't stop it. I just wanted my life to be mine. I needed to play and be free to discover myself. Not be told who I was and how to be every single second of my life. I didn't want to be a model for church congregations. I wanted to be on in my own skin, in my own mind, on my own turf. I wanted to forget all the grown up stuff - all that religion. I could choose that later, couldn't I? Maybe after I had completed my childhood job - playing -that wonderful activity that comes so naturally to children. I did not want it now! The alter of sacrificing, suffering, physical or mental, religious or otherwise, was not one on which I was voluntarily going to through myself. I was glad when my father decided he was going back to Africa alone. It was still too dangerous for families we were told. He left and we stayed behind living at Grandpa's.


end chapter 12
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