My mother and I left The Farm and moved around from family to family – even spending a few weeks in New York with one of my mom’s old boyfriends. That didn’t work out so we moved in with her older sister that early spring. To let you know exactly what we’d gotten ourselves into I will share with you this oft’ glossed over bit of family history: Uncle Marril and Aunt Brenny got run out of town a few years after our stay for growing and selling The Marijuana. In pots (hehe… pun) on their porch.
Marril and Brenny had 3 children at that time, Marco, Jude, and Maggie. Marco must have been 11, which meant Jude and Maggie were 9 and 8. I adored Marco most of all. He was always doing cool things like popping wheelies on his bike, or taking me to the corner store so I could shoplift gum for him, or finding snakes and pinching the backs of their heads so they wouldn’t bite me when I touched them with my pinky. Not once did he even pretend he was going to throw it at me. I idolized him so much that I took a pair of his discarded sneakers from the trash and wore them over my own scuffed up Mary Jane knockoffs every day for almost a year.
My mother had found a job as a His Girl Friday and her hours were as varied as the positions she filled. I don’t remember her being around much during this period, but I do know that whenever I asked for her she was always at work. Truth be told, I don’t remember my aunt and uncle being around much either, and that’s where I’m going with today’s tale.
It was early spring, 1974 and my uncle had just bought a new motorcycle. It was loud and everyone was excited. I can still see Aunt Brenny’s smile as she hopped on the back of the bike and the two of them went off to test it out leaving Marco in charge. Again. My mother had left shortly after breakfast for work hours before so it was just us kids, which meant eating cheese sandwiches in front of the television and then going to the basement to smoke cigarettes. (My cousins smoked. I watched and never tattled because I certainly did not want them “to get” me.)
As they smoked and folded laundry I got bored and went back upstairs to sit on the back porch and play with my prized possession Peaches (a doll that talked and had 2 puppets). It was windy outside and kind of dark, but I don’t remember caring as Peaches and I fell into our make believe world. Thunder rolled and the wind picked up, and pots of pot (heh) skittered across the porch. Then the hail started and I was completely thrilled because it was ICE. COMING FROM THE SKY! That’s when I went inside to get the cousins (who years later I’d found out had accidentally dropped a burning cigarette behind the couch they had in the basement). They came out to see the hail because admit it, hail is one bad ass harbinger of windy doom!
Being kids Jude and Maggie and I ignored the lightning and ran off the porch to collect hail. The hail stung like heck and the wind was blowing my dress and my hair all kinds of ways, and it was all just thrilling. I don’t remember a siren going off but I do remember the expression on Marco’s face as he herded us all back into the house and down into the basement where we rode out a tornado. Four kids huddled alone in a basement while Mother Nature beat out her fury on our house.
Can you imagine? At the time it didn’t seem so bad. I had Marco to protect me. Marco was older, and in my head that meant he was IN CHARGE. But now that I’m a parent I picture my oldest daughter having to face what he did, and my heart breaks for that boy with the bad hair cut and too short jeans.
I’m not sure what happened after that. No one was charged for child-endangerment. I don’t think anyone outside our family knew that we kids had been left unsupervised, but then it was a different time, and I’m not sure it really mattered. Life pretty much went on, and when my mother and I were alone in the room we shared we would whisper about the place we’d find as soon as she saved enough money.