If there is one thing my parents and older brother had in common it was a huge lack of patience. I’m sure I was lacking some myself back when I was a child, but from my perspective it was very unsettling to have “grown-ups” around me acting out their frustrations.
We lived in a three-bedroom house; I enthusiastically agreed to share a room with new baby Brian; sixteen-year-old Tom was in the room next to ours, and my parents’ room was across the hall.
Brian, as most infants do, would wake up crying several times a night, and as much as Tom loved our new baby brother, he had a hard time with being woken up out of his sound sleep. Amid Brian’s wails I could hear Tom yelling and punching his headboard out of frustration. Mom would tend to Brian each time, at least when he was in his infant stage.
I remember soon after Brian was born I had a nightmare that he got sick and we had to have him put to sleep (euthanized). I cried out and my father came in to see what was wrong. I told him about my horrible dream and he stroked my face and told me in a comforting tone, “we don’t put sick babies to sleep like we do animals.”
That was probably the only tender moment I can remember where my father, Brian and I were concerned. As Brian grew a bit older and was able to stand up in his crib he would sometimes not want to lay down and go to sleep. I could see our father across the room trying to get him to lie down. Brian, around a year old, would defiantly stand back up, holding onto the crib rail, and our father would in turn force him back down. After a few more rounds, the forces became more aggressive, and the silhouette of my father throwing Brian down in the crib will forever be engrained in my memory.
It wasn’t until many years later my mother admitted to me that Dad never wanted the baby, and if he had been around much longer, he would have wound up in prison for killing Brian. She told me of a time when Dad dislocated Brian’s shoulder while forcefully wrestling with him to lay down; Mom of course had lied to the doctor and said Brian had fallen from his crib.
My response to this information was something along the lines of, “Well, I’m glad for the way things turned out, then; I would have never forgiven Dad for taking my little brother from me.
As for my mother’s patience, hers was lacking more where I was concerned. Back then I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t let me cook. She would let me help out with things like peeling potatoes and other preliminary tasks, but as for anything like baking or making soups, the kitchen was her territory. Looking back I realize that it had more to do with the fact that she simply didn’t have the patience to train me in that capacity.
I have my father to thank for changing that. One afternoon Mom was thinking about making a cake, and I offered to do it. “No,” was her reply (yet again), and I went sulking into the living room where Dad was sitting.
“What’s wrong?,” he asked.
“Mom won’t let me make a cake; she won’t let me make anything,” I pouted.
Dad got up from his chair and went into the kitchen. I heard him say to her, “She’s ten, Bettye! She’s going to be a teenager soon and still won’t know how to make a cake? C’mon…”
The next thing I heard was my mother’s order, “Okay, Kelly, get in here.”
Dad came back in the living room and sat down. I went into the kitchen and for the next hour or so, Mom instructed me how to make a Betty Crocker chocolate cake. A couple times, when she would get frustrated with me, she would snap, “Now, this is exactly why I don’t…,” then remembering that Dad was in the living room listening, she calmed her voice, changed her tone and did a Take Two on her attitude and instruction.
I will never forget that afternoon, and in spite of the conflicts I had with my father, I will always be grateful that he subtly bullied Mom enough for me to start getting busier in the kitchen; it is a craft that has served me well ever since.