Vol 1: Spellbound‎ > ‎Read‎ > ‎

Ch 05: Loren


I was born in a small farming town in Eastern Washington called Pine City, the youngest of three.  My sister, Vivian was six years older – she tried to act more like a mom than a sister, but I usually ignored her.  My brother, Robert – Bob for short, who was just one year older than me was my best friend, in the way that only brothers that close in age can be.  My dad, Ira, grew up in the same town.  Heck, both his parents are buried in the Pine City cemetery.  Pine City was a small town when I was growing up there, now it is practically a ghost town.  Dad signed up for the draft for World War I but didn’t have to fight. When he was 20, he married my mom Ruby and they sure loved each other.  We hardly ever saw them quarrel.  I know I wished more than a few times to find a good wife like Mom.  Well, I guess I did eventually.  I think Mom was a bit disappointed when I couldn’t make my first marriage work, but I am getting ahead of myself. 

Dad worked the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.  It’s amazing how many men the WPA employed at the time, almost 10% of the population. President Franklin Roosevelt created the WPA to help with the severe unemployment problems created by the Great Depression. By the time World War II started, Dad was working for the Office of Censorship in Washington D.C. and later the Bureau of the Budget.  D.C. was okay, but I was glad when Dad decided to move back to the West Coast.  We moved to Seattle where Dad worked in real estate and later as a carpenter and building contractor.

Dad was always trying new things, and he was a perfectionist.  I suppose he passed the later trait onto me, not so sure about the first.   Heck, he is about to receive a degree in real estate assessment from Olympic College in Bremerton at age 74 with straight As.   He did teach me my love of wood and water and the importance of serving my country. 

After I graduated from Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Washington in 1946, I joined the army.  I think the time we lived in D.C. might have had more of an effect than I realize.  Dad was certainly proud of me.  Even though the Japanese had surrendered nine months earlier, I thought I could still be of service.  I was transferred to the Signal Corps in Alaska for a few years.  While living in Alaska, I developed a passion for the outdoors and camping and strengthened my love of sailing.

When my enlistment was over, I was admitted to the University of Washington under the G.I. Bill.  My love of the outdoors prompted me decide to be a forestry major.  My brother Bob owned a mechanics shop in Greenwood in North Seattle and I helped him out when I needed to earn a bit of money while in college.  One day while working at the shop, he told me he really liked a girl name Caroline.  Bob had tried and tried to get Caroline to out with him, but she wouldn’t go anywhere without her best friend Phyllis.  He asked if I would tag along on a double date to ensure Caroline would finally say yes when he asked her out again.  I gladly agreed and we soon became quite the foursome going out, dancing, seeing movies, and playing cards.  Phyllis was so different from everyone I had met before. We had a lot of fun together even though we didn’t have much in common.

I was a bit surprised when Phyllis told me she was pregnant.  I was still trying to finish my forestry degree, but I knew what my duty was to her.  It took a bit to convince her, but Phyllis and I married and shortly thereafter Larry was born. I quit college and took a job building houses to support my little family. Almost immediately, Phyllis was pregnant again and our second son Gary was born about 18 months after his older brother.  In a way I was glad we had the two boys so close, perhaps they would have the type of friendship Bob and I have. While I can’t say I was happy all of the time, I can say that Phyllis was certainly unhappy most of the time.  It seems to me that some women just aren’t meant to be a wife and a mother.

Larry was born with a problem with his lower esophageal sphincter; this is the valve that keeps the contents of your stomach in your stomach.  He stayed in the hospital for the first three months of his life as everything kept coming back up when he ate.  When the hospital finally permitted Larry to come home, we had to feed him a teaspoon of formula every hour.  This was quite tedious and too much for Phyllis to handle.  Her father helped out with Larry so I could go work.  Since her father was there, Phyllis felt unconstrained by parenting and started going out – a lot.

Phyllis loved to dance and told me she wanted to pursue her passion and become a dancer.  I tried to encourage her to do something she liked, thinking this would improve her mood.  Often, she would leave as soon as I got home and stay out late.  When I left in the morning, she was passed out to the world.  Soon, this was happening every night.  This went on for some time and then progressed to her being gone for a few days at a time.  She would leave for 2-3 days and show up again as if this was a usual circumstance for a married woman with a baby.  Thank goodness her father continued to help with Larry during the day, as I had to go to work. 

The sad thing was, when Phyllis was home she had little interest in Larry.  Perhaps this was because she hadn’t bonded with him since he spent his beginning in the hospital.  When Larry wasn’t sick, he was a quiet baby but I don’t think Phyllis could handle being around babies so her dad continued to help out.   I hoped that once our second child was born, Phyllis could spend time to bond with our new baby.  Maybe her mother instinct would be triggered and she would feel more connected to Larry and then we would feel more like a family.  But, after Gary was born it only got worse.  Since Phyllis’s dad was still busy caring for Larry this left Phyllis on her own with Gary and he was not an easy baby.  Phyllis grew more distant and soon seemed to resent Gary.  Gary was a ball and chain that kept her tied to the house; our second baby prevented her from dancing and doing the things she enjoyed.  Rather than bring our family together, Garry pushed Phyllis over the edge and she slammed the door shut on us.

Sometimes, when I came home from work, I would find Gary crying in his crib, the stink of his diaper permeating the house with Phyllis nowhere to be found.  Later, when Gary was older he would be locked in his room.  How long had she been gone I would wonder. One time, I found him locked in his closet.  I wished he could talk, so he could tell me where his mother was.  I don't know how, but we managed to live like this for a couple of years. 

The low point was when she left for a week.  When she turned up again, she begged for forgiveness and said she would change.  She was so convincing, and I wanted our family to stay together.  My mom taught me the sanctity of marriage.  Phyllis made a special dinner that night to celebrate - chicken.  Perhaps she forgot that I don’t eat chicken.  I worked on my uncle Bob’s ranch plucking chickens when I was a boy and I haven’t eaten chicken since then.  Oh well, at least she was trying.  When she wasn’t looking I fed it to the dog under the table.

Things did seem to be getting better after that. For about a month, Gary was well cared for, the house was in order, and she seemed happy.  Or, perhaps this is what Phyllis wanted me to think.  I came home early one evening to find Gary locked in his room again, at least she was still in the house. Larry was at her dad’s.  “What's the problem?” she innocently inquired.  “You know, he is used to it and it helps me to get things done.  Plus, he is so hard to deal with.  I can’t stand the crying and whining.”  She smiled sweetly.  I began to wonder what was she doing while Gary was locked in his room that required her to be without him.  Surely she could clean and prepare dinner with Gary at her feet.   Perhaps I didn’t want to know, tried not to know.

One thing was clear, I had to leave her; but I couldn’t leave the boys with her.  I engaged an attorney who said it would be very difficult for me, a man, to be awarded custody over the boys’ mother.  He advised me that I should keep a log of all of Phyllis’s exploits, time away from home, and her neglect of the children.  I began to keep a record as instructed, and being an old signal corps guy, I rigged up a system to listen to what was going on in the house while I was away at work.  I discovered she was bringing her lovers home.  Something I suspected deep down, but had never confirmed.  That was the last straw for me; I wanted to leave her the day I found out.  But, what would become of my boys if I left suddenly?  If she knew my intentions she may change her ways, and I had to wait and gather evidence so the court would award me custody.  This was a difficult time for me, living a double life pretending everything was okay while my wife saw other men.  Finally, my logbook was full; I could keep my boys and have Phyllis out of my life for good.

While Phyllis was gone for a month I filed for divorce and custody of the children.  I changed the locks too.  When she returned like she had in the past, I refused to let her in the house.  She begged.  I told her I filed for divorce and she asked me about the boys.  Ha, she never cared for them before, why now with the door locked.  Larry was almost four years old and Gary was just shy of three.  It was Phyllis’ family; they helped her to engage an attorney. I just have known.  Her dad spent so much time caring for Larry - they were emotionally.  They filed for custody and a court date was set. They were my boys, I was so nervous I might lose.  It would be the worst thing for my boys if she was awarded custody.  Her parents had no idea what she was really like.  On the appointed day, I arrived at the courthouse with my attorney.  I couldn’t sit still with worry about the fate of my sons.  We sat in the courtroom and waited ... and waited, no Phyllis.  Her attorney asked for a continuance.

A few months later, I was at the courthouse again waiting.  She showed up this time, but she was drunk.  Phyllis asked for more time.  The judge again agreed to a continuance again. When we went to court the third time, Phyllis didn’t show at all and I was finally awarded custody.  It had already been more than a year and a half since I changed the locks on our front door.  Not one time had she even bothered to try and visit the boys except for the first day she tried to come back.

For a while, life continued at the frantic pace of a single parent.  Everyone told me my boys needed a mother, but I didn’t have time to meet anyone.  My friends kept trying to fix me up with different girls but I usually said no.   There was a girl my friend said “I just had to meet – she was perfect for me.”  He said she would be at a New Year’s Eve party, “why not go?” he asked.  “You need a break anyway!” he continued.  At the party, I saw Jody from across the room and I watched her chatting with her friends.  She was so beautiful and I could tell she had a great spirit and heart.  When she got up to get a beer, I decided to introduce myself.  I fell in love instantly.  It seemed like fate, we were meant to be together.  I couldn’t wait to marry her and spend the rest of our lives together. 

We had a whirlwind romance.  She laughed a lot.  Jody was a giggler. The sound filled my heart.  I forgot what that was like.  I tried not to get too jealous of all the men who noticed Jody, but Phyllis made it hard for me.  Jody’s two girls were adorable.  It was terribly sad, the accident that killed Bob.   I couldn’t imagine those girls without a father. As soon as were married, I adopted Little Jody and Bobbie.  Even though we had not planned on having any children together as two boys and two girls seemed just perfect, I was secretly pleased when Jody told me we were expecting a baby a few months after we were married.  Once Kerry was born, the house was certainly full of the chaos of children. My workshop became my sanctuary during the moments when the noise of all of the children became too much for me.

Kerry is still so adorable; she earned a special place in my heart.  When she was young, it was hard for me to discipline her with her sweet smile, golden curls, and pleading blue eyes. Heck, even at 16, it is still hard to be cross with her.  I just hope her sisters haven’t influenced her too much.  Help me if they have!

Little Jody was always so headstrong and spent a lot of her time with her nose in a book.  As a teenager, well, she was the worst to deal with. Jody just didn’t know what to do with her when we caught her smoking and stealing from us.  We sent her away.  It was in a group counseling session I realized that I might not have been too fair with the kids growing up.  I tried.  After that, Jody and I would sometimes go to the bar and go dancing together.  She just got married.  Not to someone I really approve of but I hope it will work it.  If it doesn’t I won’t be as hard on her as my mom was on Jody. 

Bobbie was sick a lot was when she was a child.  Jody was better suited to care for someone who was sick; she liked working with sick people.  I learned from being around Larry that I am not good with sick children.   Having Bobbie sick so often when she was growing up caused me handle her with care.  I remember how trying it was for Phyllis to deal with Larry’s infirmity and was afraid Jody might start to check out but Jody didn’t seem to be too worried about Bobbie.  Jody is very organized and keeps everyone on task.  This is a relief for me.  I was able to focus on my work knowing the house is well managed.  Bobbie was on the same road as Little Jody so we sent her away too.  The program didn’t seem to have the same affect on Bobbie as it did on Little Jody, but then again, I don’t think she was as out of control.  Bobbie is expecting her first child.  I just can’t believe I am going to be a granddaddy. 

Larry is now a healthy young man, quite independent and seems to need little from me.  Not sure he really ever did need much.  He’s graduated from college and teaching in Tacoma.  We’ve had our differences over the years, what father and son haven’t, but we have a love of sailing as common ground.  Having this neutral territory certainly helps us relate to each other. 

I feel guilty about the time Gary suffered with his mother.  I tried to compensate for the hard start to life he endured.  Gary is such a smart young man and any problems he may have are certainly not his fault. His experience with Phyllis took a much larger toll on him than his brother.  He experienced the worst of her neglect.  I don’t ever want him to feel like I would abandon him as his mother did – no matter what he does.  Growing up he was often trying to push his boundaries.   He tried to follow in my footsteps and joined the Army.  Things just don’t turn out well for Gary.  He is always trying to make things better; it just doesn’t work out that way.  When Jody helped me to acknowledge I wasn’t fair with the children growing, I realized it was Gary who I failed the most.  I hope it isn’t too late to make amends.  I have confidence that with my support I can help him grow into the man I know he can be.  Our sailing trip is just thing.