True story of the day my father held us hostage with his shotgun.
"Nothing fixes a thing so intensely in your memory, as the wish to forget it." Michel deMontaigne, A French Philosopher, 1533A.D.
It was like sitting in a giant ice block in a shadowy room. I was freezing-cold and dark fear surrounded me, filling my body and soul.
I can still hear my little brother crying and begging, "Daddy, please don't shoot Mama. Please don't."
His words spoke my own thoughts and the tears in his eyes mirrored mine that Sunday afternoon. He squeezed my hand and both of us were trembling as we sat there with our sister and older brother. The shotgun that our father pointed at our mother's head was like a giant canon. We were prisoners of war that day, sixty years ago.
Daddy, thirty-four, was a good and loving man when he was sober. However, he was a weekend binge-drinking alcoholic who stayed out until his favorite bar closed every Friday and Saturday night.
He didn't store his whiskey or beer in the house but we knew that he kept a bottle hidden somewhere in the garage, garden shed, or a similar hideaway.
Our small white house was located on a dead-end road eleven miles from town. The nearest neighbor, our landlord, lived almost a quarter of a mile away. Two small bedrooms were upstairs and one downstairs along with the bathroom, kitchen and living room that was small with a black-and-white television, a beige couch, a leather upholstered chair, and Mother's small rocking chair. The room was so small that when additional chairs were needed, they were carried from the kitchen.
When the four of us and our mother arrived home from church that day, Daddy was drunk---not happy-drunk, but mean-drunk.
Mother, thirty-two, always prepared part of the Sunday dinner before we left for church. Consequently, it didn't take very long to serve it. She asked me to help with the task, I believe, more because she didn't want to be alone with Daddy than that she needed my help. My sister and brothers disappeared somewhere outside until called in for dinner. Everybody wanted to avoid being near the "drunk."
While waiting to be called to come to the dinner table, none of us could have imagined what would happen after the meal was eaten and the dishes were clean. In advance, it was not possible to even consider what was to come. Nonetheless, the horrific scene of that Sunday afternoon is still etched in my memory and stamped on my heart. Four prisoners-of-war, ages nine to fourteen, we were sitting on the couch in our living room watching our father and our mother, the fifth POW, sitting in chairs facing us while he held the barrel of a loaded shotgun aimed at her face.
While the six of us were eating that Sunday dinner, the air felt thick and we seemed to be embalmed in a gripping, cold silence that would surely shatter like shards of crystal if words were spoken.
Fear and tension were "kettle-boiling" and, intuitively, I was filled with dread that our Sunday was going to be one of the many days when terror would invade our home. Few words were spoken as I ate less than usual; my emptied fork seemed too heavy to use while the muscles in my hand and arm were tense and stiff.
As soon as Mom finished eating, she stood, picked up her plate, carried it to the sink, and filled the dishpan with hot, soapy water.
My brothers went outside, while my sister and I quietly removed the dishes and food items from the table to help our mother who seemed like a shrunken giant dreading what could happen in that darkening home.
Mom washed, I rinsed, and my sister dried the dishes while Daddy sat at the table, drank coffee, and smoked his Chesterfields. That was a usual and normal thing for him to do, whether drunk or sober. However, there was nothing normal in his explosive silence and the tension in his face.
"That day, five of us were hoping he would sober up. Disappointingly, he did not. After a while, he went out the door to partake of his hidden whiskey---the substance that caused the war he had declared on his family that day."
Just seven years earlier he had come home from military service in a world war. Sadly, he had brought a different war into our home.
After the dishes were finished, my sister and I hurried outside just to get away from the damaging stress of being in the little house. We walked to the end of the road. Neither of us talked about the alcohol and anger. Perhaps we believed that to acknowledge it, by speaking it, would make it real.
She and I seldom spent time together at home or school or church. We didn't have much in common except the home that we shared with an alcoholic father, a religious mother, and the destructive environment that they created for us.
As with so many alcohol-affected families, mine was enmeshed into one hard ball, and, outside of that trap, it was difficult for us as adults to find ourselves, or each other.
After a while that Sunday afternoon, the house became quiet, so my brothers, sister and I went inside so we could watch television, read the Sunday comics or finish homework until it was time to get dressed and go to evening church services.
Our plans changed suddenly when Daddy took command of the living room and created the chaos, the memory of which, still stirs fear inside my soul. As he walked into the room, he demanded that Mom follow him. She did.
He was carrying a kitchen chair in one hand and a shotgun in the other. He turned the television off and demanded that the four of us sit on the couch. Then he ordered Mother to sit in the chair that he had placed facing us. He sat in the upholstered chair beside her.
An earthquake began to shake my soul with silent, freezing fear.
Even though my little brother begged Daddy to stop and put the gun down. Nothing changed. He continued to hold us prisoners with a shotgun that looked like a cannon.
He turned toward Mother with his gun pointed at her face and demanded, "Tell your kids that you're a no-good woman. Tell them about the man you slept with. Tell them now. Now!" Over and over, again and again, he demanded those words.
She was brave. She stayed silent. From an early age I knew that my mother was truthful and lived her Christian values. That day I was only thirteen, but I knew that he was wrong, and, also knew that he had been accusing her since he returned from the World War II. As an adult, I would come to believe that his behavior toward Mother reflected his own adulterous behavior during the war and after. He was discharged from the Navy in 1945 after serving in the Pacific until the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan when I was seven.
During the years that followed, lying awake in our tiny room just a thin wall away from their bed, I spent many nights listening to him accuse her, hit her, and try to make her admit adultery. Finally, I would cry myself to sleep. Even today, I can still hear every word, and all the hitting.
That Sunday afternoon was no different. He kept demanding that she say it. He yelled. He shook the gun at her and threatened to kill her.
That threat filled my brain with visions of a massacre, of that room covered with blood, six bodies and horror.
Hours passed until Daddy began to sober-up and realized what he was doing, really doing. Suddenly, he stood up, turned around, left the house, got into his car and drove away from the war zone that he had created.
When he returned during the night, he told Mom that he had thrown the gun into the river and would never use it like that again. But, he continued to accuse her until his death thirteen years later.
None of us spoke about the battle that we had survived that afternoon. We kept the secret.
I buried it deep in my being—in the place often called the hole in my soul. Forty years later, I found peace when I shared my story and that deathly fear. Scars remain. I am grateful for the healing that came through my counselor. My sister and little brother also found their healing, but my older brother lived just as he had learned from our father.
Healing is a gift to both the one who accepts it and also the next generations of a family. The gift of healing gives the possibility of happiness, joy, peace and comfort.
(this writing will help guide me as I take on the challenge of writing an autobiographical book that may one day help someone else on their life's path. Ann)