by KD Miller
Cleo Woodrow has realized his father mentally abused him for his own sins. (Cleo - 1905)
Cleo Woodrow’s Diary
January 1, 1905
My Father’s House
I’m spending the first day of the New Year with my two sons. My beautiful daughter, her husband, and my four – grandchildren are spending a week in Brooklyn.
My hand still trembles at the foreign word. I have grandchildren who are not blood-related to me – three exquisite boys, and one headstrong girl, former orphans from a poor Irish family in Brooklyn. If my own father weren’t living in isolation at the sanatorium, a prisoner of his damaged mind, his blood would boil over at the thought! His only granddaughter of pure aristocratic blood adopting four children for her own!
What horror! His wrath would be worse than imaginable. If he hadn’t suffered his tragic fall before my daughter’s plea to marry Frank – there would be no wedding. Despite my age, my father still ruled his household, his adult son (me), and his adult grandchildren with an iron fist. Fate intervened, and my father has the intelligence of a toddler. He is incompetent. His opinion is no longer my concern.
Jasper, Clinton, and I rang in 1905 by standing on the veranda; drinking a glass of brandy, and watching the fireworks explode over the downtown area, courtesy of Mr. Fleming. The man always enjoyed his name and “Owner of Fleming Hardware” advertised all over town. He never missed an opportunity to show off his money or business. I knew vanity when I saw it.
Another party was being thrown at Crystal Lake – I didn’t have the energy to join my friends - a large majority still shunned me, despite my heartfelt apology at my daughter’s yearly Christmas Party. Every fiber of my body ached in remorse for the cruel act I did to those children, but it worked out for the best, didn’t it?
Frank and Catrina adopted them from me, and they loved them. The moment I answered the advertisement would be the worst, and the best decision I ever made - perhaps, not the worst? Lying to father about Thomas stealing Jasper’s jade ring would always be the most horrid thing I ever did. That simple prank took my older brother away – going on almost forty-years.
As if my two sons could sense my discomfort, they presented me a gift after we retired to the parlor. I pulled off the tissue and revealed this journal.
“Write down your thoughts, father,” Jasper pleaded. “We know you want to be the perfect grandfather to the children, but it will take time. They’re like wild animals, and you must earn their trust.”
I didn’t care too much that my son compared the children to untamed animals - but was he not correct? I had emotionally abused those four babies on the train station platform and refused to send the orphanage money to have them placed on a proper train to Sherwood. Instead, they rode in the freezing cattle car, arriving in Sherwood sick and cold. Poor Millen – that beautiful child with hair deep ebony, his long eyelashes, and almond-shaped eyes…almost died, and would have if they were placed in the barn instead of my daughter’s house.
My pen shakes as I remember the horrible words I snarled down at him, causing Anna to glare at me with such hatred that I honestly believe the street lamps would burst. Anna – she came disguised as a boy. It was the only way to keep the family together. I admired her determination and so did my children.
I didn’t see them again until the party, and how they had changed, and it wasn’t the expensive clothing. I watched them out of the corner of my eye as I gave my speech, their eyes enlarging in disbelief. They looked fatter and healthier. At that moment, I didn’t see four former orphaned “sewer rats” as I had once referred to them, but my beautiful grandchildren. I craved their forgiveness.
“Be the best grandfather that ever lived,” Clinton pleaded as he handed me his gift, a new pen and ink set. “Write down in your journal and study the Bible. I honestly believe they will open up to you. Perhaps not today, or anytime soon, but they will if you believe. Call on your daughter for five-to-ten minutes once a week until they’re used to your presence. The twins have a birthday coming up in February, and it would be wonderful to be invited.”
“Do you think Frank and Catrina won’t send me an invitation?” A jolt of ice rushed through my body, and I fought back the tears forming in my eyes.
“The children are still wary of you, father.” Jasper looked down at his feet, and I knew he was still upset over my actions. I couldn’t blame him.
I knew I had to do something. I would ask to have the birthday party at my house. I would pay for everything – the ballroom could be turned into a stage, and I could hire actors from the Opera House in Van. Frank informed me at the Christmas party that his brother was on his way to the same orphanage to adopt a boy named, Ashton. Frank’s brother already had three daughters. I would invite them, as well as the children of a few families in town. Yes, hopefully, Frank and Catrina would agree to my plans.
“We enjoyed hearing your speech, father,” Jasper smiled, as he poured himself another glass of brandy. “We heard a side of you that we didn’t know existed.”
I felt my eyes glance up, and travel around the room. Despite my father living in the sanatorium, I hadn’t remodeled the parlor in fear the day I did, would be the day his memory returned. I caught sight of the massive fireplace and saw myself at sixteen sitting on the hearth, absentmindedly playing marbles. In my mind I heard the front door banging open, followed by the parlor door. Father stormed into the room, dragging a sobbing Jasper behind him. My brother’s wrists tied behind his back, his blonde hair falling in his eyes, tears plopping down his face - my final memory of him. I once asked my father why Jasper was crying, and he turned around and walked off.
I shook my head at the memory and responded to my son’s announcement by saying it was all true.
“Father you didn’t cause your brother to disappear,” Clinton said. “You told us yourself that Grandfather Alex locked him in that attic for another crime. That crime led to someone freeing him, as well as Thomas and Sybil. I wish you would forgive yourself. Hopefully, this journal will help.”
“All I care about is my grandchildren.” I took the journal and ran my fingers over the cover. “If they don’t forgive me, I’ll wither up and die in this house. My father would be so pleased.”
“Don’t say that,” Clinton’s eyes enlarged with fear. “You can change. This snobby person you hid from your family, and only showed to people you believed were beneath you, died the day Catrina took the children from you. You told us yourself you spent the first week alone, brooding in your bedroom. Your worst fears came true – Catrina witnessed your other personality.”
I fought back tears at Clinton’s bold announcement. My children were smarter than me. At that moment I was thankful my father demanded I send them off to boarding school. He informed me one night their continuing chatter reminded him too much of his departed favorite son. He used the word “favorite” to purposely upset me. I’m ashamed to say it worked and stung. A few days later, my children boarded a train bound for a luxury boarding school. I wouldn’t see them again until Catrina turned sixteen, and returned home to study for her teaching certificate.
A few months later, we almost lost her due to an ovarian cyst. Once again, my cruel father demanded I not go through with signing paperwork for her surgery. He said Dr. Alexander was an idiot, and God would destroy the cyst. Catrina must recover, marry a prominent man, and bear his many children, hopefully all boys. A hysterectomy meant she would never produce heirs.
I walked over to St. Paul’s hospital to inform Dr. Alexander to call off the surgery. The man grasped a hold of my arm, and I almost pulled my revolver and shot him for the bold move. He shoved me into the operating room, and I laid my eyes upon my daughter. She had lost a large amount of weight that she never fully regained. Her hair was falling out. Her skin was yellowish.
I remembered my father telling me how stupid I was to believe a young, inexperienced doctor. At that moment, I knew my father was wrong. Dr. Alexander pleaded with me, and I signed the paperwork. A woman, regardless of age, or marital status, must have a man’s signature on everything. I never thought about how ridiculous it was until that moment. I walked home, and to this very day, my father believes God mysteriously killed the cyst. I was almost forty at the time, and still scared of the man.
As if to reassure me that life would get better, Clinton stood from his chair and came to sit beside me. “You do realize that Grandfather Alex will never recover from his memory loss. You can start over, even at fifty.”
I raised my eyebrows and pressed my lips together in amusement. “You act like your departed mother.”
“Was she lovely?” He asked. I pulled him closer and sighed.
“For the short, five-years the Lord blessed me to be with her, yes. My father might have arranged the marriage, but she was meant to be your mother, and she would have been so proud of the way you three turned out.”
Across the room, Jasper stood up and joined us on the couch.
“Just like our sister was meant to adopt the children.” He said burrowing down beside me. “I won’t lie, at first Clinton and I believed them to be wild, and crass, but how we were wrong. I first met them in downtown Sherwood and marveled at how beautiful and well-behaved they were. In my nervousness, I brought up Jasper and the children were in awe of our mysterious uncle.”
“I went home and informed Clinton we were coming over to meet them before the Christmas party. We found them laughing and playing with Frank. At the party, I absentmindedly reminded our sister that the children were from a broken home and to be careful. She glared at me, told me to mind my own damn business.”
A chuckle escaped my lips. “Sounds like my daughter. She has no clue that she inherited her personality from her Grandmother Heather.”
“Your mother?” Jasper asked. Coincidentally, our eyes rested on the locked door, leading to the attic stairs.
“My mother.” I sighed. “Your sister inherited her auburn hair, petite frame, and headstrong determination. I wish you three could have met her.”
“Me too,” Clinton let out a sigh. “I believe it’s time this family steered itself into a new direction. Grandfather Alex will never leave the sanitarium; therefore he no longer has power over this family. I hate to say this father, but – he’s not going to recover, and Jasper is never coming home.”
The words stung me like a wasp. A gasp escaped my throat. I wished to scream. Closing my eyes, I felt the boys squeezing my hands. They were wrong! He would come home someday. Word would somehow reach him that our father was ill, and he would return home. I would hear a knock on the door, and there he would be. I’ve imagined the reunion for years. Where were you? I would ask. He would give that little laugh of his. Oh, here and there - living with Thomas. I am home for good.
“You’ve been hiring private detectives for years.” I heard one of the boys say. “They all came up empty-handed. Jasper is gone. There was a war going on, and he and Thomas and Sybil were probably abducted by Indians, or they escaped to Mexico.”
I angrily turned my head. “If they were taken in by savages the Calvary would have been notified, and rescued them by now.” I spat. “Remember Olivia Oatman Fairchild?”
“Father,” Jasper pleaded. “It’s time to focus on your grandchildren. Your brother would be so proud of you. Let it go. You did not cause him to disappear, your father did, and he placed the blame squarely on you.”
For the first time since my brother’s disappearance, it all made sense. How could I have been so blind? My father damn well knew I wasn’t the cause of any of this. That man loathed my presence since the day I was born. Jasper was always the Golden Child and got what he wanted. Father used the jade ring to torture me all these years. The man might have spoiled me rotten after Jasper left, but father would use this and twist it. He bought me everything I demanded, pampered me, spoiled me, pretended to love me, and then turned it all around.
I remember when I lost my first case, my father glared at me across the breakfast table. Too bad your brother is gone, he sarcastically remarked. That boy would have made a better lawyer than you. But, someone had to be jealous of a jade ring.
I looked up at the man, but he tossed his nose in the air and turned his attention back to the newspaper. A short time later, my friend Mr. Sullivan came to me for help. He wanted to hire me for a ridiculous case involving a Chinese servant. We met for drinks and I laughed over the details. How easy it would be to send this orphaned servant to jail with no evidence! I took the case, and won!
I remember sailing into this very house after returning from the courtroom in Dallas. Father would be so proud of me! I did what he was told. In a few days, I would send my children off to boarding school, so they wouldn’t bother him anymore, and I won a case. He responded by casting me a tight smile and retiring to bed early. I handled my pain of rejection by becoming the most arrogant lawyer in the area. My reputation and wealth grew, in hopes my father would praise me, but all he talked about was Jasper.
How could I have been so blind? The man never loved me. He used me, and in return, I ignored my children, adapted a snobby personality, and treated my future grandchildren like trash. My father knew exactly what he was doing all these years. He purposely created me to be like this, he was controlling me. He wanted me to put himself over my own family, and I did. I felt stupid. He was punishing me because he knew he was the cause of Jasper’s mysterious disappearance, and not me.
After finishing our brandy, the boys retired to their old rooms for good. They would be returning to boarding school the following week to pack-up, and ship their belongings back home. While attending Sherwood College, the two of them would be living with me. I couldn’t wait! I made a vow to become the best father, and especially grandfather there ever was. To hell with my own father!
Tomorrow morning I would visit him, and let him have it knowing fully-well he had no clue who I was, or why I would be yelling at him. The time had come. I was a changed person. My arrogant past was in the past. My goal in life would be earning my grandchildren’s love and trust. I refused to end up like my father. I would never die old and alone in this house as he told me a thousand times over. Your own children don’t respect you! You will be found old and abandoned – a crippled mummy in your bed!
You’re wrong, father. At the end of this year, I would be writing a journal entry about spending Christmas with my grandchildren! The one year anniversary they came into our lives. I could do it. I refuse to be the person my father brainwashed me to become.
I would write down all the cruel things my father hissed at me throughout the years, from birth to the day he fell down the basement stairs. I might need to purchase another journal to hold them all! One-by-one, I would cross them off, and let them disappear like smoke. I didn’t want to admit it, but my sons were correct, my father would never recover. As for my brother, I refused to admit it. The expensive private detectives I hired all came up with no evidence of Jasper’s death or abduction. He had to be out there somewhere - perhaps living under a false name. Until then, I would change. I would do it for him and my grandchildren.
Perhaps, I could start by telling them about their new heritage as an icebreaker? Did you know the town of Sherwood was named after my grandparents? Their names are Diez Cleo Woodrow and Patience Sheridan. Since you four are officially my grandchildren that would make Diez and Patience your great-great-grandparents.