Violence And Love And That Which Comes Between
Unlike most, I'm assuming, my Grandfather's first brush with alcohol, something that would be a real struggle in his life for a few years, was at school. When he was in third grade, making him 8 or 9 at the time, there was a rumor going around the class that the teacher kept a flask in his coat pocket, which was always kept on the back of his chair, behind his desk, in the corner, where it was nearly inaccessible to students.
As it happens with rumors around that age, nobody was entirely sure where this information had come from, and it was equally disbelieved by many. A little elementary betting circle soon formed. Dares were given out at recess, small candies and interestingly shaped or colored rocks were put on the line for whomever was brave enough to steal the mystery-maybe-flask and prove the rumor mill either right or wrong.
Feeling, as he describes it, "Wildly impulsive", my Grandfather, little Otis Spaulding, smallest of the class, volunteered. Mocking followed, of course, but the general consensus of the group was that if the little one wanted to get caught and get punished, well, that was his problem. Nobody expected what happened next.
As recess ended and the students filed dutifully back inside, Otis marched himself right up to the front of the room, reached his little hand into the pocket of his teacher's coat, and pulled out an honest to God engraved flask. Before a sea of stunned eyes, including the teacher's, he unscrewed the top, letting it clank down in it's little hinge, and drank the whole thing.
Silence followed. Otis walked out the classroom door, out if the school, vomited three times on the way home, and fell asleep.
"I think my Father beat me for three days straight after that, because I just couldn't give him a good answer about why I had done such a thing. My Mother barely said a word to me about it."
My Grandfather also found out later that his Mother and Father had paid a visit to his teacher's house after hearing what had happened. The next Monday morning, he had handed in his recognition, and moved away from the area.
Beatings like the one my Grandfather received after the “alcohol in school” incident were certainly the norm, not the rarity. Discipline in the Spaulding household was immediate and harsh. A blow across the face for a word spoken out of turn, lashings with a belt or a small switch pulled from a tree in the yard were given for everything from perceived laziness to being bullied and picked on at school. Otis Sr. was a firm believer that sparing the rod spoiled the child, and he would certainly not see a child of his spoiled, least of all his only son, already smaller than average and with a head for books instead of manual labor.
Mary would take a different approach to discipline when it came to child-raising: guilt. Young Otis, on more than one occasion, watched as his mother would go without meals, refuse to use a blanket or sleep on the bed, and even go so far as to cut herself along the webbing between her fingers. This was all done in a supposed attempt to take unto herself the mythical or holy punishment that would normally befall either Young Otis or Otis Sr., surmising that if somebody suffered for someone else's sins in this life, purposefully, that person might be granted leniency in the next. Such was her devotion to her family. This would lead to often vicious circles of punishment through the house, where Young Otis would make some sort of mistake, earning himself a beating from his Father, while at the same time Mary would begin to chant and visit some strange punishment upon herself, both for her son's slight, as well as her husband's anger. This in turn would put Otis Sr. into a worse mood, and would cause Young Otis quite a bit of anxiety, which would lead to further mistakes, and so on. From what we know now, not the best environment to be brought up in, certainly nothing that would be allowed by a civil and polite society.
As it so often seems to happen, drinking and violence were felt right along their opposite numbers, absolute wonder and innocent love. My Grandfather, walking home after school on a Friday, had tripped and sprawled. Dirt was everywhere, my Grandfather was embarrassed, and the idea he'd recently taken to of reading on his walk home seemed to have a sizable flaw.
“Then,” says my Grandfather, “like someone had sent my my own personal angel, I saw two hands, and the most beautiful knee. One hand grabbed my book, the knee settled right by my face, and I could feel the other hand touch the back of my shoulder. A voice like honey asked me if I was okay, and a different voice, like smooth maple, told me that I had just taken a hell of a tumble. As if I didn't know.”
Young Otis Spaulding had just met the two people who would most occupy his thoughts for the next chunk of his life, and he was too socially inexperienced to even ask them their names. Probably 17 or 18, though he stresses he may be off by quite a bit on this, these two people were most likely on some sort of a sightseeing journey through the wonder of small town Midwest living and just so happened to be touring Rulo when they saw my Grandfather's impromptu acrobatics.
“They were stunning. Two people that didn't fit into this model of a small town that I had grown up in. They were really looking at everything around them, they had a style that was tight and angular somehow although the clothes were familiar, and they just radiated more than I had. Possibility, maybe. Then the man took the book from his girlfriend, took a glance at the cover and said to me, I still remember this, he said, 'The Time Machine, huh? So which one are you?' I stammered back that I didn't know, I was very overwhelmed at the time, and he said, 'well, better figure it out. All of us are one or the other, and it's probably better to choose than be chosen.'
My Grandfather admits, given the passage of time and the accumulation of wisdom, that the young man might've been a bit drunk for this whole exchange. Nevertheless, as the car rolled away, carrying the enigma of the couple away from him, the question remained. My Grandfather thought about it all the way home. He thought about it through dinner, chores, homework, all of it. He thought about it until he fell asleep, and when he woke up, he thought he had an answer.
“I proclaimed that I was the Time Traveler himself, although I'm not sure that's one of the choices that was supposedly on the table.”
For most people, the next phase of life would be high school, here described in an anecdote or two, as that is the most we can hope for when it comes to this particular history. Unfortunately, my Grandfather was not lucky enough to enter high school. As he was nearing completion of the 7th grade, his mother, Mary, became very sick. There was little chance of a diagnosis, as Mary refused to see any sort of medical professional, and Otis Sr. chose to defer to his wife in matters of spirituality, which sickness was certainly perceived as. Certainly degenerative, affecting both mind and body, it's most likely that what afflicted Mary was a combination of several different things, some triggered by the others, some genetic, some environmental. Nevertheless, they took a toll on the woman, and brought her quickly into the twilight years of her life.
Otis Sr. had never been a caretaker, and was not about to become one. It fell upon my Grandfather to care for his dying Mother in the last couple years of her life. It is a process which aged him prematurely, and a time that he remembers as his transition into manhood.
Mary Spaulding did not end her life in silence and resignation. Through the days that stretched into weeks of care, my Grandfather was regaled with what amounted to a single extended sermon-eulogy, chronicling her life and belief structure and weaving them together like an abstract tapestry hung against the backdrop of her illness.
“I wonder sometimes if the Voices spoke through her then. There was so much... All the time... Every day... Eventually it became difficult to tell the reality from the rambling, and to discern my Mother from the illness that had her. I was still very young, you understand, and this was a large trial. I wonder though... I wonder how much truth I discarded as madness just because I lacked the proper perspective to see it for what it was. Things like that can drive you crazy.”