The remaining memories of Oak Street were mainly of being alone. Unlike in the A-frame house, I have no memory of having a family dinner in the kitchen on Oak Street. I have no memories of watching television with my parents and I only have a few memories of playing outside. I don’t know if this was an age thing or if my parents simply were never there anymore. I have very few memories of them. I had lost my grand backyard, so that likely explained why I was never outside. Instead, I lived on a corner at an intersection of a small side street with a four lane road.
I used to lie on the living room floor on Saturday evenings doing a word search puzzle and watching a variety comedy show hosted by Carol Burnett. The show was composed of several sketches. The regulars played characters that would repeat. There may have been other entertainers on as special guests. At this time in television, variety shows were the norm because it was expected that the entire family would sit down and watch the show together. It was important that there be something for everyone. This is in stark contrast to today’s programming where the entire demographic could be as small as a couple thousand people. The rotisserie channel for instance, who watches that?
I have no idea where my parents were on these Saturday nights. I may have known at the time, but I don’t recall now. I know that my father used to work shift work at the refinery. He loved this. He worked three, twelve hour shifts and then had four days off. He felt like he had one the lottery because he had more days off per week than he actually had to work. Occasionally, he would work four shifts in a row so that he averaged a fourty hour workweek. The fact that this meant that he was never on the same schedule as his family did not seem to concern him. I understood that he was either at work, or sleeping because he had worked all night. I’m not sure how the four days off fit into this.
I don’t know where my mother was. She did hang out at the Legion. It was a place where people her age drank, played cards and danced. Some of my happiest memories from this time are when she worked at the Legion, putting on a wedding or a dinner and brought home large containers of mashed potatoes and vats of gravy. Delicious gravy. This was exceptional food.
Otherwise, normal food was distinctly missing from my life at this point. As I’ve mentioned, I made KD and I had learned how to make Hamburger Helper, when it was available, but I also have memories associated with eating the dessert topping that we were supposed to have delivered door to door. I learned how to soften spaghetti by soaking it in water (before I learned how to boil water) so that it would be possible to eat it. I don’t remember having breakfast. I do remember getting up and going to school without seeing anyone.
My sister Vicki was often around. She had friends that she would visit and she dated as well. But, on Saturday nights I always watched Carol Burnett alone.
Another way that I experienced the absence of my parents was through being locked out of the house. Who were they trying to keep out? If someone had wanted to rob us they could easily have broken a window or pried one open. These options were not available to me. I would be there, and not wanting to break in, I would be stuck outside until one of my parents returned, which was often very late. I remember going into the garage. It had a large upstairs room with an open floor and at least one sofa. I would wait in there for them to come home.
I never considered calling anyone and I’m not sure that I knew who to call or where my parents were anyway. Needless to say, most of my memories of Oak Street were not pleasant. I do not, however, remember my parents ever fighting. I just did not see them.
It may have been valuable to me as an adult to know what caused my parents to break up. As I tried to navigate my own marriage, it would have been nice to have been privy to what went on. It was strictly understood, at this time, that any conflict was not to be mentioned in front of the children. This apparently was meant to protect the relationship between the parent and the child. The actual result was to simply distance the parent from the child. It presupposed an ability to have a normal relationship with your child and not speak to them about something significant that was happening in your life. This also explains why some children are totally confused when the parents “suddenly” announce that they are getting a divorce.
In today’s terms what I have described here would have been classified as neglect. What people fail to understand is that I knew no other way of being. There was no set of criteria against which to compare my life. This was my normal and I was no more prepared to recognize it as dysfunctional than my parents were prepared to take responsibility for it.
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