My Early Brushes with Mortality

Dark Road at NightPhoto source: Richard Ratay

My Real Memoir

Oddly enough, as a child I came to equate suffering and death with my cousins, and with a quaint farming community.

Mom and her sister Tavia were close, so we visited often. But the way to their house was through Dairy Valley, home to 118 farm families and 80,000 cows. No doubt it was quaint during the day. But we always seemed to drive through at night.

Total darkness is what I remember (and the smell of 80,000 piles of manure). There were no lights. Anywhere. And there was always fog. Always. It was also crisscrossed with milk train tracks, and I had a growing fear of trains. But it was the way to the Prices, and to the nearest movie theater, so it was a necessary evil.

The Price home was also scary at night, but for a different reason. Aunt Tavia was nice enough. And although my cousins and I were nothing alike, we found things to do together. But Uncle Larry frightened me. He was tall and muscular—and had the shortest fuse I’d ever seen. The boys, “Lonnie” (the mature one), Frankie (“Pranky,” the uncontrollable one), and “Guy-Guy” (the charming baby-talker), and I would play during the day. But at bedtime, after Uncle Larry’s “don’t make me come in there” warning, the real darkness set in.

Kids goof-off at bedtime, it’s a universal rule. But I’d learned not to at the Prices. Yet somehow my cousins hadn’t. They’d yell, argue, and jump on the beds. And then Uncle Larry would come in, belt in hand. And I’d watch in horror as, in a complete rage, he’d beat each of them until they had huge red welts on their legs and bottoms. Why did it have to be this way? I wondered. I never found out. But all three of my cousins went on to live tragic lives (more later). Did Uncle Larry’s father beat him the same way? I suspect so.

The sins of the fathers.

Dairy Valley later added its own tragedy to my memory. On the way to the Prices one night, I spotted the blinking lights of two airplanes headed toward each other. I pointed them out, and my dad said they only appeared to be close.

And then they crashed. And for once, Dairy Valley was lit up at night. Flames fireballed out from what we learned the next day was one of the words aviation accidents in American history.

My childhood sometimes sounds idyllic. But it wasn’t always. We all have to pass through the darkness, it seems…

On our way to the light.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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36 Responses to My Early Brushes with Mortality

  1. Wow. What a traumatizing place to sleep over! (I’m amazed that the boys didn’t learn how to avoid those beatings.) I had a friend when I was a kid whose house I only went to once. It wasn’t her dad but her bother that scared the daylights out of me. He had a handgun, or maybe it was just a starter’s pistol, and had great fun shooting blanks at us down the hall. I knew they were blanks, but it was traumatizing nevertheless. :/

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Goodness, those were dramatic memories. Did you ever tell your mother about the bedtime beatings? Which aviation disaster was it?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. beth says:

    These are incredibly traumatic experiences, especially for a child to endure. Did any adults offer any help?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Mya says:

    Ohmygoodness, that is beyond horrible. Sad.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree, “We all have to pass through the darkness, it seems…On our way to the light.” How glorious that we can pass THROUGH and do not have to stay in darkness. Mitch, I’m grateful the light you found now shines from within to guide others out of the darkness.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The darkness does somehow create a framework we have to work our way through and out of doesn’t it?

    Liked by 3 people

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  8. It’d hard deal with things from the past. You are a strong and positive person .

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bad childhood memories can be hard to sort out or even understand. There’s no excuse for some behaviors witnessed and experienced by children at the hands of adults. Thankful for your ability to stay safe and to pass through the darkness and into the light. I like the light.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Years ago I would have summarized my childhood as a steady, repetitive stream of school, church, Girl Scouts, neighborhood friends, the library, and the community pool (in summer.) I was so very blessed to grow up in a stable, Christian home with a loving, extended family as well–never even realizing how wonderfully rare and beautiful my circumstances were. Praise God he can heal all scars for those who’ve had to endure such traumas as you’ve described here.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’m so sorry to hear you had to witness that abuse.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Tim Harlow says:

    Oh my that was interesting. Your uncle Larry sounds a lot like my mother’s father. Grandpa Spencer wasn’t a big guy, but my Mom and my Aunt Betty (her younger sister) told me many stories about my Grandpa beating them because they wouldn’t quiet down at night. Grandpa was a farmer during the Great Depression, and I gather than he was also selling their milk to make ends meet. He had to be up and out at 3 am to get ready for the milk run. So, I guess there was some justification. I never saw that side of him, but I know he has a short fuse.

    But, my Mom was always extremely short-fused, she was very quick to get the belt, and never seemed to have much compassion. She was mostly a loner with a tremendous fear of crowds or public places. She never cared much for my more non-traditional occupations, including my current one as an investment advisor of over 27 years. I know that my grandpa’s beatings definitely affected my Mom, and not in a positive way.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What memories and what a shock to see the crash!! Sheesh!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Heavy stuff. The sins of the fathers… the two planes crashing into each other. Whew.

    Last week, on the first day of September, I was on a jet that flew into the Philadelphia airport during a flash flood and a tornado warning spawned by Hurricane Ida. The descent was like a very bad roller coaster. When the jet finally landed, it skidded on the flooded runway. Whew. Scary.

    Flying back three days ago was blessedly uneventful — until the final landing, which for some unknown reason was so hard, that everyone around me, including me, cried out. Whew! Scary again!

    But seeing two airplanes fly into each other? I can’t even imagine the trauma.

    Liked by 1 person

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