Photo source: Richard Ratay
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.