"My water broke!"
she cried, as she startled up from dinner
with all us kids at our old round oak table.
I had no clue, but Linda, my oldest sister,
ran across the street to get Lee.
The tall Texan arrived,
striding through the back door,
and helped Mom to his car.
Just as they left, "Hold on 'til tomorrow!"
my insensitive 10-year-old voice cried out
and she disappeared, wrapped in a blanket.
That was on the eve of my eleventh birthday
and my mother of five and (I didn't know)
two miscarriages, headed to Tacoma General.
She did wait, we found out the next morning,
and Art forever became my birthday brother.
Some 40 years later, when Eileen and I
visited Tacoma and my old haunts there,
we dropped in on Lee's wife, Marilyn,
the Over-Watch and Historian
of the old neighborhood.
When I related this tale, it was like
Paul Harvey's "and now the rest of the story"
as she filled in some missing pieces…
of the undercurrents of my life.
"Oh yes," she recounted, "Lee
was back from the hospital
(about a 20 minute trip back then)
in about 25 minutes." This huge man
had been scared to death
that Mom would deliver in his car!
When ER staff picked her up outside,
never getting out of the car, he split!
She went on. Later in the evening
Dad suddenly burst through their back door,
"What did you do to my kids?
They're all at home crying!"
"Marsh," Marilyn interjected,
"your wife is at the hospital
having a baby!"
Marilyn said that he was drunk.
"Drunk?!" I emoted. "When was he ever drunk?"
"Well, he was quite often." I was stunned.
"... and of course, you were off somewhere...
like you always were." she added.
"You'd just disappear, often when
your parents were fighting with each other."
"I always went off somewhere? Really?"
I had only learned the previous day,
from younger brother Chuck over lunch,
that fact about my folks... and more.
He’d told me in response to my question
about what my siblings meant
when they kept saying, "You were just oblivious,"
I asked him to give me an example:
"Well one day, Dad was beating Mom,
and I expected you to do something,
but I turned around, and you'd disappeared.
I took a broom myself and beat him off of her."
"You could never do that to Dad," I replied.
"You'd never get away with it." "Well, I did...
and he never mentioned it again!"
I was shocked about everything he revealed.
Marilyn went on, "The next day
your Dad knocked at our back door.
I opened it, and he peered into the living room
at Lee and told him that he was sorry...
three times, but Lee never answered.
When your Dad asked me why,
I told him that he couldn't."
It seems that they'd been trimming
a sugar cane-like house plant
when Linda frantically came to their door.
Lee left his knife there and rushed off.
When he returned he started stripping
the stems and chewing them, as he'd done
growing up near the Texas cane fields.
Soon he couldn't even talk!
The plant, Dieffenbachia, they learned later,
was called "dumb cane" because its sap
is toxic and inflames the tongue and throat
causing temporary loss of speech.
Lee missed work that week
for the only time in his life.
… and Eileen and I left Marilyn’s place
holding dearly onto some long-silent, missing pieces
from the unspoken puzzle of my life.
© MLee Dickens’son 10 Sept 2019
(Daniel J Ricketts)