“I’ll see you kids soon”, famous last words as my dad was carted away for another stint in either drug rehab or “the joint”. I was youngest of 3 kids, Danny, 3 years my senior and my sister 1.5 years older. I was in 2nd grade and North Bay Ontario was our current region of residence.
Being wards of the province was a common occurrence as my father struggled to survive. Supporting 3 kids and a heroin addition.A record meant living on the edge. Hustling pool, con games and stealing were second nature and as our only hero did battle with society.
Purposely not wanting to lose custody of us, he pleaded ignorance when asked where our Mum was.
As long as I was with my brother and sister, I took everything else as it came.
The Harvey’s lived just South of North Bay, Ontario, Canada. As we pulled up the rural gravel driveway, out walked a portly couple. Gerry with his Archie bunker type collared shirt and Nancy who, almost strutted and swung her arm as she walked as if she was in a discus throwing competition. In the distance you could hear a number of dogs barking as if kenneled up.
Danny and I shared a room with bunk beds while Lorraine had her own room. The Harvey’s son Darren (perhaps 4 or 5) had a room near his parents.
As we settled in, the normal routine was to a lay of the land. We stuck close together and didn’t say much . These were complete strangers. Little did we know we would be there about a year.
It was the 60s and longer hair was more the norm. Even ole Gerry had a slick duck tale-do.
It wasn’t long until Danny and I learned that the Harvey’s had Kennels out back. It was our “privilege” to clean all the dog cages every day.
Sundays meant going to Nancy’s parents house. K-9s must have been a family business as we would watch them groom poodles after dinner. “Get up there boys “, Gerry commanded of me and Dan. Ten minutes and a set of dog trimmers later, all our locks were shaved off. Teasing at school followed the next day. “Hey pig shave, pig shave “,,,
Needless to say, we were out of our element. We felt like we were in a bootcamp more than a refuge. Quick to punish and odd rituals kept us on edge. Every Saturday night after bath, they would check our nails. For each nail we bit, it would be a whip with the belt. We would get a daily interview whether we had made a bowel movement. If not we would have to sit on the can for thirty minutes. Regardless, we were given a tablespoon of castor oil. Looking back, it’s all quite surreal.
Not until I was in my thirties did I get diagnosed with having an esophagus, half the normal size(1/2″). This condition would make food lodge in my throat. My eyes would water and the only relief was for me to throw up and dislodge the food. My siblings knew the routine. Unfortunately Gerry was not so understanding. Sitting at the dinner table, food would get lodged. My eyes watering, my siblings knew what was up. Then I would ask the question” May I go to the washroom “? Jerry’s response, “for what”? “I need to throw up”. With a stern look on his face, Gerry was convinced I was doing it only for attention and would proceed to read me the riot act, “GO” he would yell. As I passed him I would feel his hand belting me in the back of the head knocking me to the floor as I scrambled to the washroom. A special memory was on our way back from Sunday dinner at Nancy’s parents , us three were sitting in the backseat. My siblings nervously watching me as my eyes welled up…. I was terrified to ask them to pull over. Instead I threw up in my mouth and swallowed it back down. Grinned a little at Dan and Lorraine letting them know, the feeling had passed.
As time passed, Dad was out and we were allowed to visit with him on Sundays. It was like a vacation. As foster care rules were in place, he could not come to the house to get us but rather, we would be picked up and dropped off at Nancy’s parents house. Gerry didn’t miss an opportunity as he wouldn’t allow me a visit with Dad if I has thrown up that week.
I would look out the window watching Dad circling around the block with Dan and Lorraine in the car, waiting for me to come out. It was heart wrenching.
Christmas time was upon us. Dad and Grandma had gotten us presents. We had also gotten a few sets of new clothes.
Shortly after the new year we were told that day we would be going back to Dad. We were elated. True to his form, Gerry gave us a choice of, taking our toys OR our clothes. Obviously he wanted the toys for HIS kid Darren. We took our clothes. Our Grandma asked where our toys were once we arrived, we told her but it didn’t matter.
We were constantly on the move as leaving with just the clothes on our back was not uncommon.
I wish I could say there were some good times there as well. The times of peace was when I was alone with Dan and Lorraine . To this day, no one knows me better than those two. We’ve kept each other going through times like that and still do today.
I want to share this story for several reasons. If you are a foster parent and doing it to show love, God Bless you. If you have been in the a similar circumstance as a child, you are not alone. If you oversee foster parents, Today I can speak as an adult BUT was terrified as a child to say anything. Even to my Dad.
May God watch over all of his children in foster care keeping them from harm and to always feel loved. Amen.