Trust and Root Beer

In honor of the anniversary of what would be my Dad Gerald’s 75th birthday, I would like to share a lesson learned so long ago. I was in 3rd grade, living on 5th Ave. in Kitchener, Ontario. Conditions were as close to a domestic lifestyle as one could imagine given the obstacles my Dad had overcome. His domestic partner, Patricia Fragomeni was a raven haired kind lady and the closest stable Mother figure we had known of late. At school one day I was invited by a friend of mine Ralph to go out and eat dinner that evening. When I arrived home, Pat was cooking at the stove. I let Pat know about Ralph’s invite. She thanked me for letting her know and asked me not to be home too late. 

I arrived at Ralph’s house full of enthusiasm.In hindsight it was a bit odd that Ralph’s mom was preparing dinner. As Ralph grabbed his coat, I verified with him that we were going out to eat. With a quick hush from Ralph, he simply herded me out the door. Ralph assured me we were going out to eat. Soon we arrived at the local A&W drive-in. Ralph ordered two chicken in a box dinners to go and off we went. We chowed down in a nearby thicket, I thanked my friend as we each headed home. 

I had only been home about an hour, sitting in my room when I heard my Dad call me to the front room. There standing in the doorway was Friend Ralph and his parents. I greeted them but the look on their faces told me this wasn’t a warm and fuzzy social visit. I was especially concerned with my Dads serious facial expression. Straight to the point Dad asked if I had taken 20 bucks out of Ralph’s moms purse. I was stunned and my 8 year old mind went numb. I pleaded that I knew nothing about it. All the Adults expressions shifted from serious to that of disbelief while Ralph avoided direct eye contact with me. The last thing I would ever do was to intentionally embarrass my Father much less do it by lying. As my denial continued, my accusers persisted. Could this actually be happening? My hero, my Dad, standing before me as I was being totally forthcoming , not believe me? 

I was in a fog. I saw Dad slip Ralph’s parents 10$ and close the door behind them. As the door latched, I stood there on edge not knowing my fate. Even at 8 years old, I couldn’t remember a time where my Dad hadn’t treated me a person, talking to me as such, with respect as well as expecting the same in return. “Raymond, I will ask you one last time, did you take that money?” I explained the dinner invite etc.. He said he believed me and said I could go back to my room. The evening went on and the incident was never mentioned again. To this day I am thankful for the lesson learned that day. As I strive to break chains that bound my father and presented obstacles in my life’s journey, I can only pray that I maintain the anchoring chain of empathy, trust and respect demonstrated so many years ago. I love you Dad and Happy Birthday in Heaven. Amen 

Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie                         

Funny how a taste or smell of certain food can open a floodgate of memories. Recently, after a long enjoyable afternoon of fellowship at church, I sat down, with a piece of cherry pie. As I took my first bite, I was transported back to October 1972. I was still living in Ontario Canada with my two older siblings and our Dad. There is truth to the saying that still waters run deep. In our case the more things seem to have stabilized the more the foundation was actually crumbling. At times it was like living in a rain cloud. You couldn’t see far ahead and knew it was just a matter of time that the next storm would arrive. At this point Dad was either cold turkey heroin sick or slipping in and out of heroin induced coma. He might wake up just long enough to promise a fishing trip that never happened or to take us running down the street in a paranoid state terrified of one of his many demons. It was never a dull moment, as my siblings Danny 12, Lorraine 10 myself 9, taking our Dads word for it that we could go fishing after he was shaved…… With Dad passing out again on the couch and daylight burning, (I smile inside remembering) Lorraine and I lathering him up and with Danny being the eldest, he was in charge of the razor. Lorraine and I pulled Dads head back to tighten the skin just as we had watched him do countless times over the bathroom sink. Eventually daylight, exhausted, Dad woke up, puzzled why his face was dotted with blood clotted toilet paper where we had nicked him with the razor. Needless to say, no fish were caught that day.

It wasn’t unusual for us to be pulled out of or having to change schools. By the 4th grade I had already attended 6 different schools. But this time it was different, we weren’t on the run, or going to a foster home, but rather we had all our belongings and seem to be making the rounds to Dad’s family in Ontario for a visit as if to say goodbye. For all we knew we were moving back to BC (British Columbia). Hearing my father speak primarily in French to my grandmother as he often did when things were serious, gave me sense that something was going on. At that particular moment, we were all together, that’s all that really mattered. 

We boarded the bus in Sudbury, Ontario at night. The heated bus air was a mixture of diesel exhaust, damp air and cigarette smoke. Unfortunately I was one of those kids that got car sick. The next four days in the bus were somewhat of a nauseous blur. “Hey Porky”(my nickname) wake up, we are at the next stop”, my Dad would say. And there it was, in every bus stop from Manitoba to Vancouver, day or night, like a beacon in the night, behind the glass case…”Porky, what do you want to eat”? “Just some cherry pie please”… On the fifth day on the road, we arrived in BC. It was around 6 in the morning and only then did we find out we were coming to “visit” my Mum. It had been 3 years since we had last seen her. Regardless of society’s view of our Dad, he was our world and all was right with the world, as long as us four were together. The bus stopped in Abbottsford, BC (being a felon, Dad couldn’t easily cross the border)> We did not want to get off. We stood at the base of the steps. I looked to Danny and Lorraine as I always did for reassurance or direction. Danny stood there as he always (and still does) quiet, strong as not to upset us. In the cold morning air Lorraine’s tears glistened in the light from the bus stop waiting room. Like so many times before, I held on to my Dads leg, pleading for him not to leave. 

“Come on, let’s go meet your Mum”.The bus stop waiting room was illuminated with concession machines. In front of the lights were silhouettes of two woman. . As I walked closer ,they each looked similar and familiar. One was my mum but I wasn’t sure which one she was. The second woman was Mums sister, Sharon. Up until this point I had only visited Mum, twice in my 9 years. I wrapped my arms around the quilt stitched dark blue coat. As I hugged my mum around the waist, I could feel the cold fabric against my cheek as an unfamiliar hand stroked my besheffeled hair. We piled into the white leather backseat of a blue thunderbird. Patsy Cline’s “walking after midnight” played on the 8-track and through the vapor of our warm breath we could see lights of the greyhound bus station fade in the distance. I looked at Danny and Lorraine, as many times before, when the only known was the unknown.

Tbird

Later in life I heard reasoning of why we were finally brought to Mum. One line of discussion was that we were in danger as some of Dad’s unruly dealings had left him as a marked man. Whether this was a part of his paranoia or truth, makes no different to me. Another reason was that my sister was coming of age and needed a Mum. That went without saying. Regardless of the reason, one truth I have no doubt about is the fact that my father saw the value of a stable family environment which no matter how hard he had tried, he could not provide. Today I am a father of five. And yes, I love taking my kids fishing and at times I may over promise and under deliver which reminds me of my Dad’s good intentions, but as God is my witness I strive to harvest the seed my Dad planted by putting his kids first.  A seed planted at a bus station early one October day back in 1972. For this I am truly thankful. RIP GJR.

 

2nd Eldest Zachary 2nd Eldest Zachary
Eldest Son Ty with a blue cat Eldest Son Ty with a blue cat

 

Foster “Care”

“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.
“Pig shave”
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.

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