This is a book about survival in many ways. Barbara became the primary caregiver of her younger brothers at an early age. There was a revolving door of men in her mother’s life. Some were good; some were not. Her favorite stepfather introduced her to the man she’s been married to for more than 50 years which proves how living in chaos can sometimes lead you to the other side. That’s a happy ending.
Excerpt From Daddy du Jour
“I’ll take care of putting your things in the trunk, Miss, you take the baby and get in the cab where it’s warm,” the Taxi driver said.
Something I had longed for through all the horrible winter months. And, here we were making our escape on the coldest night in the history of Toledo, Ohio. It was twenty-three degrees below zero on January twenty-third, nineteen sixty-three. I was twelve, and I could never forget the date.
The taxi had an odd exotic aroma I wasn’t familiar with but, it was warm. There were so few times we had been warm this brutal winter. It was heavenly.
I slowly loosened the quilt from my brother, David, and removed his stocking cap. He didn’t wake, so I laid him on the seat next to me with his head on my lap. He was so small for a three-year-old, but given our lifestyle, it wasn’t a surprise. It would be a fairly long ride, and it was best he slept.
The driver got in, and we were off to, what I hoped would be, a safe haven. My step-father, Al, was trying to take custody of us and, his sister and her husband were going to take care of us during the process. David was Al’s son.
Al was mom’s third husband. Here we were returning to the town we’d left four months before when mom’s affair with a local businessman blew-up all over us. He owned the local ice-cream shop, and I went to school with his daughter. This was going to be awkward.
I remember how mom and Al fought all night when he learned of her affair. He slammed out of the house pre-dawn and told her she had better be gone when he came back.
Her Prince Charmless came and loaded up his car with everything she could gather, including us. I had no idea where we were going, and I’m not sure she did either.
“I found you a great little place,” he said. “It’s only temporary but, you and the kids will be fine.”
I looked at the back of his large head as he sat behind the wheel. His name was Jack. He was much larger than Al and had a wide, pockmarked face. What in the world did she see in this guy?
“What about school?” I asked.
“I’m sure there will be one,” mom said sarcastically.
I was in sixth grade, and this would be my seventh school. I suppose I should have been used to it, but you never get used to perpetually being the new kid.
As I looked out the car window, the landscape became darker and seedier, like coal dust had enveloped everything. Where in hell were we going? Suddenly we pulled into a parking lot in front of a truck stop.
“You wait here, I’ll go get the keys,” Prince Charmless said.
As I looked around, I could see a trailer park behind the building. It could not have been uglier. It was October, and there was not a speck of fall color anywhere around us.
He came back with the keys, and we drove behind the building onto a gravel road lined with rusted out shitty tin boxes. One uglier than the next. My heart sank, and I wanted to cry.
“I know it doesn’t look pretty but, as I said, it’s temporary,” he said.
“God, I hope so,” I mumbled.
“You shut up!” mom yelled, “Jack’s doing us a big favor after Al threw us out. You should be grateful we have a place to go.”
“Why can’t we go to Mamaw and Granddaddy’s?” I asked.
“Don’t you worry about it,” she said, “we’ll be fine.”
My grandparents had always been there for us, even when they didn’t agree with mom’s way of handling the men in her life or how she treated her kids. I always felt safe with them and couldn’t understand why she was keeping them away this time.
The car stopped in front of a black and silver trailer with so much rust it resembled a calico cat. Jack got out and continued to assure her this was temporary.
“It’s completely furnished,” he said.
Mom nodded and followed him up the rickety wooden steps to the door.
“Come on, bring David and get in here,” she said.
The outside was depressing enough but, the inside was complete with the smell of cat piss. It kept getting worse. How could this be happening?
He began describing it like he was trying to sell it, which he was. Not that she had a choice in the matter. There was no plan B.
“You can put the kid down,” he said, “let him explore a little.”
I was afraid of what he might find. Whoever lived there last must have left in a hurry because there were dirty dishes in the sink. I put David down and said, “Don’t touch anything!”
“It needs a little cleaning,” mom said. That was the understatement of the year.
“Let’s unpack the car and then I’ll take you to the store to get some food and cleaning supplies,” he said.
They dropped our meager belongings inside the door and went shopping, leaving us there in the stinking tin box.
There was a small TV in the living room and, fortunately, it worked. I sat David in front of it and began looking through the cabinets for something to clean with.
The kitchen was tiny with a counter dividing it from the living room and a fold down table below a small window opposite the sink. There was a hallway down the side. The first bedroom had bunk beds where David and I would sleep, then a tiny bathroom and the (ahem) master bedroom taking the entire width of the back of the trailer.
I found a can of cleanser under the sink, filled a bowl with hot water and took a diaper out of the diaper bag to begin scrubbing things down.
I put all of the dishes in the sink. There weren’t many, and they were all plastic with a sticky film on them. It was warm outside so opening the windows helped air things out. Everything I could clean I did. But, where the hell were they with the groceries?
By dusk, they returned. Clearly, they’d stopped at a bar.
“Hey! We brought food and new sheets for the beds,” mom said.
For some reason, I thought he would be leaving. I was wrong. He brought in his own suitcase and took it to the back bedroom.
By November Prince Charmless was gone. Our temporary arrangement became permanent without any assistance. Mom got a job bartending 3pm-11pm. She made arrangements with an elderly neighbor
Barbara Hammond is an artist, children’s book author of The Duffy Chronicles and blogger at Zero to 60 and Beyond (https://www.zeroto60andbeyond.com). She’s been married to her husband Dave for over 50 years and has two grown sons and three grandsons.
Barbara and her family have moved many times over the years due to Dave’s career in retail. With each move, Barbara found ways to re-invent herself. She worked in the fashion modeling profession at an agency in Philadelphia and after several years and a move to Massachusetts, she opened her own modeling agency.
There she and Dave also owned a health spa for a few years. After a transfer to Pittsburgh, Barbara dabbled in real estate but did not feel it was her calling. Both she and Dave found jobs in radio sales at a classic rock radio station.
Eventually, the couple moved back to Philadelphia. Barbara went back to the modeling agency to begin a talent division that worked with actors from NYC and Philadelphia. Today, Barbara and Dave are retired and living at the Jersey Shore.
Paul De Lancey