Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Storyteller

by Frank Beresheim

When I saw my brother’s name in the paper, it brought back many memories of growing up in the sixties.  There were many good times, and many times I would really like to forget. It seemed as if our world revolved around Dad, and Dad’s attitude.  Mom was always perfect, making sure we were fed, clothed, clean, nurtured and loved.  Dad had some really good qualities but he also had some that hurt.
      I remember when my brother Jimmy and I were little, Dad used to tell us stories in his bed.  He would make them up on the spot, and no two stories were alike.  We would ask him to repeat stories but he would tell one similar but very different.  He would use the bed as a vehicle, and we would blast off into space seeing different creatures.  I can remember the countdown, ten, nine eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, Blast off!  I went to Mars many times and spoke to Martians using a special decoder device.  When we went to Saturn Dad told us all about the ring and that it was really made of candy. We went to Neptune, and saw a city surrounded by water and ruled by fish people.  Pluto was a very cold planet, and our make believe visit was in the middle of our winter, it was cold, and made the story more believable.   Sometimes Dad would have us go in a race car using the bed, and would make the race realistic by tilting the bed. We would enter the Marty Five Hundred, or the Jimmy Junker Demolition Derby.  There was no telling what Dad would come up with.
       He would make up stories and would include local streets and our friend’s names.  He would tell us stories about treasure hunts, and at the end would give us gold coins filled with chocolate.  He made up stories about sailing ships, and made us fear Davey Jones Locker.  We were poor, because of Dad’s lower paying job as a warehouse worker, and he wouldn’t let Mom work.   We had no money for vacations, so he took us on an imaginary vacation with theme parks named for us, and it was so much fun.  I had my own Marty’s Martorama, a ride with twisting and spiraling climbs, and quick plummets.  Jimmy used to like when dad told him about Jimmy’s Jalopy race.  Sometimes he would carry our stories into the department store. 
We would go for clothes shopping in the bargain department store, and Dad would go over to the toy section, grab a toy sword, or toy gun, give us each one, and pretend to duel with us like swashbucklers, or policemen fighting criminals with their guns.  I remember how he would raise his sword, sounding like a pirate, he would say “Prepare to die!” and let us stab him with our toy swords.  With the guns on the other hand, we were the lawmen, and he was the criminal.  He would pretend to be shot, and use the old cliché’ when we got him “Oh you got me!”, falling to the ground, followed by “crime doesn’t pay.”  As we got older, my sister was born, and Dad would just sit on our bed to tell us stories and not pretend fight in the stores.
     Dad stopped telling us the stories as much as he had done in the past, and I noticed he would tell my sister Shannon stories.  It looked like Dad was spending more and more time with Shannon, and less time with me and Jimmy.  One time I saw Dad was telling Shannon a story, and I tried to stop and listen, but Dad told me that this is Shannon’s time, and I was not welcome to stay.  I also began to notice other things like we would only go to the bargain store for clothes, and they would take Shannon to special shops for clothes.  The thing I hated the most was that I always used to get the bone from the steak, my favorite, and now Dad was giving it to Shannon.  I was never resentful of my sister, but of my parents for doing these things.  There was a time I will never forget, Dad told Shannon “I love you”.  I said Dad you never say that to me or Jimmy, and he said ”Men don’t tell other men I love you”.  This reminded me of when he said, “boy’s don’t cry”.   Jimmy on the other hand was quite verbal about how Dad was treating Shannon differently, and would often have shouting matches with my father.
      My father had a problem managing his anger, as well as other things.  I think the thing that stood out to me was when he was angry at my mother because the canned vegetables were not in alphabetical order.  He was not usually violent but on this occasion he destroyed the table in the kitchen, the one we ate dinner at.  We had to eat in the living room for about a month because there wasn’t enough money to buy another table, and no one keeps spare tables laying around.  I remember right after it happened, all the neighbors looking at us when we came out of the house that day.  This was one of the few times I saw Mom get upset, she cried for about a week.  I often wondered if she cried because of the table or he broke the table over her not keeping the cans in order, or just how it made her feel.  Dad used to get very upset when he saw me draw cartoons, and would say “that stuff is for kids, and you are not a kid!”, even though I was eleven or twelve, so I had to hide my drawings.   Jimmy would often call Dad out about the negative things Dad did, causing much unrest in the family.  We would never know when Dad’s anger would be triggered, or who would step over his imaginary line.  Many times Dad would get mad at someone trying to sell him something on the phone and pull the phone right out of the wall.  When it became too costly to costly to repair the wall, he got a desk top model.  One time I saw him throw the phone at Jimmy, if it didn’t have a cord Jimmy would be dead meat because phones were very heavy in those days.  He would continue to have verbal fights with Jimmy, especially after we saw Dad out with another woman.
      He was sitting at Timo’s Bar and Grill, with his face pointed down, with a big smile, his eyes squinting, and staring at her, while she blew kisses at him.   Jimmy said “Marty did you see that, that woman is blowing kisses at Dad, I am going to go get him.”, followed by “I am going to call him out”.  I told him no, he will just get mad and make a scene that will get out of hand, let’s just go and keep it to ourselves.  Jimmy said “what’s Mom going to think?”  I said she doesn’t know, but Mom is smart, she will find out sooner or later.  As luck would have it, Mom was going to get us ice cream at Creamy Sweets Ice Cream when she saw him with the blonde.” 
      I heard Mom called him out and there was a big ruckus, which followed them home.  I had never heard Mom yell, but she did that night, and I heard “Either you go, or I go”.  Dad said “I am not going anywhere”.  Mom then came upstairs with Dad yelling ”Why are you walking away, Maureen?”,  “Where are you going?”, but he stayed down stairs.  Mom came and started packing our clothes and with a tear stained face and smile said “We are going to stay with Gramps and Grammy for a few days”, but Dad did not try to stop us.    
      We stayed with my grandparents for a few days in another part of town, but it was tight.  My grandparent’s house wasn’t designed for three adults and three children.  Getting into the Bath room was difficult, especially with Shannon taking her time.  She would be in there for over an hour, doing makeup or her nails.  Let me tell you, when you got to go you got to go!  Sometime Jimmy and I sunk to the level of dogs by going outdoors in the yard.   We all couldn’t sit at the dinner table because it only seated four people, so us kids would eat first then Mom and my grandparents would eat.  It was difficult to get to school, as it took us twice as long to get there.  We spoke to Dad on the phone every day, and as always he spent more time with Shannon.
      One day Dad came to my grandparent’s home and left with Mom.  When they came back, Dad was all smiles, and Mom wore frustration face. Dad said that we were all going home to our house.  He thanked Grampy and Grammy for their hospitality to his family, but they didn’t look to pleased.  In fact the only one that was really smiling was Dad.  I know I wasn’t happy to go home to hear his anger, but I wondered why Mom looked frustrated, and Grampy and Grammy did not look pleased.  When I got older, I found out Dad said he wouldn’t give Mom any money.  He told her to take him to court for child support, wait for the money, try to support the family on her own, or she could come back home to be his lawful wedded wife.  We were soon packing our clothes to go back home, using the best type of luggage, brown paper bags.  I never thought I would want to go home, but it was very tight at my Grandparents, and I welcomed the return.
      When we got home, Dad behaved himself for a week, but then slowly his anger would start popping out.  I noticed it when he was struggling to open a pack of cigarettes, shouting colorful words followed because he couldn’t open them.  Then another day he started yelling because he couldn’t find his towel in the bat room.  It was a royal blue towel, that was very soft to the touch, and only he could use.  He later found out Mom was washing it for him so it would be clean.  If someone’s shoe was in the doorway instead of the shoe rack, he would throw the shoes into two separate rooms, so we had to look in two places for them.  He was also not so nice to Mom, demanding she wait on him.
       Dad expected Mom to be his servant, and do everything that a servant would do for the master of the house.  He often criticized her for the way she put groceries away, even though he did not do any of the cooking.   He used to watch Friday Night Fights on TV, drinking beer, eating raw chop meat, and often he would yell to my mother to get him a beer, even though she was upstairs.  He expected that the dinner be on the table when he got home from work.  This went on until I graduated High School. 
      Since I was the oldest, I was the first to graduate.  I knew that since we were so poor, there would be no money for me for college, and that I either had to get a scholarship or take out loans.  I also got the biggest shock of my life, and it was at the school.  Dad told me he needed to talk to me, we walked into the men’s room, and he motioned me to come closer.  He leaned over and whispered, “You have thirty days to move”.  I asked him if he was serious, and he said “yes”.  I had no money saved, and was quite unprepared for this, but none the less I got a job, and found an efficiency apartment.  Dad said that I would only return home for the holidays and special occasions.
      Dad did the same thing with Jimmy, even though I tipped Jimmy off.  Jimmy didn’t believe me, and said “Dad wouldn’t do that to me”.  Jimmy was a bit taken back when he was told, and asked if he could stay with me.   Jimmy moved in with me, he slept on the couch, and I slept in my bed.  I told him he could stay as long as he wanted.  When Shannon graduated, they had a big party, and invited many friends over.  Shannon didn’t have to move, Dad had let her stay at the house.  The next big event was Shannon’s wedding, she married a Doctor, and he was well off, from a well off family.  Jimmy eventually finally found a place of his own, and left my place.  Dad and Mom were alone, and I can only imagine how things went. 
      Dad still had his temper tantrums, yelling and throwing things.  He had a stroke between his anger and his cigarettes.  Only Mom went to visit him in the hospital. He finally went home and appeared to be okay with stuff around the house.  A couple of months later He went to get a can of soup and blew a gasket, because they were out of alphabetical order, followed by having another stroke that killed him.
      My old man was laid out the Slygger and Sons Funeral Home.  He didn’t look real in his blue suit, almost like a replica Dad.  Jimmy and I were just there to support Mom, Shannon bawled her eyes out.  I know I didn’t have that love for Dad because of his anger.  Jimmy told me, that he wouldn’t miss Dad, because of all the fights they had, and how he would treat him afterwards.  Mom had cried the whole time, while Jimmy and I took turns consoling her and Shannon.  We had the reception at the bar Dad liked to drink, Moonshine Inn.  We didn’t see the next tragedy coming, and it changed our lives forever.
      Mom was crossing the street after going grocery shopping and had her grocery cart in tow, and a car came right around the corner hitting her.  She was hit and was thrown over the car, and her cart went flying.
The police were right on the scene but could not locate the hit and run driver.  There were discrepancies over the make, model of the car, even who if the driver was male or female.  Mom was taken to the hospital, and was dead on arrival.  They eventually found the car about five miles away, and it was a stolen car, missing for several days.  Mom looked so bad, they wouldn’t let us see her.  We went to pay our last respects to Mom at the Slygger and Sons Funeral Home.
      It was a dark and gloomy day, when we walked into the church.  We asked my namesake, Uncle Marty to read the eulogy.  I was surprised at how many people showed up, the church was packed with people standing outside.  There ladies from the Rosary Society, and other religious affiliations.  After the mass, people kept coming up to us telling us stories about how Mom had helped them in some way.  One guy said if it weren’t for Mom’s encouragement he wouldn’t have graduated from High School.  A woman told us that Mom would bring her elderly mother home cooked meals a few times a week.  Someone anonymously paid for Mom’s reception at a quality restaurant, The Diamond Americana.  The restaurant refused to tell us who the donor was, so before we ate, I said a little speech, and thanked whoever the kind donor was.  There were all kinds of cards there from many people, many we never had the pleasure to meet.  After the dinner we agreed to meet at the house in a few days.
      We met to decide what we were going to do as a family with our parent’s house. We sat down at the kitchen table, and Shannon started to cry, she said “Dad, and now Mom, we are all that is left.”, both Jimmy and I started crying too.  After a while I said “I know, but we have to figure out what to do with this house”.  “I know I can’t swing it” and Jimmy said” me either!”  Shannon said, “my husband and I can buy this house, we will have an appraiser come and look at it, and we can split the money three ways”, I looked over at Jimmy, who was already saying he was in for it, and I agreed as well.  Shannon got the appraiser, and later gave me and Jimmy our share.  Shannon had major renovations done on the house, doubling her money.  A few years later I started to think, what of Dad’s legacy.
      All these memories came flooding back to me after reading in the paper that Jimmy was involved in a Bar Room fight.  Jimmy hit the guy one time, the guy hit the ground and was dead.  I always worried about where his anger would take him, now I wonder what his sentence will be, and what prison life will do to him. Shannon married a Doctor, and lives on an estate.  They have three lovely daughters, she named one for me, Martha, and asked me to be Martha’s godfather.  What happened to me, well, I write and draw a comic strip called Marty, based off of a lot of the stories Dad told us as children.  My comic strip is in many US papers, and is translated into nine different languages.  I have four Honorary Doctorates, even though I never went to college, but often think about going now because I can afford it.  I think of Dad often, and think of the Dad I grew up with and loved, not the mean angry Dad.  Dad’s anger still affected my life in many ways.  Instead of lashing out, yelling or screaming like Dad did, I hold my anger in.  I have been married two times now. My first wife would push my buttons, and I would go hide in my office for days at a time, until she had me served with divorce papers.  My current wife is a Social Worker, and understands that I have problems expressing anger.  She gives me books to read, and encourages me to seek professional help.   I have always read books but now I read box on how to express healthy emotion.  I don’t know if I can see someone about my anger, as I am still quite embarrassed by it, and what they might think of me.  I have been thinking about starting another comic strip about a character with anger issues, one that you can laugh at how he boggles up his emotions.  He will look for something getting angry over not finding it, building his anger and trip over it looking for it, getting angry over tripping over it.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but that’s my story and I am sticking to it.    

copyright 2012, Frank Beresheim

 Frank Beresheim was born in New York City in 1959 and  moved to the Catskill Mountains as a child, returning to Queens at age 16, where he began writing poetry and playing music.  Married in 1988, Frank found his way back to the Catskills and never looked back.  He lives with his wife and two teenaged sons in the friendly community of Saugerties, NY.       


1 comment:

  1. Frank, that's a poignant look at family life. I enjoy your writing.