If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. – Anne Bradstreet
As with most of our moves as a family, the move from Crofton to Russellville was accomplished despite being in the winter. I don”t know why it is that we moved in the winter so much. I just know that is how it seemed to fall.
I remember most vividly that it was an extremely cold winter. Right after arriving in Russellville, the heating fan on the car died. My father and I worked on it most of the day in the freezing cold to get it replaced. That is another one of those things that never seems to go out when the weather is warm. It waits until it is the coldest, nastiest day of the entire year and then it gives up the ghost.
Like most of the rental homes we lived in, the one in Russellville was no different. It was old, not well maintained and drafty. It was in the middle of nowhere and was in the wide open fields with nothing to block the wind or sun. It was a quarter mile walk to the mailbox everyday and about a half a mile to the nearest neighbor. It was a 15 minute drive to the center of town and to any stores.
Russellville did not have a mall. They had a Wal-mart. Not a Supercenter, just a regular Wal-mart. They had one big grocery store and a couple of mom and pop stores. They had a dozen gas stations and a few fast food restaurants. In other words, it was a teenagers worst nightmare! Add to that the fact that most of the population were as redneck as you can get and you have a private hell for most people.
But it was not like it mattered to us. We were not let out of our mother’s sight. I am not sure if that was because she feared that we might tell of what went on in the home, or if it was merely to protect us from unseen and conjured monsters. But I digress.
In this winter wasteland that we moved into, we would have the extremely good fortune to have the only heat in the house die in the middle of the coldest winter on record. The house was heated by a Warm Morning propane gas heater. This heater died about two months into our six month stay there. Add to that, the landlord broke the kitchen window one day while working with the cattle out back (not sure how that happened!) and he replaced it with a piece of plywood. And he refused to fix the heater as well! So we did the best we could to stay warm around a small kerosene heater.
And then it happened. Another piece of the “End of the World” that my dad followed religiously fell into place. The US invaded Iraq! Armageddon was around the corner!
I remember that cold January day in 1991 well. I had just gotten out of the shower when my father told us to sit down to watch the news. President George H. W. Bush was on the TV to tell us that he had authorized the use of force to expel Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait. This was the end of the world as we know it! You could see the bright flashes of artillery fire on the green hued screen from the night vision TV cameras in Kuwait. Then there would be a sting of white lights fly through the sky as Iraqi SAM’s tried desperately to hit what they could not see or detect on radar. It was truly an amazing light show and the messages coming from my father, the sage, made the atmosphere feel desperate and hopeless.
I remember listening to hours of coverage on my radio of the advance of ground troops, the bombing of important targets in Iraq, of the demands of the Iraqi government and the hopes of people everywhere that Saddam would back down. All I could do was pray. I did not want to die. I did not want the world to end. I had some much I wanted to do with my life!
But the war ended. And the world did not. I had all but lost faith in my father’s prophecies and those of the “preachers” like Hal Lindsey and Peter and Paul Lalonde who pumped my father’s head full of these end time warnings. But, between the TBN station and the news channels, we were not allowed to watch anything else on the 19 inch TV that sat in the living room of our house. Mom, of course, could watch her soaps while dad was either at work or asleep and then lie to dad about watching them, but we were not allowed any TV time.
On February 28, 1991, my world was turned upside down. The phone rang around noon and I answered it. The voice on the other end of the line was my aunt. She was crying and said that my grandfather Stites was dead. I hung up on her. I thought it was a cruel joke. My mother answered the phone when it rang again and determined it was not a joke. I was unable to breath. The man who took me and my cousins to the Air Force museum at Fort Campbell, the man who worked for years at a local hardware store, was dead. I had not seen him in months because my mother tried to keep us away from them. I believe this was because she did not want them to know of the abuse she visited on us children, but I will never know for sure.
I don’t remember much of the visitation or funeral. I do remember seeing his casket at the altar at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. I remember Fr. Gerald H. Baker preaching about a man he did not know. It was very awkward as Fr. Baker had not been at Saints Peter and Paul long enough to get to know him. I would learn later that Fr. Baker and my grandfather would never have gotten along anyway, but that is a story for another day.
As if all this was not bad enough, my parent’s car died in the cemetery after the burial. So we had to sit there and watch the cemetery workers lower my grandfather into the ground and cover his casket with dirt. That memory has been tucked away in a place that only comes out in my dreams for years. Only recently have I been able to deal with those emotions and images.
Spring quickly approached and for the first time in my short life, we were moving and it was not winter! The weather may have thawed and the sun might have been shining, but the nightmare continued.