Shortly after my grandfather Stites died in 1991, we moved from the hell that was Russellville to an even smaller, more red-neck town called Elkton. The house we moved into was on Streets Avenue. You cannot make that kind of name up!
The house itself was one step up from a deathtrap and time was not going to do it any favors. Most of the wiring in the house had been installed after Edison invented the light-bulb and had not been upgraded since then. This would eventually cause a fire that would inspire another move, but that is a story for later.
It was in Elkton that much of my formation as a human being took place. We lived there for 4 years, so I was able to make a few friends and to discover a little bit about myself. It was also a time of growing turbulence in my family as my mother’s mental illness continued to get worse.
The house we lived in was a two story home built around the turn of the the 20th century. I had the great pleasure of sleeping in the upstairs bedroom which was a sauna in the summer and an ice box in the winter. The windows on each end of the upstairs were single pane glass with gaps around the windows of about a 1/2 inch. There was nothing stopping the elements from coming in with very little effort.
I made a friend or two in Elkton. None of them remained friends after we left. My second and third big crushes happened in Elkton. One was with a young lady who decided that I would be a great person to use as a punching bag. She never managed to make good on her threats, but she did threaten a lot. The second was with a young man. We had a great summer together and then when it was time for him to return to the city he lived in, that was the end of our romance.
I, of course, never breathed a word of the later romance to my parents. They would have disowned me, thrown me out, set me on fire, and all sorts of other terrible things. They would not have a gay person in the family. After all, we had one, that was the limit!
My grandfather Godsey learned he had lung cancer during this time and would die in 1993. He had raised me and been more of a father to me than my own father. Loosing him was like loosing a dad. My mother, on the other hand, was gleeful at his death because that meant she would be the center of attention again.
We started reconnecting with my mother’s family after being in exile for a while. This should have been a good thing except that another nightmare began because of it.
My cousin resumed his abuse of me at this point. Over the next several years, he would arrange sleep overs at my grandparents house or at his house and spend most of the night raping and molesting me.
I again tried to tell my parents, grandparents, even his parents. No one believed me. I was labeled a liar. And, of course, he continued to arrange these sleep overs, which I tried to get out of any any means I could. However, I was forced to go to them because my cousin was being a “good Catholic” and forgiving me for lying about him. I was supposed to thank my lucky stars he wanted anything to do with me.
The abuse continued most of the time we lived in Elkton. Having tried to get help and no one believing me, I gave up. I stopped fighting, I stopped caring. I fell into a depression and spent more and more time alone in my room. This infuriated my mother because it was my job to do all the housework, laundry and cooking so that she could take all the credit for it and my dad would love her.
Amazingly, just as I reached the point of utter despair, God brought a beam of light into my life. My dad, finally done chasing the perfect church, decided we would return to the Roman Catholic Church. We started attending the small RC church in Elkton dedicated to Saint Susan. It was a Glenmary Home Mission parish and the pastor at the time was a very holy man by the name of Fr. John Brown.
Fr. Brown was a man that stood about 6′ tall and weighed about 180 lbs soaking wet. He had a full head of black hair that was rarely combed and a thick black mustache. He looked like an athlete from the 1970’s. He was scatter brained as the day was long. He was constantly looking for his keys or his wallet. He drove an older model car that I was sure would end up stranding him on the side of rode some weekend as he traveled between Elkton and Guthrie, where he pastored St. Mary and St. James as well.
While he was a sight to see, Fr. John was a very holy and devout man. He lived the Gospel. He worked to help the poor and reach out to those who were wounded by the world and the church. He was a real spiritual priest.
He took me under his wing. I learned some Greek from him, some Latin, but most of all, I learned to be a pastor. I learned to be someone who looked for the good in everyone, even if they seemed not to deserve it. Many of those lessons would not fully mature for many years, but he planted those seeds in me. He nurtured my vocation. I grew closer to God. I spent hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament each week.
My mother started to complain that I spent too much time at the church. I helped Fr. John rebuild a little, one room, homeless shelter that was on the church property. I learned plumbing, electrical work and masonry from him. It was more of an education than all my mother’s poor attempts at homeschooling put together could provide.
I was devastated when word came that Fr. John was to be moved to Oklahoma. He told me to give the next priest a chance. He told me that I could learn from anyone, if I was willing to listen. So I said I would.
And God help me, I did try. But Fr. John’s replacement was Fr. Tom. Fr. Tom was a night and day difference from Fr. John. Fr. Tom was cold, jaded, cynical, arrogant, and condescending. I told Fr. Tom that I felt called to the priesthood and here is how that conversation went:
Me: Fr. Tom, Fr. John had been working with me to learn things I would need to eventually enter seminary. I have felt called to the priesthood for years and I would like to continue learning.
Fr. Tom: Have you ever dated anyone?
Me: A couple of people.
Fr. Tom: You ever been laid?
Me: Excuse me?
Fr. Tom: You ever had sex?
Fr. Tom: Go out and get as much as you can and then come talk to me. You can not possibly know that you want to be a priest if you don’t know what you are giving up.
Me: <Walks away>
This from a priest who had been a vocations director. I was stunned and disillusioned. But I did not waver in my faith or my belief in my calling.
My dad finally had enough of Fr. Tom the Sunday he got up to preach on the story of the fishes and the loaves. Fr. Tom’s take on the story was that it was not a miracle, but that everyone shared their “soggy fish sandwiches” and that was the miracle. Dad had reached his limit. After Mass, he said we would be going back to Sts. Peter and Paul in Hopkinsville and never again going to St. Susan’s.
This was for the best as a few weeks later the fuse box in the house we were renting caught fire and the landlady sent a guy to duck tape the wires so they would be protected. That signaled yet another move. This time into my grandmother’s house.