I think I can remember the day my mother packed my sister and I into a car and left my father standing in the driveway in upstate New York waving to us as we drove away to come to this place. Or maybe it’s just the picture in my mind from the story my mom told me. I think I can remember looking out the car window at him waving. Little did my baby self know that that 16 hour car ride to the woods of Tennessee would be my last car ride for years. Where we were going cars were an astonishing curiosity. To see one go by on the dirt road that had grass growing down the middle where you were more likely to catch a ride on the back of a big clanky wooden wagon pulled by two horses was amazing. The people riding in cars must be even more special than the people who sleep in beds!
Mostly I remember the cars being stuck in the mud and lots of people trying to push them out. Or cars that wouldn’t start and the guy trying to start them saying “C’mon baby, c’mon baby”. I was rather perplexed as to why the men called cars “babies”.
Sometimes a big, tall man would lift me up. I had no idea who he was. Did he live in that house? I didn’t know… I would watch his long arms stretch as I went further and further up and away onto the edge of the roof where he would leave me utterly scared and confused. Why was this man putting me on the roof? The roof was made of tin and was slanted. When he put me up there I would cry and cry reaching out, begging for someone to get me back down. When I realized no one was going to get me, I’d crawl from the edge to the top where the roof met with a wall. There I would huddle, sucking my thumb, crying, feeling that I was going to slip down the slant and fall off. There was no place to feel secure. It was all slippery slanted tin. The wall was made of black wood, it was flat so I couldn’t hold on to it. I was all alone on the roof, surely going to fall and there was no one down there to catch me. Turns out I was being punished. Apparently, one of the reasons for this punishment was this man thought that I was “too clingy to my mom” and I should be put on a roof to break me of wanting to be with her. I don’t remember understanding that at all. But I do remember that they really did not want me to suck my thumb.”Unplug” quickly became the one word I loathed as all the grownups would say it, even strangers you never saw before, all acting like thumb sucking was was some wretched, horrible act. I thought they were all insane. My thumb was the single most wonderful comfort I had besides my mother. The roof “stashing” therapy did not work. I was so scared up there I sucked my thumb as hard as I could and wanted my mom more than ever.
I don’t remember taking off my diaper and putting it on my head. As a young adult, when asking my mother about being put on the roof, she told me I would take off my diaper and put it on my head to shield myself from the sun. I was an extremely blonde child and my skin burned easily in the sun. There were no luxeries like sunblock, maybe for a very few lucky people but not for babies left on the roof.
At some point my mother, baby brother and I moved a few hundred feet down the road into an old school bus.
There was a lot of school buses that people lived in all over the place. There were at least five just in our immediate neighborhood.
Ours was green and nestled into trees. Soft moss grew around it. I loved that bus. We got beds! I had a little one and my mom had a big one right next to the front door behind the drivers seat. My mom painted a centaur man with a rainbow inside on the ceiling…I loved looking at it and was so impressed and proud of her for painting such a beautiful picture. The household we were part of, where we would cook, eat, wash dishes, bathe, garden and share a clothesline with was about 50 feet down a well worn path. About 4 or 5 families lived here just like in all the houses which all had names. Ours was “Dogwood Blossom”. Our neighbors just down the hill were “Sunhouse”. But that house was an anomally. It looked really nice and had real siding that was the same color all over and nice windows, not like all the other make shift houses put together with random peices of wood and weird little rooms jutting around sporadically.
It had been built like a house with an actual floor plan.The Sunhouse house seemed more special somehow. The kids seemed to have cooler toys and there was a midwife that lived there. Everyone loved the midwifes. They were very, very special. But the really cool thing it had was special pebbles. I never saw pebbles like these anywhere else. They were round, whitish and crystally looking on the inside. We liked to clank them together then quickly smell them. They smelled like smoke after hitting them together. It was like magic that kept us entertained for hours.
Up at my house, me and the other girls around my age would also play with sticks and horse poop. There were little groves of huckleberry bushes that we would play house in where we’d concoct up horse poop meals stirring the poop up with sticks. One day one of the girls older brothers found us making our horse poop “food” and began trying to convince us that we really could eat it. We all refused except his little sister who obviously adored and trusted her brother…she ate the horse poop.