On my way to my mother's house today, I passed a trailer park called "Tranquility Forest." The name alone made me think back to the days when we lived in a trailer park. I spent the years from just before 5 years old to the summer after I turned 10 in a trailer park. Although it wasn't a terrible place to grow up, especially back then, I can remember times when there wasn't much tranquility there.
For one thing, in the beginning there were 7 of us. In a single-wide trailer. That was back when my parents were still together, for whatever misguided reason that might have been. The two older girls shared a bedroom on one end of the trailer with their own half-bathroom. The two boys shared a small bedroom with bunk beds in the middle of the trailer. I slept on a fold-away cot in my parents' room on the other end of the trailer. Surely I wasn't the reason for their divorce......................nah, there were too many other extenuating circumstances. Like they pretty much hated each other. How they came to produce 5 children is a mystery to me.
Being the "baby," naturally I didn't get to go first in the bathroom. Either of them. I distinctly remember one morning really having to "go," and it wasn't my turn. I can remember the thought process.....or lack thereof. I figured nobody would notice if I peed in the heater vent in the floor. It must have been winter, because the heat was on. Somebody noticed.
Our trailer park had two parts, "Up the Hill" and "Down the Hill." Naturally there was a hill that separated the two parts. It seemed to me then to be a HUGE hill, although it probably wouldn't even involve shifting gears on my bicycle today. I'll have to ride by there one day and see. We lived Down the Hill, which was the older part of the trailer park. There was a circle, and if you drove into the main entrance and went left in the circle, we were the fifth trailer on the left. There were trailers in the inside part of the circle too; I don't remember how many.
Every day Mama would call from work (it was weird that my mother worked....my friends' mothers didn't) and ask where my brother was. The answer, invariably, was "Up the Hill." "Well go get him and tell him to come home." Sigh. Why couldn't he just hang around long enough for her to call, and THEN go get into whatever mischief he was destined for on any given day? Although we are three and a half years apart in age, we looked so much alike that some people thought we were twins. Or were they just being mean? I heard one time that some people in the trailer park called us "Springy" and "Nappy" because of our curly.....no, make that kinky.....blond hair. I don't know which one I was.
I don't remember how long my father lived there with us. It wasn't very long, but I remember one particularly nasty incident while he still lived there. My sister must have been around 13 or 14 years old, and she was on the telephone. She would stretch the phone cord as far as it would go and run it under her bedroom door so she could have a little privacy. Nice concept in a single-wide trailer with 7 people in it, but perhaps not realistic. I'm guessing he had told her to get off the phone, but not necessarily. I remember that he picked up her guitar, probably the most precious thing she owned, and broke it over her back. I was horrified. Traumatized. I didn't even know enough to be glad it wasn't me. But I don't remember him ever being angry with me. Maybe because he was gone before I was old enough to cause him any trouble.
I don't know why I remember this, but I do. Perhaps it's because it is so ridiculous and so indicative of my father's personality. Right before my parents separated for good, I recall my father making up the bed before he left for work.....BUT ONLY HIS SIDE.
There was a couple who lived in the trailer behind us, and I think I had a crush on the husband when I was 6 or 7. I can't remember what either of them looked like, but it seems he was very handsome. My sister would occasionally baby-sit for them, I think, but I was told not to be over there. Probably because I didn't know how NOT to make a nuisance of myself. I thought everyone thought I was cute. I didn't know then about being polite and wishing that nappy-headed young'un would go home.
One night my sister and I were both over there, although I don't really understand that because the wife of this couple was also home. Anyway, when the husband drove up, the wife grabbed a huge, vicious-looking butcher knife out of the drawer and screamed, "I'm gonna cut his guts out and play with them!!!!!" I was horrified that she would even think of such a thing. I mean, really. Play with his guts? That's just nasty. No tranquility in that forest. I think this incident stuck in my mind because that was my first clue that perhaps other couples fought just like my parents did.
Another time I was at the trailer of some folks who lived nearer the entrance to the trailer park. There were lots of people milling around in the yard; perhaps they were having a party. His name was Donny; his son's name was Denny. And their last name started with a "D" also. I thought that was cute. Donny either came home and started to get out of his VW bus (it wasn't called a van back then), or he went to the bus for something. A shot rang out, Donny clutched himself, and I took off. I ran as fast as my short, chubby little legs would take me, never mind the rocks under my bare feet. I burst into our trailer and gasped, "I think Donny's been shot," and immediately afterward I was alone. Everyone else took off for Donny's trailer. Apparently he had dropped the gun out of his VW bus, and it went off and struck him. I don't remember where he was injured, but he survived. I wonder what ever happened to them...
Halloween in the trailer park was every kid's dream. We would take those large paper grocery bags for our trick-or-treating, and midway through the night we would have to go home and exchange the heavy bags for some new ones. Perhaps people gave us candy because they thought we were cute in our homemade, last-minute costumes. Perhaps they thought if they gave us candy we would go away for good.
My mother did the best job she could with 5 children to raise as a single mother and $30 per week in child support. Seriously. She tried to instill a sense of right and wrong in us, and she did her best to make sure we had some values. She told me not to go into other people's houses and ask for food, because I was pretty much a human garbage disposal back then. Oh wait, I still am. That's what my eldest brother called me, and I didn't even know what a garbage disposal WAS. We didn't have a lot of money, and what we did have had to be spent on necessities. Therefore we didn't have a lot of junk food in our house. My other brother and I were in a neighbor's trailer one afternoon, perhaps invited, perhaps just being nuisances. I spied some cookies on the counter and stared at them longingly....perhaps lovingly. I waited the polite amount of time for the woman to offer me some, but alas it was not forthcoming. Looking back with adult eyes, I'm sure she was silently praying that these two children would just leave. I said, very subtly, "I see you have some new cookies!" My brother was mortified. Looking back I am mortified myself.
I learned to swim at the pool in the trailer park. And I learned to ride a bike and roller skate. I learned that the two pigs kept in a pen between our trailer and the creek were not pets. I learned that sometimes going barefoot is not the best plan, especially if what looks like water on the streets turns out to be liquid tar they have just sprinkled in preparation for repaving. I learned that I shouldn't taunt a boy who was cutting off pieces of apple with a paring knife. I learned that jumping off a box that a bicycle had come in was not a good idea. And I learned that no matter where you spend your formative years, that place does not have to define who you are. I try to take that lesson into my classroom every day.