It was the summer after second grade, and I had just turned eight. That made the year 1953. Back then, things were very different than they are now. No one locked their doors, or their cars, even when they left the house. Kids could play in the streets without their parents watching every minute, even after dark.
I lived with my mom in an inner city row house in Reading, Pennsylvania, right next door to the corner house on our right. That house doubled as a candy store, with a few other things thrown in for good measure. The couple who ran the store lived above it, and the lady’s name was Ruth. She was very nice to all the kids who went into her store.
That was where I used my allowance every week to buy comic books and a bag of candy. Back then you bought candy by the penny; a penny’s worth of Mary Janes, a penny’s worth of Hershey’s kisses, a penny’s worth of malted milk balls, a penny’s worth of caramels and a penny’s worth of red licorice, and you had yourself a whole bag of candy for a nickel.
I cut my reading teeth on comics, both comic books and the Sunday comics, which we called the “funnies.” One of my fondest memories was of sitting down with my mom on the sofa on a Sunday morning and reading the funnies with her as the sunlight spilled through the window and caught all the dust particles flying through the air, which for some reason, fascinated me. I only saw them on a Sunday, as we were out of the house before dawn every other day.
So after the bag of candy, the rest of my quarter went to buy comic books. If I had kept them all, I’d probably be quite rich today. From around age four, I began buying all the superhero comics I could find. I don’t remember which ones were actually available during this particular time, but over the years I had all the X-men, Superman, Batman, Fantastic Four, and probably other superhero comics I could afford. I also bought Archie, Little Lulu, Little Iodine, Nancy and Sluggo, and all the Disney ones; Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck and Mickey Mouse and Pluto.
I never did get to go to kindergarten, but I could read on a second grade level by the time I started first grade. Also, Ruth used to let me sit on the floor in front of the comic stand and read the ones I couldn’t buy, as long as I was careful with them.
I said I lived with my mom, but that wasn’t exactly true, though the real truth of why that was didn’t come to me until many years later. In my little eight-year-old world, my daddy was a salesman, and so he wasn’t home much because he travelled around a lot. But he was home sometimes, and oh, how I loved those times.
I loved it when we would walk down the street together, with me holding his hand and having to skip or run to keep up, and other times with me riding on his shoulder, holding my hands around his neck while he held onto my feet. He also took me for rides on his motorcycle, which I loved then, but got afraid to do when I got older.
My daddy was the one who took me to my first day of school. I remember him telling me I would be just fine, and waving to me with a smile as he left me there on my own for the first time.
But my best memory of him was when he played the little money game with me. He would say something like, “If I gave you a quarter and took back a dime and gave you a nickel and took back a dime and gave you a quarter, how much would you have?” And if I gave him the right answer he would give me that much in money. I always gave him the right answer. This might account for my aptitude in math.
My daddy was my own personal superhero.
I have no memories of my daddy ever chastising me for anything. He never spanked me, he never yelled at me, he was always all smiles for me when he was there. My daddy was my own personal superhero.
But for the most part, it was just my mom and me. I wished so often that I could have a brother or a sister, and that my daddy would live with us all the time.
Then came that day in June, right after my birthday, when my mom sat me down and asked me how I would like to have a brother and a sister, and go live with daddy all the time. I was so excited, I thought my little heart would burst with joy. She explained to me that my Daddy had a friend who was killed in the war, and that his friends wife was really sick and was going to die soon. But she had two little kids, one four and one just a baby, and they wanted to adopt them.
I was so happy, and so nervous when the time came for me to meet my new brother and sister. I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to my sister, she was just a baby. But I tried to make friends with my new little brother. But he was very shy and spent most of the time hiding behind a living room chair. I tried to give him a toy but he cringed back and said he didn’t want it.
With all of this going on, we were also going to be moving out to the country, where my daddy owned some land with four little bungalows on it. We were going to live in one of them, and the kids’ mother and her family lived in another.
The day we moved was the first time I saw the new place, and it was really pretty; very different from the city, with land all around it. There was a small burbling creek that ran behind the houses, coming through from neighboring farm and then continuing on through our land.
My daddy told my new little brother to take me to the creek and show me the snake trap they had there. When we got to the edge of the creek I had to get very close and lean out over the water to see the snake trap, and when I did, my brother pushed me in.
I started screaming and crying and thrashing about and my daddy came running to see what was the matter. “He pushed me in,” I cried out as he pulled me out. As soon as he set me down on the ground and my mom was there to put her arms around me, my daddy pulled off his belt and grabbed my little brother and whipped him and whipped him and whipped him. And I was terrified for the first time in my life.
That was the day my daddy became my father. That was the day I learned so well to be careful what you wished for. That was the day that changed my life forever.
[2nd Place Winner, horror genre, Wordhaus Fiction Writer’s Contest, May, 2015]
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