Moving Out Of ‘Dale

Posted in Journey of the Mind with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2019 by Sharon Matusiak

The dance and music lessons, the horses;  they weren’t meant to teach me something, broaden my horizons or give me a form of expression.  Dad made them possible for another reason.  He was obsessed with keeping me from making the same mistakes Carole and Helen made.  He called them boy crazy, and that wouldn’t end well.  He made it clear early on what his intentions for us were.  We were to get a college education so we wouldn’t be dependent on a man, and we were to get us a rich man, or at least a college-educated man as added security.  He was that straightforward.  Their early pregnancies were a disappointment to him and so bringing up baby was going to be different.  I was to have so many passionate interests that I wouldn’t have the time or inclination for boys.  I’m not at all sure just how well that worked out for him.

As I approached high school and my teen years, the danger-time, Dad concocted another chapter of his plan.  After noticing that there were a lot of boys at the stables where we kept Spirit, he went searching and found a ranch house with 16 acres in rural Williamson County.  After Mom had complained for so many years about living behind the railroad track berm outside of DeSoto, he was happy to announce that this place sat right on Route 13, across from the airport.  He excitedly told Mom and I as we made the drive there, that someday there would be businesses stretching non-stop from Marion right through to Carbondale.  He further said that someday we three girls would be wealthy from the sale of that land.  I’m sure he turned over in his grave when he knew how that turned out.

So in 1964 we three misfits moved out-of-town and Dad started buying horses.  I left Carbondale with mixed feelings.  I was till to continue at University high, with a daily commute and I be closer to my horse.  I liked the idea of living in the country, but this location seemed like living in a fish bowl. It turned into a miserable life.   I quit taking ballet lessons, after my long-time teacher Lin Schimick left Southern Illinois.  I studied for a while with another dance instructor, but she wasn’t inspiring and Dad made it clear that he wouldn’t provide any funds for me to study dance in college.  “You’ll move to New York and starve or get into trouble.” was what he told me more than once.  Eventually I quit taking piano lessons too.  Though I enjoyed playing I had reached a point where I wasn’t improving and so that felt like a dead-end to me and besides it was obvious that Mom didn’t like driving me 15 miles to piano and ballet lessons.  

As for here, I don’t really remember what she thought of the idea, but I definitely remember how it changed our relationship.  In town Mom had a friend that she spent time with, but  there was practically no one out there.  Inevitably, we spent more and more time together.  Weather permitting, we often went swimming together at Crab Orchard Lake.  We frequently went to see movies at the drive-in theatre.  In time she related stories about how she and Dad grew up.  While she taught me that Dad had a miserable childhood which accounted for his paranoia and disagreeable temper, we felt a bond in surviving him.  He had a way of ruining everything he touched.  He loved his daughters fiercely, but drove them away with his strangling demeanor.

He made having fun with a horse into a competition and then a mission.  It ceased to be any fun at all the day he came home with mustard oil.  Back then people who showed Tennessee Walkers often used the irritating oil to sore the horses ankles so that they would lift their hooves higher in their beautiful running walk gate.  It was a gorgeous sight to watch, but it was wickedly cruel.  That quickly brought on my rebellion.  I ratcheted up my nerve to refuse him and our days of showing horses was brought to a quick end.  

I was afraid to socialize and afraid to bring anyone home.  You never knew when Mom and Dad would start yelling at each other.  Mom constantly goaded him with her sarcasm.   Dad got drunk every night and the house was always dirty and junked up unless I did the cleaning.  I had a girlfriend spend the night one time and I regretted that.

Always tense, I was fearful of what would happen next.  I looked forward to the day when I could escape.  Mom kept telling me, “just bide your time Baby and your time will come”.  He wanted me to live at home and go to SIU when I graduated high school, but one way or another I wasn’t going to continue to live at home.  

I couldn’t study dance or music in college, so what was I going to do?  Dad was the first, I believe to suggest that I become a veterinarian.  It didn’t seem like a bad idea since I loved animals.  After a little research, I found out that the U of I was the only vet school in the state.  Only because of that major would he allow me to go away to school.  That didn’t turn out well either, but at least it was an escape from a home life that literally made me sick.

Our Tattered Lives

Posted in Journey of the Mind with tags , , , , , , on November 1, 2018 by Sharon Matusiak

I had no real social life, but I didn’t really care because I felt so awkward around people and my life was busy with music, dance and horses.  Carole and Helen on the other hand were quite active socially.  They always had weekend dates, often dancing at Teen Town, a place I never in my life entered.    I was the ugly duckling that watched from the sidelines as they shopped for formals and shoes, spent long hours doing their hair and proudly put on the corsage that their dates brought them before Mom took their photo and they rushed off to the ball.  Carole was homecoming queen and snowball queen.  She and Helen were both attendants several times for these high school extravaganzas.  I thought they were so beautiful and in the beginning I expected that it would be my turn someday, but that was not to be.

Carole was like living with a stranger.  She came and went and had this self-confident, mature air about her.  I don’t recall having a single conversation with her the entire time we grew up together.   She was quiet and withdrawn at home.  But she was very popular and flowered I think, with her girlfriends.  I remember visions of her smiling, after her teeth were “fixed”, and laughing with her friends, so much at ease and very comfortable apparently.

On several occasions she and Helen had large slumber parties together.  Peering around corners, I saw how Dad, more than once touched one of their girlfriends on the lower back, and then nonchalantly let his hand slide down their rump.  He did that often with waitresses too.   I couldn’t understand how Carole and Helen could suffer that humiliation and ever have anyone over again, though maybe they didn’t observe what I saw from my vantage point.    Between seeing that and my 8th birthday party experience, I had no inclination to invite girlfriends to the house.

When Carole left home  I have to admit that I didn’t miss her.  With seven years between us we rarely spent any time together.  She was little more than a stranger to me but I did know that she was thrilled to have escaped and I understood.   Secretly I was glad she was leaving for I was to get her bedroom.  The day I finally got to take my clothes from the bathroom closet and my worldly possessions from the utility room cupboards and store them away in my own private closet and dresser was like an enchanted dream.  That tiny bedroom seemed so spacious.  It was the first time in my life that I had my own space.  I was nearly 12.  It felt safe and good.  Mom couldn’t tell me to “go lie down with your daddy anymore” either.



Spirited Away

Posted in Journey of the Mind with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2018 by Sharon Matusiak

Dad had such a love for horses, unlike Mom who was afraid of them.  He had a gelding named Tony when we lived on the dairy farm.  Carole had a black and white pony named Silver and no surprise Helen’s Shetland was named Trigger.  Silver had drowned in a flooded stream after becoming entangled in barb wire.  That haunted me and I’m sure Carole and the others for a long time.  Helen’s pony had a mean streak.  He was always anxious to step on your foot, and I was afraid of him of course.  I tried riding him once by myself when Helen saddled him and helped me atop.  She forgot to close the driveway gate and he bolted over the railroad tracks and took off running down the highway towards town.  Mom had to chase us in the car, finally catching him when he tired.  Naturally I was sobbing and Helen was doubled over with laughter and  I never got on him again.

I don’t even remember just how it came about, maybe Dad suggested it.  When I was about 10 he said we were going to an auction to look at horses.  I was nervous, with words always stuck in my throat.  It wasn’t my first time at an auction having lived my first 7 years on a farm.  There’s an air of excitement to the event, elevated by the auctioneer’s rapid-fire banter.  Dad had a good eye for horseflesh, so he let a lot of ponies and horses come and go from the ring without bidding.  My fear of the horses was mirrored by the terror in their eyes as they were herded singly through the gate into the ring.  One man would stand at each end of the ring raising his hands to scare the steed back the other direction.  Back and forth the poor creatures would run, terrified by the squawking microphone, the large crowd and the herders.  Occasionally a mounted horse would enter and the rider would show is mount, otherwise the ringmaster would just call off what little information available—approximate age, sex, etc.,

And then it was 159’s turn.  A glossy black gelding with a powerful arched neck came prancing into the ring.  He was 4-5 years old, full of spirit and confidence and amazingly beautiful.  The 2 young men showed how they could ride him standing up, jump on and off his hips and even demonstrated him at a dead run down the hall to the ring.  He was simply breathtaking.  Of course Dad had to have him.  He won the bid and I was speechless from both excitement and fear.  When he was delivered to Colp Stables in Carbondale the next day, I could hardly believe he was mine.  Helen came to see him but surprisingly she didn’t want to ride.  We hadn’t been told his name which seemed so sad to me.  We were talking about how spirited he was and she suggested that I should name him that.  I instantly knew it was right that he should be called Spirit.  Falling in love with him immediately, I would have been satisfied for some time to just lead him around with the halter, feed and brush him.  But Dad came out to the stables with a brand new bridle, breast plate and saddle.  It was a Mexican style parade saddle, black with silver colored plates all over it. The other kids that also boarded horses there got quite a laugh from it.  Dad showed me how to saddle him and told me to take him for a ride.  I was so scared I could hardly breathe, but it was all but impossible to say no to my Dad.  A lot of horses will take advantage of that fear, like Trigger.  Some will rear-up, others will try to brush you off on a tree or fence or just generally balk.  Amazingly he didn’t.  Maybe he had so much soul that he felt sorry for me.  Maybe after being taken from whatever situation he had been in and auctioned off he recognized another ungrounded soul.  Whatever it was we became friends.  I learned how to ride quickly, though it took me some while to learn how to care for a horse.  I made some mistakes out of ignorance and Spirit paid the price for that.  Before long I put aside the saddle for bareback riding and soon found myself flying over the landscape astride my black beauty.  We had many years of companionship but that came to an end when he became lame.  Dad didn’t have any loyalty to animals like he did to family, so he just sold him to a rendering company rather than allow him to live out his days in the pasture.  It haunts me still.

The Dreamworld of Music

Posted in Journey of the Mind with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by Sharon Matusiak

While playing at a friend’s house I tinkered on her piano.  I immediately began to dream that I could learn to play beautiful music like that Maria played on the hi-fi in ballet class.   But asking  Mom for piano lessons, much less a piano was out of the question.  Dad however might say yes.  And if he did, it was over.  Mom could shout and cuss all she wanted, but he held the purse strings.  He made all financial decisions.  He ruled. And now that he was making so much money selling insurance, how could it hurt I wondered?

I developed a habit early on, of thinking about how what I might say would be received, so as to avoid angering Dad or Mom.  So each morning before I made my own cold cereal breakfast of Cheerios, I would try to work up the nerve to ask him.  It took about two weeks and with a lump in my throat I crept up to the open bathroom door and watched momentarily while he scraped the growth from his face.  He saw me out of the corner of his eye and said his usual, “Hi baby.”  He called me that all of my life.

“Hi.” I said weakly, my voice cracking.  After a deadly silence, I spoke. “I was wondering…Marcia has a piano…and I was playing it…er messing around on it…and”

“You wanting to take lessons?” he asked, much to my surprise.

“Yes!”  I blurted out.

“Okay.  Saturday we’ll go shopping.” He said, nonchalantly.

I was stunned at how easy that was after all.  However, my elation over that was short lived, because the inevitable happened.  Every night the rest of the week, there were shouts and screaming back and forth between Mom and Dad over the music lessons, most of which didn’t make any logical sense.  Mom complained that they had a piano on the farm and Carole and Helen took lessons for a while because Dad wanted them to but then he sold the piano in the auction when they moved.  So what was the use in spending more money on a piano?    He shouted “they refused to  practice so why keep the piano?”  Mom shouted that why would they want to practice when the damn piano was always out of tune.  To which he accused her of spending the household money on other things and that’s why she no longer had a check book.  Mom slung back a remark about his spending money in taverns on women.

I hung back in the shadows wishing I had never worked up the nerve to ask for the piano .  I wasn’t used to them fighting over me or something I wanted.  But it was too late.  It would have been easier to make a river flow upstream.

On Saturday he took me shopping, but we didn’t come home with a piano.  Not that time.  In the showroom of the Baldwin Music Store in Herrin, Ralph Jolly fell in love.  He’d always had a musical inclination himself.  He owned two guitars, an electric Hawaiian one and a large, mellow Spanish style.  He played a little and could also play a few tunes on the piano, although his short, thick, stout fingers weren’t made for the piano or guitar.  He also played the harmonica and I loved listening to him.  He even liked to sing,  although he didn’t have a good voice.  Forty years later when Karaoke was popular, I would think  about how much  Dad could enjoy that, especially after he’d had a couple of shots of Wild Turkey.

After looking briefly at the pianos, the electric organs caught his eye and he was sold the instant the salesman started playing.  He loved that it could imitate the sounds of so many instruments and it never needed to be tuned!  The two coaxed me into sitting down to try it out, and I had to admit it was fun.  Of course, I knew it wouldn’t have mattered much what I thought because Dad’s mind was made up, and as he was fond of saying, “You’re just a kid, you don’t know your own mind.”  What I thought but couldn’t put into words, was that it seemed somehow fake to me.  It didn’t have the purity of the piano.

So a new Baldwin electric organ was delivered to our home that very afternoon.  Impatient Ralph being the hard bargainer that he was, told the salesmen after they agreed on the price, that there was no deal if they didn’t deliver that day.  “If we have to wait ‘til next week, we’ll just go to St. Louis.” he threatened.

Mom, bitter over the loss of yet another argument, made her displeasure known at having to make a place for the organ in her living room.  I played with it the rest of the weekend.  Dad wanted Carole and Helen to take lessons too, but Carole wasn’t really interested.  Helen took lessons for a while, but quickly lost interest.  However for me it became another wonderful escape to world’s beyond.  I practiced with dedication and quickly advanced, so quickly in fact that Dad soon bought me a parlour grand piano.  Now that really took up a lot of space in the living room!  Years later Mom would tell me that she could always tell my mood by how I played the piano.  She did come to enjoy the music as I developed skill. She especially liked hearing the big band era music of the 40’s that I played.  It reminded her of the times she and Dad would go dancing in Herrin at what I think was called The Starlight Ballroom.

I didn’t feel I needed friends.  Or maybe I just told myself that so I could ignore the pain of awkwardness and isolation.  I had my music and ballet and my dog.  What could be better than that?

Blessed Are My Feet

Posted in Journey of the Mind with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2018 by Sharon Matusiak

Mom was always impatient and irritable, but keeping out of trouble with her was not difficult as long as it didn’t concern money.  I was cursed with weak ankles, causing me to pronate, ruining my shoes.  The solution was corrective shoes with built-in arch supports.  I hated them for being the clunky, brown ugly things that they were.  Of course they became the source of some teasing from other kids.  But what was much worse was the anger they provoked in Mom because they were so expensive.  She rarely if ever resorted to spanking any of us, preferring sharp criticism, a quick unexpected slap or a yank on the hair.  However those shoes caused the worse spanking I ever got.  Out playing after a rainstorm, I stepped in the mud and sank up over the top of one of them.  Crying before I even got home, I knew Mom would be furious and she was.  “What the hell’s the matter with you?  God damn don’t you know what those damn shoes cost?  I didn’t work at the dress factory to throw away money on you!”  When a neighbor suggested that ballet lessons might strengthen my defective ankles Mom thought money spent for a while on ballet lessons would be better than expensive shoes for years to come.  And that’s how I became grateful for my “defective” ankles.  Those ballet lessons opened up a brand new world to me into which I gladly escaped.

Even though  almost 60 years have passed I’ve never forgotten my first class.  Maria was my first dance teacher and she might as well have been an angel sent from God as far as I was concerned.  She was elegant, soft-spoken, feminine but strong and beautiful.  When I first laid eyes on her it was like seeing through a soft-focus lens.  Slim and lean, she moved with such grace.  She wore the softest creamy pale pink leotard and tights, with a sheer softly-flowing wrap around dance mini-skirt which fluttered at the edge as she moved.  Cascading over her shoulders were her dark, thick, softly waving locks.  She smiled down at me, the shy newcomer and warmly welcomed me into the class.  She was undoubtedly the most beautiful, graceful, elegant woman I had ever met.  My fears of my own awkwardness melted away in those first few lessons.  It was like being set free after having always been caged.  Even though ballet is a discipline of strict movement, discovering the luscious feeling of moving with the music was something so powerful that it would stay with me the rest of my life.  I loved everything about those classes; the discipline, the classical music, the peace, the challenge, the beauty.  It was everything that my home life wasn’t.  It had a richness that changed my life.  It also gave me a hunger for more.


The Summer of Eight

Posted in Journey of the Mind with tags , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2018 by Sharon Matusiak

We had been living in Carbondale for over a year, having moved to town from the dairy farm in DeSoto, IL.  My life had changed dramatically with the move.  There were kids to play with which was fun, though that always seemed strange.  I felt awkward, having been accustomed to being alone and mostly talking to myself.  There were neighbors surrounding us, far different from the isolation of the country.  Dad’s Fresh Fish truck sat on the driveway for all of them to see.  It was obvious that we didn’t fit in.

My clothes hung in the bathroom closet along with my clunky brown shoes meant to fix weak ankles.   My few possessions were stored in two cabinets of the utility room. I slept on the daybed in the living room.  Mom didn’t like going to bed with Dad.  She liked staying up late watching TV.  I learned to feign being asleep so she wouldn’t tell me to go lay down with Dad.  I escaped to the public library as often as possible ’cause no one yelled or cussed  there.   I could read stories and imagine beautiful places and feel safe and be unaware of how ugly I was.

I had ruined my budding friendship with my first playmate in the neighborhood by saying too much.  I guess that painful experience, along with my history of being alone so much in my formative years worked together to make it difficult for me to talk to people and to make friends.  But that summer of 1958 I wanted to be normal.  Since we had moved to town the year before I had been invited to 2 or 3 birthday parties and I dreamed of having one.  Nervous about asking Mom, I swallowed down the lump in my throat and nearly whispered the request.  “Could I have a birthday party?”  Had I known then how it would turn out, I’d have never asked.  When Mom pursed her lips at the question I said, “Please.  I’ll help so there won’t be much work for you.”  Reluctantly she nodded.  Years later, I would wonder if that nod was her thinking of how she’d make sure I would never ask again.

It was July, therefore Mom wanted the party at noon, prohibiting Dad from being there.  The added bonus was that it could be outside so she wouldn’t have a bunch of kids in the house, where she could escape to when they became a pain in the ass.  I spread out the aluminum and plastic webbed lawn chairs in the grass near our homemade picnic table in the back yard.  My classmates had patios and lawn furniture better than our inside furniture, but I didn’t care.  They gave party favors, but Mom wouldn’t go that far.  As my few friends came bearing gifts, Mom made sure they all knew how put out she was while serving the Kool-aid, hotdogs and potato chips.  She baked a white sheet cake with 7-minute frosting and decorated it with the hard-sugar candy decorations that you bought on a sheet, wetting them to get them off.

As the party began I was quickly getting nervous and embarrassed by Mom’s impatience with my guests.  Then something happened that seemed so small in the scheme of the universe, and yet it changed my life.  Being unsupervised 8-year olds, as they were served they started eating, me included, without waiting for everyone.  The last boy in line was given potato chips and Kool-Aid by Mom as she snapped, “There aren’t any more hotdogs!”  Everyone fell silent, mouths full of food.  I looked at  Mom in horror, my eyes pleading for  her to say she had more in the kitchen.  Instead, I got a look back that pierced my heart as she repeated “There aren’t anymore…”  She knew how many kids there were going to be—how could she not have enough food?  I didn’t hear anything after that.  The humiliation was overwhelming.  I don’t remember the cake being cut, nor opening the presents.  I never asked for a party, EVER again, from anyone.

Is the Clever Man a Coward?

Posted in Journey of the Mind with tags , , , , , on September 30, 2018 by Sharon Matusiak

After moving to town from the milk farm, I had playmates for the first time. A neighbor girl, Nancy and I started playing games together.  We favored hopscotch, jacks and sometimes Dr., pretending we were having babies.  We’d lay on our backs, grab our bellies and moan and cry and then we’d stroll around the block pushing our baby carriages, with baby dolls wrapped up inside.

One day somehow, the subject of her Dad came up and she said he was in the Army and he had been in WWII.  My Dad was fond of street fighting, watching wrestling and working in a mine, a job that I understood was dangerous.  I had plenty of negative thoughts about my Dad, but I did think he was brave.  He was fond of telling the story of how he evaded being inducted into the Army during the war.  I told her how while waiting in line to get his physical his hands were trembling. When it was his turn before the doctor, his hands were vibrating. The doctor asked him what was the matter with him, to which he replied, “Nothing.”  Pointing to his hands, he asked why they were shaking so badly. He replied, “Oh, that.  Oh, that’s nothing, my hands have always done that.  It doesn’t bother me.” I held mine out, shaking them, just as he always did when he told the story.   And then I proclaimed with a smile on my face, that because of that he didn’t have to go to the war.  I was so stupidly blind to the perception on the other side.  She didn’t want to be friends anymore.  It was  such a profound lesson for me to learn, that there are multiple viewpoints.  But, because I felt so rejected, without any expectation, it added significantly to my hesitation of making friends in the future.  I should have apologized to her, and I didn’t.  I was mortally embarrassed.

%d bloggers like this: