When I visited grandpa and grandma in the summer time, they liked to pack a lunch, then take a drive to some road-side park and have a picnic. While she traveled, grandma would remember where these parks were and which ones she had not yet stopped at. One day Grandma told me, “Ronnie this Sunday we are going to have a picnic at someplace special.” Back then there were no modern roads, just old logging trails and the main ones were paved over. Grandma said, “we are going over to St Louis and see the freeway.”
This was very interesting and exciting to see something we had only heard about. None of us had ever seen a freeway. So, we took a drive and when we got there, we parked the car along the road and gazed in wonder at the new modern marvel before us. There in the middle of a farmer’s field was a big cement bridge. It was so out of place that it looked like it had been dropped from outer space. There weren’t any rivers to cross or running water for anyone to need a bridge there. This was the oddest-looking thing to us. We could not understand why someone would do such a silly thing. That was the first time I saw a freeway overpass.
I went to visit my grandparents for a week during each spring, summer, and Christmas school vacations. They had other grandchildren that lived close to them and they saw them often throughout the year. Because they did not see me during the year, they took me with them on their summer vacation trips. I still feel like they treated me special and it was not fair to the other grandchildren that did not get to go too.
Grandpa and grandma took me to some great sites around Michigan and as far as Watkins Glen in New York. One year when I was about 8 years old grandma asked me where I would like to go for a trip. Walt Disney opened his theme park in 1955 when I was 4 years old and ever since I heard about the place I wanted to go there. So, this was not a hard question to answer, “Disneyland,” I said.
Grandpa and grandma did not go to movies theaters. They did not approve of some things shown in movies. And they felt that when Walt Disney made films about magic and sorcerers this was satanic material and they should stay away from it. I already knew how they felt about movies, so it did not surprise me when grandma said, “this summer we are going to Pennsylvania to see some of my old relatives.”
Whenever my grandparents took a trip my aunt came along. She was a very loving and a kind and generous person. She was great fun to be with. She kept a log of everything she saw, did, and ate on the trip right down to the minute. I would love to have those time logs today to look at and refer to.
I remember sleeping a lot on the way to Pennsylvania. Eventually when we got there I woke up in the middle of a cemetery. This could not be as good as a trip to Disneyland I thought to myself. There was my grandparents and my aunt out in the middle of a field looking at grave markers. Then something else in the corner of my eye got my attention. I looked that way and saw not only one but there were several cannons setting in the fields around. This graveyard was obviously a very special place to my grandparents.
This was the Gettysburg battle field they had brought me to. As a young man I was humbled when I realized where they had taken me. This was American history I was standing on. My grandparents talked of relatives that had died fighting there on that Pennsylvania farm land. This was a family cemetery to them, they had returned to Gettysburg, and we were there that day to pay our respects. Grandpa and grandma experienced second hand, the stories told by their relatives that had been there during the conflict, and now they were passing them on to me, third hand.
During that same trip back east, we visited the home of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in Lexington, Virginia. Grandma let me buy some souvenirs at the gift shop and I came home with a replica of a Civil War Canon and a little wagon. I don’t know what happened to the cannon, but I still have the wagon.
My grandpa Knauss was a good joke and story teller. He always had a new funny story to tell us grandchildren. When he talked about his personal life experiences, we felt like we were right there with him. I loved the stories about when he lived on my great-grandfather’s farm.
Grandpa told me a story about his matched team of horses, he said, “these two were so perfectly matched that I could go to the general store in town, put the supplies in the back of the wagon, then climb aboard and give the horses a little click, click, encouragement to get going. They both knew the familiar 4 miles back to the barn.” So, grandpa made himself comfortable in the seat, shaded his eyes from the sun with his hat, and took a nap on the way home. Eventually when the wagon stopped moving, he knew was home.
After he had taken care of and fed the horses, he grabbed the supplies and headed for the house. My grandpa was born in the horse and buggy age, he saw the invention of the automobile, and died in the jet age. No generation before him, had witnessed, as great of acceleration of man’s ability to travel.
My favorite story was one that grandpa told me about his father, my great-grandfather. Edward Knauss had bought his farm land from a tribe of Native Americans. One day some decedents of this tribe came back to his farm and asked, “our fathers once walked this land as their fathers before them. There was a sacred oak tree that our people buried their treasures under. Time has passed between us and we want to go to this tree and dig up their treasure.” They were looking for a certain tree on the Knauss farm. They explained to great-grandpa that there were some Indian burials around that tree, and they asked great-grandpa if he knew where the tree was.
Great-grandpa told them, “I know what tree you are talking about. And I know what become of it. Because I cut it down and had it made into lumber for my house and barn.” Reassuringly he told them, “But I know exactly where that tree stood and I can take you right to the stump of it.” Great-grandpa said to the Indians, “this was your home first.” He felt very positive about that and told them, “your rights over the land come first,” even though the land had been purchased by him.
Great-grandpa took them to the site of the big sacred oak tree and left them to their business, and they spent quite some time there. They were able to locate their burial grounds and they did find some buried gold along with other personal affects which grandpa allowed them to take with them. Before they left the farm, they came and showed great-grandpa what they had found.
The Indians told great-grandpa that their people had made that spot under the tree to look like an Indian burial ground so nobody would dig there, and no bodies were buried there. Several years before, their tribe had collectively gathered among them all their valuables and buried them there before they left the area. They were afraid the white men would steel away their treasure when they traveled. Now years later their descendants were able to dig up a leather bag hidden in a clay pot.
Inside the leather bag was some gold, silver coins, jewelry, and some Indian handmade marbles. The leader in the group asked great-grandpa, “do you have any claim to this bag?”
And great-grandpa told them, “no, I’m happy that you found what you were looking for.”
Then the leader opened the leather bag and took out several of the handmade marbles and tried to give them the him, but great-grandpa said, “take with you what is yours, my reward is helping you find it.” But they were insistent that he take them as a gift, so he did.
And now came the best part of this story. Grandpa was given those marbles when he was a young boy by great-grandpa and he still had them. He would take them out of an old medicine bottle he kept on his dresser. He explained, “it would be very hard to make these out of clay using just your hands.” We both appreciated the talent of the artist that created them.
I carried my marbles in a leather bag back when I was younger. I had the clear see through Puries, a couple big glass Boulders, and my ball bearing Steelies. Grandpa would let me play with his Indian marbles on one condition. The Indian marbles were made out of clay and he said, “those would break smashing against glass or steel marbles.”
When my grandpa passed away, my grandma trusted in me for their safe keeping when she gave the Indian marbles to me. I still have them in my leather marble bag. I took one of them and mounted it in the tile work behind the stove in my kitchen. I have told my grandchildren the story of the marble. And I have told them to never forget who you are, and where you came from, and stand as a good role model for those that come after you.
One summer afternoon my grandpa took me on a drive down a two-track road through the overgrown woods around great-grandpa Knauss’s farm. Then he parked the car and we took a long hike through the woods so he could show me what the local people said was a meteorite. The brush was thick, and grandpa had to fight with it to make a path for me walk in. The terrain around the meteor look like the remains of a gravel pit. We had to walk down into the crater area to reach the stone.
When we finally did find it, it stuck right out as this perfectly round, pot marked, black rock sticking out of the ground and brushes. Most of it was buried and surrounded by brush. You could see where people had dug out around to see how big it was and had never finished. We did not stay there very long because the mosquitoes were too thick buzzing around and we were getting eaten alive. I always wondered if it really was from outer space.
When grandpa and I got back to great-grandpa’s house he had a treat for us. He had just finished working with his bees and he gave me a small piece of honey comb to eat. Boy was that good. And later that day while playing in great-grandpa’s basement I found a big jar of honey comb. It looked so good that I helped myself to all I could eat. Boy did I ever get a honey overload. That made me so sick that I still do not care for honey much, because it reminds me of that day in great-grandpa’s basement.
But there was one story that my grandparents told me that I did not like. I still remember how mad I got at them the first time they told it to me. We were having a conversation about me living with my mother. They told me that they had taken care of me when I was a little baby but Caroline had always denied it. This must have up set them because then they told me, “we had to go down to Greenville to a strangers house one day and rescue you from them after your mother had thrown you out into the snow bank.”
They shocked me when they said this, and I got very mad at them for saying something so horrible about my mother. No one could ever believe that story. My trust in them was tested and my relationship with them changed. I knew my mother could lie to me, but could everybody be lying to me too?
Growing up on a farm being the next to the youngest made my mother Caroline June Orstrander a fighter and a stubborn opponent. By her sheer will to pull herself up to a better life she accomplished by herself more than any other member of her family had. She put her way through nursing school by pure determination to succeed. The men were just coming home from the second world war. Her generation of gals left the farm and headed to the city to find work and the possibility of romance and a new family.
Back in the 1950s when Caroline and Raymond were married couples just did not get divorced. When they took a vow of, “for better or worse,” they meant it and stayed together. But after World War II when the soldiers and sailors came home the trauma of war had affected some of them. A few of the veterans found it difficult to blend back into civilian life after the war. Raymond was one of the many that did not handle his responsibility to his family very well and my parents separated for ever.
At that time in the eyes of the public the womenfolk of divorced families were looked down upon and mostly held responsible for the break-up of the family. Caroline would have surely had to deal with this, and all the questions people would ask her. She found herself alone with a small baby and no longer able to live in the house Raymond built for the family. She did what she had to do, she moved on.
When I was really young, I told my grandma, “I want a brother, so I have someone to play with.” I did not understand when she told me, “you will never have a brother because your mom and dad are not, and never will be together again.” I was crushed but she was doing me a favor by telling me the truth always.
Caroline’s sister, my aunt, told me once, “Ronnie you are just like your dad.”
And I ask her, “how can that be because I do not even know the man?”
She answered right back at me, “your mother doesn’t like you because you look and act just like Raymond, I don’t know how, but you do.”
When I was 14 years old Caroline came home one day with a piece of paper and flashed it directly in my face. She was very elated about what she had signed at the court house that day. She told me, “now I will not get into any trouble when you get into trouble and no one can come after me for something you did.”
I had no idea what she was talking about and I had no response, I just listen to her.
She felt it necessary to explain to me, “you are now an emancipated minor and I am no longer responsible for you.”
My confusion was short lived because she also told me, “you are going with your grandparents down south to see your dad and maybe you will just stay there, How about that!”
Well at the time it sounded really good because things between us could have been a lot better. I had missed seeing Raymond from the time he left and I always hoped to see him someday. He had remarried and I hoped to see my step-brothers and sister to have someone to play with.
My grandparents drove me to Texas, and I met my dad for the first time in an old style drug store that had a soda fountain. We sitting on the stools at the counter having some ice cream. I asked my grandma, “how will I recognize my dad when I have not seen him?”
Grandma smiled and said softly to me, “you will, you will.”
Then I heard the first three words my dad said to me, “come here boy,” when he walked into the drug store. I had not yet heard an adult talk to me in such a demanding way and tone of voice. He barked orders at me like he was talking to an old hound dog. I thought right then maybe this stranger is not who I want to live with. It only took a 10-minute ride in his pickup truck with his Easy Rider rifle rack to educate me why my mother had left him.
Raymond was bragging about everything. He knew more than anybody. He came from Michigan himself, yet he wanted to show me how to be a Texas cowboy. He even talked like a southerner now. There was no affection between us, it was more like, “don’t you just love me.”
I did stay with Raymond for a few days I got to meet my half brothers and sister. Right from the get-go they didn’t seem to like me at all. My dad’s new wife did her best to be friendly but I could tell there was still some resentment towards another woman’s child from his past. I did not fit in with these people. I don’t know why, but my new siblings went through all my things and made quite a lot of fun out of me being a Yankee, rather than showing any desire to bond as brother and sister.
I do not know why my parents separated and I cannot judge either one of them. I can only relate to how they both acted towards me after that time in our lives. I was saddened to think that my aunt thought that I was just like Raymond. I did not stay there with his new family and I told Caroline when I returned that I understood why she left him.
I was glad to be back in the trees of Michigan. With Pat acting like a referee, Caroline and I got along together the best we could. I did not talk much about my dad any more. Pat and Caroline provided me a good home and they took great care of all my needs.
Later on in life I had the opportunity to meet my step-sister when she was older. We were immediately attracted to each other. I felt very bad when some of the women in my family witnessing the chemistry between the two of us misinterpreted it as something sexual, rather than pure excitement of someone that you never had an opportunity to spend time with.
Living with Caroline was like living with two different persons. She was well known and loved in our community because she worked for a local doctor that delivered me for over 30 years. Many different times someone said to me, “I got a shot from your mother today.” Caroline new I did not like shots, and she would give them to me at supper time. I would like to think she did it then because she thought I would be distracted by eating and maybe I would not mind it so much. She was very good at giving a shot and it didn’t hurt much but, I just did not like shots.
But there was another Caroline and I was the only one that saw her. She did not act the same way to me when other people were around. I don’t think she wanted any witnesses on how she talked to me. If I was in public with her, she would show her power over me by saying when no one was looking, “just wait until we get home.” I surely did agree with her when she said, “you must be well behaved when you go out and don’t ask for anything when you are at someone else’s house.”
Today I do not remember the exact detail of what bothered me so much that I tried to kill myself when I was 9 years old. But, boy I do remember that day. It was a Saturday and Pat was working while Caroline was at home with me. She got very angry at me for something and struck out at my face. My quick and natural reaction to her aggression was to put up my arm in front of me for just defense. Caroline hit her hand on my arm instead my face and she must have hurt herself because she went into a rage at me.
Caroline kept saying, “You hit me! You hit me! You just wait until Pat gets home, you just wait.” And when Pat got home, she told him some whopper of a lie about her having combat with me. Pat was in the middle. He was a loving husband that always did what Caroline wanted, even if he did not agree with her. He disagreed with her often about me and Caroline would tell me when I wanted something, “you better thank Pat because if it was up to me you would not get what you want, SO.” She would tag on the, “SO,” to the end of a sentence and that meant you better agree with her. That day I had no say-SO in the mater, and I got punished.
This was more than I could handle living with Caroline and I retreated to the basement. I could recognize I was at a breaking point. I knew that to harm yourself would not be looked on favorably by God, but I did not care. I felt that I was totally alone. No one knew what was going on in my life. So, I decided to end it. I cut myself on my arm and when Caroline call me for supper I did not answer.
She never came down stairs to check on me she just kept yelling until I gave in and went up. At the top of the stairs I broke down in tears and tried to talk to her about how I felt. I told her, “living this way with you telling Pat a lie and he won’t listen to the truth is more than I can handle.” I showed her a little blood on my arm and said, “look, I feel so bad I tried to kill myself.”
Caroline told one of her favorite expressions while she finished setting the table, “Oh pooo…get up to the table now and eat.”
Nothing was said ever again about this. I felt so alone, but I knew that I was not, and I turned it over to the Lord in prayer. Sometimes I would pray my self to sleep. One night I had a dream that I saw Jesus. I remember this dream because it was in vivid color. In the dream I ate an apple that tasted so good. The dream was short. I was left with the feeling that, things would work out ok, and it was a reminder that I was not alone. Recalling this dream throughout my life has helped me get through trouble times.
Caroline and Pat were very generous with gifts for me at Christmas and sometimes they went a little overboard. She usually asked me to mark some things in the Sears & Roebuck catalog to give her and Santa an idea of what I might like. I felt that I had out grown my snow sled and I wanted a sled like the boys at school had. It was longer and it looked like it went faster. I thought this new sled would stop the other boys from teasing me about using a little boys sled.
So, on Christmas morning when I saw the unwrapped new sled leaning on the wall next to the tree and I ran into Caroline and Pat’s bedroom and told her this, “I wanted that new sled so much, and I am so grateful that you got it for me, that you can take all the other unopened presents and give them to a poor child. Because I am glad you got me my new sled.”
There was not response from Pat, he was still trying to sleep. But Caroline started a drama that lasted the rest of Christmas vacation and she brought it up each year thereafter. She tried waking Pat while she was yelled at me, “why, I worked hard to get the money to buy those gifts for you and now you don’t want them.” She went on in a rage yelling at me and prodding Pat to get up and agree with her anger towards me. Caroline always had the attitude that, “it was just another day,” to water down the good times of any holiday.
Caroline could tell when her words hurt, and it seemed to please her when she used them to hurt me. But this was my mother, I had a right to love her, and I did. Many night time prayers were requests to exchange places with someone else that had to die that night. I would ask for the knowledge how to stop doing things that made Caroline so mad at me. At end of each prayer I knew HE had heard me, and I ended with, “In Jesus’s name I pray, amen.” Then I left my troubles in an imaginary basket at HIS feet and went to sleep.
Caroline and Pat attended the same church with me during the 13 years I lived with them. The church members were very loving and affectionate to each other. I had a very close and personal relationships with some of the men that attended Wednesday night prayer meetings at our church. I looked up to these men and trusted their advice when I asked for it. So, it would feel totally normal for me as a young man still in my teens, to talk to these older Christian brothers about my relationship with Caroline. Wrong! I found out right away I was the only one that saw the other Caroline. They were offended and ended the conversation.
The reaction I got from these dear friends was a rejection to what I had shared with them. They did not want to listen to me because they said, “we know Caroline and we don’t want to hear any more of that rubbish.” Some of my sisters in Christ at the church hurt me more after they heard what I had said to the men, they responded to me, “You are a horrible young child. We know your mother and she is nothing like that at all. How can you talk about her that way? You are a horrible, horrible, young child.”
These men and women were my teachers of faith. How could they be wrong? Did they approve of the way my life was with Caroline? They help lead me to the Lord and they knew that I believed in the Bible as 100% Gods word, “honor your mother and father.” From the time I was a little kid I believed it was a sin if I even thought about my mother doing something wrong. Now I had recognized a situation that was wrong and I was willing to accept 51% of the problem between Caroline and I. While looking for help and advice, I unknowingly exposed myself as the bad little boy. The one that Caroline had been telling them about.
I only found years later at a family reunion that when I was in the sixth grade Caroline told the relatives that she was going to adopt out her son Ronnie because she could not handle me. When the relatives told me this they also said, “we wondered, what could any child in the 6th grade do that was so bad, that she could not handle Ronnie, and put her only child up for adoption.”
I had already put out of my mind what my grandparents told me about Caroline’s actions towards me when I was a baby as NOT POSSIBLE! I could not believe they would say such a horrible thing about my mother, and I had a right to love her. But I could not understand how she could be so nice to all other people and not feel that way once and a while about me. I began thinking the problem was me. I was the one that was wrong because I could not ever please her.
Being a small boy in school I got teased a lot, I did not like it, but I could take it. Being teased by my mother with anger and hate was not in my capabilities to understand because I was that Christian boy they both had raised me to be. I had a personal relationship with Jesus at age 7 and his touch was still vibrantly living in my heart.
Many nights as a young Christian I prayed, “Dear Jesus, if someone has to die tonight would you please take me instead. They have family and people that love them, and they would be missed. Please Lord take me instead because no one will miss me, and I’m not wanted here.” This is a really bad thing for a person that young to be asking for, not his request, but the life situation that drove him to this state of mind. The Lord never answered that prayer I am living proof of that.
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