1970 – Philadelphia
I have three sisters. Janice who’s eighteen months older than me, was born in 1961. My sister April, was born in 1966, and Gabrielle born in 1970.
Sometimes when we went to bed and my folks had people over, we’d leave our rooms, and lie at the top of the stairs and listen to our parents downstairs. It was probably just out of curiosity. What are the adults doing downstairs? What are they talking about? Different voices and laughter. The sounds of adults having fun grownup time with their friends and neighbors. Kids don’t like to go to bed. They want to be up and a part of everything. But we could only listen from the top of the stairs.
Sometimes, we’d lie at the top of the stairs in our pajamas listening to my parents when there weren’t any guests over. Maybe we were hoping we’d hear some secret info about what Santa might be bring us this year. But sometimes, more often than not, there was no laughter. Their voices sounded angry with each other. What could they be angry about? We didn’t do anything. We were in bed. We would hear them fight and argue downstairs in the kitchen. I don’t remember what they argued about. It wasn’t so much their words, but the sound of their voices.
If I think back to the sound of our parents voices when we were little, the sound was more important than what they were saying. Children respond more to tone than to meaning. A young mind only has so much capacity for complex emotion. If the voice is soft and gentle, it’s usually followed by a smile and praise. But if the tone is loud and sharp, it’s probably followed by admonishment or punishment.
Like dogs, we learn the difference in those tones very quickly.
When you’re a little kid, and it’s time to go outside, what’s do your parents always say? Go put your shoes on. We’re going. Where are your shoes? We have to go. Because when you’re a kid, you like to run around in your stocking feet. Normally the shoes come off when you got home, because your mom doesn’t want you tracking dirt all over the house.
One morning, my father was getting ready for work. He couldn’t find his shoes. He looked all over and it just didn’t make sense. His closet was always neatly arranged full of ironed shirts, ties, and suits for his job at the bank.
He asked my mother if she’d seen them. Having no idea what had happened, she joined in the search. They finally found his shoes, and several other pairs stashed away behind some boxes in a different closet.
They began to ask us kids if we knew anything about it. Gabrielle was just a newborn so it couldn’t have been her, and Janice and I simply shook our heads.
My middle sister April, who was a very little girl at the time, but always outspoken, took responsibility.
“Why did you hide daddy’s shoes, April? You know he needs them for work.”
“I heard you and daddy fighting last night. I heard what he said to you. I thought if I hid his shoes he wouldn’t leave. You can’t go outside without your shoes.”
Such a simple act, but what an elegant plan for a four-year-old child to conceive in an attempt to keep her family together, and her daddy from leaving.
I’ll never forget that.
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