We finally got an offer on our semi. “You’re getting $1,000 more than you’ve asked for, just to move out in ten days, what’s the problem?” asked the agent.
“Find a house and move in only ten days? No problem. SEE YA — BYE!”
There aren’t many districts you can go house hunting that allow panel trucks, ladders, washers, dryers, vacuums, and so on to be piled in the driveway, but this time we had a ‘good’ agent.
“It’ll have to be a fairly busy street and I have just the one.”
The home had everything we wanted. A fireplace in the living room, another fireplace in a finished rec room with wall to wall shelves for Darko’s books. It was a few thousand costlier than we had anticipated, but never-the-less, detached; no chickens, no pigeons; only traffic and noise.
You have to visualize this location. To our north was a hydro field, and privacy. To the south, our one and only neighbour. So our house started a stretch of only nine homes on this section of the street. No one across from us and no one, just a field, beside us. Did I say no chickens or pigeons? This was not a slum district, either. Our one and only neighbour had a running total of thirty-four cats.
Now these were not ordinary cats. The majority of them were cross-bred stock, many dragging their hind legs behind them. The ‘healthier’ toms were allowed to prowl at night on busy traffic-congested streets and were coming back with amputated tails, ears and missing eyes. They were grotesque — stitched up, everywhere.
We were ready to celebrate, after the movers left, with a box of cream squares. This was a delicacy, because Darko and I were always dieting. Minutes after I had set the table, I found one of these ‘monsters’ on top of our kitchen table, devouring our feast.
Aluminum doors were ordered the same day. Next, they were intruding through the basement windows, so naturally we had to install air conditioning.
To a family that had just stretched a few thousand beyond their limit, this added expense alone should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Not yet. We only owed about $35,000.00.
I don’t want to stir up any animosity among animal lovers, but Darko HATED cats and dogs at this point. (A year after we moved in, the lady next door was found dead in her bed. The autopsy showed she died from a hair ball stuck in her esophagus). Her husband took over a dozen kittens, put them in a plastic garbage bag, laid them on the driveway and drove his car back and forth across the bag. He bragged to the kids how easy it was to get rid of them. The rest he locked out of the house, and he wouldn’t feed them.
They roamed the streets for months afterwards. Darko always had a thing about animal hair getting stuck in his throat. Whenever he visited friends that had a cat or dog, a hair would inevitably end up in his mouth. He would no more have a cat or dog in the house than he would a pig or goat, but even he thought this man was a revolting, inhumane ogre.
A new home means a new baby, or some such folk tale so Darko wasn’t taking any chances. “Donna, I was thinking about all the fortune tellers you’ve been to that said we were going to have three boys and a girl. I didn’t plan on ever having four children. This is getting too close for comfort. Are you taking your pill?”
“I don’t want to take any chances. Two sons to put through school is plenty. Especially for the careers they´re going to have.”
“You gave me an idea. I have a plan. I’ve always wanted the excess skin on my stomach removed, until I heard how much it was going to cost. If I had my tubes tied at the same time, it would cost peanuts. Our medical plan would cover it.” Why hadn’t I thought of this before?
Prepared, and always ready for all action, I quickly got on the buzzer. The doctor (I wouldn’t let Dr. Moore know I didn’t want more babies, she could be Catholic) came well recommended.
“You’re scheduled for June the first. Take your pill, regardless, till then. If at any time, ANY TIME AT ALL, you should change your mind — change it freely. I don’t approve of tubal ligation, especially when you’re not even twenty-four years old. You have a long life ahead.”
Change my mind? Are you kidding? I would have to run around with this juggly pot forever. This is my chance. Bikinis were in style.
1:00 p.m. June 1, 1972
“Mrs. Martonfi”, the voice over the phone sounded surprised, “you’ve been scheduled to check in by noon. Are you coming?”
My voice, a whisper, “No, no. I’ve changed my mind.” Whose voice is that? It can’t be mine. I’ve been looking forward to this for three years.
Darko was even more surprised to find me home. “Chicken out?”
“No, not chicken—I can’t really explain it. I’ve changed my mind.”
“That does it. Now I’m certain, Donna, it’s too close for comfort; three boys, one girl. I’m having a vasectomy. Anyway, your stomach doesn’t need fixing, it’s a beautiful souvenir — not just anyone has TWINS. It’ll be your special identification mark.”
“That’s sweet — yes — but — still — YUK. What more proof do I need than them?” I asked, pointing at the boys. “I’m a beautiful witch, with a lovely, shrivelled stomach. What next?”
How we laughed when we heard the vasectomy was scheduled right on Darko’s birthday. It wasn’t the really “IN” thing to do as of yet.
Baka Sisa (I had rechristened my out-law. Baka meaning grandma; Sisa, our pet name for Darko’s sister, Maria. Motherhood must have mellowed me slightly) demanded of Darko: “How can you let her talk you into giving up your manhood? On your birthday, yet! I won’t hear of it.”
Well, shut your ears then, lady, I thought. Better yet, unstop your ears; shut your mouth. “It’s your son that doesn’t want any more children, it’s not my idea.”
She shot me a glare. “I knew you could talk him into anything. BUT THIS?”
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR DARKO!!! ...”
Somewhere, about two months later, near the end of August, Darko noticed something v-e-r-y unusual. “You’re finally getting top heavy. Those exercises really work.”
“I’m a little concerned, Darko. I don’t do them anymore.”
“Go get examined then. You never can be certain about breast cancer.”
“I don’t think they’d GROW, you know, if it was breast cancer.” My mind flashed a thought. It just couldn’t be. The only other time my breasts enlarged...
“I should say there’s a reason you’re engorged, Mrs. Martonfi,” Dr. Ried chuckled. “You’re roughly four months pregnant. I told you to take your pill right up to and for a week after the vasectomy.”
“But I did. I DID. The operation wasn’t even two months ago.”
“People have been known to get pregnant on the pill. CONGRATULATIONS.”
The idea grew on me quickly. Just as long as it isn’t TWO again this time, God. Don’t send two, okay?
How do I nicely explain to Darko that the fortune tellers were right? I’ve got a strong feeling this is going to be a boy.
“Darko, Honey, SURPRISE! We’ve caused some rumors among our relatives in our day, ha, ha. What do you think they’re going to say now, ha, ha?”
We were almost doubled over with laughter knowing we’d put his mother into complete shock. I want to be there when she tries to calculate from June 29th, the day her son was ´castrated´, (she could never get that straight) till February 24th, 1973. Less than eight months, tootsie. Not even eight months. Was it feminine intuition? Instinct? I was already carrying a tiny life, on June 1st.
Did I say shock? I went into shock.
“What did she just say” Dr. Ried asked, more than surprised behind the surgical mask.
“She said something about her baby being ugly,” one of the nurses replied.
“Oh, no, God, I didn’t mean ugly!” I didn’t, it’s just—-You have to understand, I’ve had three, blue eyed, blond (peach fuzz) babies. He just couldn’t look like this! You would have to see this little monkey. He had pitch black hair, down past his eyes, side burns that almost connected over his upper lip to form a mustache, bruises from the forceps at the side of his temples and black tiny hairs that ran down his spine, to his waist, AND... protruding at the centre of all this black hair, was a gigantic nose.
WAS THIS GUY EVER GOING TO START TONGUES WAGGING!
Not only was he hairy; the water at the hospital was shut down for a few hours at the time of his birth, so he never was properly cleaned. He was a mess. I tried to hide him under his blanket when the nurses brought him, while looking over at the ‘peach-fuzz’ blondie brought to the girl in the next bed. I expected that baby. He looked more like mine than this one.
I seriously wondered how I was going to explain him to relatives, such as to the one who wanted to know what happened to the astronauts on the moon IN THE DAY TIME. ‘Oh, they just go poof.’
The third day after his arrival, I reached out my arms to take my amusing bundle from the nurse and fell in love with the most beautiful child God ever created. I thought they had handed me the wrong one. All the facial hair had fallen off. The jet-black hair was curled, in one of those funny little rolls. All clean and shiny and scrubbed. And... his nose wasn’t big at all.
Not at all. Overwhelming love flooded through me.
“Don’t you worry little fellow. You’ve just made it into the world by the skin of your teeth. God must have a special plan or you.” Not only that, for some reason, this pregnancy had corrected the loose, overstretched skin from the twins. It looked 200% better now.
My dad stood at the nursery window, tears streaming down his face. (I still couldn’t get used to my tall, handsome dad, crying. It just didn’t seem like him. WE, well — we just never cried. Only mother cried — not us).
“He looks just like you, when you were born. I can see you now, like it was just yesterday. When the nurse brought you and showed me my daughter.” Actually I thought little Stevie looked just like him.
I wish I could say the relatives had learned the first time around I wasn’t going to be a cream puff or a door mat to wipe their feet on anytime they fancied. They hadn’t. Now they were pushing their luck.
“How can you do such a thing to Darko?”
“Do such a thing to Darko???” I acted surprised. “Why, I don’t know what you mean.”
“It’s more than obvious to us, about this kid.”
“Really? Oh, you’ve got it all wrong — this one’s Darko’s -- it’s the other three that aren’t. Why don’t you go read a book. As a matter of fact go read a couple of hundred. Come back in half a century when you’ve learned something. And oh, by the way, GET OUT OF MY HOUSE.”
This time I was in TOP shape. Steven was a gift sent from God. HE wanted me to know how easy it was to have just one baby. The bottle of milk was slurped before I could get comfortable in my easy chair (still didn’t get that rocker. I was afraid to ask. I didn’t want to end up with a furniture store). Then, to our astonishment, he’d sleep for four hours. We’d stand over him waiting for him to wake up. That child just NEVER cried. We worried that he didn’t know how. As soon as his eyes opened, he’d shove his fist into his mouth and suck with all his might until I’d replace his fist with a bottle of milk. Not a peep out of him. Then, back to sleep for another four hours. Unbelievable, I had TIME to enjoy Stevie.
I’m ashamed to admit he was such a quite, undemanding baby that one day, mommy, daddy, doc and astro were pulling out of the driveway when Darko and I simultaneously shot each other a ghastly look, both realizing at the same moment we had literally forgotten to take him with us to the car.
Usually there was a huge commotion when all four of us were leaving together. By the time I’d have the second twin dressed — hat, gloves, boots, mitts and shawl — the first, so bundled only his eyes showed, would have to go to the bathroom. Then vice-versa. It took an hour to get from the front hall to the car. BUT TO ACTUALLY FORGET HIM! I hope he never hears this story.
Continuing happily along. . . I decided that housewife, mother, cook, nursemaid, dishwasher (no — wouldn’t ask for a dishwasher either) bookkeeper, typist, general manager (of a hardly-manageable electrical business) and appliance salesman, was just not enough. I needed more — a job. A job that pays. "What job?", I wondered.
Coincidentally, a good high school friend, Jan, who worked for the Provincial Courts, advised that their Croatian/Serbian/Yugoslavian (same as English/American/Canadian) interpreter was ready to retire. Would I want to take her place on a freelance basis?
You bettcha! With the money I’d make I could get a live-in babysitter and untie my apron strings, just enough. It was only a few mornings or days a week. I would then not have to pay a sitter on Friday and Wednesday nights, our special nights to go out and get away from all the phone calls and numerous businesses. She could watch the kids while I did Darko’s typing and bookkeeping, at a more reasonable and decent hour than midnight. I went through eleven girls in eighteen months. I COULD write a whole book on these ‘sitters’. Maybe another time. I’ll just briefly outline the reasons why they did not work out, before I continue with my story:
They had their own apartment in the basement, with full use of the rec room. I only went downstairs to do the laundry. They had a TV in their room, a private bath and air conditioning. All the conveniences that they did not have to earn for themselves. It was as luxurious as living in a hotel, and getting paid to boot. Not bad for just watching three kids, making grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and washing dishes.
Most references that I called said roughly the same thing. “Don’t ask her to vacuum, she nicks the furniture. Don’t ask her to wash clothes unless you want everything dyed red. Also, don’t let her dust, she’s dropped many irreplaceable wedding gifts. It’s impossible to get decent help.” I thought I was going to be the exception, because all I wanted was a babysitter with dishwashing services, five days a week. Not much to ask. I went from paying $15.00 per week, to as much as $75.00.
SITTER #1 After she moved in, she said she was a witch, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. If we didn’t treat her real nice she was going to put a spell on all of us. "Thanks but, no thanks! You can start packing your bags tonight!"
SITTER #2 This one stole $20.00 a week from my purse for three weeks before I could catch her and prove it. $20.00, in my situation, was more than noticeable, especially when it would disappear between the time I got home from the bank on a Friday night until I went to do the shopping on Saturday.
SITTER #3 She wanted $75.00 per week because she worked for an agency and would do all my housework. My sheets sparkled, but she never paid any attention to the kids. She was too busy, so I ended up typing at midnight once again. She insisted on keeping her apartment in the city and returning home each and every weekend. This meant leaving Friday afternoon by 4:30 and then returning Monday, always two to three hours late because she missed her bus, making ME late for work. During the week I would have to drive her to doctor’s appointments, Bible study and her weekly hairdresser appointments. Sorry, much too costly, in time AND money.
SITTER #4 A seemingly sweet, elderly lady who was Jehovah’s Witness. She hadn’t worked for a couple of years but did give references from her previous employer, a Toronto lawyer who had teen-age kids. She hated clutter and emptied all our drawers and cupboards. It looked as if we had moved out. No scissors, no scotch tape, no knick-knacks, no pictures, nothing. Everything was put in boxes and taken to the basement. She studied her Bible every night at 9 o’clock and would not allow me to do Darko’s typing as it disturbed her concentration. Many times she came upstairs and asked us to shut our TV off, NOT DOWN BUT OFF, because she needed her beauty sleep. She demanded to be allowed to spank the kids as it was the only way to discipline children. I took a harsh stand on that and said she would be dismissed if she ever hit the kids. I caught her slapping Stevie, on three separate occasions, the last being when he rolled a ball across the top of the pool table.
“You will not hit my children, under any circumstance much less for such trivial reasons. They do not misbehave; and when they do, all you have to do is tell me. Do you understand?”
One evening, Darko and I were on our way out as she mentioned that her ex-husband would be stopping by for a visit. He was on his way to the west coast from the east. She ran off with him that same evening, leaving a note and three children unattended, by themselves. The twins were old enough to call their grandfather and tell him what happened. Coming home around midnight, I panicked when I saw my father’s car in our driveway.
I called the police to charge her with desertion and was told that “parents are solely responsible for their children and cannot charge anyone else that they pay to care for them.” The only and best thing to do was call the lawyer whom she had given as a reference and advise him that she would again probably give his name and to warn the next family, through him.
SITTER #5 A twenty-three year old Hungarian girl who was hyperactive, and would get more than hysterical if Stevie didn’t finish his lunch. Her relatives advised her she could demand all 3-day long weekends off, with pay. “What do you think this is, a union outfit?”
SITTER #6 A seventeen year old girl who climbed out the bathroom window in the middle of the first night, because she was told she would have to learn how to make sandwiches or macaroni and cheese for the kids for lunch. We found the door locked, a chair propped on top of the toilet seat, and saw the prints in the snow outside the basement window. I was a couple of hours late for work.
SITTER #7 When I went to do the wash, a few days after she moved in, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a 6 foot 3 inch black man, in his underwear, ran from the rec room to her bedroom. She failed to ask if her cousin (cousin -- my foot) could live with her. If he couldn’t stay (and I pay them to live there) then neither would she.
SITTER #8 Every day, for two weeks, I would come home to find her sound asleep, outside under a tree, the kids inside by themselves. She didn’t get severance pay either.
SITTER #9 Her finance came over every evening. He didn’t like the rec room. We would find him sleeping on our living room sofa (probably expecting Darko and I to sit on the floor).
He’d sit up, only after much prodding, and ask when I would have supper ready. He could put away more than all six of us. I couldn’t afford her, her finance, or our grocery bill.
SITTER #10 Finally, after one year of searching, I found the one I’d always hoped for. She was a school teacher from Trinidad. The kids loved her. She did housekeeping without being asked to. She was courteous, intelligent, sweet, and she wanted to be a part of the family. I was heartbroken months later when she advised that she would be leaving for a higher paying job so she could save enough money to get married and sponsor her finance to Canada. She had been taking correspondence courses and had finally graduated. I knew I could never replace her. She was one of a kind. “My cousin is very much like me. A hard worker and good with kids. She’s a Christian too. Why don’t you sponsor her to Canada? I’ll wait till she arrives.”
SITTER #11 (Number 10’s cousin) Time was of the essence. I went through the proper channels, but there was a long postal strike in Canada. I wired her a ticket and later waited for her papers to arrive, which got stuck in the mail. I left for the airport at 6:30 p.m., in a raging snow blizzard. She was detained by immigration and I was under “some sort of detainment” (probably arrest) as I was not even allowed to make a phone call to my husband to advise him that I hadn’t had an accident. By 4:00 a.m. I realized I was under suspicion for trying to get an alien into Canada illegally. I had also spelled her last name without an ‘E’ which caused the authorities to suspect I was trying to pull something over on them. Who would think of spelling ‘Ford’ with an ‘E’?
Really becoming upset, I asked to be either officially arrested or to be immediately released. I was released on the promise I would appear at an immigration hearing at 9:00 a.m., sharp, in less than five hours.
The hearing obviously did not go well. The immigration officer’s report was so misleading that I wet myself from fright, imagining I would have to go to jail.
She was deported, the same day.
NO MORE LIVE-IN SITTERS! I decided that I would have to find a neighbour I could take the kids to.
(Now, permit me to continue where I left off, before describing these various sitters)
My dad had mentioned so many times how I shouldn’t grin so much. Those ugly little teeth made my nose look even larger. Now with my mad money that I was going to make, I could get them all pulled and replaced with ‘Hollywood’ teeth.
With a part-time job, new teeth and looking forward to my first live-in baby-sitter, I was certain life’s problems were really beginning to get sorted out. I knew nobody could figure out why they were treading on thin ice if they mentioned either my teeth, nose, small chest, weight or stomach; but those things really hurt.
I solved the weight and I solved the overstretched stomach problems. I´m till working on the chest (those bust developers really work). Now, finally, out came the teeth.
“Donna, you look great. What did you do, get a nose job?”
“No, I didn’t have my nose fixed, I got my teeth out and my nose shrunk, HONEST. If I had a nose job, do you think I’d pick one like this?”
My self-image started to improve but being self-conscious took years longer to rectify.
The night before I was to tackle my new career as an interpreter, I had visions of myself standing in the witness box, my gums still swollen, babbling away, and then suddenly, my teeth jetting straight out of my mouth and landing on the floor at the feet of the crown attorney. Horrors.
They did look great. I hoped I’d never regret this irreversible decision.
Not only had I not made a mistake, I could now grin right around my head till I was silly and no one would tell me to close my mouth. I developed a confidence I never had before. Now when family made comments such as; “How can you have such long nails, don’t you do any housework?” or “You’re a mother now, you should not be running around with hair down to your waist.” or “Don’t you think you should start looking like a wife and mother?” I could actually come back with, “If you don’t like it, you can lump it. You don’t think I would actually want to look like you, do you? Not for all the tea in China.”
I was becoming my own person and I didn’t care who didn’t approve. I could finally hold my own. I didn’t have to take ridicule or insults from anyone. “I kinda like the new ME and I ain’t gonna change for YOU.”
Obviously, when I’d tasted the thrill of having some spending money, a few mornings a week in court just was not going to be enough. I needed a real job. Wonder where I could find a secretarial job which would allow me time off for translating? Guess what? --- I found one!
Knowing I was a worker and a doer, I answered an ad which read:
“SENIOR, EXECUTIVE, CONFIDENTIAL SECRETARY TO THE PRESIDENT” — HOURS: 10:00 TO 3:00
Imagine. Could I? Should I? I was good, but I couldn’t spell without the aid of a dictionary. By the time they find out I can’t spell, they’ll see what a WHIZ I am and keep me anyway. How do I persuade them I need extra time, from these short hours, for court?
Easy . . . The President, as it turned out, was so blown away by my sheer nerve, I was hired on the spot. He constantly travelled and agreed that I could have the most flexible hours in the history of secretarial work. As long as I put in twenty-five hours per week, he didn’t care if I did his reports at midnight, at home, or on Saturdays.
The paycheque definitely matched the title, and I became uncomfortable at how little I did for the money I was earning. The boss, Mr. ‘H’, ranted about how I was his right arm. I was used to doing so much more work for Darko’s business that I didn’t feel that I was doing anything. The president would travel for weeks on end and there I would sit, in my own office, reading pocket books. I did, however, need the five hour rest every day, away from our hectic business and three small children. I became accustomed to the easy pace, but it bothered me that I wasn’t worth the paycheque I was collecting every Friday, so I decided to earn my keep. I would do the company a special favour. Already having hooked a rug for our wall at home, I knew Mr. ‘H’ would really appreciate a huge seven foot hanging for his reception area, with the company crest embossed in longer wool and in the company’s colours. Darko knew someone who could duplicate their logo onto canvas. The rest was easy.
Mr. ‘H’ not only loved it, he wanted me to make six more, one for each branch. He actually took it with him to some convention in Calgary. When he returned he had an even better idea.
“Donna, how about if we go into business, approaching big companies, which have famous logos. We can put an ad in the papers advertising for hookers. We could make a fortune. This is a work of art. Companies will jump at it. It’ll be a piece of cake.” (I got the expression from him.)
“Well, not exactly, you see, I’m just about overwhelmed by all the ‘additional sidelines´ that I operate. I came here to get some peace and quiet and get away from running numerous businesses, not start another one. Tell you what, Mr. ‘H’, if I can convince Darko to sell his business, including appliances, vacuums, assorted sundry items, and get a job; then and only then, would I consider this venture — maybe.”
It appealed to me because it was all cash-in-advance, not fly now, pay later. Darko’s profit was constantly being eaten up through bad debts.
I got to the point, that when a little hair salon wouldn’t pay their bill, after dozens of reminders and ten dollars worth of stamps to mail them, I planned to walk into the salon, get my hair done, and when asked to pay, hand an invoice to the proprietor marked PAID IN FULL. He’d be stunned speechless, staring blankly as I walked out with my coiffure.
Going to small claims court was worth more in time and money than these small service calls were worth and I began collecting bad debts in my own way.
Once, Wendy, another really gutsy high school chum, and I, went to a well-known restaurant, right in downtown Toronto, at high noon. We ordered the most expensive and largest meal that we could find on the menu. It was still a little short of what was owing Darko, from two years back, not to mention interest on the money, or overdraft charges which MY bank was charging so I could pay my bills on time. I felt it was the principle of the thing. Can you imagine the commotion when the manager was told we were not going to pay the check and he would have to accept the invoice as payment for our meal? Over fifty patrons watched the fiasco, forks frozen just inches in front of their mouths, trying to hear what was going on. Some came offering to pay if we were short on our check.
“No, he’s short, we’re full, thanks.”
“I’m going to call the police, I’m going to sue you” he yelled, “letting my waitresses and customers know my personal business.”
“Better your waitresses find out today that you don’t pay up, so they won´t be shocked on Friday if they don´t get their paycheques.” Wendy quipped.
This method of collecting debts started when Darko was once on a ladder, installing a brand new air conditioner, in a butcher’s shop. The butcher was already saying it couldn’t possibly keep his market cool enough and he felt, labour, time and the unit were only worth $750.00. Darko, having just purchased it for $950.00 (our cost) could take it back to the wholesaler and only lose the 10% restocking penalty and also not have to pay his assistant another $30.00 to help him finish the installation. Known to always stay calm, cool and collected, he started unscrewing and removing the unit. “You no pay, you no get.” The butcher, seeing Darko was serious, tried to persuade him to stop dismantling it. Darko ignored him, knowing full well he would never see the $1,100 which the man had agreed to pay, only the day before, especially since he was already making ‘half price noises. The butcher called for the ‘boys in blue’ who then removed Darko from the shop. Since the object was in or on the butcher’s premises, only a court order could allow him to remove it.
“Sorry, that’s the law.”
Darko was furious. “Look, officer, I’ve been to court once too often, trying to collect from these professional shysters. They order the largest and most expensive units, knowing very well they will never have to pay for it. All they have to do is tell some judge that they aren’t satisfied and the judge, come next October or November, will advise me that I can remove my unit. I won’t be able to get even three hundred bucks for it by then and they get the use of brand new merchandise, each and every summer. I’m sick of it. They know what they’re doing, and they know how to use the law. I either take his $750.00 now or wait six months and end up with a used air conditioner. Either way, since I got out of bed for this turkey this morning, I lose either $980.00 or $230.00. Tomorrow I should stay in bed and not answer the phone, so I don’t end up in the poorhouse.
“We sympathize with you sir, but there is nothing we can do. We cannot let you back in there to remove it.”
That’s when I came up with the idea that if I drove to the butcher’s, ordered a side of beef, and had him put it in my trunk; I could refuse to pay and just drive off with it.
“No Ma’am, not really. You cannot use a vehicle to take it from him, without paying. You would have to somehow convince him to deliver the cow to your property, get it inside, then refuse to pay. THAT’S LEGAL. Not exactly kosher, but he would have to sue you to get either the payment or his beef back. You see?”
I did see. Have it delivered. Tell him to send me a bill. Refuse to pay. If he has the nerve to sue me, I’ll tell the judge it didn’t taste good (actually, that I had made a ‘draw’ against my husband’s account).
As it turned out, that cookie wasn’t stupid. Knowing we were going to sue him for the balance anyway, he never paid a red cent. I never got my ‘beef’ or our money, just a used air conditioner back, seven months later, as predicted. Funny how they never want to return the merchandise immediately, while it’s still new. Instead, they wait until their court case, when they inform the judge that they’re not satisfied with what they got for ‘that much money’.
Collecting was not the only problem or handicap in this business. At 1:00 a.m., taverns would call five companies at the same time. First come, first served. Since customers were dropping two hundred dollars every fifteen minutes on booze, they wouldn’t sit without lights longer than absolutely necessary. The other four electricians would then turn around and go back home. More than unscrupulous, but definitely legal.
One night a man drove up to our door and rang the bell at 2:30 a.m. He saw the truck parked in the driveway which advertised 24 hour Emergency Service. “Sorry to bother you folks, would you have one of these fuses by any chance?”
“That’ll be seventy-five cents. By the way, since you´re here, would you like to buy a washer or dryer?”
We would climb back into bed only to be awakened again at 3:15. “Oh, sorry again folks, hope you weren’t asleep yet, it’s the wrong amperage. It’s really important, we’re having a party tomorrow and my wife’s got to finish the baking.” We stayed up till dawn waiting for him, in case he came back.
Darko had finally had enough of this ‘work now, send us a bill’ business. I persuaded him to put it up for sale. Armed with his many years of experience of running his own company, the best firms would surely hire him, especially since he was still under forty.
“You’d build up a good pension, seniority and our hospital and medical insurance would be paid. You’d get long weekends, Christmas and Easter off, with pay, EVEN. You won’t have to beg people for your hard earned money — they’ll be chasing you every Friday with it.”
“Sounds good to me. Let’s do it. Call an agent to put it up for sale.”
You recall how I said our ‘Peugot’ started a long process of selling cars for a profit. I had met a hair dresser who sold cars on the side like we sold washers. As I was getting my hair treated, he said he had a real bargain parked behind the shop -- “Only $2,200. The blue one. The Pontiac. Go take a look.”
TAKE A LOOK? I wasn’t ever going to get out from behind the wheel of this car again. It was magnificent, gorgeous; air conditioned, plush interior. The ´WOIKS´! I WANT IT. WHAT A DEAL. I came running back excited.
“Oh ohhh.” he notices I’m a little too excited; even for me, about a Pontiac. “I have this feeling, Donna, maybe you found the Cadillac, instead.”
“How can you do this to me? I’m in love with the one I was just sitting in. That’s the one I’ll give you $2,200 for.”
“D-A-R-K-O? Can you come over to the salon?”, I asked sheepishly, over the phone. “Oh-h-hhh, it’s about this great car I just test drove. Do you think the bank would let us have another $5,000 maybe?”
“What’s $5,000?” he says “If we’re going to go under, then we’re going in style.”
Now the Caddy, we managed to buy on time — but the gas was pay-as-you-go. I’d had it less than a month when I wanted to give it back.
Looking much younger than a mother of ´three´, wise guys at red lights would make comments such as “Daddy loan you the buggy for the night, babes?”
“Don’t you know what it takes to go from ten cents to having a Caddy, you turkey?” I’d fume inside.
We did have our fun moments though. On New Year’s Eve we had to stop at another emergency service call, on our way to the Big Dance. We drove up in a Caddy. I was in a fur coat, (we figured it was cheaper than pneumonia) my sweetie, the electrician, was in a rented tuxedo. He rang the bell.
“HOW MUCH DO YOU CHARGE?” Her eyes bulged, sorry she’d ever dialed our number.
Mr. ‘H’ was proud as punch. He had the only secretary with a car bigger than the boss’s — until the rust spots appeared. “Donna, a rusty Caddy never impresses anyone.”
“Impress?” I was hurt — I don’t want to impress. We deserve this car after all the hassle, hard work and lost weekends when we could have been camping instead. We don’t want to impress — just enjoy — SOMETHING. Something to make up for our time -- for our efforts.
But hadn’t our dreams come true? We had a ‘one in a million’ marriage. We had ‘three in a million’ kids. Strangers would come up to me in restaurants, at the courts, in doctor’s offices, wherever I took them and comment and congratulate me on my lovely, ‘perfectly behaved’, little darlings. I was an exceptionally lucky mom. They behaved better than I’d ever dreamed kids could. They were never any trouble.
I had a system. When they did something annoying or that they shouldn’t, I would bang something loudly (slipper, roll of paper towels, wooden spoon, anything) that would first get their attention, then proceed even louder to count to three. "ONE! TWO!" They’d freeze, on the spot, like someone turned their switches off, wondering what I might do if they every pushed me to THREE. I didn’t know what I’d do either. Thank God I never got past two.
But I MUST be happy??? I had a nice home, a nice, gas-guzzling auto, good jobs -- all of them. Maybe one too many, but we had quality time. Right? Not just quantity. Why was I disappointed in Planet Earth then? Was it because of the crooks who had cheated us since they knew they could get away with it? You mainly needed money in advance if you wanted to sue them. Dozens of other companies, limited companies, were going bankrupt — owing us thousands. We couldn’t afford to become limited.
“Darko, look what came in the mail today. A letter from ABC company’s lawyer. He says he’s going bankrupt and can’t pay the two thousand dollars he owes us. He wasn’t limited either. He’s in the hospital with a heart condition, the only thing to show after 25 years of hard work. It says he’s not skipping the country, as there’s no need to. All he’s got is a beat up jalopy and an old trailer, with a hole in the roof, which he lives in, poor man."
“Poor man?” He’d really had enough of bad debts.
“Yeah, poor man. I sent him flowers after I read the letter.”
“Donna, you’re such a sucker for a sob story. Don’t tell anyone what you did. They’d laugh you right out of town.”
“Hon, if we don’t manage to sell this business soon, I’ll have a heart condition. Hope somebody out there sends ME flowers — you know?”
“I know. Don’t worry, we’ll sell it.”
I woke the next day with that poor old man in my thoughts. Life’s just not fair. It’s cold. It’s cruel. It’s inhumane. Wait a minute — stop that. Self pity’s creeping in. Dress the kids -- today’s the day Mommy’s going to learn how to drive a bike. If you little guys can do ‘pop-a-wheelies’ down the front steps like that, then surely I could learn to peddle one a few blocks.
The only way I could describe in detail the next eight hours would be to quote from a ‘John Gilbert’ radio show, where I spent about forty minutes describing in detail, just a few years after the occurrence, what happened that afternoon. They replayed the tape the following weekend and many times after while daily advertising what I would be speaking about. The question and theme for that day’s show was; “What would you ask God, if you were to meet Him?” On an impulse, never dreaming I’d get a free line, dialed the radio station’s number. “Yes ma’am” said the coordinator “what would you ask Him?”
“Ask Him?” I chuckled, “Oh, I wouldn’t ask HIM anything. I don’t ever want to meet up with HIM again. Once was enough. I spent a few days in a psychiatric hospital over it. Next time I talk to Him, they’ll lock me up for good.”
“I had barely, jokingly, finished this amusing statement when I heard John Gilbert’s voice, “Yes, go ahead — you’re on the air! You say you’ve M-E-T H-I-M once?”
All of my secretarial training had developed my ‘professional voice’. Only over the telephone though. In real life, I want to say so much, so quickly, that they call me “motor mouth”. When talking to strangers, in person, I could almost pass out from fright, but telephones were somehow different. My voice was soft, cool, calm, even though I knew thousands were listening to this radio program. I proceeded to relay the most extraordinary and unusual event that I experieneced on that day.
After about thirty days of rain and fog during the entire month of August, it was the first day that had been warm and sunny. A brand new four lane highway had just been built beside the field right next to our house. The road was newly paved, and all the lines were freshly painted, but it was still blocked off to traffic. I climbed on my bike, as I had many times before, and tried to pedal a straight course.
I heard a small voice inside, ever so clearly, say; “Why are you so afraid? You are so full of fear. Don’t be afraid — you are in My hands.” And with those words, a magnificent presence surrounded me. Actually, it engulfed me. All around me. It was as if I had been swallowed by it. I felt a warm, kind, unbelievable love. It was God. You know when you’re in the presence of God. No one has to tell you who it is. He was communicating with me. “Do not fear. Trust Me.”
“Trust you? Okay, God, I trust you. If this is You — drive my bike then” and I let go of the handle bars while driving at high speed, directly toward the barricade at the end of the road, my eyes tightly shut. “Let’s see what You’re going to do.” A couple of feet before the barricade, the bike tilted to the left and I landed on the grassy field, still cradling the bike between my legs and still very much aware of this ‘power charge’ around me. I sat there and just laughed. Could it be? Could this really be happening? It’s not going away. Rather, He’s not going away.
A very old couple came walking by who had seen me fall and asked if I was all right.
“I’m fine. I just bumped into God. That’s all.”
I presumed they could see Him too.
I could not VISIBLY see anyone or any being with my eyes and yet I WAS seeing Him. THERE WAS A PRESENCE. My mind’s eye saw it. He was enormous — He filled the sky and earth and was definitely there. I climbed back on the bike and rode back and forth on the one mile stretch, questioning what was happening to me. I asked the boys if they could see Him. “God, Mommy? No, I don’t see God. Where is He?”
“He’s right here. Can’t you see Him? Can’t you hear Him? He’s talking.”
They thought this was great fun looking for God.
“Well, we are just going to keep biking back and forth till either you do see Him or I don’t anymore.”
As I rode, I kept looking up at the sun. His brilliance was much greater, stronger. I began to feel the presence of people lining both sides of the road. They were my ancestors. I knew who each one was, even though I had never even heard of some of them. I knew who belonged to which side of the family dating back generations. My grandmother was there too. She was the only one I really did know. I was not seeing shapes but I could feel distinct images. I could have walked up and touched each individual presence. I was too overwhelmed to do anything but keep peddling back and forth between them and whether I rode east or west I was driving toward God. I noticed I felt no sensation. I didn’t feel the wind. I couldn’t feel the warmth of the sun. I could not tell where my body and limbs ended and where this presence began. We were entwined. I was one with something. It felt like eternity or the infinity of the universe.
Probing my mind and trying to get a grasp on reality or something concrete, the only explanation I could come up with was that sometime during the day I had died. I’d either had a heart attack or died when I fell and I was in purgatory and these relatives, who had been long dead, were going to take me to God. I knew angels were all around. I couldn’t feel them or see them but I did have a knowledge that there were many hundreds.
But, if I was in purgatory, why was everything so beautiful, so overwhelmingly lovely and peaceful? I couldn’t comprehend the peace. Purgatory was supposed to last for thousands of years — was I going to spend thousands of years pedaling back and forth waiting for God to ACTUALLY appear? What are the kids doing here? Why are they with me if I’m dead? We were obviously in the same state if I could talk to them and they could hear me. THINK. Were we all in a car accident? No, we were on the road riding our bikes. Were we hit by a car? No, all of us couldn’t have been hit by one car because we were in different directions all over the road. Surely I would have seen it. Seen something.
As I kept driving I started to feel something leaving and falling off me. As if dirt was dropping off. Sins were falling away. Fears were disappearing. Hate, gossip, as if actual items of clothing, were being shed. I stopped and sat on the grass. This was my judgment. It had to be. Every unkind word I had ever said was being played back to me. Every ugly remark or action was being recalled to my attention and they were melting and fading into oblivion. I sat there wondering if I was supposed to keep peddling.
Something was filling my being as all this garbage was falling away. Love and unexplainable kindness were filling me as burdens and worries and fears were being eliminated, as if forever. The kids joined me on the grass. “When are we going to eat Mom?” I noticed I wasn’t hungry. I wasn’t thirsty either. Most of all, I didn’t even want a cigarette. I felt perfect. This was perfection. Heaven must feel like this. Nothing else could. As we sat there I was being told it was like the Garden of Eden. I felt the presence of wild animals in the shrubs behind me. Lions and giraffes. All tame and at one with the environment.
I sensed that my flesh was going to just tumble off my bones and that my bones would disintegrate into the earth and only my soul or inner being would remain sitting in that spot.
My questions were not being answered but I was accumulating a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. Things I had never even thought about or been interested in, were flooding in my mind, enabling me to understand so much, so quickly. It just poured in. The grass and shrubbery looked greener than I had ever seen it. Colours were unbelievably bright and alive. The clouds and sky were breathtaking. I couldn’t still be on earth, even though I could see my house and the familiar neighbourhood. But, I saw evil there. I could feel it. Everything outside this half mile radius wasn’t as colourful. It was darker, cooler, dull; didn’t have this brilliance. I could tell where paradise ended and the real world began. There were two distinctly different places. I didn’t want to go back. I’ll just stay here and wait, wait for God or one of His angels to appear.
I hear Him again. “Do you want to go back?”
“No — I don’t know. It’s evil over there. I want to stay here with You.”
At that moment I saw Darko coming through the field waving. HE CAN SEE US! How can he see us? Is he dead too?
“Hi. What are you doing? Am I going to get something to eat?”
I lifted a pebble off the ground. ‘Sure, have this.” I said handing it to him. “It doesn’t matter. We don’t need food.”
“Let’s go get something to eat, I’m starved.”
“Darko — can you see Him? Can you hear Him?”
Puzzled he just stood and stared while Danny and Michael excitedly proceeded to tell him that I had been talking to God all day.
“Can you still see Him, Donna?”
Fear shot through me. If he’s here, then we’re all dead and he would see Him too. If Darko can’t see Him, then I’m still on planet earth, not dead, not in heaven or wherever. What is going on? Is there a choice to be made here? Is that it?
God, don’t just take me and the boys. Either take all of us or none of us — PLEASE. If Darko’s not coming, let me go back. He couldn’t make it without us. Please. Not just us.
I spent twenty minutes explaining how I physically felt nothing. No emotion, just peace. I asked Steve to ride his bike right into me. He smashed hard against my skin.
“Don’t do that!” Darko frantically yelled.
“It’s okay daddy, she’s been letting me do that all day and she says it doesn’t hurt.”
“Darko, don’t you understand? I don’t feel that.”
I saw a piece of jagged glass on the road and went over and in my bare feet, jumped up and down. Blood was shooting out of my heel. “I can’t feel it. I can’t feel anything! Please try harder. Concentrate. Can’t you see Him too?” Darko grabbed me by the arm and started to steer me home. I wouldn’t give up. He picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, like a caveman, and started to run for home. I struggled to get free. I can’t leave here till I find out what’s happening. I sensed the evil getting closer as we approached near our yard.
“Let me down. Don’t take me back here. Not here!”
He had to put me down inside. He was panting and out of breath. As soon as he relaxed his hold I bolted back out the door and across the field. He chased after me as he screamed over and over: “Someone get an ambulance. Someone get a doctor.”
I saw an old white haired lady a couple of hundred feet up the road, walking her collie. I ran over and was petting the dog’s head as Darko reached us and in sheer panic pulled my arm away. “Don’t do that. He’ll bite you!”
The dog growled at him. Now, he knew this was unusual. Dogs would chase me for blocks. I once had to climb on top of a car because a dog was ready to tear me apart. Another time I ran right through the door of a complete stranger’s house with a large Great Dane in hot pursuit. They sensed my fear and they would zero in on me from blocks away and then come charging and growling. Any friends we had would have to lock up their dogs when I came over because they acted like they would tear me to shreds, even though they were normally friendly dogs.
He picked me up again, threw me over his shoulders and again started to run for home yelling “Call an ambulance, get some help.” The old woman just continued along her way as if there had not been an intrusion.
“Rape! Rape! Help!” I shrieked.
No one paid any attention. Cars passed. Everyone oblivious to the noise and commotion. Darko reached for the phone and again I ran out the door. Back to where I felt safe.
Someone had called the police. The cruiser squealed to a stop. Two officers jumped out and ran toward us, guns drawn.
“NOT ME — HER!” Darko was hysterical.
Since I stood there bruised and bleeding from numerous small cuts, they presumed he was attacking me. Both recognized me from court.
“WHAT’S going on here?”
Darko was completely incoherent, but managed to convince them that I was the one that needed help and not to handcuff him. They looked in my direction puzzled because I looked so calm.
“Is that true Donna? Did you see God? Are you on something?”
“Look guys, you’re not going to believe me, so if I’m to go to a hospital I want you to take me to Etobicoke.” Then I pointed in the direction of Toronto. “I won’t go back that way — ever!" I persisted, pointing in the opposite direction. "I only feel evil over there.” They had heard enough.
“Oka-a-ayyy. . . Get in the cruiser, Donna.” Then, directing their questions at Darko now, “Is she high on something, or what?”
“Of course not!” Darko exclaimed, now much calmer. "She´s never taken drugs."
“I won’t get in the car unless you promise to take me that way. pointing to where I felt I’d be safer.
“You know that’s not in our jurisdiction. You either get in NOW, or we put you in.”
“Okay, okay — don’t touch me — I’ll get in myself.”
During the short ride to the hospital I wondered, what now? Was I insane? Just don’t rock any boats — cooperate and wait. Once in Emergency, sitting beside Darko in an adjoining room, I started to shake with cold. That was a good sign. I also ached from the bruises and cuts. Another good sign, I thought. As long as I’m feeling something, I’m back to reality.
Darko said absolutely nothing at all. He just stared in bewilderment until the doctor arrived asking, “What happened?”
Unusual for me, I had nothing to say.
“She didn’t want a cigarette. Didn’t want to smoke. Insisted she talked to God.”
That came out funny. He had brought me to a nut house because I didn’t smoke. Was there subtle humour buried somewhere deep inside of Darko? The first time I ever met Darko, I was fifteen, and he offered me a cigarette. He’s been trying ever since to get me to quit. I do and he brings me here. No — he was being serious.
“Is she religious?” the doctor continued.
“No she was NEVER religious.” came Darko’s reply.
My head pivoted in his direction and I belted, “I was always religious!” not understanding why he’d said that. Did he think they would never let me out again if I believed in GOD? Probably.
“Mrs. Martonfi, we can’t force you to stay here, but I strongly suggest that you sign yourself in.”
“Fine — but I have to be in court next week. You have to let me go to work.”
I had to find out what happened. Does this happen to other people? Did I have a nervous breakdown — that lasted only one day?
I was led to a room and given an injection, I didn’t wake up for twenty-four hours. I didn’t have a phone in my room so I went to the nurses’ station, still in my shorts and halter.
“Am I allowed to have a phone here?”
“Yes, if you earn the privilege.”
“Could you give me a gown please’?” I asked politely.
“We don’t wear gowns — you’ll have to send for your own street clothes.”
“I don’t have any money or smokes. Am I allowed to smoke?” I’d better be or I’m checking out.
“Absolutely, but not in your room at this time of night.”
“If I had some I could sit on the floor in the hall.”
I must have sounded either unusually polite or else quite pitiful. She handed me almost a full pack knowing I just got up after a very long sleep and would probably be up for hours.
“Be very quiet — everyone’s asleep. You have my permission to go to the lounge and watch TV.”
Next morning, I not only had a telephone, I had a pass to leave the psychiatric ward (accompanied) and go to the gift shop. I phoned Darko. His voice bugged me — he sounded pathetic.
“You need money? Your clothes? Make up? Stockings? Curling iron?--- What for?”
If I accumulated enough merit points, they’d let me go to court. Probably in an ambulance, but yes, to court. I explained it was a serious trial and I had no back-up who could go in my place.
“Did you call Mr. ‘H’?”, I asked, trying to sound reasonable and logical.
Oh I can just imagine what you told him, I thought. You just don’t understand. My next call was to Mr. ‘H’.
“Donna, you just take all the time you need. Don’t hurry back to work. Believe it or not I can manage a while without you.” He always sounded like a sweet, understanding, elderly, gentleman, although he was only two years older than me. I wondered where he got his wisdom.
Who should I call next? Friends? No, my friends will understand. I won’t have to call them. But wait till the family starts calling — I was now developing some of my own wisdom.
“Nurse, would you have my phone disconnected. I’m going to take advantage of not having to answer dumb questions.”
I really like this place. No one knew if you were a patient, doctor or visitor. Everyone in street clothes asking one another, “Are you a visitor?”
“No, I’m a patient, too.”
We were all normal. You couldn’t tell us apart from the ‘outdoor crowd’. Except for the few who were severely depressed, who would stay in their rooms all the time. The ´nervous breakdowns’ were in the lounges, freely exchanging stories, laughing or complaining, whichever the case may be. They were concerned for one another. They really felt empathy for one another. They were pleasant. Cracked jokes. I fitted in. I loved it! No wonder my relatives weren’t in here. They surely wouldn’t let any of them in — this ward is for the normal people to get away from the likes of them. The regular people who weren’t vicious, hateful, spiteful — only hurt. Hurt by the morons, the users of society.
Darko appeared, trying to spot me in the large cafeteria we used for recreation between meals.
“Donna, the doors aren’t even locked, I just walked in.”
I couldn’t tell how I was reacting toward him. Everyone here understood my situation — don’t you?
“Oh, they only lock the doors late at night to keep you folks out. Never know when someone could walk in and steal our purse or wallet while we’re asleep.”
His eyes told me this was no time for jokes. He was not amused by any of this.
“I haven’t told anyone where you are, just your boss and parents.”
Now he was making me angry. “Darko, print it on the front pages of the newspapers. Let the whole world know. I’m not ashamed to be in here. I was like these people, once. Warm, sensitive, I knew how to have a pleasant day. We’re all in here only because we’re not allowed to be ourselves, let our hair down, spend a day in bed doing nothing when we want to. Always pushed by someone to do or be something we’re not. I can relate to these people. I could adopt some and take them home. I’ve found six aunts, a new mother-in-law and twenty cousins. I wish someone would give me a chance to choose a new family.
“One’s had a crippled child, one’s husband died of cancer prematurely, another was battered, another’s coping with a terminal disease. They’re HUMAN. They don’t care if my hair is long, green or if I’m bald. Long nails, no nails or each nail painted a different colour. These things don’t matter. They’re not supposed to matter. Life’s too short for that nonsense. I was like that. I used to be ME. Do you understand?”
“I think so, hon. I think so.” He left to make arrangements to get my Caddy parked outside. Shortly after I looked up to see Olga, another high school chum approaching from way down the hall. She was carrying one single, long stemmed red rose. My eyes filled with tears. This girl really understood the important things in life. She didn’t have to say one word. Bringing me the rose said it all.
I was a little apprehensive about going to translate. I felt a lightheaded weakness, from the medication I guess, that made me feel as if I was in slow motion. Entering the building, I noticed the sergeant of police approaching, directly toward me. I had never actually spoken to him before and wondered if he had anything to do with the case I was there for. He reached for my hand, lifted it and planted a gentle kiss on the top, like in the movies.
“God bless you” he said. Goose bumps appeared as I realized that the news had spread like wildfire and to my astonishment, PEOPLE CARED. They were strangers, yet they cared. The crown attorney, whom I highly respected, stood in front of the witness box as I was being sworn in to ‘well and truly translate all such matters...’
“Mrs. Martonfi, has anything happened recently which would interfere with your capability to translate for this court today?” he asked. I looked at him curiously. The warmth of his eyes reinforced my newfound revelation. I was capable. Not of everything, but of many, many things.
“No sir, nothing’s happened, I’m capable.” I replied in a tone that said, “Thank you.”
I readmitted myself well before 5:00 p.m. I didn’t want to break any rules or lose privileges. I took a short nap before supper. Knowing many ‘night hawks’, such as myself, who enjoyed company into the wee hours, I suggested we order a pizza around midnight. Everyone instantly got excited. We checked with the nurses’ station. “Sure, if you’re hungry — it’s fine with us.
Three or four people ran around collecting 75 cents from each person. Putting on my ‘professional voice’, I phoned the winning pizza place. “I’d like to order seven large pizzas. Two with everything on it, hold the anchovies on four and one just basic. Thank you.”
“Where would you like them delivered, Ma’am?”
“Local Hospital, Psychiatric Ward” — and then, realizing he was about to hang up the receiver — “NO, no, this is not a crank call. Call the number, ask for the nursing station, they’ll confirm our order. Please. We’re hungry.”
The first pizza party went better than expected. In the week that followed, that little pizza place doubled its business. The hospital staff, realizing the positive influence, joined in our Midnight Madness. We rechristened the hospital the ‘Hilton’.
I grew daily. Parents weren’t around to inquire why we were hungry — Hadn’t I cooked enough supper for Darko and myself — I should cook more and not live on this garbage. Look at me, anyone could see I’d wasted away since I’d taken up my own kitchen... "Haven’t you noticed, I’m ten pounds heavier and Darko’s forty-five pounds heavier since we set up shop?"
Our motto: Do your own thing. If someone doesn’t like it, they know what they can do. I WAS CERTIFIED SANE. Un-admitted. STRONGER and even more DETERMINED to block out people and parts of the world which didn’t quite agree.
Anna came for a visit my first week home. “Donna, what are you doing, spring cleaning?” she laughed seeing the mess.
“I’m cleaning up my house, Anna. I’m cleaning up my life.” Those were words she remembered for years and years. Anna brought up this statement as I was reading her the rough draft of this book.
“Donna, you have to put that in. I remember so vividly. I can hear you saying it. Many times I’ve thought over the years, YES — YOU DID... you certainly did.”
To make the day even more memorable still, I had run out of sugar. We ended up putting strawberry jam in our coffee. It tasted not too bad. You wouldn’t have caught me doing anything this abnormal had I not spent two weeks at the Hilton. I could tell Anna was impressed. I had remembered how to have fun, just like we did in high school; no reservations. Even if it’s different -- it´s OK -- go for it -— do it!
Verna, a very charming, classy lady, who lived not many doors away, stopped in to see if she could do anything. I’d only met her once before, when she was canvassing for the Cancer Society, but I had noticed her and her husband, many times, when they drove past my house, as I watched through the kitchen window, while doing dishes.
“Why don’t you come to church with me on Sunday, Donna?”
“C-H-U-R-C-H? Sunday’s the only day I have to sleep in and then do the weekly cleaning. I couldn’t, ever. What for?”
“Things are happening over there, you wouldn’t believe it, Donna. Why don’t you come for Bible study on Tuesday night?” she gently persisted.
B-I-B-L-E S-T-U-D-Y? Is she kidding? If it’s got to do with the Bible, it’s got to be corny. This gal’s square, I thought — yet, I still really liked her. Can’t believe anyone with this much class goes to Bible study.
“Thanks, but — no thanks.”
“Well, I think I’ll be going, if you’d like to take a swim, you and the boys; just come on over.”
“Now, on that, I will take you up. I can’t swim but they’ve taken lessons; swim like two little fish. Thank you.”
Baka Sisa was now convinced I was totally insane. “I don’t want the boys calling me Baka Sisa. I want you all to call me Baka, only. Sisa is Maria’s name, not mine.”
Too bad, you’re stuck with it now. You’re lucky that’s all we call you. When you call me by my correct name, either one, and can spell the names of your grandchildren properly, we’ll discuss it again.
She had built up a new-found authoritarian attitude.
Danny and Michael’s school had a class for specifically handicapped children. At recess, they would play with and protect a particular little boy, also named Michael. The teachers noticed the improvement in Michael ´C´ immediately, his response to being with ´Nanny´ and ´Ickle´, as he called them. They asked if I would give permission for the three boys to be photographed playing together. The society for the mentally retarded wanted to make a poster entitled "FRIENDSHIP IS" and circulate it among libraries and schools coast to coast. I was honored. To think my boys actually did relate to the quality of life that I tried to instill in them. I couldn´t wait to see the poster. Darko felt the same -- a proud POPPA.
Baka Sisa was another story. "Darko, you can´t let her continue with this. People will think your children are retarded too. It´ll haunt them later in life, when they go to university. They won´t be able to prove they´re not crazy." I have chosen to clean up her actual statements. Darko ignored her.
"Donna, why does she bother you so much? Ignore her. She´s primitive beyond words. We do what we want to whether she likes it or not. We can´t change her."
The same weekend she took the kids to Niagara Falls. Darko and I would meet them there on Sunday and drive back together. Dan and Mike ran up to me as soon as they spotted me.
"Mommy, you know what she said about you? She said you were crazy, that we should never listen to you. That you were nuts. Daddy was okay until he met you and now he´s crazy too -- like you. Tell him Mom, tell him what she said."
I saved it. Saved it for 95 miles. I could choose my words carefully while driving home and then drop the bomb. She chattered busily about how much she´d spent on them, all the things she´d done for them, all the way back not knowing I was aware of her purpose for this excursion. Darko was aware. Upon entering, he asked his father if he would sit down, not interfere and listen to what I had to say, then, he could throw us out.
I calmly and sternly started my thirty minute lecture, with everyone present.
"These children love me and their father. They are not forced to love or respect us. It comes naturally. This is the result of my system of upbringing. They are not to be told not to trust us. They are not to be told we are crazy or wish them harm. They are not to be told to keep things from us, such as you have asked them to do about this little episode. They are at an impressionable age, so therefore, unless you encourage your grandchildren to love, honour and obey us, you will not set eyes on them again; till they are at least eighteen. They have been taught they can freely come to us and trust us, with any problems or difficulties which arise and they will not be punished, but rather encouraged. If you persist in interfering with my methods or tactics, you will be forbidden to see them, unchaperoned. As for my sanity, I have five times the I.Q. of anyone you surround yourself with and have therefore been let loose, back into society. I do not ask that you agree with me or that you believe me, but I do insist that you be at least cordial and conduct yourself civilly in my presence or the children’s. Any thoughts that you have about my sanity or your son’s, or the way I choose to bring up my children, or any opinions you have as to the rearing of these children, you will keep to yourself when in our company. You will never dispute anything I say when in their presence. I refuse to further discuss this matter and intend to never have to ever again. Is that clear?”
My father-in-law looked impressed. Baka Sisa, dazed. I doubted whether any of this had really registered, but I could tell she knew I meant business. She knew she had ruffled nature’s ‘protective motherly instinct’ and that I could kill if there was any question of our boy’s balance being upset.