||I have a hard time remembering much about my
childhood. All my memories seem to be associated with houses we lived in.
Our first home was a tiny place on Shull Road in Roanoke,
Virginia. A little frame house with eat-in kitchen, 2 bedrooms, I bath, heated by an oil
floor furnace. I badly burned my hand on the metal sides of that furnace one year when I
disobeyed mom and was melting crayons on it. My room was an old closet next to the
bathroom that had been converted by simply putting a single bed and a small dresser in it.
We have a huge family bible that stayed on the
coffee table on the living room. I literally teethed on it, and it still bears my childish
crayon marks. But mom must not have fussed at me over it, and I still love that book above
Pictures mom took show a happy child dressing up and
playing. My memories show a terrified little girl cowering before horrible nightmares. I
can remember dreaming about reading the funny papers and seeing Dick Tracey come alive and
try to hang, knife and shoot me. That was one night I can remember running to mom's bed
and snuggling close.
Another night I dreamed of a monster with pins stuck
all over him. Funny, someone else must have had that nightmare, because I've seen the same
guy in a popular horror movie.
was always associated with fear, too. The first Halloween I remember, someone we knew came
to the door dressed as a clown. For some reason this terrified me, to hear a familiar
voice coming out of a strange face. Never have really liked clowns since. I guess that's
why later in life, when I realized that Halloween has satanic origins, it wasn't too hard
for me to let it go.
Now I know these nightmares in a large degree
stemmed from a child trying to deal with the ravages of alcoholism on a beloved father.
Plus the devil was trying to keep me from knowing and serving God so I could fulfill my
destiny. But I did learn that what I put into my mind affected my thought life and dreams,
especially if I watched horror movies.
I think I was a bit of a disappointment to my mom,
because I hated dressing up, especially in scratchy frills and lace, and didn't like to
play with dolls. Dolls frightened me for some reason, especially a little
"pickaninny" doll that was black and had little pigtails all over her head. I
made mom hide it. Again, someone else must have had that fear and made horror movies about
I went to summer Bible camp when I was about 8 for a
week and when I came home, my parents had moved! At least they told me about it and took
me to my new home, but the transition always bothered me. One day I lived one place, and a
week later somewhere else, without any warning. It was a feeling of being unwillingly
uprooted and not belonging that has plagued me all my life.
The new house must have seemed a lot better to my
parents, for it was new, a two-story brick home on two lots in the new subdivision my
grandpa was building, Cherry Hill, also in Roanoke, Virginia. It was my grandpa's house, I
think, but he let us live there. Mom worked for him as a secretary in his construction
business. There was a huge old house about 3 or 4 blocks from our house, that had all
kinds of twisting passages and interesting rooms in it. A small part of it had been
converted into an office for grandpa's business, but most of it was gloomy, dilapidated
and adventurous. My brothers and I found two gravestones in the basement and spent many
hours imagining what that meant. There was an ancient grave yard in the woods below our
house with a brick wall around it and several above ground vaults. We toured it often and
were very brave about it too.
I had gone from a tiny school, Tinker Creek
Elementary, with one room for each grade, the library in the hallway, and no cafeteria, to
a huge brick prison like structure with endless murky halls (Broad Street Elementary) in
Salem Virginia. I always felt out of place, lost and confused in that school. My clearest
memory is of a sixteen year old epileptic having a seizure in my 4th grade math
class. And being chastised publicly for not finishing endless pages of long division math
homework. I can also remember having emphatigo on my legs, which my mom kept bandaged, but
that left scars. The other kids thought I had leprosy or something and avoided me. I also
remember not being able to jump rope very well.
In the fifth grade, a brand new school was opened,
called East Salem Elementary, which is near the Salem Veteran's Administration Hospital.
It was bright and new and I must have excelled at school work, because the school decided
to put me in an experimental class that summer to polish off the sixth grade and advance
me to a higher level. I didn't want to go to summer school, but my grandpa said he'd send
me and my mom to California if I did. So I went, no air conditioning, sweltering through
boring subjects while I knew my friends were playing, swimming and laughing outside
somewhere. The only highlight was learning to play the "Tonette", some kind of
flute that sounded like a kazoo.
Well, I barely passed, and mom and I did go to
California. We had relatives there and visited Disneyland (the original), Knotts Berry
Farm (the jelly people), Tijuana, Mexico, and a lot of other neat places.
After all this fun I faced the 7th grade
as a 12 year old, totally out of place. What the authorities and my parents didn't realize
was that my social skills were far behind my peers. Not only was I a year younger, at
least, than all of them, but because of a dysfunctional home life, I was even more
immature. So I don't recommend this kind of advancement for anyone.
8th grade brought another move and change
of housing. My grandpa had finished building Cherry Hill and moved on to build Montclair,
a subdivision then in Roanoke County, near Salem, now annexed to Roanoke City. I tell
people I grew up with sawdust in my veins because one of the neat things about having a
builder in the family was the possibilities for exploration. We children were always
welcomed on the building sites, as long as we were careful and stayed away from heavy
machinery. I remember clambering over clods of dirt, finding metal "slugs" to use as
play money, early on learning how to hammer and saw, seeing the excitement of an
unfinished plot being excavated, foundation poured, basement poured, walls go up, roof go
on, trim carpentry, dry wall, and final painting. That's why I can relate so well to the
Body of Christ as a building, and get so excited about the Kingdom being built, although
the early stages are often very messy.
The house we lived in was a lovely two-story old
brick farm house with a veranda porch and twenty rooms counting the basement and attic,
which I would only go near in the daylight! There were fields around it and small wooded
areas to explore. My mom would help us fix snacks and drinks and pack them in a lunch bag,
and we were free to spend hours hiking. Plus my grandpa built a swimming club for this
subdivision and we were automatic members! In a way these were the happiest years of my
There was fear, too, though, and I was sure the
attic was haunted and possibly the basement too. I kept my door firmly closed and made
sure the attic and basement doors were shut too. But I still had trouble sleeping,
especially one night when the moon was full and blood red. I had read the
the moon becoming as blood and was sure the end had come.
My father was still drinking heavily, and one night
tried to kill us. His brother and cousin were visiting. Usually my father drank beer, and
was abusive and cursing, which was bad enough. But this night, they were drinking vodka
and popping some kind of pills. For some reason, my father became angry at my mom, pushed her down a
flight of stairs and tore her blouse. She was bruised and shaken but otherwise unhurt.
My uncle, S. B. Evans, tried to control my father
while his cousin, Ted, was egging him on. Ted was a boxer and in his drunken state must
have believed he was at a championship fight. I guess that's why I've never cared for
boxing or wrestling in a ring. I've seen the real thing and it's ugly.
Uncle S. B. ended up getting his leg broken, and my
father got out one of his rifles and loaded it and threatened to kill us. Mom grabbed the
three of us, herded us out of the door, and we ran through the muddy pastures for dear
life. He did fire the gun, but whether he was aiming at us, I'll never know. We ended up
on top of the hill at my uncle Don Radford's house, sobbing, muddy and terrified. Uncle
Don and Aunt June tended to us and we stayed the night there. Mom had dad arrested, but
they released him the next morning.
One day, my father left chicken out on the kitchen
counter to thaw. I had two cats who were my best friends, and somehow they got into the
house and jumped on the counter to eat the chicken. Pretty natural behavior for
carnivores. But my father was drinking and became enraged, took his gun and killed them. I
held them in my arms as they died, cooled and stiffened, then buried them. He was very
apologetic, but they were still dead.
Once my father became angry at my brothers for some
unremembered reason, and began flogging them with a TV antenna cord, a hateful length of
plastic with two wires running down the edges. I was in the room reading, and when he'd
brought the blood to their tiny legs, he jerked me up and did the same to me. That was the
first and only time he beat me. When he sobered up, he was ashamed of what he'd done to
the apple of his eye.
I started the 8th grade at Northside High
School, which was then in Roanoke County. I was a good student, but hated high school
because of all the cliques and emphasis on outward appearance. My father was still
drinking, so we didn't have the money for nice clothes or things, plus I couldn't bring
friends home because I never knew when he would be in a drunken rage.
My beloved grandpa died in
September 1964, which
was devastating to me. He had been one of the strengths in my life and a refuge I could
count on. What was worse, after this death and the estate settlement, we had to move
again. And the buyers of the land and farm tore it all down to make room for new
"development", a subdivision of what I gleefully called "cracker
boxes" whose basements cracked that first winter, since they were so poorly
Our next home was a dilapidated two-story house with
green asbestos siding. It sat precariously on a hill and there was hardly any yard. There
was a stony, weed-filled plot at the bottom of the hill which I valorously tried to garden
in for several years, without much success. My brother Mike and I continued at Northside
High School, but my brother Ricky had to attend Andrew Lewis High School in Salem.
I lived here until I started college, and this is
where I finally learned how to fight the fear, depression
and nightmares that had tormented me all my life.