1965 saw the death of Winston Churchill, the assassination of Malcolm X, and the six-day Watts riots — none of which seemed important in my little world at that time.
Blissfully unaware of the escalation of the VietNam Conflict or the Los Angeles Chief of Police calling rioting blacks “monkeys in the zoo,” we lived as children do, always feeding the pleasure center of the brain.
We were moving from one trailer court to a larger one on the other side of town and we were being allowed to ride our bicycles across town when the trailer was moved. We were excited about this adventure and about a new environment in which to live. Mr. Ludden would be moving with us.
Denwood Terrace was owned by the Clark family and, in fact, was named for their two sons, Dennis and Woody. The aerial view above shows the trailer court as it is today, with some of the features that we enjoyed back in those days, but with many of the endearing features long gone.
At the bottom of the hill on the road to the far right, we lived at number 17. Because we lived at that location, we had advantages that other kids who lived further up any of those three roads didn’t have. We could see when the school bus was coming up the road, for example, and still run to catch it. The ball field was basically our “front yard” and the shade trees our “side yard.” Across the single lane road, the Walters family lived in their small trailer, with a swimming pool in the back yard. While the aerial photo shows a parking lot to the east of the trailer court, back then it was all open fields overrun with weeds, wild berries and trees. That land was owned by Bath Water Works. On the northern most edge of the trailer park was a corn field that stretch from a point far from the east to a point far from the west and, north of that, a small patch of woods. Everything we could walk to was our playground and we explored every single inch of our domain.
As my mother’s belly swelled larger and larger with her pregnancy, I became more and more excited about the prospect of a baby brother or sister. It was obvious my mother wanted a girl because she often referred to the baby as “Beverly.” Clearly, if the child was a female, that would be her name.
Just three months after my tenth birthday, Beverly Sue Ludden was born. When that child came into our home, our lives were a bit brighter. I adored my sister and longed hold and rock her as I had done to my Thumbelina doll for the past five years. However, Steve and I were not allowed to pick the baby up and the only way we could hold her was to sit on the couch and have either Mom or Harold place the baby in our arms. I remember holding her and feeling so fiercely protective of her, and I knew in the instant that I laid eyes on her that I loved her.
Life was pretty unremarkable for a while after the baby was born. We continued to attend Catholic school although Mom’s attendance at church had begun to become sporadic. For our Christmas concert that year, Steve and I were left to walk the mile and a half to the school in the dark. When the curtain opened and the piano introduction began, I looked out and saw a sea of beaming, proud parents’ faces and felt a pang of self-pity that my Mother was not among the crowd. I half-heartedly participated that night.
My mother’s prayer book turned up missing. I don’t remember exactly what happened but I do remember that it had something to do with Steve having used it and maybe forgetting it. It stayed missing for quite some time, like the necklace had in Hornell and then one day, it magically appeared out of nowhere. I found myself in another situation where Steve and I were on the couch, being given five minutes to think about the situation and then someone had to confess to having taken it — or else. Five minutes went by, and we were each beaten with the belt. To this day, I don’t know if it was worse being the first or having to watch in horror as Steve was beaten first and knowing what was coming my way. We sat for another five minutes, and then were beaten again. I hated my brother for putting me through this. But then, after the third set of five minutes, my mother did the very same thing as she had done five years earlier. She yanked me off the couch by my hair, screaming at me that she knew it was me that had done it because Steve was too much of a coward to sit and take that kind of beating for nothing.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a thing about counting. Steps, rings of the phone, days until an anticipated event, and whacks with the belt. The beating I got that day was so severe, I lost count after thirty whacks. One welt on my leg bled, I had a welt across my face, and a patch of hair was missing where she held it while she beat me. My mother’s rage knew no boundaries.