Saturday, October 10, 2009

Jolly Rollie and His Role in Our Lives

As an older teenager, Rollie, one of my younger brothers, got into trouble with the local law officials. He had taken his devil-may-care attitude (the end result of extensive abuse to a happy-go-lucky attitude) from home into the community. He had not done any real harm, but he had mouthed off to the sheriff on several occasions, calling him a “copper” on one occasion. In a big city, he would have been considered a restless, harmless teenager. In the country, he was more noticeable as a troublemaker since most country folk are pretty tame, or at least they were in those days.

Ma was at wit’s end and used an extra dose of the only disciplinary tool she had at her command: beatings. Finally, Rollie decided he had had enough beatings, and he ran away. In the country, though, distances are far, there are no places to find food, and everyone knows you, so ultimately, with the whole town looking for him, he was found in the woods and returned home.

Ma was embarrassed. After all the dedication and hard work she had put into raising her kids, Rollie had “gone wild” on her. Of course, the neighbors understood. Like Elizabeth, Rollie was a “difficult” child. They sympathized. How unlucky she was to have two difficult children, and how they admired all the efforts she had invested in them to get them to “go straight.” Nonetheless, Ma felt she had to “do something” about Rollie.

At the time, Donnie and I had already been married for four years, had a toddler, Lizzie, and were living in Montana. I heard about the situation with Rollie, checked with Donnie, and made an offer to Ma to have Rollie come and live with us. Rollie was 17 at the time, and I thought we might be able to have him work in the day care center we ran because he was very, very good with kids. Then perhaps we could get him enrolled in college to go into social work, medicine, or something else where he could work with children and put his talents and interests to good use.

Ma agreed. Rollie agreed. He came to Montana and worked in the day care center. The children adored him, as we knew they would. We began to explore university options near us, but after being in Montana less than a year, Rollie suddenly told us that he missed our two younger sisters, over whom he had always watched since Dad had died when they were toddlers. He said he wanted to go back home to be with them.

Years later we learned the whole story. Cousin Billy had developed a special affection for these two youngest members of our family. They had confided in Rollie about the sexual and emotional abuse they were receiving at the hands of Billy, so Rollie, who had been sodomized on multiple occasions as a child by our uncle and therefore understood the trauma that the little girls were experiencing, went back to protect them. He knew that Ma would just turn her back on the situation if she were even to find out about it. He was right; years later when she learned about Uncle Charlie raping her sons, she told them to “grow up and get over it,” saying that she intended to maintain a good relationship with Uncle Charlie because he helped her with many things and she wanted a pleasant retirement. (That confirmed the rightness of my decision years earlier not to tell her about the sexual abuse that my grandfather distributed to all the girls in the family until he died.)

Rollie lasted long enough for the older of my two youngest sisters to leave home and live with my sister, Katrina, next in line to me in age, in New York, and for Ma, wringing her hands over Victoria's failing grades, to send Victoria, the younger, to Washington, DC, where Donnie and I had recently moved, to live with us. Then she turned Rollie out of the house. For 40 days he lived in the woods, stealing food from stores during the day and rummaging blueberries where there were any. Eventually, one of my cousins found him and brought him home to her mother, Aunt Grace. Katrina, learning about the situation, invited him to live with her in Ohio where she was a graduate student at Ohio State University.

Years later, Rollie, who did not go to college but was trained as a house painter in Ohio where he now lives with his three sons, returned the favor we had done for him in Montana by taking in Doah his senior year when we ran into a bureaucratic special-needs nightmare in California at the same time that I was offered a one-year consult at NASA, which I really wanted to take and am glad that I did. Doah excelled in Ohio, especially socially, and when he got his diploma from high school, the auditorium thundered with such applause that Doah was the only student other than the valedictorian who was mentioned by name in the front-page coverage of the graduation. To this day, there is a special bond between Doah and Rollie.

We also have a funny story that happened as a result of that bond. After Doah graduated, Rollie would take him on his house-painting jobs and would let four-foot-seven Doah paint the lower parts of a building where he could reach. One day, the six-year-old in the family whose house was being painted ran into the house to his mother, exclaiming "Mom! The painter brought an elf with him!" The mother in vain tried to disabuse him of this notion until he dragged her outside to see short little Doah, sporting a red beard, weilding a white paintbrush, and wearing a t-shirt that said Electronic Learning Fair (an event he had attended while still in California in Silicon Valley) on the front and abbreviated on the back in black letters on white as E.L.F.!!

Pictures of Rollie? Hm...have to work on those...check in at a later date

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