The recliner had started out forest green, but over the years through so many moves it became more a splotchy battleship gray and green checkerboard because of all the duct tape used to repair the tears. No matter what, like with his food, Georgie always made sure he had his own creature comforts. In addition to his constant cups of coffee, he was also a chain smoker, and if not yelling yet again for Trudy or one of my sisters to bring him another cup of coffee, he would yell to any one of us within his line of sight to “come empty Jerry” as he constantly filled the amber colored ashtray to overflowing.
Jerry and the recliner were the centerpieces of Dad’s world wherever we lived and where from their placement in the living room he ruled over his castle. Most weekdays he’d come home from working the loading dock or carpentry shop, hang up his grey or green work shirt with “George” embroidered over its left pocket, then head right to the television, turn on “Candlepins for Cash”, then plunk down, push back in the recliner, and light up. I guess Ma really did have a thing for men that wore shirts with embroidered name patches.
After settling in, he’d yell for a cup of coffee after lighting his Camel, no filter (later on when he went to a filtered cigarette, it’d be a Winston), then have one of us stand or sit by the television to change the channel on demand. Thank God those were the days of only five channels. It wouldn’t be long before his eyes would start drooping, cigarette dangling from between his fingers. Whoever was on television duty would watch the head of ashes on the cigarette grow longer and longer as Georgie’s head started to bob and he began to snore aloud, mouth drooped open. Then, being very quiet, slip the ashtray out of the top of Jerry’s head and hold it impatiently under Georgie’s gradually spreading fingers until the cigarette fell safely into it.
We each learned early on to stay out of that chair or risk provoking his wrath for that egregious violation. Of course we’d dare each other to get in the chair when he was at work or napping on his bed after falling asleep yet again, often with a dime store porn novel spread open across his chest. The picture magazines in his night stand drawer would become an adolescent treasure for me and my friends.
If anyone took a dare to sit in the chair we’d hang the threat of tattling on them over their head for use as leverage later if needed. Getting caught in the chair could bring any one of a number of different punishments depending upon his mood. If you were lucky, only a verbal assault peppered with profanities, but if you weren’t, you’d find yourself running for cover with Georgie in hot and furious pursuit unbuckling his belt as he charged after you, muttering curses.
Other transgressions like whispering to each other after being sent to bed at 6:00 on one of those summer evenings while the sun was still shining or making too much noise while washing the dishes could easily propel him to make the unpredictable leap from verbal to physical assault. Keeping us off balance was one of his major sources of power. “The belt,” was another of Georgie’s trademarks and he wielded it with athletic prowess. It was almost with awe that I’d watch him unbuckle the belt, grab it by the buckle with his right hand, and then pull it off in a flourish with the elegance of Zorro. He’d then fold it in half, adjust a firm grip where the buckle met the tip, and then with a hearty “come here you little bastard!” or “you little bitch” if that were the case, he’d seek his quarry! It was pretty comical—as long as it wasn’t you he was chasing. We joked that if you could get him huffing and puffing enough that he’d literally foam at the mouth, although it wasn’t funny when he caught up with you and gave you extra for trying to get away from him in the first place.
He got hold of me once when I had no place to run or hide, mainly because my pants were around my ankles. It was somewhere around first or second grade, and I’d been regaling my sister Judy with exaggerated stories about all of the toys and books our teacher kept on the shelves in the cloak room at the back of the classroom, and how we were free to take them home and borrow them anytime we wanted. Of course this wasn’t true, and she teased me without mercy about what a liar I was, and dared me to prove it by bringing something home. She kept hounding me so one afternoon I slipped into the cloak room on the way out and put a couple of those treasured “Golden Books” under my coat to prove her wrong.
It wasn’t stealing I rationalized like a seven year old would, because I’d bring them straight back to school the next day and nobody would ever know! I had chosen two of my favorites, a story about Robin Hood and his merry men, and one full of pictures of jungle animals. I walked home, my heart pounding, and then with gusto waved them under Judy’s nose upstairs in the bedroom. In a surprising and cruel twist of fate, she immediately went squealing to my mother that I’d stolen things from school! Of course Ma made the obligatory “wait until your father gets home” pronouncement, so the unexpected dread set in.
With a sigh I took my ill-gotten gains into the bathroom with me and sat on the toilet to try to at least distract myself with the books that had caused me so much trouble when my father came barging in, his belt already raised high and poised to strike. With a swift yank on my wrist he had me up on my feet and swung the belt hard across my bottom and the back of my thighs as I grabbed for my pants to pull them up with my free hand while screaming for mercy. There, of course, wouldn’t be any. I hated Judy for weeks after, and looked on with a constant glaring anger as she stayed on her best behavior to avoid giving me any opportunity for paybacks as I nursed my welts.
We were always trying figure out ways to soften the blows once Georgie caught up with you. Sometimes just flopping around could help make him miss, or grabbing at the belt helped to stop it in its tracks on the way down although that just made him madder. My two oldest sisters have permanent claim on having pulled off probably the most ingenious ploy of all when it came to coming away from a “belt beating” with the least amount of damage—in this case, none! It was right after Christmas one year, and they had each received these life size dolls from Globe Santa that looked more like linebackers than little girls.
Globe Santa was a toy charity drive put on each Christmas by the Boston Globe newspaper to get donated new toys into the hands of underprivileged children. I guess we met the criteria since they were the main source of anything to be found under our Christmas tree along with our individual gifts from our respective godparents who never let us down. Globe Santa even wrapped them and put your name on the tag and each was hand-signed “From Santa.” I especially looked forward to getting my annual “activity kit” that was always on my wish list. I loved to draw and sketch and the box was always full of beautiful colored pencils and a sharpener.
As my two oldest sisters remembered it, they were whispering too loud after “lights out,” and after a second warning, Georgie came clomping up the stairs towards their bedroom unbuckling his belt feverishly as he climbed. My sisters shared a bed, and in a flash they buried their dolls side by side under the pile of tattered heavy covers and positioned themselves directly beneath the bed lined up with the dolls above.
With only the light from the stairway shining in, Georgie began wailing away at who he thought were my sisters to the beat of his usual cadence of profanities. Right on cue, my sisters began kicking up at the bedsprings at approximately where the dolls asses would be so it looked as though they were squirming around, and with their best muffled cries of “please Daddy, no!” kept up the kicking and wailing and only stopped when he stopped turning away muttering, “Now shut the fuck up, the both of ya!” Biting their lips to keep from giggling, they lay still until his footsteps disappeared then they crawled back into bed and kissed their dolls.
Chapter 3 will continue…..