Friday, April 1, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-Switches and Crying Under the Coat Rack

My brother, Freddie Nicholas
One factor in trying to write a series of posts about life as a boy is that the further back in time you go, the sketchier the details become. I’m a bit torn as to whether to try to do this chronologically, or to just write the stories as they come to me. It seems to be easier to do the latter, so as you follow the posts, don’t expect them all to fall into a neat timeline.

Another issue I’m faced with is that some of the stories might be a tad embarrassing for some of the characters involved. Most of them probably aren’t really that big of a deal, but since I don’t want to deal with angry folks, I’m likely going to either change the names to protect the not so innocent, or I’ll not use their last names so as to give them some plausible deniability. As for stories that might be personally embarrassing to me, well….there are some in my memory bank that I’m just not going to bring up. They don’t account for many of the potential sagas, however, so you won’t be missing much.

I was the only child of my mother and father’s marriage. My dad had no other children…as far as I know. He, however, did travel extensively in the west as a young, single guy, and also served in Europe in WWII, so you never know for sure. He was fifty years old when I was born. My mom, on the other hand, had a previous husband, and I had three siblings from that earlier relationship; two brothers and one sister. Their father had been a drunk and an abusive man, so my mom had divorced him and taken the three kids. This post is about my oldest brother, Freddie.

Freddie was nineteen years old when I was born. He was a teen in the 1950’s, and had been a rowdy and wild child. I remember hearing of him being in and out of trouble, spending time in some institutions, and there were several visits to the Delaware County Jail. While that was true, many people were not aware of his more sensitive nature, and by the time I was headed to kindergarten, he had a wife and a two-year old baby girl named Krista.

There are two distinct memories about my brother that I want to share, one good and one sad.

As a youngster in the sixties, it was not unusual for my mom to use a “switch” to keep me in line. Some of you who have grown up in this age of politically-correct parenting might not know what a “switch” is, so let me explain. In the dark ages of corporal punishment (spanking), there was a “branch” of that type of parenting that utilized a fresh, slender twig off of a nearby tree as an instrument of wrath upon a child’s hindquarters.  Oh, did they ever leave the red welt lines on the legs if you happen to have been wearing short pants when the punishment occurred! Even long pants didn’t provide much relief. To make the event even more horrible, if the parent didn’t have a switch at hand, she (mothers used switches) might actually send the offending child out to fetch his own torture device. Can you tell that I was not particularly fond of this method of punishment? That said, I am thankful that my fear of that switch and my dad’s belt kept me out of most of the trouble that I could have pursued.

My mother commonly kept a switch conveniently stashed out of my reach on top of our refrigerator. “You better (name the demand) or I’m gonna get that switch down!” It was always there as a reminder of the potential results of my many juvenile crimes like “talking back” or “not picking up my toys.” I could see one end of it sticking out over the edge of the icebox door as a subtle reminder of the consequences of misbehavior. As I write this, I can still sort of feel the sting of those mini-whips snapping on my skin.


Apparently, that had been my mom’s normal stashing location for the switches over the years because my brother Freddie knew where they were. One thing that I remember about him, and that I will forever be grateful for is that every time he would come over to our house, and walk in the back door and through the kitchen, he would reach up, grab that switch, and break it into about twenty little pieces. My mom would cuss him, and I would give him a great big hug.  He was my hero!

Unfortunately, I don’t have too many other memories of my brother Freddie because when I was in first grade, he died.

He was a troubled soul; plagued with dysfunctional relationships and personal unhappiness. My mother shared with me later that over the years he had attempted several times to take his own life. Once he tried to shoot himself with a rifle, but the length of the weapon foiled the attempt. Another time, he tried to hang himself in our basement, but my mom found him and pulled him down in time. Unfortunately, when a person is bent on self-destruction, you cannot always be there in time.

When he was twenty-six, and I was seven, he was married with a young daughter. They had another baby, but she had died as an infant a few months prior. He and his family were at my sister’s apartment, and he was arguing with his wife. For some reason, he had brought home a cyanide egg from the shop where he worked, and he threatened his wife that he would put it in water and drink it. Through the course of the argument, he did just that. He dropped it in a glass and eventually did drink it. As soon as he did, I am told that he jumped up to go to the sink, but as he reached the faucet, he collapsed and fell over. He could not be revived. It was too late. He was gone.

Fortunately, I didn’t witness any of this, but my sister, her son, his wife, and my niece all did. The whole family was devastated.

My last memory that is directly related to my brother is of myself standing underneath the coat rack at Parson’s Mortuary crying for my brother. I still miss him forty-two years later.

I didn’t intend this to be a post with a moral, but let me just say that while my brother made his point, and got his “escape” from the mess, if he had known the wake of destruction that his passing would leave, I have no doubt that he would have found another way to deal with his pain. My mom went to bed in 1969, and except for short interludes of activity, she didn’t get up again until I went off to college in 1980. I won’t go further into the other side effects of his death, but there were many others scattered across the relationships that he left behind. I am confident that my brother who was so concerned for me, his little brother, that he couldn’t bear the idea of my being whipped with a switch, would never have done what he did if he had an inkling of the ongoing pain that it would cause his family.

I hope none of my readers are contemplating suicide, but if so, please rethink it. Suicide is never an answer. It is a curse on those you leave behind. Find another way to live and to deal with whatever is causing you pain until life inevitably smiles on you again! And it will, you know.

Life will smile at you again.


  1. hey mike great article could you post somrthing about what to say to family members whose loved ones have committed suicide. Im just asking because I know 2 families where someone has taken there own life in just the last two weeks thanks rob m

  2. Rob, I'll give that some thought. I need to think about whether I would really have something to say to your question that would really be of benefit. Suicide is a difficult and sensitive issue. Thank you for your interest in my thoughts.

  3. Hi Mike,
    I couldn't sleep, so I decided to catch up on emails and one thing led to another and here I am, just having read your blog. My heart feels so heavy, yet grateful for all you shared and I had to at least let you know. Life can be so painful, yet God is there as the Healer. Every one of our 'stories' is such a miracle of how we came to God. I'm sure I know you better through this than I did in Muncie, during my short time there. Keep on bloggin'.