I cried the first night at the foster home.
I had been picked up by the police the Friday before, spent the weekend in a group home and then the day with a social worker before arriving. No tears during all of that but that night in own room of the new foster home I cried. Maybe it had finally sunk in that everything I had done that led me to this place all caught up to me, there was no where else to go.
I hadn’t ever faced consequences of any kind prior to this – not skipping school, smoking or drinking, stealing and vandalism never brought me any time. Until this time… until the one time myself or a friend had the “clever” idea to take the hinges off the locked door. I still believe that had we only taken the time to put the door back on the hinges I would have never been caught. Interesting that that’s the thought that still comes even after 30 years.
Another kid was in the house too, his name was Steve and he was cool enough. He too was a smoker and he showed me some tricks and shared a smoke or two with me on the front porch. He had been with the family for a long time and had even moved from Iowa up to Wisconsin with them. He did his best to make me feel comfortable and I guess he did a good job.
That night before bed he asked me “how do you eat cereal” which I thought was an odd question so I responded “with a spoon”. Everyone thought that was pretty funny I was just trying to answer the question. He introduced me to big bowls of cereal for a snack… and I mean big bowls not your average cereal bowl from the cupboard but a reused plastic container that used to hold butter or coolwhip… man I loved that. We had had a full meal not four hours ago – Ma made sure we were well fed.
That night in my own room I cried though – not loud and not long, just fighting back the tears that fell. I was so far from home and so alone. I didn’t know these people at all and wasn’t sure what was to become of me.
I don’t recall how I slept, it was bigger bed than I was used to. There were strange noises and lights too – Pa had always been a snorer so that probably was another thing that I wasn’t used to – eventually I came to expect his loud snores.
The trouble that led me here happened at the end of the school year, so I didn’t have classes to attend in the new town. Steve was at school for a few more weeks I think, maybe it was just a few days. I don’t know what Ma did to keep me busy, maybe she left me alone at first.
I had cereal again for breakfast – pretty sure I even had seconds. The food was good – not something I was used to. Every night Ma made dinner too – meat, vegetables and bread and butter were always there. I had a glass of milk too – sometimes more than one. I just loved the taste of Ma’s food – she’d do things just for me too – no onions or mushrooms on a row of homemade pizza, no cheese on the end of the meatloaf, no frosting on the end of the cake. I was pretty spoiled I guess.
It wasn’t all just eating – they didn’t have a dishwasher except us boys, so we were responsible for that after dinner. Steve even showed me the burning barrel – where we’d burn the trash – that was pretty cool standing out next to that smoking cigarettes and talking.
Wasn’t long before I was mowing lawns with Ma and Pa… I don’t think there was a negotiation or anything, they just said “come on” and we went. I wasn’t used to working really, I mean I could vacuum or something but this was real work. Pushing some mower around grouchy old ladies yards was not really my idea of a good time.
Between the food and the work my body changed and I grew some – soon people were saying I was a bit chubby… bothered me some so I worked on that a little by eating a little less (don’t have that kind of willpower now though).
I’m sure Rhonda was around a lot – it’s foggy for me. I remember Michael being a cute little kid… hated it when he cried though. I remember Rhonda came to the house and she needed something out of my room in the closet, no idea what it was – I remember a graduation gown for some reason – I think she had just finished community college or something. It’s weird I remember playing cards with her, Ma and Steve and her making fun of the fact that I chewed my nails… But then I lose her there and don’t see her for a while in my memories. I see her at big events that stick out in my mind – when we shingled the house, built the shed and a few times in Ettrick. I think she painted a mural on Michael’s bedroom wall in Ettrick… it’s weird.
Every afternoon after work Pa would come home, sit in his chair and nap. Sure he’d talk to Ma for a minute or two but then he’d be in his chair asleep until dinner. I never knew what to think of him back then, he was a gruff serious guy so I treaded lightly. In time I saw him differently – he was there for me when I didn’t even know I needed him to be.