I judge my life - Part 3 - Breaking ground

I didn’t have to think long about what to do next because I had accepted Thoreau’s teachings about simplicity and the Mother Earth News avowal that happiness is best found in rural self-sufficiency. My parents owned eight acres of woodland that they gave to Peggy and me for a house site, and my semi-retired contractor father helped us build a home that had been designed as a ski lodge. At 68, he could still put in a full day’s work. The 1,000 square foot house was bigger than I wanted, my preference being a three-room shotgun (the rooms in a line from front to back) without a bathroom or electricity. Peggy and I settled on the “ski lodge” after she said I would be living alone if I built the house I wanted. The necessity of such compromise was what made a bachelor of Thoreau (that and being refused by the one woman he proposed to plus probable homosexual yearnings), but bachelorhood was not for me.

We broke ground at Route 4, Bogue Chitto, Mississippi, in the late summer of 1977. Our only “blueprint” was a drawing in Popular Mechanics. Dad was definitely the brains of the outfit. I wanted to be more involved in the planning, but his help was implicitly contingent upon him making the structural decisions. This would come back to haunt me. For example, Peggy and I decided on an aluminum roof, but didn’t realize until years afterward that his rafter choice was based upon the assumption that we would never want shingles.

My father was a hard man to work with because of his temper. He would literally curse a 2x4 (“God damn the goddamn mother-fucking goddamn worthless-ass son of a bitching nail-bending mother-fucking goddamn 2x4 to hell, goddamn it!”), exploding every half hour or so into a screaming litany of profanity that sounded like a Satanic Gregorian chant performed by monks on meth. He would throw tools, strangle on sputum, and curse his, “whore of a mother for giving birth to a worthless son of a bitch like me.” Such behavior took all of the pleasure out of house building, yet I bit my tongue because I didn’t think I could pull it off without him. Only once did I complain, “Dad, it’s hard for me to respect you when you talk like that.” “Fuck you. I have no respect for myself, and if you don’t want my help, you just say so, because I sure as hell don’t have to be here.”

On her days off, Peggy would join our little crew, and everything would go a great deal better because my father loved her like a daughter, and would pull back from the worst of his fits. He needed constant emotional management because he would otherwise conclude that people were against him, and Peggy and I were the only ones who were able to avoid pushing his many buttons—even my mother and sister were clueless. Peggy came to have more influence over him than anyone, and the one time she went head-to-head with him, he backed down. I don’t mean it in a prurient way when I say that the greatest love my father ever had was possibly my wife. He would have stood between her and a runaway tank.

Despite his temper, I never saw my father hit anyone. He had been an ardent barroom brawler in his younger years, but he never, to my knowledge, hit my mother or even spanked my sister and me. He always appeared so close to losing control that we lived in fear of him anyway, and my fear progressed into a fear of all men. I always had male friends, but I could never bring myself to lower my guard completely. For example, I wouldn’t lie down if they were standing for fear they would lose their minds and kill me before I could defend myself.

Peggy had insanity in her family too, and she and I have sometimes debated which was worse, with each of us defending our side as less insane. As I write about my father, I can see more clearly than ever how bad off he was. Growing up in his household, I realized he had problems, and I was ashamed of him from my earliest years. Yet, he was never locked away; he had above average intelligence; and he worked 55 hours a week to support his family…What I’m getting at is that it isn’t necessarily in a kid’s best interest to know how bad a situation is. If he can think of it as fairly normal, he can better survive it.

I could write much more about my father’s mental problems, but even though he has been dead since 1994, I don’t think it’s right to share just anything at just any time. I can only tell pieces of his story inasmuch as they’re important to my story.


Unknown said...

This part made me laugh out loud: "that sounded like a Satanic Gregorian chant performed by monks on meth." Because your description allowed me to see this in my mind's eye and boy, what a sight!

As a result of our childhood environment, we become adults based on what we think we knew then and, of course, what we witnessed which was never all of any situation but just what we were allowed to see/hear or what we stumbled upon.

Glad Peggy held out for a bathroom and electricity!

Beth said...

Your dad sounds a lot like my father-in-law (may he rest in peace). He had quite the temper and the colorful vocabulary.

Lisa said...

That's your Dad? Is that you when you were younger? Is that Peggy? Wow, how beautiful! Without going into mental illness, do you know about the pain-body?

babbler said...

Mr. Slug says the 2 x 4 should have been doing what it was told, as he too must constantly remind them. *&%!!!

Mrs. Slug tries to reason with the darn things. Impossible.

All joking aside, everyone here at Slug's Rest wish you a pleasant and acceptably painfree day without anyone yelling. Sending you softness and enjoyment. :)
Mrs. Slug

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Hello Snowbrush. Since you kindly visited my blog, I decided to visit yours and found we have some things in common. No.1: parent with mental health problems. Mine was my mother. No.2: Shoulder pain. I don't know the origin of your shoulder problem, having not gone that far back in your blog. I fell down some stairs 10 years ago and overstretched the joint. I had an MRI, lots of physical therapy, and then surgery to tighten the joint, then more physio because the surgery overtightened the joint. Now the other shoulder has gone because of Jake, my border collie (not my husband), pulling on the leash so hard. I've had a cortisone shot and lots more physical therapy. The pain has been indescribable so I completely sympathize with you. I quite enjoy your blog and will be back.

Joe Todd said...

What a great post::
Satanic Gregorian chant performed by monks on meth. Best line I have read in awhile.. LOL

Renee said...

I love these stories of the truth.

I also do this 'I can only tell pieces of his story inasmuch as they’re important to my story' when I write about family.

I laughed at the part when you dad said Fuck you he didn't have to be there. That sounded like it could have come out of me. Parents help their adult children and then the adult children question something about us and we get defensive.

I love that I get to read some of your book about your life now.

You are an amazing writer.

Love Renee xoxo

Matawheeze said...

What we see as normal during our growing up is often madness when we are grown. My parents were alcoholics, not as bad as some, not as good as many. Isn't the resilience of children a marvel? We grow, thanks to, and in spite of, our parents. And I wonder now what madness I presented to my daughter - as I see the echoes of it.

All Consuming said...

I envy you both being able to build your own house in what sounds like a very lovely area, despite how hard it sounds like to manage your fathers moods at the time.

Mental illness runs on both sides of my mother and fathers families, and the little we know of hubbys relations doesn't bode well. It's something we've all eventually come to accept, mostly becuase we have had to, almost all of us have worn the mantle of this legacy at some point and to some degree. Much like physical pain, it's often harder for those around them rather than for the patient themselves.

rhymeswithplague said...

I'm not discounting his mental illness and mood swings, but do you think your father might have also had Tourette's Syndrome?

Eleonora Baldwin said...

Ciao Snowbrush,
Thank you for sharing such an intimate and personal story.

I laughed at the part of the Satanic monks on meth. And your dad cursing at you for being reprimanded for... cursing.

I envy you for being able to build your own house. It's my dream.

The photos are beautiful, is that your wife? Bella

Ciao, hope your shoulder is healing

Mim said...


Haven't grown up with a parent with severe anger management issues - and thinking I could control them - I can relate to this post so well. There is so much I can say but won't - space isn't long enough.

In later years my dad went onto one of the depression meds and it completely changed him. He still had minor outbursts but they were few are far. The only thing I regret is that he didn't start taking them years ago. It would have changed my life.

What worries me is - "am I like that?" so I am into overcontrol of my moods and speech.

Ah well...life just goes on doesn't it?

3rdEyeMuse said...

how did I miss part I & II?!? hmmm ... looks like I have some reading to catch up on.

from the sounds of it, I'm glad your dad knew your wife. :)

ps - even if the bottom one wasn't mine (is, so thank you), I wouldn't be insulted by you liking it.

Snowbrush said...

Gaston Studio "we become adults based on what we think we knew then and, of course, what we witnessed which was never all of any situation."

Which rightfully makes memories suspect, although I have more confidence in memories that involved patterns of behavior that lasted throughout my childhood. It's the specific events that I don't feel 100% about, and then there is no doubt much that I don't remember at all.

Beth, there are a lot of angry people to be sure. I can understand much of my father's anger, and will get into it at another time.

Lisa, the pictures are of my father, me, and finally Peggy. I know nothing about the pain-body. Haven't even heard the term.

Yes, Babbler, the GD 2x4 should indeed have behaved better, and I often thought of my father as a very religious man for talking to God so frequently and so fervently.

Coffee, I was so sorry to hear of your own shoulder problems. Mine are caused by impingement and tendons (on both sides) that have 80% tears.

Joe, I'm glad you enjoyed the analogy. I didn't even have to work at it, it was so obvious.

Jeez, Renee, you say fuck you to your kids? That was actually one of the few times that my father cursed me. He was generally quite tolerant of my behavior. My mother never used profanity.

Matawheeze " I wonder now what madness I presented to my daughter"

I haven't had kids, but I assume that most parents try hard not to repeat the mistakes of their own parents. This should mean that parents are pretty near perfect by now.

All Con, I really try not to overly burden Peggy with my physical pain, but I've no doubt that I do at times. When something is so consuming, it's awfully hard to live life around it. Of course, you know this.

Plague, I have no idea that my father had Tourettes. His temper tantrums were always at something in the real world, whereas the one person I know who has Tourettes seems to be at the mercy of the disease without regard to the actual events in his life. Maybe stress worsens Tourettes, but if does, it's not in a way that is specifically targeted.

Yes, Lola, that's Peggy okay. I had to dig through a lot of old photos to find good ones from that period. We got our first good camera--as opposed to a Kodak Instamatic--when we were building the house.

Mim " severe anger management issues - and thinking I could control them"

Peggy and I could control them to the point of not doing things to trigger them. We couldn't of course keep other people and events from triggering them. Dad wouldn't have taken medicine. He literally died because he considered it beneath his dignity to take heart medicine (to "live out of a pill bottle" as he put it).

3rd Eye, parts one and two were posted within the last few weeks. I just went back and renamed them since I didn't start with the intention of serializing my life.

julie said...

My father also had a temper and he did spank...I don't know that I was always afraid of him......I can cannot remember one single good time with him, or him showing me any affection....this lack of a loving father caused me a lot of heartache over the years...If daddy doesn't love me, does that mean I'm not worthy?
Keep the story coming...as always, you are thought provoking.

Natalie said...

I loved every bit of this post, for so many reasons. Probably because I can relate to it all. Especially your builder father swearing his head off!I have one of those too, though he is retired now.
The pictures are gorgeous. :D

Now, In regard to your comment on my blog - What did you mean? Could you spell it out for me?

Renee said...

Hope you are having a good day; with less pain every day.


Unknown said...

Snow ....

I can totally relate. I think your father and my grandfather were related. I too love the way you describe and put us in ...so we can visually see the story..What a gift that is. And yes tidbits of info is always good..too muach all at once can be overwhelming.

My dad cussed and threw fits as a construction worker. Oh the conversations of anger..oy...I always just let it go in one ear and out the other. My mom would keep it going...and the line "Fuck you. I have no respect for myself, and if you don’t want my help, you just say so, because I sure as hell don’t have to be here"...so would be what he would have said.

Sometimes I think my dad said things as he saw it, or as others would want to say but had restraint. He mellowed in his later years. He received this attitude from my Grandfather. Generationally I think it has something to do with it. A man is a man is a man.

I tell myself..Ok it was a learning experience and I learned not to be that way...I lose my temper but never too extreme..LOL..I walk away...

Thank you for the life story...

Sonia ;)

Snowbrush said...

Julie "I can cannot remember one single good time with him, or him showing me any affection..."

I wouldn't go that far about my father. He was so miserable so much that when he was happy, it was as if the sun had come out so there were good feelings all around (for the short time it lasted); and he and I did become affectionate at times in his later years.

Natalie "I loved every bit of this post, for so many reasons."

Thank you, Natalie. As for what I meant by my post on your blog, I intended the remark as humorous. It didn't work for you, apparently, and I am sorry for that. You can so very many responses that I am challenged simply to say something that 30 other people haven't already said.

I am now on dilaudid, Renee, and still can't sleep for the pain. My latest MRI came back okay, so the cause of the pain is unknown, and there is nothing to do for now but hope it ends. If weeks pass, and it doesn't get at least some better, I might see a pain specialist.

Sonia "I always just let it go in one ear and out the other."

It's the best one can do sometimes, but it also means that you have no hope that the person you are dealing with is open to seeing anyone else's viewpoint, which was exactly the way it was with my father because he thought he already knew what everyone else felt. So sad...

Brenda said...

Hello Snowbrush,
I am not sure how you found me but thanks for the visit. I usually don't enjoy reading long blog posts, but really enjoyed reading this one. I can so relate to much of what you talked about. My father also had a temper, but only with words. He never hit any of us, and he was an alcoholic, or so we thought. Sometimes I am not so sure that he was. I am going to come back later and read some more of your blog.
Thanks for your visit!

Finding Pam said...

Snowbrush, thank you for stopping by my blog today. Your childhood stories gave me chills. Excellent writing and I will return to read more later.

Snowbrush said...

Brenda and Pam, thanks so much for for dropping by, and for saying you will do so again. Same here!