General Non-Fiction posted January 29, 2023 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Fractured family finds strength through trials

A chapter in the book Angels Unaware

Divorce Before Death

by forestport12

Mother survives a near-death experience at the hands of my father in the city. The family attempts a fresh start in the country through trials and storms, though invisible scars fester.
After the bloody assault on my mother, it seemed things returned to normal. As far as I know the police never showed up at our door. No one sought council. It was considered a private matter that my father had beat my mother within an inch of her life. What I had seen was blocked, locked away, hidden in a deep vault of my tiny boy brain. It would be many more years before flashbacks would bring it to the surface of my mind.

Once again, my parent's made love enough to give our broken family a baby sister named Cyndi. Would this seal the bond of love between my father and mother? What about my older sister, Ann, who my father adopted? She'd seen plenty of blood when she came home from school. She was old enough to remember! And she never forgot how to hate our father. She was our reluctant teen babysitter when my parents would go out to clubs, dancing, or bowling. I hardly recalled her smiling or laughing, as we all lived through the family experience.

My father would come home from his job at the steel mill and play with us, including my little sister Cyndi when she was old enough to horse around. We would all take turns riding on him, as if he was the horse or bull. My little sister would grow up thinking of my father's kind eyes, soft eyes, not the hard devilish ones we experienced once. Everyone doted over her, but as it turned out it wouldn't be the magic glue to keep us all together.

For some years life seemed normal. I had fond memories of my father taking us on camping and fishing trips. Living in upstate NY, meant all four seasons. Even in the cold, wintry months, my father would take us out in a 1960's Ford Fairlane. He would drive out on the ice of Lake Oneida and do figure eights. Riding in a car without seatbelts, we slipped and slid around bouncing into each other. If I had a healthy fear of death, I probably would have stayed home.

Once, as a boy of eight or nine years old, I recalled going along with my father on a hunting trip near the Adirondack mountains. It was at night and there was a hairpin turn. As he took the curve, tires squealed, and the passenger door flew open. I slipped away, half asleep until the cold night air rushed over me. With one hand on the wheel and his free hand, my father grabbed my left arm and wrestled me back inside. Those were strange years, living in the allusion of an insulated life from danger.
I never questioned his love for me or feared he would turn into a monster and hurt me. Maybe he saw so much of himself in me. My brother, he never spoke about the incident that almost took our mother's life. He kept to himself until his teen years kicked in and his bitterness became evident.

One summer day, we packed our belongings into a trailer and moved from the city house on Emerson Avenue into the country. We had lived across from Allied Chemical, the main polluter of Onondaga Lake. It was known as the most polluted Lake in the country back then. There was once a famous infomercial about chief Hiawatha standing on the shore with a thick tear running down his face. We didn't mind leaving the sulfur sewage smell it spewed for the fresh air and a new start.

Brewerton was a village town at the mouth of lake Oneida. Our new house was small but flanked by woods in the back and wild fields in front of us. My father started a new job on the railroad, a job he loved. We had tracks in the back of our woods and at night you could hear the lone whistle of the train approaching a road crossing, I would sometimes fall asleep in my room to the hypnotic sounds of the clickety clack of the steel wheels on the track.

The blizzard of 1966 was a memorable time. It snowed non-stop for days. Then the winds howled. After a few days, the power in the house went out, which meant the furnace quit too. At some point we also lost phone service. My father who was on a road trip with the railroad and got stranded in Buffalo. All rail service and transportation eventually came to a halt. People were stuck in vehicles and had to walk for miles for shelter, and some froze to death in their cars.

My mother was unluckier than my father who was stuck in a hotel. She was stuck with four kids. By this time, my oldest sister was about sixteen years old, my brother was ten, I was eight, and my sister was about five. We all felt safe and insulated with enough food in the freezer to hold out for several days.

Our mother hardly played with us kids when we were little, but she loved puzzles and boardgames. I recalled us being bundled up with layers throwing dice or playing Operation. Every now and then we'd look out the windows and watch the drifts grow until it covered our windows and went over our house. Then I'd over-hear my mother and sister talk about the blizzard with concern growing on their faces.

One morning my brother and I were startled awake. "Boys, wake-up!" My mother barked. "We're going outside today. Sun's out."

I had the bottom bunk. I rubbed the sleep from eyes and looked at our window. No sun, just snow.

"I need a volunteer," Said mother. "I need one of you two boys to go through your window and dig us out, then look around and report back to me."

I jumped at the chance. "I will! I'll do it." I was already wearing a coat in my pajamas.

My oldest sister stood in the doorway; arms crossed. You could see she had her doubts. "Maybe he can make it. He's one small shithead."

"Ann, watch your mouth," Mother warned.

My brother looked up and rolled over. I was dressed in boots and thick mittens. My mother managed to push hard enough on the window to start a path. They got some kind of stool and then shoved on me.

I think my mother used her broad shoulders to keep me in place, scrunched against the opening. "Now, use your mittens and tunnel yourself out, and don't stop until you see the sky!"

I dug upward, snow falling around me into the bedroom. With snow stinging my face, I broke through the crust into the blinding sun.

When I managed to pry an eye open, I craned my neck like a gopher in a hole. I declared, "I did it! I did it!" Nothing but blue skies above.

Suddenly I had a cheering section in the bedroom. Even my oldest sister acted excited. I felt on top of the world because I was on top of my world.

I heard mother yell. "Now see if you can walk on the hard snow and climb on top of the roof. Then tell us what you see."

I climbed on top of the roof from a snowdrift which covered part of the shingled roof. I looked for signs of life, but it was a frozen tundra of buried homes, and as far as the eye could see no man or beast could be found. Our road seemed to have vanished! I listened, and only heard the whisp of snow in the air. It seemed all life had disappeared.

That day or the next we began tunneling out with shovels, clearing paths, and making progress to get our front door to open. I believe it was the next day, five or six days after being held captive by the snowstorm that ravaged our town, we heard the sound of snowmobiles making tracks on what used to be the road. Then we saw neighbor coming out from the forced hibernation. I think my mother told us that day, we needed to get on the roof, because soon we would see our Dad cutting across the open field.

Bundled and wrapped, we all climbed and gathered on top of the roof, straining our eyes. My mother always had eagle eyes. She spotted a couple specks moving toward us from a good mile away. She pointed. "Look that's your father with snowshoes on and a bag of groceries." He and another fella were following the snowmobile trails.

As we all watched him churning with his legs through the snow, it was like fireworks exploding in my heart. My mother held my little sisters gloved hand, and we all waved and cheered from the rooftop for our father. It was one of the best most powerful memories ever. In my innocent mind, my father was a hero.

Winter turned into Spring. My mother and father worked the garden around our house. It seemed a love for our country garden brought them closer. But the fights grew heated. Summer rain made the cornstalks snap and crackle until the stalks grew taller than I stood. As the seasons changed, so did the dynamics of our family.

One night I recall laying in my bunk bed hearing my parents screaming at each other when we were supposed to be asleep. Finally, one night, I heard my father storm out of the house. He never lived with my mother again.

As winter closed in again, there was a chill inside our home. For the first time in my young life, we had a Christmas tree and presents, but without our father. Years later when my father had passed I found the divorce decree among yellowed papers in his bedroom. It declared that my parents were divorced only a few weeks before Christmas when I was nine-years old.

I was too young then to realize that the divorce may have proved safer for my mother than to be the target of my father's abuse. It was remarkable even then, that my mother seemed to have no fear. When it came to a verbal fight, she could hold her own. But then came the talk between my older sister and mother about how much they hated my father. I hide around a corner and listened Sometimes I'd look in the mirror and notice how I resembled my father and wondered if my mother and sister hated me too. I craved to be close to my mother, but often I was pushed away from her inner circle. My brother, on the other hand didn't look like my father at all. No one ever knew what he was thinking.

Was he really my father's son?

Onondaga Lake was really one of the most polluted lake in the world in the 1966's. Today, the lake is fished and boated. It has become a remarkable environmental success story.

The picture is from Syracuse blizzard and coincidentally happened 57 years ago, beginning on January 29th.

Cast of characters: Tom Bednar Jr. (Narrator)
Father Thomas Bednar
Mother Vicky Bednar
Older sister Ann
Older brother Robert
Younger sister Cyndi
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