Step Up, Not Back

This is a guest post from Dave.  You all know he’s my husband, but what most people don’t know is that much of his childhood was spent in foster care.  For five years, from ages 9 to 14, he labored on a foster farm.  He’s working on a memoir, and this is an excerpt.  I’m posting it with his permission.
* * * *

Even people that are normally goodhearted, righteous and conscientious will falter in the defense of foster children.  Sometimes it is based on the relationship they have with the foster parent/s, or simply because of the base human nature response that says, You’re not really one of us; if you had the same value as my children, then your parents would be here now, protecting you as we protect ours.  If they don’t care for you, why should I?

Case in point:  We’d been on the foster farm for about a year, a little over, since it was Thanksgiving.  There was a large shed next to the house that Ralph used as a garage to store the truck and a tractor.  Inside were also some workbenches and the welder, along with various other tools needed to maintain a working farm.

Ralph had decided to pour a concrete floor on one half of the shed and, for some reason, he was having us do part of it on Thanksgiving morning.  We had set the wooden forms and hauled the sand and gravel inside next to the bags of cement.

We used a cement mixer that, when the mix was finished, you grabbed a lever and tipped the barrel full of concrete into a wheelbarrow.  You then wheeled it over to where it was needed and dumped it inside the forms.

A couple of things could easily go wrong with this system, especially when there are 11 and 12 year old boys involved.  The wheelbarrow had to be in just the right spot when the concrete was dumped into it or it would fall over.  Wheelbarrows have to be one of the more contrary contraptions of transporting anything, anywhere.  If you managed to successfully dump the concrete into the wheelbarrow, you then had to pick up the handles of the ‘barrow and move it over to the forms.  Sounds easy, right?  With the liquid mix shifting around and throwing the balance off, it’s amazing any of it actually reached the place it was intended.

If you spilled some or all of the mix along the way, it wasn’t because you were too small and too weak to do the job.  It was, according to Ralph, because you were too lazy and stupid to do anything right, just like your parents.  The only way to get you to do anything half right was to beat you until you understood what he wanted you to do.

There were plenty of slaps and kicks going around that day.

Sometimes Ralph would act nicer when there were other people around, sometimes not.  It depended on the people.

Seeing as how it was Thanksgiving, Ralph’s kids and their families would be showing up.  The eldest daughter, Joyce, was married to some kind of engineer who worked for Clark Equipment up in Jackson, where they lived.  Used to see their name on all the forklifts back in the 60s and 70s; they were a pretty big outfit that made lots of construction equipment.

Dick was a pretty decent guy but Ralph detested him, and he never made a secret of it either.  He had a little routine for when Dick and Joyce were visiting.  Ralph would act nice in the house when they first came, and then he would tell Dick that he had a couple of things that he needed to do and would he like to come along and see the farm?  Dick knew the game but he was trapped.  If he tried to make an excuse, Ralph would make a snide comment or two about weak city boys and then Joyce, who was very much like her father, would tell him to just go.  Poor guy.

Dick was as meek and mild-mannered as anyone I’ve ever met, which is no criticism on my part.  I liked him quite a lot, and could feel an affinity with him because he was bullied by Ralph too.

The meanest thing I ever saw Ralph do to Dick was to make him watch while we castrated a couple of pigs.  Normally we would do the pigs in a batch when they reached a certain age, but Ralph seemed to have saved a couple for the right occasion.  The two pigs weighed about 60-70 pounds each, and the way we would do it is Rick and I would get one cornered in the pen, grab it, drag it out to the middle, and take it down.  Then one of us would put a knee on its neck while holding his front legs still, and the other one would grab whichever back leg was up and pull it as far forward as he could.  Ralph would then slice the scrotum with a straight razor, pull the testicles out, and cut the cords connecting them to the pig.  He would then sprinkle some blue powder on the cut to help ward off infection.

Usually we’d have a bucket in the pen, wired up on the top rail to throw the nuts in.  You had to put it up high enough so the pigs couldn’t reach it, because they actually would eat their own nuts.  Once they got a taste of the bloody meat, they would start savaging each other where they’d been cut, and things could get crazy real quick.  When we were cutting a bunch of pigs, we’d save the nuts for one our neighbors and he’d come over and get them.  He called them Rocky Mountain Oysters, and claimed they were a delicacy.  Maybe so, but I sure wasn’t going to eat any.

On this particular day, Dick was standing on the outside of the pen, looking squeamish.  When Ralph had the first pig cut, he told Dick to pick up the bucket next to him and hold it up.

Then he tossed the nuts at him, too hard and fast to catch them with the bucket, and they both hit him in the chest.  The blood and gore dribbled down his shirt onto his pants.

Of course, Dick didn’t have any extra clothes with him; why would he?  So he had to change out of his bloody shirt and pants, and wear a pair of Ralph’s bib overalls while his clothes were getting washed.  You couldn’t look at the poor guy without laughing.

I have seldom seen a person look so miserable.

However, that wasn’t the occasion I’m thinking of.  On the day we were pouring concrete, Dick had come out to the shed to watch.  We had an area about 10′ X 10’ sectioned off, and the wooden forms set up.  We had poured about three inches of the four-inch slab we needed when Rick slipped and fell onto the form.  It didn’t loosen it or move it at all, but Ralph took the opportunity to show Dick how he dealt with someone messing up his plans.

Rick was still bent over, trying to pick the shovel out of the concrete without getting it all over his gloves.  Ralph picked up a board that was lying nearby and whacked Rick on the back with it, hard enough to break the board.  Rick fell inside the form and rolled over in the wet cement, groping for his glasses and trying to get up.  Ralph took another board, pushed Rick over on his back and held him there for a few moments, and then turned to look at Dick.

Things had happened so fast and with such savagery that everybody, excepting Ralph, was just stunned.  In the moments after Ralph had first hit Rick, nobody had moved.  When Dick realized what was happening, he started to step forward; that’s when Ralph turned and looked at him.

Dick froze, not because he was afraid of Ralph, but he knew that anything he did would have to be justified to his wife and it just wasn’t worth it.  Joyce was Ralph’s staunchest supporter, and she would not tolerate anything said or done to change her opinion of her father.  Her mantra for times like these was, “It’s none of our business!”

As I said, I actually liked Dick quite a bit.  He would take the time to talk to us without talking down to us, and he was a very interesting guy.  He was a good father to his daughters, a better husband than Joyce deserved (in my opinion), and just an all-around good guy.  However, I happened to look at him at the very moment Ralph did, and what I saw was a man who started to stop something he felt was wrong, and then stopped and did nothing.  I could see in his eyes the cost of allowing this to happen, and how it diminished him.  He just looked sick … but you don’t get points for wanting to do something right.  You become a better person by stepping up, not stepping back.

All too often I would witness this behavior from adults during my time on the farm.

* * * *

His sister, Laurie, has written a memoir about her time in foster care — it can be found on Amazon here:  To Whom It May Concern:  A Memoir of a Foster Child

About wendiwendy

I'm a real-life bionic woman.

Posted on January 15, 2014, in Family, Memory Lane, Not Related to Hearing Loss and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I love you Uncle Dave, breaks my heart to think about it all. But I can honestly say I am a better person because of what happened to the Kast kids and all the other unfortunate foster children in this world. I will never turn a blind eye.


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