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Remembering Childhood Days in Papillion, Nebraska: A Response to Billybuc's Challenge

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I have been writing off and on for many years. Now that I'm retired from the work force, I'm dedicating more time to the craft I enjoy.

There are a couple of stories they tell, my mom and dad. Stories they used to tell, I guess I should say. I’m an orphan now; lost my dad in 2003 and my mom in 2013. I miss them dearly and every day. They both talked on numerous occasions about things that happened when we used to live in Papillion, Nebraska back in the early- to mid-60s. I was born in the United Kingdom in 1961, so when we lived in Nebraska, I was a pretty young guy, and there aren't a great number of personal memories from that era resident in the old nugget. As a point of reference, though, I had two attempts at kindergarten while we lived in Nebraska, then went to first grade in Alaska. Anyway, over the years my parents would tell me and my sisters stories about those days, things we maybe didn’t remember for one reason or another. I’ve heard the tales so many times they’ve almost turned into my own memories.

My older sister, Rhonda and I shared a room in Papillion. We had a bunk bed in that room, but I don’t remember much else about the space beyond that. I do remember drawing the short straw, or not drawing straws at all and simply being told I’d sleep on the top bunk, and that was that. It wasn’t like I was disappointed about it, or anything. I didn’t learn until much later in life, long after I never had a bunk bed again, that the bottom bunk is where it’s at.

Anyway, on to the story: One night I moved an awful lot in my sleep. My cotton pajamas must have been warm or I must have been restless for some reason or other. I tossed and turned, turned and tossed. In the wee hours of the night, I tossed and turned and rolled myself right out of the bed and onto the floor from however high up the second story is in a bunk bed. Plop and boom and probably some scared shrieks and a little boy crying. Frantic running parents, snapping light switches, bright white interrupting the pitch-black night. Hugs, red hair pushed back from sweaty brow, forehead kisses and it’s ok. You’re ok. There there. Now on back to bed. Get some sleep, my child.

Sleep My Child Sleep

When my mom talked about that night, she always focused on her horror the following morning when she discovered my pajama shirt stuck to my back, a big dried blood stain visible in the cotton there. When she pulled it free, the cotton didn’t want to let go of the scab. It hurt me she said, and I cried. I don’t remember that, I never did remember that. Not the fall, not the injury, not the anything. I can talk about it like my own memory now, but mainly because of the way my mom would become racked with guilt whenever she talked about it. Her heartbreaking account was so very memorable. And heartbreaking. And heart-filling, too. All at the same time. It was always patently and completely evident she loved me dearly, as she loved all of us, her offspring. I never held her responsible for that day, certainly not the way she held herself responsible. And in any case, I didn’t remember it except inasmuch as it was just another one of those days I felt her love for me.

There is an endearing tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart

— Washington Irving

My dad told of another time when we lived in Papillion when I had a tremendous fever. Apparently, I was hit by ear infections accompanied by fevers quite a bit when I was young. These did some amount of damage to my hearing, leaving scar tissue in my ears that is still to this day an object of interest for doctors during my annual health and wellness checkups. I was hot, Dad said, super super hot, burning up with fever and my dad called the hospital in the night to see if there were measures he and my mom could take to cool me off, keep me out of danger. I guess there’d been discussion over the years that uncontrolled fevers might take my hearing away completely, burn up my auditory nerve or something of the sort.

On the doctor’s advice, my mom and dad filled the bathtub with cold water straight from the tap marked ‘C’. Then they stripped me naked and put me directly into the icy bath. It was bitter, biting cold. My teeth chattered and I can see my lips turning blue all the way from here in 2020. My dad was sitting on the closed toilet seat lid next to me, probably crying because he knew I was so miserable.

“Please, Daddy, I’ll be a good boy. I promise,” I pleaded with him.

I don’t have any idea what happened next on that day because my memory ends there…or I think a better way of saying it is that nobody who ever told me that story—neither my mom nor my dad—was able to continue talking after that point. They both were always so heartbroken, so crushed to think that I believed I was being punished for some reason by being put into an ice-cold bathtub full of water…the account was never completed beyond that. Though I suppose it’s safe to say I did not lose my hearing, so the affection, the care I received was effective as far as that goes. It was never meant to be punishment, quite obviously. And it hurts my heart and stomach to this day to remember how much that memory tortured my father and my mother. They were such good, caring people. Telling that story waters my eyes and tingles my upper spine.

So, no, the things about me, the memories about me while living in Papillion, those don’t belong to me or didn’t originate with me. They certainly reside within me, and perhaps only within me since the two main witnesses to those days are gone, and my sisters would and will have their own memories of those days. Though I’d guess my younger sister probably has nothing to remember, as she was born in 1965 and was far too small to have conscious thoughts about that place, I would think. We moved away from there, off to Alaska, when she was but three.

Circa 1967 picture of me with my sisters Rhonda (L) and Karen (C).

Circa 1967 picture of me with my sisters Rhonda (L) and Karen (C).

One memory I think I and my siblings share, though, is one I remember like a video in my mind. It’s my own memory, not manufactured from a collage of other family members’, of that I am certain. I’m certain because if I concentrate, close my eyes, I can see it play again in Technicolor up to the point of impact. I don’t remember anything beyond that except the scar that remained forever after.

Our house in Papillion was a country home, smallish, located on a lot that was probably an acre or slightly larger. We had ample roaming space, a gravel drive that led down a hill from the highway that passed out front of the lot. The parking area was perpendicular to and somewhat detached from the front of the house, the massive yard was completely surrounded on all sides by a barbed-wire fence.

One summer day, my dad had a friend over to the house. I don’t remember the guy, couldn’t tell you what he looked like or his name or anything like that. I can tell you he had a motorcycle, though; he arrived on a motorcycle. We probably had dinner, a little visit with my dad and mom and so forth. Then, perhaps inevitably, he offered to my dad an opportunity to ride the motorcycle.

I remember seeing my dad seated atop the bike, his hands on each of the handlebar grips, receiving instructions. This one’s the gas, you shift this way with your foot, here’s the brake, and so on and so on. I think it’d be a good guess to say my dad had never ridden a motorcycle before.

When he took off down the hill into the yard there was at first this kind of exciting feeling, this sort of “Wow, look at him go!” feeling. Then the feeling changed suddenly into confusion and questioning: “Is he going to turn? He’s headed right for the fence!” And he ran headlong without slowing into the fence down in the corner near where we kept our burn barrel, didn’t turn and the bike fell over and so did my dad, blood streaming from his neck.

I know I was scared in that moment, scared enough that I don’t remember anything else from that day beyond that incident. I’m sure my dad went to the hospital, got his neck stitched where it was bleeding pretty badly. He had a scar there for the rest of his life, I do know that. I saw it all the time, a permanent reminder like an indelible tattoo.

I didn’t become horrified about all that until much later in life when I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and heard about snowmobilers getting decapitated by barbed wire fences. I now hear the term 'barbed wire' and my mind’s movie camera starts rolling the film from Papillion, Nebraska. It could have ended differently, and I’m so very glad I can’t see that different ending in my head, didn’t see that different ending in real life.

I don’t think we lived in Papillion very long. As I said, my mom and dad aren’t around to ask for clarification. I never thought to ask before, of course, too busy living my own life to think I’d ever want to know that detail, or any of a million others. I know we moved into base housing at Offutt AFB once it became available, and we lived there until we left Nebraska in 1968. Offutt is where I learned to ride a bike. Around the neighborhood cul-de-sac, round and round and round and round. My dad taught me to stay upright on two wheels, took the training wheels off the little red bike, pushed me down the road and let it go. I know exactly how he felt when he released that little bike seat and slowed himself down to a walk, watching, holding his breath. I felt exactly the opposite as I scooted away with tiny legs churning at breakneck speed.

It makes me shudder when I think how close we came to not having that moment together…

Comments

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 12, 2020:

Linda - my love for my own children is also that strong, and I know exactly how my parents felt in those moments because I would have felt exactly the same under similar circumstances, for sure. Thanks for dropping by for a looksee. Happy Monday, and have a good week.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 12, 2020:

Brenda - I think in their own way, my mom and dad tortured themselves over those two brief moments that I'd not even hae remembered or known about if they hadn't told me about them. But I think in the telling, and in the way of the telling, they demonstrated that they loved me very much. It was and is a good feeling.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on October 11, 2020:

Greg, what a beautiful story. I know that my love for my children is that deep. How blessed you are to have such memories and know without a doubt how much you were treasured by your mom and dad. Thank you for sharing.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 11, 2020:

Seems like your family was very close when you were young.

Thanks for sharing your stories. So glad you & your dad survived.

I imagine they were heartbroken when you thought you were being punished when they tried to get your fever down.

Thanks for the share.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Abby - thank you for stopping by to read them!

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Flourish - yes, as mentioned, I was somewhat scared at the time, but hearing about and reading accounts of snow machine riders’ demise in that fashion really freaked me out. It happens far too often.

Over the years I also wanted to just give my folks a hug and say something comforting...we all do the best we can, you know, since kids don’t arrive with an owner’s manual.

Abby Slutsky from LAFAYETTE HL on October 11, 2020:

Thank you for sharing your memories.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 11, 2020:

That bunk bed spill must have really been something. It’s so sad that your parents were affected like that. I was jarred by the idea of the decapitated snowmobilers. Yikes!

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Thanks, Bill, and yes I agree about the fading memories. I wish it weren't so, but of course it's inevitable and unavoidable. I will hold on for as long as I can, and I'm certain in future I'll wish I could ask them about this or that. Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and also thanks for putting the challenge out there for us. Be well, and have a good week, my friend.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 11, 2020:

Sorry I'm so late. Let's call it fashionably late and be done with it.

Thanks for sharing your memories. The one with your dad on the motorcycle was scary as hell.

I lost my mom in 2003 as well. I find, with each year, my memories of her fade a bit more. That makes me sad. I would like to hold onto all of them.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Hi Linda - we had bunks in our dorm room in college, but we just suspended both beds in the air so we could have a couch and TV underneath. In other words, there was no bottom bunk. I will say, though, that I had to start every night all the way up against the wall for fear of falling out of the bunk. Thankfully, that never happened to me.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

John - I'd say that's a pretty harrowing tale, too. Sounds like a scene from an action adventure movie, with wheels spinning in air on car suspended on the precipice. In any case, I'm really glad you didn't lose your father in that incident.

I'm also glad you were able to stop by and drop off a comment. I appreciate that, and I appreciate you reaching out via e-mail to comment on my previous article. Hope that all gets sorted out very soon. Be well and have a great week, my friend.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Peggy - the other thing that happens, or can happen, when our memories are amalgamations of things we've heard and things we've experienced is that they can warp over time. I've seen this in my family where my younger sister "remembers" something I did to her when we were very young...only in reality the "bullying" event in question is something my older sister did to me. We all have a good time trying to sort though that whenever it comes up.

Good weekend to you, Peggy.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Sha Sha - that's the second time in just the past few weeks I've heard someone mention the way to turn a motorcycle. The owner of one of the LBSs (local bike shops) is also a motorcycle rider and he was talking to a customer while I waited to have my derailleur adjusted. Seems he'd just taken a trip across country on his motorcycle and was telling the customer all about it. He said the thing that was and is similar is that when you turn, you don't use the handlebars like a steering wheel, you "lean" the bike into the turn. I think that in the main, without thinking too much about it, it is indeed very much the same as a high speed turn on a bicycle. If all one did was turn the front wheel sharply, down one would go in a pretty gruesome flash.

We have in common, too, the military brat background, Sha, as you know. So I know you know what it's like to move around a lot as a youngster. Before we moved to Nebraska when I was like three, we had lived in the UK and in Louisiana. The other thing we have indirectly in common is I have children who were victims of divorce, to use your term and for lack of a better word. That was and also still is very hard on them, and I hate that it's so. At the same time I also am glad for myself I didn't have to go through that mess. It is, in fact, hardest on the kids. My mom and dad were happy, it seemed, and I think that helped us kids be happy, as well.

Have a blessed day, my friend. Be well.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Yes, RoadMonkey, indeed it is. I think the one thing doing a reflection exercise like this does for us is it makes us hope we showed our own children how much we loved them so they also look back and remember with fondness. That would be the wish and the hope that I have, anyway.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Liz - perhaps which bunk is best in one's mind is defined by which one you never got to sleep in. Haha! I know I envied my sister at the time, but I wonder if I'd still have envied her if she was on the top bunk and I was on the bottom bunk. In any case, we only had a set of bunk beds once for our girls and there was no kerfuffle when they chose their spots. They both seemed to be content with their lot.

As things stand now, it doesn't appear we'll have to worry about bunk beds for the foreseeable future. None of the grandkids we have now need them, and two of my kids don't have children yet. Time will tell, I guess.

And yes, I'm very glad the motorcycle incident ended the way it did instead of the horrific altrenative.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Ann - particularly now, now that I'm retired from the work force, I find myself pondering more often, contemplating the way my parents felt in certain moments of their lives during certain moments of my life, when I might have done this or that or moved on to the next great adventure. When I do, I also wish they were around so we could share these reflective moments together.

greg cain (author) from Moscow, Idaho, USA on October 11, 2020:

Eric - yes, the bathtub/fever incident was particularly hard for my father to talk about. He was not an overly emotional guy, but this welled him up every time he talked about it. Like you, I put myself in that position with my own kids, and my stomach ties in knots, my heart moves into my throat. On the other side of it, however, it gets to me because I know how very, very much he cared for me. I'm grateful in the extreme that we never had to do this with any of my children.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 10, 2020:

You've shared some interesting and moving memories, Greg. I never slept in a bunk bed as a child and wanted to very much. Perhaps I was lucky not to!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on October 10, 2020:

This was a wonderfully touching account of your time in Papillion. I felt for your parents and the guilt they felt for those two incidents you went through, the top bunk accident and the ice bath.

I remember my dad once had a close call when he was driving home from work at night and encountered a bull standing in the road...he swerved and the car almost went over a cliff, but stopped with just the two front wheels dangling over the edge. I could have lost my dad that night...I think I was about 10. My parents recounted a lot of other incidents that I had no memory of however, but they live on through word of mouth. I think my wife knows more about my childhood then I do, from things my mother told her.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading every word.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 10, 2020:

Thanks for sharing some of your childhood memories with us. Despite some harrowing tales, overall, you had the love and support of parents who obviously cared and did their best for you. I know what you mean about hearing family stories so often that they become embedded as if they originate with us.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 10, 2020:

Box, although you were very young when you first moved to Papillion, I'm sure you have happy memories. My mom always tells me I have selective memory. I think we shut out the unpleasant ones in self-preservation.

I knew exactly how your dad's first motorcycle ride was going to end. I've ridden on the back of one (Harley) for much of my adult life. I know all about leaning and balancing my weight. However, when you're in the driver's seat, it's a whole different story. The thing is, you don't turn the handlebars when you want to go left or right. You lean. Turn those bars all you want, unless you tell the bike what to do by shifting your hips, it'll go straight. I found out the hard way, too, but I didn't spill. At the last minute I leaned into the turn, slowed down, stopped the bike and never got back on it again. It was then I succumbed to the fact that my place was on the back. Which was just fine with me. I was able to look all around me, enjoy the sights and smells without having to have my brain in gear.

Thank you for sharing your story, Box. It sounds like you had very loving parents. That's what makes for a happy childhood.

RoadMonkey on October 10, 2020:

Great piece of writing. I was with you all the way watching that motorbike. Lovely to have memories of parental love like you have.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 10, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your family recollections. I was the reverse of you. I always thought the top bunk was best. The nearest I got to one was in a couchette on a cross channel ferry occasionally. I was always careful with our kids to only let them on the top when they were 6 years plus. Grandchildren are about to inherit the bunkbed, so the worry of one falling out will start again.

That's a harrowing tale you share about your Dad. Thankfully he survived the experience.

Ann Carr from SW England on October 10, 2020:

This is wonderful, Greg, and such a great response to Bill's challenge.

Your stories made me smile and made me cry. I know what you mean about parents' love and how they can suffer, from my own parents, and from my memories too. I could feel the pain they must have felt, thinking that you thought you were being punished.

I was right there with you through all these scenarios, your imagery and description was so vivid. Brilliant!

Ann

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 10, 2020:

OK, OK -- you got me to tear up. That "twilight" zone about family stories and our own memory is amazing. I like it. The bath tub got me the most - not from my childhood but from my children's.