I have mentioned bits and pieces of my year in Denver, apart from my siblings, but I don’t think I’ve ever really told the story, the whole story, and how or why it happened.
It was actually just over a year, from 26Feb68 until 11Mar69. I remember because Mother and I left the day after my older brother’s birthday (he’d just turned 15) and I returned (along) the day before my younger sister’s birthday (she was turning 2).
But the story starts before the day we left. Mother and Dad had yet another massive blow-up fight in January, but I don’t remember the date. They’d fought before and I’d called the police on him before, but this time they finally took him away and threw him in jail because she had marks on her this time. He spent the night in jail, got bailed out the next day and went to stay with his sister, Bettie. Meanwhile, Mother got herself onto whatever financial assistance was available. I recall she applied at Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), as well as got onto the food commodities program; this was before food stamps, where you’d go and get actual food products. I don’t remember all of it, but I remember large tin cans of peanut butter, boxes of oatmeal, and large blocks of processed cheese product (like Velveeta). I’m sure there were other things, but those are the things I remember.
I remember that Life As We Knew It was changing. Money was tight, and Mother kept talking about when she’d get her first AFDC check, which would come toward the end of February. It arrived on 25February68, all of $277.00. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
With Dad permanently out of the house, Mother began hooking up with some guy she had known in high school. Mother had long been into what she called metaphysics, and had been a member of the Church of Religious Science (founded by Ernest Holmes, and similar in history to Unity School of Christianity), so ‘woo-woo’ mystical stuff wasn’t foreign. But this guy (I can’t remember his name) introduced Mother to things like pendulums, automatic writing, and (ta-DA!) the Ouija board. Actually it was my friends Ouija board that she had had me ‘borrow’ from my friend.
The Ouija board told Mother (and her guy friend) that a distant relative (Jesse James) had left a cache of gold buried in Denver and had died before he could go retrieve it.
Relation — as Mother told it to me, Jesse James’s younger half-brother Johnny James had married a woman named Kathryn Angel. Her brother, George Angel was the founder of Angels Camp, CA, which is a real place made famous in Mark Twain’s “the Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County.” And some how the name Kathryn had become a family tradition down to both my grandmother and my mother. So it sounded legitimate.
Anyway, this gold supposedly was buried just outside of Denver, and because Mother was distantly related it was up to her to go and claim it. And, of course, all of these instructions were coming from (or through) the Ouija board. And Mother (and her guy friend) were anxiously awaiting opportunity to go get it.
So, Mother got her first AFDC check. When I came home from school on 26Feb68, I saw her getting all dressed up with her make-up and what-not, announcing she was going to Denver ‘for a few days.’ She was planning to take my friends Ouija board in order to continue getting ‘instructions,’ but since it was my friends board I begged to go with her so I could take care of it. She finally relented. I do remember she had already packed a suitcase for herself, and I packed one for myself as well. It wasn’t much because we would only be gone “a few days” and probably back home by the weekend.
My brother (newly 15) was told to stay home from school and mind our sisters (Sheila was about 3.5 and Shannon was 11.5 months). Mother had cashed her AFDC check, and she and I caught a taxi to the airport. On the way, she had the taxi pull into a small liquor store/grocery place, got a bag of groceries (and a bottle of vodka for herself). The instructions to the driver was to take the groceries back to where he’d picked us up and give the bag to my brother. She gave him enough money to cover the fare for that. We got on a plane, flew to Los Angeles, and then on to Denver.
That was a Monday. As I recall, my brother did stay home for the next two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) before he called our grandmother (Mother’s mother), and She Was Pissed! She ended up coming over and stayed with the girls Thursday and Friday so my brother could go to school. Of course, she had to track down my father and let him know Mother had abandoned the house. And then it was Dad’s turn to get royally pissed. That Friday was March 1, and Dad had JUST paid money to rent himself an apartment for himself, and now he had to move back into the house because nobody knew when (or if) Mother would be returning. And, of course, Mother had not called her mother or my brother when we got there.
By the time Dad moved back into the house that weekend, Mother and I were already at our third location. We spent the first two nights at a motel toward Lakewood, a Denver suburb. Then two more nights at another motel a little closer into town. But mother had already run out of money and was frantic, unable to pay for any more lodging. Late on Friday afternoon, the motel manager had called the cops, and they came banging on the door. Up until this day, the police were the ones I called when Dad beat up on Mother. The Police were “the good guys” in my mind, but now suddenly they were “the bad guys,” coming to make trouble and Mother told me to keep silent as she went and locked herself in the motel bathroom. Eventually they unlocked the door, but Mother had put on the indoor chain. I finally got tired of their yelling and Mother’s whimpering, and I released the chain. I was just 13 at the time, remember, and I was the one having to deal with the motel manager and the police. They talked to Mother through the bathroom door, it seemed like hours but probably not that long.
So that Friday night Mother and I were riding in the back seat of the cop car and taken to the police station. It was too late in the day for any county assistance, but they gave Mother a voucher for 3 nights and meals (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) at the Frontier Hotel, which was a few blocks from the police station. We were driven there and put up in a room, with instructions who to contact on Monday for more assistance.
I stayed in the room almost the whole time, except for meals I guess although I do not remember eating any meals in the hotel coffee shop. Mother, on the other hand, wasted no time making herself a fixture at the bar. Since she had no money I can only assume she was ‘buying’ drinks from strangers. That’s where she met Orville. Orville lived in a transient hotel (he had a room with kitchenette, bathroom at the end of the hall, shared with everyone else) on Tremont Street. Monday morning arrived, and instead of applying for county assistance, it became MY task to carry our suitcases to that hotel. Mother was to do maid service in exchange for a room of our own in that hotel. In reality, I mostly stayed in that room, and Mother stayed in Orville’s room. And because I was just 13 and obviously not in school, I really did have to stay in that room most of the day, at least until after normal school hours.
And, oddly enough, while we still had the Ouija board with us, I don’t remember it ever coming out again.
Mother only managed to stay with Orville a few weeks before she drove him crazy, as well as making trouble for some other men in the hotel. We ended up moving around the corner to the Shasta Hotel, another transient hotel where people lived for long term, and again with the bathroom at the end of the hall for everyone to use. It could not have been a month since we’d landed in Denver. Because tenants were not supposed to bring in other “guests”, Mother would meet men at whatever bar she landed in, she’d come in and go up to our room, then sneak out the back stairs and open the door for whatever man she let in. Mind you, she had the bed, and I had a cot in the same room. So more than one man enjoyed Mother’s company while I lay there pretending to be asleep. One guy in particular had been there and they were doing their thing. Afterward, she went down the hall to ‘clean up’; when she returned, she sent that guy down the hall to the restroom, and I watched her go into his wallet. Soon as he returned and got fully dressed, she shooed him out and told him to go back out through the back door. Never saw him again but suddenly she had money to buy the next day’s liquor and cigarettes.
It quickly dawned on me that this woman with me had gone from ‘Mom’ to ‘Mother.’ I knew she was an alcoholic, but hadn’t known she would resort to prostitution, conning men with her sob story to have a bed and a bottle.
Mother’s antics got us kicked out within a week or two later, but it was at the Shasta Hotel where I was first molested, at age 13. .