Saturday, December 15, 2007

Butch's Great Adventure: PART TWO


1949-1950: Mother was married to Wayne Stilwell. He was in the Navy. We lived in the Navy projects over near Magnolia Bluff. I was in first grade, or second. I used to have nigntmares while we lived there. Clystie had not started school yet, so I had to walk alone. I had these dreams where I would be on school playground, alone, swinging on a swing. I would hear a growl, and looking around I would be faced with two black panthers. They would chase me. I always awoke before they caught me. The nightmare was reoccuring for months. Years later, Mother explained that Wayne had sexually molested me, and that those nightmares were connected to my guilt and confusion.

1950: Bud (brother Marc) was born, and Mother divorced Wayne. We moved up to the Renton Highlands project, and moved in with Mom-Mom and Pop. I remember my uncle Dick at 20-21 years old, hotrodding the streets with some of his friends in a Model A sedan [later he sold it to my "new" stepfather, Art Buttkus]. I was in third grade. The elementary school was in the middle of, or on the edge of, the projects. Bud, less than a year old, had long curly hair. He had to be put in a kiddy harness daily, and tied to the back porch. Mother got a job in Renton; probably waitressing.

I ran with a gang of ragamuffins in the project, and there was this little girl that wanted to be part of the gang.We all agreed, with one proviso, that she had to get naked, and let we boys get a peek. So every week, over in the woods, she would take her dress off, and stand there proudly in her ruffled panties. She would not take those off, however. After a few weeks, we all got bored.
"Why haven't your tits grown ?", one of the boys asked.

Mother found a new boyfriend, and one fine day she brought him home to meet the folks. It was Art Buttkus. He was several years younger than Mother, and a real 1950's rebel type. He had jet black hair, and the looked like a cross between Cornel Wilde and Tony Curtis; a good looking cuss; had long sideburns, and longish hair slicked back on the sides, with that inevitable spit curl in the front. He wore a black leather jacket, had owned a Harley motorcycle, had crashed it, wore tight white T-shirts under the leather jacket, with the sleeves rolled up, and his Lucky Strikes rolled up on his right sleeve, and levis with the cuffs rolled up six inches.

He was left-handed, and he had tattoos on both arms. He was quite muscular. He drove a 1949 Mercury, then only a few years old, a black fastback, with twin spotlights-one on the driver's side, one on the other. A couple of years later I would see James Dean driving a black Mercury fastback just like Art's in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.

Art had been thrown out of the Army. He had been in prison, up north at Monroe Reformatory. A real James Dean/Brando bad boy. Mother was really hot for him. He already had a trade, was a machinest, had a dishonorable discharge from the Army; a fascinating tale of him being drunk with a buddy, and them stealing a small plane, and flying off with it. It ran out of gas, and they crashed in the mountains. He told the story of watching the wing on the pilot's side burying itself in the side hill just before everything went dark, just before the crash.

1951: Mother married Art, and became Betty Buttkus, or more specifically Betty Carpenter Bryden Stilwell Buttkus. It seemed like we stayed there in theHighlands, near Mom-Mom & Pop, so they must have rented a duplex for a time. It was about that time that Pop's father, James Carpenter was ill; I neverknew with what. He came to live with Pop and Mom-Mom.To get a sense of peoples ages...I was born when Mother was only 17 years old. This was 1951, so I was 7 years old and Mother would have been about 24 when she married Art. 24 years old, and already married three times. Pop, as my grandfather was fairly young for such a role, about 53 years old. When I was born, he began grandfathering at 46 years old. Great grandfather James must have been in his 80's somewhere.

I only met him a couple of times. I remember this tall thin old man, with a shock of white hair, dressed in a night shirt. He didn't talk much,at least not to me. I recall how strange it seemed to me, that this sick old man, that I had never met before, was now living in the room that we had been in a few months prior. And he never left that room...alive. He had come to live with his son and die.

Pop used to tell a story about coming one evening to check on his Dad. He opened the door quietly, and he soon realized that the old man did not notice him standing there. James was masterbating; pounding the pup at 80-ish. Sounded awesome to my young ears. Somehow this always tickled Pop; something about the Carpenter vitality. This was this family humor along those lines, finding levity in the tragedy of burying a father. When James died, and he was being prepared for viewing, as the story goes, the attendant had to jack him off three times to get the coffin lid down.

As far as I remember, Nana never did visit with James while he stayed with Earl and Emma. [brings to mind arandy idea that Pop always had about his own death, and his own sexuality. "When I check out, I want to be making love to a young woman, and just as I ejaculate, I want an elephant to step on my ass." I guess that would have been one extended orgasm, but I used to worry about the young woman; silly me.]

1952: Art moved our family to Georgetown, a two-story rental in the industrial area, not far from the huge train yards, and Boeing field. The elementary school was south of the yards. It's still there. Like so manyof the older elementary schools in the Seattle School District, the building was 3-4 stories, brick, old and imposing; hardwood floors, with the smells of decades of children permeating the walls.

Art's father, Walt Buttkus, lived above us with Art's stepmother, Bertha, on Beacon Hill; not far from Cleveland High School, where Art had gone. Although, he played hookey a lot, and got in trouble a lot, hung out with the wrong buddies, and I think had to go into the Army rather than the County Jail.

Walter Buttkus was a large man, short stocky husky German immigrant, with a thick German accent. He had been a master Butcher, worked for Armour, or was it Hormel, Meats. At one point, he had been working with an industrial slicer, and he had an accident. It cost him several fingers [Pop used to joke that someone must have purchased those sausages, and they probably liked the ones with the bones in, especially the one with the ring on it.]

Art's real mother had died when he was a teenager. She had been working in the garden, and she picked up a wood slivver. It got infected, turned into blood poisoning and lockjaw. In those days, there were no antibiotics, no penicillin. They gave her sulfa drugs, and she died painfully. This might have been one of the reasons Art turned wild and rebellious.

Meeting Walt explained a lot about Art. Education was never important. Get a trade, boy. School was for sissys. Walt had a hell of a temper, and he used to beat the hell out of Art. Art had a hell of a temper,and he used to beat the hell out of my Mother. I grew up with Art yelling in my face. I learned that anger was my friend, that when I yelled I could yell louder than him. When I became angry, it was quite a sight. I never held anything back. But it took me 30 years to quit yelling, and learn even a bit about anger management.

It was always the law of the Hairy Fist living with Art. He was an early version of Archie Bunker. He would yell at me to do something. "Why?", I would yell back. "Because I said so!" would always be his response.

I grew up with an active mind, constantly reinforced by Pop and my school teachers. I was able to shamelessly tie Art in knots with language; questions, rationalizations, explications. By the time I was 12, he quit trying, for the most part, to tell me what to do. He used Mother as his intermediary.

Once, when I was about 19, and still living at home, before Mother got ill, there was to be a family outing. He told me to come along. I preferred to stay home, and hang out with some of my friends. He got in my face, squared off like a junkyard dog, and demanded that I do what I was told. I told him, no, I , by God, was not going. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt, pulled me close, and drew back his fist.

Immediately, I grabbed him by the front of his shirt,and balled up my fist. Poised there for an eternity, each of us waited for the other to move. Neither of us did. Mother broke it up, stepping in between us, scolding both of us for being childish. She made the decision. I stayed home. Art never tried to physically challenge me after that. A great distance began to open up between us.

Art's temper continuously plagued him. At work, if anyone criticised him, he would poke them in the nose, and/or quit. As a talented machinest, he always found a new job within a week, although it might be, and usually was clear across town. This meant that we, as a family, led the gypsy's life, always on the move. I attended ten schools before I got out of elementary school; always the new kid, always having to prove myself physically and intellectually. I morphed into a Type A personality, and I learned to love the conflict and competition.

Still in 1951, while we lived there in Georgetown, interestingly, Mom-Mom and Pop, with Dick in tow, rented the upstairs apartment, on the top of Walt Buttkus's house, on Beacon Hill. It was a fairly big apartment, as I recall. Old Walter would get drunk, and come upstairs and harass them. He would put his huge old fists in their faces, yelling at them in broken English, talking about," poke in da' nose!". It was all Pop could do to keep from punching the old bastard in the teeth, and knocking his ass down those stairs.

One of my fondest memories of that time was during deer hunting season. Pop and Dick had brought back two large bucks from their hunt near Kettle Falls, out on Marble Flats. Great herds of mule deer used to run there. I grew up worshipping NE Washington, listening to the stories of the family Carpenter, and enjoying hunting and camping and fishing trips in the area with Pop and Dick, and sometimes Art.

Colville, Kettle Falls, Northport, Okanogan...towns of pioneer mystery and magic to this young boy who loved hearing the stories of Pop's youth told and retold. On the weekend, we all went up to visit the grandparents, and Pop and Dick were butchering those two bucks; using hacksaws, big butcher knifes, and thick cleavers to snap through smaller bones. They were cutting various steaks, chops, and roasts, and Mom-Mom was wrapping them in butcher paper. Walt Buttkus may have been assisting them.

Until I was an older teenager, deer were plentiful at Kettle Falls.There was always plenty of venison in the freezer/locker; loved those thinly sliced venison steaks pan-fried quickly with just some flour on them.There is very little fat on a deer. They run a lot.

1954: Memory gets a bit hazy. I was about 9 or 10 years old. But I remember, Art had us move into the Stadium Homes, a project near the old home of the Seattle Rainiers baseball team, the Sick's Seattle Stadium, on Rainier Avenue. This was probably just before Georgetown. While living in that project, I remember getting caught with one of my pals shoplifting at the local grocery store; shoplifting candy. The manager kept us in his office for a hour, lecturing us as to how much trouble we were in. He did not call our parents. He did not have to. The was the end of my life of crime.

I remember a birthday I had while there. I had received a cap pistol, with holster belt, and exploding rolls of caps; and I was given a Confederate soldiers short-brimmed hat, a rebel cap. I loved it. I was one hot shot cowboy until a bully in the neighborhood took the rebel cap from me, and wore it proudly and belligerently. It was a flat cap, with the Confederate flag emblazened on its top.

Arnold Bryden was visiting Clys and I one day, and I told him about my hat delimma. Enraged, he took me out to the streets, and we searched for the kid; and we found him, still wearing my hat. Arnold, who was a big tall man, grabbed this nine year old bully, and he pinned his fat arms behind him.
" Here's your chance, Butch. Beat the hell out of him, while I hold him for you!"

I looked at Arnold, who at that time I thought was my father, and even at that age, I was disgusted.
" I just want my hat back, Dad."

The elementary school was four blocks north of the project. As usual, we walked to school. It stood up on a small hill, a great four story edifice of incipient learning; one of many for me. You know, as a kid, one always remembers the corner store, where after school, you bought your candy and treats. There was a big one about a block west of that school. It was quite a hangout for many kids.

Back to Georgetown: a place of many vivid memories. For one thing, I always had to cross the huge train yards to get to school. I don't think Clystie would do it. She kept telling me that our Mother had forbidden us to go out into that dangerous train switching yard. But as a fearless and foolish young boy, I, of course, could not wait to cross it repeatedly, going to and from school. One day, after school, walking home through the maze of tracks, smelling all that tar and diesel smoke, listening to those great steel boxcars bashing together, hearing all those bells, whistles, and horns that pierced the air, while I was stepping over one section of track, the track suddenly shifted. Someone in a control tower had thrown a switch, or some nearsighted railroad worker had swung a handle, and the tracks opened up, and swallowed my right foot, as it slipped down between the tracks.

The top track had snapped over, and my right foot was securely trapped. I looked up and a freight train was backing up toward me, on that track. I yelled, but no one heard me above the din of the working yard. I tugged, and tugged, but my foot was going nowhere. I panicked, and I quickly untied my shoe, and jerked my foot out of it. Moments later, I stood there and watched that behemoth train flatten the shit out of my new tennis shoe. I began crying. I knew that I was going to be in big trouble.

Mother did not disappoint me. She screamed at me for 1) trespassing into the train yard, against her specific matronly mandates, and 2) nearly getting killed, and 3) for ruining a new pair of shoes. Shoes were expensive. Obviously I had no consideration for all the sacrifices that had to be made to keep me in decent shoes.

"You wait until your (step)father gets home," Mother yelled," You go to your room, and wait for him. I will send him up to give you your spanking."

I remember sitting upstairs, in my room, sniffling, creating all kind of painful scenarios for myself, knowing that I would now have to be beaten almost to death for my transgression. I watched at window,waiting for Art, waiting for my spanking, knowing thatI had to be punished. What a long forty minutes that must have been.

Glenn Buttkus

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