Poor Little Retard Kid

By Ed Staskus

   After Maggie Campbell was born family vacations became a sore point. “I have to drag those two around?” her mother Alma complained, pointing to Maggie and her older sister Elaine. Fred her husband took a slurp of his Manhattan. The day Bonnie and Brad came on board vacations came to a dead stop, except for once. When Elaine had been the one and only, she went all the time, mostly to Florida to see their grandparents, where she would ride fan boats and go fishing, and all her other fun stuff.

   Maggie screwed up the scheme of things, but still had her summer fun. When Bonnie and Brad rounded out the family her mother blew her top. “Too many kids,” she complained after they were born. “I never wanted you kids. You are all your father’s idea,” Alma told them their entire lives. She meant the children were a bad idea since they were her husband’s handiwork. “Why are you even here? You’ve ruined my life!”

   Her mom never wanted any of them, so she was sullen whenever one of them was in the house. Anytime one or the other of them walked into a room where she was kicking back she got irate that they wanted something. Whenever all of them walked in all at once she hit the roof, exasperated. 

   “It’s a good thing she doesn’t have a gas chamber in the basement,” Maggie told her brother and sisters. She didn’t know gas chambers were frowned on in Bay Village, Ohio. Even so, knowing wouldn’t have helped.

   Later, when they got older, Elaine was ostracized from the family, and Bonnie cut herself off. Elaine locked herself in her room and never came out. Bonnie was always fuming if she was within a mile of the house. 

   Whenever Brad made his parents mad, Maggie would jump in and take his punishment. She couldn’t stand to see him get it. None of them wanted to get hit. But the sisters were always throwing each other under the bus. “The bad part is your sisters then grow up hating you.” That’s how there was the mess between them and Maggie, a mess that wouldn’t go away. She wasn’t saying there weren’t good times, but it was tough sledding.

   The one and only all in the family vacation they went on her whole life was to Disneyland. Her mom was sullen about it, complaining that it was like corralling cats. One morning Maggie was with her. They were out searching for breakfast. No one knew where Elaine was. She had just walked off by herself. Bonnie took Brad with her, and their dad went to find tickets to see the Country Bears Jamboree.

  That’s the only reason he had agreed to go to Disneyland to begin with. He was a stockbroker and vice-president at Prudential Bache in downtown Cleveland where moneybags went every day but loved the Country Bears and couldn’t get enough of them. He laughed ear-splittingly at the mention of them.

   When her mom and she finally got trays of breakfast for everybody they couldn’t find anybody, so they sat down on a curb. A minute later, sitting on the curb, looking up, they saw Bonnie and Brad go slowly past, leaning back in a horse-drawn carriage, waving at them like movie stars

   Alma and Maggie looked at each other. Where were the rest of the lost and found? Their food was getting cold.

   They saw the Bear Jamboree later, and the next day Maggie spotted Donny Osmond riding the same monorail with them out of their hotel. Her sisters loved Donny Osmond but wouldn’t go up to him. They were scared skittish. Maggie was gun-shy, too, but her dad pushed her in Donny’s direction, anyway.

   “Go get his autograph,” Fred said.

   “No, no, no,” she said.

   Fred pushed her forward. She got a push in the small of the back running start, and the next thing she knew was standing in front of Donny Osmond. Maggie was just flabbergasted. She had seen him on TV and now she was standing less than a foot from him. She stammered and bumbled fumbled with her hands. She got his autograph, although she didn’t know how. Maybe he felt bad because he thought she was special needs.  

   “Poor little retard kid,” he probably thought and gave her his autograph. He could be cavalier, unless they were lookers, when he got even more cavalier. When the wheels of the monorail stopped, Maggie ran off the car as fast as she could. One of her shoes went flying. Donny Osmond ducked. It hit Micky Mouse who was behind him. Mickey gave Donny a dirty look.

   “Why would you do that to me?” she asked her dad. “Why me?”

   After the vacations stopped Maggie went to Bay Village High School. She was a lifeguard at the Bay Pool and a Bay Rockette on the kick line for two years. She had many friends growing up, but hardly ever had them over to her house. She went to their houses. She was always leery of having them over because she never knew if her dad would out of the blue lose his temper or her mom would out of the blue start something disastrous.

   If anybody liked something Alma was always going to find a way to not like it. After Maggie moved away, her sister Elaine, who had long since moved away, wanted a family heirloom their mom had, a bench that had been in their great grandparent’s house, but Alma wouldn’t let her take it.

   Her parents had the bench in their split-level family house in Bay Village, at the end of their bed, but when Fred passed away and Alma re-married in the blink of an eye, marrying her old high school sweetheart from Jersey Shore, and moving to a new house in North Ridgeville, she put it away in her garage.

   Elaine wanted the bench bad. Maggie told her mom over and over that she wanted it, but Alma said, “No, she can’t have it, and that’s final.” It was like talking to a blockhead of wood.

   “What are you doing with it?” Maggie asked. She knew the answer, which was nothing, but wanted to hear Alma say it. “No, no, no,” was all she said. It was because she knew Elaine wanted it that she wouldn’t give it to her. That’s the way Alma was. If someone loved something, then she hated it. She had always been like that. Their dad could be cool sometimes, at least. Maggie knew, even though he beat the tar out of them, that he cared about them. But, their mom, not so much, if at all.

   Maggie had a Rockette party at their house before her senior year, at the tail end of August. The party came out of left field. They were at practice and their coach said the first football game was coming up soon. It was on September such-and-such, but they didn’t have a place scheduled for their potluck, yet.

   “We can have it at our house,” Maggie blurted out. Just like that, thirty high school girls were going to be coming over to their house. She called her dad at work. He sounded happy to hear from her.

   “Hey, dad,” she said. “I just invited all my friends over for a potluck.”

   “Sweet,” Fred said. “We’ll make it work.” Maggie was amazed and hung up before he could say anything else. She didn’t say anything about the potluck party to her mom. It would have been like poking a hornet’s nest with a stick.

   Her dad came home early from work the day of the party, brought all the hot dogs hamburgers buns and pickles, and enjoyed having her friends in the backyard. He was all over the place with his camera and took a ton of pictures. It was a good time. Her mom stayed in the house and never came out. Fred loved it, but Alma was angry and sulking that her daughter had all her friends over.

   Maggie loved being a Rockette. She was one of the in crowd during her sophomore and junior years in high school until the night not long after the party when she tore her hamstring in three places. It was an act of God, but a misadventure that was going to take three or four months to mend. She had to give up being a Rockette her last year of high school because of her leg.

   It was terrible, like she had lost something special, something she could never get back.

Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

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