Soap in my jello

Jalene’s last year and a half in OH would be an eventful one. For the next few months following the soaped windows, Jalene’s fear of her father increased as she sought even harder to be obedient and dutiful in her caregiver’s responsibilities of her siblings.

Jalene’s birthday in February 1957 was one which became one of her most memorable. It was then Jalene began to truly understand “being poor.” There was no birthday cake or even a memorable birthday observance. The evening was celebrated in darkness and cold as the family’s electricity had been shut off.

As the family sat down to a birthday celebration of cooked, dry beans and prepared, flavored, boxed gelatin for dessert,  Jalene noted the dessert tasted like soap. Jayne admitted she had accidentally dropped a bar of soap into the gelatin while making it, but couldn’t discard it, so she removed the soap and served it to the family.

Even though only 9, Jalene understood if there is no money for food or  to pay the electric bill, the consequences are hungry tummies and a dark home, lighted solely by candles. Also when there was no money for coal there was no heat, as the small Victorian, two, story house was heated solely by coal. The northern winds of OH in January and February can make a home seem like an igloo when unheated.

Life in the Maher family continued to become more challenging with each passing month. Not only was the family struggling financially, but accidental injuries appeared to become the “norm” for Louise. With Jalene being the eldest and the caregiver for 4 and 5 year old siblings, then according to Glenn and Jayne, Jalene had to be the person to blame when such incidents occurred.

The first episode transpired while Jalene was indoors cleaning house. Glenn Jr. and Louise were playing in the back yard, using a dilapidated, exterior window shutter with a wooden protrusion, as a ladder to climb into an apple tree.

As Louise missed her step, the protrusion scraped her groin and pelvic area causing bleeding. Jalene knew only to take Louise into the bathroom and have her lie down as she ran to seek help from Glenn and Jayne whom were several blocks away at their business; a downtown dry cleaners.

Even though Jalene attempted to assure Glenn and Jayne that she was unaware of her sibling’s backyard activities, she was blamed for not knowing what they were doing. The second incident occurred a couple months later, in the same old house, a few blocks from downtown Willard. This time Jalene stood in the empty living room with only the ironing board and iron while fulfilling her chores of being the family ironer.

Even today, Jalene can still hear the breaking glass and shrieks of pain coming from the second story bedroom. As she ran upstairs, there stood “shell shocked” Glenn Jr. at the base of the bed, while Louise stood on the bed with hair brush in hand, and a large bleeding, gaping wound in her arm. At 9 years of age, Jalene quickly realized her role became that of EMT. She saw the broken window as  Glenn Jr.  shrieked, “Louise and I were  jumping on our bed and I don’t know what happened.” It was apparent, Louise’s hand slipped, hitting the window with the  brush. As the window broke and Louise brought her arm back into the room, it tore a large “fish hood” gash in her arm.

Jalene’s intuition was once again to have Louise lie down on the floor on a blanket. She quickly wrapped a towel around Louise’s arm; instructing Glenn Jr. to remain with Louise as she rapidly ran once again to summon her parents.  Out of breath and filled with panic  she cried, “Mom and Dad come quickly. Louise has been hurt.”

As Glenn and Jayne approached Louise and saw the vast amount of blood on the towel, they realized this was not a minor cut, but a major injury. The hospital emergency room visit seemed like an eternity for Jalene as she felt responsibility for Louise’s accident. The emergency room physician informed the Maher’s that if not for Jalene’s action of wrapping the towel around Louise’s arm, the situation could have been much more serious due to the blood loss.

There were no more accidental injuries while residing in this home, but there were also no warm and loving memories of that residence. There would be 4 more moves over the next 1.5 years and each one filled with heartache and disappointment.

During one of the moves, Jalene was mandated to unpack and store all the kitchen dishes, pans, and utensils. Following days of work, she was in complete surprise as her parents noted they would not be remaining in the old, OH farmhouse. They would be moving once again.

Night after night Jalene’s warm tears were her only companion as she fell asleep. There were no warm words of appreciation from her parents for fulfilling the responsibilities of an adult. It was expected that she would perform all functions which they dictated. There was no time for play or friends. Jalene was expected to be a “free maid” and “servant” for the family. If things were not as Glenn and Jayne ordered, Jalene knew there was always the price of the “beating” which she would be awarded.

Glenn Jr. and Louise continued to enjoy life as children, even though there were few opportunities for playmates or joyful childhood memories. The Maher family continued to move, renting house after house; at times remaining only a few weeks before moving again.

Please continue to join me on Jalene’s journey as she travels from OH to OK.

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