I had been thinking about trying to make a record of my life for my son, as he has no idea what his mother’s life was like. Then, I thought, “No. It is done. Maybe it is best left untold.” But here I am, decades later, writing down as much as I can remember.
My first memory of life was of standing in my crib, waiting for my paternal grandmother to get me. Her name was Mary Jane, but to me she was “Grandma.” My grandfather, Fred; my father, Maynard; Grandma; and I lived in what was called “the big house.” It was a wonderful place.
There was a dairy barn with milking cows, and a lake with approximately 50 cottages that were rented out every summer, mostly to families from New York City.
There was a beach for swimming, with boats for fishing, a snack stand, and a restaurant.
Everyone worked hard. I was a little girl, with people who gave me the love we all seek in our lives.
My Aunt Jennie went to live at the Lake every summer to help Grandma. I thank God that I had a few idyllic years before hell broke loose.
I remember this blonde woman coming to the big house and sitting with Grandma and me, then asking Grandma if she could take me shopping to buy me a dress.
The woman put me in the back seat of a car, and a man was driving. We just kept driving for what seemed like a very long time. I finally asked them when we would get there and where my daddy was.
The blonde woman pointed to the man who was driving and said, “He is your daddy now.” I was approximately 3½ to 4 years old at this time. I don’t remember anything more about this trip, which ended in Virginia. For the next year, I can only remember eating Rice Krispies and playing with the blonde woman’s makeup.
I’m sure that my grandmother suffered for many years after this for letting me go with the woman that I would later understand was my mother.
Back in New York, my family was hiring a well-known lawyer to set up a bond for my father to enable him to kidnap me back, the bond needed in case he got caught.
By this time, I had become comfortable with my mother and her new husband.
My father came to visit in Virginia about a year after the initial kidnapping. He grabbed me and ran out to a waiting taxicab and threw me onto the back seat. My mother was screaming, and her husband had gotten to the taxi just as my father was yelling to the taxi driver to drive away. I was trying to get out of the cab, and my father was holding me back by the seat of my pants. My mother’s husband tried to open the door, and my father punched him, making him fall back into a muddy puddle. The taxi driver took off, and we were on the run.
The trip back to New York was very scary, as my father was afraid he would get caught. I did not understand what was happening, but I remember being confused and very scared.
Gradually life became good again. I got up with Grandpa to milk the cows, then went to the rowboats to scrape and paint them in the spring, and then we moved down to the lake-side bungalow for the summer. I was a happy little girl.
My father gave me a handsome Boxer soon after my return. Buster became my companion and protector, as he had been trained to be. He was a wonderful dog.
Another thing that I keep remembering was that every Saturday morning my grandmother would roll her wringer washing machine into the dining room by the front door of our big house. I would be sleeping upstairs. From where Grandmother would wash the clothes, she could see the front door, the back door, and the stairs. When I think about how inconvenient that was for her, I realize that she must have been making sure that no one ever took me away again! My poor grandmother must have gone through much, much fear for me after my mother, Elaine, had taken me.
Every time I was asked to sing for an event, my father would tell me that I was going to turn out to be just like my mother. He told me that my mother had left me to become a singer. When I think about that, I wonder why he didn’t say she left us, not just me.
I find that some days while writing this down, I can do so in a matter-of-fact fashion, but on other days I have to stop, to keep from crying.