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My Path (4) Public Assistance


The little Methodist Church in Fairfield, ID had recently fractured with its pastor and most of its memhers and money going into the building of a Friends Church.leaving a small remnant which seemed to include most of the community's elite.  There was also a small Catholic chapel where mass was performed once a month.  Fairfield was a farm and ranch community of a few hundred people in a county with less than 1000 population, on a high plateau, at the foot of the Sawtooth Mountains.

It soon became apparent that i wasn't much of a husband or a pastor and i would soon lose both my spouse and my job.  My wife's major skill was shopllifting, which was at least a practical skill while i seemed to have none; but it was a useless skill in a village with few stores and where almost everybody knew almost everybody.  A seedy carnival came to town and she was apparantly attracted to the youngest, dirtiest of the roustabouts.  But he wouldn't let her leave town with him being appaZrently much smarter than he looked. She hitched a ride to Oregon but returned a week lter. She then took a bus to visit her grandmother in Florida.  I knew she had left me.  I can't remember if we ever discussed whether she would take our son.  She didn't.  I would see her briefly a year later, then again three years after that.  Then she was gone.

I was devastated and cried bitterly and prayed excruciatingly for days.  I started smoking again, a habit i had acquired much too young and had given up in seminary.  I met with the head of the Church board and we agreed i would have to quit.  The District Superintendent offered me another church, but i declined, accepting a twenty dollar loan instead (which, i just remembered, i have never repaid).  I moved with my son to Boise and began looking for work.  The lumber mills in the area were not hiring, and neiher, it seemed, was anyone.  The post office needed extra clerks and carriers for the Christmas season and i was about to take one of those when a job i had applied for months earlier came through.

The job was Caseworker I with the Idaho Department of Public Assistance.  I would be working in Coeur d' Alene, 400+ miles to the north.  I wasn't sure how we would get there, i was almost out of money, and the Chevy was showing signs of stress. Biil came by, loaded our meager belongings into his panel truck and we headed for North Idaho.

Bill had shown up at church one Sunday, dressed like a 19th century mountain man.  When he liked something in my sermon, which was often. he shouted: AMEN.  He sort of took charge of me and my son in our distress.  Now he  had come to Boise to
check on us.  Three years later i had a chance to repay the favor and did not do it.  I have regretted that ever since.

In Coeur d' Alene. i joined an office with two female caseworkers, a male director and two female secretaries.  We administered State and federal money to poor children, blind and permanently disabled people, and the elderly.  We also offered "social work" services to help those with feet get back on them.

Did you see the television series "The Bridge?"  In one episode the autistic homicide detective interviews the husband of a murder victim.  Every thing she says is "by the book" but it is also wrong.  Attempts to "connect" are alienating. Having been told to maintain eye contact, she stares at him.  He becomes angry and orders her out of his house.  I so emphasised with that woman!  In the office i guess i did okay.  In the field i wasted a lot of time sitting in my car, working up the nerve to knock on someone's door even when the person expected me.  My caseload included the northern tier of the Couer d' Alene Reservation; i seemed to be less uncomforable in the Indian world than the White one.

What about my son?  Eight hours a day he was in daycare.  The rest of the  time he was with me.  My memories are cloudy and few and mostly counterfactual.  The evidence of a few photographs proves that i had no idea about how to dress a small child.  I suspect that i was  very poor father.  His life has been, in part, a combination of my most unrealitic dreams and my worst nightmares.  He was a troubled child and i could not see it.  It never occurred to me that we might need help,

In October, there was a statewide social work conference in Boise.  It was the high point of my year.

I must have been better at my job than i thought i was.  I was offered the job as County Director in the county just south of Coeur d' Alene, Benewah.  St. Maries. the county seat was and is a small town of about 2500 people.  I was the only caseworker and i had a female secretary. My caseload included the Coeur d' Alene reservation.  It was a beauiiful place which i had little opportuity to enjoy.We lived in housing on a par with our house on Chichikof  (In Couer d' Alene we had a very nice little house on the lake).

At the social work conference in 1960. i saw a beautiful young woman, Dianne, who was introduced to me as a caseworker from
Blackfoot.  We hung out together for the next two days.  I learned that she was a former Mormon convert to Roman Catholicism.We exchanged addresses and phone numbers.  On the drive back to Northern Idaho i talked to a Catholic County Director about the impossibility of an agnostic (which was what i now considered myself) marrying a Roman Catholic.  She saw now problem inherent in that.  It seems impossible that what happened in the next seven months happened in only seven months.  We wrote letters almost daily and they gradually became love letters.  We talked on the phone.  I visited her for a weekiend in Blackfoot.  Maybe it was twice.  I vaguely remember making the 500+ mile trip alone and also with my four year old son.  She visited me in Saint Maries.  She told me by phone that she was being hit on by her county director and was going to have to quit her job.  I don't know who
suggested marriage.  We eloped in May 1961 with her parents, younger siblings and two friends in tow for witnesses.  The Minidoka County clerk opened her office on a Saturday for the sole purpose of issuing us a license.  We were married at the Methodist Church in Gooding by a pastor i knew.  Our honeymoon was a slow three day trip back to St Maries.

A few months latter we moved to Coeur d' Alene and i took back my job as caseworker.  I cannot remember the circumstances .Was i demoted?  Did i ask to be sent back?  There must have been a discussion with my district supervisor but i cannot remember it.  I know that many of the few memories i do have are inaccurate.  I will have to ask Dianne about this.

My difficulty in dealing with people did not go away.  In addition the department now had the added responsibility of investigating
cases of suspected child abuse.  I found these situations almost impossible to cope with.  Dianne told me years later that  i was on the verge of getting fired.  At any rate, i decided i needed to quit.

When i was thirteen i had told my pastor that i wanted to be a preacher; he suggested that i should be a teacher instead.  I think he was right.  I was always most happy in classrooms either as student or instructor.  I could probably have qualified as a secondary school teacher in less than a year.  I did know that education had a double function: to promote critical and independent thinking and to pass on the society's culture to the next generation.  I felt increasingly alienated from my socity's culture and knew tht that would be what i  would be expected to emphasize as a school teacher.  I decided to try to go to graduate school in sociology.

There is a story i have often heard but never liked.  It is called footprints.  A man at the end of his life, sees his past pass in front of him represented by footprints in the sand.  Sometimes there are two sets of footprints, sometimes only one.  The man asks God
whose the second set of footprints.  I was walking beside you, says God.  But why, the man asks, in the worst part of my life, is there only one set of prints.  I was carrying you, God answers.  I have come to feel this way about my childhood and youth.
Someone or something must have carried me most of the way, especially when i thought i was most alone.



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Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
cathy_edgett
Sep. 15th, 2015 07:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this. Beautiful and touching.

I did see the series The Bridge. I remember that. Yes.

How wonderful to be carried, to allow yourself that.
bobby1933
Sep. 15th, 2015 08:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)
pondhopper
Sep. 15th, 2015 10:28 pm (UTC)
Ahhh...life takes many paths, doesn't it? Rough beginnings can turn into beautiful endings or at least better endings.

We are often so unaware we are being carried. I'm glad you were!
bobby1933
Sep. 16th, 2015 12:31 am (UTC)
Yes, thank you.
Happy Birthday, Donna.
heliopausa
Sep. 15th, 2015 11:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this.
bobby1933
Sep. 16th, 2015 12:32 am (UTC)
:) You are welcome.
amaebi
Sep. 16th, 2015 02:24 am (UTC)
Thank you for telling this, and earlier chapters of your story-- they are fascinating.

And I am so grateful.

Good Lord, what a struggle life is, when society is made of slots.
bobby1933
Sep. 16th, 2015 08:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading, and enjoying :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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