Saturday, February 2, 2013

Story of Baby S. as witnessed by Susan Grotte 15

Sundays at Hephzibah house were dominated by Church.

I sat in a metal folding chair trying not to squirm since I had no fat left to cushion the hard seat beneath me. I was in the last of 5 rows of 6 girls interspersed with 4 staff ladies. The Hephzibah girls and Hephzibah staff, along with their children made up the entire congregation in the little unfinished basement room. Behind me I heard the familiar sounds of little baby S nursing away during the service. It felt good to know that sweet Mrs. K. was behind me. She would not be quick to find fault in my posture or how my hair was curled. The rhythmic sounds of a suckling baby were soothing and normal sounds in this surreal world.

Back straight, eyes forward. I tried to pay attention to the long winded sermon and take good notes. Notes were turned in after every service and checked to make sure we paid attention to the service and were not daydreaming. If staff did not like your notes it was a paddling offense. Ron Williams had a theory that young people who were not engaged in busy work were lusting and enjoying lascivious fantasies.

My feet were cold and my back ached but otherwise the sermon was a nice reprieve from the normal stress of daily life at Hephzibah house.

Ron Williams deep voice filled the small room. He dwarfed the tiny podium.

Patti Williams sat on the left side of the room with all eight children in a row. There was always a well worn paddle laying on the seat beside her. It was not unusual to see her paddle her children for wiggling or making noise during the long sermons. The youngest was Seth, perhaps two years old and the darling irrepressible Benjamin was just four years old. I do not recall a service where that poor little boy did not get a severe beating. I was amazed how undaunted and happy he remained. Seth seemed dull. He just sat and sucked his fingers. He showed no signs of normal 2 year old curiosity and wonder. Maybe that is what a successfully broken will would looked like in a two year old. I found it profoundly disturbing.

Suddenly there was movement. I sensed rather than saw Mrs. K. stand up behind me. I dared not turn my head but up front Mrs Williams also hefted her wide girth out of her metal chair. It creaked loudly in protest. At just 40, Patti Williams was fat, slovenly and mean as a snake. Her grey hair in a stringy bun she stood looking back behind me towards the Mrs. K. and baby S. She had picked up the small paddle. A hard, tight smile crossed her humorless face. Mrs. K. had now made her way into my line of vision.

Mrs. K. was clearly upset as she carried her tiny baby towards the front of the chapel.

Ron Williams just droned on.

My stomach clenched. What was this???

Patti guided Mrs. K. into a small walled off area at the front of the room. The area was meant to be a closet one day. Now it had no door and served to store extra folding chairs. The two women entered the narrow room I had a partial view of the inside of the room but could no longer see Mrs. K. and the baby past Patti’s wide back.

Ron Williams kept preaching.

NO! Oh NO!”

I was frozen. Staring straight ahead and gripping my pencil in horror.


The baby SCREAMED.

We heard every powerful, stinging blow of the paddle hitting that tiny baby. It went on and on, every time there was a pause and I thought it was over it started up again.

Ron Williams actually stopped preaching. Grinning from ear to ear he made a fist and moved it enthusiastically across his body like a diabolical cheerleader, “Hit him again Sister! Hit him again!”

No one moved. No one DID anything. The babies cries were becoming strangled as he choked and he seemed to gasp dangerously between blows.

Go get that baby Susan!” The voice in my head was screaming, “DO SOMETHING!”

I stared straight ahead as Ron Williams resumed his droning sermon. I thought of twenty scenarios where I saved that baby, but I sat glued to my seat. My blood ran cold.

The crying stopped before the blows stopped. Soon Mrs. K. stepped out from behind the wall she was sobbing and clinging to her baby Patti was right behind her with a huge self satisfied smile on her corpulent face, now red from exertion.

The baby was quiet. A spooky unnatural quiet. I watched the little bundle for signs of life intently until I saw his little chest heave showing he was indeed breathing.

How hard would you have to hit a baby to make him stop crying? Why would we all just sit there and let it happen?

I realized I had not taken any notes for several minutes. Somehow, knowing I would be paddled for that offense gave me a bizarre moment of satisfaction . A form of penance for my cowardice.

Everyone took their places.

Ron Williams droned on.

~ By Susan Grotte

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Potty Dance

"Potty Breaks"  Susan Grotte: Memories of HH

Painful cramps rock my lower back.  I stare at the shoes.  Opening my eyes wide to stop the tears.  Twenty six pair of plain brown loafers,  scuffed and worn.  All facing forward,  all showing agitation.  Twisting,  stomping quietly.  Legs pressed tightly together as 26 girls dance in quiet agony.  The familiar potty dance.  Large and severe Miss Diana stands at the beginning of the line. her legs are like  tree trunks as she stands in her sensible black warden shoes,  scowling.   No one dared whimper.  The lined moved with intentional sluggishness. 

A slight girl in the childish blue polyester uniform and red knee highs steps out of the bathroom.  She steps up to Miss Diana and holds up her hands. 

Miss Diana sniffs, “I don’t smell soap”  

I washed Miss Diana,  I did!”  The desperate girl pleads for clemency.

That is a work duty for arguing.  Do you want to make it a paddling for lying?”  

The door had been ajar.  We had all heard and seen the girl wash her hands.  This was simply a power play.

No ma'am.”  The girls frail shoulders sag visibly.  She steps back into the bathroom leaving the door ajar while she carefully re-washes her hands.  She again walks up to Miss Diana holding her hands up.

OK.”  Miss Diana  gestures with exaggerated boredom for the girl to pass and the first girl in the waiting line steps up to Miss Diana who holds out a roll of rough industrial toilet paper.

  We were to indicate how many sheets of toilet paper we needed based on what business we had to accomplish.  Three sheets for pee and five for a bowel movement.  

I may need some extra Miss Diana.”  The blond girl blushed so deeply her scalp shone pink beneath her thin hair.  Miss Diana smirked and handed her three extra sheets.

Just full of it today, aren’t you Tina”  

Tina laughed,  a forced tight laugh while the corded muscles in her neck betrayed her urgent need.  She stepped into the bathroom,  careful to leave the door several inches ajar.   The sounds of explosive diarrhea filled the narrow hallway.  

I clench my fists,  I curl my toes,  I squeeze my thighs together for all I am worth.  
I bite my lip and look up the line,  fifteen girls still ahead of me.
Please God, please.  

Just then a girl cries out in anguish.  A dark stain slowly spreads out on the concrete floor beneath her.  There is a nervous shuffle then eerie stillness as Diana’s eyes settle on the puddle. 

Miss Diana bellows out for the other main staff lady, “Sharon!”  

Thin and pointed Sharon’s face peered around the corner.  Her thick bushy eyebrows raised.  Her long hair piled precariously on her head.  

We have a wetter!” 

Disgust drips from Diana’s  voice as she grabs little Lynn roughly and herds her down the hallway.  As she and Sharon leave dragging Lynn between them,  Diana commands the new young summer staff lady, Christie,  to take over the potty line.  Soon muffled cries and sharp whacks are heard as  tiny Lynn is paddled for her crime.  

Christie grabs the roll of toilet paper and with sympathy and compassion she quickly moves us all through the line.  Nothing felt so sweet as to finally sit on that toilet.  I looked at my scrawny  legs.  My knees were now the largest part of my legs.  I had to grab the sides of the toilet to keep from falling in.  I had lost 40 pounds in just 4 months and my 5’9 frame was down to just 88 pounds.  Little more than a skeleton,I looked at  my panties puddled on the floor around my ankles.  Several strands of short curly  hair caught in the plain white cotton. My body hair had been falling out as steadily as the hair on my head.  I hoped no one would notice the faint odor of urine as I pulled up my damp panties and washed my hands.  I had leaked a bit after all.  

I held my hands up to Christie to smell as I came out of the bathroom.  She rolled her eyes slightly,  embarrassed as I was at the infantile ritual, and waved me on.  

Walking down the hall I see Lynn,  now crouched over a bucket scrubbing the concrete floor while Miss Diana berates and ridicules her.  Her dark hair spills out onto the concrete obscuring her face but I see her boney shoulders shudder as she sobs silently.  She has been changed into fresh clothes and paddled but her humiliation will not stop here.  

She is now diapered,  a point of which Miss Diana makes sure we are all very aware.  I had been so close to being the girl who wet herself.   Once again saved by a child who was weaker and smaller than myself.  Lynn was only 12. I felt sick.  I hung my head in shame and walked by poor little Lynn slinking back to my seat in the cold makeshift basement classroom.   

~ By Susan Grotte

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Blue Room 1981 By Susan Grotte

I sorted laundry into piles, the chug chug chug of the washing machines behind me gave the mundane task a pleasant rhythm.   The sun streamed through the window and the smell of bleach and detergent made even the moist heavy air feel clean.  
Ruffled baby jumpers, gym uniforms, my husbands work clothes and my sons Spiderman pajamas.  Each item reminded me that in the midst of this tedious labor was the dream.    Imperfect for sure, my large exuberant family filled my days with happiness and filled my heart with love. 
Frustration broke the mood as I spotted the diaper bag from last week’s trip to church.  The bag was turned over on it’s side, the contents spilling out of the open zipper.  There, half exposed, was the dreaded plastic bag.  I could see beads of moisture inside the bag that had fermented for days in the sunny room.  The bag held two year old Luke’s wet pants and underwear from an accident on Sunday.  
I took a deep breath and opened the bag.  The smell exploded in my face.  Sharp urine and pungent, noxious mildew mixed with a faint scent of detergent and the sweet warm puppy smell of a busy toddler.  Suddenly, I was in another place.  
     My heart pounded, the world was spinning, a meaty hand shoved my face onto the floor.   I was aware of the other woman, the one straddling my legs, messing with my skirt.  
     I gasped, cold rough hands groped my calves and thighs.  
     I tried to squirm or kick but the woman squatting on my legs had them pinned.  The large woman on my back grunted as she held my hands above my head, her knees were a vise  that smashed my face into the stale, old fashioned,  blue shag rug.
     I was aware of a peculiar and distinctive smell in this room as soon as I had entered it moments before.  Now; face planted in the sea of blue and green flecks,  helpless, panic overwhelmed my senses.  Were they lifting my skirt? 
 What was happening??  What were they doing to me?
Immobilized and vulnerable, I realized I knew the smell, a pungent mixture of urine and sweat.  FEAR.  
     Pastor Williams loomed above me.  I felt his presence but could not see him.  The air whistled and he let out a grunt of exertion.

The board hit my backside with such force I could not even scream.  I desperately sucked air back into my lungs even as I was aware of the whoosh of another blow descending.
I screamed.
      I thought of the pretty street lined with lovely Tudors with manicured lawns right outside that closed and shuttered window.  Only a few feet from me was a sunny day and regular people going about their regular lives.
     I was dragged to my feet.  Each of the female captors had a vise grip on my upper arms.  My legs felt like spaghetti.
     “Sue”, I looked up at Pastor Williams’ face, he was smiling, yes smiling.  His thick grey hair and broad face made him look as harmless as Gomer Pyle, deeply etched laugh lines made him look downright jovial.
     He chuckled.  Shaking his head as if amused at the antics of a beloved toddler.
     “Sue, no-one can hear you.  I will just keep going until you are quiet.  OK, Sue?”
     “OK,” I managed to respond in a low strangled whisper.
     “What was that?”
     The bigger goon who held my upper arm pinched hard.
“Yes Sir.”
     “Now lay back down and take your punishment like a good girl.”
     There was no way out- the women expertly maneuvered me back to the face down position on the floor.  Once again one straddled my legs and the other sat on my upper back pinning me to the floor and holding my arms above my head.
     While we assumed the complex position Pastor Williams spoke to me, his pleasant , cheerful voice belied the malice of his words, 
 “You are a runner Sue, but there is no where to run here.  The neighbors are my friends and have returned many naughty girls who have tried to go to them for help.  The police also are good friends of mine and bring back every misguided girl who manages to escape. Your days of running are over.”
He laughed. 
I heard the whistle of the board slicing through the air. 

~ By Susan Grotte