Mother put the ketchup on the table for our supper of hamburgers, baked beans and potatoes. The clock said 5:44 pm. I picked up the gallon of milk, and began to pour it into my glass. Father walked in the back door and slammed his lunchbox down into the corner of the table. “Derrick is a miserable jerk, I can’t stand that place,” he started. He grabbed his chair pulled it out from the kitchen table. When he did, he knocked the chair into the leg of the table which caused me to spill the milk I was pouring. Smack! He slapped me across my upper arm. My skin stung and another piece of my heart died. I wiped up the spilled milk.
“Sit down and each, John, you’ll feel better,” Mother told Father.
“Father, why don’t you ever come to church with us?” Margie asked. She was always the brave one.
“I don’t need church,” Father answered. “They wouldn’t help me when I needed help, so I don’t need them now.” Father raised and lowered his shoulders and exhaled. He continued. “I went to the church rectory one day to ask if they could give us some food. I was about 10 or 11 years old at the time. My father wasn’t working, and he and my mother were passed out on the floor from booze.
“I was so hungry I kept slapping my stomach to try to keep it from growling. I was nervous, but I forced myself to knock on the door of the rectory. You know it; it’s the big stone building next to the church building, with the big, thick wooden door.
“So the door opens and there’s this chubby, bald priest standing there. He brushes off his vestments as if he’s pushing crumbs off himself. He’s got enough to eat.
“So I gathered up all my courage, and said, ‘Can I have something to eat? We don’t have any food at our house.’
“So he looks at me, his fat little face gets all twisted, and he adjusts his eyeglasses. ‘Who are you?’ he says. So I tell him, ‘John Hardy.’ Then he says, ‘Oh. Hardy. Well, your parents are both drunks. Your father needs to clean up his act and get a job. We don’t help drunks until they help themselves. He needs to take responsibility for his family.’
“So then he looks down at me, sees that my pants are too short, and my shoes are all worn out. Then he shakes his head, steps back and slams the door in my face.” Father inhaled deeply. “So what do I need a church for that lets kids starve because they don’t like the parents? As far as I’m concerned, I AM GOD.”
My eyes bulged open and I held my shoulders in place. I decided not to tackle this argument.
Mother chimed in. “I don’t believe they did that. The priests are good people.”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“No, but it’s just hard to believe.”
“Let’s drop it then. That’s what happened. You don’t know because you weren’t there.”
“Here, have some more beans,” Mother said. Father continued, “Right after that I went down to the newspaper and got a paper route. I made enough money every week to buy oatmeal for the family. But they never even thanked me. I promised myself I would not raise my kids that way. I would not be a lazy drunk with no money for food for my kids. And I hate my job but I won’t quit because I don’t want to lose the house and move from apartment to apartment like my parents did. Every time the doorbell rang, they told us to hide because it was the bill collectors. We had to pretend no one was home until they went away.” Father shook his head and looked at Mother. “Did you buy any antacid today? My stomach’s killing me.”