My mom tells me all the time that my dad was quite the social guy. Everybody in town loved Jimmy Nichols. My dad didn’t know a stranger. My dad loved to party and he was the “Life” of the party most of the time. He had his very own “rat pack” and he lived life hard and wild. My mom says he had a saying…”Live hard and have a good looking corpse”. That was my dad. Fun loving guy. He had four heart attacks in his 40’s, recovered from those, but was in declining health after that. During carotid artery surgery when he was 57, he had a massive stroke, laid in a vegetative state for an entire year before he died at age 58. The doctors said his arteries looked like that of an 80 year old man.
My mom was quite smart in school. She was her class valedictorian. She went to college and studied chemistry. Then she met this handsome, vivacious young southern man from Tennessee. She fell in love, quit school and got married. This proved to be a huge mistake on her part.
She tells me stories of how starry eyed she was. How naive. How her dreams of love and marriage were soon squelched by a man that she thought she knew. The romance was short-lived. She soon learned that the things she hoped for was not to be. He was impatient, hard to please, and selfish. He was short tempered and often left her alone when he went to party with his friends, play cards, drink and have fun. She quietly accepted things as they were and didn’t complain. She knew better than to complain.
She tells me he never hit her, but I have distinct memories of gouges in the walls from when he would throw things in anger. Once he threw a pan of peas against the wall because she didn’t have dinner ready on time. In my mind, I can still see the chunk of plaster it took out of the wall when the pan hit.
Eventually my mom got pregnant with me. My parents were both thrilled when I arrived. The cute baby with lots of dark hair turned my dad into a smiling goofball. He loved me. My mom was a nervous mother who read Dr. Spock books and tried to make sure I got everything I needed. She took good care of me.
Soon, my mom became pregnant with my little sister. She was born when I was 7. I was pretty ambivalent about her….I didn’t really mind her being there with us. But I wasn’t thrilled either. It just didn’t matter much to me one way or the other.
While my mom was very pregnant with my sister, we moved into a split level home in a nice neighborhood. The house was quite large and my parents felt they had really come up in the world. My dad loved the appearance of wealth and social status. My mom loved the house but told me she didn’t see the necessity of such a large home but it was my dad’s dream so we got the house. To me, it was a mansion and I joyfully played in every room. It was a great house. I loved it there.
During this time my dad and I still had a close relationship. We always had. Things were good in those days, from my child’s perspective. My dad would take me and my friends on truck rides, where we would all pile in the back of his pick up truck and he’d drive us around for about 20 minutes. This was back in the early 60’s before any laws about the dangers of people riding in the back of trucks.
He also made me a really long swing in the back yard. He hung the ropes from a super high oak tree, and he would push me in the swing. It was so fun. He even let me drive the fancy riding lawn mower for the yard. My mom about died from anxiety seeing her 10 year old drive a riding mower. My dad just laughed and kept an eye on me. He didn’t worry at all.
We would cozy up together and lay on the floor at night sometimes, side by side, and watch westerns on tv….I hated westerns but I loved being close to my dad. I felt loved and secure and safe with him.
He bought me a dalmation dog one day. The first day with us, while we were outside, he bit a neighbor kid. So the dog mysteriously disappeared that same day. I am still not sure where the dog ended up but my dad would not put up with a dog that bit neighbor kids, so the dog was quietly whisked away.
He got me a cat another time. We had the cat for quite awhile. I have no memory of what happened to the cat after a few years. He just wasn’t there anymore. I had a beagle dog after that. I loved that dog so much. He was a great dog. Everyone in the neighborhood liked the dog. When he got hit by a car, our neighbor man told my mom…told her it happened down the street. They discreetly had the dog picked up and taken away. They tried to break it to me gently but I did not do well hearing the news. It was devastating. This was about the same time that my dad packed his bags and decided to leave us.
I remember it this way. One day my little sister, who was about 2 years old at the time, which would make me about 9, was crying and I was trying to help her climb the stairs into the kitchen from the family room. My mom was upstairs in their bedroom doing something. My dad was reading the paper in the family room. Suddenly, without warning, my dad threw down the newspaper, pushed past me and my sister, and stomped loudly up the stairs to their bedroom. He went in and slammed the door. There was yelling. Shouting. Closet doors and dresser drawers slamming.
All I remember at that point is somehow I got up to my room, sat on my bed, tears streaming down my face and my mouth wide open, a silent scream stuck in my throat…..I stared at myself in the mirror and sat there, frozen. I was totally paralyzed with fear and total confusion. I could not comprehend what was happening.
Soon, my parent’s bedroom door opened and next thing I knew my dad rushed into my room. He knelt down in front of me, grabbed me by the arms and said in a broken voice, “I love you, you know that, right?” and then “Do you love me?”. I nodded as the tears ran streaming down my face. I think there were tears in his eyes but he wasn’t crying, he was just agitated. Then he hugged me quick and hard, picked up his bags, turned away from me, walked out of my room, down the stairs…. out of the house, and out of our lives. I have no recollection of anything after that for quite awhile.
What I didn’t know at that time was that my father had been cheating on my mom for a long time with another woman, actually there were more than one, but who’s counting…. There had been trouble brewing for quite a while but I knew nothing was wrong until he picked up his bags and left us. Abandoned me and my sister, my mom. Without a second thought.
My mother, who had never held a job, was suddenly a terrified single mom with two young children, and no clue how to pick up the pieces and keep herself and her children taken care of. She was humiliated in the small town that we lived in, everyone else knew much more than my mother knew and when she realized what had been going on in plain view of everyone in town, she wanted to die. Her pride took a beating. But she had no choice so she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and got a job at the local bank as a teller. I think I was about 11 years old by that time. When everything in my life changed completely, totally, irrevocably.
~~~END OF PART ONE~~~