At 7:30 every weekday evening, at the end of his show, the clown on channel 11 looked into the camera and said “Now it’s time for all good boys and girls to go to bed.” No matter what us kids were watching my mother would always change the channel to the clown. We didn’t like clowns and didn’t think the show was all that funny.
But we obeyed the clown and headed up stairs at 7:30 on a warm spring night and turned right into our partially completed 8 by 10 Levitt bedroom. The temporary pressboard floor was always buckled in places popping out the finishing nails making walking a challenge. We climbed into our twin sized beds, five year old Keith’s by the window and seven year me pushed up against the wall. We only showered about once a week or when company was coming.
On these warm summer evenings my brother Keith and I would lie in our beds wide awake in that stuffy attic room with the rotating fan on the dresser humming this way then that way . Two-year-old Drew still slept downstairs in my parents’ room and would graduate to our room later that year.
We just couldn’t go to sleep while the sun was still up and the whole world was still going about its business. Even the baseball players in the ballpark behind our house were still chattering and playing. So we stood on the beds and watched ballplayers out the back window through the willow tree. Bored with that we’d bounce a little on our beds going higher and higher each time and laughing and laughing until we heard our mother’s nasal Bronx voice from downstairs yell “You kids go to bed!”
We stopped jumping and stood still, being really, really quiet. After a minute we couldn’t stand it any longer and began to bounce again with really little jumps and very quietly but it was so much fun that we’d start to jump more and more and the little jumps went higher and higher until we were jumping and laughing again right out loud.
The screeching voice came up louder and angrier this time yelling “I thought I told you kids to go to sleep. You want your father to come up there with belt?”
No, not the belt. My father’s gut was big enough now not to need the belt but he wore it the way a wild west sheriff wore his six shooter, to keep the peace. He used it a couple of times but didn’t really hit us that hard but it was scary nonetheless and it stang. By now all he had to do was stand at the foot of the stairs and put his hand on the buckle to make us shut right up and be still.
Now we were really awake. So we both stood on Keith’s bed to look out the window get a better view of the baseball players and be quiet. But then the bed moved making a sound. We froze, praying and praying that they didn’t hear it.
Too late. They did.
Her voice from downstairs, now drained of it’s human quality, became a singular screech “Phil go upstairs and hit them! Hit them! Hit them! Hit them!”
We glanced at each other in fear for a quick second and Keith dove right under his covers pulling them over his head. I jumped from his bed to mine and also dove under the covers pulling them over all in one move like seal team six.
Heavy footsteps pounded up the stairs as adrenaline spiked through my body. My father appeared in the doorway his belt doubled up in his right hand. (We didn’t have a door). My brother in his feety pajamas screamed like a girl from under the covers crying and begging him “Don’t hit us, don’t hit us!” As my father entered the room my brother bolted from his bed to my bed to keep as much distance as possible and with our backs against the wall we waited.
My father was short but trained in hand-to-hand combat in the army and the neighborhood knew and respected that. While gaining a paunch he was still muscular, pretty much as wide as was short. He switched the belt to his left hand and raised his right in a fist and came towards us. My five-year-old brother is shaking and my body stiffened up all on its own.
But then he did something strange. Something that is frozen in time in my memory. He stopped mid-walk and looked at his own raised fist as if it didn’t belong to him. And while still looking at he opened his hand still raised in the air. He then dropped his hand and stepped forward and pushed us further up against the wall.
He grabbed the belt with his right hand and as we pushed ourselves back into the wall with our feet as hard as we could he turned away from us reaching full back slammed the belt against the wall with his full force. He did it again and again with my brother’s piercing voice screaming “Daddy stop! Daddy stop!” the whole time.
He then stopped, turned and trotted back downstairs to watch TV. Mommy was satisfied.