When I was a child my mom ran away with my sisters and me, and took us to a fundamentalist Catholic cult. My aunt Francie was there before us, and published some of her adventures online. Her writing is clear and poignant, after overlooking the use of Comic Sans. In Trouble A-Plenty With A Mix of Fun, she brings me into the story.
Those were interesting times.
Before then, I believe my childhood was normal. Lackadaisical days down at the creek, watching the water-skeeters skit, bobbing along without a care until my rocks sent them scurrying. Building a pretend fort with my oldest sister in the woods behind that creek. And sledding down to that creek in the winter.
It wasn’t all fun and games. I also remember Dad’s belt, when I didn’t clean, or do what he wanted. But he wasn’t home during the day, and didn’t spend a lot of time with us on the weekends because he always seemed to be working.
I was in the second grade when things started changing. Mom had been raised Catholic, Dad was Protestant. The only prayers I remember before then was Grace, at meals. But sometime in the Fall/early Winter of ’73 Mom started sneaking rosaries with us after school, before Dad got home.
Then in January, ’74, Mom drove right past our house after school one day, and continued four more hours to the boarding house Grandma was taking care of for Francis Schuckardt, a cult leader in Idaho. As told in Francie’s blog, Mom didn’t tell Dad where we were going – he had to sleuth our location for himself. (For those who are wondering after reading my aunt’s writing, years later I asked Mom why, and through tears she said she felt she was just becoming Dad’s whore.)
At the boarding house I learned what prayer was! Morning, noon, and night, and even in-between! Always praying for something!
The girls at the boarding house doted on us, but it wasn’t enough to break through the barriers the continual changes erected.
Within a couple weeks they decided I should join their school, so we walked a few blocks to the parishioner’s house it was held at. A few days later they changed the school location, so a bus ride was required.
My last real childhood memory is of my first morning at that bus stop. It was a little house that had been converted into a shop to sell religious paraphernalia to the congregation. Shelves of bibles, books about saints, statues, and rosaries permeated the bluish-hued interior. But those didn’t matter, because when they herded me towards the darkness outside, and the bus, I had the biggest conniption fit of my life. I wanted Mom, and didn’t care who heard!
I got my way that day, but gave in the next, and went to their school.
The changes continued, and they quickly decided I was smart enough to be pulled forward a grade. I was told to get off the bus with another kid, and when I entered the new location I saw boys kneeling and praying. I didn’t want to pray that quick, and soon found myself back in the previous class.
Within a week or so of our boarding house arrival, Dad tracked us down. That led to more changes in these changes!
The cult insisted that all interactions between Mom and Dad be chaperoned. Dad insisted on meeting with Mom. And all these ‘insistences’ resulted in raised voices, and anger and fear. Soon, Grandma and the boarders started hiding us from Dad. I remember one time Dad pounded on the door, and they rushed us to the basement and pretended we weren’t there. My heart was in my throat, listening to his footsteps above me, and his shouting as we tried our best to remain quiet!
They took ‘hiding’ to an extreme one day. Getting off the bus at school, me and my two sisters who were in their classes were met by a priest and told to go with him. He took us to a parishioner’s farm outside Coeur d’Alene, where Mom and my two youngest sisters already were. A few weeks later, though, Dad managed to find us again, and we went back to the boarding house.
I don’t remember being rushed to a neighbor’s house during one of Dad’s visits, as Francie wrote, but her tale about Dad abducting Wendy understates the fear of that episode.
My memory is slightly different than Francie’s. I recall there being a potluck, or some get-together occurring to honor a saint or something (Wendy believes it was for St. Patrick’s day), and we were all walking towards it when Dad jumped out of a car. They argued for a few seconds, and Dad grabbed one of Wendy’s arms. Mom grabbed the other, and then screamed a cry as she lost the tug-of-war. All of us went into shock and tears, but somebody managed to herd us into our destination (as we were within a block of it at the time), and then a big escort of ‘brothers’ and priests surrounded us, and rushed us out the back door, to the boarding house, where we began power prayers.
My memory also diverges from Francie’s in the timing – I think we had returned from our farm excursion when Wendy was taken.
About a week later the boarding house was surrounded by cops (or so it seemed – Dad said there was only one car), and Dad got us back. Then the years of being indoctrinated, parents fighting, and figuring things out for myself started.
That experience laid the basis for me to question religion more deeply than most people, which will be the foundation of the next entry.