The life and death of Ralph Barclay Neil (Ralph Neil, Ralph B. Neil, Neil, Ralph), and experiences with one of his sons.
Ken Neil, Ken l Lyle Neil, Ralph Barclay Neil (Ralph Neil, Sue Ellen Neil, Sue Ellen Bender, Ralph B. Neil, Neil, Ralph), Kenneth Lyle Neil, Ray Brown (Raymond C. Brown, Deceased (obituary), Teresa Neil, Teresa Neal, Bimbo Neil, 53 foot Skookum sailboat, SV Spellbound, Ray (Raymond) Brown (deceased), Barbara jo Neil, Barbara Jo Clough, Barbara Jo Brown, Doug Brown, James Neil, Gladys Brown, Carl Brown, Everett Neil, Corrine (Corine) Neil, Russel Neil, Stockholm Syndrome, kidnappers, Mike Bender (San Francisco Attorney)
How important is the subject of estate quarrels to the American public?
Sailing Vessel S/V Sailboat "Spellbound", 53' Skookum
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Sailing Vessel S/V Sailboat "Spellbound", 53' SkookumThis editorial page chronicles a portion of the life, and the death of
Ralph Barclay Neil
(aka "Bimbo") (this nickname did not have the connotation in the 1950's that is does now)
of Tacoma, Washington, his death in 2008 and its bizarre aftermath,
and my experiences with one of his adopted sons,
Kenneth Lyle Neil (Ken Neil)
Sue Ellen Neil / Bender
4409 N. 44th St.
Tacoma, WA 98407
This editorial document contains and includes my opinions:
Ralph Barclay Neil (Ralph Neil, AKA "Bimbo")
Kenneth Lyle Neil (Ken Neil)
(I have NO adult pictures of Ken without a beer in his hand)
Kenneth Lyle Neil (Ken Neil)
Sue Ellen Bender, Sue Ellen Neil
"Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive social contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. Often betrayal is the act of supporting a rival group, or it is a complete break from previously decided upon or presumed norms by one party from the others. Someone who betrays others is commonly called a traitor or betrayer".
Distress (Excerpted from here)
The most immediate effect of the betrayal of trust is in the emotional impact on the person betrayed. Generally speaking, the greater the trust that you had put in the other person and the greater the impact their betrayal has on you, then the greater the distress you will feel.
A number of different emotions may be felt upon realizing you have been betrayed. The most common is anger although, depending on the situation, you might the fear of loss of the relationship and repulsion at the lack of integrity of the other person.
Loss of trust
When you are betrayed by someone, it is highly likely that you will not easily trust them again. Trust is fragile and can be lost instantly or there is a hysterisis whereby a long-earned trust may be eroded and then suddenly lost.
When a person feels that they have been betrayed, they may well seek some form of justice, putting right (at least for them) what they feel has been wronged, including their sensibilities.
So don't get into these situations!! If you betray someone, it is often best to come clean. Accept responsibility for personal failure and personally apologize. Demonstrate how you will fix process failure, and offer compensation.
The alternatives to these recovery actions may cost you much more.
Copyright © 2009 Truth-or-Consequences.com
My Experiences with and Opinions of:
Ken Lyle Neil and Sue Ellen Bender/Neil
of Tacoma, Washington
The weather in Madera, California in July is always hot. On a particular day it was hotter than usual and I'd just walked the few blocks home from watching the big kids fry eggs on the railroad tracks that ran through the middle of town. It really can be done, despite the claims of Myth Busters on TV. I remember they sizzled meekly, but they sizzled nevertheless, and that was technically a fry.
I played around in front of our apartment, a small, modest, ground-floor unit with no air conditioning. Other kids I knew were horsing around up and down the block. Most of them had fathers. I didn't. I didn't know what function a father performed in a family. I knew that some were nice to their sons, and some weren't. At five and a half I didn't give fathers much thought. My mother was all I needed.
My mother had been crying all morning. Her mother had shipped a bunch of family heirloom dishes to her, and nearly all had arrived broken. She was in the kitchen, sobbing and sifting through rattly cartons of broken glass and china. I avoided the area because it was uncomfortable to be around crying. I could still hear her though, softly weeping through the open kitchen window, even from where I played on the sidewalk out in front.
I wish I could remember what I was doing; I can't. I heard a woman's voice that said, "Hi." Before I turned, I remember thinking it was odd to be addressed from such close proximity by someone whose voice I didn't recognize. I turned to see who it was, and was alarmed to see that the woman was standing closer to me than I would expect from a stranger. I didn't recognize her at all, but she was smiling. It seemed to me insincere. I then noticed a tall man standing next to her. He had penetrating blue eyes, and seemed to be leering. He didn't say a word, and he appeared to me to be poised, as if ready to jump and grab me. Alarm bells were going off in my head. I'd been taught to never talk to strangers, and I said as much to these strange people who wouldn't stop staring at me, and I suddenly realized that this man was not only a stranger, but that I was wholly and completely terrified of him. How could I be terrified to the depths of my soul by a man I'd never seen before? I could not have been more scared had I come face to face with a snarling lion on the African plains. I remember the adrenalin rush that coursed through my body. I knew I was in serious trouble for the first time in my life. I realized that I was backing away, my eyes locked on those of this man, waiting for him to spring and strike. He looked evil to me. I thought I should know him from somewhere, but knew I didn't -- still, the need to get away was turning into panic. I wondered how far I should back up before I took a chance and turned to run. Could I outrun them? I only had to cover about twenty five feet to be in the safety of my home. I waited until I had a separation of perhaps ten feet, then bolted for the floppy screen door. I expected to hear sounds of pursuit, but made it to the door and inside without being attacked. I'd been told repeatedly about people who snatched little boys and took them away to someplace they never returned from, and I was glad for that training. My mother had even set me up to walk a short distance through town alone, once, and sent a man-friend to pull up to me in his car and try to tempt me inside. I never wavered, but just kept repeating the mantra aloud, "I am not supposed to talk to strangers." He offered candy, and I remember thinking, "How stupid do you think I am?" After awhile he drove off. I was glad to know that magic phrase really worked. And I knew from then on, too, that strangers really DO try to snatch little boys. It was many years before my mother admitted that she'd set the whole charade up as a test and training exercise.
I reported to my mother that there were people outside who were trying to talk to me. She looked shocked, and told me to run to the bedroom while she went to the door, where the couple was now standing. I did as I was told.
I heard louder sobbing from the living room. Then silence for a time. I wondered if I should hide under the bed. Eventually a neighbor man came into the bedroom and told me to sit on the bed next to him, that he needed to talk to me. I'd seen him around; he seemed nice enough, but I'd never talked to him before. He had a kind face and a gentle manner, and I listened. He told me that I had to go with the people who had tried to talk to me. I began to cry and told him I wouldn't. I could see he understood, but he just kept repeating that there was no other choice. I glommed onto him then, and held to him as tightly as I could, begging him not to make me go with them. The very idea was unthinkable. This simply couldn't be happening. My mother wasn't in the room, but even if she had been, the man was bigger and stronger, and seemed to have a better chance of fighting off these two kidnappers. I begged and sobbed, sure that I could persuade him to protect me. I was shocked over and over, in ever greater degrees, when I finally began to understand that I was not to be saved and would have to go with the terrifying man in our living room. I believe this entire conversation took about 4 minutes. I was told, in the end, that I had a few minutes more to prepare, but then I must go. I recall no mention of who these people were. If it was explained, I didn't hear it.
I was allowed to take one small suitcase -- no toys that I recall, though there may have been a few, and a mangy alley cat named Midnight I'd befriended, at the cost of a case of ringworm. And within ten minutes of facing down the strange man and woman outside, I was loaded into the backseat of their car, and we were moving away from my home. I heard my mother sobbing as we left the house; she did not see me off.
I realized that the entire back of the car was packed with clothes and blankets. Despite the sweltering heat I burrowed down into those blankets until I reached the floor mats of the car, and then I squeezed what body parts would fit under the back of the front seat. Instinct commanded me to hide and hope for the best. My mind was numb. I knew my mother would be rescuing me any minute. I would simply hide down here under all this stuff, and wait.
A car trip from California to Washington in those days took three to five days on old highway 99. There were no freeways. Cars careened along at 50 mph, at least when they could reach that speed between the stoplights that covered the entire 800 mile route. In this case, since the vehicle, a 57 Chevy as I recall, blew a transmission, the trip took much longer. I stayed under the blankets every mile of the way. Occasionally someone slipped food and liquids down to me. On those few occasions when I simply had to stop for a bathroom break, the woman would ask me why I didn't come up from the floor and talk to them. I was amazed every time she asked it -- why in God's name WOULD I? I didn't talk to kidnappers, before OR after being kidnapped! I simply bided my time, tried to not make waves, and waited for rescue. Besides being asked to sit up and talk, and ignoring the question, I don't recall a single other sentence being uttered between them and me. I'd be saved soon enough, and that would be the end of those two.
In due course, late one night, we arrived at a house. I was marched inside and put to bed. I wondered if that was my chance to escape. Surely, my mother was waiting for me somewhere right outside. All I had to do was make it to the door.
But of course I fell asleep, too terrified to move.
In the morning, the moods of the kidnappers were cheery. I wondered why. I had no idea what would happen next, and I remained alert for any chance to get away, or to defend myself. My terror of the man hadn't dissipated. I still feared him deeply on some genetic level, as profoundly as some people fear a snake. He was, to me, far more dangerous than any animal I'd ever seen on cartoons. I had a deathly fear of lions, for instance; this man was lions-times-ten. I had no idea why I felt as I did, but it was a conscious, all-consuming, all-encompassing terror that stayed with me day and night. I flinched at every move he made, even from across the room.
The woman was just a woman like any other. She tried to be nice, but kids know who's sincere and who's not. She wasn't sincere. I didn't fear or hate her, but didn't particularly like her either. After all, she was a kidnapper. How cozy should one BE with a kidnapper?
I was told that day that the man was my father, and the woman was going to be my mother. I scoffed at that one -- I didn't HAVE a father, and never had, and this woman sure as Hell wasn't my mother, nor would she be tomorrow or the next day. They made it clear that I was to be nice to them and treat them with respect. I thought I'd been pretty respectful by staying out of the way on the floor of the car for five or six days. But they meant something different. I was supposed to learn to LIKE them. Fat chance. I didn't compromise myself for kidnappers, no matter how scared I was of them. Popeye wouldn't tolerate this, and I'd cut my teeth on the morality of Popeye, the Lone Ranger, and Superman. Unfortunately they were all bigger, stronger, smarter and tougher than me. I had no idea what to do except wait for something to change.
I was kept mostly in the house for the next while. I waited patiently for my mother to arrive and take me home. I watched for her out the windows. I KNEW she was out there, waiting for her chance to storm the house. Maybe that neighbor guy would help her too. This couldn't possibly go on much longer.
But it did.
I was sometimes allowed to play in the tiny yard. I would go to the extreme boundaries of the grass where it abutted the gravel street in front of the house, and just wait for my mother. I strained to see into every car that drove slowly by. I knew my mother was in one of them, casing the place, and I wanted to be as ready as possible when she made her move. My "father" must have observed this behavior, because he took me aside one day and told me in no uncertain terms that if I ever saw anyone looking at me oddly, to run as fast as I could to him and tell him. He said he'd take care of it then. I remember being confused, because my mother had told me almost the same thing, and look where it had gotten me -- it had done no good whatsoever. So I continued to sit at the edge of the grass and bore into the August sun-glazed windshields of every car that came crunching along the road, waiting for it to slide to a stop and a door to fling open so I could run into my mother's arms and get out of this place. I waited, and waited...and waited. In the meantime, I avoided the man and the woman as much as possible. I was expected to sit politely and silently during meals, to sit politely and silently during TV time, and to sit politely and silently in my room at all other times. When I was allowed outside I paced the perimeter like a caged animal, watching for a means of escape.
Along toward the end of August a car did come by, and slowed down, and a man who looked vaguely familiar stared at me through his side window. My heart leapt. My mother MUST be in the backseat, out of sight, waiting for me to get close to the car so she could open the door. I stood up, looked back at the house, then at the car which had pulled over and was now almost stopped, and I commanded my legs to run. And run they did. But I was perplexed because they weren't taking me toward the car, but away from it. In a few short seconds I found myself in the garage and I heard myself breathlessly blurting out that there was a car out front with a man in it who was staring at me. My "father" bolted out of the garage and ran to the front yard. I don't know what transpired there -- perhaps nothing at all. In a minute he came back to the garage and told me I'd done the right thing. I felt warm -- and cold. And more alone than ever. I felt a tiny, nearly imperceptible twinge of pride for having apparently pleased this man, but I felt loathing, hatred and disgust at myself for committing an act that was wholly against my desires. I hadn't a clue why I'd done that and I wanted to take it back. I had perhaps just then ruined the only chance for escape that would come my way. I felt more hopeless than ever.
Stockholm Syndrome describes the behavior of kidnap victims who, over time, become sympathetic to their captors. The name derives from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of six days of captivity in a bank, several kidnap victims actually resisted rescue attempts, and afterwards refused to testify against their captors.
While some people are suggesting the recent Elizabeth Smart kidnapping sounds like a case of Stockholm Syndrome, the most famous incident in the U.S. involved the kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst. Captured by a radical political group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, Ms. Hearst eventually became an accomplice of the group, taking on an assumed name and assisting them in several bank robberies. After her re-capture, she denounced the group and her involvement.
What causes Stockholm Syndrome? Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defensive mechanism, out of fear of violence. Small acts of kindness by the captor are magnified, since finding perspective in a hostage situation is by definition impossible. Rescue attempts are also seen as a threat, since it's likely the captive would be injured during such attempts.
It's important to note that these symptoms occur under tremendous emotional and often physical duress. The behavior is considered a common survival strategy for victims of interpersonal abuse, and has been observed in battered spouses, abused children, prisoners of war, and concentration camp survivors.
I was introduced to a kid three years my senior, Doug (Dougy) Brown. I was told he was a relative of some sort. --I didn't know, didn't care. What was a relative? Friends of the kidnappers?
Doug Brown extended his friendship to me without reservation in a time of deep duress. I was awkward, shy, scared, extremely introverted, yet Doug Brown took me as his buddy immediately and made my life bearable. Doug was to do things later in life which caused me to remove him from the list of human beings welcome in my home (draft-dodger, drug dealer, you know -- quality human being) and he now spends his days lobbying Ken to not give me a single dollar of my family's modest fortune. And it could be argued that even in those childhood days Doug had some, well, peculiarities, but none of them had meaning to me at the time. He was my friend, perhaps the first one I'd ever had. He was a Godsend, though I doubt he ever knew it, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart today and I always will. Had it not been for Doug, I might not have psychologically survived at all. Toward the end of August I was allowed to go places and play with Doug, and the hard work of waiting for my mother's rescue slipped almost imperceptibly to a less important place in the queue.
The pleasure of meeting Doug was quickly offset by the beginnings of the beatings.
Over the previous weeks it began to occur to me that the honeymoon was indeed nearly over. I began to see the irrational irritability of my father, and I began to fear him more. I agonized over the way he treated "the woman" (I was instructed to call her either 'Mom' or 'Mommy' -- since I already had a 'Mom', I opted for 'Mommy', though I struggled for years not to address her at all but to be creative in finding other ways to get her attention when it was necessary.) I didn't especially like her, but was often appalled at the way she was treated by the man. This made me fear him more, on a deeper, visceral level.
I was increasingly being yelled at for things that I couldn't imagine as being transgressions of any kind. I remember going to sleep one night in my bed, and waking the next morning to find the smashed remains of a pretty little night stand lamp spread across the floor. I hadn't a clue how it had happened; I hadn't heard a sound. I surmised that I might have knocked it with a hand or arm while sleeping, but I had no recollection of it. Not even a ghost of a hint. Certainly the man and the woman would know this and so I didn't fear their wrath. But when it was discovered as I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I was hauled back into the bedroom in my pajamas and scolded for having done it intentionally. I replied that I had NOT done it, at least not to my conscious knowledge, but I was told that I was lying. The story was that I must have been playing with it in the night and carelessly dropped it on the floor. I was adamant that I had not done so, because I absolutely had not, and was promptly informed that I would now be punished for breaking the lamp AND lying. I was asked if I understood that this was necessary. I replied that I did understand, because it seemed like going WITH them might be better than going AGAINST them, even if the latter involved telling the truth. In fact, of course, I didn't understand at all. It was simple logic. If I didn't intentionally or carelessly break the lamp, I shouldn't be punished. It was a simple concept, even to a five and three-quarters year old kid. But punished I was.
I hadn't been physically abused up to that time. My real mother had spanked me, and I knew what that was about. But neither the man nor the woman had hurt me physically to date. I didn't want to be spanked, but was resigned to it. I loathed the illogic and unfairness of it, but was prepared, I thought, to accept it. Yet I was totally unprepared for what was to come.
The man and the woman had, they said, a set of principles that dictated how one should spank. I listened with interest. I was told that I'd be strapped with a belt, but that it would only be on the buttocks. Virtually all beatings were to be administered with pants down, up through age 11 or so. I wasn't keen on the use of the belt and wondered why it might be required, but I was slightly comforted to know that they DID have limits. This was not to be some lashing meted out by Captain Bligh with a cat-o'-nine tails on the back of some scurvy, errant sailor. This was to be a gentleman's deterrent -- never mind that it was utterly bogus in principle, it was still not to be a free-for-all blood-letting event. It was to be carried out with dignity. Except that it wasn't.
The strapping began moderately enough. Then the lashings became more powerful and frenzied. Perhaps I wasn't screaming loudly enough. Before long the buckle had slipped from the spanker's hand (the man and the woman took turns), and the belt flung out full length with the hefty brass buckle whip lashing at the end. A few lashes were administered in this way, then the belt was doubled up again so that the end and the buckle were in hand, and a few more lashing were administered, but inevitably the buckle would slip again, and it would strike anywhere upon my back, legs, even neck and back of the head. After a short time of this I began to fear for my life. This was no ordinary spanking. This was insanity.
When the beating was over I was left in my room alone. I examined my back as best I could in the mirror, and found it was covered with blue and black welts matching the size of the brass buckle. About a third of them seeped plasma where the skin had broken under the impacts. The welts extended from the base of my neck to the backs of my knees. I spent some time in a kind of shock, wondering why this had happened, how it had happened, and with a renewed sense that I needed to find my mother or help her find me. This was not a place I wanted to be, and it was not a place I felt that I deserved to be. I wanted even more badly to escape, and I vowed to accomplish it, one way or another. I was not yet six.
Shortly thereafter I was enrolled in school. Going to school was okay. Going home tied my guts up in knots. Sometimes I cried as I walked the four blocks from school to home.
I'd been saddled with an array of chores, and if any had been improperly done or forgotten, I could be subjected to more beatings. Spankings I understood as logical and fair and just a part of life for a dumb kid who made mistakes. Beatings, I abhorred. I abhorred the irrationality of them as much as the pain. Both the man and the woman often seemed to lapse into a kind of frenzied rage during beatings, becoming angrier with each stroke. I found this disgusting and unintelligent. Going home meant that whatever transgressions had been discovered during the day would lead to beatings with the belt and, unfortunately, its buckle. I didn't mention the beatings to my friend Doug, though I suspect he noticed the fresh welts and old scars over the years. The beatings of course continued, and the man eventually built a rack in the garage which held an array of paddles, sticks, belts and other devices, all of which were designed to maximize pain but minimize scarring and bleeding.
And I watched as the man's treatment of the woman became worse and more violent and vicious. On the average of once or twice a week, something unseen by me would set him off, and he'd charge across the room, grab the woman by whatever means was handy or available, and beat her with fists, feet, steel-toe boots, whatever was handy, and if I was observed in the vicinity he'd drag the woman into the bedroom where the beating would continue for hours, out of sight. One one occasion, during what seemed to me to be a relatively stress-free dinner, something transpired between Ralph and Barbara which set Ralph off and without a word he half stood up from his chair and threw a fork as you'd throw a hunting knife to kill a bear. It stuck in Barbara's forearm, twitched there for a moment, then fell over and the blood began to run. Barbara yelped in surprise, then started to cry. That was her fatal mistake, crying, and Ralph bounded to her, insanely enraged, and dragged her into the bedroom for a long and vocal beating. I was never allowed to leave the border of the yard without permission, so I'd retreat outside to the farthest corners of the property and cover my ears as the wailing continued, and the screams for mercy and cries for help wafted out over the neighborhood. I'd hear thumps and crashes as furniture broke; I'd hear flesh smacking flesh, curses, begging, sobbing, choking, vomiting, yells of pain and screams of despair. Sometimes the beating would continue for hours, far into the night. There might be brief periods of silence, a few minutes at a time, then the cacophony would begin again. When it got too cold to stay outside, I'd sneak back into the house and try to make it to my room unnoticed. Sometimes even that seemed impossible or unwise, so I'd hide in the garage, which wasn't so cold as outside. In the late night the noise would die down, and I'd be able to get to bed. The man was never there next morning, which suited me fine. If the woman emerged from the bedroom at all, she'd be covered with bruises and black eyes and swollen lips and purple slashes across her face, arms, neck and chest. She might be stiff and walking awkwardly. She wouldn't speak, because if she tried she'd cry, but would hobble around the kitchen and try to prepare some food, then would quietly slip back into the bedroom where she might not be seen again until that night, if at all. Often this process was repeated for days, or sometimes only 24 hours, depending on the severity of the beating, before she felt comfortable coming out into the light, her features having healed enough or been covered with makeup sufficiently to no longer be embarrassing to her. I felt for her, because I sustained those exact same beatings. Unfortunately, those beatings were sometimes put upon me at her own hand too, so my empathy for her had its limits. I didn't particularly like the woman, but I saw no reason she should be subjected to the insanity that was being inflicted upon me. It was an outrage, and I often wished I was bigger, so as to effect some degree of sense and honor into the situation. I knew even at that age that it was wrong to hit women. It was wrong to abuse anything or anyone weaker than you. I knew it. It was part of my being. It was in my genetic code, part of my makeup on the cellular level. I protected smaller children all my life. That's how I was wired. You don't hit women. Men. Don't. Hit. Women. They just don't. It was something men didn't do. Not REAL men. Period. It was not negotiable. No one taught me that, that I can recall. It was just the way things were in a civilized world. My world was civilized -- at least the world that existed inside my head. Men. Do. Not. Strike. Women. It should have been one of the Ten Commandments. So why did this man continually, habitually, beat this woman to within an inch of her life? Her beatings were often more severe than mine. When the man's temper explosions occurred, I curled up inside and wanted to vanish from the earth. I tried to pray my way to non-existence. I felt pain in my guts. I wanted to be away from it, no matter what that required or entailed. I wanted to feel anger about it, but was afraid to feel anger lest the man perceive it telepathically and beat me for it that too. I learned early-on that the man's issues were ones of control. Total. Unyielding. Complete. To buck the man's sense of control was to risk, and subsequently endure, his wrath.
Since I was refusing to address either person directly, I had been told repeatedly that I was to begin addressing the woman as Mommy. The man was to be called Daddy. I knew what a Dad was from watching other kids in Madera. This guy, this kidnapper, wasn't a Dad in any sense I'd ever known. But I continued to avoid addressing either the man or the woman in any case for perhaps half a year, because I simply couldn't bring myself to grant either of them that courtesy. They were kidnappers. My Mother was scouring the earth for me. She'd find me eventually. Then these sons of bitches would be sorry. All I need do is bide my time, stay out of trouble as much as possible, and wait. And if the waiting took too long, I'd watch for an opportunity to escape.
I was also told that the man was my "real" father. I had no grasp of that -- none whatsoever. What did that mean? I'd never seen the guy before! How could he be anything to me? I had a Mother, and a Grandmother (my Mother's Mother), and some other people who appeared to be part of my family, way back in California. That's all I needed. Who did these new people think they were, anyway? The man's name, as it turned out, was Ralph Barclay Neil, and the woman, his wife, was named Barbara Her maiden name had been Brown. Now she was Barbara Neil. Later in life she would become Barbara Clough.
It was decided in my first year of school that I ate my dinner too slowly. The man, Ralph, decreed that 22 minutes was plenty of time to consume that meal, and anything over that was an offense. At first I was spanked for running overtime -- One sling of the belt for each minute I was late. I resented that deeply, because I'd been taught to chew my food carefully. I also didn't particularly like the cooking of the woman, Barbara, and so lamented the onset of virtually every meal. Although it was good, nutritious, properly cooked food, it wasn't food I was used to. My plate was piled high. In the beginning (first few years) I wasn't allowed to choose my portions, nor my foods. The woman seemed to accidentally make a cornucopia of dishes I didn't like, yet those dishes too were piled on my plate. I honestly did my best to get through the meals on time. I choked down distasteful dish after distasteful dish as fast as I could manage it. None of it tasted like my mother's cooking. I hadn't particularly liked my grandmother's cooking either, but I liked this far less than that. But I routinely ran 4 to 8 minutes overtime in cleaning my plate -- and it must be CLEAN. Corn cobs, for instance, were carefully inspected to be sure there was no trace of bright yellow, indicating that part of a kernel might have been left behind. Meat bones were painstakingly examined to be sure there was no fat remaining, and NO CARTALEDGE WHATSOEVER. All that must remain of chicken bones were BONES. --Only pure, hard, clean bone. If a trace of any wasted food product was found, even a gram, the item would be returned to me to be properly completed, then re inspected-- and the clocked ticked on.
The timing device used for my meals was a loud windup timer built into the kitchen stove. I became sick to my stomach as I listened to it tick, tick, tick, tick, until finally the bell went off and I jumped spasmodically and began to cry in terror and I was hauled unceremoniously to the bedroom for a beating. I stopped hearing that tick about fifteen years ago, in my mid-forties.
I was punished almost every night for taking too long to eat -- certainly five nights out of seven. The woman made no move to mitigate the punishment. If Ralph had had a particularly hard day at his job as brakeman for the railroad, the task of punishing me would fall to her, and if the screams and pleas from the bedroom didn't sound as though the job were being done properly, she'd be in trouble too.
It was finally decided that 22 minutes wasn't enough time, because there were, in fact, many times when Ralph and/or Barbara took more than 22 minutes to finish, themselves. I was then granted 27 minutes. I completed the task more often then, but still went into overtime once or twice a week. It was then determined that the reason I still ran over my time limit was that I chewed my food too many times. Thence began a formal count of jaw actions by Ralph. He would sit across the table and diligently count the number of times I chewed every bite. He claimed that no bite of food should ever require more than 6 chews, but that since I was only a kid, perhaps I needed 8. When I unconsciously went over 8 chews he would remind me that he was still watching and counting by slamming his open hand down onto the table to wake me up. Drinks would topple, plates would skitter, food would fly, but Barbara dutifully cleaned it up before she, too, brought on his wrath and was marched off to the bedroom to be beaten. Honestly, this did happen quite a number of times at the dinner table -- many dozen, at least, and on those occasions I was left to finish my meal at any leisurely pace I desired. The drawback was, however, that I was not allowed to leave the table without permission, so I would sometimes sit there at the dinner table until I fell asleep, because Ralph was too busy beating Barbara to come out of the bedroom and excuse me.
It was decreed while I was in first grade that underpants could never, ever be too clean, and Ralph instituted an underpants check to be conducted mostly before I went to bed, but at any other random time as well. Out of the clear blue he would announce "underpants check" and I was to come straight to him, no matter what I was doing, no matter who else was in the room, be it his relatives, my friends, or any other visitors, and I was commanded to drop my trousers while he sat and I stood in front of him. He would then pull my underpants partially down and examine them in front; the procedure was then repeated for the back. If all was well I was allowed to continue with my activities. If not, I would suffer his wrath in whatever form he decided it should take on that particular occasion. At the LEAST it required that any visiting friends immediately go home; then it might be a beating, or restriction, or extra chores, depending on his mood and probably his level of intoxication.
Whiskey was his poison. I don't care what anyone says, a child of six does have at least a fledgling sense of personal dignity. It occurred to me that Ralph Neil abhorred, especially, anyone else's sense of dignity. If any individual, child, adult or pet, was "within his imagined sphere of control", he would seek continuously and relentlessly to remove from that person or animal any and all trace of individuality, self-respect, and dignity. He, he must have felt, was the ONLY person worthy of such feelings or thoughts. The humiliation I suffered from the underwear check alone would stay with me the rest of my life. It soured, and grew in my psyche like slowly-chewed whale blubber, and it eventually turned to anger. Here was a loud, explosive, often-drunk, wholly unpleasant man who had literally kidnapped me for no reason that I could ever ascertain in childhood, who had the audacity, the gall, the utter and complete disrespect for my soul to put me through that ritual every single day whether at home or visiting company. Other adults would watch this in disbelief, then look away, and give me a pathetic half smile as I slipped past them, trying to remain unseen long enough to get out of the room. I realized that my dislike for this man was increasing almost daily until by perhaps the age of eight it could not be any more intense or profound.
Honesty and honor were paramount in Ralph's mind and teachings. I thought I understood what honesty and honor were about even at that tender age. I knew that bullies were bad and that I was committed to a lifetime of stopping them. I knew it was profoundly wrong to steal or lie, to hit a woman, to disrespect, really, anyone at all, even if they had disrespected you first. I knew it was wrong to back down from protecting a weaker person from a bully. I knew that hard work, as much as one might dislike it, was necessary in the development of the soul. I could only verbalize some of these things, but I knew them all instinctively. I was angry at myself for not standing up to Ralph when he abused Barbara My guilt level was high.
One night Ralph got me out of bed, put me in the car, and drove downtown to the railroad switching yard. I was cold and nervous and had no idea whatsoever what we were doing there. He parked in a deserted area and turned off the lights, then told me to stay where I was no matter how long it took for him to get back. He then set off into the night. I waited in the darkness and cold for perhaps an hour. When Ralph returned to the car he was weighted down with chains and tools. I had no clue where he'd gotten them or why he was dumping them into the car in the middle of the night, or why I had been required to come with him on this mysterious mission. On the drive home my slow brain finally understood that he had stolen these things from the railroad. It was sometime before I comprehended his statement, though I chewed on it long and hard. It didn't help me resolve the immorality of theft. Since this act didn't seem to fit into the template I had begun to construct in my mind for this man, I dismissed it utterly and didn't think about it again for many years. Stealing was wrong. Ralph was always right. Ralph stole. Ralph was always right. Yet stealing was wrong. This was a conundrum. I couldn't make sense of anything.
I understood in those days that Ralph was angry with me because I wasn't smart enough to comprehend the "right way" of doing things. He was right; I was wrong; that was a given. I resented his methods of punishment and the fact that nothing was ever, ever explained. I was to deduce all I needed to know in life from physical punishment, but I still understood that I was being punished because I was wrong. I continued to strain every minute of every day to figure out how he saw things. In that way I hoped to avoid making more mistakes, and thereby suffering more outrageous punishments. Unfortunately, try as I would, I simply couldn't resolve his teachings into any pattern that could be extrapolated or made sense of. I didn't know HOW to stay off his radar and out of trouble.
Was I a particularly bad kid? I recall committing only one (1) act in my entire childhood which I knew, or at least suspected, might be wrong before and as I was doing it. I was walking to Doug Brown's house one day. In the roadway I happened upon an old, rusted, beat to hell toy truck. Even having seen hard use it was still a cool truck. I looked around; there was a house across the street. Perhaps this truck belonged to someone in that house. I thought about it for several minutes, then conveniently reasoned that if it was in the middle of the road, it MUST have been discarded. So I took it and walked the last 50 feet to Doug's house where we played with it for an hour.
Of course the crime was exposed and I was caught. I was made to return the truck and apologize to the kid's mother, as I should have. Then I waited for the REAL punishment. This was the worst thing I had ever done, and the worst thing I ever would do. I knew it was wrong. It was perhaps the first thing I'd ever done that I knew was wrong before I did it. Every other transgression to date had been absolutely accidental. Therefore, the punishment for this was going to be several magnitudes more harsh than anything I'd been punished for to date, and I had been punished many times to the brink of unconsciousness. I was terrified for my very life.
Curiously, the days turned into weeks, then months, and the incident was never mentioned again. Not ever. To this day I have no clue why. I honestly know of no act or deed that was nearly as bad as that in all my childhood with Ralph and Barbara, yet it went utterly unpunished. This was why it proved impossible for me to comprehend Ralph's basic version of right and wrong. I simply couldn't figure it out. But in all things, deeds and thoughts, it was his way or the highway. Actually, I would have gladly taken the highway. It was, more, his way or a beating, whether you were child, woman or dog. It turned out that Ralph was destined throughout the rest of his life to try and control many people who were resistant to control. We have found records of lawsuits against him or initiated by him in the number of 28 just in one county in one state. He lost them all. Every single one. We know that many more lawsuits were brought against him in other states. We suspect the score there would be the same. Ralph Neil was by God RIGHT. No matter what. If he proclaimed that the earth orbited the moon, then that's how it was and no one, and no amount of hard data to the contrary, would ever, ever convince him otherwise. Courts can be wrong, to be sure. But in Ralph's mind, the courts that unanimously ruled against him were ALWAYS wrong. It's hard to respect a man whose outrageous, obnoxious hubris blinds him to the very reality around him.
I remember an incident in which we had driven the five or eight miles to a particular Richfield gas station on the south side of town. Never mind that we passed two dozen gas stations on the way -- the gas at the Richfield was half a cent cheaper, and besides, Ralph and Barbara thought the folks who ran that station were their friends. They gassed their car on this day, and after paying inside, got back in the car. But they'd forgotten something inside the station and they asked me to run back in and get it off the counter. I did so. And as I entered quietly, I heard the station owner in a loud and animated conversation with the rest of the crew who were gathered around him in one of the bays. "I don't care HOW much gas they buy here, that arrogant son of a bitch thinks he knows every God damned thing about every God damned thing and I don't want him here again. I mean it. I don't want those people coming here again." One of the crew replied, sympathetically, "Yeah, I got ya, I can't take it any more. I've never seen such an asshole in my entire life. I just about run them out of here every time they come in, but I figured I'd get in trouble." The boss answered, "No, you won't get in trouble; I'm telling you now, I don't want them here." Someone looked out the window to see that Ralph and Barbara were still parked outside, and said, "What the hell are they still doing here?!" About that time they all saw me and clammed up. I retrieved whatever it was I was supposed to get and departed like a frightened mouse which, it seems, I was. I was shocked to the core. I knew my own opinion of the kidnapper-man wasn't high, but I'd had no idea that other people thought the same way. I never repeated what I'd heard and as it happens Ralph and Barbara did continue to use that station until they finally went out of business years later. --Amazing what some people will put up with for a buck. I learned later that the station owner had a big family, and all were heavily into professional car racing and had been for generations, and had attained a high level of esteem and respect in the profession. Ralph had driven an old, run-down car in a couple of amateur races, and had been lecturing them on racing's finer points and techniques.
When I was six -- I hadn't been in this predicament very long -- Ralph must have decided that it was time for our little family unit to become just like "Father Knows Best" (a popular TV series at the time that depicted the perfect family), and to that end he orchestrated an evening with TV, Barbara performing some womanly task in an adjacent chair (knitting, perhaps), and Himself in his "Head of Household" armchair. I was asked to sit on his lap while we watched TV, and maybe I could color in a book as well. I was mortified at the prospect, but the Stockholm Syndrome is a powerful force and I did as I was told. He stank of whiskey and tobacco. I was extremely uncomfortable being that close to him for fear I'd accidentally commit some heinous act and would be beaten right there on the spot and I was too old to be sitting on laps anyway. I'd never liked coloring (give me a science book that taught strange facts about the Universe and I was in Heaven), and the evening passed slowly, painfully, and ended early with an underpants check and a forced reciting of my bedtime prayers. The underpants checks continued to, perhaps, age 11 or 12.
Ralph's music of choice was country and western. Nothing wrong with a man having a preference. But no other music was allowed in the house while he was present. He preferred the twangiest, whiniest selections of "Bluegrass", while Barbara's preference was rock and roll, and mine tastes ran to Jazz or even classical. I think both of us, Barbara and myself, found "Bluegrass" to be at least as objectionable as electronically-amplified fingernails on a blackboard. I've never heard any progressions of notes, before or since, even remotely as philosophically simplistic or depressing.
I'd not been in Ralph and Barbara's care long when Ralph's mother, Corrine, decided to grant me audience. She showed up one day and instantly commanded that I should never, ever refer to her as "Grandma", because that made her feel old, and that it might additionally cause me to confuse her with other Grandmothers. She was, she was adamant to insist, unique (Royally so) , and should never, ever be confused with anyone else. Fat chance. Her visit was on my first birthday in captivity, and she presented me with her gift. I unwrapped it politely -- at least I attempted to. I was instantly scolded by "Gram" (her preferred title) because I'd ripped the wrapping paper.
Since coming to live with Ralph and Barbara I'd been constantly bombarded by things that I found utterly illogical and bizarre. My life was like a bloody Alice-in-Wonderland movie. But this was a new height. I thought Gram was joking at first, but her scowl made it clear she wasn't. She took the present from my hands and there ensued a 10 minute lesson in the proper unwrapping of a present. The tape was to be carefully lifted -- providing, of course, that the present had been properly wrapped with the recycling of the gift wrap in mind -- and the paper was to be carefully removed and folded so as not to crease it, because, next year, when the paper was reused, the same box may not be available and the folds in the paper might not fall along the same lines, and any creasing of the paper for storage through the coming year would be unsightly next time the paper was used.
Well, OK then. I knew I'd never confuse Gram with any other Grandma. Gram's entire existence was run on ultra-strict procedures of this type, and she obnoxiously inflicted those principles on anyone who would not physically throw her from the premises. I noticed a curious thing during Gram's unwelcome visits. Ralph was as meek as a lamb, and if he was backed into a situation of having to address her at all, which he seemed to avoid, he quietly addressed her as "Mommy". Later in life Ralph was to relate to me in great detail the trials of his childhood being raised by Gram as a single parent. She was, well, she liked men. She liked men a lot. Ralph claimed that he would come home from school to find a new man in the house or, literally, in her bed, several times per week. Curiously, she was not known to drink, nor to party, nor to carouse, nor to cavort publicly. She held a steady job for her entire life and was ultra responsible in every other way. Her bills were always paid; he house was owned outright and kept neat and proper. She was educated and spoke well, eloquently and properly. She was meticulously and painstakingly moral and forthright and honorable and decent -- except that she slept with a different man several times a week for her entire life. Go figure.
It's safe to say that no one liked Gram. Not even the men she slept with. Because they seldom, if ever, made it two nights in a row.
Ralph lamented later in life that he came home from school as always on his eighteenth birthday, expecting some sort of trivial celebration, at least between himself and his mother, as he had no discernible history of having any peers or friends even in childhood. Instead of finding a blazing birthday cake on the table surrounded by thoughtful gifts, he found his belongings in their entirety packed neatly at the door. He was to vacate the premises immediately. No discussion. No grace period. He was eighteen. He had to go. Now. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Ralph was devastated.
Gram passed away respectfully when I was perhaps 30 years old. She left me some money -- not much, and also some to my young son. And she left every other relative some cash, properties, stocks, bonds, etc., some of which were respectable amounts. But she left Ralph $100 with no explanation whatsoever. Not a word about it in her will. He was perplexed by this, and we talked about it for some time. He simply didn't know why anyone would do anything so mean. It was beyond him. He didn't particularly need the money at the time; it was a matter of principle. He'd been more than good to her all her life -- had even given her a blank check in recent years to go to any car dealer she wished and buy a band new car (she nailed him with something akin to a brand new Caddy with every conceivable option). He asked, merely, why the hundred bucks, but of course never got an answer this side of the grave.
Someone -- perhaps Ralph's mother -- left something of value to one Russell Neil (Ralph's uncle, I believe) which was to be sold with some percentage of the proceeds going to Ralph per a verbal agreement. It wasn't a large amount -- about $1500. But, according to Ralph, Russell claimed he couldn't really afford to give Ralph his prearranged cut, and never did. Ralph angrily lamented this for decades afterward, cursing Russell often in my presence for having screwed him on the deal. It seems Ralph thought Russell had weak morals.
At age eight I was invited into the living room where Ralph had spread out a huge array of important-looking papers and boxes of more papers. He said he was going to explain to me why I was there (living in his house), and how I came to be living with him. I thought this would be interesting; perhaps he would reveal information that could be used in my escape someday. I had absolutely no intention whatsoever of living out my childhood in this manner. It was unthinkable. Ralph sat down on the floor and explained that I was looking at court documents generated in his and my real mother's custody battle over me. Court documents? I had no clue what those were. The gist of the talk however was that he wanted me to know that my mother was The Devil, that she was dishonest, skullduggerous, mean, dangerous, probably a wanted criminal, and was any number of other despicable things. I thought that was strange, because in my experience she hadn't been any of those things and everyone seemed to like her. I was invited to read the documents for myself if I didn't believe him. But I hadn't a clue what the legalese of the court papers said. Nor did I care. My opinion of my mother had long been formed and forged and wasn't about to be changed by a 20 minute talk from a kidnapper. I filed the information away in a dusty corner of my mind and was happy when I was excused. I think Ralph had finally begun to sense that I wasn't happy there, that the friction between myself and Barbara was growing, that I avoided him as a beaten dog avoids a mean master, and this was his one remaining shot at turning that tide. It fell flat. I did ask him where my mother was, and he said he didn't know. I asked if I could see her; he said no. I asked if she had tried to contact me; he said no. I told him I thought she would come for me someday; he said that would never happen. That made me angry. Still, I was beginning to wonder why my mother couldn't be bothered to even send me a birthday card.
Once, however, at about age 7, I DID receive a large box which, I was told, was a present from my mother. It was a plastic lunar space station -- a good toy. I scoured the box for a note. There was none. I scoured the box for a return address. It had been removed. That was the only communication I ever received from my mother, and I gradually came to understand that she cared far, far less for me than I ever dreamed possible. Still I dreamed of and waited for rescue, because I had no other hope.
I spent nearly every waking moment trying to avoid the man's gaze, his notice, his wrath, and tried to endure whatever time was remaining until my rescue. I wanted as little contact with Ralph as possible, because nearly every interaction turned into an unpredictable and explosive bout of rage and violence. Increasingly, I could not find the logic in his tantrums. I couldn't seem to find a pattern, or a code to which to appeal. I just tried to hide. One day it was discovered that I didn't know the meaning of some particular word. I hadn't asked for an explanation, but Ralph decided to educate me. He brought out an unabridged dictionary -- easily a 60 pounder -- and set out to teach me how to look up the word. I didn't really care about the word, of course. It wasn't worth spending more than about 11 seconds of thought or effort on it. Certainly I'd pick it up in school in due course. But Ralph decreed I should learn it then and there and, honestly, that was a good thing if only in intention. He was making an effort to properly raise and educate his son.
He showed me how to look up the word, and in due course we had its meaning right there on the page. Unfortunately, the definition was fully one whole column long. I began to read the explanation, quickly got a sense of what the word meant, and was ready to move on to other things. Gee, that wasn't so bad! But Ralph insisted I read the ENTIRE explanation. I couldn't, because it contained more words that I didn't recognize. --Easily solved, he said. So a tablet and pencil were brought out, and every time I came to a word I didn't know, I was required to write it down on the tablet and then look it up in the same gargantuan dictionary. Each new word, of course, had another definition maybe 100 or 200 or 600 words long, and in that transcript there would inevitably be a dozen or more new words that I didn't know. I was eight years old! Each new word that I didn't know was added to the list on the tablet, and each new word generated a dozen or more new-new words, until I had filled a dozen pages of the tablet with words I didn't know, all of which had to be looked up in order to discern the meaning of one word which was in reality only the meaning of another word which was in reality only the meaning of another word which was in reality --- a bloody effing mess which continued on through the early afternoon, through the late afternoon, through the dinner hour, into the evening, and right up to the moment of bedtime. At bed time I was left with hundreds of words which needed to be looked up tomorrow -- of course I'd forgotten the meaning of the very first word half a day ago -- it was absurd. If 3cc of vitamins is good, two GALLONS isn't necessarily better. My underpants were checked and I was put to bed. This method of self-education is extremely powerful. I strongly recommend it. But not for 7 or 8 year olds, not using a 60 pound unabridged encyclopedic dictionary, and not taken to the Nth degree, which is the degree to which Ralph Neil took absolutely everything. This was Ralph's idea of father and son quality time. It didn't jive with MY idea of father and son quality time. What the Hell WAS the function of a father, anyhow? Did all kids have this much trouble? My friends didn't seem to have nearly this much trouble, and some of them actually appeared to enjoy time with their father. Of those who'd lost their fathers, they missed them. I was perplexed by this.
As I made friends at school I often was invited to visit the homes of other kids. By that time I was shy in the extreme, severely introverted, barely spoke above a whisper, and mostly just tried to hide. I remember a particular occasion at a friend's home which involved several children about my age, and myself, a couple of adults, and a really playful and friendly little dog. All the kids were playing with the dog, who was eating it up. Each kid would run around the room and call the dog, and slap their hands on their knees to entice the dog to come to them. I wanted so badly to get that dog to come to me. I knew how to do it. I need only call his name, and at the same time slap my knees with my open hands, and I'd get a brief but joyful ten seconds of romping with the delightful little dog. I tried and tried for the twenty minutes this went on, to get up the courage to speak out and call the dog, and to slap my knees with my hands, but something told me there would be an instant retribution of some sort, for standing out, for making a sound, for being happy and having fun. So I sat there, stoically, stiff as a board, praying the dog would spontaneously come over to me, WILLING him to do so, until I realized that tears were streaming down my face and I turned away so no one could see. That experience has stayed with me all these decades. At the time I had no idea why I reacted that way. Now I know all too well.
I remember once being in the backyard with several neighborhood kids; Ralph was there in the backyard working on something, with several other adults present, all drinking beer and whiskey. I wanted to tell Ralph something that my Uncle Ray (the hero of all kids thereabouts) had said. I started, "Ray said ---" And got no further. I was grabbed by the front of the shirt and shaken roughly, and told through a drunken slur that uncles were to be referred to as UNCLE (Ray).
A few months later, in the same vein, I wanted to tell Ralph something that I'd heard through a tiny unpowered radio that could sometimes catch a faint station if it was alligator-clipped to any largish piece of metal. I managed to catch some news brief about President Eisenhower. I was eager to try and impress Ralph with my new knowledge and so went over to him and began to relate a one-sentence synopsis of the broadcast, saying, "Mr. Eisenhower just said---" and then I was looking up at the sky as stars swirled in my head. Ralph had backhanded me and I was on the ground, dazed. "You will ALWAYS refer to the President as PRESIDENT EISENHOWER," he yelled, his face nearly purple with rage. He shook his finger at me and walked away. Perhaps I'd been told that before, but forgotten. I didn't forget again.
Next day I began a three day course, administered by Ralph and a carbon copy of the dictionary exercise, in proper flag etiquette and respect for political leaders.
In Third grade I was hit in the temple, out on the playground, with a hardball while playing baseball. When I woke up, I couldn't see except for a fragmented window at the end of a tunnel if I cocked my head just right. Kids and teachers asked if I was ok -- I said I was. I managed to make it home, barely, and spent the next three or four days faking life well enough to get through it. I didn't tell anyone that I couldn't see because I was afraid of being beaten. I simply couldn't figure out any logic or pattern to why I might be beaten, or why I might get a pass. So I did NOTHING that would risk notice. Years later I learned I'd suffered two detached retinas that healed spontaneously, as many such cases will do. Neither Ralph nor Barbara ever knew I'd gone three or four school days, 96% blind. I still remember the terror, not knowing if my brain had been knocked loose and at any instant I might keel over dead.
A year later I was hit by a car while riding a bicycle. I was riding slowly down a sidewalk when a woman, a local schoolteacher, came blasting out of a gas station and t-boned me with her Ford. The bike rolled up under the car but I was knocked clear. I immediately jumped up in front of the car and waved my arms to show the woman I was okay. I didn't want her to worry. She was apologetic. I dragged the carcass of my bike home but never told anyone what had happened except to vaguely suggest that some kids might have stolen it and trashed it. I didn't mention the accident because I was afraid I'd be beaten for it. I had no clue what was an offense and what wasn't.
In third grade a teacher was horsing around on the playground at school and accidentally dropped me -- onto a rock. Both bones in my arm broke cleanly. I begged the nurse not to call Ralph or Barbara, fearing a beating. I didn't know WHY I'd be beaten for breaking my arm, but I seldom knew WHY I was being beaten for anything. I figured I just wouldn't tell them. I could have pulled this off, too, had the bones not needed setting. I was AMAZED when I discovered I wasn't in trouble.
By age eight I consciously realized that I was utterly fascinated and wholly absorbed by anything scientific. I quickly memorized the periodic table and set forth to soak up anything and everything I could learn. I was enthralled. My appetite for scientific knowledge was insatiable. The few, simplistic, low-grade books I could obtain from the library at school were like a drop of water placed on a dry sponge 100 yards by 100 yards in size. I spent every waking moment studying anything and everything, and I saved and spent my allowance on equipment and chemicals obtainable by mail-order. I was invited to demonstrate bizarre and stunning chemical reactions to various classrooms at school. I had my career direction mapped out. I would be a scientist. I was tested in fourth grade and found to be operating at the college level of scientific knowledge. I was nurtured by an amazing grade school teacher named Carl Muhr, though ignored utterly by Ralph and Barbara. Ralph did take notice of my steadily increasing scientific knowledge toward the end of my fourth grade year. He irritably took me aside and explained bluntly and gruffly that I was using words that were "too big" for a kid my age, and in no uncertain terms, he wanted it to stop. I had felt that I was doing something which he might ultimately, someday, be proud of, so this crude put-down was devastating. Perhaps I was becoming precocious, though I have absolutely no memory or awareness of that. Regardless, Ralph's redress, which could have been administrated in a kindly, nurturing way but wasn't, instantly killed all scientific ambitions cold. Stopped it all dead in its tracks in the space of 35 seconds. I never opened another science book, never felt the slightest desire to do so, never missed it, and simply forgot it. Shortly thereafter all of the scientific supplies I'd worked so hard for were thrown out, all books tossed, and that was the complete and total end of that interest in this lifetime. Any and all development in that area was stopped as effectively as a bug being hit by a freight train..
Carl Muhr was a brilliant fourth grade teacher, and did more to enable his students to recognize and grasp opportunities than any other teacher or professor I ever listened to. In fourth grade Carl ignited in me a spiritual desire to write creatively. The first time I recognized any talent in that regard was when Carl posted several random photographs on the classroom wall and the class was instructed to pick one and write a story about it. I did so, and read it aloud later in the week, in a tiny, halting voice, and was so startled at the conclusion of the reading that I actually bolted halfway to the door when the class erupted in applause. For the rest of that year, whenever a creative story assignment was to be read aloud, the class would chant my name and cheer when my name was called to read. I was encouraged by this. I once took a passage I was particularly fond of to Ralph for his opinion -- it was a piece that had been included in a story I'd read for the class which garnered another "A" and the applause of the class. Ralph laughed at it, and advised that I shouldn't bother further with writing stories. I did so anyway, however, and finished out a very pleasant school year.
I was still painfully shy and suffered from an inferiority complex so profound that such has probably never been chronicled in modern psychological science. For instance, every day at recess about half the school would line up at the "ball attendant's" window, which was a half-door in the side of the school building from which hundreds of balls of all types were dispatched to any student who wanted one. Through all my years at that grade school, I had never once asked for a ball, because I knew instinctively that "I" was not allowed to have one. How did I know this? I knew it because I knew I was a substandard human being. I wasn't like ANY of the other kids. I'd been kidnapped. I hadn't fought my way to freedom. I was therefore not entitled. My mother had apparently given up trying to find me. I simply wasn't worthy of being issued a ball. But in probably the last week of fourth grade, after spending four years standing twenty feet from that window and wishing for my own ball more than anything else on earth, I finally summoned the courage to approach the window when no one was looking, and after all the kids had been dispatched their own balls, and I meekly asked the woman if I could have one. Without even hesitating she asked me which one (kind) I wanted. I said I didn't know, so she chose one for me, and asked that I promise to bring it back at the end of recess. I was more than eager to comply. I gratefully took the ball and walked into the mass of kids on the playground, all playing with their own balls, and for the first time in recent memory I felt as though I might someday BELONG somewhere. I was a kid with a ball, just like all the others. My God. It was a bright day in my life. I played with the ball only a few minutes and took it back early so as to not make the ball custodian worry unduly about the ball. But no matter. I had possessed it for a time, it had been given to me freely, and that was enough. I had been given a ball, just like all the other kids. I had been TRUSTED with it and allowed to play with it. I had written things, manufactured from my own mind, that caused other people joy, and I had been allowed to checkout and play with my own ball. The implications were stunning. Perhaps self respect could be attained independent of one's guardians' teachings.
It seems life was determined to take me two steps backward for every step forward. Ralph had decided that I would not be allowed to have a regular haircut like 98% of the kids. I was to have a butch-waxed flat-top. Just like his. I was mortified. I detested the look, and hated it more because it was his idea and his style. I was to wear that style during nearly all my years with Ralph and Barbara, no matter how many times I asked to have hair like my peers. The cut requires frequent waxing to stand up straight (as was proper in Ralph's mind), and so frequent hair inspections ensued for nearly a decade. Was the wax applied properly? Not too much? Not too little? Had the hair been brushed RECENTLY, as in the last hour or two? The hair follicles could never be trained to stand on their own if the hair wasn't brushed straight back many times per day. Ralph would angrily do it for me if he sensed that it hadn't been brushed recently enough. He'd brush it roughly with the stiffest brush he could find, which often made the scalp bleed. Why? I never knew. If there was any evidence that the hair wasn't being properly trained, I'd be angrily remanded to the bathroom to DO IT RIGHT, then another inspection would ensue. My life was full of angry inspections.
As one school year wound down to its last day, all projects that had been taped to the classroom walls were taken down and given to anyone who wanted them; ditto a huge cache of unused paper materials. There was paper by the bloody ream stacked next to the door, and the teacher made sure we all knew it was ours for the taking. The loose sheets were in wastebaskets, and the unopened reams were stacked next to the wastebaskets on a table. Most kids filed out and took a few sheets of this or that, or maybe a ream or two, and I was no different. I took all I could carry, happy at the prospect of having paper to write stories on through the summer. When I arrived home with my booty, Barbara took note of my treasure and promptly reported it to Ralph. Ralph then demanded to know where I'd gotten it, insinuating that I must have stolen it. I replied that the teacher wanted us to take it. This was met with skepticism in the extreme and I was made to feel dirty and dishonest. There ensued a detailed grilling about exactly how this came to be. I was asked to describe EXACTLY where I got it, and I replied that it was all stacked on a table and in a wastebasket which had been placed by the classroom door. And once again I was shocked to discover that the truth had betrayed me. The man checked with the teacher to see if this was true, and of course it was. Ralph then roared that I had been told before to never, ever take anything out of the garbage. Instantly I recalled having been told that, and I offered to take the paper back to the school. Instead, it was confiscated by Ralph and ferreted away, and I was to be informed of my punishment in due course. At least a beating wasn't imminent.
I was placed on restriction for the summer. In addition, I was to dig out a hillside in our backyard which would then be converted to a sandstone wall with a barbecue inset into it. The hill was four feet high, 60 feet across, and 40 feet deep. The soil was rocky and hard-panned. I wasn't heavy enough to break the shovel through the existing sod, so every day Ralph came out and cut the sod for me. I was then to roll up the sod, dispose of it, and commence to digging out the hillside. All removed material was to be sent through a manually operated sifter, by me. By the end of the summer I was fit for the cover of any bodybuilder magazine. In later years I was diagnosed with two compressed vertebrae, almost positively a result of heavy shovel and lifting work at an age when bones are not yet formed or hardened. In addition to this punishment for having removed the paper from the trash, I was to write a creative story every night, of several hundred words. The subject matter was mine to choose. Any and all grammatical or spelling errors in that evening's story would result in an additional hundred words being added to the next night's assignment. Some evenings required 1500 or 2000 words -- too much creativity to vacuum from any little kid's brain. Penmanship was graded as well, which was completely subjective and hinged solely on Ralph's mood and level of intoxication. At first the creative aspects of story writing was barely punishment. After a few weeks it was torture, because I simply ran out of ideas. An imagination, at least mine, cannot be commanded to perform. It must be nurtured and inspired. By the end of the summer I was writing gibberish because I had no creative ideas left. I would then be punished for writing gibberish. It was noticed that I was not writing enough stories to use up all the paper by the end of summer, so math problems were added to the regimen. In that way I used every sheet of every ream that had been given to me by the teacher. Any creative stories I might have written later in life were killed during that summer. Later in life I did make a living writing non-fiction, and continue to do so to this day. But no creative fiction. I simply don't have it in me anymore. I have no fictional stories to tell.
I stayed in touch with that fourth grade teacher, Carl Muhr, and during subsequent school years he invited me to spent time with him at his father's house in Lynden, or at his little trailer near the Bellingham college campus. I felt honored to be invited. Carl was a compassionate visionary who did his best to bring out the the talents and skills in his students. He was also a pedophile. At this young age, and given my almost complete lack of self respect, I don't know where I found the dignity to stop his continued, relentless, obnoxious advances. I did, however, to Carl's chagrin, and for that success I feel either proud, or lucky. I'm not sure which. After the first visit, I had no desire for a repeat, but Carl kept asking Ralph and Barbara for permission to take me, and they eagerly complied. I could never bring myself to tell anyone I didn't want to go, or more specifically, why. I did maintain an occasional, extremely awkward relationship with Carl Muhr for several decades as he became headmaster of Charles Wright Academy. I visited him and tried to broach the subject in a compassionate and understanding way, thinking that heartfelt communication could neutralize the pain for me, and, hopefully, Carl as well. But each time I tried to lead him down that path he rejected and reversed, and I finally gave up and lost track of him in the 1990's. I suppose there are other fourth-graders out there who were not so lucking in warding him off. Perhaps there are many. I am sorry for them.
During this period I began to be aware of people, usually friends of Ralph or Barbara's, taking them aside and informing them that they didn't feel the way Ralph and Barbara were treating me was right. I overheard snippets, and in one case sat while one of Barbara's friends told her point-blank, in no uncertain terms, that if she (Barbara) didn't start treating me more humanely, she (the friend) was going to file complaints with child welfare. This was precipitated by an incident which occurred when I was in the last stages of a nasty flu bug. I was out of bed, but barely, and still couldn't eat or hold it down if I tried. Barbara wanted to go somewhere with her friend who was visiting at that moment. Barbara asked me if it would bother me to go with them, as she couldn't leave me home alone, being sick, and only nine years old. The thought of even getting up from the couch was enough to make me nauseous, but the thought of tagging along on a shopping trip with Barbara and her friend was completely out of the question. I didn't want to rock the boat, but going shopping was something I simply wasn't up to, so I replied, "Yes." Barbara instantly retorted angrily, "Good. Let's go." But her friend had had enough and called her on her behavior, and this type of conversation was repeated by that friend at least several more times in the ensuing years that I was aware of. Regarding that particular incident, I was still taken shopping. I don't believe either Ralph or Barbara modified their treatment of me in any way, ever, as a result of their friends, or, later on, the parents of my friends, talking to them about their behavior. They simply declared those people crazy and continued ever onward..
On a number of occasions I worked up the nerve to tell kid friends that I wasn't supposed to be there with Ralph and Barbara, that I had been kidnapped by them and my mother was looking for me. This elicited sympathy from friends, but no working solution to the problem. Once or twice, as proof of bad treatment, I showed my scars, old or fresh, to friends. This elicited even more sympathy, but no working solution. Once a gym class teacher took note of my back when it was particularly covered with blue and black, oozing welts. I made up an incredible story to cover for the man and the woman, and was incredulous when the coach bought it. The kids in various gym classes through the years, however, weren't fooled. Some extended their sympathies. Some humiliated me. I gave up asking for help, realizing that escape would fall to me, and me alone.
The trouble was, I was a kid. Even if I escaped, I had no money, no food, no place to go or stay. I couldn't get a job, at least not in any developed country. I was too recognizable as being, well, a kid! Over a period of years I slowly gave up on the idea of escape unless it was to be an escape to my mother, and of course I had no idea where she was, and after some years I began to wonder if she wanted me at all, since she had not come to save me, or even gotten a note through to me to say she was sorry all this had happened. I began to admit to myself that she probably did not care. Inquiries to my Grandmother, Hazel, about where my Mother might be brought no answers. She seemed scared to even hear the question, let alone answer it. She always replied that she had no idea where my Mother was, and I accepted that. My Mother was simply gone.
As the years went by and the beatings continued, and I could find no reasonable means or methodology of escape, one thing did enter my head....vaguely at first, then with mounting enthusiasm: Suicide. That was surely an escape. I didn't know where you went when you died, but I knew it wasn't HERE and that was my only requirement at the time. I began to think about it, and eventually to accept it as a possibility, and then to begin to implement it as an action. I procured a knife somewhere, and began experimenting with it to see how much dying would hurt. I figured that simply sticking it into one's stomach was all that was required. On TV that was the accepted procedure to bring about death. You stuck a knife into someone's stomach. They experienced some pain for a few seconds, maybe yelled out something like, "AAAAHHHHH', then fell over dead. The dead part was ok. But I couldn't figure out how to get through the painful few seconds without it hurting too much. I knew I could endure a goodly amount of pain because I had endured the beatings. At first I had screamed and wailed when beaten, but increasingly I had found a way to turn myself off during those sessions, and could actually transport my consciousness to another place where life wasn't so bad. I didn't feel the strap or the buckle on my back at all. When I realized it was over, I would simply come back, get up, and leave the room. This particularly enraged Barbara who, I began to realize, obtained some odd, perverted pleasure from making me scream and writhe. In later years it has been suggested to me that she was subconsciously passing her pain on to me. In any case, I thought perhaps I could lapse into that light trance-like state and thereby avoid the pain of killing myself by stabbing. I tried it numerous times over several years, but it seemed I couldn't attain the trance and still be conscious enough to do the stabbing. I ended up with scars all over my stomach where I botched the procedure. Finally I decided to simply tough out the few seconds of pain before dying, and my experimental stabs became more pronounced. But it simply hurt too much. It hurt more than the beatings, and there was considerably more blood than the beatings produced. I realized then that perhaps I was a coward when it came to dying, and I was disgusted at myself for that shortcoming, and I vowed to find another avenue of escape.
This brought me to the conclusion of running away to Australia. I researched the place for the next few years, and, indeed, it almost seemed like the kind of place where a kid could lose himself, and maybe find work on a sheep ranch or some such. Australia began to look pretty darned good. There was only one catch: The current airfare, one way, was a whopping $587; I remember it exactly to this day. It was a sum vastly beyond my means. Never mind that an eight, nine or ten year old kid would never have been let on the plane alone to a foreign country with no passport. The price alone was prohibitive. With no escape on the horizon, and now not even a workable plan with which to occupy myself, I began to get angry.
Ralph's father was a priceless human being. His name was Everett, and he married a great woman, a nurse, named Marie. His marriage to Ralph's biological mother, the infamous Gram, had ended early and badly, probably as a result of her copious indiscretions. Everett was a man who would never have stood for even the hint of such nonsense. Everett worked at several occupations, but for many years as an electrical engineer at Grand Coulee Dam. His coworkers told us that when one of the trouble-lines rang in the bowels of the dam where the turbines were, and where Everett had his desk, he could almost always tell them what the problem was, and where, before he picked up the phone. He was legendary in that capacity. He invented components of photography equipment that's still in use today, and was also a brilliant investor who socked away a small fortune in real estate and investments to be passed on down the family line and, Ralph told me often, to me. I spent some happy summer times with Marie and Everett, or just Marie when Everett was working out of town, and loved them both dearly. They were both kind, highly intelligent, scientifically oriented, even tempered, helpful, compassionate, loving and sober. I would have given anything to have been raised by them. I preferred to visit Everett and Marie by myself, because whenever we went as a family, the day or evening would usually end badly. Ralph really didn't like his father, and was open about it. It seemed that everything his father did grated on Ralph to such an extent that after a few hours (and a couple of drinks) Ralph would erupt into some sort of tantrum and we would depart quickly. Everett didn't drink except lightly, socially, nor did Marie drink at all, and I began to form the notion that I preferred the company of non-drinkers, and was usually scared, embarrassed, angered or all of the above in the company of drinkers and drunks. The pattern was becoming clearer to me as I grew.
When I was eight Ralph and Barbara decided they wanted to adopt more children. I place an exclamation point inside a set of parenthesis thus: (!). God knows why or how they came to this decision. To that end, however, they began contacting adoption agencies. The vetting to adopt a child in that era was at least as stringent as today, and interview after interview was required to even begin the process. During these meetings I was dressed in a little suit and expected to sit stiffly in a chair without moving or speaking, presumably as an example of what good parents Ralph and Barbara thought themselves to be. After a number of these interviews had failed to produce the desired results (a child), I remember one last meeting which ended oddly and uncomfortably. I sat and listened as a woman interviewed Ralph and Barbara, asking the usual questions. Toward the end of the interview it seemed to me the agency representative was becoming rather miffed at something; I didn't know what. Finally she snapped closed her notebook and politely if tersely departed. I was released to go play. Over the next weeks, months, and, indeed, years, someone engaged in a comprehensive, unrelenting regimen of harassment against Ralph and Barbara At the time I only caught bits and pieces of the problem, barely enough to flesh out what was going on. Years later I talked to Ralph about it extensively, and he admitted that one agency, after interviewing them, had taken vehement objection to their EVER adopting children and, indeed, suggested that I be put in a foster home immediately as well. She had expounded on her notion that neither Ralph nor Barbara were fit to have so much as a pet Beagle or a Goldfish, let alone a living human child. Barbara, of course, was barren, and I have no doubt that was God's will. Ralph and Barbara, however, smartly circumvented the good sense of the adoption agencies and made a deal to adopt a newborn baby boy through a local doctor, thus completely circumventing the vetting process. They named him Kenneth Lyle Neil. They brought him home directly from the hospital, and I was eventually allowed to view him in his little bassinet in the bedroom.
I don't know what happened that day. I had no particular thoughts or opinions about a baby coming into the house. But as I gazed upon Ken lying there, I was instantly consumed with a profound sense of love for him. I've experienced that only one other time in life, at the birth of my own son. I loved Ken at that moment absolutely and fully and wholly without reservation. We were brothers. We became brothers at that moment in every possible context. We could never NOT be brothers. I was amazed and stunned at the intensity of the emotion. It was the first GOOD and WHOLESOME emotion of any magnitude that I had probably ever felt. I was ten.
When Ken was three he walked off the five-foot-high deck of a semi-trailer. --Just walked right off it as though it was a diving board with soft, cool water underneath. But there were concrete slabs instead. He landed on his forehead, creating a knot that I didn't believe any human being could survive. We were up all night with him, phoning in hourly reports to the doctor. I made a thousand deals with God that night, offering my life for Ken's, my soul for Ken's, my happiness for Ken's. One of those deals must have been accepted, because Ken survived. At the age of ten it seems I'd experienced the heartache and fear that any parent endures when the life of a child is threatened. I'd never experienced anything like it, and have only felt that gut-gnawing panic once or twice since.
Barbara seemed to revel in drama. When things weren't dramatic, she was bored. She didn't thrive on good drama either; she needed strife and upset and anger and conflict and trouble. If she could include me in that drama, so much the better. I remember Ralph had taken a small wood-burning kit out of the garage and placed it on the fireplace mantle. I noticed it there, took a look at it, figured he was going to do something with it, couldn't imagine what good it would be for anything, and forgot about it. A few weeks later I didn't see it there anymore. A few weeks after that Ralph cornered me and made a nasty comment about how he didn't like thieves. I just looked at him uncomprehending, bracing myself for yet another illogical tantrum and possibly a beating. He said, "I see you've already packed my wood-burning kit off to your room. You might as well keep it now. I sure as hell don't want it." I knew instantly what had happened. Barbara had placed it there. I cursed her silently and never mentioned it to anyone. She never knew I knew.
I remember an incident right around this time in which Ralph blew up the engine in our only family car -- a Chevy Corvair. By his own admission he had merely wanted to keep another car from passing him while climbing Snoqualmie Pass, so he pushed his aging vehicle so hard that he blew up the engine. RALPH was, by God, IN CONTROL......of all things and beings, and if he felt that control slipping, he would, well, blow up his own engine to show you what was what.
Life bumbled on. We moved to a new house several miles away. That left all of my neighborhood friends a two or three mile walk away. I had many chores to perform at home, including the mowing of the lawn and weeding of Barbara's many gardens. It seemed she loved beautiful gardens, but never really took to the work of maintaining them. She had worked at a real job with the phone company only very briefly before she met Ralph, but had otherwise never worked at any occupation, not even as a volunteer.
I didn't particularly like the work required of gardens either, and since I didn't want the infernal things myself, I especially didn't like weeding them. But I also suffered from allergies. Anytime pollens were stirred up my eyes would swell, itch, water; it became hard to breath and I'd rasp and suck for air. I sneezed uncontrollably, sometimes 30 or 50 times in a row until I was reduced to a slobbering mass of gelatin on the ground. Any vegetation that contacted my bare skin left red welts like nettles would. I had bloody noses many times per day throughout every summer. This was all seen to be psychosomatic by both Ralph and Barbara, and my responsibilities in the garden and on the half acre lawn were increased as a means of getting me over this imagined condition. Some of the most miserable days in all of my memories were spent hunched over Barbara's gardens trying to see through eyes nearly swollen shut, trying to grasp a few weeds between sneezes, and trying to overcome that peculiar panic then ensues when you first realize you're not getting enough air through a swollen trachea to sustain consciousness. That fear often lets loose a good dose of adrenalin, which in turn acts like a hit of epinephrine (used to treat anaphylactic shock). The blood vessels and airways then open a little and the symptoms are reduced for a short time. Working in those gardens was Hell.
When I was through with the gardens for the day I was sometimes allowed to go visit friends. I'd walk the two or three miles to visit someone, but often arrived to find that a message from Ralph or Barbara was waiting for me. The message was that I had missed a weed -- often just a single weed -- and that I must instantly and immediately get home and correct the oversight. I was timed, and if I took too long getting home, I could be beaten or placed on restriction. The timing of such things wasn't fuzzy -- it was exact. Five or ten seconds beyond the time limit was considered a full-blown transgression; that was true of all things in which a time limit was imposed. I am today the most punctual person, bar-none, I have ever known. Parents of my friends often apologized and expressed their disgust for such treatment, but, by and large, they were powerless to stop it. I'd be called home for a bed that wasn't properly made (military specs were strictly enforced), or for a speck of food that might be found on a dish I had washed the night before after dinner, or for shoes, Ralph's or mine, that hadn't passed Ralph's meticulous inspection after I'd shined them. I was probably allowed to stay and play with friends in 50% of cases. In the other 50% I was called home for some insanely nit-picky transgression, and I grew angrier yet, as did the parents of my friends.
Later in adult life I worked many years as a commercial hard-hat diver, raising shipwrecks for insurance companies and performing rescue and recovery work. I maintained commercial diving columns in several national monthly publications and was paid as much as five dollars a word for special works for the likes of Nautical Quarterly. During the summers, while thus employed, my imagined allergies caused me no end of grief. I rigged my bedroom with a powerful, industrial-grade HEPA filter through which every molecule in the room had to enter. I hermetically sealed the room, shampooed the carpet then processed it again with distilled water to remove the soaps, changed out every bit of fabric including curtains and bedding, and thereby, I thought, guaranteed that not one damned pollen spore could enter that room without being trapped in the filter. I anticipated great success, and hoped for the first time to get one full night's sleep, symptom-free. Unfortunately I found no relief whatsoever in this elaborate scheme. I did discover though, that I could drive down to our company tug on particularly bothersome days, and slip on a hard hat. The air to the hats was highly filtered, and within about 20 minutes I began to experience significant relief from my allergies. Trouble was, it was too damned hot to sit out on the towing deck with a 10 pound helmet on my head. So I usually slipped into a suit, then dawned the hat, then slipped over the side. I'd just sit on the bottom of the marina and watch the boats come and go, listen to music and daydream, and in that way I got a very significant reduction in symptoms for as long as I cared to sit down there -- usually a few hours at a time. It was heaven. Kind of lonely -- but pleasant nevertheless.
By 1979 this became irksome, however, and I finally went to a local allergist to be tested and, hopefully treated.
The allergist will generally mark a number of spots on a forearm, label each with something like the words "trees", "grasses", etc., and will then proceed to inject a tiny sample of each substance under the skin, to see if the tiny injection site will become red and inflamed. You might expect a strong and notable reaction to be the size of half a BB. The more inflammation observed, the more pronounced the allergy to that particular substance, be it grasses or trees or any other of the 27 injections that were planned for my arm. I was cautioned that if I had been taking and antihistamines in recent days, I probably wouldn't see any reaction at all, and the entire test would be a waste of time. I consumed antihistamines by the bloody pound every summer, so it was doubtful that we'd get a reaction and thereby a handle on what was causing all this distress, but I said I understood and agreed to go ahead with testing anyway.
The doctor administered three of the twenty seven skin-pricks and was preparing a fourth. But the first three had already shown spectacular swelling and redness, so it was deemed unnecessary to continue for the time being. I was loaded up with steroids and sent on my way, scheduled to return in the fall for the beginning of my treatment. I managed to get half a mile away before I realized I could no longer see -- my eyes were swelling closed. My arm had swelled such that I could no longer make a fist. By the time I made it back to the doctor's office I was crawling and wheezing. The nurse took one look and exclaimed, "Oh my God!", which scared me all the more. She slammed open a door where the doctor was examining a new patient. He took a look through the door, literally shoved the patient off the examining table, and swept the counter clean of everything in one motion. I was placed on the table and that's where my memory becomes hazy. I stopped breathing three times and was run through the epinephrine treatment IV three times. After being stabilized I was carted of to the hospital for a stay. Universities and research labs hounded me for years after that, wanting to experiment on me. I declined. But Ralph and Barbara had proclaimed throughout my entire childhood that my allergies were imaginary, and never once had me tested or sought relief. These people simply were not meant to have children.
But have children they did. Two years after taking delivery of Ken, they adopted again through a doctor, a little boy named Jim.
By this time I was becoming more and more firm in my resolve to leave. I managed to spend three years enjoying Ken however, and I would not have traded that for anything. He was cold nearly every morning, and he would get up and get into bed with me. Sometimes I'd read him stories. I preferred to think that he came to me because he liked me, and not only because he was cold. I noticed that Ralph and Barbara treated Ken differently. Not particularly nice -- but not criminally mean, either. I thought about this from time to time, but saw it only as a good thing that neither Ken nor Jim were being treated as I had been. I wanted to protect Ken from Ralph and Barbara, but also knew that I wasn't old enough or strong enough to do so. Though I remember an incident when Ken was perhaps a month old: Barbara was bathing him in a rubber tub that hung on an aluminum frame, about waist height. He was on his back and I was watching. Ken's head slipped off the small strap that was designed to hold it up. Barbara didn't notice. I'm not sure to this day how she could not have noticed, since he was lying on his back and she was bathing his chest, but she left his little head just hanging there, completely submerged under water. Obviously this wasn't good or right, but I was afraid to point it out for fear of being yelled at or beaten. I watched as he blew bubbles through his nose and mouth, and then began to struggle slightly; then the bubbles and struggling stopped, and I finally gathered the nerve to point out the problem. Barbara yelped and immediately grabbed his head and pulled it up. Ken choked and gagged but finally recovered. I know beyond all doubt that had I not pointed out the problem to Barbara, Ken would have drowned in that tub at that moment on that day. To this day I don't know why Barbara didn't take action on her own. It is a complete and total mystery to me and always will be. My low level of respect for her was reduced to near zero.
I realized one day that my stomach hurt. That seemed odd. What reason would my stomach have for hurting? I hadn't eaten anything questionable that I could recall. I started trying to remember how long it had been hurting. Yesterday? Yes. The day before? Yes, then too. A year ago? Yes! As far back as I could remember? Yes! Yes! I remember that it hurt particularly badly that night waiting in the car for Ralph to come back with his load of stolen railroad booty. In fact, my stomach almost never didn't hurt. This was my first conscious knowledge of a physical condition that seemed possibly related to living with Ralph and Barbara
Ralph's father, Everett, died around this time. Years later I found Everett's funeral documents, and many attendees were listed -- except Ralph. It seems odd that he would not have attended, and perhaps he did, but there's no record of him having been there. Ralph had not spoken to his father for some time prior to his death, except for brief periods at his deathbed, and Ralph stated frequently that he felt nothing whatsoever at the loss of his father. I found that odd, distasteful and disrespectful. Everett left much to Ralph in his clear, neat and orderly Will, and the rest to Marie. It was agreed in the will that whatever funds Marie didn't use in the remainder of her life was to go to Ralph or, if Ralph wasn't available, would go to me, Ken and Jim. Ralph received in stocks, securities, cash and real estate, about 1.5 million. I wonder if Barbara ever knew the full extent of this.
Over the next years Ralph squandered most of it. He funded business enterprises that were guaranteed to fail. He bought property that sold, 25 years later, at exactly his purchase price or even slightly below. He bought an expensive boat which I had procured for him, called the "Spellbound", a beautiful, strong, classic 53' vessel built by Skookum Marine in Port Townsend. I joked that I should have charged him a finder's fee. He didn't laugh in response.
Ralph had been left a lovely corn farm and sheep ranch by his father. Ralph didn't want to pay $3000 in taxes against it several years later, so he signed it over, lock, stock and barrel, to his then-girlfriend, a woman named Barbara George. This was to hide it from the IRS for a few months, the verbal agreement being that she would sign it back to him when he asked. He then promptly went out and cheated on her. She decided to keep it, lock, stock and barrel, always justifying this decision by saying that she had put it into trust for the kids (Ken, Jim and I). But of course it all vanished, never to be seen again. We all view her then and now as a common thief. I would personally shoot her before I allowed her access to my home. She invited me to visit her once, years after that, but I frankly feared for my wallet and declined.
Ralph invested a great deal in the stock market, but where his father had been a genius, Ralph was a ham-fisted oaf, and the fortune dwindled even more, year after year after year.
When I was thirteen I was in the bedroom being beaten by Barbara for one transgression or another. The humiliation of having my pants pulled down and strapped until she was too out of breath to continue (fortunately she was a hefty and not-athletic woman -- she was once bitten by what appeared to be a rattlesnake in a lava hole at Craters of the Moon National Monument, but didn't suffer any particular effects), had worn me to the point of snapping. And I did. I suddenly turned on her and reared back with my fist. I didn't care what happened, I would not, ever again, allow myself to be subjected to that insanity. I almost let loose and knocked her teeth down her throat, but in her eyes I could see that she had gotten the point, and I backed off. If I'd have struck her, I knew I'd also have to fight Ralph, and I knew I couldn't win. I was afraid that if either of them ever struck me again I would try to kill them with my bare hands or die trying. I had reached the breaking point. It was clearly delineated. It wasn't a gray or fuzzy area. I'd bloody-well had enough.
I immediately put the word out to friends that I was going to run away. I didn't know where, didn't care. Australia, maybe. I started trying to sell what few possessions I owned, but nothing was worth more than a few dollars, and my friends had no money anyway. I'd been working for one of Ralph's illogical drinking buddies, a guy named Art Shacklett, washing parts in a shop for a dollar an hour, and had about a hundred bucks saved up from that (I know of not one non-drinking friend Ralph ever had, because sober people simply could not and would not abide him). But that wasn't nearly enough for a ticket to Australia, or anywhere else. To my amazement, however, friends started coming to me with rather significant amounts of cash. When queried as to the source, one and all admitted their parents had given it to them to give to me. I spoke with a number of those parents, and all related that they were also sick of the way I'd been treated for years, and wanted to help me get away. In this way I put together about $600 in just a few days.
Still, I didn't know WHERE to go. Or what to do when I got there. I called my maternal grandmother, told her that I couldn't take one more day of Ralph or Barbara, and asked what I should do. She immediately blurted out that she knew where my mother was, had always known, and had for years waited for this day. She emptied her change cache and gave me another $180. I boarded a United flight that night out of Seattle, bound for Denver. I was met at the airport by my sobbing mother, and her four children, who'd been fathered by the man who had tried to calm me on the very day of my abduction. His name was John Hart.
In much later years, in the late 1990's, I embarked upon a mission to look up old school friends, and I located two of the families whose parents had contributed money to my escape. I thanked them from the bottom of my heart. One eighty year old man who'd contributed, became watery-eyed at the memory. I thank them now, again, from the bottom of my heart. They showed me a kindness that has never been repeated since. They were good and strong and moral people who took a chance and truly helped someone. Thank you.
Life with my biological mother, Jeanne Hart, was bliss. She had four kids of her own, two boys and two girls. Her husband, John, was the kindest, most compassionate man I'd ever met. It was the Brady Bunch in every way. They lived in a nice home, had nice friends, and welcomed me with open arms. I was hesitant to commit to my mother, because I still didn't understand why she never came to rescue me. I tried to talk to her about it, but she would only say that Ralph had won a custody battle, and she had no recourse. I accepted that. Sort of. I still wondered privately why she hadn't at least kept in touch, but never asked. I gloried in the fact that my stomach no longer hurt.
Ralph discovered where I'd gone and wasted no time writing long, cruel, rambling, anal-retentive letters to Jeanne, describing me as the most worthless child on God's Green Earth. Disgusted, Jeanne threw them away. I attended school in Denver, but never learned to appreciate the weather. I spent two good years there and became fast friends with my new step father, John. We played ping pong every night; he taught me to drive. He was a piano teacher with a home-based studio, and he played every Sunday for a huge church downtown -- had even cut a couple of records. I was doing well in school and was trying to think ahead with career plans. Ralph had given up trying to cause grief and that was fine with everyone. One afternoon John called me into his and Jeanne's bedroom and asked very politely if he could have sex with me. I declined.
It came out in short order that he had been molesting his two sons almost from birth. Never the girls -- only the sons, who were now in their teens. My relationship with John was destroyed and I avoided him in the house. Shortly thereafter Jeanne and John had an all-out drunken brawl. It seems Jeanne was in reality a raging alcoholic and had been hiding it for my benefit. But the dam finally burst and I was given an unwelcome glimpse into the ugly center of her soul. A few days later I decided to leave. I made her aware of John's behavior, but quickly learned she'd been aware of it for years. I owned a decrepit motorcycle that I'd paid for with my own money from working at Elitch Gardens, except that I wasn't old enough to put the title in my name. Jeanne had been holding it. As I was packing to go that day she approached me in the driveway, barely able to stand, stinking of beer, and informed me that the motorcycle I'd worked so hard for wasn't mine; it was, in reality, hers, and she produced the title bearing her name. I didn't care. The thing would probably only run a hundred miles anyway -- just far enough to remove me from this particular insanity. The bike was idling, so Jeanne climbed on it and informed me that since it was hers, she could do anything she wanted with it. And with that, she revved it up and tried to jam it into gear. At a high RPM it wouldn't engage without first disengaging the clutch, and so she sat there with the throttle wide open, holding the shift lever down with her foot, until all the teeth were ground off the gears and the engine overheated and finally seized. Then she signed her name off on the title and threw it down and staggered back into the house. Drunks. I was increasingly weary of them, no matter how closely related.
A friend helped me truck the bike to a local auto shyster, and I traded the remains of the bike for a 1950 Ford that was in nearly as bad shape. At least it ran. I got a job in Denver and hung around a few weeks, but living downtown I had no friends and my car wouldn't make it to my old neighborhood. I wasn't making enough to sustain myself anyway, so I sold the car and went on walkabout.
For the next few years I simply traveled. It was the 1960's; it was easy to live and easy to roam. I threw out everything I'd ever learned from any adult and tried to establish a new set of rules for myself. I decided that I believed in the concept of honor, forthrightness, decency, truth and in being a stand-up human being. From that time on I've mostly succeeded and I'm happy with the person I have become. I spent years pondering Ralph's version of morality. He'd clearly been stealing and pilfering from the railroad for a decade or more, justifying it by some thread of logic unknowable to me.
I came to the conclusion that stealing was wrong. There was NO justification for it, real or imagined. If a man steals a hundred bucks from you, and you track him down and turn him upside down and a thousand dollars falls out of his pockets, some people who believe themselves to be "moral" beings would say that it is right and correct to take the thousand. I rejected that teaching by Ralph, and concluded that it was, instead, morally correct to take only the hundred you'd lost -- and perhaps a few bucks expended on gas in the drive to find the crook..
When I was eighteen or so I traveled back to Washington and decided to stop and see Ralph and Barbara I was far beyond their control by this time, and didn't fear them except secretly. I hitched a ride right to their house, the same house I'd run away from years before. I'd been traveling, but I was not into the hippy culture, and didn't act or look like one. But my hair was on the long side because I simply didn't have the money for regular haircuts. I thanked my ride and jumped out, shouldering my pack. Ralph was talking to a friend at the end of his driveway, and one of my old school friends happened to drive by at that exact moment, and stopped to say hello. Just then Ralph looked up and saw me. I walked toward him and extended my hand. He was drunk, of course. Ralph reared back and gave me that same damned leer that had so terrified me on the sidewalk in Madera California when I was five, and said, "Take one more step and I'll cut your hair."
Same old son of a bitch.
I turned on my heel and retreated to an extreme wilderness area of northern Canada (450 miles from my cabin to the nearest road) where I enjoyed the next years learning even more about honorable ways of life and about what it meant to be and live as a "decent human being".
My subconscious must have puzzled through that incident for decades, because I eventually had an epiphany -- Ralph's bizarre over-reaction to my medium-length hair was because he deeply resented the fact that he could no longer CONTROL me in that regard, even though I'd been out of his life for many years. He was rendered almost apoplectic that I had "disobeyed" him, and my hair style no longer matched his.
I married in Canada, and then found that I could no longer stay there. Even though I'd married a Canadian girl, I didn't have enough points to immigrate. I found myself, much to my intense chagrin, back in Washington state. I had hoped never to leave the northern woods because they were peaceful and quiet and so were the people. I remember an incident in which a young man had been granted shelter in an old barn in a wilderness village. During the night stole eight bucks from the purse of a girl who'd also been allowed to stay there. The village tarred and feathered him and ran him off into the night as I watched. I understood their actions.
Back in the US I made another attempt to reintroduce myself to Ralph, and this time it was successful. My wife and I frequently baby-sat Ken and Jim, and actually enjoyed Barbara's company for a time. One afternoon Ken and Jim and myself and my wife were in the living room doing something. Ralph was at the kitchen table eating. Barbara was walking from the kitchen to the living room as I recall. There was stress between them. And as always it erupted. Ralph bellowed something and threw a knife at Barbara's head. It missed barely, then barely missed Ken's face, then lodged in the far wall of the living room, sinking into the plasterboard. Same old Ralph.
It was around this time, too, that, unbeknownst to me until years later, Ralph had asked Jim if he'd been smoking cigarettes. Jim foolishly replied no. And Ralph beat him to within an inch of his life, literally. Back in school, a teacher noticed Jim's wounds and forced Jim to 'fess up, even though he tried to protect Ralph initially. The police were called and Ralph was investigated, but apparently never charged. He didn't speak to Jim again for most of the rest of his short life, always blaming Jim for his trouble with the law..
Did Ralph B. Neil have any redeeming qualities? He must have had some, right?
Ralph was a fair to middlin' mechanic. Not a master, not even remotely as good as he thought he was, but passable, and he had an uncanny knack of understanding the workings of machinery. He was a passable truck driver. He was not a great truck driver. He had innumerable wrecks, most being his fault. He was fired several times from truck driving jobs for being rough on the equipment. He was fired several times for having trouble with his co-worker. He was beat up numerous times for having trouble with his co-worker. --Oops. I was supposed to be listing Ralph's qualities. He was perhaps the hardest working man I've ever known. Even into his seventies, he could seemingly effortlessly drive all day and night without breaks or naps. At his destination he would manually load or unload his trailers, stacking up evenly against 25 year old professional laborers, if not in raw strength, at least in stamina and endurance. Curiously, he never seemed to boast of his endurance, though that may have been his greatest strength. Curiously, he boasted obnoxiously and copiously of his skill as a truck driver. I used to believe him -- then I drove truck myself and became the driving examiner for my company, and realized he was only average.
He had no lasting friends that I know of. But he exhibited to me two instances of compassion, almost reaching the level of love, and I've remembered them both all these years. The first involved my mortal fear of water up to age 7 or 8. It was illogical, unreasoning, embarrassing, and really pretty damned irritating for just about anyone involved, including myself. I never knew where the fear came from, and quizzed my mother at length in later years to ascertain if I'd endured some terrific trauma having to do with water. Everyone drew a blank. I was left to conclude that in some previous life I'd drowned; that seemed about as logical as any other speculation. I didn't mind getting in water up to my shoulders. Beyond that, forget it. I'd make a fool of myself to avoid it. I've never even read of a case so severe. It was completely absurd. We went to a local lake often in the summers, and I was goaded and pushed and driven to put my head in the water. Barbara was especially nasty and cruel in this regard. She simply could not, would not accept that I was afraid of the water. One day at Wapato Lake she decided I would, by God, submerge my head. I didn't trust these people anyway (Ralph and Barbara); they were kidnappers, after all. It was, in my mind, only a short stretch from kidnapping to murder, and so I was triply terrified when Barbara forced me into the water in the public swimming area and began trying to brutally shove my head under with all of her strength and weight, both of which were formidable. I screamed, thrashed, begged for my life, and made an ugly spectacle of the entire proceeding. After several minutes and several complaints by bystanders, and after several increasingly stronger admonitions by the lifeguard, the lifeguard had had enough and dismounted from his platform and physically removed Barbara's hands from my head, telling her and Ralph that if they pulled such a stunt again they'd be removed from the park and the police would be called. My relief and gratitude were beyond measure, but the lifeguard's rebuke made Barbara hate me all the more.
A few weeks later, I was home alone with Ralph. My fear of him had increased substantially after the fiasco at the lake. I felt like a lamb who could be slaughtered at any given moment. Ralph announced that we were going to cure my fear of water once and for all, and he began drawing a bath. My terror at the lake was nothing compared to this. I absolutely believed that I would be killed. The bath filled as I tried to hide in a closet. Eventually Ralph sought me out and opened the door. I expected to be yanked from the closet, hauled into the bathroom and drowned in the tub. I believed that with all my heart. Instead, Ralph gently helped me from the closet, and caringly led me to the bathroom. He spoke calmly and compassionately to me, assuring me that everything was going to be fine, and that he would not ask me to do anything I didn't want to do. Over the course of ten minutes he relaxed me to such a degree that I willingly climbed into the bathtub, and over the next twenty minutes we took it by degrees, step by step. He would coax me further and further into the water, half an inch at a time, always allowing me the option of raising back up. After a few minutes I was able to willingly submerge up to my neck, then up to my chin. Step by step, with the patience of a Saint, he helped me put my lips under the surface, then the tip of my nose. He had never, ever treated me that way, and I wanted badly to please him. Presently the phone rang and he went to answer it. During his absence I was able to go the rest of the way on my own, and when he returned he was delighted. We spent the next hour horsing around, with me trying to see how long I could hold my breath and him timing it on his railroad watch. I could go nearly two minutes. The spell was broken. I swam like a fish in any body of water I could find henceforth. Later in life I became a hard-hat diver, raising 131 shipwrecks and performing 321 rescues in the northeast Pacific. The gift that Ralph gave me in that bathtub that day was beyond any calculation. In adult life I learned that this very same "gentling" technique saved months of time in the training of wild horses, and I used it exclusively in the mustangs I trained all through the southwest, and detailed the technique in national magazines for years.
There was one other show of kindness. At the lake one day a big kid was splashing me. Ralph turned and angrily told him to knock it off. He did, and I was grateful. I felt one tiny, tenuous string of a bond struggle to form between us at that moment. A little while later at the picnic in the park the bond was broken when I was punished in front of my friends for taking too long to eat my hotdog.
Still, there were those two instances. I've had several years to prepare for the writing of this story. I've scoured my memories, and I've quizzed and grilled family members over that time. These are the only two instances of compassion I can recall -- no one else was aware of these, and no one else could cite any others..
My wife and I moved out to the coast and got involved in logging and milling. We saw saw Ralph and Barbara only occasionally then. I began to understand that any relationship I had with him would always be strained. In due course Ralph and Barbara divorced. I was told it was as ugly as it gets. Surprise. I divorced also, cleanly and simply, as soon as my wife's alcoholism reared its ugly head, but soon met someone who would become my lifelong companion.
Ken had meanwhile married a nice girl named Teresa Neal (no misprint) becoming Teresa Neil. Crazy but nice, she gave him a couple of kids who turned out to be little more than Tacoma street trash. Maybe they'll come out of it; maybe not. Tacoma doesn't need anymore street trash. Teresa started drinking even more than Ken, then surpassed him like he was standing still, and before long was probably using hand trucks to bring in warehouse quantities of boxed wine. She ultimately spent most of the last ten years of her life in prison, finally finding Jesus and toasting to him 836 times a day. Jesus must love her dearly, because he apparently forgives her for the unadulterated evil she inflicts upon virtually every human being she gets near. She's a genetic blank. I once read the legal definition of pornography: "That which has no redeeming social value." That's also my definition of Teresa Neal / Neil.
Ken met his second wife, Sue Ellen, at Burkhart Dental Supply in Tacoma where they both worked. I don't believe I've yet seen her sober, though there could have been a minute here, a moment there, fleeting in any case.
My son was born in '75 and I was busy trying to be industrious and get ahead. I started a helicopter logging operation, but we needed capital to keep it going initially. I turned to Ralph, since he was now operating a freight brokerage company in Federal Way and making extremely good money. He was happy to help. Each Monday morning he would send us the amount we requested (five or ten thousand), on the condition that we returned it by close of business on Friday. Everything was done by wire transfer. The interest was a bit steep at 21%. PER WEEK. That's 1092% annually for those without a calculator. We operated like this for perhaps a year, but simply couldn't get ahead. We suffered several helicopter malfunctions in rapid succession (blew an $11,000 clutch and knocked the rotor tips off on a tree trying to get on the ground -- later an engine failure put us in the brush and gave me a scar to remember it by) and that blew us out of the running. All of our profits had gone to Ralph. He thanked us and laughed, "He he he he... It's a tough world, kid."
During this period Ralph began relating to me the crude, nasty things Barbara was saying about me behind my back. I didn't know why she'd taken this turn, but since no love was lost there I didn't expend any energy to find out. To that point I'd been ambivalent about her -- now I was angry for having been viciously attacked without provocation. I finally realized she did have provocation: she was bored. I cut her off absolutely and sent her a legal cease and desist warning. She would do ANYTHING to stir up trouble and I'd had enough of it from her.
During that period Ralph announced that he was remarrying. Oh? To whom?
To my biological mother, Jeanne.
I promise this isn't a soap opera or any other piece of fiction. I can't write fiction, if you'll recall. John Hart had been caught molesting children in a big way, and Jeanne had divorced him -- a bit late for my tastes, but whatever. She also quickly remarried him, then quickly divorced him again, but for our purposes here we need only focus on the fact that she once and for all divorced him. His piano teaching studio, which he always vehemently insisted must be kept locked at all times so as to not bother his students, was in fact his trap for them. The molested children ran at least into the hundreds, perhaps the thousands. He was being prosecuted, probably hunted by angry fathers, they were losing their home, and it was the end. So Ralph stepped in. How by God strange. John was to wriggle out of his troubles in Colorado, moved to Florida, molested a few hundred more children, and eventually went to jail. I believe he died there of an AIDS-related malady. Oh well.
Ralph brought Jeanne and her kids, my half brothers and sisters, to Washington where they lived for a time on a small ranchette and tried to act normal. But Ralph was still a drunk, and Jeanne was still a drunk, and the friction was spectacular. I did manage to have a number of deep conversations with Jeanne during that time, sometimes in Ralph's presence, sometimes not. I asked her, for instance, if she knew of any reason why I would have been so completely terrified of Ralph when I saw him on the sidewalk in Madera at age 5. She explained that she and Ralph and been together for the first year of my life, and that Ralph would tolerate NO bullshit from babies. If I slobbered or blew bubbles while being fed, I was backhanded severely. If I did it again, I was backhanded again. It was simply a matter of negative reinforcement in strong enough doses to cure any problem, Ralph reasoned. If I cried, I was backhanded again. And again and again until blood ran freely from my mouth and soaked my bib and my lips swelled closed. Ralph was present for this conversation. He reacted by laughing in a peculiar and embarrassing way that he had when he thought himself particularly cute, "He He He He, I didn't like bubbles!" Apparently every aspect of life with Ralph during that first year was like that. He felt that babies could be trained even at a few months of age not to soil their diapers. When I did, I was punished physically. I have no conscious memory of any of these things, but the subconscious never forgets. Jeanne brought up the time when Ralph had insisted she go horseback riding with him when she was 13 years old (not a misprint), and nine months pregnant with me (not a misprint). She said he spent their time on the trail slapping her horse to make it run, buck, or trot. Ralph laughed his cute little "he he he" laugh again, and proclaimed, "Well, I didn't want kids!" Jeanne was trying to show me what he was. But it still took me decades to see it clearly, assuming I even see it clearly today.
My mother's mother claimed Ralph was the only human being she ever truly hated. He had, she felt, stolen her shy, sweet young daughter (at 13), introduced her to alcohol, and ruined her life. Years later I was to hear another woman make that exact same statement: "Ralph Neil is the only human being I have ever truly hated." I thought it strangely coincidental.
I read Ralph's Wills in 1976. There were five that I saw. The most recent at that time gave me 35% of everything. Ken and Jim were to each receive 20%, and Jeanne was to receive the remaining 25%. Of course this was a bogus life-philosophy, and should have awarded equal shares to all. Previous and superceded versions (I read three of the four others) adjusted those figures, probably depending on his whim, the degree of his intoxication, and his notion of who had unintentionally slighted him from day to day. One previous version gave me 50%; another version gave me 25%. Ralph changed Wills as often as he changed his socks. He did it because, as people grew up and moved out of his life, and therefore out of his sphere of control, he used his Last Wills and Testaments to continue that control, at least in his own mind, and to reward or punish those he felt were not giving him his Royal Due as The Smartest Man in the Universe. I'm sure it would be highly enlightening, and disgusting, to somehow be privy to ALL incarnations of his Will throughout his life.
Alcohol and drinking were a way of life for Ralph. That was curious because I never knew either his mother or father to drink appreciably or at all, nor anyone else in the family. Ralph insisted that I drink and became surly when I wouldn't. The indoctrination began around age 7. If you didn't drink, you weren't a man. His philosophy was simple. I rejected it. Ken, unfortunately, did not. Ken embraced it.
Ralph and Jeanne's marriage ended badly, as all relationships with Ralph ended badly. He drove her off. The straw seemed to be the whiff of an affair between Ralph and one of Jeanne's teenage daughters. At the time I thought it was nonsense. But having seen the behavior of the daughter in question later in life, who was ultimately shown to be a drunk, drug dealer, cheater and common burglar, I'm no longer sure. Honestly, if it hadn't have been that, it would have been something else. Both individuals, Ralph and Jeanne, were train wrecks looking for a place to derail. My mother wandered off somewhere and apparently married another drunk, and died shortly thereafter from liver failure one night in her sleep. She'd always said the one way she didn't want to go, was in her sleep.
Being the oldest child I was called in from out of town to attend Jeanne's funeral and manage her affairs, of which there were few. I arranged a gathering of the three boys and two girls, all children of Jeanne's (at least two more were alive but unknown to the family at that time). I proposed that we all split her assets equally. All agreed. At least two of the children hadn't spoken to her for years, but they were still her children and still, of course, entitled to equal shares. That's how it works in honorable circles. We all met at Jeanne's storage locker next morning, each of us prepared to pick out a few mementos and sell whatever was left, splitting the dividends equally. One of the sisters, however, showed up with a U-haul truck and took the lion's share of furniture and other valuables. Everyone was too stunned to object. The leftovers were sold and the proceeds were split equally, including to the one hoggish sister. There was leftover a gaudy ring of some type; the greedy sister took that and sold it, but much to at least my surprise, split the proceeds among all the kids. There was a rundown trailer that Jeanne owed more storage fees for than it was worth, but I took exception to the obnoxious old bastard who was holding it for ransom and bailed it out, then sold it for about half what I'd just paid in storage fees. Someone suggested I should ask the kids to equally make up the loss. That was patently ridiculous.
The greedy sister became an alcoholic (probably was at the time), and sold drugs out of her home while her young daughter played next to the grow lights. The sister was eventually caught in bed with one of her husband's best friends and he divorced her. She had admitted an affair to me with one of her husband's other best friends. Some time later he, the husband, committed suicide. After his death, she looted his house. I tried to bring charges against her from several hundred miles away, but by the time I heard about it, the prosecutor was no longer interested. I related this to Ken, and he appeared to be disgusted by it.
The other sister, also a drunk, cheated on her husband so many times she was charged with it and sent to jail. I didn't know there were any such laws on the books, but in the odd little place she was living, there were. What a claim to fame -- to have been caught cheating SO MANY TIMES that you did jail time for it. I wonder if she was "rehabilitated". That's a rhetorical question.
One of the brothers sort of wanders around, never seeming to hold a steady job. Ralph had always believed this one of Jeanne's and John Hart's sons had cleaned out his storage locker of thousands in tools and machinery, and wanted nothing to do with the kid. It was curious, then, that after Ralph's death this one son showed up immediately, eagerly inquiring of any will.
The last brother is yet another dope-head and alcoholic, and, last I heard, was heading for prison in Orange county to do time for insurance fraud (back bad, etc., (but he could still wheelie a Harley down the block and the PI for the underwriter got lots of good footage).
I have no contact whatsoever with any of the kids anymore. I give blood some slack, but at some point you simply have no choice but to divorce yourself from valueless human beings. I did ask Ken if he was close to the greedy sister -- he said yes, he was. Apparently he wasn't TOO disgusted by her alcoholism, stealing, sleeping around, and drug dealing, clear into her 30's and 40's.
In about 1992 another sister entered the picture: Cheryl. She had been adopted out of the family at birth, unbeknownst to me, and, later in life, hired an agency to look up her long, lost family. I was excited about this when I was first notified, and I took that same excitement to Ken when I told him he had a new sister. I phrased it exactly that way, because Ken Neil was, after all, my brother, and part of our family. I told Ken he had a new sister and would he like to meet her. He replied that he would not, and seemed genuinely perplexed as to why I mentioned her existence at all. I countered that Cheryl was a NEW SISTER. Wouldn't anyone be excited about that? Ken reiterated that he simply didn't care. I puzzled over this for many years, but didn't really understand Ken's reaction until lately. Now I understand it perfectly. Cheryl married a friend of mine and and they became a happy couple named Ted and Cheryl Buckland of Marrowstone Island (Nordland), Washington.
When Jeanne was gone, Ralph took to seducing other men's wives, and he was proud of his prowess. I had a number of heated conversations with him in which he staunchly defended his preference for married women, and I just as stolidly tried to convince him to make at least a cursory attempt to adhere to the basic concepts of honor and decency that he had tried to pretend he was made of. He would simply laugh, make a mean-spirited joke about my unwillingness to drink, and we'd change the subject before it became a fist fight. My respect for him was waning steadily. I would have never, ever tolerated morality of this low caliber in any friend outside of family. I was perplexed as to why I continued to tolerate it from Ralph. I believe it was because I thought I was missing his true value, that it was there, just hidden or disguised.
I had started an extremely successful company that rescued vessels in trouble in the northeast Pacific, and raised them from the bottom when we couldn't get to them in time to save them. We rescued the United States Coast Guard twice. We also worked at "pure" salvage and purchased many sunken vessels from insurance companies, raised them, refurbished them, and sold them, hopefully at a profit. One one occasion we purchased the rights to a vessel that had sunk for $1500, and the owner was paid $75,000 for the loss by the underwriter. Ralph wanted in on this obviously lucrative deal. Ralph was decidedly not a mariner, though he wanted badly to be one. He was, instead, a yachtsman. For instance he called me once from a marina and said he was considering the purchase of a 40 foot plywood yacht, and wanted to know my opinion of it. It was an old converted LCM with a "bow kit" installed to replace the loading ramp. They were a shallow draft, disposable boat built by the Navy for calm water use. This one had been built far too high and top-heavy, so, being a flat-bottom scow, it would be prone to rolling. Plywood is neither a quality material for the construction of anything that floats. I advised adamantly and repeatedly against the purchase. An hour later he called to solicit my congratulations. The boat proved nearly unusable, as it rolled sickeningly even when moored in its covered slip in the marina. Ralph finally spent an entire summer installing a keel on the boat at a cost of $15,000 to try to dampen the roll. There was no difference whatsoever. After a few years he sold the slab for $4500. When he purchased the Spellbound and brought it to Washington from California he called to ask me for any tips I could give him about the trip. Since I'd fished that coast commercially for years, I thought about it, and elected to not confuse him with a lot of points of knowledge, but to warn him simply of the most common mistake yachtsmen make along that route -- the submerged jetty at Westport. He accepted my advice and thanked me, and a month later sheepishly related the amount of damage he incurred when he hit the submerged jetty at Westport. The man simply would not listen. He was legendary around Puget Sound for running aground, drunk or sober, night or day. And I remember an incident that occurred at Ralph's home in which he was asking me why I was burning out on commercial fishing. I replied that the weather could be dealt with, the equipment costs and maintenance could be dealt with, the often bizarre whims of the department of fisheries could be dealt with, but what caused most grief to many commercial fisherman was the "sporty factor". The type of fishing I was engaged in at the time involved planting many thousands of dollars worth of gear on the sea floor, marked by large, bright buoys on the surface. If the marker buoys were lost for any reason, the gear on the bottom was usually irretrievably lost as well. By far, the most common reason to lose those marking buoys, was at the hands of stupid, arrogant, dumb-as-boards yachtsmen who thought they were "pretty" and would motor up to them and snip them off their lines and motor off. They'd do this if no one is around to physically guard the gear or, often, even when we were on station and the buoys were marked with huge letters that spelled out, "YOU ARE WITHIN RIFLE RANGE", and, honestly, sometimes even as we were firing at them. I personally lost uncounted tens of thousands of dollars annually to these idiot yachtsmen, and I indicated as much in answer to Ralph's question. The entire family went silent and Ralph looked gloomily at the floor. --Turns out he'd been doing this very thing while on yachting outings with the kids.
Having started the salvage and diving company, we were raising a vessel which turned out to be a media show (it had been searched for, for years by various diving companies and we were the ones to find it -- took us 35 minutes), and Ralph wanted to be part of that as well. I brought him out to the job site on a little tug on the day the vessel was to be raised, and we moored to the work barge and other vessels which carried the media. The dive team we'd hired was working on SCUBA gear, which was, of course, absurdly unprofessional, but they were newbies and wanted to break into commercial diving so we gave them their chance. But working at 100 feet on SCUBA bottles necessitated many trips to the surface for fresh tanks. On one occasion, a diver surfaced and needed a fresh bottle immediately so he could get back to his decompression depth within three minutes, or end up with a case of the bends. I grabbed a bottle and slipped a line around it, so that I wouldn't lose it in case it slipped from my hands as I was handing it down to the diver who waited in the water. He could remain on the surface three minutes and NO MORE, before he had to get back to depth to begin his decompression. The diver had ahold of the bottle and was reaching for the line around the valve to slip it off when Ralph intervened. He angrily, haughtily snatched the bottle back from the diver and set forth to lecture the entire crew and onlooking media on the proper tying of a proper nautical knot designed specifically for this precise purpose. After a minute and a half I gently reminded him that the diver really needed to get the fresh bottle plugged back into his system so he could get back to depth. This elicited only a dirty look from Ralph. At two minutes I told him bluntly to let go of the bottle. He declined. After 15 seconds more I was prepared to physically take it from him. He sensed this and wrapped up the lesson. The diver grabbed the bottle and disappeared below the surface, changing out the old bottle for the new while on his way back to 15 or 20 feet to wait out the decompression regimen. That evening I took Ralph aside and threatened to remove him from the job site if he tried to be anything but a spectator again. He grudgingly complied.
We did raise the boat, and Ralph financed the refurbishing. Once refitted, I delivered the vessel to him to sell. It was worth perhaps $35,000, and we had $15,000 in it to date. But Ralph felt it was worth $45,000, so that's where he priced it, and where it remained, unsold, for the next several years. Meanwhile, routine maintenance, insurance and moorage expenses piled up. In the end, we were into the boat about $24,000, and its condition and the market had deteriorated its value to about $22,500, which is what it sold at. But even then he didn't sell it outright, but took in partial trade a little runabout, when he then priced far too high and had to maintain it as well for the next several years until it sold at a loss. Every transaction in the man's life was played out in nearly this exact same way, and his fortune dwindled, and dwindled, until he was scrapping for change and working as a full time truck driver again at age 74. He vehemently rejected any kind of help or advice, no matter how well intentioned or accurate.
I was riding with Ralph once in his ancient Volkswagen van, down a 5%, two-lane grade that curved sharply to the right. It was maybe ten p.m., obviously dark, and had been snowing all day, and below freezing for a week. Each lane was largely bare and wet, the result of highway department de-icing, but still showed tendrils of snow and ice that jutted well into each lane. A bluff rose to our right; a 200-300 foot sheer drop fell off to our left with no shoulder or rail. The snow had within the past fifteen minutes begun to turn to slush as it hit the windshield. Outside temperature was right at 32F. and had been under that all day. The road was posted 35 mph, but was safe to 50 for a good driver. Ralph took the hill at 65 mph, which put the van in about a 10 or 15 degree RH drift on the wet pavement. It could have been pushed harder on a controlled and inspected roadway that was KNOWN to be only wet and not icy, but it was approaching the limit. Even any little patch of wet sand, not to mention ice, would have sent us over the cliff. You could more or less watch for a patch of sand in the headlights, but you positively could NOT tell if there was ice under the thin layer of mist. Feeling the G's and concerned for my life, and knowing his long history of mysterious accidents, I asked innocently, as though I were just seeking useful advice from his Omnipotent Self, how he could tell the roadway under the tires was wet, and not also icy underneath a thin sheen of water. Ralph replied that he could tell because he could hear the tires "hiss" on the roadway. He explained that if the surface was icy, there would be no hiss. I realized at that moment that this was the limit of his intelligence. The roadway may well be strewn with patches of ice that had lain in shadows all day and refused to melt when the light drizzle started 15 minutes prior. By the time we hit one of those and realized that the tires were no longer hissing, we'd be airborne (with even less hissing of the tires then), plunging to the bottom of the ravine like a wingless DC-9. Besides, if there was water over the ice, the hissing wouldn't stop anyway, but traction would. I realized that Ralph was basically incapable of extrapolation. He arranged his beliefs to match the pinnacles of his intelligence, never once deigning to imagine that there may be things beyond his knowledge (and therefore beyond his control) which necessitated the application of CAUTION so as to minimize any mistakes.
Barbara Neil / Brown / Clough possessed one quality that left most people in awe: She could sing. She had the finest singing voice I'd ever heard from any non-professional singer. I always have, and always will wonder what her life may have been like had she never met Ralph B. Neil, and instead pursued a commercial singing career. Without a doubt, life would have been a far happier experience for her. It occurs to me that Ralph WAS the dark cloud that sometimes overshadows an otherwise ordinary and enjoyable life-journey. His soul was a black hole which inexorably sucked the happiness from so many entities he came in proximity to. Perhaps it was Ralph's mother who sucked his life from him. Perhaps he was just a natural born jackass.
Around this time Marie, Ralph's father's widow, sent word to me that she wished me to come and talk to her where she lived near Portland. She had never liked Ralph, and while it was agreed that she would will any remaining fortune to Ralph at the end of her life, she was loath to do this, and apparently wanted to discuss the possibility of just giving it to me, bypassing Ralph. But I didn't get to her before she passed, and the remaining family fortune went to Ralph.
During these years Ralph was a busy boy. This is the period in which he signed over his farm and ranch, his father's farm and ranch, Ken and Jim and I's farm and ranch, to the snake-in-the-grass Barbara George, to get it out of his name so as to cheat the IRS out of a few thousand dollars. He went through girlfriend after girlfriend and beat up every single one of them. One day, in front of Jeanne's kids, the son of one of the woman he'd abused drove onto the property and promptly kicked Ralph's fucking ass. There was no preamble, no conversation, no threat, no argument, no harsh words, no accusations; he simply and swiftly beat Ralph to within an inch of his life, then stated matter of factly that if Ralph ever touched his mother again, he'd kill him. Ralph obtained a restraining order and bought a gun, but never tried to press charges. And of course he just kept on seducing and beating other men's wives. Ralph tried to hire me to find the guy and beat him up. I declined. Ralph related to me many instances in which someone had started a fight with him, or he with someone, and he always lost. I don't recall a single instance in which he related to me that he had won or even come close. His mouth was writing checks his manhood couldn't cash. Ralph was right. Even when he KNEW he was wrong, he was STILL right, and was always more than willing to get his ass kicked proving it. I simply never understood this.
I'm afraid my respect for Ralph was dwindling in earnest by this time. And it sank another 27 levels when Ralph, for some unknown and unknowable reason, thought it necessary and appropriate to describe to me in minute detail the consistency of my mother's vaginal fluid during sex -- which he found objectionable. I could come up with no response. I have none to this day. 20 years later I reel in shock and horror at that statement. I believe this was the first inkling I had that Ralph may be, truly, after all, insane. Jeanne had suggested that possibility to me, as Nancy, a new girlfriend would, in the years to come. Alcohol was rotting his brain, and it was clearly beginning to show. Alcoholics, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM, seem to think that in brief periods of sobriety, their minds are as sharp as ever, their reactions appropriate, their thought processes true and rational. What NONE of them comprehend is that sober people can spot them a mile away, and, for the most part, we avoid them like the plague. Drunks stick together, therefore, whether they realize it or not, because their social circles are reduced to people of their own kind. Some sober people try to interact with drunks on various levels, but inevitably realize that it just can't work. This is especially heartbreaking when the drunk is a loved one, or someone you knew and liked before they started drinking. Drunks are a write-off to every sober, logical, rational being. Their brains are permanently damaged and will NEVER fully recover, regardless of whether they stop drinking or not.
Ralph had begun to adopt a grocery shopping style which required that he seek out the best price of any item regardless of the time or gas expended. He went to store #1 with a shopping list which included the known lowest price of each item. All items which could be procured at that store at his approved price were purchased. This might cross half the items off his list. He'd then drive to the next supermarket to try to buy more items. Usually, at the second store, he could find another 10% of his required items at his accepted price. He would then proceed to the third, fourth and fifth stores, each time finding a few more items at his accepted price. Finally he'd exhaust the stores in the area, and would have to painfully, grudgingly admit that he would, after all, have no choice but to pay $1.98 instead of $1.89 for a jar of pickles. This pissed him off. In the end, grocery shopping (for one) took an entire day and consumed a hundred times more in gas money than he ever saved in shaving 76 pennies off his food bill. He was once physically removed from a store due to his shabby attire. I began to realize that he was not just eccentric.
During Ralph's fifties and sixties he became quite ribald, and would often spy some 16 year old girl on a busy sidewalk, then drive around and around and around the block, simply to see her again. He never approached them to my knowledge -- he would just giggle and coo and make comments that only his passengers could hear. He might be late for an appointment or trying to catch a store before it closed. No matter. If he spied a comely woman, this ritual MUST be carried out. Unfortunately, his idea of attractiveness was way off track from anyone else's, and everyone I know was hesitant to ride with him.
Once I was sitting on his boat with him, talking about nothing in particular. He was sitting in a position so as to see whoever might walk down the dock, whereas I couldn't see the dock at all. Suddenly he broke into his odd manner of OOHING and AHHING, exclaiming, "Oh my God, look at that, LOOK AT THAT! Oh my God. Wouldn't you just like to ---" This went on for a minute or so as the woman continued to walk down the dock. As always I was embarrassed by it and just tried to wait it out, not having a clue who he was talking about. Finally he shut up suddenly. I then felt someone step onto the boat. The woman walking down the dock was my wife.
It was about this time that Ken sought out his biological mother. She turned out to be a mess -- drugs, alcohol, you name it. She was American Indian, and introduced Ken to the life he might have had if not for Ralph's adoption of him. Perhaps that's one reason Ken so steadfastly insists on seeing Ralph unrealistically, through rose-colored glasses. Ralph met Ken's mother too, unfortunately, and never missed an opportunity to boast of how many times he bedded her before she slipped back to her life on the rez. At each telling and retelling of the story Ralph laughed that peculiar, irritating "hehehehehe", as though he was just too clever and cute to live. This disgusted me all the more -- the deed AND the boast.
Barbara Neil (then Clough), Ken's only "real" mother, tried to talk to Ken about Ralph's treatment of her, but Ken says he laughed it off, always assuming she was lying. How that must have hurt her. I frankly don't like the woman, but the FACT is that she suffered severely, inhumanly at the hands of Ralph Neil's selfish, spoiled, violent, controlling personality, and it MUST have left deep scars on her psyche that she will never, ever completely overcome. She didn't lie to Ken about her treatment; she didn't HAVE to. My advice to Ken, still, is to WAKE UP and start seeing this man for who he was: a monster.
Standing on the dock one day with Ralph and a bunch of friends, Ralph made a curious comment. He said, "If I take her (the Spellbound) back to Tahiti, and something happens to me, you'll have to come and get her." I thought this an odd thing to say, and I also felt that to talk about such things was just plain inappropriate. If he wanted to leave me the boat, that was fine. But it's not something I wanted to know about beforehand, nor something I felt should be discussed. It was a private thing for Ralph to ponder and decide upon between himself and his God, or whatever deity he spoke to late at night when no one listened. I felt it was inappropriate to even acknowledge such a statement. You simply don't discuss "things" that still belong to people when they're alive. It just wasn't done. I looked at him oddly and uncomfortably changed the subject.
I moved to Nevada for several years and rode rustler patrol for a ranch out of Reno, the Bonanza #102, spanning 1100 sections of open range. Ralph drove down in an old motor home to visit us and stayed awhile, introducing us to his newest love, one Nancy Carol Wolfe. We welcomed her with open arms, hoping Ralph had at long last found a true companion. They stayed with us and ate with us and we horsed around during their stay, and it was a good time, and Ralph treated me as though I was his best friend in the world. I liked Nancy too. For fifteen minutes. I tried everything to make it longer. I ignored all I could. But by twenty minutes I was angry and pretty far along on the road to simply hating her guts. I found her obtuse, loud, obnoxious, air-headed, and as dumb as any damned board. After an hour I wanted the woman GONE from my sight and OUT of my home. I was willing to pay her to leave. I have probably not met more than two or three people in my lifetime, half as staggeringly objectionable as Nancy Carol Wolfe. This was mostly the mentality Ralph was attracted to.
During that visit Ralph took me aside while he was inspecting the semi truck I'd purchased for moving horse feed, and out of the blue said, "If something happens to me, you'll have to come and get that boat." I replied that nothing was going to happen to him, and I was once again made uncomfortable by the mention of who got what when or if he died. I just plain didn't think it was appropriate to talk about such things while that person lived. It was unseemly. It was wrong.
We put Ralph and Nancy to bed in their motor home and retired ourselves one night. In the wee hours the horses were raising a ruckus so I went out to calm them and drive off or dispatch whatever critter was pestering them. As I neared Ralph's motor home I realized it was rocking, and that's what was scaring the broncs. I was about to quietly retreat when I realized they weren't having sex; it was apparently a knock-down, drag-out, hammer-and-tong, free-for-all fist fight. That put me right back to ground zero with regard to Ralph B. Neil.
Next day Nancy didn't appear. They departed without fanfare and we went back to our peaceful lives...
Several years later we moved back to Washington where Ralph was living more or less peacefully on his sailboat. Years of getting my brains baked out in the high desert sun had soured me on heat. I'd been catching flights from Reno to Seatac for the previous year anyhow, just to walk outside the terminal and stand in the rain for an hour, then fly back. We might as well start saving all that airfare.
I went to work for a few years driving truck, and since Ralph had done that for many years I sought his advice. He was kind and patient and doled it out whenever and however I needed it. This dynamic worked for him because he was in control. As long as I was under his thumb, he was happy and could maintain something of an equilibrium. Try to break free, however, and you'd risk his wrath. Like most insufferably arrogant people, he possessed some qualities that shined. Like all insufferably arrogant people, he gloried in those few talents and was blind to all the rest. I came to understand, finally, that he really was more a spoiled little boy than a figure to be looked up to. Still, his advice in this context was worth a million bucks and I took it and thanked him profusely and because of it spent a few years at a more or less enjoyable profession which paid less than was required to live the most modest of lifestyles. Ralph really did know a lot of things about a lot of things. Mechanically, he was smart. He simply had no clue about people.
Since Ralph had been interested in auto racing, and since I had an old and dear friend who had committed his life to restoring old race cars, and since Ralph was lonely, and Ted Buckland was lonely, I decided to introduce them. Ted had worked for me a time or two on tugs and was himself a rifle smith of some renown. More importantly Ted was a moral human being, one of the very, very few I'd ever known, and I eagerly learned all I could from Ted over many years, each of us trying to understand what honor and dignity and morality dictated in "this" situation or in "that" circumstance, and many of the predicaments we thought up to discuss and solve were gnarly indeed. I explained to Ralph that Ted was a "straight shooter", a no-bullshit guy, that he didn't drink, never drank, would never drink, didn't cavort, would give his life to save a common street bum. Indeed I had learned far more about right and wrong and morality and decency and the strength of a man from Buckland than I'd ever learned from my own father, though I never told this to Ralph.
So Ralph and I set out to visit Ted, and once there we settled in to talk and enjoy some tea and scratch the flea-bitten bellies of Ted's flea-bitten dogs and Ralph commenced to telling Ted how a race car was SUPPOSED to be handled on the track. I cringed; Buckland was polite. But to break the thread of the conversation Ted asked Ralph, "So, have you been up to anything interesting lately?" Ralph retorted, "Well, outside of seducing other men's wives, not too much." It wasn't a joke.
I dropped Ralph at his boat and drove off. A few days later he emailed me to say he hoped he hadn't embarrassed me in front of my friend. I told him straight-up that he had, though I didn't elaborate or tell him what I objected to.
And Ralph never spoke to me again.
Six months later I wrote to him and asked that he ship me a box of very old family photos so I could scan them and distribute them to family on DVDs. Ralph refused to reply. I wrote again after a couple of months. Again, no reply. I emailed; no reply. I left voice mails; no reply. I sent him money to pay for the postage; he kept the money but didn't reply. After a year of this I focused on the postage he'd kept and informed him that I now considered him just a common thief. My thought was that that would make him SO angry, that he'd reply and perhaps we could break the logjam. But of course he didn't reply.
A couple of years later I heard that Ralph was nearly destitute and I offered to find him a position in my company in which he could work on his laptop from the boat and send his work to me. I never received a reply and, later, learned that he was anything but destitute in any case.
Eight years later I learned he had terminal cancer. I wrote him a long and heartfelt apology for calling him a thief, even though he was, in reality, a thief. He didn't reply. I watched his illness progress from behind the scenes, always ready to step in if I was needed. But Ken was doing a superb job, and my impression was that Ken didn't want me involved anyway. I hung back and allowed time and nature to take its course. When it seemed probable that Ralph would end up in a home, I offered Ken the sum of $800 a month toward his care. It was all I could afford -- really, several times what I could afford. But Ralph was my Father, and one takes care of one's father no matter what. As it happened, Ralph didn't go into any home, but stayed on the boat.
I met Ken's new wife, Sue Ellen, about this time. During a visit, close to Christmas, I offered to make them a personalized gift -- something my company produced. Sue Ellen eagerly accepted and I explained to her how to place the order without paying for it. Total value was about $40, at a cost of about $34 to me. I was happy to do it. A few days later I happened to be watching one of the company's terminals when I saw the order come in from Sue Ellen. I thought, "Great! This will be fun!". A minute later another order came in from Sue Ellen, but the gift was to be personalized for someone I'd never heard of. I thought, "Well, okay, always glad to help out." A minute later a third order came in from Sue Ellen for another person I'd never heard of. I thought, "Hmmmm. That's a bit odd. But, OK!" I wanted her to be happy. A minute later another order arrived -- same story. I thought, "Jeeze -- that's a bit presumptuous. But what the heck."
A few minutes later another order came through, then another and another and another and another -- and I sat in disbelief. Finally, when the cost to me had reached $566, I called her up and explained that I simply couldn't afford to give away that much product, especially to people I'd never heard of! -Turns out she wanted all this stuff to impress her CLIENTS AT WORK. I advised that I'd still be happy to make an order for her and Ken, and maybe a couple more for their friends, but that I was very sorry, I had to draw the line there. She reluctantly paid for what she'd ordered. This kind of bizarre, inappropriateness was to become how I saw her in general: usually inappropriate.
My son had taken to visiting Ralph for the last four years of his life, though Ralph had never once, not one time, sent my son so much as a birthday card. Not one. Not ever in my son's thirty some years of life. Yet Ralph verbally promised my son one of his race cars to be given to him by Ken, after Ralph's death. This Ralph arranged verbally with Ken.
In the summer of 2008 Ralph was admitted to the hospital for the last time. He still had some life in him -- perhaps another 4 to 6 months, or perhaps just a few weeks. But he needed a transfusion to jumpstart his system. The hospital loaded him up with bad blood, and admitted fully to us that the blood they gave him "could not sustain human life". Thus began his last days. Ken should sue the hospital, but he won't..
Nancy had told me point blank while she and Ralph were still together but having problems that she "didn't want to end up with nothing out of this." I thought, "You fucking pig." So Nancy made a point of visiting Ralph's deathbed. Lucky he was comatose.
The greedy sister and the slutty sister had made a point to visit Ralph shortly before his death -- and within days after leaving, at least one of the sisters began asking him for money to get help for her screwed-up druggie kid. Ralph declined.
Ken's friends and children showed up while Ralph lay in his death bed, gasping dramatically for each and every breath, moaning pitifully on each and every exhale, and making everyone believe that each rasping gasp was his last. He endured two more days and nights like this. Ken's kids and friends came bearing bags of beer and chips, and as Ralph lay there dying, gasping for each and every breath, his chest heaving with the effort, these people drank and visited and snacked. I wasn't there. Lucky timing.
I spent as much time as I could at Ralph's bed, but he never regained consciousness.
Nancy made an appearance while the spectators drank beer and enjoyed their chips, and she noted that Ralph was hooked up to a number of IVs. She, as always, lapsed into an arrogant rant about how "Ralph didn't want this, Ken." The FACT of the matter is that everyone was painfully aware that Ralph had signed off on any and all efforts to revive him or keep him alive artificially. This had been his philosophy for many years, and Ken had dutifully made sure the staff was aware of Ralph's wishes, and in point of FACT Ralph was not being maintained on ANY life support systems beyond what he had authorized. The TRUTH of the matter was that the staff felt he had more time left, if only they could correct the tainted blood he'd been administered. But when it was realized there was no hope, the staff, at Ken's insistence, allowed Ralph to pass naturally, if not peacefully. It was so God damned typical of Nancy to bulldoze her way into such a situation, misread it at a glance, and make a fool of herself. There are few women in the world I have ever hated half as much.
Ralph technically passed as we raced southward on I-5 to Olympia early one morning. Ken called me and I could hear the alarms of the medical equipment in the background and my heart broke. I was completely out of respect for Ralph, wasn't sure I respected him as a human being. Didn't like his as a person. Was STILL terrified of him, even though I was now twice his size. I had expected to feel absolutely nothing at his passing. But I did. Nothing ever hurt half as much.
We arrived only a few minutes after he was gone. Ken was outside, in the trees, his soul and mind numb. Sue Ellen, Ken's wife, was there.
We decided to go up to Ralph's room and just sit for awhile, trying to let the water of this event soak into the granite of our brains. We four sat there with Ralph for quite some time. He was uncovered, obviously gone, and the emotions that ran through me were like the inside of an erupting volcano. I quickly came to realize that I loved Ralph, but I didn't known why, nor why he deserved to be loved. I wondered if I was still feeling some sort of time-delayed Stockholm Syndrome effect. I didn't know. I still don't know.
Sue Ellen decided she should apprise us of the most minute details of Ralph's moment of death, and so, not asking if we wanted to hear them or know them, she began blurting them out, smiling, as though the entire affair had been entertaining somehow. I didn't like Sue Ellen. My wife had asked that she not be invited to our home again after her second drunken visit. I reluctantly agreed that was best. I'd really had no idea just how crude this woman could be. By her own admission she drinks more than anyone she knows.
It seems Ken was in the bathroom when Ralph's last moments came. Sue Ellen was sitting in the semi-dark room, about 6 in the morning. Ralph began to gasp even more dramatically. Sue Ellen said she went to him. He tried to sit up and made it halfway. Sue Ellen said she then grabbed his face and began yelling as loudly as she could, "Wait for Ken! Wait for Ken!". She seemed to think this humorous in the telling and retelling of it after the fact. She said Ralph then fell back, spasmed, shot one arm abruptly into the air, almost striking Ken in the face, as he had just then arrived. Then Ralph moved no more.
I don't think we ever needed all those details, even a year later. I know by GOD we didn't need those details at that moment. But Sue Ellen's notion of what's appropriate and what's not does not seem to function properly. We have always racked it up to alcoholism. Sue Ellen related this story over and over, almost seeming to relish in the telling of it, and flat-out laughing at the fact that she had awoken and terrified all patients on the floor with her continuous bleating of "WAIT FOR KEN! WAIT FOR KEN!" Wait for Ken? The dying are to be calmly comforted if AT ALL possible, not commanded to perform a task and probably SCARED to death if that had not, after all, been their natural time to go. I was disgusted by Sue Ellen's behavior then; I am now.
When many warm-blooded creatures die, and this includes human beings, there is often a kind of "short-circuiting" of the neural connections which causes the body to twitch spasmodically for a few seconds -- even sometimes half a minute. It can be quite disconcerting for the uninitiated. But it's something that anyone who's been around death learns about and accepts as sometimes part of the process. Ralph did this. Most people just ignore it and would never, ever mention it to loving, heartbroken family members. That would be ghoulish. Yet Sue Ellen, instead of figuring this out, seemed absolutely fascinated by this aspect of the death process and brought it up again and again, describing it in the most minute detail again and again. I was just too wiped out emotionally to tell her to shut her fucking pie-hole. I wish I had. "Inappropriate" MUST be this woman's middle name.
We made arrangements with a local funeral home, and within perhaps 90 minutes we were seated comfortably in their reception area, making the arrangements Ralph had asked for -- cremation, plain and simple, no funeral, no newspaper acknowledgement, no service of any kind.
On the way into the funeral home I told Ken and Sue Ellen I'd pay half of the expenses. Ralph was my father, after all, and I felt morally-bound to hold up my end of taking care of things. I put my half of the service on a credit card.
Before the funeral home director had begun gathering our information, as we all sat around a huge table feeling the devastation people always feel in such circumstances, Sue Ellen piped up as follows: "It's going to take me two or three years to sell that boat."
I was busy with thoughts of the hereafter, Heaven and Hell, and all of that, and so it took a moment for her bizarre comment to sink in. Seeing that no one had really heard her, she said it again.
There had been no discussion of any will; I knew a will existed, and that Ken was the executor of it. That was appropriate, because it was Ken who had taken on the lion's share of the responsibility for caring for Ralph the last two years. My own son had helped a good deal over the last four years of Ralph's life, but Ken was the appropriate person to handle the affairs, and that was fine with me. I knew Ralph's affairs would be in a shambles --- that's how he lived. And I was secretly slightly pleased to not have to try to unravel his rat's nest of finances. I knew it was beyond Ken, but didn't want to do it either. Ralph had once applied for a loan at a bank where Ken's first wife was the loan officer. Though she tried valiantly, over and above the call of duty, to approve the loan, in the end she declined it, because his finances were a warren of deals predicated upon deals which were waiting for the consummation of yet other deals which SHOULD be bearing fruit "any time now". I didn't want to have to deal with that.
So Sue Ellen's bizarre statement was about as inappropriate as anything else that blurbs out of her mouth. I was, in that way, instantly notified that Ralph hadn't left me the boat. It was the last thing on my mind at the moment, and I deeply resented having a solemn moment turned disgustingly into a discussion of material things. But her offhand remark was stranger still, because it meant that (1) everyone was privy to the will but me, and (2) no one had had the simple human courtesy to talk to me before hand, and (3) if Ralph had left the boat to Ken, then it was KEN who might not be able to sell it for two or three years, not Sue Ellen. I doubted Ralph had left it to her. He'd thought she was a good and stabilizing for in Ken's life, but he'd had nothing kind to say about her in any other way. But she apparently thought of the boat as HERS, and she had picked that utterly inappropriate moment to make sure everyone knew it. How obnoxiously odd.
After completing the arrangements we retired to Ralph's boat to gather our wits and try to figure out what to do next. As we sat around the salon, Sue Ellen's statement came back to me. I tried to process it. No one, especially Ken, had corrected her when she'd made the comment, so she must actually be the owner of the boat. How bloody strange. I decided that that's the way it was, and that I would simply be happy for her and supportive. She wanted to sell it as quickly as possible, so I devoted about 20 seconds to advising her of her options -- hire a broker, don't hire a broker, etc. I'd bought and sold commercial vessels most of my life. It was my way of letting her know that I had heard her comment, and I was acknowledging her ownership of the boat. And that was that. I was in no condition to even begin to think about any will, or any split of the estate. I knew it would be some time before I could ponder or process those things. They were far from my mind at that time.
In due course we all decided to meet at Ken and Sue Ellen's home. We were still trying to come to grips with what had happened only three hours before. We met there and collapsed on couches and chairs, and though it was far too early to do so, Ken and Sue Ellen tried to lighten the mood with unrelated chatter. I sat back and just let them go wherever they felt they needed to, and only half listened.
Within a few minutes Nancy called. She bluntly asked about the will. Ken replied that he didn't know anything about any will yet, but that if Nancy was to receive anything, they would call her at the number she left.
We'd been there about ten more minutes when Ken made a curious comment: He said he hoped he could just take all of Ralph's stocks and bonds and dump them straight into his 401K. It again took a minute for that to sink into my brain and get processed. This simply wasn't an appropriate topic for three hours after any man's death. I did process it, and the meaning came clear in another minute: This was Ken's way of telling me that I hadn't been left any of Ralph's stocks or bonds, either. What a lovely way of informing me of that. Ken had always been a bit ham-fisted in social affairs, but this was really over the top. I didn't want to think about ANY of this stuff for at least a week, yet Ken and Sue Ellen were forcing it on me, and not in a good way. I tried to tune out even more of the conversation, and I started thinking I just wanted to go home and mourn in peace.
Within minutes Ken had made another comment about selling one of Ralph's race cars to buy himself a new Harley. I was seeing this as more and more crude and oafish, God damned inconsiderate and even approaching downright meanness. Over the next half hour Ken made another half dozen comments about what they planned to do with this portion of Ralph's estate, or that portion. I eventually gathered up my things and left. I was wondering if Ken had any manners or sense of decency or human compassion at all. I was plain disgusted.
I spent the next week on the couch crying. I'd never shed one tear for my mother, and expected to shed even less for Ralph. I had no clue whatsoever where these tears were coming from. He was, bluntly, a bastard. He'd almost never treated me even as well as he would have treated any stranger on the street. Many of my friends and even relatives had related to me their own anger at how Ralph treated me. My wife was sick of him and had never liked him. It wasn't imagination; it was real and documentable. I owed him nothing. I'd spent most of my life in fear of him. I didn't personally like the man. I found his moral fiber to be severely lacking. He embarrassed me often. Yet I cried day and night for a week, at times thinking I might need to find a ride to the ER because I honestly wasn't dealing with reality. I may someday seek a psychological explanation for this. No question, it was the worst week of my life.
During this time I talked with Ken numerous times on the phone. In most of those calls, he made some reference to the proceeds of the estate, what he planned to do with them, how messed up the estate was, etc. etc. I was still in no shape to even begin thinking about monetary things, and I didn't inquire to Ken about the will. I just became more annoyed with his preoccupation with how he was going to spend his share. I'd never, ever known him to be so inconsiderate.
A week later I was on the phone with Ken, and as usual he brought up some aspect of the estate. I was sick of hearing about it, and since I was cranky from crying anyway, I asked him point blank if there was a will and what it said.
There was a significant pause.
Ken said, "Yeah, there's a will."
I asked again what it said.
In a sheepish voice, he said, "You got $1000, Nancy got $15,000, and I got everything else. Or maybe you got $10,000. I'm not sure."
In the background I heard Sue Ellen belt out, "IT WAS A THOUSAND."
Ken said, "Yeah, it was a thousand."
Ralph had fucked me yet again. Would this man's meanness ever, ever end.
Ken went on to describe another will that had been found with the current and valid will. In the previous will, signed, as I recall, in about 1990 give or take a year or three, Ralph left nothing to me, nothing to Ken, and everything (at that time perhaps half a million) to Nancy.
That will had remained in effect until 2006, a number of YEARS after he and Nancy had parted company (in a spectacular explosion, as always).
That means that while Ralph was visiting us in Nevada, eating our food, pretending as though we were the best friends on earth, he had known for many years, that I'd been cut out of his will. Ken had been in the very same boat.
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The life and death of Ralph Barclay Neil (Ralph Neil, Ralph B. Neil, Neil, Ralph), and experiences with one of his sons. Ken Neil, Ken l Lyle Neil, Ralph Barclay Neil (Ralph Neil, Ralph B. Neil, Neil, Ralph), Kenneth Lyle Neil, Teresa Neil, Teresa Neal, Bimbo Neil, 53 foot Skookum sailboat, SV Spellbound, Ray (Raymond) Brown, Barbara jo Neil, Barbara Jo Clough, Barbara Jo Brown, Doug Brown, James Neil, Gladys Brown, Carl Brown, Everett Neil, Corrine (Corine) Neil, Russel Neil, Stockholm Syndrome, kidnappers