My dad disappeared when I was 10.
Ok, so, he didn't vanish forever. That'd be a bummer. But it would explain my prodigious therapy bill.
Instead, my Pappy just dropped off the grid for a couple of hours so he could secure a compound.
This is the point in the post where I issue one of those "trigger warnings." If you're not down with accidental animal sacrifices or other forms of religious skullduggery, now's the time to bail. Because I'm about to reveal that I once unwittingly served as an adolescent acolyte of one of the Midwest's most prominent Evangelical sects. At least, I think it was pretty prominent. Few public rankings exist for these type of things, unless you start serving Kool-Aid, and then the Feds will tell you exactly where you stand -- legally.
Anyway, as a cult, my family had it all -- dozens of roaming children, cat killings, a bricked-up bunkerish thingy on the outskirts of a backwoods hamlet, cat killings, multiple wives, cat killings, religious fervor, and ritualistic feline slayings (a.k.a. cat killings).
Did I mention cat killings?
Oh, I did? Good. Because it's pretty paramount to the plot at hand.
Wait. What's that you say? You're bothered by the dead kitty bit? Yeah, well, get in line, because who the fuck isn't? I never said it was a fun part of my childhood. You're just going to have to deal, because deceased cats really are the make-or-break component to my cult's success.
Anyway, back to my foreboding first sentence: My dad disappeared when I was 10. Upon his return, he held in his hands the deed to a brick school building deceptively named Pleasant Park. It came with five acres, a bus barn, an auditorium, a playground, a baseball diamond, a cafeteria, a gym, and a boiler room that supposedly housed a janitor's ghost.
Now, normally when I tell people that I grew up in a school, they give me this adorable little nod, as if to say, "Oh, how quaint you think you are. You grew up in a little one-room clapboard school house, and now you think you are Laura Ingalls on the prairie. I bet you wore gingham and braided your hair, too."
Um, no, haters. It's not like that at all. (Except for the gingham; I did wear that, but it was the '90s, and we can all agree that decade was regrettable on numerous fronts.) This school loomed above the surrounding corn fields, a stark red testament to what brick builders with no real imagination can create when the school district offers the contract to the lowest bidders.
This is the family compound.
No, really. This is true. My dad bought a school. On a whim. At an auction. While my mother treated us kids to a picnic in the park.
Surprising? Not in the least.
My dad pursued his whims with the same determination as a hungry lion would a plump preschooler. But with less bloodshed. To my knowledge, my father has never consumed a toddler. It would go against his extreme pro-life stance. Unless, of course, that toddler had been sentenced to the death penalty. Then that kid probably deserved what it got.
That being said, Pops didn't have any super weird religious beliefs. I mean, sure, he referred to my favorite lesbian as Ellen Degenerate and he thought that murdering abortion doctors counted as self-defense. He also voted for Alan Keyes, who is best known for filing the lawsuit demanding that President Obama produce his birth certificate. And, sure, we went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and whenever there were additional Bible studies or Bible School Weeks, but, you know, we didn't go to one of those weird churches. Our house of worship was one of those completely normal congregations that convened in an abandoned grocery store and believed in the typical theological trinity: speaking in tongues, faith healing, and snake handling. Okay. I was just joshing about the snake handling. That's just ridiculous.
Anyway, in case you're confused, Pops is the good guy in this story. The villain of the story is exactly who you'd expect -- a Midwest city councilman who also maintained a prominent position on the local historical society board. He was the Boss Tweed of this small town's version of Tammany Hall.
This man, who we'll call Councilman Butt Munch, had served as the only real competitive bidder my father encountered in his bid for ownership of the school. Councilman Butt Munch's vision encompassed converting part of the school into apartments for his profit, with the remainder of the building serving as a historical museum of sorts, also for his financial well-being. My dad was just there on a lark, so, yeah, you can see the ideological bifurcation there.
Anyway, a few weeks after my father moved his family into this school, my mother stood in the grocery line. The bespectacled man behind her started chatting. In the boxy prairie states, this comes as no surprise. Midwesterners are nice folk, and when they're in anything even remotely resembling a queue, they ask the person in front of them how their day's going. That's just what you do, unless you're one rude son of a bitch.
Proper etiquette thus achieved, my mother and the man discussed the weather, how the weather affected the crops, how the crops were impacting the farmers, and other typical small talk. Then the man leaned in and whispered, "Did you hear about the polygamous cult that moved into Pleasant Park school?"
And that's how my mom discovered she was top diva of our new town's top harem. Councilman Butt Munch (who you had to know was the guy in the grocery line) told her she was.
Turns out, Councilman Butt Munch told everybody who would listen about our cute cult in the cornfields. Unfortunately, he really sucked at his position as self-promoted town crier, so when the supposed queen of the whole shebang stood in front of him, he hadn't a clue, so he accidentally provided somebody on the inside with the super secret scoop from the outside. I'd feel sorry for him, if he weren't such a meddling, petty dick.
No, seriously, this truly happened: Councilman Butt Munch actually went around proclaiming that my father had four wives and 20-some children, and people believed it. The rumor grew to such substantial proportions that my parents received fan mail and/or hate mail. The letters were kind of creepy, honestly, and my parents always seemed confused as to whether or not they were being condemned or commended.
Now, in fairness, the mistake was almost an honest one. On any given day, Dad was surrounded by a gaggle of women and children. Renovating the school into a home proved a monumental task, so my grandmothers were both always there, as were my aunts and several ladies from our church. And with my parents' five children plus the children of the various aunts and church ladies, sleepovers could mutate in a flat second into any adult's worst nightmare.
I distinctly remember one construction day. Yes, the bathrooms in the school were divided by stalls and according to gender. The adults were tearing down the walls between the two bathrooms and used us children as laborers to drag the stall dividers out into the playground. But before the work commenced, Dad counted heads, and when the task ended, another tally was taken to make sure no kids had disappeared into the surrounding fields.
We weren't quite the Duggars. I mean, we girls could wear pants, and nobody video-recorded our prayer sessions, but we were well on our way to being "19 Reasons Religion Ruins Normal Childhoods And Counting," without the sexual problems, thank Baby Jesus.
As with most cult experiences (according to the Internet, at least), my first few weeks passed pleasantly enough. One Saturday my dad woke up his own five kids and drove us to his hometown. The city had declared a local playground unsafe and was auctioning off the various slides, merry-go-rounds, etc. Each of my siblings and I got to select our own over-sized toy. Hand to God, I picked a curlicue slide, and my dad bought it for me. My baby sister got monkey bars. My brother got a swing set. My older two sisters respectively chose a bouncy horse thing and the aforementioned merry-go-round. And this was in addition to the playground equipment that came with the school.
Another weekend, my dad blindfolded all of his kids and brought us to the gym. When we removed the towels from our eyes, we saw a heaping pile of roller blades, sticks, pucks, and pads. We played roller blade hockey every damn night for a solid year.
Living in the school was so fun that we forgot that all the town kids thought we were weird and that we had multiple mommies.
And then it happened.
We got a dog.
Or, more accurately, my Aunt RedNeck, who lived with us at the time, got a dog. This fancy show dog (side note: please don't shop when you can adopt) was a pedigreed wire hair fox terrier cleverly named Curly, and while Curly was planned to gain fame for prancing around competitions, he instead gained a reputation for cats.
Cats. Cats. Cats. Cats. Cats.
He adored them.
But not in a snuggly way.
This damn dog wanted to suck off their faces and then lick the kitties' souls from their eye sockets. He was a sick bastard, that Curly. A sweetie if you didn't belong to the feline species, but bring a cat into the picture, and it was a blood bath up in there.
Curly wandered the countryside, seeking kittens to kill, and he'd proudly plop his pulpy prey right on our front doorstep, a trophy intended to prompt praise. The murder sprees became such an issue that my Aunt RedNeck finally consulted a vet as to what could be to prevent future slaughter.
“Easy,” the vet said. “The next time he kills a cat, take that cat and tie it around Curly’s neck. Leave it there for a week. By then he’ll never want to see — let alone kill — another cat again.”
So my aunt tied a dead kitty around Curly’s neck.
And he loved it.
He used that cat as a bloody pillow and snoozed away contentedly on the bloated belly of his hapless victim. He flung it to and fro, jumping in joy that he had his own dead cat to carry around as a notch in his proverbial kitty-killing belt. That cat was his badge of honor.
Now, obvious horror aside, this cat murdering might not have been that big of a deal. After all, it's a tale as old as time: dog chases cat, dog catches cat, dog kills cat, dog owner ties cat to dog, dog fucking uses the cat carcass the same way you or I would use a fluffy goose-down cushion.
What was not okay was that my family was already known in town as a cult, and Councilman Butt Munch decided to pick that week to confront my family about our "unnatural" behavior.
Maybe I'm guessing here (and by maybe, I mean, I certainly am), but I don't think Councilman Butt Munch truly believed his own lies. I think he just liked stirring the proverbial shit pot. I think he wanted the school for himself, and he wanted to try that whole run-us-out-of-town thing, and he figured that bad-mouthing us enough would prompt us to skedaddle.
I think he drove up that day intending to tell us that we just weren't really fitting in with our new community, perhaps to plant some seeds of doubt about whether we belonged in this quaint hamlet.
But when he pulled into our driveway and stepped out of his pickup, Curly pranced right up to the man, decaying cat hanging from his neck by a rope, and rubbed that cat all over Councilman Butt Munch's pants.
I know this because I, my four siblings, and about a dozen of our friends watched it happen, and we laughed our Evangelical/speaking-in-tongue/holy-rolling asses off when Councilman Butt Munch started screeching.
My mother, my grandmothers, my aunts, and some church ladies rushed out to see what the fuss was, but the damage had done been doled.
“Cult!” Councilman Munch yelped, pointing intermittently at my family and at Curly. “Satan worshipers! CULT!”
And thus our polygamous cult status was forever cemented in this tiny Midwestern town, which, aside from our family’s debauchery, is best known for it’s farm machine festival.
My family lived in that school for the next decade, and the entire time we did so, we continued to be involved in our Pentecostal Evangelical church, thereby ensuring that anytime we made new friends, they inevitably asked us if we really were a cult. I usually just said we were, and that scared them enough that I was able to play the games I wanted without having to follow the social norms of being polite and sharing.
When I left for college, my parents moved from the school. They didn't really know the best way to market the unusual home, and they seriously considered listing it on eBay, but a family with 12 kids came to town one week and were pointed in our direction. My parents sold those parents the school (and the dog).
Once freed from our compound, my family became more open to normality. I learned about evolution and pot and thus became an all-around more enjoyable individual. My parents stopped idolizing all things Republican and even voted for Obama once.
I don’t know whatever happened to Councilman Butt Munch, but I suspect that the sacrificial cats Curly offered up on our behalf accomplished our goal of turning him into a warthog. Or, even better, a cat, in which case, he and Curly should be meeting soon.
True story: Life would be super swell if we all embraced our OMG side instead of living a Facebook-friendly existence. So, let it out. What is the weirdest story you have to tell people when they ask, "So, tell me about your childhood..?" Feel free to disclose details. You're safe here.