7) A Very Good Arm Wrestler and an Even Better Locksmith

In the previous post you read about my developing self-confidence. In this post I’ll describe my third step father, Jim Wirtz and his life with my Mom.

In algebra we sometimes try to figure out how one variable in an equation will affect the outcome.

This also works for drunk parents. Watching when and how much my parents drank worked a lot like algebra. But if they went to Ryan’s Ballroom to drink and dance, how much they drank – one variable – was unknown. So when they got home, sometimes they would be peaceful. Other times all hell would break loose. Sometimes a silent but tense hell – waiting for the smallest trigger.
Oliver-Age 13I was a mouthy 13-year-old – sick with angst, worry and rage those nights after Ryan’s Ballroom. And big, old Jim Wirtz didn’t take any guff from me. Triggered.

During my early years the more my parents screamed at each other and Mom cried, the angrier I became. Like a fog the sadness sometimes washed over me. I hated their drinking and arguing. I didn’t know at the time they were playing out the story of failures and anger in their own lives, just as we do with our spouses and children, I suppose.
“Dammit, why didn’t they understand their drinking always led to arguments!” I asked myself, “Why can’t they stop?”

Lower Middle Class in North Minneapolis

Being a white family in a mostly black neighborhood in North Minneapolis during the ’60’s was hard. Most times the neighborhood felt safe but when I got to school, racial cultures sometimes clashed and was nearly always tense. Mom worked at John’s Bar as a waitress and was known for her work ethic, warmth and sharp wit. Jim Wirtz drove a big truck delivering stuff in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area of Minnesota.

Very Good Arm Wrestler Who Dug Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass

Jim Wirtz, my step dad – my real Dad died when I was 3 years old – was a big German/Irishman. Jim Wirtz loved his beer and used to display his athletic prowess by arm-wrestling in John’s Bar, and many times with me at home. “How’s it going, son,” Jim used to say from our green and chrome kitchen table on Saturday mornings. “wanna’ test your good right arm,” he would ask. “Sure,” I’d say. Well over 200 lbs. and strong like a mule, Jim pinned my arm every time. The only question was how long I could last. “By God you’re getting stronger,” he would say, if I lasted more than a few seconds. At age 13, I wasn’t very strong. Once I became a young man of 19, Jim could not pin my arm. Or didn’t.

Jim would’ve Been an Excellent Locksmith

One funny (I suppose) episode was when Jim locked us out of the duplex, changed the locks and put every shred of clothing Mom, and I owned out onto the front lawn. A note on the front door upstairs read something like: “Enter-not into this place under threat of great harm. Take your clothes and go back where I found you both – in the gutter,” signed, Jim.

Are bad childhood memories magnified in our adult minds?

Next: My Nervous and Hard-working Mom

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