Raising Kids in the ‘80s

Austin Phelps


It was a hard life those kids lived—a one room house on the edge of town, all six of them having to sleep on top of one another—Jack’s mom’s old place that he inherited after she passed from colon cancer. Doctor said the tumor they’d found in her was benign, but the traces of blood in her shit and vomit six months later told otherwise. That really tore Jack up something fierce. Changed him. Became one of those people who didn’t have any right having kids. Just a big kid himself, really.

Jack spent his free time (which was all the time) drinking Bud Lights and smoking meth. When his body built a tolerance to that, which’ll happen after doing the shit for years on end, he switched to Jack Daniels and shootin’ up instead. It was his daughter, Abigail, around age seven at the time, who found him half dead after a bad overdose. She had to give him CPR until the ambulance arrived to shock his heart back. Jack went pale in the face, brain dead for a couple minutes, and by time he finally came to, quite a bit of damage had already been done. The kids cried in the hospital for days hoping he’d get better. He just wasn’t the same after that. Got really weird. Started beating the kids. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Jack never was much of a good man, but he wasn’t violent. That overdose did something to his mind. Most of the neighbors around town were wishing he’d finally kick the bucket so the kids would be taken into an orphanage somewhere. I never thought that was right. I mean, an orphanage ain’t no place for a kid. Then again, neither was living with Jack. I guess some things don’t always have a right and a wrong. Some things are just how they are.

It was his first week back home from the hospital that Jack started not acting right. Started going into his weird spells. Kids went into a frenzy one night hootin’ and hollerin’ down the street. Talking about how they’d never seen their Daddy act that way. Said he was trying to stab Jack Jr. with a butcher knife. Said right before that he used the same butcher knife to give Little Jodie a haircut. Poor girl’s roots never did grow back the same. She was all cut up on her scalp. Jack got her good with that knife.

“You mean to tell me she just cut her head up with a pair of scissors?” Jack was in good with the police, but even they were suspicious about this one.

“Yeah, it was just a really rough self-cut. I’ve had trouble keeping food on the table, let alone having money for all the cosmetic stuff. You know how those girls get, Officer Al.”

Long story short, they ended up letting Jack off. There was a bunch of talk around town after that. Mostly about how the police in the little ‘ol town of Burton, Illinois never did shit. There was other talk about Jack needing to be dealt with. If the police weren’t gonna handle it, then the people of Burton vowed they would.

Jack wasn’t a hard person to find. If he wasn’t all fucked up at home neglecting his kids, then he’d be all fucked up at Shirley’s Temple, the local bar, neglecting them there. He sure was a goddamn piece of fucking shit. The only one who ever had any taste for him was the bar owner herself, Miss Shirley Templeton. And that’s only because she’d become so used to the vodka after years of hard drinking that she needed something a little more bitter. Jack sure fit that taste.

“Come over here, big boy, and lay one on me,” Miss Shirley would have had Jack in that bar right then and there if what was about to happen didn’t happen. She ran Burton with a fucking force. But even her stake in the town couldn’t help Jack that night after those boys came rolling in.

“Ya gotta let him go! Get your filthy fucking paws off him!” Those boys might have had their paws all over Jack that night, but it was Miss Shirley who was screaming like a damn wildcat. “He’s all I fucking got! If ya take him, ya gotta take me too!”

And so they did. Those boys rounded up both Jack and Miss Shirley, beat the hell out of ‘em, hogtied ‘em, threw ‘em in the back of their truck, and took off outside of town. What they did to Jack was unspeakable. Turns out they threw Miss Shirley out of the truck on the way to dispose of Jack’s body, thinking she was dead, but she was just playin’ it. She did a tuck and roll when they threw her out the back, something her Daddy taught her from his days in the military. She lived to tell the tale of what happened.

Those boys beat the living shit out of Jack—hit him with bare fists, kicked him with steel-toed boots, stomped on him. Shoved a pool stick so far up his ass it came out the other side. At least that’s what Miss Shirley said. Officer Al told the papers that the exact story Miss Shirley told might be slightly exaggerated on account of the fact that people’s minds sometimes go all willy nilly and start making things up due to fear. Those weren’t his exact words, but something like it.


The kids were taken in by Miss Shirley shortly after that. She said it was the only way to make right by Jack for what those boys had done to him. She blamed herself for what happened. I’d like to be able to say she cleaned her act up, got sober and became a good mother for those kids, but that’d be a bunch of lies and bullshit. They were taken away from her and then put into another foster home. For years I never heard a lick about those kids and what happened to them, until recently when Jack Jr. came popping back into town. Come to find out, Jack Jr. wasn’t even his real name—it was Randy. Turns out Jack was never really the father of any of those kids. Turns out he ended up kidnapping them sometime back in ‘77. Their momma had been looking for them ever since. She passed away not too long ago and it hurt Randy something awful. Turned to drugs just like Jack did. When I asked him about his five other sisters, he got all emotional on me. Said they stopped talking to him after he got an awful charge a couple years back. I didn’t even wanna ask what it was. I just wished him well and told him that Burton’s always got a place for him here. He left that day to go see a woman named Debra that he’d been staying with. Before he went, I gave him a Burton-sized hug. He asked me for a twenty on his way out, which I gave to him. Even though Randy swore Jack wasn’t his Daddy, he sure did have his exact same eyes. Damn, those kids had it rough.