This extraordinary memoir chronicles the story of a girl who endures extreme abuse to protect her family, then exacts revenge through vigilante justice.
Although she protected her family from an evil man, she nevertheless became an outcast, showing how greed and lies kept everyone from believing her.
Her lonely journey charts her self-effacing life from the 1940’s to the present. By fearlessly exploring her past, Dell’Amore realized the shame and guilt she had embraced were never hers. “Hush Hush and Other Veneers” is a journey of resilience and courage in the face of self-interest and denial from a society that had looked the other way. It is a story of hard-won freedom.
Hush Hush and Other Veneers:
I remember very clearly when, at the age of eight, I was infected with a venereal disease by a man my parents called “doctor.” My brothers were away at school when I first met him and his wife. It was in the fall of 1949. I had been in the living room playing checkers on the cobbler’s bench with Lulu, our house- keeper. The cold wind howled outside, sending gusts down the chimney, pushing sparks and ashes out of the hearth. The moist cold brushed my cheeks. Doors rattled; the organdy curtains shifted. Lulu said, “Something strange is in the air. Can you smell it?”
“No,” I said, as I jumped my checker to make a king.
After dinner that night, my parents drove to town to have a “drink” celebrating a court case my father had won. We heard a car.
“I bet they’re back.” Lulu rose to see, as the door bashed open with a bang. Icy wind invaded the room. I rushed to greet my parents, but others stood there instead. A short blue-eyed man entered carrying a leather bag. Thick, nearsighted glasses shielded icy eyes. A waxed mustache with horns crossed his upper lip. He greeted me with a peculiar accent, “Hello girlie.” Squeezing in beside him was a large woman bundled in brown.
My mother ecstatically introduced the newcomers. The Stoeltings were staying at the Clinton House because their car had broken down. My parents invited them to stay until it was repaired. Dr. Thomas Stoelting and his wife, Georgie, eagerly accepted. The doctor was a mining engineer searching for investors. He claimed he was German and had graduated from Heidelberg University. Georgie was from California. The couple lived in Boulder Creek, California.
My mother’s nod cued me. I introduced myself, “I’m Sandy, and this is Lulu.” The doctor held out his hand, “Hello, little girlie.” He squinted through his round gold-wire-rimmed glasses. As I shook his hand, I felt an odd tingle from my hand to my throat. I should have paid attention to this. His wife shook my hand, too. Her “Hi” sounded pleasant.
Lulu advanced, taking coats and luggage, then rushed upstairs to make a bedroom ready.
After touring the house, the doctor sat opposite, staring at me. His wife sat next to me, near the fire, smoking a cigarette. My mother called me to bed. “Nice to meet you,” I blurted, as I bounded up the stairs.
The next morning, I awoke to voices in the dining room. I jumped up to dress for breakfast. The wide pine boards were frigid to my bare feet as I raced to the bathroom. Snow whirled against the windowpanes and over the yard. I pulled on my slipper socks, hopped into a skirt and fought into a sweater. My mother came up the stairs as I started down.
“Wait a minute young lady. You can’t go down stairs without your hair braided.” There was no argument. My hair was braided and tied with bows.
Lulu was busy frying bacon and eggs. A pile of toast sat in the middle of the long dining table. I sat facing the Stoeltings. I was now studying the doctor as he spoke about money and mining claims. “The Great Northern mercury mine will make thousands for investors,” he told my father. “Hundreds returned on the dollar. I can sell you stock, if you want to invest.”
I understood my father was interested by the way he listened and smiled.
The doctor cut his bacon with a small yellow-handled pocket knife that squeaked its way across his plate. He grasped the fork upside down before securing the bacon with a stab. My parents didn’t notice. I would never be allowed to eat like that.
Georgie wore a fossil agate necklace and ring. This seemed exotic compared to my mother’s diamonds and aquamarines. Her long fingers with tapered red nails moved like spider legs as she lighted a cigarette. I fled to the kitchen to find out what Lulu thought. “Don’t ask me,” she said. I took this to mean she hadn’t yet made up her mind.
Later, Georgie told me about California. There, redwood trees were so wide people could drive or walk through tunnels cut through them. She offered to send me some seeds. I liked these people.
Soon, friends were invited to meet the fascinating couple. Medical doctors, members of the bridge club, the gun club and church members came. The “doctor” shot pictures of them with a 3-D Stereo-Realist camera. He and his wife were unusual to our small town culture.
Lulu and my mother were busy cleaning. My mother hired a “girl” from the local reformatory for three dollars a day. They scrubbed, waxed and ironed. They dug out corner dirt with discarded toothbrushes. They polished the silver with pink paste. The house was clean at all times for possible guests.
The Stoeltings stayed for several months, even after their car was fixed. They slept in my brother’s room because he was at college.
About a month after they arrived, I raced up the winding back stairs to visit. Georgie was large and buxom. She lay shoeless on the bed. I stood by the doctor as he sat at the desk in uniform-like khakis. Papers and a map covered the desktop. He had been smoking a pipe. “You know I’m a doctor.”
“Yes,” I said. “I know.”
“I have a special secret to show you,” he said in an accented whisper. As he turned, he narrowed his eyes to knife-like slits. Like magic, his upper black lashes formed his blue eyes into black onyx circles.
His chair scraped back noisily as he got up to shut the bedroom door. He nodded knowingly toward Georgie. A sneer spread under his waxed mustache that curved up into horns on each side. He reeked of 4711 cologne.
“Come up here.” Georgie whispered in her deep, raspy, cigarette voice. I scrambled up onto the high bed.
The doctor said, “I have a turtle that wants to see your girlie parts.” He opened his pants and showed me his penis.
“That’s not a turtle, that’s a penis,” I said. “Where is the turtle?”
Georgie laughed and repeated my question. “Take off your panties so you can see the turtle.” She helped me. I was curious to see where the turtle might be.
She held my legs apart while the doctor inserted himself inside me.
“Ouch, that hurts! Don’t do that!” I cried but he continued, then withdrew.
“Shush!” Georgie said. I grabbed my pants and pulled them up. I jumped down, running to the door, but the doctor grabbed me about my waist.
“There’s no turtle. It’s a penis,” I blurted. My chapped cheeks burned as I wiped my tears with my sleeves and hands.” It’s a penis.”
Georgie spoke softly. “It really was as turtle, you just didn’t see it.”
“Then where is it?”
“It went to sleep, and can’t come out,” the doctor said.
“It’s a secret,” said Georgie. “Remember it’s a secret.”
They coaxed me to stay in the room, where they talked to me, and I looked at magazines, before it was “Okay” for me to leave. “Remember, it’s a secret.” Georgie said one more time.
“I remember, it’s a secret.”
Of course I told, but not to my mother’s liking. We were in the bathroom. I told her the couple had tried to fool me with the turtle story. She looked sad for a moment before announcing, “That’s a lie. That couldn’t be.” I was shocked and confused at her response.
“It was a lie,” I agreed. I had upset her. I stood silent for a few moments. Then retracted my statement.
“I told you the truth the first time. He really did put his penis inside me.” I pointed to my crotch. She perched her thin body on the side of the tub. She attempted to get up, and then shook my shoulders, saying, “You’re driving me crazy.” She looked at me balefully, pursed her lips and walked out.
Left alone, I stared at a large baby oil bottle standing on the porcelain toilet cover. It was greasy with a pink plastic top. I tried to spell oil, so I could remember. Was it O-I-L, or I-O-L? I was dazed. She did not believe me. I thought I had to do something so she wouldn’t be upset, but I was at a loss. I wanted a hug. My mother didn’t understand me. It really happened. There was something about a lie and the truth I didn’t know. Confusion filled me. I thought I might have spoken wrongly. Otherwise, my mother would know I was truthful. I was missing something.
Days later, my mother stood at her dresser, placing tortoise shell combs in her hair and dabbing on perfume. I stood watching. “What’s wrong? she asked. I grasped her hand and led her into the bathroom. “Look,” I showed her my yellowish, pink discharge on my underpants.
She said nothing, then rushed downstairs to phone someone.
The next day she nervously drove me to Dr. Hance’s office in Easton, Pennsylvania. He was a tall and gruff gynecologist. A brown tweed suit hid under his long white jacket. He glanced at me once after having a “look” then took a sample from my private parts. I waited in the dreary, cold outer room with its dark floors and musty drapes. My mother emerged with a box of special droppers and medicine to instill inside me twice a day. I had gonorrhea.
“Preposterous! I will not be tested for V.D., nor will my wife. You have women come from the reformatory to clean. She could have gotten that from a toilet seat,” Stoelting growled, clenching his teeth on his pipe. Then in a soft voice with an edge like a razor, he said, “Little girls tell lies.”
“Well, Dr. Hance suggested everyone get tested,” my mother returned.
Our family, including my three brothers who were home on vacation, and our housekeeper, Lulu, were tested and found negative for disease. The Stoeltings were not tested for disease. It was decreed that I got gonorrhea from a toilet seat. I was treated with an iodine solution for several weeks and cured. For me the incident, though not discussed, was not forgotten. Stoelting was reassured of his power to influence our family.
Christmas came while the Stoeltings visited. I got a doll dressed in pink and a game of Pegity. Our family was happy. My older brother, Tony, home on vacation, was intrigued by the doctor. He became interested in mining and geology.
Thomas Stoelting showed me how to curtsy. He signaled when I should perform. Guests thought this was cute. My mother embraced it as good manners. I dreaded to do what he asked me to do. I was frequently fetching something for him from my brother’s room, such as his pipe or tobacco. It was worse when I was made to sit next to him and listen to him talk about mining to the “grown- ups.” I was supposed to learn something about mining from him. My parents allowed his control and thought it was good for me. He was a doctor and they believed he was right.
My parents’ close friends visited often to meet with Stoelting and his wife. They included doctors: Boyer, Coleman, (both medical doctors) and Hance, the gynecologist and surgeon who treated my gonorrhea, and who would treat me again in the future. The couples had played bridge, gone on trips with my parents, or had treated the family’s medical ailments. The men had hunted with my father. The Stoeltings told wonderful stories about mines and easy money. The doctor claimed to be an expert mining engineer. My parents invested in his ventures and supported his mother-in-law and children left in Boulder Creek. They continued supporting the Stoelting family for many years to come.
Friends bought stock investments in the Great Northern Mine, a mercury mine. It was an elite proposition. My father, because he was a lawyer, handled the legal details of incorporating a new company for Stoelting. The couple returned to California after several months. My father sent money; my mother, Virginia, knitted articles and put grocery money aside for them.