Do You Believe in Reincarnation? This Writer’s Stories Reflect Past Lives. Charline Ratcliff, author of The Curse of Nefertiti has such an interesting life story I have to split the interview into three parts.
“You have such a unique and fascinating story to tell, Charline. I’m thrilled to have you on my blog.”
“Thank you, Trish. I truly appreciate your interest in my life story, and thank you for taking the time to interview me.”
1. Charline, you mention in your bio on your website that your parents packed up everything and started living a nomadic life, hiding out in the woods and moving from state to state, after they learned that they were being investigated for child abuse. Obviously there was some guilt involved or they would have stayed and disputed the charges. It seems to me that you are determined not to portray yourself as a victim, which is commendable. Do you want to tell us any more about that?
Yes, that is true. What prompted this investigation is that I had gone to school with a fairly large cut on the top/back of my head courtesy of my father striking me with a clipboard. (The metal clip part of the clipboard is what sliced into my scalp). Monday, (the first school day since the weekend clipboard incident), arrived and as always, before I could leave the house, I had to be “checked” to ensure that I wasn’t wearing clothes that allowed any signs of physical abuse to show. (There are pictures of me in a kiddie pool fully clothed in a shirt and pants. Three guesses as to why and the first two don’t count). As my hair was somewhat long, and I wasn’t bending my head down to where my hair could fall away from the gash, I was deemed presentable and allowed to go.
Unfortunately, (for my parents), due to the size of the cut on my head, as well as its location, when I was sitting at my school desk, looking down while reading from a text book; my teacher walked by and actually noticed this gash. When the dismissal bell rang the teacher asked me to stay after class as she wanted to talk to me. This of course made me very nervous. I truly was a very well-behaved child; and even though I’d had a mind of my own from the age of two, I always knew that my best strategy for avoiding any parental “discipline” was to “not make waves.”
Standing at the teacher’s desk as I waited for the other students to leave sent me into a panic. I wasn’t sure what I might have done, but I knew whatever it was, I was going to “get it” later. After the classroom had cleared my teacher shut the door, (for privacy purposes I later realized). And I’ll tell you what, it’s a good thing I’ve never been a fainter; if I was, I’d have been out cold right then.
It was at this point though that she completely surprised me by asking about the cut on my head. I was so taken aback, and she seemed so genuinely concerned that I actually started crying. She asked me what had happened, and … (while my father labeled me as a “pathological liar” later on when his sexual abuse of me came to light), I was an honest child, so I told her.
She was extremely unhappy to hear this and she wanted me to go with her to the Principal’s office. That’s when I realized the gravity of my situation. To be honest, I didn’t want to go with her. I wanted to just leave it alone. I still had to go home, and I knew if my parents found out about this I was going to be sorry. (Over the years, I’ve had death threats from several men, but none of them struck the fear of God into me quite like those threats from my father).
Anyway, to sum up, I did go to the Principal’s office. My teacher had no choice in the matter. Once she was aware, and having seen the proof, she was legally bound to report it. Of course, at that time, child abuse didn’t carry the same sense of urgency that it does today and nothing happened to protect me from a life of future abuse. (Partially because of all the legal/bureaucratic red tape, and partially because my father was a fantastic liar and managed to slow and/or stop everything long enough for us to leave the area).
Is there guilt on their part? With regard to my father, I would say yes, but that didn’t come until much, much later in his life. Astonishingly enough, he provided a heart-felt apology to me after two+ decades of treating me like a pariah who was no better than the dirt beneath his shoes because I ran away from home shortly after my sixteenth birthday. During his apology, while he could not bring himself to verbally mention each of his wrongdoings; what he did say to me that day was enough, and I did forgive him. The ironic thing is that he died about two weeks later, (at the age of 58); and there is a part of me that believes he waited to go until after my visit and his apology.
As far as my mother, I don’t believe there is guilt on her part anymore. Not because she didn’t initially have it, (my grams told me years later that my mother had told her that she had regret for things she had done). Unfortunately, over the years my mother’s remembrances of the reality of the past have become twisted to suit what she desires to have as her memories.
At one point, about ten years ago, I did attempt to talk with her about my childhood. What I got back from her, (and I quote) was: “That’s alright Charline. I forgive you.”
Occasionally over the years since, I’ve attempted to reach out to her, especially during the first couple years after my father died, but sadly it was never a positive-to-me experience; not to mention that I struggle having any sort of “real” relationship with someone whose reality is not true to the world they live(d) in, both past and present. And of course, I don’t believe that anyone should be forced to keep a toxic-to-them person in their life on the basis of “well they’re family.”
Whew… that turned out to be a rather long response to your “Do you want to tell us any more about that?” question!
2. When you lived the gypsy life, how did your parents earn money for food and the other necessities? Was there ever enough of the things you needed?
Well, there were several different ways… When my parents first started this “new” lifestyle, they most likely had some type of nest egg since my father had been working as a copy repairman for Xerox in the Seattle, Washington area.
Initially, we lived in tents and stayed in the State Parks. However, even though campsites are inexpensive, (compared to hotels/motels), when you’re living in them full time, the fees begin to add up. And trust me, if you don’t pay the daily camp fee by a certain time, the Ranger will definitely be at your tent flap to collect the money…
Once several months had passed, and we had “moved” several times, my parents discovered that they could legally camp in any National Forest, (countrywide), for free, for as long as they desired. So, they “downsized” expenses first, which helped their monetary outflow dramatically. However, that decision meant that all the conveniences of “modern” living, things that most people use without thought, were no longer available to us.
At this point in time, heat became layered clothing, sleeping inside a sleeping bag in those same layered clothes, and a campfire. Electricity, and running water were things of the past. If I wanted light after the sun had set, my options were a) the campfire or b) a flashlight. (I did eventually manage to get myself a headlamp for nighttime reading in my tent because my arm got tired of holding a heavy MagLite flashlight for hours).
Flush toilets also went the way of the Dodo; instead we had a shovel and the use of the great outdoors, complete with bushes of your choice to use as your bathroom “walls.” By now you’re probably curious about showers too…
Well, let’s see. During the warmer months, one could swim, but generally a “shower” entailed a wet wash cloth. Washing my hair meant pouring cold water from a plastic gallon milk jug onto/over my head/hair; providing, of course, that we had water available for non-food purposes. (At least the State Parks had flush toilets and shower facilities for the campers).
Every few weeks my father would drive us into whatever town we were closest to so that my mother could go food shopping. While my father sat in the car, and my mother went through the store, I would go into the ladies room and wash my hair in the sink. Women definitely looked at me strangely, but at least I’d feel clean and human for the next two days…
Yet, even with the cutbacks on everything, my parents came to the realization that they still didn’t have the ability to maintain this lifestyle. Consequently, at many of the towns we stopped at, my mother would apply for food stamps. You might wonder how she/we qualified when we didn’t have an address… Well, actually, we did: my mother’s name, General Delivery, Whatever City We Were In, Whatever State, and the appropriate zip code to that specific post office.
The food stamps did help, but they wouldn’t cover non-food items such as gas, batteries, or toilet paper so it was decided that my mother would go to work at a fast food restaurant or a hotel/motel needing a maid for a few weeks until they had enough money to last for a couple months. (Generally she would work 4-6 weeks somewhere and then we’d stay in the area until she could collect her final check, and then we’d leave and repeat the entire process elsewhere).
We were traveling through Phoenix, when my parents started noticing the “prolific-ness” of Flea Markets, Swap Meets and … yard sales, garage sales, estate sales, etc.
At this point I should probably preface that prior to this “discovery” we had already been making weekly trips to various city and/or county dumps as we traveled. We would wade through the sometimes knee-deep trash, (I am not kidding), looking for things that could be re-used and/or repurposed. My father was nothing, if not an opinionated man, and he always got on his soapbox about how wasteful Americans are. There is of course truth to that statement, but he took it to a whole new level. Aside from the yucky smells and disgusting bugs and sights at the dumps, there were viable items found. (Although, usually of a more technical nature).
Afterward, I could often be found with a soldering gun, cannibalizing all the electronic items for their working parts. My father and I had jars full of resistors, transistors, capacitors and many other small electronic parts. Then either he and me together, or me by myself, would make a new item, (radio, clock, etc. depending if we had a radio shell and an empty circuit board) from these parts or we would refurbish broken electronic items.
I don’t tinker with electronics anymore, but at that time I found it to be enjoyable. I’ve always liked to make, repair, or recreate things and electronic items were no different. (Although, sometimes I did wind up having a bad resistor or something else, or I used too much current for the item and wound up blowing up the circuit board). And even though I don’t work with them nowadays, somehow I think I’ll always have a soft spot for the smell of hot solder…
Anyway, to return to the “discovery,” my parents figured they would try their hand at buying items at yard/garage sales and them reselling those same items at Swap Meet and Flea Market venues. And finally, anything purchased at those yard/garage sales that was new, still in box with a price tag, was returned to the store of its purchase as an “unwanted gift.”
And that was what got my parents by financially, at least for the remainder of the time I was with them.
3. Your love of books is easy to understand. There probably wasn’t much else to do since you weren’t going to school or participating in any other outside activities. How else did you occupy yourself?
Well, believe it or not, living in a tent in the middle of nowhere does require a lot of work if you want to maintain any semblance of “civilization.” Because of this, I had numerous tasks, the first and foremost being the live-in babysitter/nanny for my two, very-much-younger-than-me, brothers.
I was always required to keep all the exterior household areas clean. So, any time after meals, I was expected to clean up/wash up. Any chairs, or anything else we used, I was expected to put away. I was expected to gather the firewood; kindling, as well as larger branches and logs. I was expected to carry the bow saw with me so that if I came across any wood too large and/or heavy for me to carry back, I could cut it there and make multiple trips. I even became quite good at hand-washing clothes, although I have to tell you, trying to hand-wring blue jeans is tough. There’s no give or stretch to the fabric, and all you get for your trouble are blisters and pants that still drip water…
At some point along the way, my father became tired of having to walk out into secluded areas to go to the bathroom. At the next camping/stopping point he made sure he located a place that also had a small secluded, yet treed/shrubbed area next to it. These areas were to become the “bathrooms.” In addition to my many other chores, I was now expected to take our 5’ shovel and dig multiple 6’ feet holes. This way one could go to the bathroom without trekking all over the countryside and then just cover the waste over with the dirt I had dug out of, and left next to, each hole.
There were many other chores; too many to list here though. My parents made sure they made good use of my free labor. Cinderella and I had lots in common… *chuckle*
During the days, after I was done with whatever they had assigned me, there would come times when they could not come up with anything else for me to do. At which point they would allow me to go for a walk. My Walkman radio/cassette player was my only lifeline to the “real” world, (other than when we went into town for groceries and would also stop at the library for books). Believe you me; I never was without spare batteries!
Music, reading, and seeing beauty in the nature around me was what got me through those very lonely years. That and the thirteen pen pals I had from different countries around the world…
I rarely read during the day; mainly I saved that for nighttime. Just because the sun might set at 5:30pm didn’t mean I was ready for sleep at 6:30pm! Plus, if I was told my parents didn’t have anything for me to do, but then I stayed around where they could see me, they would find something for me to do. Especially my father who, as I got older, became even more disparaging about my reading choices, my looks, my clothing choices, my desired future career choices, my perceived crappy attitude, my laziness and even my extremely low intelligence level. (Just to share a few).
As I mentioned much earlier, I learned to “not make waves” therefore if I wasn’t around for him to see/look at, then theoretically I couldn’t upset him. That effort on my part didn’t always work out for me, but hey, no one can say that I didn’t try!
4. I find it extremely commendable that after you stopped attending school at age twelve, you educated yourself. The fact that you are such a good writer is proof that your education was not lacking as far as language and creative writing go. Are you any good at math and sciences? How did you actually teach yourself?
Thank you, Trish. I hesitate to say this, but I’ve always loved all educational subjects, although I know there are many who don’t. (And that’s quite alright too)! From as early as I can remember, I have always found the world around me to be a very interesting and fascinating place. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to learn everything that I’d like to, but I’m still working on it; even today!
With regard to my younger education; were you to ask my parents, (as every single person who came across us invariably did), they would answer without hesitation or batting an eye, that they “homeschooled,” us. That boldfaced lie grates on my nerves every time I hear it…
It is true that my mother did “homeschool” my brothers, (and I use that word loosely, based on what I know to be their educational understanding of standard school subjects once they attained “adulthood” by turning eighteen). However, they didn’t even bother with me. My scholastic needs were completely ignored by both of my parents and my father even went so far as to state that “an education would be wasted on you.” (i.e. me)
So, when we went to the various libraries, I always checked out a massive amount of books. (Twenty-five to thirty every two/three weeks…) Some of them were fiction; intended for my age, some of them were learning, some of them were fairy tales, biographies, or locations/cultures that I was interested in, etc.
Later on in life, when I heard Einstein’s comment re: fairy tales and children, I definitely laughed. “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” ― Albert Einstein
As to how I taught myself, both then and through the years … I learn in various manners. Reading, hearing, watching, doing, and let’s not forget about deductive reasoning, common sense or the always fun, so-long-as-you-don’t-hurt-yourself, trial and error.
Stay tuned to read the fascinating continuation of this interview, and about how Charline dreamed of past lives and wrote about them.