This chapter recounts the time before the abuse began. In the 1960s Dave and his two brothers were happy. They had what they considered “perfect parents” and lived in a nice home in Daly City, near San Francisco. Dave’s father worked as a fireman, and his mother Catherine loved her children. Dave remembers her as a determined woman who was always in command. She was fanatical about keeping the house clean and was an excellent cook. She would spend hours preparing a meal. One day she took her sons to Chinatown in San Francisco and told them about Chinese culture. When they got home she decorated the dining room with Chinese lanterns and cooked a Chinese meal. They had many pets at home: cats, dogs, fish, and a tortoise, and their mother was especially good at holiday times—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, each time decorating the house and making the holidays special for the boys. Christmas especially was idyllic: a huge Christmas tree, many gifts, a drive around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights, drinking egg nog around the fire, with a record of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” on the stereo. At other times, Mother would take the boys on day trips such as to Golden Gate Park. In spring there were picnics. In summer there were vacation camping trips. Dave particular enjoyed visits to the Russian River, where he and his brother are taken by their parents. Dave feels safe and protected, especially when his mother holds him tightly.
This chapter is a total contrast to the first, and will in turn be totally contrasted by the following chapter. The sudden changes of tone make the story dramatically effective.
At this point Dave must have been about four years old, since the brief “author’s note” at the beginning of the book states that the story covers the life of the child from the age of four to twelve.
It is striking that Dave’s memories of his very early childhood are entirely happy. His mother seems almost too good to be true. She is loving, kind, resourceful, devoted to her young family. Dave’s father is loving, too. There is not a cloud on Dave’s horizon. It is almost as if he is living in the garden of Eden before the fall of man. He enjoys everything that a child could want or desire. This sets the story up for another dramatic turn in the following chapter. The fall from innocence is going to be very hard indeed.
The book is written at an elementary reading level, reflecting the age of the child, so it is an easy read. The first two chapters, set in different time periods and recording completely opposite experiences of the child, do a very effective job in arousing the interest and curiosity of the reader, who wonders what went so badly wrong in that family home that changed Dave’s life from one of childhood bliss to one of continual nightmare.