In a flashback, David begins to tell of the years before his abuse began. He describes a loving family with “perfect parents.”
He and his two brothers, Ronald and Stan, lived with their parents in a nice house in Daly City, California. His father, Stephen Joseph, was a fireman who lovingly called David “Tiger.” His mother, Catherine Roerva, “glowed with love for her children.” She was a determined and commanding woman. One day when David was four or five, Catherine said she was sick and David noticed that she was acting strangely. She painted the front steps in red and placed mats on top of the paint before it dried. When he asked her why she did this, she said it was a surprise for his father.
David remembers his mother as a “clean fiend.” She would feed David and his brothers and then meticulously clean every inch of the house. As the boys grew older, they helped Catherine by cleaning their rooms. Catherine believed in following through with whatever task she started. David recalls that she was an excellent cook who liked to create new recipes for her family.
Catherine spent time with her boys, often without Stephen, who worked long hours. She took them sightseeing, on picnics, and to the aquarium, and they all enjoyed their time together. One of David’s memories is of going to Chinatown, where Catherine taught them about Chinese culture and history. They went home, and Catherine decorated the house with Chinese lanterns and played beautiful music. After dinner, everyone received a fortune cookie. David felt that the message in his cookie “would lead me to my destiny.” His message stated, “Love and honor thy mother.” Another day, at the aquarium, David admired the alligators and turtles, his favorite exhibit. Although he did not say it aloud, he was scared that he might fall. His mother sensed his fear and reached for his hand to reassure him.
The family had many pets, and David specifically liked Thor, the tortoise he named after his favorite cartoon character. Catherine took care of their many tanks of fish and taught the boys all about them. One day, Catherine explained about birth as their cat gave birth to kittens. She seemed to know a great deal of information, and it was important to her to teach her children.
Holidays were special events in the Pelzer household. One Halloween, Catherine surprised the boys with Matchbox race cars. She proudly looked on as they happily discovered where she had left the cars. The day after Thanksgiving, she transformed the house into a Christmas wonderland. The Christmas tree was eight feet tall and took hours for the family to decorate. It was important to the boys that every year they took turns to place the angel at the top of the tree. The whole family drove around the neighborhood to look at the neighbors’ decorated houses, and the boys felt their house had the best decorations. Catherine entertained them with stories and songs. David remembers her holding him while he slept near the fire. David always tried to wait up for Santa but never managed to stay awake. Christmas was an important event with numerous presents for each of the brothers. Catherine would happily wake them up to find their gifts. David states that one year, she began to cry; he asked her why, and she said she was happy because they were a “real family.”
Family picnics were also memorable events. David recalls that his mother prepared feasts for everyone, and he and his brothers loved to run and play...
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in the park. According to David, his parents seemed happy together as they drank wine and watched their children play.
Summer vacations were fun for the whole family, and his mother carefully planned every moment of their trips. They all enjoyed camping, and David particularly cherished their trips to the Russian River. He recalls going there when he was in kindergarten and being excited that his parents picked him up early from school so they could leave for their trip. He was amazed at the many grape fields they saw as they drove. He liked the way the redwood trees smelled and rolled down the window so he could appreciate them.
“Each day was a new adventure” when they traveled. The brothers spent their days climbing or swimming. David was proud when Catherine taught him how to swim on his back. He felt his days at Russian River were “magic,” and the water, birds, breeze, trees, and sky became important parts of his memories of family trips. His parents took the boys to see the sunset and his mother hugged him. As he listened to his mother’s heartbeat, he recalls,
I never felt as safe and as warm as that moment in time.