July 1st, 2012:


How would an unsophisticated small town  woman know if her postwar suitor was not all he seemed, especially in the 1940s? My mother  had grown up in a large loving Southern family. Shortly after she married my father in 1942, he went off to fight in the invasion of Italy, and she moved back to her parents’ home with me. The war broke up many relationships, including my mother’s.

When World War II was over there were plenty of men available and Mom was very pretty. Introduced by her brother and sister-in-law, she was impressed with the man who became my stepfather: he was a handsome over-achieving type who  had graduated #2  at the Citadel.  He had a way with words but in later years directed them at his family  in a biting, sarcastic manner. Officers’ military training is not conducive to listening to others’ opinions or concerns. In general, husbands and fathers of the 1940s-50s always knew best, according to popular opinion. They were to be obeyed not questioned.

I don’t have a memory of having met my stepfather before we joined him in Germany as US Army occupiers in 1947. He certainly took a shine to me; I have the photos to prove it. But the attraction didn’t mean he’d spoil me. Far from it—he threw me in the deep end of a swimming pool when I was four and I had never been in a pool before. It was literally sink or swim. Perhaps a deep instinct told me even then that I’d better swim and keep at it since it wasn’t going to be an easy childhood.

Because I hid the molestation deep in my mind, I don’t remember how many times it happened. I have a poignant memory, however, of a toy I had: a four-inch dollhouse mother figure. I called her Mrs. Brownie and I fantasized that she protected me from my stepfather. The abuse stopped when I was 12 and he became the taskmaster who made all the rules and regulations. He never beat his children that I remember. He didn’t need to: we were all afraid of him, including my mother.  The years have taught me that those who need so much control have deep-seated insecurities. I wonder what he’d think now of modern ideas, like the loving encouragement of children?

For a more complete story of my childhood, Colonels Don’t Apologize, for instance…visit  http://amazon.com/author/victoriagiraud

My sister and I on the left on the steps of Mama Jake’s home. We weren’t pleased with the photographer, our dad.

I hardly saw him in his later years and when I did, he could always find a way to “push my buttons” because he knew my sensitivities. And then he’d say I was too defensive. I never blamed him or accused him of wrongdoing to his face. The most positive part of our relationship came when he was much older and enjoyed writing me positive letters for the most part; by then he had buried and forgotten his transgressions. He even called me “lucky.” Yep, I was lucky I survived his treatment. My mother didn’t: she died at 52.

In researching pedophilia, I came up with some interesting facts. According to a Kaiser Permanente study of 17,000 people, one in four girls and one in six boys had been sexually abused. It’s been said that pedophiles, who are usually men and are more attracted to children (13 and younger) than adults, might inherit the trait.

Like me,  most children don’t talk about what happened since it’s usually perpetrated by someone they know and trust, and the child thinks it is her/his fault. We learn to hide our emotional wounds since we don’t know what else to do. The damage sticks around and in many cases doesn’t get processed, like mine for many years. I was astounded to learn that a few of the repercussions in later years include: depression, addiction, heart disease, obesity, suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I have  strong feelings of  optimism; I intend to keep on processing my experiences and move on. We all have  challenging negative incidents in our lives; they make us who we are. It’s not what happens to you that makes the difference, but how you handle it. As one of my favorite sayings goes: “Learn to let go as easily as you grasp or you’ll have your hands full and your mind empty.” Perhaps my story will help someone affected by this kind of abusive behavior.



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