Pat Trask rarely visits the vacant old farmhouse near Tessier, Sask., anymore. The chimney has fallen into the kitchen, where crushing memories linger. Slices of paint bend and curl down from the ceiling like giant tears.
She can still see her mother, Ivy Faris, bent over the old wood stove, hard at work while her father dozed on the couch under the window.
It’s a picture of a calm before the storm. Trask learned early in life not to judge a book by its cover.
The old saying reminds her of her father, Ken Faris, and the years of abuse he inflicted on his family throughout the Great Depression and beyond.
She remembers a good looking man who wore a smile for his poker playing friends and strangers on the street. However, behind closed doors on the farm he was a controlling, lazy tyrant who regularly abused his wife and six daughters.
“He was such a handsome man and everybody thought his personality matched his handsomeness,” said Trask, who now lives in Harris, Sask.
It wasn’t much wonder then that Trask selected the title of her self-published book, The Man Behind Handsome, two years before she ever put pen to paper.
“I thought that told the story right there, calling him that,” she said.
Many victims might try burying a childhood filled with mistreatment, but the octogenarian’s motives for publishing a memoir were to “tattle on” the bullies and abusers out there.
Writing it came fast and furious, but the decision to chronicle personal details of her life took much deliberation, mostly out of respect for the living. She consulted with three siblings still alive, who supported exposing their father.
“Finally I thought, ‘no, these kind of people who abuse their families, whether it be men or women, need to be exposed. Otherwise they’re hiding behind that closed door of the house, and it will go on forever be-cause nobody’s ever supposed to tell anything out of the home.’ It’s time people started speaking up and telling these things.”
Social worker and teacher Jacklin Andrews said chronicling personal abuse is a healthy way of facing it instead of burying or pretending it didn’t occur.
“Yes it did happen and despite everything, I survived and I’m OK. That abuser was not able to absolutely destroy my life,” he said.
“That was certainly the case with Trask. She survived and did well.”
Andrews said writing helps victims get out of the emotional world they are in and gain perspective.
“I think she wrote it to clarify things for herself. She needed to write it for her own reasons,” he said.
In spite of the book, Trask said there are memories that linger and wounds that cannot heal.
She remembers one Saturday morning. While Trask and her sisters were in the barn milking cows and cleaning stalls, their father was in the house sleeping late. He often in-dulged after late nights of gambling away the milk money.
A calf began to bawl unceasingly, and not sure what to do, the girls made several attempts to wake their father, only to be met with profanity.
It was well past lunch before the calf died and their father roused himself. Trask said what followed next was brutal and stinging anger, a mix of contempt, hate and profanity.
“Like the calf, we had been abandoned, left whimpering in a corner to fend for ourselves,” she wrote.
“Nature had ended the animal’s agony. We still had more than five years of suffering before we could leave home.”
She also remembers the day her father gave the sisters permission to go to town and have lunch with friends. Their father met them at the door in a rage.
“He was in a frothing-of-the-mouth state, throwing us around. I was 16,” she said. “Those were the dangerous ones because you certainly didn’t want to spark him into any physical action. You sort of held your breath until he was done. You didn’t get up and leave the room because then he’d direct it at you and quite often got physical,” Trask said.
“You were subjected to listen to him as long as he wanted to rant. That was one of the hardest parts.”
One of the tragedies of this situation was how normal it became.
“Our little world was so small then, we sort of thought that most houses operated like ours did.… We thought it was ordinary,” said Trask.
Andrews said abusers tend to isolate their victims, a technique still happening in rural areas.
“Ten to 15 years ago, I heard from a woman who said her husband would let air out of the tires on all the trucks so she couldn’t go to town,” he said.
Andrews said the instances of abuse haven’t changed that much, but more resources are available for victims.
Trask said she has been praised for the book, published in 2012, and her courage in writing it.
“I have dozens and dozens of emails and letters that I get from people who read the book and tell me how much it’s helped them. Some of them say, ‘now I can tell my story.’ ”
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