Saturday, August 4, 2012

This Boy's Life

For any of you that have/had a stepparent that was good to you, here is a story of someone who wasn't so lucky. This story begins w/ a 10-yr-old by, Tobias (Toby) Wolff, and his mother, Caroline, on an adventure to Salty Lake City, UT to get rich and change their luck.

When Tobias acquired the name 'Jack' for himself, his mother was okay with it, but his father wasn't. He found it a pride to his family name. Although Toby's dad was rolling in money, he had left the family to marry a millionairess. Some time after school, 'Jack' would pass the hours after school mostly to avoid his mother's boyfriend, Roy. Roy had tracked down Caroline a few weeks later. There were times when Toby would go w/ Roy on trips, such as hunting & fishing. Roy was happy to take him along. Outside of the brutality that Caroline suffered from Roy, Toby didn't know about it. He thought Roy was what a man should be. Shortly after Easter that year, Roy gave Toby a Windchester .22 rifle he'd been wanting.  The next day after Caroline & Roy discussed having a family, Toby comes home from school to NO Ray and his mother, Caroline, packing to leave. They boarded a bus heading to Seattle.

After arriving in Seattle, Toby & Caroline boarded a house w/ 2 roommates. One was a secretary who was young and soft-spoken. Her name was Kathy. The other was the housekeeper, Marian, whom later didn't like Toby and he the same w/ her. She seen right through him from the gentleman that he pretended to be. Whenever Toby would've been needing spanked/disciplined, even though Marian did too, Caroline disagreed as though Toby would disagree. A few months later after Marian & Kathy were both engaged, Marian tried to fix Caroline up w/ a few men, then came Dwight (Thompson).

Even though Dwight's complete niceness at face value, Toby seen right though the impressionistic facade. Toby seen that Dwight tried too hard. That Thanksgiving, Toby & Caroline had gone to Dwight's w/ him and his kids. His 2 oldest; Skipper, his eldest daughter, Norma and his youngest, Pearl, whom quickly grabbed onto Caroline. Dwight's house was about 1/2 a barracks where German POW's were stationed. After WWII, the barracks were converted into a duplex where Dwight grew up w/ his family on one side and another family on the other. After Caroline & Dwight went out, Toby stayed w/ Pearl. After everyone was in bed, Caroline returned and asked Toby what he thought of the family? His response was that he thought she thought things were being rushed and hurried. When they went to tour Chinook, Caroline found out from the kids the only school they went to was in another town, Concrete, Concrete High. Dwight first won Toby over to Chinook by mentioning a turkey shoot.

When Toby went, after causing trouble again at school and becoming suspended, he was left w/ feeling no choice and gave in, by Caroline's asking, to staying w/ Dwight. He partly agreed to move to Chinook to get away from the others w/ notions of him. This move would be a like a new start. Now and then w/ the overload of chores Dwight had given him, Skipper & Norma let Dwight know that he was overdoing it w/ Toby. Even though Toby was forced to become a Boy Scout thanks to Dwight, Toby DID thoroughly enjoy it! There were times when Toby received criticism for his hands being tarnished literally yellow.This was from hauling horse chestnuts that Dwight assigned Toby to do everyday. When Skipper graduated in 1949, he stayed in Chinook and devoted his money that he made into building his car. One day after delivering papers, Toby would fold up his news bag, cross the bridge leading out of the camp and would hitchhike to different locations and always be back by the time Dwight & Caroline got home from work.

Toby, while being a teen, kept outgrowing his shoes. Two pairs in seventh grade alone. Dwight thought that Toby was growing out of malice. Other than sulking, whenever Dwight lost at a firing range match next to anyone, he would literally yell at Caroline for refusing to appreciate the sacrifice(s) he made by taking in a woman w/ a kid like Toby. If Caroline argued back, Dwight accused her of being disloyal. Sometimes Dwight's picking on Caroline would result in Toby near ready to kill Dwight. After Norma had settled into a new life after graduating & leaving Chinook, she came home for Christmas and brought a man w/ her, Kenneth, that you could tell she didn't love and he was someone that you would rather not know. But she married him and had a child, also w/ a guilt of regret for staying w/ him.

By the time Toby started high school, he had saved about $80.00 in an ammunition box. He was saving his money to run away to Alaska. One thing that Toby & Arthur Gale DID have in common was their way of expending stories of each others lives out of proportion. Stories better that the REAL truth. One night after a kiss from Arthur that surprised Toby, they would at times have blowups but a few days later pick up as though nothing happened.

When Dwight bought Toby a dog from trading in Toby's Windchester rifle w/o consent, Dwight bought the dog that he wanted and became more of the owner that Toby. (As if Dwight bought the dog for himself w/ Toby's earned money.) Champ the dog ended up becoming a notorious "cat-killer" throughout the neighborhood. When it was decided that Champ had to go, Dwight had taken him in the night and just let him go.

After 6 years of no contact, Toby received a letter and a sweatshirt from his older brother in Princeton. Toby wore the sweatshirt everywhere and even styled his hair w/ a 'do called "the Princeton", flat on top, long and swept back on the sides. When Caroline was out, Dwight didn't exactly beat Toby, but he kept the possibility open. After Toby had feared being busted for forging a check from a convience check book at a bank, Toby wanted to hitchhike to Princeton to be w/ his brother and this was his way to get there. During this time period, Toby had become a Life Scout now almost close to Eagle. At a Scouts dinner, Toby ran into a woman who's son was a Scout but she was a woman whom he had run into on his chance at the Bank.

Whenever Toby would hear from his brother, Geoffrey, he would hear word from his dad as well. His dad and his wife were separated. He moved and found work in California. One thing that elated Toby in his brother's letters were that he wanted to see Toby. After Dwight had smashed an actual empty jar of mustard into Toby's face saying it wasn't empty and smacking him in the face after demanding the jar be "cleaned out". Toby left the house, went to a pay phone and called his brother collect. Trying to get the mustard story out, he confided to his brother about Dwight. He told Toby to apply to 2 schools, Deerfield & Choate to get away, thinking he should get in on his accomplishments. Geoffrey told him he'd relay Toby's situation to their dad and said "to get him out. One way or another."

During this time, Caroline was traveling and campaigning for John F. Kennedy. She met a man on the campaign trail and Dwight heard wind of it. When Caroline & Dwight were driving one night, he turned off the road and took her somewhere. She wanted to go back and he refused. He was drinking and pulled his hunting knife from under the seat and put it to her throat, vowing to kill her if she ever left him. When Toby informed his mom about speaking w/ Geoffrey, she teared up. One night when Dwight & Pearl were out of the house, Toby's dad called and when Caroline answered, EVERYTHING about her immediately changed. She was girlish. After a nice conversation, she told Toby not to count on his dad.

When Toby went down to Seattle for the testing in Deerfield, he felt a sense of belonging, like he was home. Arthur and Toby had been close, but at the same time also drifting apart. Arthur had ALOT of things going on including a girlfriend and extracurricular activities. Arthur and his girlfriend, Beth's, relationship troubled Toby. After a one-on-one fight between Arthur & Toby which was a 3-minute fight in the school gym. Dwight felt ACTUAL pride, almost love, in Toby when Toby used the lessons that Dwight taught him. When Toby was rejected from all of the places that he applied to, he never heard back from Choate. A week later, he gets a call from Hill School.

When Toby had accidentally cut his finger w/ a saw at school, he was addicted to the morphine given to him by the nurses. Later on, after getting home, Dwight pushed Toby off his balance, landing him on his finger. Caroline was trying to calm him and it was all over. They were officially getting out. Caroline spoke w/ a parent of one of Toby's classmates and they agreed that Toby could stay the school year. After the classmate, Chuck, drove up to get Toby, he, Pearl & Caroline helped carry things from Dwight's house and into the car while Dwight stayed in the kitchen. Dwight tried to talk things over. They wished each other good-bye as they left - hating each other.

While Toby was staying w/ Chuck Bolger, he was nervous to their being religious. After an incident had happened w/ this family, they didn't have interest in Toby. They wanted Caroline to come and get him. Instead Toby decided to join the army. After much convincing from Caroline based on their circumstances, Toby went back to the Bolger family. After being tangled into a friends drama, Toby received a call from the Hill School, he had been awarded a scholarship to attend. The scholarship was an annual fee of $28,000. The students were different from the ones he knew and he tried to establish himself as one of them.

At the same time, Caroline had found a job as a secretary in Seattle. In June, Toby would be going off to CA. Caroline had been in touch w/ Toby's dad, who had arranged the trip w/ Geoffrey joining later. Now that Caroline started looking for work, Dwight was falling over himself to be nice to her and sort of courting her. Even applying to Seattle to be close to her. When Caroline asked Dwight about the money that he owed Toby from his paper route, the truth came out that he never ever had it saved AT ALL! Dwight had a point of pride to deal w/ the finances, but Caroline didn't want him all worried over it. She wanted everyone to get along. When Toby and Caroline left, they were themselves and happy again.

After they had OFFICIALLY left, Toby kept in contact w/ Pearl. She had felt abandoned after Caroline left. He patronized her w/ her consent. They would sometimes eat lunch together. Pearl had mentioned to Toby that Dwight planned to head down to Seattle to be w/ Caroline, bringing Pearl along for ammunition. When Dwight was gone, Toby and his friend, Chuck, went inside to Dwight's room. Toby had looked around, taking official Scout forms, grabbing 2 shotguns as well as the Marlin & the Garand. He also grabbed the materials that also went w/ them. When they left, they high-tailed it home w/o getting caught.

After Toby had met w/ the guy from Hill School, Mr. Howard, he had taken him to a tailor shop to get suits and be fitted for his needed attire at Hill. Mrs. Howard watched w/ amusement and pride. Toby had gone to 3 pawnshops to sell some things. He was going to sell 4 rifles and 2 shotguns from Dwight. At first, they were ignored. After looking them over in another store, the lady said they were good enough to pawn - not sell. Pawning them for $60.00, all the woman would go for - even though they were worth more than that.

While Toby and his dad were all back East living together w/  his brother Geoffrey supporting them all after their father's breakdown, Caroline took a job in Washington, D.C. Dwight had traveled there and tried to strangle her. Just before she blacked out, she kneed him in-between the legs. After he let go, she grabbed her purse and ran. When Toby got home, Dwight was arrested. Caroline got a cease-and-assist letter and Dwight was back in Seattle.

Toby's schoolwork itself at Hill was not well. He couldn't understand anything.  Toby and his best friend that also was kicked out were full of rage. After wearing himself out, Toby had decided to join the Army.

In 1993, a movie/film was made based on this book and this period of Tobias' life in a movie of the same book title. It starred an UNFORGETTABLE Robert DeNiro as Dwight, Ellen Barkin as Toby's mother, Caroline and Leonardo Dicaprio as the enduring Tobias Wolff.

The REAL Tobias Wolff
Here's MY Opinion:

This book was FABULOUS. For one thing, personally speaking, throughout both the book &  the film of Tobias' life, his story has made me grow up and NEVER want a step dad - due to fear of walking in his/Toby's shoes. That's the TRUTH! This movie/story can teach you ALOT about that type of relationship. I have seen some good step-dad's, but you just never know!


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