‘Sweat and Tears’ by Monty J. Heying

Sweat and Tears

(for R.H. 1946-2011)

January, 1956

I was a boy then, fussing with my tie on a Sunday morning, when Mama Gross grabbed my arm and towed me into the bathroom where no one could overhear. Through gritted teeth, as she fixed my tie, the elderly matron of the Little Boys said, “You’re German-headed, just like my dead husband, and every chance I get I’m gonna take you down a notch, just like I did to him!”

I had no inkling what she meant until a few days later when Robby Horton got it for wetting the bed. Robby was asthmatic, pale and thin, a quiet boy with straight brown hair, big brown eyes and bucked teeth. I had turned ten in July and been at the Home nine months. Robby would be ten the coming May and had only been there a week on that Saturday morning when Mama Gross stood near the dormitory entrance, pointing a pale wrinkled finger at him and spouting commands as he cringed near a row of lockers.

“Get over here! NOW!” spat the gray-haired, thin-lipped matron.

Robby backed away, pleading, “PLEASE, Mama Gross!  I promise; I didn’t mean to!”

She moved toward the big grey study table where she kept the board—a thirty-six-inch pine plank, sanded smooth and notched and taped at one end for a handle.

Robby’s eyes, when she turned toward him with the board, sent a jolt through me. I had seen such a look of terror once, when a neighbor’s rabbit was cornered by a German shepherd. Robby shrank back, crouching and wailing, “No! Mama Gross! I won’t do it again!  Please, Mama Gross!”

I wouldn’t until decades later realize how sight of the board in the matron’s hand had triggered in Robby the memory of his mother’s beatings. He well knew the gruesome potential of a raging woman with a weapon in her hand.

All thirteen of us gathered to watch, some of us moving behind the table to shield us from what was about to happen.

“You’re gonna learn what it means to defy Muh-E-e!” She wagged her head as “me” came out in a warbling growl. “I’m tellin’ you; the longer you take; the worse it’s gonna be. Now GET OVER here!”

She advanced a step, gesturing with one hand while the other, cocked against a hip, held the tool she lusted to use. With each step she took, Robby backed away, but she kept on and on, like a hypnotizing serpent, until she could grab his wrist and yank him clear of the lockers and furniture.

“Now bend over and grab those ankles! Do it!”


You can contact the author at mheying@gmail.com. More short stories and poetry may be found at:http://www.redroom.com/member/MontyHeying/.


Finally, with tears streaming down his face, the seventy-pound pre-pubescent boy slowly took up the submissive pose. At the first stroke Robby jerked erect, screaming and scrambling beyond her reach. He turned to face her, pleading, tugging at his jeans as though they were on fire.

“Get back here and grab those ankles!” she said, boring into him with a murderous glare.

As though compelled by some irresistible force, Robby slowly resumed the position, and the ritual continued. Again she swung, and again he lurched up and away, crying, crouching and rubbing his buttocks, his moves accompanied by her stream of threats and commands to return and grab his ankles. Eventually Robby obeyed, and the sequence was repeated. Again and again, with trembling hands he would reach down, and from that inverted view between his legs he would watch her draw back the board and time his move so that just before impact, he could spring erect, arching his back, and absorb the blow with his baggy jeans.

Robby’s instinctive self-preserving gyrations were like throwing fuel on a fire. As the stocky matron’s rage spiraled upward, her face contorted into a red sweat-dripping mask. She caught his wrist, yet even still Robby resisted, ducking, dodging, pivoting in an arc around her, slipping free, begging and massaging his buttocks.

For our entranced gallery behind the table, time was frozen. The smell of urine was in the air. Unable to think, move or speak, we could only listen and stare.

“I’ll show YOU…!” she said as her arm snaked out, collaring him. She crammed his head down and pinned it between her knees. Then, gripping his jeans at the waist, she hoisted his butt and worked him over, lifting the board high and bringing it down full strength. Like some out-of-control hate machine, the arm attached to the sweat-darkened blue flowered dress went up and down, up and down… . Robby’s arms flailed among the sweat and tear-stained floor tiles, his upside-down, formerly pale face now dark red. In savage orgasmic fury, Mama Gross’s bared teeth clamped pulsing over her lower lip in rhythm to the movements of her arm. After several strokes she staggered, relaxed her quivering knees, and allowed the whimpering mass that was once little Robby to slump to the floor.

Her chest heaved and her eyes rolled as she wagged her head to emphasize her words. “If you EVER!” (pant, pant) “Don’t you EVER!” (pant) We jumped as she tossed the board onto the table in front of us. “You boys,” (pant) “get on with your business!”

After some months, I moved up to the Big Boys dormitory, where Robby later joined me. Years went by, then one day I came home from school, and someone said he’d left. The empty hangers in his locker confirmed it. His mother had remarried and returned for him and his sisters. In the months that followed, I almost forgot about him. In an orphanage, you learn not to become attached because of the way kids come and go without warning. Robby was gone, and that was that.

A lifetime later, the memory of Robby’s beating bubbled up as I was writing in my journal. I tried to track him down but had no luck. I wanted, badly, to find him, but the storms of life had me on the run. I had a family to support. The seasons and decades flew by as my daughters grew into young women.

When at last I heard Robby’s voice on the phone, he was sixy-four and living in a subsidized apartment for seniors in Barre, Vermont, nearly three thousand miles away. I flew out for a visit. He was thin, but his hawk-like eyes were clear and fierce, and he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. His tiny apartment was decorated war veteran style with camouflage bedding, military memorabilia and a prominent American flag. Across one wall, hung a large POW-MIA banner that read: “You Are Not Fogotten.”

Robby lit some incense, opened a window and smoked a joint as he spoke of his life in the military and then as a wanderer, living off the land along the Apalachian Trail. He talked about months in a mental hospital, sentenced there after comandeering a Vermont radio station he’d hallucinated was a North Vietnamese radar site. Robby held that he was a decorated war veteran and offered convincing descriptions of night-time missions in an early stealth helicopter called a “Loach.”

“I burned my medals,” he said. “Me and some other Viet Nam vets threw all our medals into a fire at an anti-war demonstration in D.C.”

Robby spoke in a scattered way about fathering six children and ranted about the “madness” of his ex wife; yet there was pride in his voice when he talked of his sons and the beauty and intelligence of his daughters.

I shared with Robby the story I’d written about his beating. “You really nailed it. That’s exactly how it was,” he said, “Old lady Gross was some kinda witch.”

His eyebrows lifted. “I had her in my crosshairs.” He cocked his head, sighting along an outstretched arm, and squeezed a make-believe trigger, making a “Pshu-u-uw!” sound and rocking backward to dramatize the recoil of his imaginary rifle.

Robby remembered the horrific beatings I had received on the lame pretext of stealing a pen that I’d been given by my fifth grade teacher. “How could I forget?” he said. “You got two beatings in one day for something you didn’t do. I was so mad. If Lovelace hadn’t stopped when he did… . I had my eye on a stapler on Mama Gross’s desk. I was about to throw it at the back of his head.”

During the thirty months that the Home was run by the sadistic Superintendent Lovelace, Robby and I had seen countless beatings every bit as extreme as ours.

“But you know,” Robby said. “When I was with my mother it was actually worse.” He then proceeded to tell about her daily beatings, gruesome stories that were hard to hear. “I was the only male child, and I reminded her of my father.” When he was through I knew that my life had been a walk in the park compared with Robby’s.

After I returned from Barre, we kept in touch. We reminisced on the phone over stories about the Home that I’d written and mailed him. We acknowledged, eventually, that although there had been many good times, it was the beatings that bound us together so tightly. Then he stopped answering his phone.

To some people, Robby was a pot-smoking vagrant who lived in a camouflaged tent in a bushy glen in the heart of a cemetery and was on a first-name basis with every street-bound war veteran in town—and a few police officers. Some think of Robby as a bum who neglected and maybe even abused his children.

I don’t know how much is true of what Robby and others have said about him. Their truth matters less to me than to them. What I am convinced of is that Robby Horton never had a chance at a normal life because of his tortured childhood. Personal responsibility is a noble goal, but any psychologist worth the paper in his diploma will tell you there are limits to what the human mind can endure.

Robby’s parents were never held accountable for his mistreatment, and institutional child abuse is seldom prosecuted. In 1958, Lovelace was forced to resign from the Fort Worth children’s home and promptly took over Boysville, a private facility near San Antonio, where he worked until he retired in 1972. Mamma Gross was forced to retire in 1960, after the coach caught her “beating the hell out of a little boy.”

Last week Robby died of pneumonia. All six of his children were able to see him before it was too late, thanks to his pastor, Reverend David, who had also contacted me. Robby spoke from the peace and comfort of a hospice bed arranged by his eldest son. His voice on the phone was barely audible: “Y’still writin’, …’bout the Home?”

“Hell yes I am.”

“Good …boy!”



In the Dallas-Fort Worth area where he grew up, Monty earned a business degree and began a career in corporate finance. He migrated to Northern California in his mid-thirties, where he married and raised two daughters . The San Francisco Bay Area is where he now resides, “But Texas will always be home,” Monty says.

His earliest years were shaped by war, poverty and family alcoholism, sharpening his focus on humanity. In the Texas orphanage where he was raised, children were tortured, loved or tolerated, depending on who was in charge. He left a successful business career to seek an understanding of how children with apparently healthy parents can end up in orphanages and foster homes, and to write stories about what he finds.

He is currently working on two books. One is a history of the children’s home where he grew up, INVISIBLE ORPHANAGE. Monty is also working on an autobiographical novel, THE LAST ORPHANAGE, about a boy growing up without parents in Texas during the 1950s and early ‘60s.

3 thoughts on “‘Sweat and Tears’ by Monty J. Heying

  1. Pingback: Synchronized Chaos » Synchronized Chaos - March 2011: Adaptation and Concentration

  2. I am awed by the work that you are doing. I am grief stricken by the pain that was caused to children at the home that impacted life for a lifetime. I cannot imagine such horrors inflicted on innocent children, yet I’m sure it still happens every day. I hope we can join forces with those who care and make a difference.

  3. Pingback: Synchronized Chaos » Synchronized Chaos - March 2011: Adaptation and Concentration

Comments are closed.