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clifford as a boy
The Family Background and Childhood of Clifford Boggess...from the FRONTLINE interview
In the early years, you didn't know anything about your natural family?

No, nothing until after I was down here. Had no recollection of them whatsoever. I wasn't even sure if I had been taken away and adopted or given up by my mother. Matter of fact, most of my childhood I was under the impression that she gave me away and didn't want me.

What did you find out was the truth?

I've since discovered that at 11 months of age, the State came in and took all the children out of the house, took me out of the house specifically because of neglect and abuse, was the version on the State paperwork. Having went from my biological mother, through two foster homes rather quickly and then to the people that adopted me and then shuffled off to these grandparents in Texas -- it's kind of hard for me to believe it when someone says we love you and this is your home and you're welcome here. For the most part I'd been dumped off in a playpen in the corner and left to my own devices, and if I cried or made too much noise I'd get slapped or beat on or whatever.

There was an aunt who said she remembers coming over and seeing me with bruises on my arms and things like that. The State took all the children out of the home and told the parents, you've got to get your house in order, have someone here more hours of the day for proper child care and what have you. As they did that, the State started giving them back one child after another. I was the youngest of eight children. Gave them back all their kids except for me. And when it came time for the State to give me back to my mother, she said, I've got enough kids already, I don't need another one, especially an infant. Basically she told the State to keep me. She signed the paperwork giving up her parental rights. So that was when I officially became a ward of the State the first time.

... The first foster home they put me in was to bring my physical condition up to par. I was suffering from vitamin deficiencies. I was not walking yet. I wasn't speaking on my own yet at the age of 11 months, did not even sit up all that well. Most of this was due to a lack of mental stimulation, but also some vitamin deficiencies, or what caused my eyes to be bad, and I'll never recover from that. Anyway, they put me in one foster home to get my physical health up to par, and then in a second home to get my mental and social skills up to par by putting me in a home full of a bunch of other boys and girls near my own age.

After that, they tested me at the end with State doctors and said mentally I was about caught up to other children my age. cliff with his motherOnce I got to St. Jo, and they worked with me, my grandpa. I was able to write and read my own name and the alphabet and things when I started kindergarten. Because of my grandpa trying to do things right this time. Set me down and taught me even before I started going to school. And that gave me a little bit of a head start and that helped out.

What have you learned that's happened to your brothers and sister?

Growing up I didn't even know I had any brothers and sisters, I found them since I was down here. There were six brothers and one sister, I believe. And three of the brothers are deceased now. Some of us were illegitimate. My mother had an affair with her husband's boss for many, many years. And I was a child of that union. About the time the biological father discovered my mother was pregnant with me, he had a lot of problems going on in his own marriage and in his business life and he put a pistol in his mouth and killed himself. Committed suicide while my mother was pregnant with me.

Anyhow, perhaps that had something to do with the fact that my oldest brother, or next to the oldest brother, in later years when he was 27, shot himself in the chest. Committed suicide. There was another one who died--I want to get it right--in an apartment fire. My mother was pregnant with twins at the time and tried to give herself an at-home abortion. This was back in early '60s. And one fetus died and the other one was born partially retarded. The one born partially retarded lived to be 23, I believe, and came home drunk one night and turned out the light switch and that started a fire and they found him halfway to the back door dead from smoke inhalation. His apartment caught fire and burned up. And a third brother died at the age of six choking to death on a potato peel at home. And to my way of thinking if there had been better parental supervision in the home, that might not have happened.

The others seem to have very low regard for family. I don't have contact with any of them right now except for an oldest brother who is in prison himself. The story I get is that he got drunk and tried to run his wife over with a pickup truck. Anyway, three brothers are dead, the others are alive. Rumors of physical abuse and neglect and even some sexual abuse abound as far as the home life of all these kids.

What do you know of your biological mother?

She's a lot more like I used to be than I ever would have thought. Manic depressive. Real emotional. Given to extreme mood swings. Alcoholism, drank a lot of beer. A lot of times her worst fits of anger were when she had been drinking a lot. Very sexually promiscuous, not just with her husband and one lover she had, but once she had divorced there were numerous lovers. And basically in a lot of ways like I was when I was out in the world. Might be real irrational and temperamental today and come back two hours later in a really good mood and just do the nicest, sweetest thing you ever thought of. But she did not know she was a manic depressive. I think she was hospitalized once for her alcoholism. If she could stay away from drinking too much she seemed to get better for awhile.

Was she drinking heavily when she was pregnant with you?

Most definitely. I've looked into possibilities of fetal alcohol syndrome as being something that I probably suffered from or that contributed to my emotional development or lack of emotional development. I'm not mentally retarded in the traditional sense, but growing up I was what you might call socially retarded or emotionally retarded in terms of how I interacted with people. And my craving and need for attention and affection was much more extreme than any other kids around me. That seems to be a product of fetal alcohol syndrome quite often.

How so? How do you show that?

momA constant need for reassurance, people telling me that they love me, showing me that they love me, needing lots of hugs, which I didn't really get that often. Being somewhat immature, you know. Tantrums when I didn't get my way and things like that. I was somewhat behind my peers in terms of emotional maturity. Needed that reassurance and friendship more than they did. It wasn't okay for me to just be alone and by myself. I spent a lot of time alone. I was raised almost an only child. But I didn't like it, you know.

And if I couldn't get the hugs or the affection, I'd begin to act up, clown around and do things to get attention. Just trying to get that reassurance. And I'd always test my boundaries, how much can I get away with and them still love me. You know, so that I could, another way of getting that reassurance, to know that I was accepted and loved. Other people growing up with their natural families, especially in good, loving families, they always had this solid foundation that says no matter what you do or where you go, you're always loved and welcome here, this is your home, this is where you belong, we love you no matter what.

I never felt that. That was a foundation that was missing. I felt somewhat adrift. People could tell me they loved me but that didn't mean I'd believe it. Whether this was from grandparents or friends or people at school or whatever. It didn't matter. Didn't trust people very well because I felt like I'd been burned so many times in the past. Between my mother giving me away, all I knew was I'd been separated from her, but I was told that she hadn't wanted me. The two people who adopted me divorced within a year a half and shuffled me off to their parents. So I was raised by my adoptive grandparents.

What have you learned happened to your biological mother?

She was murdered by a second ex-husband in 1979, when I was 14 years old. He did a lot of drinking, she used to do more drinking when she was with him, and he got mean when he got drunk. In terms of the details of the crime, she had went to her first ex-husband's home, who still always let her come in, still welcomed her, still loved her. And she said this guy--I think his name was Greg--he's scaring me, drunk, getting mean. And the first ex-husband said you can stay here, he won't mess with you with the boys around. All her grown sons were living there at the time, too.

So she stayed there and little by little during the day the grown sons had to go to work and the first ex-husband had to go to work. Eventually she was left at this house alone... Evidently, this second ex-husband, Greg, had been watching. Came in and started banging on doors, windows and eventually gained entry to the house. He beat on my mother and he chased her through various rooms of the house, she managed to grab a kitchen knife and then swing at him and he ended up getting it and cutting her with it. She got a cast iron skillet, tried to beat him off with it, he ended up getting that away from her and knocking some of her teeth out, which they found in the kitchen and trails of blood and whatnot. Chased her through a bathroom and into a bedroom.

Once he got her into the bedroom he pushed her down and then beat on her some more and then tied her to a bed. And once he had her tied to the bed he proceeded to beat on her some more and raped her with the bathroom plunger handle. And she eventually bled to death. At first I had thought that she bled to death from from the rape. What had actually happened is in his struggle to tie her to the bed, he had bent one arm around the bedpost backwards and broke it to the point that the bone was sticking out through the skin, and she bled to death from that hole in her arm. He did all these things to her and left her for dead. He ended up getting ten years in an Alabama prison.

... I heard a story from an aunt about my mother, that one day she was throwing a really intense temper tantrum of sorts and screaming at the kids and just stormed out of the house, walking. And came back in about an hour and a half or two hours and one of the children was sitting on a step and her anger was gone, the mood swing was over with or whatever, and she ended up picking a little flower and giving it to this one little girl that was there on the step and said, here you go, and just patted her on the head and walked in the house, just the nicest little thing you'd ever want to see a mother do.

... I learned that the best way for me to know the person she was was for me simply to look in a mirror and look at who I was or who I used to be. Because I used to do a lot of similar things in terms of blowups and mood swings and come back in 30 minutes and everything's okay. And the alcohol and the sexual promiscuity and the crying out for intimacy and love, manic depression. She had big problems with depression. But anyway, that was my way of when getting to know her and understanding her better, was that I had been that same person.

It also causes me to wonder a lot about how much of manic depression is genetic rather than environmental. Because it is a biological illness. But that gave me a lot of understanding for her that I might not have otherwise had. There was a tendency to condemn. You know, you were so promiscuous, you were a slut, you weren't any good and you gave your baby away and all these things, and getting a tendency to get lost in the anger of all that. But all I had to do was look in the mirror and say, look at what you've done and where you've been. How many girls have I been with? How many times have I got drunk and been out driving drunk and could have killed someone? How many times have I got mad at people without reason and come back an hour later and been nice and happy about it. So I'm no better than she was, and that helped me understand her a lot.

ciff as a teenagerWhen I was growing up in St. Jo with my adoptive grandparents, you could say I was a nerd in the classic sense. You know, getting the good grades and things, but not having a lot of friends, not being in with the hip crowd or the cool crowd or whatever it was. In this small town, those cliques tended to develop around the first or second grade, and if you didn't make it in at that age, then you didn't make it in later on either. The people you graduated with were the people you knew in the first grade. Also, when other kids could go to friend's houses and sleep over and things, I couldn't. I was told, well you better stay home here with us. My grandma didn't want to let me out of the house that often. I don't mean that I was like locked in the house or locked in the closet, I got to play outdoors a lot. Small country town and there was a pasture a half a block from the house and a creek and a bridge and things like that.

But I pretty much had to stay around home. There was not a neighborhood, so to speak, in this small town. The kids that lived nearest to me were at least five or six blocks away across the state highway on the other side of town. So I couldn't just go next door to a buddy's house and make friends thataway. Didn't have any girlfriends in St. Jo's School growing up. Like I said, no friends for the sleepovers and things. Other kids were getting introduced to rock 'n roll and having their own stereos and things when they were 12 and 13; I didn't even own my first rock tape until I was 16 and had a stereo for my car.

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