Chapter 2 flashes back to before Dave's abuse, when he and his family lived happily in the 1960s. He and his two brothers had loving parents who did everything for them, living in a modest house in Daly City. His father, Stephen Joseph, worked as a fireman in San Francisco; his mother, Catherine Roerva, was in charge of the family and "glowed with love for her children" (pg. 15). She took housekeeping very seriously and was a gifted cook, and often took her kids on tours of the city, including neighborhoods like Chinatown.
Their house was full of pets, and Dave particularly remembers a tortoise that he had named “Thor.” His mother would teach them lessons about the animals they kept, including a lesson about the miracle of life when their cat had kittens. They celebrated holidays as a family, starting with Halloween, and his mother always decorated the house extensively for Christmas. The whole family would decorate the Christmas tree for hours, and then they would take a drive to look at everyone else's decorations.
Every Christmas day, they would wake up and each child would have many presents waiting for him. Dave remembers seeing his mother crying one Christmas—when he asked why, she said it was because she was so happy to have a real family.
When his father would work on 24-hour shifts, their mother would take them on day trips to places like Golden Gate Park, where they would visit the Steinhart Aquarium. He and his brothers loved to look at the alligators and turtles. Dave remembers feeling frightened at the thought of falling over into the pond that held these animals, and how his mother held his hand to reassure him.
In the spring, they would also go on picnics, and in the summer, his mother would plan detailed family vacations. They usually went to Portola or Memorial Park to camp for a week, but sometimes they took trips north to Dave's favorite place: the Russian River. His most memorable trip there was in kindergarten, when his mother pulled him out of school early to go. They would climb trees and swim in the river, with his mother teaching him how to swim. He loved every day there, and always felt so safe and warm at the Russian River.
The previous chapter was told from the tail end of Dave's abuse, when he was twelve years old. Now, the book flashes back to when Dave was a very young child, before the abuse even began. These two chapters starkly differ from each other, as evidenced by the title of this chapter, "Good Times." This suggests that Dave separates his life into two distinct eras: the "good times," when his family got along and his mother loved him, and the "bad times," after his mother began to abuse him.
This chapter also differs from the previous one in its tone and mood. The previous chapter employed a tone that was urgent and solemn, as the gravity of the abuse that Dave has suffered sets in for both readers and for the teachers at Dave's school. Now, though, the tone makes an abrupt switch to lighthearted, happy nostalgia, as Dave remembers a time before his terrible abuse. The nostalgia is also infused with a sense of longing: though the author Dave is much older and well beyond this period of his life, he still obviously wishes that this happier time had lasted much longer.
Dave's mother, Catherine Roerva, is one of the most interesting characters in this memoir–primarily because of the different ways she is presented before and after she began abusing her son. All readers know about her is what Dave chooses to tell us. In the first chapter, she was a mysterious, hostile figure who struck fear in Dave's heart, yet whom he tried to defend because he was afraid of the consequences. Now, all of the sudden, she is characterized as a warm, loving woman, who treats her son well and cares about her family.
These two personas juxtaposed leave readers with one main question at the end of Chapter 2: what changed? What made Dave's mother suddenly start treating him so poorly? How did she become an entirely different person? This chapter leaves readers braced for the worst, wishing that things could stay as happy and carefree as they were for these few pages, but knowing what the outcome will actually be. That Dave went from a beloved son to being treated like an abhorred animal makes his abuse even harder to stomach, because at one point, his mother did seem to love him.
Much of this second chapter is characterized by Dave's memories of very specific places and moments. The one that stands out the most is his description of the Russian River at the end of the chapter. To him, the Russian River was a place of safety and happiness, a place that epitomized the "good times." It is a prominent symbol of the family life he once had. This will undoubtedly be a place that comes back to haunt him after things change in his family and the abuse begins.