When Chickens Crow…

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

I’m so honored that you have found your way to my blog and grateful that you are honoring me with a bit of your time. Please know that I will never dishonor you by offering anything other than my best. Subscribe below to be notified of new postings and leave me a note, letting me know that you were here.

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Musings of a Self Imposed Shut-In

Helloooooo from way over here in the isolated section of my bedroom! Nope, I’m not sick, merely self-isolated. If you’re like me and trying to follow the advice of the Scientific Community by Staying In, then you’re probably also like me and maybe just on the verge of needing a half pill of Xanac just to cope with being shut-in! I never desire to do anything as badly as when I’m told I can’t! One of the things I adore doing most is roaming the aisles of grocery markets. Even when traveling, I don’t care much at all about sightseeing; my first stops are always at local markets. And now…that I’m being told to refrain even from that, unless absolutely necessary, I’m very near the point of having my car voluntarily booted and my steering wheel locked to keep temptation at bay. I’ve never considered shopping for groceries a necessity which had to be tolerated and with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, shopping has always been a secretive and guilty if not bordering on hoarding, pleasure.

So now I’m stuck, here at home checking off the supplies that stand sentry on the shelves in my garage and in my makeshift pantry which shares space with my laundry room and wondering when they will be empty enough that I can feel justified by masking up, gloving down and venturing out to my local markets and visiting some of the counter-parts of my fellow blogger, The Grocery Whisperer! By the way, that blog makes for some really enlightening shopping moments. Check it out when you can.

Now that I have shared one of my not so secret pleasures, grocery shopping, I need to really try to indulge in another, writing. I’m finding it really difficult to write with all of this leisure time on my hands. Wouldn’t you think it to be totally opposite? I find having a deadline, even if self-imposed, to be absolutely necessary in successfully creating. But I’ve been quite stymied in my efforts to write leisurely since I have no other place pressing me to be. Even “Papa” and his Friends tiring of my procrastination, suddenly without notice, decided to go on hiatus from my mind and left me scrambling for something, anything of which to write.

With these times being what they are, it’s difficult to walk that fine line between compassion and humor so I decided to forego both…well, sort of. But here goes:

Several people of whom I consider having a close bond, have been stricken by this contemptible plague, (virus seems much too tame a name). Members of my Church’s congregation and family members of friends are being affected either by illness or unemployment. I’ve witnessed weddings postponed, and traditional funeral services denied. Churches have closed and entertainment venues across all spectrums have ceased and I couldn’t help but wonder, why? And then, I gathered up my few working brain cells and decided what matter, why? It is and that’s all. Now what? Put your big girl panties on and deal with it, is what! And my way of dealing with anything of which I have no personal control is to meditate and pray and I have been doing plenty of both…I have the time now. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why for me, this thing could have a silver lining.

I’ve allowed my mind to wander back over comments made by friends and acquaintances as to why they no longer attend Church services and how they feel that Christianity has sunken to a level of hypocrisy of which they could not tolerate, which I don’t mind saying is a bit hypocritical in itself, but I digress. I’ve always tried to exercise tolerance tempered with Truth. Truth after all is the very basis of my blog.

Over the years, I’ve pleaded with many of them to not swipe me with their “So-called Christians” paint brush. (Ok, I feel I must at this point provide a PSA of my own making: I am a certified, card carrying, unashamed, Christ believing, Christ following, Bible toting [E-Bible but still…], unapologetic Sinner Saved by Grace!). Now if that turns some of you off, I understand but please stick around until the end of the post even if only for a cursory, skeptic, agnostic, atheistic value, I don’t mind.

I will admit, that I too feel that God’s House, (Churches) have been assaulted for centuries from people without. However, they have never been successful in bringing down the house of God. Therefore, masterful tactics began being used thousands of years ago to destroy and discredit believers from within, from the “Tear Them Down from the Inside Crowd.

My Lord’s own brother wrote of this passionately, speaking of those who slipped into the Church unnoticed and gained a foothold within its congregation to sow discord and factions. He wrote in the book of Jude verse 14, “certain men have crept in unaware…ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” I’ll admit that one of modern-day Church’s major downfall is its failure to fully vet those of whom they put in charge of shepherding and teaching its flocks and that perhaps, is the reason former congregants are levelling their complaints.

When this thing, this plague, first came upon us, I thought maybe it was the work of God. Upon this I vacillated and wondered if it might actually be the work of his Adversary…then yet again, I solidified my bearings and realized that even if this was the work of he who declared himself falsely, equal to God, he could still do no more in this realm or any other without the expressed consent of our Creator. Being absolutely convicted and dogmatic in that belief, I allowed myself to venture a bit further into my meditation of these particular times and the effects of which are now on display.

I thought, “what an absolutely brilliant way to sweep the hypocrites and charlatans from God’s established churches. If my life has taught me nothing else, (and we know that’s not a fact), it would be that the Spiritually Sick will never be found voluntarily around the Spiritual, but Physically Sick. Ohhh, they will show up if there is something specifically of value for them, but rest assured they will never burn oil doing good when there is a danger of them getting burned. Discounting those who had medical reasons as to why attending a physical church was not feasible when this plague began, the first to bow out of services were generally the CEO, (Christmas and Easter Only) attendees, followed closely by the perpetually disgruntled. The ones who don’t attend services to sow good seeds but to make sure that the good seeds sown by others are mowed down before they have a chance to sprout. I am declaring their efforts ineffectual and wasted! The True Church of God will not fail!

I applaud those faithful Ministers, Pastors, Shepherds, Teachers and congregations who desired to March Forward on these past Sunday mornings, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with Bibles in hand and praises on their lips! They took incoming fire from the ones who had crept in unnoticed and were the first clamoring for closure of the Churches, Synagogues and Temple doors. Where they had failed by infiltration and contrary doctrine, they reasoned perhaps this virus would succeed. They sought to find fault in those Onward Christian Soldiers by calling them fools, as they stood back smugly although wrongfully and thought themselves successful.

It will take more than a pandemic, (over which God is in control) to plow under the True Church of God. Satan played his best hand over 2000 years ago when he reckoned the Cross was his ace in the hole. Oh, but what he didn’t figure was his ace in the hole would not be able to hold Who was temporarily put into a Hole! Because HE GOT UP! HE DIDN’T STAY TOO LONG! HE GOT UP!!!!

Prior to that fallible ace of Satan’s being played against Him, Jesus asked his disciple Peter, “who do men say I am…” At the end of that dialog, Jesus then asked Peter, “but who do YOU say I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, The Son of The Living God.” Jesus responded, “Upon this Rock, I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It was upon that glorious foundation of Truth of which Peter spoke, by the unction of the Holy Spirit, where the True Church of God can be found.

This current virus/plague and the others which will certainly follow, may have been unleashed from the pits of hell and whereas it might be successful in temporarily closing brick and mortar Church doors, we all would be wise to remember that the True Church of God is not a Building in which we reside but a foundation of Truth which resides in us, the Believers. The Word of God will forever stand. Long after me, the writer of this missive has left this realm, God’s Word will be carried forward by others and The Son of God will remain always King of Kings!

If I have offended any readers by my declarations herein, I’m afraid offering an apology would be hypocritical. I cannot, will not apologize for doing so. I have always spoken my truth and quite honestly, I would rather offend a reader than offend my Savior.

If this plague or any other becomes the means or the vehicle by which I or some of my fellow Christians are carried to our eternal reward, let it be known that I would still declare: GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH; GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH, HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON!!!!!!


As most of you know, this blog began as a sublime conversation with my grandfather. Who, in my eyes, was man who stood second to no one. A person, who every decent man within his bloodline strove to emulate, even if they didn’t know him personally, it was, is, genetic. Papa was all I wished my father had been. As a young child, my days did not begin until I saw his face and many days did not end which did not find me cradled in his arms. In today’s overused vernacular, “He was my Person.” Chinee was my heart and every decision I made was tempered by the overwhelming passion he brought to anyone or anything he cared about. He taught me to care deeply about the things that should be loved. Given time and proper consideration, you’ll find that is not an altogether simple concept.

Papa on the other hand, gave me balance and direction.  As he aged and became feeble only in body, without my knowledge, he guided me gently toward his grandson my brother, and deposited my continued familial education into his care.  Chinee had spent seven years longer than I under Papa’s tutelage and therefore had become his very reluctant student. Papa was a harsh taskmaster with Chinee and the other males under his care because he knew that if his sons and grandson could withstand the weight and pressure, he placed upon them, the world would have an infinitely more difficult time in its efforts to crush them.  Papa’s lessons came from love whereas the worlds’ lessons would come with hate.

The females in Papa’s circle were loved with open arms as he gave all he had and struggled to find more to give, but he was not blinded by our faults or weaknesses.  He was fair in his assessments of us, yet he wasted no effort in pointing out those weaknesses.  He loved us in spite of them and attempted to guide us around the pitfalls we would undoubtedly create for ourselves because of those weaknesses.  However, if anyone attempted to create pitfalls for us, you could almost be certain the bodies would never be found.  If there was ever anyone Papa loved more than his wife, his only daughter and me, I’ve never met them.  (ok, I’m writing this from my perspective…there might be one or two others he loved equally but definitely none more!).  I was that granddaughter who insisted on learning at his knee; who followed him or tried to follow him everywhere.  He was the one to whom I’d toddled when as a young child the thunder and lightning made me quiver in fear.  It wasn’t enough just to have him hold me with those strong and roughly calloused hands, but my utter sense of safety was only to be found underneath Papa’s t-shirt, those sleeveless units of underwear which have for the last fifty or so years, come to be known by the hideous name of “wife-beaters”.  There were few places this side of Heaven which offered as much security as that which I found underneath Papa’s shirt listening to his steady, rhythmic heartbeat, drowning out all other external stridency.

Papa was born in August 1881, sixteen year after the “declared” end of slavery, almost a century before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, exactly one hundred years before the birth of my youngest son (1981) and eons upon eons upon eons before the founding of “true” equality, yet still to be found. But there was one particular event during his early life which shaped him as no other.  

One of two of the many prolific lessons he taught me gave name to this blog, if you are joining me mid-range or even now, please visit the first entry of this site and see how his simple but profound insight into people will leave you in awe. The second guiding point was and is something of which has colored my life; further it is something of which I’ve shared with my sons and believe they have used it on their life’s path as well. There has never been a single day in my life when I’ve not considered this particular statement of his: “Your name is the only thing that you came into this world with and will be the only thing that you will take with you when you leave it so, take care of it because your name will go places your feet will never take you.” I’ve shortened it over the years to: “your name will go places you never will.” This is an undeniable truth. Even within this forum, Readers from the UK, Australia, France and Germany have found their way to this blog. I’ve certainly never been to any of these wonderful places, yet my name and thoughts have traveled there and to my knowledge and prayerfully, I’ve done nothing to reflect negatively upon my name nor more importantly, Papa’s. My grandfather was a man of great wisdom and that’s becoming an increasingly rare commodity.

My Grandfather, like Chinee, was fiercely loyal and no one or nothing was more important than family.  If Chinee was here to lend voice to my assertion, he would agree that it was Papa who instilled in him that loyalty, whether it was an easy installation or hard-fought, I can’t say, but its truth cannot be denied.  Papa was not forthcoming about the early facts of his life. Actually, he was downright secretive.  As open as he was with his advice, love and guidance, he seldom divulged any of the experiences in his life that gave birth to his wisdom.  

He was immensely in love with and loved by his mother Jane, a full-blood American Indian.  He spoke proudly of her long, thick, black and straight hair that hung almost to her knees and how at a few times during his boyhood he had been pressed into the service of helping her to brush it at night.  He spoke nothing to me of his father other than to say that he was or had been a freed slave name Jordan, like the river.  One of the only other few facts that Papa shared with his children and some of his grandchildren was the reason he purposely shielded his past.   

While only in his late teens or early twenties, Papa had been accosted by two men, opposite of his racial persuasion, who thought to make sport of him.  They hurled at him horrific expletives and told him that it didn’t matter whether he called himself a damned Indian or Niggra, he had no business walking around free as if he was as good as they.  They sought to, in their limited diction, put him back into slavery where he belonged.  Their intent, according to Papa, was to make him their personal slave.  

When naturally Papa balked at their threats to return him to his “proper place”, they retaliated by placing a rope around his neck and were almost successful in their attempts to hang him until he freed himself, overpowered and killed them both. To my knowledge, Papa spoke no more than one or twice of this matter the whole of my life with him and probably not many more times than that during the whole of his. He steadfastly resisted any efforts to elaborate on the matter, not for fear of his safety but for ours. The less we knew, he reckoned, the less opportunity for us to speak on it by force or chance, thereby he protected us. Until the day he died at 87, he never told us anymore than that he had killed two who had tried to kill him. To that I say, “Yea Papa!”, because to have not done so would mean that I and hundreds of others of your progenies would not exist. However, that most unfortunate happenstance, created in him two lifelong unmovable stances; first, he would not allow anything tight to be worn about his neck. He refused any attempt or occasion which would have forced him to wear a necktie or forced him to close the top button on his shirt, much to the chagrin of his fellow deacons at church. Papa was Miami Vice cool almost before there was a Miami! He blazed his own trails! The second lifelong stance this incident created in Papa was the fact that he would tolerate no disrespect from anyone who sought to tell him where his place was in life. He allowed anyone a chance to be told something twice and shown once, after that…hmmm. He carried a doubled-barrel shotgun every time he left home, accompanied by a bandolier full of extra shells, in the unlikely event he would need to fire more than the two already locked and loaded barrels. I’ve never heard of anyone, Black or White who ever thought to challenge him. On the contrary, Papa was the only man of his Race and time of whom I had ever heard referred to as Mister by all who addressed him, who were not his relatives. Again, I say, “Yea Papa!”

Papa stood six feet five in stocking feet, in my mind. He was as strong as Hercules, in my mind, and was as tightly wound and dangerous as a coiled Rattler, a fact that does not merely abide in my mind! Papa was a hardworking, earnest living, straight talking, sailor cussing, horseback riding, joke loving, domino playing, wisdom sharing, female aesthete, bestest grandfather EVER.

I hope you will enjoy getting to know him through my eyes over the next few posts.  Not just him alone but also some of his most trusted friends.  I’ll attempt to tell a few of the heartwarming and entertaining conversations that took place between Papa and William Gatlin, (Mr. Bill /Pop-Pee), Gene Ridgeway (Con’ Gene) Hardy Shankle (Con’ Hardy) and Albert Watley (Mr. Orb).  I’m immensely proud to say that because I followed Papa almost everywhere he went and because these men were very often in his presence, each of them all 70 to 75 years my senior, allowed me within their circle without preamble.  (Con’ was a diminutive and colloquial form of the word Cousin used throughout the Southern United States).

Decades would have passed when I, considering some of their conversations, realized they had spoken “between the lines” or talked “over my head” when matters they considered too strong for my ears were discussed. How I still love those old men. How I value the lessons they taught me not so much by design but by example. Except for the place underneath Papa’s shirt during a Thunderstorm, no place felt more secure than in the present of those Giants of my childhood, with my Papa, Mr. Robert (Bob) Allen leading the pack.

See Ya Later, Chinee

I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, for many weeks to continue with the My Brother was My Keeper series. Initially, I blamed the delay on the holidays and in all truthfulness, that was partially correct. However, after my last post which involved my recollections of two families saying goodbye to their brothers, I find myself either facing my cowardice or my inability to write about losing My Brother.

With the understanding that I’ve laid completely bare ”some” of the most humiliating and painful memories of my life within this blog, I admit that I do not have the strength, fortitude or the bravery needed in which to detail the time leading up to and or including the death of My Brother.

I’d like to momentarily pause here and send heartfelt gratitude to the many members of the Bryant, King & Perkins families who took precious time to contact and tell me what the My Solder memoir meant to them. It was truly emotionally overwhelming to know that something I had written from my childhood had touched so many on such a visceral level, because it is that which a Writer hopes to achieve. Thank you all, for making my dream come true.

Throughout this 6 months long process, more than anything, I was hopeful that I would be successful in chronicling the absolute pure and untarnished love Chinee and I shared. Writing about our unique relationship was easy even though the end of each chapter found me weakened with tears and half way through another new box of Kleenex.

I can’t claim that I’ve come anywhere near cornering the market on loss, grief and pain but I’m pretty certain that I have or rather had cornered it on having the most totally involved, the most selfless and most loving brother of all time. From the beginning of my life to the end of his, we shared an intangible love. His love was bound on all sides with the teaching of life lessons. It was never just about football, or planting trees or any number of countless occurrences in our lives. It was always about him teaching me how to choose or providing me a path to follow. My Brother taught me unselfishness, he taught me stoicism, he taught me endurance, he taught me how to love unconditionally, he taught me laughter and at the end of his life he taught me that there is grace and dignity in dying bravely.

He trusted me with his legacy and because of the bit of him I’ve shared in this forum and what I’ve shared with my children, who knew him for a short time as the loving Uncle he couldn’t help but be; I hope I’ve succeeded in presenting him in a manner in which a smile will always accompany a thought of him. I could do no better for his legacy than that.

Although I am choosing not to continue with the My Brother series, it does not mean that Chinee will disappear from my writings, how could he when he is woven into every fiber of my being? But for now, he will take a step back as the focal point. But even this stepping back didn’t come without heavy concern. It caused me to wonder whether or not I was letting him down by prematurely ending his story. But as I have done many times when a difficult decision was needed, I closed my eyes and listened for his voice.

During the last few months of Chinee’s life that evil and depictable disease of cancer stripped him of the ability to walk without experiencing intolerable, nausea inducing pain. Clinically speaking, the cancer had metastasized from his lungs to his supporting bones causing osteolysis. The cancer riddled his bones with so many small holes whereby any pressure applied to a particular joint or bone created multiple fractures, in short, his bones were being pulverized. It also robbed him of his melodic, laughter-filled voice.

During one of my last hospital visits with Chinee, he’d refused to allow me to see just how much pain he was enduring. On a ruse, he’d asked me to go to the hospital’s cafeteria for a soft drink and as I was eager to do anything for his comfort or desire, I hurried away. He used the time I was absent to tell my husband the degree of which he was suffering. Even so, the next day as I visited with him alone, his need to relieve his bladder became urgent yet he refused to use the urinal placed at his bedside. That, in his mind, would have displayed a weakness that he didn’t want me to witness. In one of his last loving, caring and valiant acts to prove to me that I needn’t worry overly much, he denied himself a bit of comfort AGAIN, to allay my fears. By this time, his left shoulder and both ankles had been completely compromised by the cancer, even so, refusing my help, he lifted himself from his hospital bed and walked unaided to the restroom. It took his Doctor’s (who had made his way to My Brother’s room for rounds while Chinee was in the restroom), astounded expression for me to understand just what a feat of improbable, impossibility Chinee had undertaken. Man!!!!!!

I spoke to Chinee of my doubts of being able to exist in a world where he didn’t and in a high pitched whisper, all that cancer had left of his once booming voice, Chinee directed me that I needed to learn and learn quickly to live without him because his dying meant me living to tell his story in a way that he never could or would have. Without needing to give his statement any thought, I knew instinctively he could have never nor would he ever have told his story because he lived his life for others therefore, others would have to tell his story for him. So, in saying that, with a few minor changes I will again use the lines from a song that clearly told “our” story:

We’ve had our share of life’s ups and downs
But fate’s been kind, the downs have been few
I guess you could say that we’ve been lucky
Well, I guess you could say that it’s all because of you If anyone should ever write our life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me
Oh, there have been times when times were hard
But always somehow we made it, we made it through
Cause for every moment that we’ve spent hurting
There was a moment that I spent, ah, just loving you If anyone should ever write our life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

Chinee’s life was told by his smile which turned into laughter…and…there…was…nothing…he…loved…more …than…laughter. His smile was as big as East Texas timbers and his heart bigger than all of Texas combined. That would be what he’d want people to know about him. Much more beyond that would have received his perfectly pat answer when it came to people wanting more from him than he could give, “Eff’em!” With my eyes now wide opened, I’m remembering that he loved to leave’em smiling and he adored a surprise ending and because he wouldn’t have seen that one coming, I join my outrageous giggles with what I know would be his laughter. Please smile with me as I remember, My Brother.

I’m trying my best to leave’em smiling. Thanks for helping me Bro. I still love you & that smile! See Ya later Chinee.

My Soldier

My sincere intentions were to continue with the “My Brother” series this week but, as fate and life would designate, I instead found myself sitting in a chapel attending the farewell service of someone of whose family I lived directly across the street when I arrived in California. Our family connections have crisscrossed over the decades and the neighbors we were became the family we are. That simple reflection caused me to tumble back into the decades and brought to mind another memorial service almost 60 years past.

This recounting is of a shadowy but persistent memory which had followed me like a specter in a dream who always stood sentry but was forever just out of reach. From 1962 until July 2017 I battled with myself wondering whether I was chasing a dream or memory. It was truly as if all of the participants of this particular memory conspired with my dreams to keep me from forgetting. It had become so pervasive that I was often surprised when I would awake without having dreamed that same dream.

Fifty-five years of guarding an uncertain retrospection had taken its toll so, it was in July 2017 when I sought to find the truth of the matter, to find whether my memory was of a fact or just a hauntingly beautiful dream, No one had ever spoken of the event in my presence and although I didn’t doubt the details of my memory/dream, I wasn’t certain if the event had actually occurred or if it was a conglomeration of someone else’s spoken recollection that I had somehow adopted as a memory of my own. It was at the end this time period when a dear and precious cousin provided me the framework on which to hang one of the most beautiful tapestries, sewn together by my memory and which had fought ferociously against Time to prevent it from being ripped apart at the seams.

October 1962: Wiergate High School’s gymnasium seemed overwhelmingly large and quite literally filled to the rafters. There was a slight autumnal chill in the air, but most of it had more to do with the occasion than the weather. The bleachers were completely filled on both sides of the gymnasium and row after row of folded chairs had been patterned neatly across the highly waxed and polished basketball floor, where generally no one wearing anything other than Tennies or Basketball shoes were allowed.

I felt as though we were attending a funeral of a family member, but if so, it was no one of whom I knew personally, therefore the only pain I felt at the loss of the deceased was felt because of the pain I saw on the faces of those I did know. I recognized one person immediately as we entered the gymnasium and that person was the Head Cook in our school’s cafeteria, she was also my grandmother’s niece. As their eyes met, the pain on her face had reflected upon Mother’s face. In fact, every face in that great crowd had a solemnity which surpassed that which was shown upon the faces at other funerals I had attended. However, being only seven or so did not allow for much expertise in matters of obsequies.

I have absolutely no recall of the actual ceremony, i.e., what songs were sung, which scriptures were read, or what eulogy was offered, all of that to me, have been lost to modern-day antiquity. My memory seemed capable of reserving space only for the final viewing and for what came later. As the program portion of the funeral ended and as the mortuary attendants approached the flag draped casket, audible but quiet weeping spread like a wave from the front rows of seats to the back.

As best as I can remember, Mother and I had been seated a few rows further back than center. We stood and followed an usher’s direction when It was our row’s turn to fall in line behind the row immediately in back of ours and we marched a slow progression toward the final viewing of the decedent. Person after person shuffled along wordlessly, unashamedly wiping tears from their slightly bowed heads and it became more than apparent to this seven-year-old, that whoever occupied this coffin, was deeply loved.

Shockingly, I discovered there were a few people in attendance who showed no emotions at all! They wore looks of complete detachment and serious concentration. They stood tall, erect and wore amazingly impressive uniforms. I had become totally absorbed by their mode of dress and deportment. They were a master study in dignity and self-assuredness; they stood in sharp contrast to the people in line with slightly bowed heads. These men who stood with their heads held high and their shoulders squared had just planted fresh seeds of hero worship deep within my core. They, with their crisp, fresh pressed uniforms had more than my respect, they had me! There and then was born my infatuation of men in uniforms! It didn’t matter if it was Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard or City Trash Collectors…sharply creased, starched and ironed uniforms were my new standards of manhood.

Because I was the shortest person in line, I couldn’t see what was taking place directly in front of us, but I was completely willing and content to keep staring at the handsome uniformed men standing at attention near the foot of the coffin to my right.

Approaching the funeral dais was usually a frightening, knees-knocking prospect for me, one that I would not have undertaken unless I was being pulled along or pushed ahead by firm adult hands. This time though, there was something propelling me which had nothing to do with guiding hands. This was different, curiosity had replaced my fear because there, just in front of me stood a sealed glass coffin. The heart-rending cries of anguish were all but banished from my hearing as I beheld something of which I had thought existed only in fairytale books, Snow White specifically. It was almost exactly as I had envisioned when my sister first read the story to me. The sparkling beauty of the casket contrasted achingly against the still, quiet form lying inside. Wildly rampant floods of emotions washed over me; I had so many questions I wanted to ask immediately, but I knew not to behave in any manner which would have drawn attention away from the family and upon myself. Mother would not have looked kindly at such a show of disrespect, so I closed my mouth and willed my mind to accept and hold onto each new occurrence.

I was fascinated by the scene now directly in front of me, I wanted so desperately to reach out and touch the glass box, to make sure that it was real and that it wouldn’t disappear as Snow White’s did when my sister closed her book. But again, two unmovable forces prevented me from touching the glass: the distance everyone was wordlessly warned to keep as we momentarily paused to pay our respect and the unyielding force of nature, I called Mother. Since I was not allowed to touch the glass my attention was turned to the person inside. A man, also in uniform, a white uniform. WHO WAS HE? I looked up at Mother hoping to maybe whisper my question to her, but I saw an unstaunched flow of tears and knew instinctively not to speak, so I tucked away my question for a better time, of which, as it happened, never arrived. As we followed the slow but orderly processional out of the gymnasium, I picked up snippets of conversations being held all around us but nothing that led to the identity of the soldier in the glass casket. I heard but did not see who had made a comment that the young man had been lost at sea. I quickly discounted that comment because how could he have been lost if he was lying just inside? But the words, “lost young man” made an impression upon me. I added those words to the list of other things I wanted to ask Mother later.

At the Shankleville Community Cemetery, some five miles or so away, the “Lost Young Man” was to be laid to rest. This answered one of my questions, he was indeed family because only family members were allowed to be buried there, at least that was the case at that time.

There seemed to be even more soldiers in attendance here than I’d seen at the school. Perhaps, they were all in the gymnasium and my height disadvantage had shuttered them from my view, but here now they all stood together. I counted 8 unmoving, unwavering and completely focused servicemen.

Mother and I had been in a latter position in the funeral procession from the school to the cemetery and therefore were among some of the last to enter. The graveside service had already begun, and Mother and I had necessarily stood near the back of the crowd. The incessant buzzing that attends a crowd was suddenly hushed when someone at the front of the crowd yelled a command. Although, I had been gratefully holding onto Mother’s hand since we exited the car in which we rode, at the sound of that command, I wiggled my fingers free from her grip and bolted toward the outermost edge of the crowd to my right! I knew there would be a price to pay later but I was compelled to find a spot from which I could see what was happening up front.

I reached a spot near the East facing fence and found that I had an unobstructed view of the action taking place. Just as I arrived, a second command of “Honor Guard, Attention” was given by a soldier standing slightly apart and to the left of the seven others and for the first time I noticed that they were not all wearing the same type of uniforms. I didn’t know what all the different uniforms represented but two of them matched the uniform worn by “the Lost Young Man,” Sailors, that much at least, I was certain. Despite the difference in their uniforms, they all exhibited the same deportment. At the utterance of the next command, “Stand by-Ready,” there was an in unison clicking of rifles, (no self-respecting Texan would call these weapons, guns). The next command given was “Ready” and was executed by each of the soldiers removing his weapon from the safety position. The “Aim” command had them bringing up the butt of their rifles to their shoulders so that the handgrip rested in the palm of their left hand and their right hands grasping the small of the stock with their fingers entering the trigger guard. My unguarded mind immediately noticed that they were all right-handed and wondered off point, as to whether a left-handed person would have been excluded from this particular ceremony.

My wayward thought was riveted back to what was happening when the next command given was “Fire!” all weapons were discharged in ear-splitting unison and they stood awaiting for the next command which followed almost instantly on the heels of the first order to Fire and then the final command to Fire! The last command to “Present Arms,” caused the group as one, to place their rifles with both hands vertically in front of their body, holding the muzzle upward and the trigger side facing forward.

The ceremony was stunningly poignant, and my mind captured and held unto every minuscule detail. I watched as one of them, the one who had given the commands, approached my Grandmother’s seated niece but was too far away to hear what was being said or what exactly was being done. I still didn’t know her connection to the “Lost Young Man.” I made my way back to Mother’s side and suddenly another command was issued, and it seemed that command was taken as the dismissal call for all who were in attendance.

Even though I had rejoined Mother, my attention was still riveted on the men in uniforms. They were the most gorgeous, perfect (in my limited experience) depiction of manhood I could have ever hoped to witness. If clothing made the man, these men were well-made indeed! As I stood drinking in all that was in front of me, staring openly and unapologetically from one serviceman to another, one of them walked toward Mother and I and STOPPED! He squatted down to my level and taking his still gloved hand, cupped my chin, lifted my face and told me how pretty he thought I was. I was struck completely speechless and hopelessly in love! No one had ever told me that I was pretty. I’d been told my shoes were pretty, my dress was pretty and aw hell, even that my sister was pretty – but never had I been told that I was. I didn’t know if I believed him or just adored him, whatever the case, he was intricately and forever linked to my soul, my heart and my memory and in that moment, he became “My Soldier.” He was also irrevocably linked to the “Lost Young Man.” After he stood upright again and left my immediate space, I tried to filter out all sounds except his voice, but I heard another soldier ask him where he was headed next and My Soldier answered, “D.C.” I had no idea where or what D.C. was but what I did now know, was that I wanted to go here too! In that moment I made a childish but sincere vow that one day I would go to wherever or whatever that D.C. was, and I would find My Soldier. My world which had expanded to include this soldier mere moments before had just as suddenly deflated as he walked away. I was crushed but yet, still hopeful.

Five short years later, my own mother would find rest in the same red clay as the “Lost Young Man.” No military honor guard saluted her passing and I was whisked almost 1800 miles away, in the opposite direction of the travels of My Soldier.

I had moved far away from the foundation of my memories and no longer lived amongst people who had shared my day to day memories and therefore could not help bolster or prevent my recollections from becoming milky and doubtful. After so many years, this particular memory was definitely headed toward the land of uncertainty and would have taken root and stayed there had it not been for the advent of Facebook and a Friend request from a distant yet direct family member.

It was an early afternoon in Mid-July in 2017 when the remnant of a recurring dream fought its way to the forefront of my consciousness. It was an especially slow Thursday afternoon so; I took advantage of the lag time and of Facebook and sent my Cousin a message similar to the following:

Hello Cousin…I hope you can help me because there is no one left to whom I can turn. I have a vivid memory of someone who I believe to be a relative of ours, yours and mine. A young man who was either killed or died at sea. My memory is that he was a sailor who drowned. I don’t know if he was a son, grandson or nephew to Cousin Elouise. I was very young, but Mother took me to the funeral which was held in the Gym at Wiergate High and I would swear but can’t be positive that he was buried in Shankleville. Can you please help me fill in the missing parts?

Her reply:

The young sailor’s name was Willie Lee Bryant.  Yes, my Grandmother’s Elouise Bryant’s son.  Your memory is perfect because the military funeral was held at Wiergate High School and he was in a glass casket.  He is buried in Shankleville next to my grandmother and grandfather.  He drowned while serving in the Navy at a very young age, trying to protect his ship.  What made you ask of him?  No one ever ask me about my mom’s brother.  I hope this helps you.  Love you Cousin.  Beverly.

What followed was a conversation that took place over several hours. No one, not even Beverly could have understood the momentousness of her confirmation. What had been an uneasy, uncertain echo was given new voice and meaning. What I had begun to suspect was simply a persistent nightmare had become a beautiful fulfilled recollection. I could not have been more grateful. Everything could have simply ended there and I would have been completely satisfied, but my dear cousin, Beverly J. King-Perkins, went one step further and there in front of me, on my laptop screen appeared a face that I had never known but recognized instantly. What I didn’t tell Beverly then but will reveal now, is just how very much my eldest grandson, (whose Father and Mom both served in the Navy), resembles her Uncle and my Cousin Willie.

Willie Lee Bryant
August 10, 1940
October 7, 1962

I was beyond excited that after decades of referring to him as such, I needed no longer refer to him as “the Lost Young Man.” Here now I will repeat something which has more meaning to me than it could have ever had otherwise and it is something of which I’d heard uttered many times, by our elders: “Blood will out! Blood will always out.”

Cousin Willie, it is so very lovely to have finally met you. Thank you for not allowing me to forget you or the circumstances that brought you to me. I have to admit to you Willie that I have not yet made it to D.C. nor have I ever again met “My Soldier,” but Wille, because I have aged well beyond the years you were allowed to age, because I have been blessed with recollections which have proven to be pure, innocent and detail accurate and mostly because I would now be considered grandmotherly to most young soldiers serving today, I am able to look at every young man in a military uniform and think of them all as “My Soldiers.” I adore each of them. Thank you for those precious gifts Cousin and now continue to rest easy, (I have, ever since your niece Beverly revealed your name to me. You no longer occupy my dreams but you are now and will remain a part of each one of my waking moments). Good night sweet Sailor, Good night. HOOYAH!!!!!!!

They Weren’t all Bad…Final

They Weren’t All Bad…Final

My beautiful new friend was true to her word.  Never did a four-hour span of time pass that she did not come by to check on me, accompany me to restroom breaks, or purchase my meals.  It bothered me that I had no way of repaying her.  

During one of our leisurely meals, she became a bit less reticent in her questions as to how I came to be on such a long train ride alone. The first couple of times she’d broached the subject she had abruptly switched topics when tears begin to fill my eyes. But I felt I owed her something and I trusted her unlike I’d trusted anyone beyond Chinee and Papa. The very least I could do was to share some of my story besides it had also been a very long time since anyone was interested in anything I had to say. It seemed we sat hour after hour with her asking questions and me answering and finally, me asking for her opinions to questions I’d been longing to ask for months. She didn’t have the answers I sought but it was a relief just to be able to share my thoughts with someone so solicitous.

To assume that I didn’t have my own curiosity as to how she had come to be aboard the train alone would be a misguided notion, but when I asked her, I noticed a subtle but definite change in her posture, a stiffening, almost defensive.  I also noticed her right hand switched to a clenched position from a relaxed position on the table.  I understood defensive postures all too well therefore I avoided asking her anything personal again.    

She couldn’t have been more than three to five years older than me, yet she seemed so mature, so aware and so very self-sufficient. She walked with her head held high in total defiance.   I decided that I wanted to be like her, independent and immune to judgmental examinations. She received plenty of those each time we entered the dining car, (at least I believed the glances were meant for her).  I assumed the women who leaned slightly away from her as we walked the aisle, did so because they were jealous of the looks their male companions gave her as we passed them.  I had become very astute in reading body language and assessing precarious situations.  We or she or I were constantly being observed and not in a kindly, caring way.  My new friend paid no attention to the women or the men nor did she seem to pay much attention to just how beautiful she was.  The cinnamon chocolate color of her skin combined with her soft dark wavy hair suggested strongly of a French, Spanish and African bloodline, Creole.  She had the softest Southern accent further suggesting that neither French, Spanish or an amalgam of either was her native language.

Early one afternoon, after my friend had escorted me back to the Sleeping Lady, boredom got the very best of me and I decided to display a little bravery and explore some of the cars alone.  Thus far, I had been no further than the dining car immediately ahead of us.   I knew that we were near the back of the train because of the advantage point we had as we stood on the platform before boarding the train in Beaumont.  Although desegregation was slowly creeping across the South, it had not yet found its way on much of the available public transportation. The Sunset had at least 30 cars and we were most likely in car number 14 or 13 counting from the front.  I had made several attempts to count the cars ahead of us as we rounded steep curves to the left but never reached the same number twice.  We had made several stops along the way, but I’d never left the train, I was much too afraid of being left behind or boarding the wrong car or much worse the wrong train!   

There wasn’t much of anything to see as I progressed forward beyond the dining car, just more of the same. People sitting, people sleeping, and every now and then a baby either crying or giggling. As I was about to enter the next car, a Porter I recognized, came through the same door toward me. He stood there and blocked my path but not in a threatening manner. “You’re a little way away from home aren’t you young lady?” I nodded and said, “Yes,” I got on in Beaumont.” He smiled indulgently and said, “Yes Ma’am, I remember where you got on, but I meant you’re a long way from your car.” “You’re not allowed to go any further forward from here.” I glanced back over my shoulder and realized that the car in which we stood was indeed just like all the others I’d walked through but realized for those few seconds as I’d stood there assessing the situation that the difference was that the people in this car, although Negroes, as we were called in the late ‘60’s, they wore a different style of dress. The kind of clothing that spoke of the better department stores and of dry-cleaned laundry and they wore shoes with taps on the soles to prevent excessive wear. They were, what I supposed would have been called, “well-off.” They had purchased tickets that did not allow them to share seats with the Whites, however, their fare did afford separation from the working-class Negroes who wore their 2nd hand, Sunday best having laundered them themselves with Oxydol and Faultless laundry starch. This was my first-time having exposure to true classism within a Race. I needed to think about this. I turned back to the Porter, thanked him and said goodbye. “I’ll be seeing you Ma’am,” he said showing me no less respect than if my own ticket allowed me passage in this car.

Since my trip forward had ended abruptly and because I was not quite ready to just sit and watch the scenery, I thought I’d backtrack and see what the cars behind mine offered.  As I walked through the car which held my seat, I glanced over at the Sleeping Lady and she was wide awake!   This was a first!  She looked up at me and did not seem to recognize me at all!  I returned the favor!  I walked through the first car and it held people who must have paid the same fare as the people in my car plus about four or five men in Army uniforms.   The car after that held as much cigarette smoke as it held soldiers and so did the car after that and the one after that and the next and the next!  There was another dining car not quite as nice as the one I had been visiting but the food smelled every bit as good and that was where I spotted my friend.  She was smiling and talking to a couple of the soldiers and I wasn’t sure if I should interrupt them to say hello or not.  I had just decided to make a hasty retreat when she spotted me and asked if I needed anything.  I shook my head and told her that I just wanted to see what else was on the train.  She told me she would be by later and to have dinner with me.  

At dinner that evening she seemed very pensive and not her normally talkative self. At every other meal, she had told me stories of different passengers, where they were going, their children, what type of work they did and when they planned or if they had planned to return to wherever they had come. I didn’t ask how she knew; I was just happy to be part of her conspiratorial gossip, because merely from the way she’d told me the stories, I could tell she hadn’t been informed of these things by the women who leaned away from her unintentional touch. Today though, instead of eating with her normal abandonment, she simply pulled the crust from her sandwich and picked at the filling inside. Each and every time we had been together, she would take my hand and slide folded bills into my hands. This time was no exception. Each time, I objected, but she would not listen to my protestations. At last count, my little handkerchief, tucked safely in my front pocket, held over one hundred dollars and the corners had become harder to pull and tie together! I ate quietly, wishing I knew how I could get her to talk to me and wondered what was making her so sad. As I was finishing my last bite of burger she said, “I swear I have never seen a person who loves hamburgers as much as you do.” “I guess they will always remind me of the last time I had lunch with my brother,” I answered sheepishly.

She reached over and handed me what felt like 3 or 4 bills. I asked her why she was doing this, but she asked me a question instead of answering mine. She asked, “how well do you know these sisters you going to stay with?” I told her that my eldest sister was as pretty as she was, and that I had been named for her. I told her that I knew her best because she would come home several times a year. Even though she was sixteen years older than me she didn’t act like other grownups, she was fun. “Humph, People are always fun when they on vacation but get them on their regular day and they can be just as sour as everybody else,” she retorted. “What about your other sister?” “I don’t know much about her. I think I’ve only seen her three times in my life. She got married really young, about my age and moved away. She hardly ever came back home.” “She acted as old as my Mother and treated me like I was one of her children instead of her sister.” “I sure hope you don’t have to stay with her,” she said sadder still and I wanted to ask her why she felt that way but was not really certain I wanted to know the answer. She grew quiet again and said to me, “Look, you gotta really listen to me now ok?” I nodded, suddenly unsure and afraid of what she was about to say. “You had a Mama and other family that loved you, so you got that to build on.” “Don’t let them other people who hurt you make you forget about the ones that loved you cause if you do that, you gonna let them and you down.” “There might come times in your life that might make you do some stuff that you don’t want to do but if it means the difference between living and dying then you do it but don’t live in it and don’t let it live in you, you hear me, Cher?” I blinked hard trying not to cry, I didn’t let any tears fall but dang they stung me in protest to being held onto too tightly. “We gonna be pulling into San Bernardino tomorrow and that’s where I get off, that’s where the lady you been sitting with is getting off too.” I wondered how she knew that since the Lady had not spoken to me since our first night aboard and to my knowledge had never spoken to my friend either. Then it struck me afresh what she’d just said, she’s leaving the train! Fear flooded me! “Where is San Bernardino?” I asked my voice shaking. She squeezed my hand and told me it was about 60 miles or so from Los Angeles and it would probably take about two hours to get to the station there. I didn’t want her to leave. I wanted to go with her, and I said as much. She told me that she had no family to go home to so, she pretty much rode the trains and would get off in whatever town suited her and moved on when she got bored. I asked her why she couldn’t stay onboard to Los Angeles since no one was waiting for her, but she said someone was waiting, they just weren’t family. It was strange how in just 3 days I had become so dependent upon her and so happy to be in her company. I also felt guilty for thinking she was supporting herself by pickpocketing. So, what if she did, she didn’t do it just for the sake of stealing, she had no one to take care of her either and besides that, she’d given me most of what she’d taken. I promised her I would always remember her. She told me not to bother remembering her, but to remember what she had told me. We ended the meal that evening with her telling me to never expect anyone to take care of me. That it didn’t matter that I was only thirteen, there was work I could do and be paid an honest wage for it. She told me to always keep train or bus fare home and to never, ever depend on anybody for nothing. Work for yourself even if you’re working for somebody! Don’t forget that! She told me she was going to say goodbye to me now because we would be pulling into San Bernardino early and she wouldn’t have time to say goodbye. We hugged each other and she did something that I will forever believe to be the most tender, intimate, non-sexual touch humans can share with one another. She took her hand and softly caressed my cheeks first with her palm then with the back of her hand; much the same way my mother always did just before she’d say goodnight to me. I still didn’t cry…I was done crying, but my broken heart found brand new ways and places in which to break.

I sat alone that next morning. It seemed most of the people in my car disembarked in San Bernardino. I irrationally associated a bitter distaste for San Bernardino and from then until now, I’ve never changed my opinion of that city. I didn’t want to sit in that seat alone, so I walked to the dining car and ordered coffee! Coffee!!! She had, so I did. While seated there I heard a woman sitting behind me tell another that she finally felt free to leave their husband’s side for a while since the little la putain had left the train. I had absolutely no idea as to what they were speaking and didn’t care. I was again facing an uncertain tomorrow. As I sat there sipping my overly sweet and heavily creamed coffee, I counted the money that was now barely contained inside my now dingy handkerchief. Inside there was three-hundred dollars and 32 cents! Boy, pickpocketing could sure be lucrative if done correctly, I supposed. Maybe that was what she had meant by doing something bad to live but to not keep doing it once you got on your feet. As the train pulled into Union Station in Los Angeles…somewhere in one of the cars behind me, someone once again began to play the song, Back up Train. How I wished it would.

I kept my promise to my friend albeit not quite as I would have preferred. Within two months of arriving in Los Angeles I was told by my eldest sister that I would be living with my second eldest sister and man oh man my train friend had been correct. It was not ideal to say the least, actually I could say that I had fallen from the frying pan into the fire. But this story is not about my sister, only in as much as I need to tell you that she insisted I would have to earn my keep. She had secured a babysitting job for me with a neighbor, watching her three children on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and she had applied for both a Social Security card and a job in my name at a local doughnut shop, about a three quarters of a mile from her home. I was warned not to reveal my true age to the owner of the shop and that I would have to walk to get to this job that offered me split shift hours from 3 am to 7:30 am and after school from 4pm to 8pm, Monday through Thursday. Second Eldest Sister further warned that I was not to let my schoolwork, or the upkeep of her home suffer because of my jobs. I suppose this would be a good time to mention that the upkeep of her home, which was a household of six, including me; she was also expecting a new baby in the Spring, but getting back to my duties, they included cooking, preparing her children school lunches, doing laundry—no automatic machines here in this “modern California home, just a wringer washer and a clothesline out back whereby I hung 8 loads of laundry per week in the good old California sunshine to dry. I was also to complete mopping, changing bed linen on 4 beds twice a week, which made me grateful that I slept on a sofa, dishes twice a day and in my spare time, ironing the freshly washed clothing for her family, (I was also truly grateful that I didn’t own many articles of clothing to add to my laundry duties) and anything else that would prevent me from sitting down for more than ten minutes and a page of school work at a time. How had my beautiful train friend known what was ahead for me? But I worked and I saved every dime I could after paying second eldest for my food and board, beyond what the State of California and Social Security paid her for offering shelter to her orphaned sister.

Regardless of the situation of which I found myself in this strange, new place, I still held to the fact that God never left my side and continued to put people into my life who had direct, positive impact upon my life choices.  The doughnut shop owner took me under her wing and taught me her business and gave me my first and detailed lessons in bookkeeping and accounting, in which I would eventually work professionally and retire from after more than 50 years.  Also, during that time at the doughnut shop, I found myself working side by side with a very lovely young woman of French dissent.  She was working her way across the country and had made it from Boston to Southern California and was taking odd jobs to earn enough money to finally settle in San Francisco. Coast to Coast is what she desired most, was her often spoken mantra.    She taught me a few rudimentary French phrases and we giggled a lot between serving up pastries and hundreds of cups of coffee per day.  She reminded me of my dear Train Friend, she made me forget how exhausted I was. 

One morning after she’d completed a sale to a particularly prickly and difficult customer, she’d walked away from the counter calling the woman a la putain under her breath! I asked her the meaning of the phrase and she said the politest description would be a prostitute or whore and she made reference to the New Orleans sex workers. My breath caught in my throat as I remembered the women behind me in the dining car on my last morning on the train. They had been speaking of my young friend. She had once told me that she normally went as far East as New Orleans, her home, and as far West as San Bernardino stopping anywhere along the way and in between. She was not a Pickpocket after all! She made her living working military transport trains! But I wasted no pity on her because she needed none, nor did I change my very high opinion of her. She earned a living the best she knew, hurting no one but herself and by doing so helped this lost young girl. She was my very own Rahab. Not for the first time, God used a prostitute to deliver one of His own and I’ll forever hold my train friend and the 2nd and 6th Biblical chapters of Joshua close to my heart. Despite her telling me not to bother remembering her, I’ve never forgotten her and never will.

My Lord, my Savior, and My Jehovah Jireh, please be attendant to the fervency of this, my prayer. Lord, whether my train friend of whom you so lovingly placed in my life  is still occupying space on this side of your glory or whether she has entered into your eternal presence, I thank you for the love and wisdom you showed to me by placing her and others in my life during the times I needed them most.  I thank you Lord for all your blessings and for what some would call trials.  Nothing you’ve allowed in my life has broken me because you have been my rod and strength.  Lord, if possible, I ask that you allow your obedient servants of times long ago, of whom will be known to me as my Train Friend and as Nurse Nice, until I meet them again in Paradise, to know that I’ve never forgotten their benevolence to me and their obedience to you. And Lord please, look into my heart and see that I’ve always acknowledged Your presence in their lives and mine.  It is in Your matchless name that I declare my humble gratefulness, Amen.   

They Weren’t All Bad…

For the past 5 months or so many of you began a journey with me back to a time and place of which I had come to think of as my new normal. For a few short years, gratefully so, I was cocooned by an extraordinary love given by extraordinary people who had known very little love themselves. The circumstances of my life of which I’ve selectively shared thus far, had for a time, convinced me that I had been ill-prepared to face what was to befall me. Whereas, I had believed that it was simply normalcy to be nurtured by warmth and security, I learned that within my orbit, in that time and space, there were far fewer of those willing to give love freely than there were those who willingly and selfishly took from others merely because they could.

Those who give love and expect nothing except the pure pleasure there is in giving are outnumbered by those who have never given a thought to another being whereby they did not balance what they, themselves would receive from such an engagement first. (I despise the latter.) Before I get sidetracked, I want to reassure those of you who have followed this blog that though I’ve been burned by the unwarranted hatred of others, I have not been consumed by it and that fact has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with me or anything that I’ve done. It does have EVERYTHING to do with the belief, faith and hope that was pushed in me, prayed over me, taught to me and shown to me by those who were sent to prepare me and the God who delivered me and the Christ who saved me.

One of my proven mantras is, “God always sends the right person into your life at the right time”. I challenge each of you to look back at some of the most difficult moments of your life and remember the person or persons who were there to help you through the process. I sincerely declare they were there by divine Providence and not by ordinary coincidence. To this point and because I’m still recovering from last week’s post, I’d like to focus for a period of time on some of those people God placed in my path. Some were bandages for my sore spirit. Some were the laughter that I thought I’d forgotten. Some were a soft spot on a hard day. All were Heaven’s Emissaries.

My dear little friend Fernell and her further influences will be covered more in a later chapter. I’ve written rather precisely of the major affect Mrs. C had upon me but there were others, such wonderfully, undeniably selfless others. Others of whom I would utterly dishonor were I do have allowed the seeds of hate spread at my feet to overtake the love vines planted by the likes of Sammie, a young man 4 to 5 years my senior who took the time to soothe the aching heart of a little girl when adults couldn’t be bothered to do so. Sammie showed me the true size of a mustard seed and what a gigantic plant it could grow into when watered by faith. I am not surprised at all that 25 to 30 years later he followed his heart into the Ministry. Mrs. J. Hubbard, taught me that food shared in love will fill an empty heart to overflowing. Mrs. Arleeza M., sang with such beautiful, Heavenly regard that even sadness would dress itself in melancholy loveliness and tip an upturned heart upright. These names some of you will remember and perhaps they will invoke altogether different or maybe similar recollections and there lies the beauty in looking back. I cherish each of these names and others.

But the name of the person of my next shared memory was never given to me but she was without a doubt the most selfless, the most giving, the most laughter spreading, contagiously charitable soul ever placed in my path and for her, I will always be grateful. One chapter will do her no justice, so please allow me to use this time simply as an introduction to a most wonderful, sadly used, terrifically abused, rescuer of one such as herself, fully discarded by all except God and me. There was a time when I truly wished she had told me her name because had she bestowed that honor upon me, I would have honored her by giving my first child her name in some form. But since I believe that it was not meant for me to know her by name because by doing so I would have ultimately centered all of my thoughts singularly upon her and those memories would have been attached to a name; yet by not knowing her name I am thereby forced to recognize the spirit she shared unselfishly with me and I in turn, desire ever to be that Spirit others see in me. My Papa, in an effort to instruct me in being careful of the impression I left with other, told me that my name would go places that I never would. In this young lady’s case, her spirit will touch unlimited souls in lands her feet never touched. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to share her loving kindness with you.

After The Sunset Limited pulled away from Beaumont’s Laurel Street station and made its first stop some 90 miles Southwest in Houston, it once again gathered its full head of steam and pressed forward toward Los Angeles. There was nothing to see outside except the darkness surrounding the train. The occasional blinking of the overhead amber-colored lights inside created ghostly, elongated shadows of the seated passengers, all of which I preferred not to see. There was exactly nothing to break the gloom that rode in that car with me except the hauntingly beautiful sound of a song that appeared to be playing over and over again from some other place on the train. Every time the person I came to know as the Porter would enter and leave the car in which I rode, the sound of the music would be louder and clearer. I wanted to follow him and find the source of the music but fear and insecurities kept me seated.

I began trying to make sense of the few words I was able to string together. “Got to take my baby, wherever I’m bound…ease the pain…Mr. Conductor…

After someone came into the car from somewhere behind me there was suddenly such a loud chorus of voices demanding in unison to: Back this train up, that it startled me and brought to mind train robberies on Westerns I’d watched with Papa! It was many hours later after I’d heard the same chorus of voices making the same demand when I finally understood that the voices were joining in on the refrain of a new song by new singing artist Al Green! It was October 1967 and Back Up Train was the latest hit song. There could have been no more appropriate song for my first lonely train ride! What’s more, this particular train was occupied by car after car of military troops being shipped West and then to parts unknown and all wanting the same as me, to back the train up!

Hunger, thirst, fear, loneliness and an increasingly difficult to suppress urge to empty my bladder made sleep impossible. The Lady into whose care I had been submitted, had entered the car, exchanged seats with me, ate a piece of fried chicken from her possessively protected, twine-tied shoebox and promptly fell asleep with her head resting upon the window, never saying a word to me. I dared not to wake her to ask where I could relieve myself. I thought it not important enough. I did vow however, that I would ask the next person to passing how one would go about relieving oneself aboard a bunch of moving metal boxes! Trouble was, and I had no way of knowing, it was already well past midnight and no one would be passing by for several more hours.

Somehow, I had falling fitfully asleep and awoke to Bro. Al still pleading with the Conductor and my bladder still pleading with me. Sometime during the period after I’d fallen asleep, the Lady must have awakened and partook again of her precious boxed lunch because she now held a handkerchief which was wrapped around sucked cleaned bones. (I wonder if I would have noticed how totally devoid of flesh those bones were if I had not been so hungry.) I hadn’t eaten since 11:30 the previous day and I couldn’t remember my last restroom visit! I considered briefly asking for a piece of the Lady’s chicken or barring that a piece of her bread but Mother’s admonition of never letting anyone know you were hungry to avoid being taken advantage of, chased that thought away. But I was not above waking her this time to ask about a restroom! Just as I was about to shake her shoulder, a lovely, slender young woman stopped next to me and bid me good morning. Startled, I tried but failed to give voice to a greeting in return.

The previous day’s crying and the lack of water had left me quite hoarse! Gratefully, she didn’t let my croaking dissuade her from talking further. Looking at the Lady still sleeping next to me, she asked, “Is she your mother?” I shook my head vigorously. “Your grandmother?” Again I shook my head. She covered several other feminine relationship possibilities before she finally blurted out, “Well, what the hell you doing sitting here with her?” I didn’t know whether to giggle or cry; giggle was my first choice, but I was too vicariously close to wetting myself to lose myself in a fit of giggles! She told me that she’d seen me sleeping the night before and wanted to talk to me because she had seen me crying on the platform and wanted to know if I was alright. She had come looking for me! I croaked out “restroom” and she said, “lawd gawd, you ain’t peed all night?” Again, I shook my head. “Com’on, let’s go” she said, I followed.

She took me forward to the front of the car and then out. There was about a four-foot, windowed, enclosed area between the cars with a moving left to right floor, it terrified me. She told me that we would have to jump over the moving floor to the next car since neither of our legs were long enough to simply step over. She saw the uncertainty in my face and asked if I’d ever played hopscotch, nodding this time, she said “same thing, we just moving is all”. Nothing except the humiliation of wetting myself made me take that jump and the very next car held a restroom! It had been a very long time since I had been so grateful for anything so basic! After relieving the pressure of my bladder, my stomach was now free to voice its opposition to being neglected. Loud, angry grumbling refused to pay attention to Mother’s admonitions, and she giggled as she asked me which I had been holding longer, my hunger or my water? That time I did giggle, she had such an old manner of speaking, but I didn’t want her to think I was laughing at her. I needn’t have worried, she laughed with me. She told me to follow her and we car hopped to the next car and miracles upon miracles there were people, tables and Food! She asked if I had any money, still unable to speak, I pulled the handkerchief from my pocket with the quarter, nickel and 2 pennies tied into the corner. She looked at me sadly and asked if I was going all the way to California with .32 cents? I knew my meager clothing was nothing of which to brag but I hadn’t realized until then just how poor a picture I presented. My stomach chose that second and growled all the louder. She told me to sit down and order whatever I wanted. I shook my head and she told me that she would tell me to shut up if I had actually said something but, since I couldn’t talk to just sit down and get ready to eat! I did and had what seemed the most wonderful meal of my short life! Sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits, jelly, potatoes and my first taste of real, fresh-squeezed orange juice, not Tang, and I didn’t like it, but I drank every drop. I didn’t know how far away California was or if I’d have another meal before we arrived. She paid for our food and I hugged her and thanked her profusely. The warm food, water and juice having softened my vocal cords somewhat, I thanked her. I wanted to talk to her, ask questions and find out things about her but the heavy meal and lack of restful sleep was making it difficult to follow my own thoughts. She took me back to my car and the still sleeping Lady, whose cold chicken now just smelled greasy instead of delicious and promise to come back and check on me. I hugged her again, curled up in my seat and joined the Lady in deep, train rocking, satisfying sleep.

True to her promise, she came back and told me to hold out my hand. I did and she pressed a twenty- dollar bill into it. It took me a moment to grasp that this was something she was giving to me. The last time anyone had pressed folded money into my hands was the night Mother died (what had happened to that money). She reached down and closed my fingers around the bill and told me she’d see me later at supper time. She had work to do. I nodded and watched her leave. I fell asleep again in the early afternoon light thinking of her, how old she was, how pretty she was and if she might be a waitress in the dining car. I couldn’t wait to share another meal with her, not for the sake of eating but for the pure pleasure of listening to her.


The Escape, Chinee and Me Chapter 2

I am compelled to admit that despite unconscionable, unreasonable, and intemperate abuse, both physical and emotional, heaped upon me by the woman, she treated my grandfather with the utmost care and concern. Regardless as to whether her benevolence resulted from a hidden knob of virtue or a highly perceptible fear of my Uncles, I’m grateful to her for her kind treatment of my Papa.

I had flatly refused to return to school following Mother’s funeral.  I had simply lost all desire or compunction to attend and neither the threat of nor an actual beating was enough to sway my decision.  There had only been about 3 weeks remaining in the school year when Mother died, and nobody really insisted upon my return anyway. 

August 1967 was the beginning of the new school year and still I refused to return to school.  The melancholy, depression, a sense of hopelessness and the fear of being pitied were just too deeply ingrained for me to ignore.  It was not until the “Girl’s” Principal, pushed beyond a reasonable waiting period, decided to leave the school and drive to the farm.  She did not sweetly request my return; she did not threaten me, nor did she coddle me.  She walked into my home, one hand on her hip, bowed-legs planted firmly and told me without preamble to go and get properly dressed for school and to do so quickly.  Mrs. C was the embodiment of morality and held deep concern for the students in her care.  Without discussion, I did as I was told and within ten minutes, we were on the road headed to school.  For a passing moment, I contemplated confiding in her my plight but thought better of it. She lived in the same county, but her home was about 40 miles away therefore she rented rooms from the woman during school days. Their relationship although built on business was still too close to chance speaking up.  It was another decisive life moment. 

On the drive to school, she told me of a conversation she’d had with Mother.  I had trouble at first following what she was saying because I was shaken by the knowledge that she had spoken with Mother and that thought in turn led me to wondering when that conversation might have taken place. She might have said when the conversation had taken place but ruminating so entirely on her declaration, I would have missed it if indeed she had.  

Pulling out of my revelry, I heard her repeat something Mother had often said.  I had absolutely no doubt that Mrs. C had spoken with Mother when she said, “Your Mama told me that her last wish was that at least one of her children completes and graduates from school.”  She continued by saying, “You’re the youngest, therefore her last wish and hope rest entirely upon your shoulders”.  

I fought to control the crushing loneliness and grief which had begun to engulf me again as I remembered Mother saying those very words many times over the years.  Those words had never really depended so completely upon me as they did at that moment.  If this was, and I knew that it was, so important to Mother that in her final weeks, she sought an ally to help fulfill her dream, then I would have to do my utmost to make her dream a reality. It was little enough to have asked. 

My march back into that school, that dear old island of maroon and gold, was accompanied by a dauntless determination and thereby leaving behind the dread which had escorted me and entered her car with me.

A few weeks after I’d returned to school, I had been subjected to a particularly unconscionably, brutish beating with an electrical extension cord.  The woman had been careful, or so she’d thought, to do her worse to me out of the range of Papa’s hearing.  This was made easier for her to accomplish because Papa’s hearing had been almost totally compromised and because I had become resolute in my refusal to cry out no matter the severity of the attacks.  I felt it was my responsibility to not cause Papa additional pain borne because of his inability to protect me by not letting him hear me cry out in pain.

Looking back and considering those thrashing through the lens of time, I suppose I could have limited the length of the beating had I simply cried out and sated her desire to inflict pain. Instead, I endured until her enormous arms grew fatigued and the torture ceased.

That latest lashing ripped open the skin on my back in multiple long strips and left me crumpled on the back porch, almost unconscious.  I believe she would have been content to leave me there all night had she not needed me to bring in her damnable and deplorable chamber pot.  

After the pain subsided enough to allow me to walk without stumbling, under the secrecy of darkness, I’d made my way the hundred or so yards to my Mother’s cottage and looked for anything to treat my bleeding and throbbing back.  Strewn on the floor among a few of her least wanted possessions, of which the vultures had left behind, I had found a box containing several Modess sanitary pads, an almost empty container of Bactine antiseptic spray and an Ace bandage Mother had used on her injured knee. I dribbled the contents of the Bactine down my back as much as the pain allowed, placed the pads on the floor atop the Ace bandage, laid myself on top of them and wrapped my back.  The tightness of the bandage and the pads contained the bleeding, just as they had been designed, albeit for different reasons, they worked.  

Unfortunately, that one application of antiseptic was not enough to stifle the incident of infection.  The severity of my wounds conspired with the overwhelming East Texas August heat and biting flies.  The flies having found an easy host upon which to both feed and lay their eggs created a flaming, odorous, oozing infection from which I could find no relief.  

For reasons unknown to me, the woman decided to leave me at the farm the second Friday following that vicious beating.  Perhaps she didn’t want me soiling her linens, but upon awakening at home that Saturday morning, I found my nightgown solidly glued to my back.  I had no way of knowing that maggots had begun to hatch in my wounds, but the incessant, itching and burning pain alerted me that something horrifically unusual was taking place beyond my view.

After tiptoeing in to check on Papa, and before an older female cousin who relieved the woman on most weekends had awakened, I drew and heated water to help loosen the gown from my back.  After the water had heated, from sheer desperation and hopes of relieving the itch, I put several overflowing capfuls of bleach into the small basin with the water.  

I’d heard a car drive past the house and since it didn’t seem to stop nor did I hear a car door close, I paid no further attention.  Taking a small towel, I soaked it in the bleached water and allowed it to run down my back.  Contrary to burning me further as I had expected, the water loosened my gown and provided a soothing, drawing affect.  Because the itchiness having been somewhat abated by the bleach, I was in the midst of allowing myself a deep relief-filled exhale when I was startled by a movement behind me!  

My sister had driven to the farm apparently not expecting to see me. She had parked her car just passed our driveway which had kept me from hearing the closing of the car door.  She caught me unaware just as I was stepping out of the blood, pus and bleached stained clothing when she’d walked into the back bedroom. My back was to her as she entered, and I did not have enough time to turn away. I looked at her face and saw the horror in her eyes that her mouth soon revealed. She screamed and asked if I had fallen out of a tree. My back was angry and bruised although I didn’t know how much.  My too slow response and the look on my face must have revealed to her that I had not fallen and that I was too afraid to tell her the truth. It was then that Papa called to her, I suspected, to tell her what was going on, as best he knew.  

Although the woman had been careful since the first night of her stay not to inflict any torture on me within Papa’s hearing, I knew intuitively, that he knew I was still in peril.

I was both grateful and disappointed when Papa called out to my sister.  I was disappointed because I had wanted to ask about the baby she was going to have.  I was excited at the prospect of having a baby on whom to dote.  

I was grateful because it allowed me time to get dressed and cover up what really must have been a horrible view of my back.  It was only after I had completed dressing, when as I was readying to empty the basin and rinse my gown in clean water that I saw white wiggling creatures crawling on and about my gown! 

So much had happened in those past few months, I was incapable of working up any level of disgust at the sight.  I simply shook my head, gathered the infested gown, washed it and hung it to dry.

Fortunately, in my desperation to find a means in which to stop the ceaseless itching and my snap decision to use bleach, was the best uninformed decision I could have made.  The drawing sensation I had felt was the effect of the bleach clearing and killing the maggots in my wounds and hastened me toward healing.

It was several days later, on a Tuesday evening I believe, when Chinee came walking up the road toward the house. He had not been there to my knowledge since the day everyone had left the farm after the funeral. I was so elated that even now, remembering that moment make the hairs of my arms stand on edge. I ran to him and wrapped my legs around his waist as I jumped into his arms. Heaven could have sent no sweeter angel than my brother. I felt him stiffen and I lifted my face from his shoulder and looked into his. He was staring straight ahead with cold hate-filled eyes. I looked over my shoulder to follow his gaze and saw the woman standing on the back porch looking in our direction. I knew I would be in for it now, but It didn’t matter as I would have gladly walked through fire for this wonderful moment. Whatever came next would be worth the price because I had missed my brother sorely. Besides, I hardly felt the beatings anymore and since I no longer cried out or flinched, she was finding less obvious pleasure in the beatings. They hadn’t stopped; however, they had become fewer.

Chinee lowered me to the ground and while she looked on, he turned me away from him, toward her and lifted my dress to reveal my back. He took me by the hand and led me away from her view. As we walked away, Chinee yelled over his shoulder, “One more time Old woman, Hit her one more time and dogs won’t be able to pick up what’s left of your scent!” I looked back in time to see the back door slowly closing.  Chinee promised me that he would make sure that I was safe, and he would do it soon. I told him that I was ok and that I just wanted to know how he was doing and where he had been.  I gleefully and silently took his promise to mean that we would be living together again soon.

As we visited, sitting on the front porch of Mother’s cottage, he told me that he had been forbidden to come back home since he had been vocal in his disagreement with the arrangements our uncles and sisters had made and because he had demanded everything be returned that the woman had stolen from mother. He told me that it was his job to worry about me and not the other way around. He left me that evening promising change! The next day, she exacted her revenge.  Although she did not hit me, I would have much preferred she had. 

Moments before the bus arrived, she yelled at me from her perch in the kitchen, to come to the back porch.  After I’d reached the porch, she gathered up her girth and followed me out.  I began to brace for what was surely to be another thrashing when she quietly, too quietly, told me to walk down the several step from the porch into the back yard.  Too late I realized her intentions. Just seconds after my feet touched earth, I looked up at her and was met full force with the contents of her chamber pot! Solids and liquid.  She could not have devised a more devious way in which to humiliate me. We had no running water so I would have needed to draw bucketful’s of water from the barrels in the front yard and heated them in order to wash myself, my hair and my clothes thoroughly and would need to do it all before the bus arrived, impossible.   She threatened that if I missed the bus when it arrived, she had worse things planned for me during the day ahead.  I hurriedly ran to the rain barrel and poured as much water as I could over my head and soiled dress.  The smell of her waste caused me to spew my own stomach’s contents.  I’d had just enough time to rinse the solids from my body and clothing when I heard the bus rattling up the hill toward the house.  Soaking from head to toe and reeking from her waste and my vomit, I ran to my room, grabbed another dress and underwear, being careful not to let them touch any part of me and ran back out to the road just in time to board the bus. As I walked onboard the kids already on the bus placed their hands over their noses, leaned away from me as I passed, erupted in laughter and pointed to me as they made up names to call me.  I walked to the back of the bus, not bothering to turn around as I heard window after window opening in my wake, alerting me to their weak attempts to purge the odor from the bus.  When we arrived at school, I made sure not to leave the bus until it was emptied.  I took shelter in the vacant girl’s restroom, washed myself as best I could, put on the other clothing I’d hastily grabbed and threw everything else in the trash.  I had no choice but to continue to wear my urine and feces reeking sneakers and pretended that the smell that arose with the heat of the day was not emanating from me.

Days later as I was sitting in the classroom finishing a math test, I was summoned to the Principal’s office. To my great surprise and relief, my sister was standing there smiling. She told me that she had her husband’s car and had decided to treat me to a hamburger for lunch from the area’s only hamburger stand, a short distance away.   This was such a rare treat that I became giddy with offer. The new Principal, (Professor Brailsford had died the day after Mother on the 4th of May) agreed to me leaving the campus and off we headed. What made that afternoon even more wonderful was seeing Chinee waiting behind the steering wheel. I gushed with happiness as we three drove away with me blissfully chatting about the day. I was careful not to mention the last punishment foisted upon me.  We got the hamburgers to go but I was the only one eating or talking. It occurred to me that neither my sister or Chinee had said a word to me since I had entered the car. I asked what was wrong, but they just smiled indulgently and rather nervously, I thought.  After what seemed an hour of indiscriminate driving, I reminded Chinee that if I didn’t get back to school, I’d be in trouble with both the Principal and the woman once I got home. Chinee looked at me through the rear-view mirror and said, “not anymore, Fae, never again”.

I never went back to that school or to that woman. I had been kidnapped, rather that is what she and my uncles told the Sheriff when I failed to return to school after lunch. My sister and Chinee had driven for hours meanderingly up and down back roads and little traveled highways, killing time and trying desperately not to be seen by anyone who might be persuaded to tell of our location. During that drive, they haltingly told me some of what their plans were and I naturally, was having difficulty assimilating all of it.  

We eventually doubled back briefly to my sister’s In-law’s home and there, by happenstance alone, my eldest Uncle reached us by telephone. He demanded that I be put on the telephone and once there, he berated me by telling me how I was killing his father! He accused me of cutting into Papa’s heart just mere months after he’d lost his only daughter! He asked me how I dared to hurt Papa especially since I knew that he favored me above all his grandchildren. He angrily told that he was on his way to bring me back home, over dead bodies if he needed to. I knew his threats were not idle. I heard Papa yelling in the background at my uncle, his son, telling Uncle that his would be the only dead body if he didn’t give him the telephone. When Papa was on the line, I could barely hear him as my sobs had grown loud and bordered on hysteria. To be accused of doing anything to hurt Papa hurt me more than all the months of pain and humiliation I’d suffered. How could anyone accuse me of such an awful thing! None of this had been my idea and I was ready to go home simply to prove my uncle wrong! I heard Papa’s voice finally break through and he was telling me to run! He was telling me to not come back to the farm because my life depended on it! She won’t stop until she kills you, don’t come back here Baby, this is the only way I can help you! He said further to me, “you’ve never disobeyed me, don’t start now”. I knew it was senseless to say anything other than, “Yes Papa”, because he wouldn’t have clearly heard a longer sentence due to his lack of hearing and because I couldn’t have possibly choked out a longer sentence. The last thing I’d heard him say was, “Don’t stop running until you’re safe, I love Sister!” Sister was what he called my Mother. It was not a slip of the tongue that he called me by his love name for her. In his way, he was telling me that he hadn’t been able to save Mother, he was therefore saving me. As the phone was being taken from him, I pressed the receiver harder against my ear trying to hold onto the connection as long as I could. It would be almost a year before I’d hear his voice again.

As I held the receiver for just a heartbeat or two longer, I heard Papa tell my Uncle, “go after her and you will never come back here and continue to draw breath”.  

To hear my Papa defending me against his son was overwhelming.  Someone had taken the phone from me and invisible hands were suddenly and hurriedly pushing me outside toward the car.  My sister had borrowed, permanently, a dress from her sister-in-law, who was similar in size to me and put it in a brown paper sack.  It was all I had in the world beyond the clothes on my back and the .32 cents, the change from the hamburgers we’d bought a decade ago, that had been tied in the corner of a handkerchief and pressed into my hand.

Once again driving on backroads, Chinee and my sister drove the sixty or so miles to Beaumont and purchased one, one-way train ticket to Los Angeles. When Chinee finally finished telling me all of what was to become of me, I cried unconsolably. I clung to him and begged him to allow me to remain with him. I tried everything in every way I could to tell him I did not want to be anywhere that he wasn’t. I told him that I was sorry for making the woman beat me and that I would try harder not to make her angry again. “Please Chinee, don’t send me away from you!” I begged.  I was deep in the midst of my histrionics and therefore had not noticed the small crowd which had gathered around us, some in the crowd demanded to know if all was well.

I had screamed and begged, kicked and pleaded, all to no avail. I was being sent away, disposed of, by Chinee, of all people!  Dejected, I sat down on that train platform, clinging to my brown paper sack and prayed to die. I looked up into Chinee’s eyes expecting to see firm determination but instead I saw only abject misery. I saw a heart breaking; a broken heart whose unsteady heartbeat matched that of my own. With stunning clarity, it suddenly occurred to me that every important moment in my life began and ended in those eyes and yet I had just accused him of sending me away when in actuality the only thing he was doing was saving me, saving me yet again and for that he would suffer.

Ever my protector, Chinee walked up and down that platform accessing each person holding a ticket. I watched him as he approached a late 60’ish lady and spoke to her while pointing toward me. She smiled, nodded and reassuringly patted his left arm. He turned from her and returned to me. “Fae, that lady over there is going to look after you while you’re on the train; she’s going almost all the way to Los Angeles, so if you need anything she’ll help, ok”? “Can she help me stay here Chinee”, I thought to myself. I didn’t want to see the pain in his eyes anymore, so I just simply looked down at the platform floor and nodded.

As the conductor gave the final boarding call, I had a brief moment of panic and clung to Chinee yet again.  He held me so tightly and for the first time since mother died, Chinee cried. He was losing both Mother and me, her mini-mirror image and I was losing my counterbalance in life. I did not know how to live in a world without Chinee. I didn’t want to know how to do so.  

Quite a few years passed before I discovered that Chinee had been arrested and placed in jail for his part in “kidnapping” me. He did not plead his case nor ask for forgiveness. He had stood steadfast in his determination that as my only brother, it was his responsibility to care for me and needed no one’s permission to do so. In the face of his resoluteness and sound argument, the High Sheriff Humphrey eventually released him, to the objections of both the woman and my uncles who had wanted to teach him a lesson in obedience and obstinacy.  Whew!

Now, for the first time in my life I was to breathe air that was not scented by my brother; surrounded by light that had not touched him first. I was to walk on ground that his footsteps had not yet broken and therefore I had no trail to follow. I had always known that in Chinee, my safety rested but I had no idea or ever thought that my being safe would be coupled with leaving the only safety I had ever known. That locomotive and over eighteen hundred miles of train tracks took me further and further away from Chinee but at the same time, it took me back to him.  Back to learning football, back to his last dime, back to our Spring, to Fernell and Mrs. Brown and the first limo ride of my short life. That train took my mind back to days which I refused to let pass from my remembrance no matter how far I traveled. My memories of Chinee are as plentiful as there are particles of dust. They are more brilliant than the many shades of greens after a spring rain. The physical scars the woman created upon my arms and back would fade in time and the severity of the pain would lessen with the years. But the deep emotional scars she created by causing my separation from Chinee makes my breath catch to this very day and it frustrates my attempts of total forgiveness.  

May God rest her tortured soul for she very clearly had so little peace while she lived. Her daughter, the very same one who had pinched me so unmercifully during Mother’s funeral, told me years later that doing lucid moments, from her nursing home hospital bed, her mother would ask of me.  She also told me of the terror filled screams which erupted unbidden from her mother night after night, unnerving other patients and driving the overnight nurses to distraction, until exhaustion and a pill or two, would finally offer her sleep.  She wondered aloud to me what things in her mother’s life haunted her even when the lights were on.  I didn’t bother to offer an opinion.

Each clickety clack of the trains progress along that metal track took me in two decidedly different directions, one physically, took me further away from Chinee than I’d ever been and the other emotionally, took me closer to him than I could have ever hoped.  Physically away so that now there would be no more day to day interaction with him, no more spur of the moment memories to make, no more seeing the light of his smile before I saw his face. Emotionally closer to him because I had to be, closer. As I sat in that seat next to the lady who’d promised Chinee to watch over me, I made yet another vow; I was determined never to forget. I promised myself to cultivate my memories just as carefully as a horticulturist cares for his plants; to nurture my memories as a mother nurtures her child.

There is nothing as valuable as that which is sacrificed with no expectations of receiving value in return. That is true love and was certainly too mature a lesson for my tender age but an extremely appropriate one.  I pressed my cheek against the train car’s window and strained for a last glimpse of Chinee.  That last look created the only memory I wish I could erase.  He was kneeling alone on the platform, arms wrapped around himself, weeping.  I fell asleep, sitting upright that first night of three, remembering his tears on my cheek and wondering and worrying…

…Worrying and wondering…Did I show you that I loved you enough for you to know that I did?  

Right now, as I write the final words of this chapter Chinee, I have assumed the same position of which you were in as I caught the last glimpse of you on that fateful day…

…I  L O V E  Y O U  C H I N E E  B A B Y  from Earth to Heaven and every star in between, let my love of you bounce throughout the universe, gathering the light  you left behind and leaving enlightened trails for me yet to follow.