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.  

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone!

I trust and pray that each of you had a wonderful Christmas or Holiday season.

I acknowledge that in my last post, I promised that the second and final chapter of The Escape, Chinee and Me would be published on the 21st of December but quite frankly, it was too heavy and too dark and not appropriate for the Season of Celebration and even now with the promise of the new beginning that this new year brings, I thought to delay that chapter an additional week.

I want to take this opportunity to truly thank each of you who followed me or read by blog last year. When I began this journey it was not to expose anyone’s faults or shortcomings. It was however, my attempt to exorcise the demons other people shortcomings injected into my life.

Over the years when I did allow a few people glimpses into my childhood, I was often told things along the lines of, “you’re a strong person.” Those statements were always met with a fair amount of denial, self-deprecation and in some cases outright cynicism. I was never strong; I was a person without a choice. What I was actually, was a person looking for a soft, private place to have a complete breakdown. Since I’m very defining in my choices, it took many years for me to find the perfect place for that breakdown.

When one of my sons was “a just learning to toddle” toddler, he would hold onto the edges of my sofa and work his way around to the back of it. Once there, he would look back and assuring himself that he had found a place of privacy, (he never looked up or he would have seen me peering over the top of the sofa), his beautiful little face would scrunch up in solid concentration, his cheeks would puff out and his perfect lips would form the sweetest pout as he would push and push until his diaper was sufficiently tested against leakages. He would then reverse his trip and with the biggest smile and a look of proud completion, he would toddle over to me and offer me his diaper full of crap to unload! Hah! Well, he was my example as I looked for a private place to unload my crap! Just as he had no way of knowing he was being watched, I certainly never expected anyone other than those closest to me to witness my unloading and certainly never assumed that hundreds upon hundred upon hundreds would witness my trip behind my sofa.

This forum has provided me that perfect place for my breakdown or perhaps my breakthrough.

The anger that once roiled and propelled me has been stamped down. The bitterness of the bile that I was forced to constantly swallow has lost its flavor. Although I can’t say that I’m free from all of the negative affects of others, I can say that I’m no longer guided by them.

It would be almost anticlimactic at this point to post Chapter 2 but wouldn’t that just suck if I didn’t? It is necessary for me to complete Chapter 2 of The Escape, Chinee and Me so that I might tell you of the most loveliest of creatures, who in just three days, almost singlehandedly cancelled out “My summer of abuse”. She was indeed special and deserves her very own chapter apart from Chinee. She is the reason that I stand firm in my resolve that God always places the right person in your life at the right time. You’ll find her affect upon my life in the January 17th post.

Whatever this New Year brings, I pray that I never forget from where my help actually comes and that I never fail to give Him the Glory. Proverb Chapter 3 verses 5 and 6 continues to sustain me. See you next week, God willing!

(petrel41/DearKitty, thank you for the special honor you have bestowed upon me! Just as soon as this non-techie figures out how to meet your requirements, I will complete them. I’m honored!)


The Escape, Chinee and Me Chapter 1

The days passed quickly after the funeral and my emotions were still running close to the surface. Most of the out-of-town relatives and friends had left or were leaving our home to resume the lives they had put on hold for the past week. My two uncles and their families were among the last to leave. Also last to leave were my two eldest sisters who were being given a lift back to the City so as not to miss to their flight back to Los Angeles.

Even as the luggages were being placed into the cars, no one had yet spoken to me as to what was to become of me; I determined therefore, that I didn’t need any of them. I would simply remain in the family home with Papa and we would take care of each other. Quite an undertaking for a slight, 12 year old girl and an 85 year old, feeble gentleman, however, the overwhelming improbability of my idea, did not concern me, at least for the few brief moments in which I entertained the idea.

My Papa had lost his much adored only daughter, the warmth in his life and now he was being dealt even more heartbreaking news as my Uncle, standing his full height looking down at his father, told him that he would not be able to attend Mother’s funeral because of his frailty. An icy chill, which had nothing to do with the early Spring weather, enveloped the room. As I stood on the right side of Papa’s bed and my uncle’s great physical presence filled the space on the left, I took hold of Papa’s hand and watched his face cloud over first with angriness and defiance. Those same two characteristics which had prompted him to accept no slight or injury aimed at himself or anyone he loved, ever. The strength of his own self worth and the proud carriage which had propelled him, even in his declining years, informed anyone who encountered him, that he would brook no disrespect in any form. Papa’s unmovable stance in life and his distinctive personality was his unspoken sentence that his will would not be questioned, his ever present 12-gauge, double barreled shotgun, served as the exclamation point.

The anger and defiance which had flickered across Papa’s face slowly collapsed as he began to accept the inevitability of his son’s proclamation. Until this very point in his life, he had never allowed anyone to impose their will upon him, at least, not without a fight. Mother had always used gentle persuasion and allowed him an opportunity to express his desires, even though they both knew that he would eventually acquiesce to her suggestions. My heart crumbled as he accepted defeat; and those damnable tears began to slip from his eyes, something again, I had never witnessed and had difficulty knowing what to do with this new emotional pain layered upon all the other new pains. There was no way to know if Papa’s tears were shed because of the realization he no longer held the authoritarian position as the Head of his family or because he could not, rather would not be allowed to go before his daughter’s coffin and escort her to her final resting place, as was his right.

My tears had no choice other than to match Papa’s and there were not enough handkerchiefs to be found on the whole of our farm to dry our collective tears. Papa looked away from his son, covered my hand with his and gently pulled me down onto the bed with him as he had so many time throughout the years as nightmares had chased me from my bed to the safety of his and my grandmother’s. I put my head on his once proud but now bowed in defeat shoulders and there he offered comfort to me as he stroked my head and told me how I needed to begin to prepare to live life without him as well. I was further aggrieved as he told me things I was not ready to hear or accept. He told me of hurtful things he’d suffered at the hands of others early in his life. I knew, without asking, that some of what he’d share with me that day, had been never shared with anyone else and I have never repeated what he told me, but I’ve tried to honored it with every breath I’ve taken since. It’s impossible to know how long we’d laid there, exchanging no additional words, but commiserating with each other in despair; it could have been five minutes or 60, it didn’t matter because each tick of the small clock perched on the shelf above his bed, brought pain afresh with no promise of it easing with the passage of time.

Papa’s had reluctantly but completely surrendered hours later, when he’d made his mark upon papers turning over the care of the farm and of himself to his son. I don’t believe Papa had ever faced such profuse sadness, but there would soon be one more heartbreak he’d have to face but that heartbreak would give rise to him once again, though briefly, regaining his place as the decision maker and guardian of those he loved best. I’m proud to say, I was now first on his short list of those he loved best.

There was only one car left in the drive and there had still not been a single “Don’t worry, we’ve made sure that you’ll be ok”, given to me. Not one, “We’re going to take care of you”, nor was there a “We’ll call every now and again to see how you’re doing”. Perhaps they thought it was none of my concern. How could such a fractured soul ever become whole again after so many blatantly uncaring acts by adults to make sure that it didn’t?

Chinee had gone away again and I suspected that he was finding it more than a little difficult making his way without Mother. He was wandering here and there and sleeping wherever he happened to be when darkness fell. Further delaying his healing was the lingering and deep resentment he harbored toward one of Mother’s “supposed” friends, whom he thought had bullied her way into our home, not only making unreasonable demands but confiscating Mothers’ personal items and clothing, not only for herself but for certain of her grandchildren as well. She had shown no concern as to the desires or wishes of Mothers’ children, regarding her once treasured but now left behind belongings. One thing that angered Chinee specifically, was the taking of one of Mother’s treasured possessions; a beautiful, winter weigh, heavily lined, full length, white leather coat of which Chinee had worked several summers trimming overhanging trees for the Roads Department, in order to make it a gift to her. Mother had gone winter after winter without a proper outer garment to protect her from our frigid weather and Chinee had proudly handed her the money he’d earned and exacted a promise from her that she would spend it only on a warm coat. She did. Now, that too was gone.

So, for Chinee this began a pattern that was to remain the entire length of this life. Whenever something bothered or hurt him too deeply, he simply moved away for the source of his pain, far away. It was not in his nature to purposely cause pain, although his intimidating size often suggested otherwise. He would rather subject himself to pain than to hurt others.
(This was the reason he hadn’t flattened Mrs. Brown when he’d had the opportunity).
Chinee would have had to feel he’d been backed into a corner before he would even raise his voice in anger and if he did, people would scatter. Chinee’s control of his rage was so tightly managed that people often mistook his “walk away nature” as a weakness, little did they know.

And so now, there was just me and Papa and of course, Mother’s “friend”. I still couldn’t figure out why she was there, and more importantly how and when was she going to leave. She didn’t drive and consequently had no automobile. Everyone she could have possibly ridden home with had already left. Of all the people who could have been accidently left behind, why had this particular woman missed her ride? She was 5 feet nothing else and had to be weighed on a grain scale. She was a big lady with a temper which competed with her heft. I was trying to think of a tactful way in which to ask how she was going to get home, when my process was interrupted by her thunderous command, to go and bring her overnight bag in from the porch. I knew my feet didn’t move right away because I was not sure that I’d heard correctly. Did not “overnight” suggest that something or someone would remain where something or someone was until at least day break the following day? I wasn’t given an opportunity to ponder further because what seemed to be insolent behavior on my part, was met by a half close fist to my forehead. Stunned, both physically and emotionally, I stumble and fell hard against the kitchen table. That stumble had injured a rib; one which was never treated and took ages to heal. Even though her extraordinary size deceptively made one think she was slow moving, she had suddenly appeared as if she was everywhere at once. “If you don’t get your lazy, good for nothing ass out there and do what I tell you now, you’ll wish they buried you with your mama, now git gal!”

I’d half crouched and half ran the few remaining steps to the back porch and wonders upon wonders, there it was, a brown overnight case. Why hadn’t I seen it before? I struggled with the weight of the case because my head was still reeling and my painful rib limited my movement. I sat it down on the floor next to her and quickly stepped away from her immediate reach. I heard Papa calling to me and I hurried to his bedside, tears and snot mingling together. Papa had heard everything, worry and concern creased his face. Storm clouds brewed behind his still clear, greenish brown eyes. Although an invalid now, when healthy, Papa would have killed anyone who’d even entertained a thought of harming anyone he loved and there was not one person within a hundred mile radius who would have questioned the veracity of this statement. But, here all alone with a bewildered orphaned, he was only able to commiserate with me and the sadness of our poor lot.

It had been my uncles and sisters who had conspired to have this woman move in and care for Papa five days a week. She would return home and someone else would do weekend duty for Papa. It was not a mistake that I said she was to care for Papa. I was, in actuality, an unfortunate and as yet, uncompensated for inconvenience which had to be tolerated, at least that was what she told me fairly often, almost daily. “Since I have to cook for Daddy Bob, I guess I can leave enough scrapings in the pot to feed you.”

So began my life after the funeral. I was excitedly looking forward to the first weekend Papa and I would have alone or at least without her. Imagine my stunned surprise when that first happily, anticipated Friday evening arrived and she’d told me to get a paper bag and put a dress and two pair of underwear in it. “I’ll be damned if I’m leaving you up here in these woods to gap your legs open to any Tom’s Harry Dick! (Wasn’t that supposed to be Tom, Dick and Harry)? “Hell”, she said, “I’m already saddled with you, and I’ll be god-dammed if I take care of another snot-nose bastard!”

Dear Reader, Please believe me when I tell you that I hadn’t an inkling as to what she was alluding. Mother had only one opportunity to briefly and not completely explain to me a few of the facts of life, and that was a mere four months before she’d died, and only after my first uninvited but supposedly welcomed monthly visitor arrived. Even then, she’d only told me that I had “become a Missy” and would have to limit my tree climbing, my football playing, my wrestling and almost every other fun thing in life. I didn’t understand that “Missy” business at all, unless it meant “missing out”. She’d showed me the necessary techniques to protect my clothing, how to clean myself and how to clean my clothing if an accident happened. She said that we would talk more lately, we never did. Therefore, I was completely unaware of the woman’s implications.

I was to accompany this woman to her home each and every weekend! I’d felt trapped in ways that would be impossible to explain if these pages numbered in the thousands. No more lazy weekends running with my puppy, Henry. No more searching for hidden treasures in the woods surrounding the farm. No more lying on the ground and finding animals in the clouds, gone, all gone with Mother.
Since I was an undesired part of this woman’s life, she decided that I would at least earn my keep. So, I scrubbed, I ironed, and I fed chickens, (Those terrifying creatures whose only place in life should be in flour, hot oil and only afterwards, on the Sunday table); and I hung clothes and folded linen. I gathered wood and stacked it. I ran errands to nearby neighbors and collected needed items from, a somewhat nearby, grocer. I was so exhausted by the end of that first Saturday evening, I’d only had enough energy remaining to be grateful that I was allowed a bed on which to sleep. I couldn’t phantom why nothing I did ever suited this woman. Each and every job I accomplished fell short of her expectations and I was severely dealt with because of it. I was never made aware of the mistakes beforehand; they were only made apparent as I walked past her to do the next chore. She would grab me from behind and slap me with hands which were made more forceful by the sheer weight of them. She would beat me with extension cords, telephone receivers or a broom handle, if I happened to be beyond her natural reach. There was even a time when the only thing within her grasp was a Sunbeam iron. It took weeks before the ringing in my ear subsided, I’m truly grateful that it hadn’t been turned on and heated. Still, I never stopped trying to please her, if for no other reason than to limit the abuse.

I eventually came to understand this woman’s unwarranted, unnecessary and extremely crude explanation of why she wouldn’t leave me on the farm with Papa. However, she should have considered the supreme lack of wisdom she displayed in leaving me in her home, alone and unprotected with her 18 year old grandson.

Since the punishment she’d administered with the electric iron some weeks before, I stood ever ready and taut with anxiety when called upon to do her bidding. I was elated when I would accomplish two tasks in a row without some type of berating either physical or emotional. She had begun what had almost become a mantra by telling me daily that I was so damn ugly that if any man was ever so old, so blind or so desperate as to ask me to marry him, I should accept him because it would be my only opportunity to find a man willing to tie his lot to mine. Of course I believed her, why wouldn’t I, adults didn’t lie to children, did they? The woman, who by the end of July having been wholly successful in her campaign to instill unwavering fear in me, began to leave me at her house instead of dragging me along with her to the different Communities, summer events, called Homecomings.

Homecomings, as the name suggest, were and still are, annual celebrations held in conjunction with community Churches, whereby current and former members of said communities come together and celebrate, History, Heritage and Family. There where no restrictions placed upon who could or could not attend any particular Homecoming. In actuality, many of the same local people would attend the Homecomings in communities other than their own in anticipation of seeing and visiting with returning, former citizens. From its earliest inception and throughout the late 1960’s and 80’s these wonderful events encompassed a complete weekend. Friday nights were generally set aside for traveling, soul stirring gospel performing Trios and Quartets; Saturday evening celebrations concentrated upon the performances of local and visiting Church Choirs. The weekend would culminate with Fire and Fiery sermons and the all important, excitedly discussed, much ballyhooed, open air picnic where each family’s matriarch would put on display her best dishes. Although none of the women would ever admit to it, the competition was fierce and the hungry children were the winners of all the competition, because everyone was too willing to share the contents of their “Pans” with each passing child.

Readers, this next section is being written not to shock but again, for the truth of the matter. I could have elected to leave it out altogether and no one, other than me, would have been the wiser; however, this experience had every bit as much to do with shaping who I was to become, perhaps more, as any of the preceding life changing events I’ve chronicled here. I refuse to believe that what I reveal here only happened once and only to me. It could not have, because sick and abysmal behavior does not cease to exist just because we wish it nor does it stop if its presence is not brought to awareness and kept hidden away. With the writing of this chapter, I release any remaining shreds of guilt that I placed or more correctly, was placed upon me by the offender. The offender left this life before I’d found the opportunity to place the guilt directly back upon them, where it belonged, by making the offense known; therefore for years, I carried it alone! Perhaps the burning, white hot coals of contempt that was forced upon me is now being pressed upon them in the hell the Afterlife holds for them. Whereby, the base part of my being, would dearly love to take some measure of pleasure in that consideration, I admit that I do pray that perhaps at some point before this miserable excuse of humanity escaped life here, that they sought and found God’s forgiveness through His Mercy and Grace. I further pray, that if other victims of this tool of Satan somehow happen upon these pages, they too will find the strength to remove the horrendous twins of unwarranted guilt and shame from their shoulders and put it squarely on this offender where, even in death, it belongs.

It was during one of these Friday nights Homecoming events when the woman left me in the care of her grandson. He had not been in the house when she’d left and I’d lain across my bed, a little cot right off the enclosed front porch, and began one of my favorite pastimes, reading. I didn’t hear him enter the small room but some sense alerted me to another presence and I looked over my shoulder and saw him standing there. I relayed the message the woman instructed me to give him and went back to my book. I hadn’t hear him leave and thought perhaps he hadn’t heard what I’d said. I was about to repeat the message when I heard movement, glanced over my shoulder and saw him lunge towards the bed. Thanks to the recent lessons taught me by his grandmother, I instinctively shank from him and thereby prevented him and his, at a minimal, hundred and fifty pound weight advantage from pinning me directly beneath him. The situation confused me but had not yet frightened me because he had been a sympathetic, albeit silent, witness to the cruel treatment I was receiving. I sat fully up, my book momentarily forgotten. I was about to ask what he was doing when he grabbed my shoulders and pushed me back onto the mattress tearing a page of my book! Now, I was just angry! I told him to get his hands off me and to leave me alone. He didn’t and the look on his face said that he had no intentions of doing either. That’s when I became frightened. Although there was another house about 500 yards or so away, there were no lights on indicating there might be someone there to help if my screams were heard. He still had not spoken a word to me, just kept pushing me down and pulling at my clothes and I kept trying to squirm away, not understanding his intentions and not liking his actions. The ever hardening look on his face and the constant tugging on my clothes had now ignited a fight or flee urgency. Fleeing was not yet an option so I began kicking out at any part of his body I could reach. I must have hit a pocket of soft tissue some place because he grunted, grabbed himself and rolled away for about a 5 count! I looked for a quick escape from the little room which boasted two doors, one leading directly to the front porch and freedom and the other leading back through a connecting bedroom, then the sitting room and then onto the front porch. I needn’t have bothered looking for a exit because his hulk blocked both exits at once. I scooted as far back as I could into the corner of the bed and was ready to strike out again when he finally spoke and frightened me more than I had been since I was five!

As he spoke, I could feel my body shivering from panic! He smiled but there was no mirth or warmth it as he informed me that his grandmother, he used his familiar name for her, knew what he was doing and in fact, had given him permission! He went on to say that he could hardly wait until she returned home so that he could tell her of my misbehavior! There was nothing that he could have said or done that would have terrified me more. He knew his threats and measured words had found their intended mark when he saw the tears, those freaking, damnable betraying tears! He laughed aloud when I begged him to not tell his grandmother! My humiliation was complete and fear so overwhelmed me that I begged him to do whatever he wanted to do to me, only please, just don’t tell that I had fought him! I begged him to accept that I didn’t understand and that I wouldn’t fight him again, but he just backed out of the room laughing even louder and taunting me all the more.

I stayed huddled in that corner too afraid to move and too afraid to sleep. I wanted to go home but it was as dark as pitch outside and the farm was five miles away. My life was over I’d decided. She would certainly kill me tonight and have me buried somewhere on the property. I wanted so badly to be rescued from this hell, I wanted even more for him to come back and give me another chance to behave correctly, even though I didn’t know what that would entail. I pondered what was there was about me, that made me the brunt of so much maltreatment from so many adults, why God? I was still sitting in that corner rocking myself when the woman came home. I was still sitting there rocking when night gave way to day. I was beyond caring when she yelled to me to come and empty her chamber pot. I stumble through Saturday and Sunday, not eating, not drinking, only wanting her to begin the beating and get it over. Sometime late Sunday afternoon as we waited on the ride that would take us back to,the farm, she had finally noticed my lethargy and decided that I must be physically ill and forced me to swallow her cure-all, 2 tablespoons of Castor oil! Why God…Why?

It was months later when I realized that he had lied to me; the woman knew nothing of his attempts on my person. It was several years later when I’d finally had a name for what he had meant to do to me. When that realization came, I loathed him with a contempt reserved for only the vilest among us and it would not be contained easily. Something changed within my core at that moment of realization! Whatever mentality my DNA structure had demanded, had now, because of the evil machinations of evil personalities, AT THAT MOMENT, became inexorably altered.

Not only had he attempted to rape me, not only had he made sport of my debilitating fear of the woman, but he had laughed and sneered derisively at me when I unknowingly begged him, my intended rapist, to continue the act because my fear of being beaten, was to me I believed, worse than anything he could do. My hatred did not grow from the attempt, my hatred grew, and I still struggle to keep its incessant gnawing at bay, because he forced me to unknowingly beg him to rape me because of the fear his grandmother had beaten into me. He…goaded…me…into…begging…him…to…rape… me…and…then…laughed…at…my…renewed…pain… and…disappointment…when…he…didn’t!

Gratefully, I saw him no more that Summer. Someone said he had returned to live with his immediate family, However, I did have reason to occupy the same time and space with him eleven years later, when he no longer held any threat to my mind or body. I had purposely displaced several people as I wrangled a seat directly sat opposite of him whereby he had no choice other than to look into my staring, accusing eyes each time he looked up and each time he did, he would too quickly look away, betraying his guilt. Even as the time of that occurrence drew to a close, I hurried to be the first to exit the building. My intentions were to wait for him at the bottom of the steps as he exited and force a confrontation. He saw me too soon and cowardly took another route out of the building. It did not end there. At the next location, as he sat, I stood opposite of him, willing him to look up and across the six feet or so that separated us, six feet and a coffin. Because of his increased girth, his agility surprised me, as he again, at the conclusion, used the crowd to cover his swift exit. I wanted to humiliate him and it had not mattered to me that he was there to attend to the burial his father because I was there to attend to the burial of my Uncle, his father, his grandmother’s son-in-law.

For years, I indulged a sad preoccupation of rapist and their victims. Not a fascination entailing the disgusting acts they committed but of their ability to control their victims through fear, intimidation, shame and guilt, which admittedly is equally disgusting. Through my amateur research I discovered that back on that summer night, in that little bedroom directly off the woman’s front porch, as I had fought to defend myself, that the pitiful act of my pleading with him to complete the attack upon my person, is what saved me. I had given him power by means of my fear but my willingness to capitulate stripped him of whatever excitement he had gained by intimidation. Understanding my attacker’s mentality was the first step toward defeating him mentally. He remained until the day he died a miserable death, in a miserable manner, a miserable person. His immediate family desirous of it or not, has my sympathy. His other victims have my support.

Chapter 2 will follow next week.


I began this next chapter of Brother’s Keeper admittedly with a bit of angst; not because my truth has wavered but indeed because it has not. Each chapter of both the Mister and thus far the Brother series, has centered upon people who impacted my life but who have traveled beyond this sphere in preparation of receiving whatever rewards they earned while here.

The upcoming chapter will also include individuals who no longer walk among us but have left behind some whom I trust cared & loved them. With this in mind and before I go further, I declare openly that as an adult, I have never intentionally administered hatred or meanness of spirit toward anyone and it is not my intentions to do so in this forum. Admittedly, I will acknowledge the words contained in the next chapter could affect those who will recognize and still mourn the ones of whom I will write, but unfortunately none of us exist in a bubble or in exclusivities. We are like the concentric lines created when one drops a pebble into still water, expanding further and further until the pebble is forgotten but the effect lives on. We, each one of us, touch others either positively or negatively, some deliver both equally.

There might be those of you reading this who think it unfair of me to write of people who are no longer here to defend themselves. I covered this in the first chapter of “Mister“ and won’t reiterate it here. Suffice to say, that each person of whom I’ve documented as having negatively impacted “my” life had years and some had decades in which to make a defense but chose not, that is, all but one and to that One, I offered my genuine respect and earnest forgiveness for having done so. For these others, I offered long calculated forgiveness and the promise to live in truth and surprisingly, a minute measure of gratitude.

These of whom I have written and some of whom I will write, used cruel and brutish behavior against me and thereby changed who I was meant to be. That being said, I’m not altogether unhappy with the person I became because the person I became, despises cruelty in any form toward any group but especially children. Because of some of whom I will write, I support the absolute right of others to exist without fear of physical or emotional abuse or degradation. I’ve found I’m most at ease with those who were similarly treated but did not take as long to find the road to forgiveness as it took me. I admire those who managed to move forward, unbroken, without sweet memories to sustain them in the worst of times. I’m continually grateful that the ills imposed upon me did not everlastingly disturb my equanimity.

Because those who used their words to assist them in administering their various means of physical torture upon my person, I am acutely aware of the harm words can induce, therefore I avoid, obsessively so, any situations or occurrences whereby I might be called upon to apologize. Apologies do not spring forth easily from me so avoiding causing pain to anyone is paramount to me.

It is for the reasons I’ve mentioned above, that I am forewarning, not apologizing, for this next chapter chronicling a decisive time in my life. I attempted to articulate at the onset of this journey that I would write without embellishments and with compelling honesty. Therefore, if my life and what was done to me in my life offends anyone who may recognize their love ones within these pages or hold memories opposing mine, I challenge you to hold tightly to those memories. In no way, do I wish to take them from you or change them; on the contrary, Your good memories indicate that there dwelled redeeming qualities within your loved ones even though they chose to keep those qualities from me.

I sincerely hope that there appears to be no bitterness seeping from my fingertips and staining these pages because I’m truly not bitter, although I could make compelling arguments as to why I should be. Complete truth has sharp edges but it generally only lends its blade against those who attempt to use it under the cloak darkness.. Wielding a knife in darkness is a dangerous affair therefore, I live in the light and anything I’ve done in coarseness has only injured me. In some baffling and astounding way, I am grateful to each person who chose to deliver abject cruelty upon me as a defenseless child. But in moments of quiet reflections, of which I’ve had many during this process, their hateful voices come unbidden, and my soul flinches as each remembered lash cuts through the years, and leave its mark, this time upon my heart instead of my back. It is during those times when I wonder, if not for those who inflicted their best, who I might have become, what different road might I have traveled and would I have eventually found myself yet in the same place howbeit by a different route. I wonder.

Throughout the passing years, I’ve often been asked by relatives and friends, why was it that I left home and more importantly to them, was why I left in the manner in which I did. I always avoided the truth of the matter and found unfulfilling ways to sidestep their probing inquiries. I will however, finally address these questions in the upcoming chapter of My Brother was my Keeper.

To those whose memories of your loved ones differ from mine, despite what will be disclosed herein, I hope those memories will continue to bring you comfort as you live within your own truth.

The next chapter of My Brother was my Keeper, The Escape, Chinee and Me, will post next Friday, December 13th. I pray that it helps someone or allows someone to help someone.

I leave you for now with the hauntingly beautiful and appropriate words of William Wordsworth: “What though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower. We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind. In the primal sympathy, Which having been must ever be; In the soothing thoughts that spring out of human sufferings; In the faith that looks through death, In years that bring the philosophic mind.”


Chapter Two

IThose next few days happened without any participation at all from me. Most people were generally coming and going without seeing me or pretending not to. A smorgasbord of covered dishes took up every flat surface in the our kitchen. There was so much food from which to choose yet no one was eating. Cars were parked everywhere around the farm; when one would leave, three others jockeyed for the vacated spot. When food wasn’t being brought into the house, alcohol was being slipped in behind it. There were more people going behind the house than coming into it, little wonder since we lived in a dry county, (no liquor sales), and alcohol was almost as hard to come by as a paycheck. Music blaring from various car radios reverberate against the heavy, moisture laden spring air. It all felt so disrespectful somehow. The actions of those adults, seemed to say to me, “Somebody die? Let’s have a Party!” I couldn’t believe that what was happening there on the farm was what a ”wake” was meant to be. As I wandered back and forth, trying to find a quiet spot in which to think about Mother, people would press money into my hand. Five, ten and twenty dollar bills. I wanted so desperately to throw it back at them and demand they give me back mother instead. Why did they think that food, music or money would clear Mother from my thoughts? I tried several time to tell people how I felt but more often than not, it only produced another five, a pat on the head or murmurs of, “that poor child”, trailing behind them as they fled from me. In those moments, I despised them all.

While weaving in and out between parked cars, still looking for an unoccupied spot, I saw sitting beneath one of the two huge Sycamore trees framing our house, my three sisters. They were surrounded by a throng of people, male and females ready to lend an ear, run and fetch a drink or produce a tissue when tears threatened. But hadn’t I loss my mother too, “where were the shoes to click to my clack? Where was the voice to answer mine back? I felt all alone in the world.” I wanted to tell someone what it felt like watching mother die while she crushed my hands with super-human strength. I wanted to ask someone if they thought she was trying to impart something to me or just trying to hold onto the only thing available and familiar in those final moments? I needed to ask anyone, if they thought my mother was in pain during those last minutes because it sure looked as if she was to me, or was it her body’s natural reaction to a swiftly, catastrophic depletion of oxygen. I wanted to know if the nurse had somehow made Mother look as if she was smiling for my benefit or had Mother’s smile been eternally set upon her face because she had caught a glimpse of Heaven and of God’s welcoming arms? But most urgently, I needed to know when the nightmares would stop? I really needed and wanted someone to just hold me or offer a pocket to put my hand into. Where was Chinee?

I didn’t know where Chinee was. I wanted to believe that he was nearby but I hadn’t remembered seeing him during those days which led up to funeral. Wherever he was, I knew he was hurting even more than me, because although difficult to believe, they were even closer than he and I. The concern I held for Chinee’s well-being temporarily displaced my own self-centered pain, because I knew he would never openly reveal his pain to anyone, where then would he go, to find a willing, sympathetic and knowing ear? My tears and pain were somewhat abated when finally I found someone who didn’t mind sitting with me, who didn’t try to press money into my palms, whose breath was not soured by cheap liquor, who didn’t think a pat on the head was a sufficient substitute for a hug , he welcomed me when I curled up next to him on the steps of our back porch and at the moment when I’d reached the pinnacle of misery, unable any longer to keep silent the voice of my pain, he allowed his own keen whining to unashamedly match my own…so grateful was I for my little dog Henry.

The funeral had been planned for the 7th. A Sunday, four days after mother died. It’s odd how my mind has always played with numbers; Mother was born in the fifth month; she also died in the fifth month in room number 7 and was being buried on the 7th and in 7 days from then, I would spend my first Mother’s Day without my mother. Fives and Sevens…I’m reasonably certain that my still compulsive number trackings, which began the day my Mother died, must have a medical or psychological term but as I look back I must simply attribute it to, once again, finding a way to hold onto sanity.

It was Friday before the funeral and finally someone noticed me, sort of. As everyone was rushing about, laying out, ironing and pulling together their coordinating outfits for the funeral, I heard my much older cousin Jo, ordering someone to go and grab the outfit which I was to wear. She had offered to freshen it up with the now vacated iron and ironing board. The house had been chaotic for days with people coming and going and so many more coming and staying that a constant low level buzz had been created, not unlike the sound emanating from a large beehive, even so, all sound ceased immediately after Cousin Jo spoke that one seemingly innocuous request. Someone remembered that I existed and what a stir that memory caused! It had been agreed upon that Mother would be buried in her Eastern Star, Course of Corinthians, Ceremonial white dress. It had also been decided, by whom I wasn’t privy, that her daughters would also wear white and Chinee would wear a black suit with a white buttoned down shirt and black tie. These were the items along with an array of hats, gloves, shoes, purses and tasteful jewelry which were being pressed, steamed and matched with mind-numbing monotony. It was then that it occurred to everyone almost at once, that no one had given much thought as to what I would wear. Although everyone, I supposed from snippets I’d overheard afterwards, assumed that I would wear my Easter dress from little more than a month ago however, no one had asked if I had an Easter dress from little more than a month ago, I didn’t. Mother had been too ill to go shopping for a dress for me so, after putting on what I thought to be my grownup face, I determined to put Mother at ease by declaring that I neither needed or wanted a new dress. She had smiled knowingly, caressed my cheek and thanked me for being so understanding and wise beyond my years; she promised to make it up to me when she felt better, she never did…feel better.

The problem I had created by having the audacity to not have a suitable outfit to wear to Mother’s funeral was unforgivable, if the look etched on the faces in that room was of any measure. “Well there’s nothing to do”, someone declared, “except to go and find something for her to wear”. It was near 10 a.m. Friday morning and I was quietly rejoicing that I was at least for the time being, the center of attention, but something deep within me warned against showing any joy at this turn of events, especially when I heard someone murmur, “those girls have enough on their minds without having to go shopping for her”. HER? Wasn’t……of…those…girls…too?
(There was no grouping of nouns, verbs, adverbs or adjectives which could have made me feel less important or more distant from my family than those just uttered).

My three sisters, Cousin Jo and I piled into an available car and drove first to the closest town, Newton, about 15 miles away to the south. It was thought that since we were in the midst of Spring with the promise of summer approaching, it would a simple matter to find a simple white dress. Newton was fresh out. We then headed for Jasper, approximately 16 mile northwest of Newton. We were sure this twice as large city would have at least several choices from which to choose. It didn’t. If I had any joy remaining from being the center of attention, it disappeared somewhere between the trip in and out of Jasper’s last department store and I had actually began to wish to be forgotten again, swiftly. With no other shops within fifty miles, it was determined that we’d return home and sift through my things to see if something could be thrown together. Now, I was crestfallen, not only would I not appear as part of a white clad grieving family unit, I was being relegated to a poor relation of the white clad family unit; someone to be thrown together then thrown aside. Oh well, at least I’d gotten my wish; I was no longer the center of attention.

Cousin Jo, older than Mother by at least 3 years, saw through my thin veneer of bravery and announced that I would be accompanying her on the sixty miles trip back to her Beaumont home that evening and there, we’d go shopping for a dress on Saturday. My second eldest sister demurred that this was too much trouble and wasn’t necessary. Gratefully, Cousin Jo placed her hand on her wide hips, tilted her head to one side and with a
blistering gaze aimed unswervingly at that same sister, declared that she was not asking permission and thus clearly ended the conversation. (Beaumont, during this time, was second only to Houston as for as a shopping venue, in closer proximity to our home and being so, all concerns of finding an appropriate white dress in my size was allayed and I could be soon forgotten, again. It’s difficult to imagine that the entire retail populous of East Texas could pull off such a detailed conspiracy in a mere thirty six hour span, but it did, clearly it did).

After going in and out of so many shops and trying on untold numbers of too long, too short, too mature and too frilly dresses, it was I who finally surrendered and begged to quit. My plea was hardly necessary since we had exhausted all options. Walking back to the car, Cousin Jo remembered that her youngest daughter had an as yet unworn, new suit which would fit me perfectly, it did; and that it would surely be the perfect outfit for the funeral tomorrow, it wasn’t. Though very tasteful and the most grown-up outfit I’d ever worn, it wasn’t white by a long shot; not even in the white family, well not all of it anyway. It was a three piece olive green suit with matching skirt and jacket, cream piping and a cream tank top. I was too tired to care and decided that it made no difference anyway. It would not bring mother back. But there was something about that suit which my mind strained to capture a memory, but it couldn’t quite catch. Whatever it was brought with it a shiver of fear and I gladly set it aside.

Sadly, Sunday morning arrived and I had been dressed, coifed and threatened with bodily harm by second eldest, that if one spot appeared on the borrowed outfit, if a hair on my head was move out of place or even if the tiniest run appeared in the nylons which searched for a place to cling to my pencil thin legs. No one, she warned me, had time to put me back together if I became careless and so thoughtless as to undo myself. I declined breakfast, fearful of a drip of jelly, or a dropped forkful of egg, only to be harangued by my other sisters who were telling me to eat because it would be hours before the opportunity presented itself again; (Nothing doing), I chose instead to sit in a chair on the front porch and to continue looking for Chinee in the horde of people who kept suddenly appearing from no place. I’d had no interaction with Chinee since we had arrived home from the hospital on Wednesday, although I continued to sense him nearby. I found out much later that Chinee was going through the most intensely emotional and painful time of his life. I was only too well aware of his and mother’s deep affection for each other so I could only surmise how much he needed me and how I, steeped in my own despair, had failed him. I vowed a childishly resolute pledge that I would never again let him down in his hour of need no matter what he may ask of me. Years later I would come to lament this unspoken vow, but I never willingly broke it.

The family’s limousine arrived from the mortuary and all my sisters, a few of my Mother’s friends and Chinee all climbed solemnly inside. I stood there waiting for my turn to enter but I was moved aside and the door was closed by one of the attendants. (I guess he couldn’t tell that I was part of the family, since I wasn’t wearing white). Just as I finished forming that thought, the door opened suddenly and I heard someone (a family friend/distant relative) from inside say, “Aw now, she can ride with Roscoe, close the door”. Chinee said, “she’ll ride in here with us or we’ll damn well all walk!” He leaned out, his grabbed me by my arm and pulled me inside. We drove the nineteen miles to Jasper in relative silence to accompany the hearse which would carry my Mother back to Shankleville’s Mount Hope Missionary Baptist Church, with me riding in the only comfortable seat in that limousine, Chinee’s lap.

Chinee and I were separated when we arrived at the church and though I had been permitted to ride in the limo albeit reluctantly, I would not be allowed to sit with my family. The front row bench to the left of the church had been reserved for the most immediate family members, or should I say the adult immediately family members and the necessary minions appointed to hug, hold, fan and comfort my sisters and brother. I had been banished to a bench three rows back and forced to sit with an aunt-in-law, who admittedly disliked my mother and obviously cared just bit less for all but one of Mother’s children, I wasn’t the One. Throughout the service I strained my neck to peer into the casket which held my Mother. Back then, the casket was routinely kept open throughout the service. Family members and friends were allowed to approach the casket to bid their final farewells at the end of the service. I was afraid that since I was not on the front row I would not be given an opportunity to take a last look at my mother.

Each of my searching strains were answered by a vicious, twisting and violent pinch, apparently gleefully administered by my aunt, all while being told to sit still. There were tears streaming from the eyes of my sibling but none of theirs tears were tinged with the physical pain that accompanied mine. I longed for both my brother and my mother.

Somehow the memorial service ended and my bruised arm and I found ourselves standing next to Mother’s casket. She looked just as she had when last I’d seen her at the hospital; the little smile still on her face brought a small, a very small measure of comfort to me. Too soon, we were all ushered back into the various automobiles and ordered to follow the hearse. At the gravesite, once again, there was seating only for four. I stood across from my siblings with the yawning grave separating us. I stood at the very periphery of that gaping, anticipating aperture which was to be Mother’s final earthly resting place.

I heard the minister reading the verses leading to interment and it wasn’t that I was purposely trying to ignore what he was saying but there was a sound coming from the grave, a gurgling! I dared a quick look around to see if any one else had picked up on the sound. But, I must have moved too quickly because my movement was met with another blood-clotting pinch by that same Aunt, from where in Hell had she come? As Minister Lockett exhorted us to take to heart the passage of which he was about to read, something niggled at my consciousness and as he began to recite the Scripture’s chapter and verse, the gurgling, bubbling sound grew louder and became a crescendo of thunder ushering in an unwanted, uninvited dream I did not want to remember. “Children”, said Minister Lockett, “Christ has left us a road of which if we follow we will find not only Him at the end of it but our love ones as well”. “Your mother hasn’t left you no more than Christ has left us”. “He went to prepare a place for us and your Mother is now occupying her place in God’s kingdom and she will be waiting for you when God calls your name…St. John 14th Chapter…”, it was then in that moment that I lost the ability to breathe. The forgotten dream came flooding back to me, filling me with unexplained yet experienced dread. I recalled crying in that dream because I didn’t have a white dress. I remembered mother lying in a white casket wearing a white dress. I remembered a grave dug above an underground spring, filling slowly, slowly, slowly with water…I remembered… …nothing else because gratefully my brain turned off the switch that kept me upright and supposedly I went down, muddying the borrowed outfit, sending every strand of hair on my head astray and snagging the new nylons as I went. Although it was later blamed on my ill-fated decision not to eat breakfast, I knew better and so would have Mother, if she was not already seated around God’s throne.


The Hospital, Chinee and Me

Chapter One

Although I stated in an earlier chapter that these writings were really not about me, I must quantify that statement now by saying that this chapter will be almost totally about me. I apologize for this because I don’t find myself nearly as interesting as my brother and I’m quite uncomfortable being anywhere other than in the background of most any subject matter. However, in order to cycle back to having him as the center of attention, I must digress momentarily, but only for the rendering of the next two chapters.

May 3, 1967; I was twelve and excitedly anticipating the passing of the next three weeks or so and thereby falling headlong into summer vacation. Adding to my excitement was the very recent arrival of my two eldest sisters, visiting from Los Angeles. The house was full of activity and preparation. The only thing that marred this happy time was the fact that our mother had been only recently released from a lengthy hospitalization due to a serious bout of pneumonia; this combined with a heart weakened by congested heart failure, everyone was taking extra precautions to keep her as quiet and stress free as possible. (It was quite a rare occasion for the five of us siblings to be under the same roof at the same time. The last time had been for the funeral of my grandmother 3 years previously. I don’t recall a time before then).

My mother was a beautiful woman. She stood approximately 5’7”, had a smooth, unblemished, rich, caramel complexion; large and haunting eyes that angled down almost imperceptibly on the inside corners. A shock of silver hair slightly off center helped to highlight her oval shaped face. Utterly unaware of her beauty, she was only 44 years old and looked forward to her birthday also exactly 3 weeks away. We were, or at least everyone else was busy planning a 45th birthday celebration for her. (I suppose as the youngest, I was more of a nuisance than a help to anyone so, I was not included in the vast majority of the planning unless it entailed running and fetching).

We confidently expected that since her birthday was still three weeks away, Mother would have ample time to recover and would be able to enjoy the first birthday party of her life. We were all looking forward to it and Mother insisted she would be well in time to help in the preparation of the party food.

We had all been up for hours, laughing and enjoying being in each other presence when someone noticed, probably Mother, that it was getting close to the time for the school bus’ arrival. I was sitting next to mother telling her of my plans for the day, when suddenly a violent coughing spell overwhelmed her. Struggling to control her breathing left her so weakened and her appearance so diminished that something akin to terror crept into my soul, filled me with panic and joltingly brought back to mind a dream I’d had a month earlier, just prior to mother getting ill.

In my dream, I was unbearably upset because my three sisters were all wearing beautiful white dresses and I was dressed in an olive and cream three-piece suit; I felt totally separated and excluded from whatever occasion for which we were dressing. Mother was even wearing white. Chinee was dressed in a crisp black suit and wearing the whitest, brightest dress shirt ever made. (Obviously, that old smoke pot was doing its’ job even in my dream). We were all in church; everyone was so pretty, but sad and I couldn’t figure it out until my dream did that “poof” thing that dreams do and we were all suddenly someplace else. I was standing now in the cemetery nearest our home and everyone was not only looking sad, but weeping openly. I looked around to see where my siblings were because I had somehow become separated from them. I couldn’t see over everyone’s head, so I looked down and saw an open grave, but oddly there was water filling the grave ever so slowly, as I looked about to see if anyone else was witnessing this phenomenon, there appeared a coffin directly in front of me; it was being opened eerily, slowly as the crowd began to sing Pass Me Not. Reluctantly I looked into the coffin only to see Mother’s smiling face with her beautiful haunting eyes closed tightly, almost as if sealed.

I had awakened to my own screams and ran to my Mothers’ bedroom sobbing uncontrollably as I recounted the details of my dream. She pulled me into her arms and comforted me by reading a scripture from the Bible she kept at her bedside table. St. John 14th chapter. Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself, so that where I am there you may be also. She made me promise that whenever I felt sad or lost when thinking of her, I would remember this passage, I promised and fell listlessly asleep in her arms as she hummed, Pass me Not.

I did not want to get on that bus that Wednesday morning. I didn’t know why, but I felt that my mother’s very life depended on me remaining there at home with her. I pleaded with her to let me stay home but she just squeezed my hand and told me that she would see me later and to make sure that I accomplished all the plans that I’d made for the day. I got on that bus that morning filled with an un-named dread but determined to do as my mother asked.

Sometime within the 2nd period, I was summoned to the principal’s office; when I walked into Professor Brailsford’s office I was met by the Girl’s Principal and my eldest sister. That awful dread from earlier had returned and I demanded to know where Mother was. My sister told me that mother was in the car waiting. It seems, she said, Mother had a doctor’s appointment that day and didn’t know how long it would take. She didn’t want me to come home from school and not find her there. What no one told me was that Mother’s condition had gotten progressively worse in the few hours since I’d boarded the bus that morning and she was being taken to the hospital. (My guess was that Mother remembered my distress from earlier and was still worried about my state of mind). My sister was there to tell me that if they had not returned home by the time School was over, I was not to worry. She told me that my youngest sister would be at home waiting. Further, she explained, accompanying her on the drive to the doctor, would be second eldest sister and Chinee. I didn’t trust something about the tone of her voice. She had never used so many words to explain anything, EVER. I refused to return to class and was extremely close to having a public meltdown. Had Professor Brailsford and his ever present razor strap been standing before me at that moment, neither would have deterred my insistence on accompanying my siblings and Mother.

As mentioned earlier, we lived in the very easternmost portion of East Texas. We were only about 10 miles from the Louisiana border where the Sabine River separated the two states. My Mother’s physician was on staff at a hospital in Merryville, Louisiana, approximately 45 minutes away and this was our immediate destination. One other thought to note: this was the South in 1967, where the Civil Rights war was still being fought by those on both sides who refused to surrender. This day was to find us, my siblings, my Mother and me all in a losing battle of that war.

By the time we arrived at the hospital the fluid in Mother’s lungs was making it difficult for her to breathe. The heavy air, the dreary sky that promised rain and the oppressive humidity added to the wretchedness of our mission. As we entered the Emergency room, there were no other patients waiting to be seen, still we were told to be seated. We waited about fifteen minutes as Mother’s breathing became audibly labored. One of my sisters, I don’t remember which, approached the nurses station again, mere footsteps from us and pleaded for help but at the same time a Caucasian gentleman was brought in by a co-worker, to have a sliver of metal removed from his left palm.

They laughed and one joked about what a stroke of good luck it had been for the injured man to have gotten the sliver in his left hand because since he was left-handed, he had needed to be driven to the hospital. If they timed things just right, he said, they could actually stretch this into an all-afternoon, excused absence from work. They laughed and flirted with the nurse to whom my sister was speaking and who she was now ignored by. As another nurse passed us, my sister asked her if she would please help mother. She scolded us in a condescending tone saying that there were real people that really needed help and we should mind our manners and not disturb the other patients. We watched helplessly as “The Sliver Man” was called in and had his wound attended. As the joviality continued among the two co-workers and the two nurses, mother suddenly collapsed and fell to the floor. There were screams reverberating throughout the hospital corridor. I don’t know if my voice joined with my other siblings but I do remember my throat being raw and hoarse afterwards. There were sounds of running footsteps and I heard someone say, “There’s a bunch of nigras keeping up a ruckus and ought to be taught a lesson on how to act around proper folks! How dare they disturb good decent folks and all?”.

It was only then that my mother was finally attended to, sort of. She was placed in a room and promptly ignored again. The three of us girls helped mother undress as Chinee waited in the corridor. I silently worried about and prayed for him because he was out there alone with those people who were angry about our pleadings for help. As mother lay on the bed with eldest sister on her right and second eldest on the left, I stood at the foot of the bed as we all worked in wordless harmony to speed the undressing process. They lifted her upper body from behind to remove her blouse as I leaned toward her from the foot of the bed and held her hands helping her to sit up. Barely able to keep my toes on the floor my thin arms strained in their mission. I was looking at my sisters as they removed Mother’s blouse when my hands began to ache horribly. It felt as if my bones were being crushed. I looked at my hands as if they were not a part of me and tried to figure out from where the pain was coming. I looked at Mother’s hands surrounding mine and I could see the veins in her hand raised and blue, I wanted to scream out in pain but quickly remembered the warning of the people in the lobby. I looked up into Mother’s face and unbidden terror gripped my soul! Mother’s face was unrecognizable. Her beautiful features were both flattened and swollen simultaneously. Her lovely, slightly slanted eyes were unseeing and bulging unnaturally from their sockets. I’d never seen it, but instantly knew exactly what the face of a person hanged looked like. I imagined it to also be akin to the look of a person drowning, which is what my mother was doing. It was not the peaceful letting go as portrayed on television or at the movies; it was horrific. Mother was literally drowning in front me and my hands seemed to be her life line. God, if only I could have breathe for her, if I could have but loaned her my own air, oh but those were thoughts that came later. I can’t remember what my thoughts were at the time, beyond the pain in my hands, the immediate fear and sense of impending, everlasting loss.

I suppose that the stiffening of her body alerted my
sisters to her distress because I had become totally mute in my fear. This time, I knew for sure that it was my sisters and not me who broke the silence of that room with screams of desperation. This time, nurses and doctors rushed in with a crash cart and yelled for us to leave the room. I couldn’t leave, not because I was intent on being disobedient but because my hands were locked in my Mother’s death grip. I wanted to go yet I felt guilty for wanting to. I didn’t know how to help mother and felt ashamed of myself that I couldn’t. I hated my sisters for not only leaving Mother but for appearing to not give me a second thought either. From afar off I heard Chinee yelling at them as to my whereabouts, but I still could not speak. I remember the nurses kept pushing mother back down on the bed and with seemingly super human strength she kept sitting up trying to breathe, and with each of their pushes her grip on my hands pulled me further onto the bed with her; my feet finally leaving the precarious purchase my toes had made. It was then that one of the attendants, finally noticing me, roughly grabbed me around the waist and practically threw me from the room thus breaking the life line between mother and child.
(Many recurring nightmares over many years always left me wondering if breaking my grip with Mother hastened her death. I suppose it was my childish and unconscious attempt to accept blame. For years afterwards fear and uncertainty made it extremely difficult to hold another person’s hand).

In the corridor there was no sound to muffle the hushed, hurried and doubtful whispers coming from room number 7, Mother’s room. There were the squeaks of the wheels on the lunch carts as the lunch trays were being returned to the hospital cafeteria. There were distant ringing of telephones and the fierce pounding of my own heartbeat in my ears. But the sound that was most deafening was the sound that was altogether absent. The sound of someone who cared that I was sitting against a wall in a strange hospital while my mother was, hopefully, still struggling to breathe. I had no idea where Chinee and my sisters were or why they had left me. I didn’t know where to go to even begin looking for them so, I just sat…and waited…and hoped…that someone would come and find me, soon.

(I was to learn later, that a visitor in the hospital had complained rather boisterously that the nigras sniveling presence was disturbing their confined relative. My siblings had been escorted outside by hospital staff and told to stay there, in the rain, until summoned by one of my Mothers’ attendants which didn’t happen until after she was pronounced dead).

After what felt like hours, but was in actuality mere moments, the door opened and the crash cart was rolled from room number 7. There followed a succession of white shod feet, I never looked up at the faces belonging to those shoes but one benevolent nurse stopped, came to me and lifted me to my feet. She bent over as she pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped away tears that I did not realize I was shedding. She told me that my mother had passed away and that I would be able to see her in a few moments. I made a motion as to move toward the room when she stopped me and gently said that she had to “fix” some things before I could see her, because my Mother’s hard fought battle to live had caused her bodily functions to fail and that she, “Nurse Nice”, wanted to make sure my mother was as pretty and fresh as she was when we first arrived. She promised to come and get me when she finished. There were still no signs of my siblings.

“Nurse Nice” eventually returned and took my still throbbing hand in hers as she led me into the darkened room. The overhead lights had been dimmed and only one bedside lamp burned. The venetian blinds had been closed to all but the barest of the early afternoon gloom. Mother lay so peaceful upon a bed made with sharply precision corners yet the freshly fluffed pillows seemed to softly cradle her head. Just a bare hint of a smile softened her face which just moments ago where rigid with the struggle of life. I felt my lungs expanding and collapsing forcefully as I unconsciously willed breath into Mother’s unnaturally still body. I truly wanted to thank “Nurse Nice” for also being nice to my mother by doing whatever it was she did to “fix” my Mother’s bodily function failures, whatever that meant. But all I could do was think how grateful I was that Mother was still as pretty in death as she was in life
and mostly that the hideous mask of death of her final moments, which only I witnessed, was not visible upon her face.

As “Nurse Nice” led me from the room, I heard my sisters’ voices. I still had not found mine. I looked past them for Chinee, he wasn’t there and somewhere deep inside I knew that this time he needed me. I walked unsteadily past both sisters, past the nurses’ station and into the parking lot. It had begun to rain now in earnest; it seems that the Angels in Heavens were mourning along with me. I found Chinee standing with his back to the hospital with his shoulders heaving violently. I’d never seen him cry and didn’t know how to comfort him. I just walked to him and put one hand in his jacket pocket and put my other arm around his waist and we cried silently together until it was time to leave for home. It broke our hearts to leave Mother in that cold uncaring place but what else could we do? It was a long, silent drive home with one seat in the car, now unoccupied.

A lesson learned? What can possibly be learned from a Mother dying in the arms of her twelve year old child, in a hospital where the type of medical care one received depended upon the color of one’s skin? When a mob of hate-mongers would keep children from comforting a dying mother or even each other? How did a nurse find the courage and understanding needed to comfort one scared and lost child? Why would she become a crusader of one to save just one, especially in the glare of the disapproving faces of the many? I was the child in that place where it all happened yet I still ponder how I survived so much pain without fracturing but I am grateful that “Nurse Nice” didn’t care, that she cared.

I suppose the lesson should be that regardless of the size of the crowd that offers hate, it’s the size of the love given by the one which should always be most memorable. Unfortunately, it often is not. I can still recall the names of my mother’s doctor, the two nurses we first encountered and even the names of the two men who kept my mother from receiving life saving medical help but I cannot recall the true name of “Nurse Nice”.


The Spring, Chinee and Me

Life for us took place on 57 acres of useable farmland; an average size for the area and time in which we lived, many had far more acreage, many had far less. Even so, we only used about 20 acres to produce and provide crops for both our family and the livestock. At various times that livestock included: horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys and every once and a while a cow or two. Everything we did was by design and clockwork. This was made all the more difficult because we had no access to running water. We relied totally on the graciousness of God and nature to irrigate the fields, orchards, garden and water for the animals. But, we had to rely on simple backbreaking, manual labor to provide water for our intimate and personal needs; drinking, laundry and bath water. It didn’t seem so terribly laborious at the time because it was all that we knew, however now, having been exposed and accustomed to indoor plumbing lo these many years, it’s difficult to imagine how we actually managed to get along without it.

Every Tuesday was “washday”. Our day began at dawn hauling water from the creek to fill our wringer washer, which sat looming and unquenchable on our back porch. We also had to fill the two #3 galvanize tubs needed to rinse the laundry after it had been beaten into submission by an unyielding agitator. At the end of the wash cycle, we would guide the washed but saturated laundry, piece by piece, into a medieval torture device called rollers to squeeze away soapy wash water and prepare for their rinsing. The #3 tubs were the types used for the much more enjoyable pass time of bobbing for apples. Between the washer, the galvanized tubs and also the huge, black, iron pot we used to boil and disinfect our white linens and personal items, it could take upwards of 70 gallons of water to complete this weekly task. No modern appliance has ever produced a whiter, fresher or more sanitized batch of laundry than that old smoke pot which is really quite ironic and amusing giving how dirty & soot encrusted that old pot was. Never judge anything by its outward appearance.

Huge barrels were placed strategically around the farm to catch and hold rain water. This water was used mainly for our livestock. But every morning & afternoon, before and after school, rain or shine, in blistering heat or icy cold, we had to walk the half mile, the last 1/8 of which was a steep decline down to a natural bubbling, self-filtering, cold water spring. It was the job of us three kids to make sure that our Mother and grandparents had enough water for drinking, coffee and cooking throughout the day. My Papa’s serious coffee addiction notwithstanding, we could usually get by on just one trip each to the spring per the twice daily sessions. This was accomplished by Chinee carrying two 2-gallon buckets, my sister carrying one 1-gallon bucket and I was proudly, the deliverer of my grandfather’s coffeepot water, which I did by carrying a small, recycled Steen’s syrup can. It held a bit more than a quart and the can itself was about six inches tall and had perhaps a four inch opening. Laugh if you like, but that little bucket became impossibly weighty and the bail cut deeply into my small fingers as I endeavored to climb that steep hill without losing its contents. To do so, meant going back down that treacherous hill, filling the container again and quite possibly trudging back up alone. If you couldn’t keep up, you could be left behind.

On one particular winter morning at precisely 4:30 a.m. (we were always awakened at 4:30 a.m., Monday through Friday without fail! No clock or rooster required.) The temperature outside was below freezing and the temperature inside the farmhouse was even colder! Mother had already given us the first warning call to up and at ‘em as Papa was just beginning to get our old wood-burning heater fired up. Even the smell of something warm and sweet drifting in from the kitchen was not enough to persuade us to crawl from beneath the piles of woolen blankets and heavy handmade quilts which were so far, supplying the only warmth in the house.

We groaned at the booming sound of our grandfather’s voice announcing the second and final warning to “get up”. We hit the floor and raced toward the heater, holding blankets around us. After warming somewhat, we dressed in as many layers as possible to protect ourselves against frigid weather and still allowed for movement. By the time we were finished washing up, brushing our teeth, dressing, and putting a heavy protective layer of Vaseline on our faces, the sun would be yawning, stretching and trying to figure out why the heck he or anybody else was bothering to get up this early on such a cold, cold morning. (I agreed wholeheartedly with this imagined assessment).

Four pairs of socks and 2 pair of pants for Chinee along with several tee shirts, a mackinaw, a heavy wool coat, a bib cap with ear flaps and he was ready for the trek to the spring. I really didn’t care what my sister wore because whatever she had on would not warm me one whit; but I would be allowed to walk with at least one of my hands in Chinee’s warm coat pockets. Pants for little girls were not yet popular and as such they were not easily obtained. Therefore, I was dressed in at least 2 old woolen shifts, the better to keep out the wind, 2 pairs of tights, at least 3 pairs of socks on my feet and another 3 on my hands (no mitten did we have). I tied an extra long scarf around my head and neck and finished with a sweater and coat. The only real difference between myself and a mummy, other than the obvious, would have been that a mummy would have moved infinitely more graceful inside its swaddling.

The trip down hill was beyond treacherous because it had no steps carved into it. There were no railings or ropes onto which to hold and assist our progress. There were only uneven footholds created by years of use and overgrown limbs and branches on which to hold. The ground was slippery with sheets of ice and the falling sleet pricked our faces. Undaunted and focused on the task at hand, we dared not tarry.

Arriving at the spring, Chinee dropped his bucket onto the spring’s frozen surface to break the thick layer of ice formed overnight. The sound of metal meeting ice reverberated and echoed throughout the still, silent morning. He carefully filled my sister’s bucket first and passed it back to her. He repeated the task for me. Lastly, he filled his two muscle fatiguing pails and we headed for home. If we had thought the trip downhill was treacherous; the trip back uphill was damn near life threatening. It was almost next to impossible to gain any purchase on the icy slope and one misstep could cause us to go sliding backwards downhill. As Chinee led the way breaking a path in the ice for us to follow, my sister would match his feet path and I would follow in hers. I was mere steps from the top as I began to slide uncontrollably. I could not regain my balance no matter how many branches I reached out to for stability. I fell hard on the frozen ground and slid backwards the total way down the hill, spilling my bucket of water over my clothes as I went. Bruised, scared and half frozen at the bottom of the hill, I laid crying from pain and embarrassment. The water had spilled on my dress and caused it to freeze and splay out from my body almost instantly. I had on so many layer of clothing that I could not right myself on my own. My sister stood at the top of the hill yelling grumpily for me to get up because she was cold and wanted to get home, (as if I wasn’t and wanted something different than she—older sisters, geez). Chinee yelled at her to go home and that we’d follow. He sat his huge buckets down on the top of the hill, the water in them quickly turning to ice, and headed downhill for me. He made it to me safely but he first picked up my bucket to refill it. He then picked me up and placed me piggyback on his body and climbed again the hill. He did not put me on the ground when he reached the top. He simply asked me if I could now hold my little bucket, to which I answered yes. Not only did he carry his two buckets of water but me and my bucket on his back as well and he never once complained.

So, What was the lesson here, you’re probably wondering? Well for me, it was that no matter how far I ever fell, no matter how slippery the slope, no matter what troubles I found myself surrounded by, no matter how cold or dark the situation, Chinee was always there to help pick me up and carry the load.

Without a doubt, without a single lifelong doubt, I loved my brother but even more undoubtedly, I KNOW that he loved me.


The Dime, Chinee and Me

Since I was the youngest, there was always someone escorting me everywhere. Except on our acreage, I was never allowed to venture anywhere on my own. This included Sunday school, regular school or visiting our neighbors, (ok, so the nearest neighbor was almost 2 miles away). My sister closest to me in age was five years older and my Brother was older by 7, so I was most often joined to one of their hips, much to the consternation of my sister.

It was a feather in my cap to have had two older siblings in school with me. It kept being bullied to a minimum and please believe me, I was not opposed to playing the “I’m going to tell my sister or my brother” card. No sir, I didn’t mind that card at all; I felt any owned asset should be used and used wisely. Older siblings were also good for filching a cookie or two every once in a while; especially when Mother didn’t quite agree that a cookie would settle my upset stomach, (I had and still have chronic tummy issues, TMI much?) Those times, Chinee would walk past my sick bed ever so slyly and deposit a cookie as quick as you please into my anxious hands and away from Mother’s unsuspecting eyes. (Heck, I was sick anyway why deny me a little pleasure)? Oh you already know how much better many things are when you’re sneaking them and to have my hero, my big brother, being the one to deliver this small object of my desire was like having chocolate with my chocolate. Was there ever a better brother?

Occasionally, there were times when Mother would pull one of my siblings out of school for extra help around the farm. If it was for help needed inside the home, my sister would be asked to stay. If the chore required more strength and out of doors stamina, Chinee would be staying. It was the quirky mischievous humor of Fate which determined that on this particular school day, my sister would be too ill to attend school and Mother needed Chinee’s help.

(Dear Reader, I must explain something here and now so as not to confuse you in later chapters. My two eldest sisters where 13 and 16 years older than me and were out of the family home and own their own before I started school. So pretty much throughout my entrance into my teens, it was just the three of us youngest kids growing up together).

This particular joke of Fate left me and me alone to climb aboard that which was never before but now became a frighteningly alarming, humongous, flesh eating, body snatching, bully concealing school bus! I actually felt lightheaded at the prospect of leaving the warmth and loving inter-sanctum of my house and being driven away in that yellow rattletrap. What kind of silly errand would cause a Mother to abandon her youngest child to the cruel, lonely world of singularity? I wasn’t even sure if I could find the way to my classroom alone. And who would walk me to the bus that afternoon? Didn’t anyone know that there were millions of buses in that yard after school and blast it, they ALL LOOKED THE SAME! (there was actually only two or 3 buses most days, but still). How would I know which one to board? Was Mother really tired of me, was she hoping I would board the wrong bus? I really didn’t eat much and my sister was the one who awakened me most morning to comb & dress my hair before school thereby freeing Mother to do other things. I could not think of one reason why Mother would do this to me! I hadn’t cried or been an obvious bother for at least a couple of weeks; my shoes were dusted each night and I put my clothes away without being told. Didn’t I gather the eggs every day before and school? (And what a terrifying event that was! I am terrified of a living and walking chicken to this very day! I am absolutely certain that the only cure for a fearless, clucking, chasing chicken is a bag of seasoned flour and a vat of hot oil).

I washed the dishes twice a week and raked the yard every time it needed it. She needed me, I know she needed me yet, she was setting me up for a future episode, (30 years later), of “What ever happened to…” Who would lick the cake batter bowl and beaters if I wasn’t there? Maybe that wasn’t a good example, my sister would be still there of course. Then who would help Mother wrap the presents at Christmas? That wasn’t a winnable argument either because yep, my sister again. MOTHER DIDN’T NEED ME! SHE REALLY DIDN’T NEED ME! The switch was flipped and I saw the light. I was walking the plank, sent out to pasture, deserted, casted off, Dumped! I was dispensable and the big, yellow bus would attend to the dispensing. My whole body began to shake and shutter. The thought of never again having a cookie was an even worse thought than being face to face with the bullies on the bus…alone! Be that as it may, I determined to face my fate as the trooper I was meant to be, if I could only get rid of the urge to wet my britches! (All of my life in time of stress and life altering moments, my bladder has always failed me. It had begun a day long ago in a dimly lit laundromat. Even on the the day of my wedding-after I had been trussed up, tied and sucked in, being escorted down the aisle, I had to make a quick dash to the nearest ladies room; on the way to the hospital to give birth to my first son, contractions five minutes apart, I needed to stop at a nearby Arco; at my youngest son’s wedding as they were about to announce my entry, I was doing a “Lou-Lou Skip to My Lou” jiggle adjustment all the way back down the hallway toward the church’s center aisle, barely making it back in time).

As I was contemplating whether or not going to the outhouse would be the solution to my immediate problem, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up expecting to see a hatchet aimed at my skull, (at least that would be a kinder method of getting rid of me, I thought) but instead, I saw the understanding face of my brother. How long had he been watching me? Had the rattling of my bones alerted him to my distress or had he just intuitively known all along how this would affect me? He leaned down and kissed the top of my head; my knees buckled and my heart melted; He then reached inside his pocket and brought out the dullest, most beat up, saddest looking mercury dime there could possibly be in circulation and he gave it to me. He made me promise to buy two packages of cookies from the School’s cookie machine. One when I first got to school to have with my lunch (if I survived the trip there) and the second at the end of the school day on my way back to the bus, (if I found the right darn bus), that one I was to share with him when I got home. Thusly, he taught me that a little bit of sugar will sweetened any bitter cup.

(Still now, the best way I know to show my love when my friends or family have troubles, is by whipping up a cake, a pie or a batch of cookies to comfort them).

Surprisingly, no one tortured me unnecessarily that first day of which I was alone at school. Well, Ronnie did do his best to annoy me but a handful of playground dirt thrown into his eyes stopped that. Miss Thelma, our bus driver, did not suddenly morph into whatever a pre-1980’s Freddie Kruger would be. I even found my way to the correct bus that afternoon. Malchia did not pull my hair from the seat behind me on the bus and we got home without anything horrible happening.

Chinee was waiting for me at the swing that hung from one of the two grand, stately Sycamore trees framing our house. I ran to him so happy to be shed of my “be a big Girl” edit and I was rewarded by being picked up, swung around, hugged and placed upon the two by four board seat of my rope swing. He knelt beside the swing, asked me about my day and as I recounted it proudly, I shared the Tom’s peanut butter sandwich cookies paid for with his sad pitiful dime. Oh, what a bright, special memory that dull, little dime bought for us as we sat under that tree.

Oh yes by the way, my Mother still needed me after all, She made me rake the yard and gather the evening eggs that day. And for all my trouble, she even served Fried Chicken for dinner! What a day! What a delicious day.


The Tackle, Chinee and Me

Being the only boy in a family of women held special meaning for Chinee. He was born smack in the middle of four girls. Two older protective, adoring sisters and two hero worshiping younger ones and a mother who took adoration of an only son to a different level entirely. Theirs’ was a special relationship. There was nothing that we thought was too good for him. Chinee seldom asked for anything for himself but there was always plenty giving going on; either by the five of us to him or him to the five of us. He took his title of family patriarch earnestly and emotively. There was only one thing wrong with this picture as for as he could see, there was no one of whom could help him practice his football plays. (Personally, all and all, I thought he had it pretty damn good but that was just from a little kid’s perspective).

Chinee’s intentions were to try out for the school’s football team in the Fall and was actually pretty much a shoe-in. He already had shoulders so wide that even at 13, shoulder pads were mere accessories. His full height of 6 feet had already been reached and he had obtained a girth that demanded attention. Coach Snell had anticipatorily given him a copy of a playbook but he needed someone to help him run the plays. He wanted to be certain he knew every play in that book before school started but he couldn’t very well set up a Wing-T offensive play alone or pass and receive to himself (keep this in mind, it become very important later). Seeing my brother’s predicament, I once again thought to come to his rescue and tried to devise ways in which to help him. Suddenly or maybe not so suddenly, Chinee was agreeing that I could help although I was not cognizant of ever asking him if I could, (Boy he was good).

The first order of business was learning how to throw a ball. (Ok, you really have to try and picture this in order to appreciate the momentous assignment of which I had been given or asked for, depending on whom you choose to believe). I was maybe forty-five pounds of knobby knees, spindly legs, ungainly arms and terribly small hands. For any other assignment my hands would have been called delicate, but for football tossing however, they were called terribly small. I remember Chinee telling me something about putting my index finger on the seam and my thumb somewhere making an L-shape or some such thing…
…It really didn’t matter because none of what he directed me to do was physically possible anyway. Just seeing the disappointment in Chinee’s face was enough for me to give it the old school try. I grabbed the ball with both hands as one would an axe handle and after a few hundred tries I executed a pinpoint bomb accurate to fifteen yards. THE GAME WAS ON! I passed to the left, I passed to the right. There were a couple of lateral passes and a flea flicker or two. The grin on my brother’s face at the end of those exercises could have bought gold.

In his excitement to run more plays, I think he must have forgotten to give me a lesson or two. My next feat was to learn how to catch passes. Chinee grabbed the ball and ran backwards about 15 yards and threw a bullet. It was a thing of beauty the way he sent that ball literally spiraling toward me. I stood there mesmerized watching that perfectly thrown, brown bomb; that is until the end of the ball nailed me right on the sternum and down I went, hard!

I was to learn later that his pinpoint, accurate drilling of that ball into my chest was called “placing the ball on the numbers”, but I felt more like my number was up. To put it quite simply, it hurt.

He ran to me and helped me up, apologized profusely and offered to quit practice when it appeared obvious to him that I was having trouble breathing. I just could not be the reason my brother didn’t make the team so I did my best Bucky Buck Up routine and carried on in grand style. This time he showed me how to catch the ball by cradling it with my arms. (This was a lesson which should have been taught one bruised sternum ago). Five or ten tries at this and I was diving and jumping for passes, no one could say that I wasn’t a quick and determined study.

It was on the next pass when the continued longevity of my life became seriously doubtful. Chinee threw a thirty yard pass, which I caught and suddenly he morphed from
offensive to defensive without bothering to tell me the difference. There were no shouts of Run Girl Run! There was no bleating to fall and protect my position, (we hadn’t covered this part yet so I wouldn’t have known what the hell the yelling would have been about anyway). I do know that I saw all one hundred and eighty five pounds of my brother coming at me faster than I’d ever seen anyone move before. My honest thought was that he wanted the ball from me quickly so we could get one last play in before darkness fell and darkness was my next true non-Technicolor vision. TACKLED is what he called it, (a word of which until then had not made it into any of my previous lessons). ATTEMPTED MURDER is what it really was!

Ok, now I understood. I shook it off, (after about 10 minutes or so). I re-inflated my lungs, wiped the snot and tears from my face and tried it again. Man what a lesson he taught me that evening. He tossed me a little flea flicker from about the twenty and started a full on rush. When that ball touched my hands that time, I turned on my heels and ran toward my goal, away from his goal, away from a second sure fire tackle, away from him and everything football with such swiftness that Wilma Rudolph running the 200 meter in Rome would have been hard pressed to catch me. (As an adult, I would look back on that day and that lesson and remember all the times life had tackled me without warning. That day, that lesson bolstered me as an adult, to know that I needed no longer to run from those who would tackle or blindside me. As an adult, with few exceptions, I have stood and defended my goal. Being tackled or blindsided by something thrown my way is no longer blindly accepted).

As I ran away from Chinee and that tackle, somewhere from yards behind me, I heard what had for all time sounded like music to me. I had always loved the sound of Chinee’s full throated, rising up from the depths his belly, stopping in his chest just long enough to get an extra breath to allow it burst forward loudly, laughter. The sound of it followed me until I felt safe and finally stopped running. It was music to me and as I think back, thankfully…

🎶… I can still here him laughing.🎶


The Trees, Chinee & Me

The early 1960‟s were a little more sophisticated than the 50’s; a little less naive, a bit more idealistic, but still full of morality, conventionality, and hardworking ethics. It was a time of hope and determinate objectivity, when almost everyone felt a sense of possibility.

No where was this felt more keenly than in the hallowed halls of Wiergate High School. That citadel of education, that stronghold of mores. The defenders of that hope were the selfless members of staff at this, The Home of the Panthers, dutifully led by Principal, Mr. Artie Brailsford, and Mr. David Snell, Coach, Ag teacher and occasional Bus Driver, if needed. These two virtuous men aimed primarily to keep the flame of hope lit. And “lit” you would be were you ever caught outside the bounds of what they deemed fitting of young people under their tutelage.

It was during these times when someone, somewhere decided that our idle hands and minds would culminate in Satan serving us up as dessert on his lunch tray. Therefore, it was decreed that young men be kept engaged, not only during the hours in the custodial care of the school’s staff but afterwards as well and it appeared that the “someone” had the full blessing of not only Messieurs Brailsford and Snell but the parents, it would seem, as well.

Although we attended school in the township of Wiergate, we actually lived within the community of Shankleville.
(Google that name to find the love story of all love stories).
This community offered a world of rich history, three churches, C.M.E. (Christian Methodist Episcopal, Church of God and Baptist), two cemeteries, about thirty families and absolutely nothing else. Everyone knew everyone and if the person standing next to you was not related to you then the person standing next to him was a cousin to you both.

There was little to give flight to a young man‟s fancy there in Shankleville. Many an evening was spent by these young men mimicking the nocturnal call of the forlorn sounding Whippoorwill. Lazy afternoons might find them challenging each other to a fast swim across a pond guarded enthusiastically by water moccasins and rattlers or less exciting to be sure, filching pears and plums from neighboring farms. So, it was armed with this knowledge of the possible summertime redundancy for these young men, when the guardians of unguarded minds bent to keep idleness at bay by forcing or I should say, forcibly encouraging Mr. Snell to instruct every young man under his guidance, to plant five thousand pine trees each. That was five thousand trees EACH. I didn‟t understand it as a curious but silent six year old nor do I now all these many decades later, (never mind how many decades), why would anyone with even a modicum of foresight, insist on planting more than fifty thousand trees in a small area within the Piney Woods of East Texas, where one would find it extremely difficult if not impossible, to fall forward and not scrape pine bark off the nearest tree as one fell. As a matter of fact it was more likely that you would fall and never hit the ground, so thick were the trees. But planting it would be or lose a semester grade. Some of the young men thoughts leaned more toward accepting the loss of a grade rather than toil in the vapid, dense humidity of a Gulf Coast summer. Chinee chose to plant and after what seemed like hours and hours of pleading to be allowed to help, he finally acquiesced. Isn‟t it funny how older siblings are so adept at getting you to plead with them to allow you to do something of which they wanted you to do all along and then be gracious enough as to allow you to thank them for going through the trouble? (I had to wait years to try this handy little tool on unsuspecting nieces and nephews. I was never as good at using it as Chinee had been). And so, the planting began, hour after hour, day after day and week after week. On our knees and all fours, using our index and middle fingers to bore into the soft red earth, we gently planted one sapling at a time and replaced the soil by mounding it ever so slightly for support. It took four full weeks from start to finish. Mother even threatened to bill the school for the knee patches she would need to mend the holes in our britches. Five thousand trees in four weeks, but what a wonderful month it was, just the Trees, Chinee and me! He told me so much about his outlook on life and he taught me things of which I would have never learned otherwise; things like what a line of scrimmage was. (Of course we talked football, it was Texas after all). I learned the meaning of 1ST and 10, off sides, quarterback sneak, pass interference, blitz, screen pass, safeties, formation, and a kick return, man in motion, fumble, illegal formation, offense and defense. He drilled me on positions like quarterback, pass defender, tight-end, wide receiver, special team, fullback, halfback, defensive back, corner back and hurry back! Chinee taught me every possible pass play and running play in that little book he carried everywhere, along with defensive and offensive moves. I learned every player and position on the field. There was just one thing that I did not learn while we served as the Prince and Princess of our tiny Kingdom of Pines and that was…