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…