MY BROTHER WAS MY KEEPER PART V

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.

MY BROTHER WAS MY KEEPER PART IV

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.

MY BROTHER WAS MY KEEPER, Part III

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.🎶

MY BROTHER WAS MY KEEPER…PART II

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…
HOW TO PLAY FOOTBALL!

My Brother WAS My Keeper…Part 1

Fernell, Chinee & Me

Honored by his love, humbled by his vastness, anguished at his departure, grateful for the memories. I dedicate this to Mr. J.B. Allen, (Chinee to those who loved him most) My BROTHER.

There was never a day that I first “met” him. Quite simply, he was just always there and I expected him always to be so. He was a part of my life before I knew life. He was a part of me, before I was me. He impacted my life. He was my surrogate father, my counselor, my confidante, my best friend, He was my brother.

One of my earliest most significant memories of my brother takes place on my school’s playground when I was 6 years old. My best friend at the time was Fernell Hickman. I loved this little girl as much as I loved chocolate cake, which took some doing let me tell you! She inhaled, I exhaled. If she stubbed her toe, I cried. When I was hungry we both ate. She was a petite little thing, much smaller than the other first graders, with a slight but adorably, endearing speech impediment. Fernell was my bosom buddy, my lifelong pal, Mon petit amie and whether she knew it or not, she belonged wholly to me.

This particular memory took place during an early morning recess on a late spring day. Fernell and I were doing our usual arm in arm, skipping about the playground dance when I declared, without preamble, “I love chocolate milk”, to which Fernell replied, “I yuv chocomilk too”! Immediately my affectionate sentiments drifted to colors. “I love yellow”, (and still do), and Fernell sweetly responded, “I yuv yelyo too”! It was at that exact moment when my vision captured a particular movement at about fifty yards or better to my right, toward the high school end of the school,…(Wiergate School was a one stop for all school, encompassing grades 1 through 12 with indistinguishable lines separating the 1st and 2nd grade classrooms from the 3rd through 7th and these from the 8th through 12th classrooms. It was a highly functioning class system; yes, pun intended), …and I saw the handsome, adorable, smiling face of my brother walking across campus toward the science building, (believe it or not, my little country town in the Piney Woods of East Texas was so progressive as to have acquired a categorically competitive Science department, complete with a well stocked chemistry laboratory!) In the same sing song manner in which I had voiced my 2 previous affections, I began, “There goes my brother and I love him more than anything” and just has she had mimicked the two previous statements, no doubt having gained my silent permission to do so, Fernell began to repeat, (began is objective here and you’ll see why shortly). “There goes my brudda, and I”…

…What followed was a knock down drag out fight which was as one sided and out of the blue as an Arizona snowstorm in August! My dear darling friend had crossed a line of which even I didn’t know existed. I do not know how much time had passed or how long Fernell lay cowering on the ground terrified in the face of my absolute anger as I stood there stoically resolute in my belief that I had fought off the true enemy of the “Big brother/little sister relationship”! That was however, until I felt myself being lifted ever so swiftly by my right arm, (had it not been for this macabre intervention, would I have dealt the death blow with my angry little fist?). Not only were my feet being lifted off the ground, I began to feel a fierce unfamiliar stinging on the calves of my legs, what in God‟s creation could this possibly be, A SWITCH??????!!!!!!! Talk about an underhanded sneak attack!

Looking over and back to where my right shoulder should have been, was a face that was malevolently intent on teaching a lesson more complex than my 6 years of experience could ever begin to comprehend. Mrs. Adams, that loathsome harbinger of impending suffering to all who dared to enter the primer grades, had placed a death grip on my wrist with her left hand and was none too politely flogging the hell out of me with her right. You must understand that my keen mind and sharp wit had yet to develop by this age and being so lacking, I was refused even a glimmer of suspicion as to why this woman was attacking me, nor was I left with any clues as to how to bring about a cessation of this action without hesitation; (was Fernell feeling the same thoughts just moments earlier?). With a simple thought of self preservation, I did what would come naturally to any self-respecting 6 year old; I screamed and screamed loudly, repeatedly! This befuddled the old crone long enough to cause her to loosen her grip and momentarily halt my flagellation with that formidable switch, (where the heck did she find that thing anyway? She usually carried a gigantic pencil of which was often applied forcefully against the head of a wayward first grader).
In this case, a belt would have been infinitely more preferable, had I been given that benevolent choice.


My dear Reader, never in your wildest imaginings, in the whole of your whimsical thoughts or in midst of your most embellished dreams could you have spoken what was to have happened next! I daresay, at that precise moment my only thought was…it’s about damn time!

Fernell stood up on those tiny little legs and ran as if her dress was on fire; calling out to MY BROTHER, yelling for him to help ME! (Do you want to take a guess as to who was more incredulous than me? Yep, you’re right, Mrs. Brown). It was as if Gabriel and his host had descended upon that playground when my BROTHER arrived with half the football team following him and bringing up the rear, on tired but determined little legs, was Fernell! At this point I began to feel a bit sorry for old lady Brown, (“began”, here again, is also objective), but she needed to be taught a lesson in elementary protocol. Not bothering to say a word, my brother simply yet purposely plucked me from Mrs. Brown’s hand, sat down on the hard packed sun baked red clay of that little Texas playground and cradled me. Nothing more profound than that but it was the world being laid at my feet. He was my Polydeuces and I, his Helen. Mrs. Brown, that bastion of 1st grader nightmares, shrank in the presence of my brother’s unshakable rage for her and his unwavering love for me.

Then there stood Fernell, gently rubbing the angry welts on my legs saying, “She wasn’t hurting me, Miz. Brown, hur was just paying with me”!
…………………”

WOW!


It was all too soon summer vacation and it would be almost five decades before I would meet Fernell again, her family had moved away. I missed her and I forgave her for taking so long to get help but not for claiming my brother as her own! (Yes, it would seem I was once an awfully self- righteous little waif).

But these musings are not about me or Fernell, as odd as that may seem. They are however, about one of the first loves of my life. Ladies and Gentlemen, please allow me to present to you with venerated pleasure and unabashed pride the subject of many of my ruminations, the occupier of many of my memories, the embellisher of my life. Please enjoy meeting…My BROTHER, Chinee, aka J.B Allen.

He said, “Call Me Mister!” Final

Mother and Papa had ceased from questioning me about the incident at the park’s laundromat and the consequences of it.  Their questions had stopped but not their suspicions.  I’d overheard my grandfather, whispering to mother one evening that unless she wanted him to handle the problem, his way, she’d better and soon.  My Papa’s manner of handling things was with a bandolier of birdshot shells and a 12-gauge shotgun.  He was sincerely invested in the “live at let live” philosophy of life as long as the sentiment was honored by all concerned; if it wasn’t, the offending party would likely spend the better part of several days getting profoundly familiar with a pair of tweezers and a bottle of Mercurochrome, that is to say, if they were lucky.  

Mother told her dad, my Papa, that she would talk to “him”. Hearing her assurance given to Papa, did nothing to reassure me that the laundromat subject had actually been dropped. I had thought, innocently, that as long as I said nothing about that woman and if she said nothing, certainly Mother would never have to learn of our shared sick secret.    I had never knowingly been exposed to deliberate adult deception and this time I couldn’t climb onto Papa’s knee or go for long walks with him across the farm, asking him daunting life questions without telling him why I was asking.  The idea of lying to Papa was not something I couldn’t imagine. “Papa” was a synonym for “Truth” and those two words could not be separated in my mind.  So, although my voice had returned, what had not was the sense of security which had once covered me.   While I felt some measure of security on the farm, it would be decades before I would be able to let my guard down completely around any female. On more than one occasion that cautiousness proved a valuable asset.  

It was seldom if ever, that I would now ask Mother to allow me to accompany her on one of her rare trips into town.  I felt safer staying near Papa and his ever-ready, ever-loaded, double barreled shotgun than I felt with Mother and her small, at the bottom of her purse, five-shot .22 pistol.  The Monster of my nightmares whose movements, clunking around barefoot and rattling chains, was not limited to the under-bed area of innocent children’s bedrooms.  It was not a monster who disappeared when the sun rose and shone light into unlit corners.  A Monster whose life consisted of visiting laundromats and strangling little girls.  No, Mother’s little .22 wouldn’t work on that type of monster!  I’d been witness to the type of damage that the little pistol could do. It would make a tiny hole upon entry and unless it hit a vital organ or nicked an artery, the recipient of such a hit could still exact a measure of injury of its own before succumbing.  No, much better to stay with Papa whose shotgun when both barrels were deployed, could lift a 10-point buck off its feet while buckshot spread throughout its body, simultaneously hitting multiple organs at once.  Not so wonderful for a deer but that type of firepower was exactly what was needed to put down a Monster who wore sensible, black, lace up women oxfords, printed, cotton house-dresses and who smelled faintly of Oxidol detergent, Clorox and sweat.   

My resolve never to leave the farm except for school and church was broken one Saturday morning not long after I overheard, eavesdropped on Mother and Papa’s conversation.   Seeing one of my five school dresses laid neatly across my bed did not inspire hope for a long, lazy day following Papa around the farm, one of my fondest pastimes.  No Mighty Mouse, no Top Cat, no Jetsons or Flintstones cartoons….  I recall standing there and glancing sideways at that multicolored polka dot dress as if it might sit up on its own accord and speak to me.  Although one of my favorite dresses to wear, I preferred to wear it  only during school days!  Saturdays were not meant for colorful polka dot dresses, ruffled nylon socks or black patent leather Mary Janes! 

Before I could mount an efficient protest, [the dressed had been slipped almost magically over my already freshly braided slicked back hair], we were walking outside and climbing into the waiting open door of a car being driven by Mother’s friend.  Sitting alone in that big back seat, I finally had a really good reason to stay home. A reason not even the prospect of a treat was enough to squelch.   The grumbling of my too sensitive stomach and the blinding headache beginning to form behind my eyes would have been my reason, had they happened just 10 minutes sooner.  My almost constant headaches had become all too familiar after the Laundromat. My incredible short life had been divided into two areas of time; “before” the Laundromat and “after” the Laundromat.   I’d learned early on to not complain about the headaches because to do so brought on the dreaded questions.  It was lost on no one that the headaches appeared on the same day my voice disappeared. 

The car had made several stops after we reached town. There were quick stops at Syler’s Rexall Drug store, Harrell Meats and Bean Grocery Store before the car entered a street off the main boulevard and near enough to Nick’s Café that I could smell grilled hamburgers, onions and coffee punctuating the late morning air.  I remember stifling a laugh as we passed by R&R Electric company whose mascot had been drawn by turning the plug end of an electrical cord into a Cartoon Character.  Not yet encountering any monsters in the daylight had eased both the discomfort in my stomach and the throbbing in my head. The three of us were now just sitting in the car without conversation.  No explanation was offered to me as to why we were now just sitting there.  I tried to make sense as to why I was sitting here in this backseat instead of my sister who would have been infinitely more helpful to Mother if she would by chance need someone to help her to do whatever she’d mistakenly brought me along to do.  Why were we just sitting?  I didn’t dare ask and subject myself to “The Look”.  My frustrations would not allow me to sit still, no matter how many times Mother told me to stop fidgeting.  

Just as I was about to risk life and limb by speaking of my frustrations to Mother, I noticed her motioning to her friend to look across the street.  I followed their glances and saw a familiar dark green pickup truck parking at the end of the street and unfolding out of it was my Dad.  Why was he here?  Was he the reason we had been sitting here waiting?  The headache which had ridden with me the first half of the trip had suddenly returned.  

Flashbacks to a day I wanted to forget was returning side by side with the headache.  My mind was super-imposing Dad’s face over that woman’s!   Although he had not been in the laundromat that day both he and she were undeniably linked, for better or worse.  Mother exited the front of the car, told her friend she wouldn’t be long while opening the back door and beckoning me to slide out.   I didn’t want to.  Mother took my hand in hers and began to close the distance between us and Dad. He did nothing to help shorten the distance and simply continued to lean against his truck.  Mother half pulled, half dragged me from behind her and I had to run on tiptoes to keep up with her.  As the renewed pounding in my head increased, the realization that I had also never told Mother of my last encounter with Dad, who before that fateful Sunday afternoon, I had lovingly called Daddy, made me nauseous.  That day I’d last heard his laughter when he’d punctured by heart from behind me. The thought of just how many secrets I was hiding from Mother became almost too much for me to contain and I groaned aloud. Mother slowed only momentarily to make certain that my overly sensitive stomach was not releasing its contents on my dress or on the town’s pristine street.   Once satisfied, the march toward the end of the street continued.  I wanted to go home; I wanted my Papa.  Maybe Mother knew that I hadn’t been telling her the truth!  Maybe she no longer wanted me!  Maybe, maybe she was going to send me to live with my Dad and the monster who lived with him!  Maybe it wasn’t too late to tell her about everything.  Maybe, if she knew she wouldn’t send me away to live with them! My mind was so busy sorting out my options that I hadn’t noticed that Dad leaving his truck and was making movement toward us.  With no longer any need to close the distance, Mother’s abrupt stop caused me to bump into her.  

From seemingly nowhere, Mother’s friend appeared, handed mother the purse that always held her .22; took me by the hand and crossed the street with me.  Although I was happy not to have to look into Dad’s face, I nevertheless didn’t understand why I couldn’t have simply stayed in the car in the first place!   Even though we were across the narrow street and several shop doors away from Mother and Dad, I heard their voices rise.  I saw Dad towering over Mother and she stood defiantly in the midst of his anger with her hand resting inside her opened purse.  Dad’s voice suddenly quieted as Mother yelled, “TELL HER!”  Tell who what, I wondered.  “YOU TELL HER!!!” Mother said again.  Dad looking down but not at her, looked defeated.   “But before you tell her, Let me tell you this: if I ever find proof that either of you have touched her or hurt her in anyway, neither Humphreys, his deputies, or the threat of a jail will keep me from sending you to hell!  

My heart dropped…I knew who the Who was…Me!  And I knew, now that she was sending me away with a warning to them!  I’m positive neither of those three adults there that afternoon were aware that I was aware of them.   The recent past however, had taught me to be vigilant regarding my surrounding.  Sadly, I was learning to pay closer attention to how adults spoke and what their faces said when they spoke and less to what they actually said.  Reading adults, I later learned, is something at which some physically abused children become quite proficient.  I was one of those “some”.   

Mother’s words held dual meanings as she purposefully modulated those two singular syllabic and threatening words, “Tell Her.” The first “Tell Her” is what quieted and stilled Dad’s voice.  The seconds “Tell Her” made Dad glance in my direction.  I held Mother’s friend’s hand tighter…was Dad coming to tell me that he was taking me with him?  Would I have a choice?  I wanted so badly to go to my dark place; the place where I had learned to go when things became to difficult for me to ponder my way through.  The place I would go when the Fear would come.  Mother’s friend obviously felt my hand going slack inside of hers.  In that moment, I no longer needed the comfort her hand had supplied.  I felt myself drifting toward the place where everything went away.  All monsters, all fear, all cynical laughter, everything simply receded, and quietness would take over.  Darkness and quietness held hands which meant I no longer needed to.  I was free to “Be”.  

As I grew older and lost the ability to go to my dark place, I searched for a place just to “Be”.  I was never quite as successful at finding a To Be place as I had been at finding my dark place.  Wanting “to be” became a familiar refrain for me and those close to me recognized my need “to be”.  To be left alone, To be quiet, To be irresponsible, To be happy, To be unaccountable, To be unencumbered of memories that held no smiles.  

I’m not altogether certain when I lost the ability to go to my dark place but somewhere along the way I realized that going there left me vulnerable and unable to control my surroundings.  

As my hand slacked in her hand, Mother’s friend called my name and said, “You know they love you, don’t you?”  “Huh, who?”   I didn’t know if this question was her first to me or the last in a series.  I looked up at her in confusion. “Who loves me?” I asked. “Your mama and daddy” she answered. With that, suddenly an entirely heretofore unconsidered idea came to me and I allowed myself to consider it! “Maybe Mother and Dad were going to get back together, and we were going to be a FAMILY!”  With that thought, a bubble of joy and anticipation flooded over me and for the first time that day, I  allowed myself to smile.  

Now anxious for Mother and Dad to close the distance that separated us on that quiet back street and have them “Tell Me” their good news.  It was as if they had heard my wish because they began to walk toward us.  I wanted to run and meet them, but I was prevented from doing so as my mother’s friends’ hand encircled mine again.  I looked at her almost annoyed until I saw a look of concern on her face.  I followed the direction she was looking and instead of seeing smiling and happy faces accompanying their slowed steps, there were scowls and cold determination. No warmth emanated from either of their faces! Dad’s face reminded me of when he had instructed me to never expect something for nothing.  And yet I had done just that!  Just moments before, having done absolutely nothing to deserve it, I expected Mother and Dad’s reunion.  What could I have done to prevent this or what did I do to cause all of this?  Everything seemed to be about me but I didn’t know why.  Mother’s face looked as it did when she’d informed me that I needed to learn who I could trust.  My dark place was a much better place “to be” than standing here in the bright of day, where all of my monsters lived.  Bad things didn’t come to me at night, always they came in the sunshine and they were always dressed as adults!

Now within only a few strides, neither of them reached for me; Mother called to me and I looked at her with pleading eyes to not say or do some hurtful thing.  I didn’t want to look at Dad, honestly afraid of what I would see, afraid of maybe hearing his mocking laughter again. 

Mother came to me and her friend pried her hand from my fingers.  Mother’s hand replaced hers.  Whatever was about to happen wasn’t going to be good and wasn’t going to be good for a very long time.  

There was no leaning down to my level, no kiss planted on top of my head, no soothing stroking on my arm. Just being called by my familial name and being told “your father has something to tell you, but before he does, I’m going to tell you that I can’t prove it because you won’t say anything, but I know someone did something to hurt you that day in the washeteria.” She didn’t stop there, “I don’t have proof, but I believe I know who did it.” 

Looking up at Dad’s face I saw his temple area throbbing and his jaw was clenched tight.  I had seen him angry before but never like this.  Mother was not finished, “I’m not going to ask you to tell me, but I am going to ask if you want to tell him?”  I shook my head from side to side so violently that several of the barrettes holding my short braids in place flew into the street.  “O.K. then”, Mother said, “but I’ve told him what I believe happened and now he has something to tell you”.  I expected Dad to fold his six-foot three-inch frame down to by four-foot height, take me in his arms and tell me he was sorry for what his personal monster had done to me. I expected, hoped, even without telling him what had happened, that he would promise to never let anything, or anyone hurt me again.   I wanted him to tell me that he was going to go to his home, take the monster who lived in his house to Sheriff Humphreys and let him put her where she belonged.  I so wanted Dad to be my Daddy again.  But he didn’t come down to my level, he didn’t tell me he loved me or that he was sorry. He didn’t pick me up so that I could lie my head on his broad shoulders.  He didn’t calm my fears; he didn’t offer to kill the monster as she had tried to kill me. He didn’t offer to let the Sheriff take her away so that all other little girls would be safe.  No, he did none of those things.  Instead, he asked if I understand who he was.  Puzzled, thinking there was really something wrong with that question. Of course I knew who he was, but I knew better than to say it aloud, so being both wary and oddly relieved, I nodded.  He told me to speak up! “Yes Sir”, I said, offering him the “respectable, well raised, Southern child affirmative”. “Then who am I?’ He demanded.  This was beginning to travel far beyond by mastery of comprehension.  I stole a glance at Mother and she almost imperceptively nodded her approval to answer.  Shyly, “Daddy” I answered.  

Seemingly from miles above me, I saw his chest rise as he inhaled deeply.  YOU WILL NEVER CALL ME THAT AGAIN! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?  Crumbling and unable to save myself the embarrassment of crying on a public street, tears flowed.  I nodded again completely unable to comprehend why either of my parents would have me endure this new pain.  Barely noticeable lines around Mother’s lips deepened. Her bottom lip disappeared between her teeth causing her to look as though she wanted to cry as well. I wanted to be as strong as she was and not let this man standing above me see my tears.  I only wanted him to see how much I needed him to love me.  Where was the man who had sat with me on his lap every Friday night, who shared his dinner with me, who had fed me from the same spoon as we both indulged in our favorite dessert, banana pudding?  Where was the Daddy who would gently rock me to sleep as mother washed and put away her pretty deep garnet dishes; the ones she only used to served Daddy.  He didn’t deserve my tears and I didn’t deserve the cause of my tears.  But what had I done; how could I fix it?  

 I didn’t know this man. This man who had chosen to ridicule me months earlier with derisive laughter.  This man who had just seconds ago told me that I could no longer call him “Daddy”. I heard Mother almost scream to him, “for God’s sake, just TELL HER!  He called my name and I looked up, causing my tears to now run down my cheeks instead of simply dripping to the ground.  “Sir?”, I choked out.  “No matter where you are, if you ever see me anywhere, at Church, in stores, anywhere there are other people, do not ever call me Dad or Daddy.  “From now on”, he said, “Call me Mister”.  

Hearing that was every bit as strangling and breath-taking as that stocking had been as it was twisted around my neck; except this time, it was my heart that was being strangled.   

Perplexingly, I never held Mister responsible for the instructions he gave me that day.  With insight that belied my years, I realized it was she, who demanded he break contact with me. Thirteen or so years later, I would receive validation of that thought.   However, I do hold him responsible for the manner in which he’d broken contact.  It would have been far kinder to have simply ignored me; to have openly denied my existence. But to have offered me love, shown me love then to not only take that love from me but demand that I forget it ever existed, was cruel.   I have to admit, he taught me a couple of lessons that day I’ve never forgotten.  Trusting anyone completely is a mistake.  Believing that love will never hurt is an invitation for constant heartache.  Hard lessons for one so young but my Papa taught me early that a “bought lesson is a learned lesson” and I paid dearly for those lessons, never again expecting anything for nothing, indeed, I paid.  

Less than 6 years later my Mother at only 44 years of age, would be dead from congestive heart failure, complicated by pneumonia. One of her last loving acts toward me was to send for Mister just days before her death, to tell him that no longer could he shirk his responsibilities.  She told him that she was dying, that she’d gone as far as she could in preparing me for life, he would now have to pick up where she was leaving off.  

Immediately following Mother’s funeral, Mister stood on my Papa’s back porch and informed me that he would try and find me someplace to go.  No longer interested in what he thought of me and wasting no personal insight as to what I thought of him, I quite colorfully, told him what he could do with his offer. The raised hand with which he threatened to punish my impudence was met with a glaring dare from me.  Only he could have described accurately what he had seen in my eyes.  Whether it had been blatant hatred or a promise of redress, it caused him to lower his hand. 

For the remaining weeks of that school year and into the first few weeks of the new Fall session Mister did attempt to perform some Father-like duties, which somewhat to his credit, he performed publicly. He signed forms which prevented me from participating in two of my favorite school endeavors, track and girls’ basketball. To be denied those passions by someone of whom I was to claim no relation was bitter.   He instead paid for the more lady-like pursuit of piano lessons, which kept me hidden behind walls instead of being on display on a track field or basketball court.  

Several more horrendously evil attacks, both physical and emotional, perpetrated against me by two other adult relations precipitated me having to leave my beloved East Texas farm and being placed aboard a train traveling west to California, alone and unsure at 13.  

Beyond that day on Papa’s back porch, I never had physical contact with Mister again. However, after reaching adulthood, marrying and obtaining some insightful knowledge as to the sanctity of committed relationships; I reached out to Mister via telephone one morning very early in June, with the idea of a reconciliation but not expecting one I, nevertheless, called him.  
We talked and cried for the better portion of three hours.  He apologized profusely between his own sobs and promised never to put anyone before me again, hoping it wasn’t a gesture made too late. I heard the voice of a man broken.  A man who admitted to me that he had lived every day since I’d left, in agonizing awareness of the grief he had wroth in my young life.  He told me that he had kept up with the goings-on of my life through my Mother’s brother.  He knew before I told him that I was married and asked if I would send a picture of me and my groom.  He’d heard that I had grown to favor my mother in appearance and to that he offered congratulations.  I accepted. because I thought my Mother to be beautiful and so obviously, did he.

Although I had placed the call to him, I could not offer him absolution.  Instead I proffered the prospect of a relationship built upon a friendship; expecting nothing more from each other.  As an impetus to the formation of that friendship, I offered, and he accepted my gift of an early Father’s Day gift in the form of plane ticket to California. He asked me to allow him a couple of weeks in which to arrange personal matters.  I promised to make the preliminary arrangements and call him again within a week or two.  

I never made that call, yet I didn’t break my promise. I instead received a call that made mine to him quite unnecessary.  My Uncle, my Mother’s brother, called with news which proved to me that even as an adult, horrible, hideous things still lurked in the bright light of day.  “Hey Aunt Sally” he said.  My hand holding the phone began to tremble.  No one had called me by that name since before my Mother’s death.   Still the passing years had not eased the grip of dread hearing it held for me.  I interrupted his attempt at good natured humor as he tried and failed to ease into whatever it was he had called to tell me.  “Unc, just tell me”, I pleaded.   With a resignation of an audible exhale, my Uncle informed me on that early morning of June 14thof my Father’s death some 18 hours earlier by suicide.  Long unused, long un-needed, my childhood dark place came rushing forth to rescue me.  

Except for hearing the unconfirmed yet unforgettable words detailing the manner of his death, (a shotgun trigger having been tied to his toes with the barrel placed underneath his chin), nothing else registered.  Somehow, I’d managed to slog through the remaining hours of that wasted day.  I have only one other memory of that day and it was of me standing in my living room, having no recollection of retrieving that day’s mail yet there was an envelope in my hands; a return to sender label was attached.  The same envelope had earlier been addressed in my handwriting and sent to my father; it contained the picture I had sent to him almost two weeks before.  He had never retrieved it from the General Delivery Post Office box.  

Days passed without anything to mark their passing. Not too many of them had passed before my husband and I enroute to the funeral, were shortening the miles separating California from Texas.  Upon arrival, I was met by several messengers of the thing that still occupied Mister’s house.  Their intent was not to extend condolences but to inform me that I was not welcomed to attend my father’s funeral.  Further, that if attempted, I would be barred from entering the church of which both my Maternal and Paternal grandmothers had help to establish.  I, none to graciously, sent each one of her six hounds back with a message of my own.  Tell her, that I am no longer a frightened six-year-old in a darkened laundromat and unless she wants her sickening past revealed at my father’s funeral, send me no further messages.  

By the time I arrived at the Church the next morning, almost every pew had been filled.  There was one pew left with enough room for two of our party of three.  I allowed my husband and the other person to occupy those two seats.  My intentions were to take a folded chair and sit unnoticed in the back of the church. As almost always, my intentions did not pan out.  My entrance into that small, overcrowded, country church created a ripple of murmuring. “Is that her, are you sure, who is she, where has she been?” were just a few of the questions which reached my ears.  My whole being screamed at me to be good, to not make waves but I ignored every internal warning!  Traveling eighteen-hundred miles in twenty-one hours and being told I was unwelcomed did not lend itself toward coercing me to be a good girl.  Instead of meekly unfolding the chair and sitting quietly in back, I loudly dragged the still unfolded chair along the wooden floorboards down the center aisle and unfolded it directly in front of my father’s opened casket.  Still standing I turned, met her older, still hideous, hate-filled eyes and silently offered a challenge. I purposely moved my hand to my neck, and she flinched. My hatred of her trumped hers of me this time and she broke eye contact, I’d won! And so, I sat. Whispers and rustling had created a low din and an unspoken expectancy rose within those walls, but I shut it all out; my attention now drawn to my Father’s remains and as I stared, searching his head and neck for signs of the trauma it obviously suffered.  The stench of Chrysanthemum surrounding his bier almost overpowered me.  I was grateful when the service finally ended, and I could escape their scent.  

As I exited the church and waited for the coffin to follow, a woman well into her senior years, who I recognized though she not me, tapped me boldly on the shoulder.  her Southern drawled dripped overly sweet from her lips, “Baby, you look familiar, but I just can’t place you.  “Yes Ma’am”, I said falling back upon my Southern roots.  “I saw you move your chair right up front; you knew him did you ? “she continued.  “Yes Ma’am”, was all I allowed her.  I suppose not used to having her well-known curiosity being deftly thwarted she took the more direct route.  “Who was he to you, Child?” 

Well, Mrs. (I called her name) and she was taken aback by my recognition of her without having had the benefit of an introduction. She had been one of the Party-line Pariahs so many years before. I smiled openly at her confusion, walked a couple of steps away and called back over my shoulder, not so much to her but to anyone close enough to hear; “He was my Father but, He said, to Call him Mister”.   

…………………………

As an adult, I’ve indulged in innumerable soul-searching hours attempting to make sense of all the horrendous physical and emotional damage adults exacted upon me and I’ve grudgingly accepted that there is no sense of it to be made. Between the ages of 6 to 13 my mind found ways to protect itself by going to what I’ve called “my dark place”.  The place I had learned to flee while lying on a wet laundromat floor.  As I find myself in the senior years of life, I’m told it is normal to have moments of forgetfulness and being told that, it cause me to wonder how much of my life was forgotten or never registered when I was forced to take shelter in the deep recluse of “my dark place”.  Even so, I’m grateful for the respite it offered.  My need to escape to that place has long since ceased and regurgitating those cruelties has allowed me to nail shut its entrance.  But there still remains stories to be told, a purging to take place.

Of those future stories, my tormentors’ friends and relations might perhaps recognize their “loved ones” on the pages where intend to write the recounting, and to them I offer consideration only by continuing to refrain from disclosing names.  I never asked for retribution of any type from those people when they still walked among us, but I demand payment now, the payment that Truth afford. Yet, I do take some measure of comfort from a somewhat narrow view Matthew 18:6. However, ambivalence and an innate desire toward forgiveness presses upon me as I wish for them peace in rest.  

To my sons and my husband, thank you for your support, encouragement and for allowing me throughout the years To Be.  To my friends, relations and even those I’m yet to meet, I’m mindful that you’ve offered me here the gift of your time, thank you.  To my Grandchildren, I hope these glimpses into my life will encourage you to indulge this old woman during times I repeat stories you’ve already heard. I do it because I want you to remember. With a heart bent toward heaven, to my Mother… I only wish you had lived long enough for me to tell you that I loved you and treasured the lessons you taught me; they sustain me still.  To those of you who devised methods of pain against me and did not see yourself in this series, there are still chickens yet to crow. To my dearest Friend, my Sister, my Confident and my warm place to fall when life sometimes pushes me down: J.W., I LOVE YOU GIRL!!!!!!!

Papa, The Chickens are Crowing.  

He Said, “Call Me Mister!” Part 3

The woman of whom Mother issued a warning was the second woman to whom Dad broke promises.  I suppose in some miserly, empathetic way, I can allow myself to envision and understand the weightiness of her position;  however, the weight of her perhaps legitimate complaint did not belong on my tiny shoulders.  

Admittedly, I have no personal knowledge of the discussions which might have taken place within the home my Father shared with this woman and if I knew, I could not divulge it here because again, it would not be my story to tell and having never been invited into his home, I’d laid witness to nothing which might have occurred there. But conversations about me assuredly happened there. The fact that they are both long deceased does not hinder or soften the affect their lives and the decisions they made had upon mine and it is that, the affect, of which I apply unchallenged relevance.  I understand that some, who have known of me and the others of whom my story involves, could possibly have reasons to contemplate my truthfulness in this matter however, as I’ve said from the beginning, my truth is my truth, and no one’s opinion, challenging my truth matters. No one suffered or carried these scars except me.  I make no apologies.

The woman hated my existence.  I suppose because I was a constant, living reminder of my father’s infidelity. Solemnly, I am being neither petty nor bitter as I assert that I cannot in truth call this woman my father’s wife because numerous, exhaustive searches failed to reveal any documentation ascertaining her right to legally being called his wife; yet whether she was or was not does not alter the fact that she was the woman who shared his home and the woman to whom he surely must have at least theoretically, pledged to be faithful in word if not in deed.  Either way, it does not alter the absolute truth of the matter.  

As I contemplate the sharing of this next chapter of my life, I imagine people I know who are still living or perhaps those both long and recently departed, would likely have advised me, “to let sleeping dogs lie”, meaning to leave things as they are, to avoid restarting or rekindling an old grudge, or to leave disagreements in the past; but I don’t intend to do any of these things because those dogs are lying on my bed! Beyond that, as I long as I live, as long as my children live and as long as their children and the ones following them live, I will fight and teach them to fight for their places in this world.  This painful rendering of my life in this forum, will prayerfully encourage them to never remain silent when their right to exist is challenged.  The quiet path I was made to travel, now yells loudly that silence is not always golden.

Mother never again mentioned the warning she’d given me months before and I hadn’t forgotten, not yet.  This was the very early ‘60s and a time of change, a shifting of old notions.  A new decade bringing new promises and it seemed everyone was excited about the possibilities of changes in the political arena and new hope ran rampant.  Everyone I knew seemed to have let go of the past and strained to reach toward a new future just beyond their reach but near enough to keep grasping for it. Everyone, as it were, except one.

It was the summer of my sixth year when I was to soon be heading to first grade that my second eldest sister and her husband came visiting from their home in another state. During their visit, my brother-in-law treated me as though I was his own special princess, placed in his life to be constantly fawned over by him alone. The fact that I was a child favored with neither loveliness or even a pixie cuteness and having been deprived of my father’s attention, helped me to glow under his welcomed attentiveness. Each time he left the farm and returned during this visit, he would present to me with great flair, a package of my beloved M&M’s! Any cavities I developed later in life could undoubtedly be traced back to this fleeting, “almost” idyllic summer. Oh, how I loved this man; he was everything I imagined a man should be; if there was a hero in my life other than my grandfather, my brother-in-law filled the bill that summer. He was tall, terrifically good-looking, strikingly strong and he had a smile that would melt solid chocolate into a smooth silky stream in seconds. Kindness exuded from him yet there seemed to be just under the surface, a tautness, a readiness to spring into action to defend anyone he loved, if they were being threatened. I felt safe and protected with him, he was my first crush. He knew the special place he held in my life and he tolerated my quiet, constant adoration in such a deliberately sweet way that for years as I approached early adulthood, every male in my life was measured by my brother-in-law.

It was during this visit on one especially brilliantly beautiful East Texas morning and just a few days before my sister and brother-in-law were scheduled to return to their West Coast home, he’d thought to surprise my younger sister and me with a day at a park near our home. It was a popular place which offered not only a green area for children to play but also a fairly lengthy dock reaching out into a large, lovely, blue lake (though it was called a pond) where fishermen spent long hours angling, visiting, sharing cold beers hidden openly in coolers which traveled in the trunks of cars or in the passenger section of their pickup trucks. Unbelievable thoughtfulness was even afforded to the women of the area by offering them a Washateria, aka Laundromat on the property so that they might keep busy with laundry duties as the men enjoyed their leisure. This laundromat was located out of view and beyond ear-shot of the dock. It was also several steps below ground, I suppose to somehow help cool the large non air-conditioned room.

Before arriving at the park, my brother-in-law stopped for snacks: sodas, chips, candy and a brand-new red rubber ball for me! It was a rare treat to receive a new toy at any time other than Christmas. I was enthralled. It was turning into a very special and memorable day indeed…But that day would later be recalled not so much from the joy it brought but for what marred that joyful, brilliantly beautiful East Texas summer morning.

As my brother-in-law and sister pulled fishing poles from the car’s trunk, I was given strict but gentle instructions to stay away from the water’s edge.  I was to stay within their eyesight as I played with my ball.  Fair enough, agreed to and off we went.   

I played on the paved area of the parking lot, bouncing and tossing my ball into the air, being thrilled when I caught it and chasing after it when I missed.  One of my misses sent me chasing my new ball across the parking lot.  It bounced & rolled faster than I could catch up to it and I watched as it rolled down the steps into the laundromat, out of sight and earshot of my family.  

I looked around quickly and just as quickly decided to chase my ball down those steps; with eyes down, I searched and spotted it still rolling across the slick linoleum floor and just as I caught up to it and reached down to pick it up, a foot covered it, I mistakenly thought to prevent it from rolling further. I was grateful for the help because I wanted to escape this dimly lit room and return back to the parking lot before I was missed.

I tugged at the ball, but the foot would not relent.  I couldn’t comprehend why the foot would not remove itself from my ball.  Desiring an answer as to why the foot stayed instead of allowing me to retrieve my ball, I looked up and met a face that sent cold, consummate fear throughout my small body and gripped my heart with a pounding force of which adults should not suffer, far beyond what a not quite six year old child should suffer.  The new ball now forgotten, as the face of my mother’s warning loomed above me.  Time slowed.  Actually, time seemed to go backwards as colorful snapshots of me sitting on my mother’s lap at our kitchen table flickered across my mind’s eye.  Remembering her soft hands lifting my chin was far removed from what was happening now.  No longer able to see the face of my nightmares because she had forcefully lifted and turned me so that my back was pressed against her abdomen.  I squirmed trying to get away, seeing the door but unable to move toward it, but her desire to restrain me was every bit as urgent as mine was to get away.  My fear was no match for her hatred and I was losing this battle. I felt a painful, tightening sensation around my neck which made screaming impossible.  The pressure increased and it felt as if that pressure would cause my head to explode.  The dimly lit room was getting darker and I could hear mother’s voice calling my name.  Calling, calling, calling…but I couldn’t answer because the darkness had stolen both my voice and my sight.  My last conscious sensation was feeling the confusingly cold yet warm floor beneath me.  That confusing situation was then made caustically clear in my fading thoughts…the cool linoleum floor was being introduced to the warm contents of my bladder as the stocking she wrapped around my neck grew tighter and still mother’s voice called to me from somewhere much too far away.  

I had no idea how long I had lain there alone in a dim corner of that laundromat but just as I had heard mother’s voice calling to me as I was forced into unconsciousness, hearing my name being called again roused me from the dark place I had been cruelly sent both carnally and spiritually.  Even then the sound of my name being called had an edge of panic attached to it and frightened me almost as much as opening my eyes and perhaps seeing that dreaded, hateful face above me again.  When keeping my eyes closed begin to frighten me more than opening them, I forced my grit filled and swollen eyes opened and saw nothing above me except an overflowing sink spilling water onto the floor, soaking my urine stained dress.  I was grateful for what was surely a purposeful flooding because it masked the shame of my soiled dress. Twice now within only a few months, adults had caused me humiliation beyond imagination and this one almost cost me my life.  I wish I could say that the physical and emotional abuse I suffered from adults ended here but this was sadly, only the beginning.

The sound of my name being called was coming from my sister & brother-in-law.  They sounded closer than they had when my eyes were closed.  They were looking for me!  I attempted to stand but each time I tried the room would spin, defeated, I sat down on the water and urine-soaked floor and begin to tremble at the thought of mother discovering I had been disobedient by not heeding her warning.  All my fears converged and caused tears to join the water and urine, soaking me thoroughly.  I squeezed my eyes shut again wanting, this time, to surround myself in darkness; too afraid of seeing the bad things that showed themselves in the light.

As my sister entered the building I heard her say, “I looked in here already”, to which my brother-in-law responded, “there’s water running in here someplace, did you see water on the floor before?”  My sister answered, “no”.  As their footsteps drew nearer, my panic would not be contained, and shock engulfed me.  Afraid still to open my eyes, I felt myself being lifted again but this time by strong, caring arms.  Arms that were safe and comforting not clawing and choking.  Even so, my brother-in-law alternately uttered soothing and berating words.  Soothing while trying to stop my violent shaking and berating because of the fear I had caused him by not staying where he had told me to stay.  He must have finally noticed that the shaking of my body had nothing to do with the cold water I had been lying in and he hugged me closer, protectively to his taut, angry, not at me, strong chest.  

I cried without making a sound, my swollen eyes were no longer capable of producing tears. As I was carried outside, I dared a peek and saw that the bright blue sky that had been when I’d chased my ball into the laundromat was now changing into the orange, gold and purple hues of a Texas sunset.  I had been unconscious and hidden from view for hours.

Freed from the dungeon that was to have been my temporary tomb, my brother-in-law tried handing me the red ball he had purchased for me a lifetime ago.  Instead of grasping it, I shrank from it, no longer wanting it because now, in my mind, there would always be a disembodied foot attached to it.  He carried me to and place me in the huge back seat of his blue sedan.  He told me how he and my sister had searched for me, even looking around the fringe of the huge pond afraid I had fallen in.  He asked me where I had been and how had I come to be in that laundromat after they had previously searched it?  I had no memory of previously leaving the laundromat until he carried me out.  With the shaking somewhat but not completely abated, I attempted to answer his questions but try as I might, the words that formed in my thoughts could not be released by my throat.  My vocal cords had been damaged by the stocking that had been tightened around my throat.  Finally, a good omen…not being able to talk saved me from having to tell mother that I had forgotten what she had told me to remember!  

This all happened around the time I believe to be the week of July 4, 1960. Whether the assault happened before or after the holiday, I am no longer sure. It was however about six weeks or so before school would begin but now even two weeks after the assault, my voice had still not recovered, despite the abundance of cold ice and warm teas I had been forced to consume. I had no idea when the swelling of my vocal cords had subsided or that my voice had returned until the day my mother escorted me to school on my first day, which was many weeks after everyone else had started school. After she had deposited me into the care of my first-grade teacher and as she turned to walk away, a fear closely akin to what I had experienced more than 3 months before was unleashed as I screamed to mother and pleaded with her not to leave me alone. I’m not sure which of us was more startled at the months-long unheard sound of my hoarse, crackling voice but she turned back to me, leaned down, and with tears in her eyes, she kissed the top of my head and whispered, “be good and listen to your teacher, Aunt Sally.

The chickens are crowing Papa; decades later, with tears afresh, I’m screaming, “THE CHICKENS ARE CROWING PAPA!

…the final chapter in this series, soon to follow