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

He said, ”Call Me Mister!” Part 2

Mother was not unaware of the swirls of gossip centered around her in our community.  At one point, it had become so ubiquitous that it forced her to refrain from attending our local church.  The church of which both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were instrumental in establishing. It was for this reason among others that led to a life changing conversation.

Looking back, I can correctly surmise the age of five had been a monumental juncture in my life. Perhaps that is the reason most of my memories from that period are so vivid.  With eyes closed, one of those memories rushes back demanding critical reflection.

I can clearly hear Mother’s voice calling me inside from early morning play. As I ran in, she motioned me toward and we sat at our kitchen table.  I can see that big, ancient, well-seasoned, beautiful round table sitting squarely in the middle of our kitchen. Throughout many decades, that table had held service for countless, humbled but delicious family meals. Many life times of tears, some shed from happiness but legions more from grief and longing stained its untreated surface; it had served as a desk and warm place to complete hundreds of hours of assigned homework for children and for doing piecework for my grandmother’s lovely quilts. But perhaps best it of all it had provided a tired and weary body a welcoming place to catch a breath and reflect. It was there at this achingly familiar fixture where Mother picked me up and sat me on her lap. I can remember catching a subtle whiff of her special scent which consisted partially of Long-Aid hair dressing, (the pink jar), Camay soap and Jergens lotion; those fragrances mingled with the unique smell of the fairly new oilcloth covering our table. Dinner, already simmering on the stove, also lent its mouth-watering aroma to the cacophony of odors coming together in unison almost as if to cover the stench of fear that would soon give rise in that kitchen.

Oh how I wish I could remember what was simmering in Mother’s pot that day, how it tasted, whether I had eaten that evening’s meal or if I had gone to bed without dinner as I sometimes did when some fear or fright caused my stomach to clench. I have no memory of those wished for things. Where in my memory did they go and why am I unable to grasp and hold unto them? Those lovely things I would much prefer to remember but they will not come to me however, the frightful ones come without bidding. Maybe the fear Mother’s words caused me erased those things I wish for but cannot recall. Her words, her warnings, meant only to protect me, had the affect of a door closing upon my childhood and a slow spiraling away from that which was familiar and so sadly fleeting. The ache of a childhood which was pulled away too soon had no ready salve or poultice to soothe that painful extraction.

On that morning as we sat there, I remember nuzzling my face against Mother’s neck and inhaling another comfortable fragrance. A fragrance of which I still associate only with her. Avon’s Topaz Cologne, a sweet, spicy scent which she had earlier delicately dapped in the hollow of her neck, invited me to lean in closer and just as I was about to totally give in to the comfort I felt leaning there against her breast, childishly enjoying this rare moment of bonding, she asked me what turned out to be a most worrisome question.  She asked if I knew a particular woman of whom she named.  At that tender age, my circle of family, friends and acquaintances admittedly wasn’t extensive but because of the size of our community its people were well known to each other.  Unsure whether I should say anything I instead kept my head down, nodded and waited for her to speak again. As I waited, I somehow sensed she was about to say something that was going to change my life and not in a good way.

Aunt Sally”was one of my mother’s love names for me, one which in my estimation, she only used when something bad was about to happen; “Just close your eyes Aunt Sally”, she would say while she too frequently extracted splinters from my errant fingers. “Open wider Aunt Sally”, while pulling a loose but stubborn tooth. When telling me that it bothered her more than it bothered me as she was forcing Castor oil down my throat at the beginning of both winter and spring; “Swallow it Aunt Sally, it’ll be easier if you swallow quickly”. At the clinic in town…“don’t cry, be a big girl Aunt Sally,” as I was getting drilled by a needle as long as an Épée and likely just as painful! Always, always something bad followed, “Aunt Sally”. This time was no exception.

“Aunt Sally, If you ever see this woman anywhere and I’m not with you, stay away from her”, she said. Her words didn’t sound as light as I believe she wanted them. I nodded again, this time frightened by the anxiety and desperation she tried to prevent but couldn’t keep from finding a home in her voice.  “Do you understand?”, she asked; her voice now hard-edged and tight with tension, yet even so, she allowed her soft right hand to gently cup my chin as she lifted my face upward, my eyes then meeting hers.  “I won’t always be with you baby, so you need to learn now those things and people to stay away from”.  

This conversation and warning took place during a time when children lived purposeful yet carefree lives, especially in farming communities. During a time when they had no worry of “Stranger Danger” as long as they stayed within the confines of their communities. Because within the confines of those communities, children where looked after, loved & protected by all the adults. It was that whole “it takes a village to raise a child” thing. Well, that highly regarded adage worked for everyone, except us. In a community of mostly similarly, economically situated families, an unspoken of caste system was nevertheless established and because of party-line judgments, we were at the bottom.

My whole, albeit immature & incomplete understanding of the adults around me had begun to shift.  Having only recently learned that adults lie, I was now being told I would have to somehow protect myself from one of those adults and that left me without the necessary vocabulary to express what I was feeling.  Whatever it was that I felt in that moment, elicited such a strong emotion that it was as though I had inwardly grown an additional appendage, useful only to create fear and it was effectively performing what it was created to do.

During those interminable moments, Mother sought to prepare me not only for a world where not all adults could be trusted but also a world of which she would not always occupy was frighteningly nightmarish. But I remembered her words and the warning she issued that morning…Until I didn’t.

…To be continued.

                


He said, ”Call Me Mister!” Part 1

Of all the stories I will write, this one, centered around my birth, will perhaps be the most difficult.

Difficult because to tell my story, I will likely and sadly, be putting my mother in a position to again be judged by people who do not know her story. Telling no more of her story than what is needed to tell mine, I will say that as a young mother of a newborn baby, she waded through a decade when judgment of her as an unmarried mother, created turmoil and captured the unwanted attention of some in our community; some who filled their free time sitting and gossiping over party-line telephones instead of standing and whispering over backyard fences; making pariahs of those they considered cheap and not worth their time, unless that time was spent engaging in acts which actually cheapened them in their sad attempt to feel superior by disparaging others. I will not honor them by naming them, but we knew them.

In life, my mother chose to walk with her head held high. She walked above the trash that was strewn at her feet. She admitted to her mistakes and asked forgiveness from the only one who mattered, her Lord and Savior. Her solid belief in God allowed her to be able to walk between the stones hurled her way by those, I supposed who thought themselves without sin.

That early pain of which I had been subjected, had been precipitated by promises my father made and broke to two women; one of whom my birth so infuriated that she attempted to and almost succeeded in removing me from her life, permanently. Although I never told anyone of her attack, the fact that I didn’t, only served to embolden her hatred of me.

The other never learned of this attempt on my life even until the day she died, however, the one who desired my demise, feared my exposure of her until the day she died. 

My conception and birth had been whispered about, snickered about, made sport of and blatantly discussed at times in front of me. I was the recipient of unearned pain caused gleefully, it seemed to me, by some uncaring and unfeeling adults. It was from them I learned that I was a pitiful little girl, that I was an unwanted pox upon their community and they also taught me that I was a Bastard; a word I didn’t understand but sensed in their tone that I should be ashamed at being one. Contrary to what might have been a normal reaction to their hateful taunting, I’m grateful, for they unwittingly taught me the meaning of: ”Do unto others as YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU”. Oh and they also taught me to be inclusive, without meaning to.

My father had made it a ritual every Friday night to visit my mother and me. I was unapologetically a daddy’s girl and I anticipated those visits with open joy even though my mother who at this point, (I was five), no longer did. I can’t be sure how often but he certainly used many of those visits to not only provide some financial support and a bag of treats for me but to also plead his case for another opportunity to be allowed back into Mother’s life. When she had finally made it clear that he would not be allowed back into her life and that his visits would only be tolerated for the sake of his and my relationship, both the visits and the financial support begin to wane.

My purpose here is not to lay blame on the bed of my parents, because everyone makes mistakes and once acknowledged should be offered the opportunity to move on without the constant reminders and recrimination of which my Mother was subjected. Though I am a product of their mistake, I AM NOT a mistake! However, I am here to take issue with how my birth was handled by my father and one of those two women, a mistake of which I cannot forget.

I didn’t understand why my father no longer came to visit me as he had most of those five years of my life but even so, all was not lost. He attended the same community church as my family which meant I would see him on Sundays!

My father attended church with some regularity because he held a position of prominence within the church. Dad owned several businesses one being a small Resale business which presented itself well in a community lacking any type of nearby general store or market, therefore he benefited from making a few extra dollars selling to a ready-made crowd, after church; ingenuity.

Even though I had suffered disappointments because of my father’s diminished visits, I had yet to feel the sting of rejection but when I did, it happened in a most public and painful way.  

It happened one Sunday afternoon after church services. All the little children from my Sunday School class ran outside en masse and gathered around Dad’s truck, jockeying to be first in line to spend their nickels. This would have been the first time since he’d discontinued his visits to me that I dared to approach his truck. I had been prevented from doing so on previous Sundays by my older sister. This time however, I had run ahead of her because she had been delayed by helping someone inside the church.

By the time I had reached the front of the line, there were only teenagers and adults standing behind me who were also waiting their turn to purchase treats. I stood there expectantly waiting for the same hug Dad had given the other little girls prior to exchanging their nickels for treats but no hug came to me. With disappointment ripping through my little soul, I tried holding back tears. Failing miserably, I then tried to manage what I came to know later as rejection, by asking softly for a bag of M&Ms, my favorite candy. But instead of Dad reaching into his truck and coming out with that beloved brown bag of colorful chocolate morsels, which would have gone great lengths toward healing my sore heart, he instead stared down at me from his several inches over six-foot height and demanded the nickel from me that I didn’t have. It never occurred to me that my Dad would exact payment from me for a nickel bag of candy but then I never supposed he would withhold a hug from me either.

My humiliation was complete as he, too loudly, told me to run along, to come back only if I had the price of the M&Ms and to never expect something for nothing. I had heard nothing funny in what he said but apparently, everyone waiting behind me had been let in on a joke. A joke at my expense. What really broke my heart was hearing Dad’s familiar laughter mingling with everyone else’s. I couldn’t have felt more shame. Although, I really loved M&Ms, all I had really wanted was the hug that Dad no longer brought to me on Friday nights.

Being only five, I couldn’t decide if the lingering pain I felt came from not getting those M&Ms, not getting the hug or maybe it was because he had shooed me away without giving me either. I do remember thinking as I walked away, that one day when I grow up, I will have all the M&M’s I can eat and won’t have to ask him for any of them. I could not have known then that over 40 years later and 1800 miles away I would be employed by a division of Mar’s International; the very company that created and produces trillions of colorful little tidbits called M&Ms…boxes of them offered as a benefit of employment sat on a display rack just inches from my desk and I never had to pay for a single bag or ask anyone for them. By the time I left that Company, the only things that I missed from my childhood and had not reconciled with missing, were hugs from my father…

The chickens are crowing Papa.

…to be continued.


When Chickens Crow

Thank you for not only stopping by but for going out of your way to find me. This is my first venture into the blogosphere and I really hope it appears that way, because if it does that would mean things can only go up from here.

I guess now would be a good time to introduce you to the greatest influencer of my life and the reason for the title of my blog, my grandfather. Truth was utterly important to my grandfather and he had the most confounding ways of presenting his truths and ideas. It’s taken me decades to unravel some of his truisms and each time one unravels, it brings to mind a vivid memory and usually a chuckle. The following conversation took place between my grandfather and my five year old self. I hope you enjoy it.

Me: Papa, why does telling the truth get some people in trouble sometimes?

Papa: Oh, because most likely they started out telling a lie, then when they couldn’t remember all the lies, the truth had to come out. By then everybody’s mad at somebody or somebody is mad at everybody.

Me: So it’s not just kids that lie?

Papa: No Baby, Grown folks lie too and they’re better at it.

Me: Then Papa, When will people learn telling the truth is better than lying?

Papa: When chickens crow.

Me: You mean when roosters crow Papa.

Papa: No Baby, no I don’t.  Some folks will only tell the truth when chickens crow.

Me:  I don’t understand Papa, chickens don’t crow.

Papa:  That’s right Baby.

My Papa insisted on living within the confines of truth no matter the cost to yourself or others; in the end the value received would be worth the cost.

Within these pages and until I no longer have the urge to write, my life and my truth will be on display. On the days in which I write about my life, I will use no names other than mine because by doing so would demand a defense by others and I give no one the right to defend their actions in my life, they were what they were, no changing or excusing what has happened.

From the time of my birth and until very recently, I’ve had to apologize to one person or another simply because I existed. No longer. This is the beginning of my absolutely, unapologetic telling of MY life, as I lived it, as it was demanded of me to live it.

Most of the un-named people of whom I will write about are deceased. Perhaps, the timing of my writing was divinely inspired to allow the ones who thought themselves virtuous, [who refused to admit to the damage done to me by their actions], time to make their exit. Regardless of the lies they told me, others and themselves and in spite of the reasons they sought to break me, they’re gone and I yet live to tell my truth!

The Chickens are crowing Papa!!!! The Chickens are crowing!!!

When Chickens Crow…

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

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

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