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.

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