Monday, August 15, 2011

Starting at the beginning (Originally posted on Monday, June 6, 2011)

I was born a poor black child…oh wait that is Steve Martin….not me….I was born a poor white girl…I was the first of five girls to be born to parents who were too young and too ill-equipped to be parents.  But then again isn’t that the story of just about everybody.  I have hardly any memories from my early years.  We lived in Petersburg before Petersburg was Petersburg.  If I HAD to I could probably find our house on Mulberry St but that is due more to my superior directional abilities than my memory.  I went to Walnut Hill Elementary.  I have absolutely no memory of any of my teachers…I have some of my report cards so I can tell you their names.  But I can’t tell you if they were any good or not.  What I remember most from these early days is that there was always a ton of children around all the time!! There were 5 of us and my mom watched other people kids and all the neighborhood kids would have to come to our yard because the over-protective mom wouldn’t let us leave the yard…we were not allowed to be in the house but we couldn’t leave the yard either! So at any given time we are looking at 10-15 children just hanging out.  An inevitably I was the oldest or the most mature.  So my ‘mothering” skills were ingrained in me from an early start.  Catty-cornered to us lived the Smiths – Laurie and Karen and CJ – what was cool about the Smiths was that their parents both worked so they seemed so cool because they could pretty much do whatever they wanted.  A few houses down was Robbie and Cole…they didn’t get to leave their yard much either so they had to watch all the kids play down at our house.  I always felt sad for them.  Around the corner were the Meadows.  They were Korean/American.  And JR was my first boyfriend.  He was older than me – probably 14 to my 10….basically our “dates” consisted of walking from his house to my house with the twins in their double stroller.  I think we kissed maybe twice. Life was simple.  There was school and during the summers there was play.  We were put out the house as soon as we woke up and were let in when it got dark.  Lunch was served on the back porch….sandwiches and a jug of kool-aid. Even when it was raining we seemed to be outside.  Sundays we went to church.  Pretty much whatever church bus came through the neighborhood first that is where we went.  I remember one of them was Baptist…another time there was a Church of Christ.  I don’t remember being very in awe of church.  I don’t remember being impressed by it.  It was just something to do on Sunday morning.  At this point I don’t remember my mom going to church or being religious…that would come later.  I don’t remember much about my dad during this time either.  He was working and if the drinking had started it wasn’t obvious to me as a 10 year old. 

Every weekend and every summer from the time I can remember I spent with my maternal grandma and granddaddy.  She was so very different from my mom.  My mom was quiet and shy to the point of being practically paralyzed.  She didn’t talk to people she didn’t know. She really never said much and always seemed to fade into the woodwork.  My grandma was loud! She talked to everybody.  She yelled, she cried, you knew exactly what she was thinking.  She was the oldest of a very large German Catholic family.  She never learned to drive so she was reliant on others taking her places.  She wasn’t well-educated but I always remember her seeming to know bunches of stuff.  She loved to fish. Loved to play Bingo.  And she was a great cook.  She watched TV, she read romance novels.  Everything opposite to my mom.  She was the one who took us on our vacations.  Nags Head two or three times a summer.  We went to Orlando.  We went to Mississippi once.  We would go to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge pier and fish all night.  Life was good at this time.  My granddaddy was a simple man.  He also was an alcoholic.  However I wouldn’t know this until years later.  They also fought all the time.  All the time! If she said the sky was blue he would have to say it was gray.  At the time it just seemed normal and I preferred it to my parents’ relationship where my dad would say mean things to my mom and she would just let it go.
The defining moments of the time were first and foremost when the twins were born.  I was 10 and it had been 6 years since she had had a baby…one would assume that she was done.  I remember how HUGE she got while pregnant.  And how her doctor kept insisting that she was having a boy….a big boy! I remember my dad picking us up from school after she had them and telling us she had twin girls.  And I remember not believing him at all! That was kind of our established relationship….I was always very critical of everything he had to say.  It wasn’t until my grandma verified it that I believed him. And with that the dynamics of the house changed.  There was all of a sudden 2 different groups.  There were the older two kids who were capable of taking care of themselves at 10 and 8 and the younger 3 kids who were not….these trend would continue to this day.  The twins seemed to never stop crying.  They developed an unnatural attachment to mom…or maybe it was the other way around.  She could not leave the room without them crying.  It annoyed me to no end.  Even at 10 I was critical of her parenting skills...once again a trend that continues to today.  The other event I remember the most was when I was made the main caretaker for my granddaddy who had really bad cataracts and was awaiting surgery. He was losing his vision pretty bad and for some reason my parents thought it was best that he not be alone while my grandma was away and the best possible choice was to take me all of 10 years old over to spend the night with him.  At this time he lived on a farm in Petersburg in a great big white farmhouse that was a great place to be in the daylight but at night it took on that spooky farmhouse persona.  So here I am getting dropped off by my dad, who I am pretty sure did not stop the car all the way.  Everything was fine until the sun went down.  Remember I told you Granddaddy was an alcoholic even though it was unknown to me at the time, looking back it explains a lot.  When you combine someone whose vision is going cloudy with cataracts with whiskey well you are looking at a recipe for disaster.  As the night wore on he was getting more and more “blind” and more and more hysterical.  And I was trying very hard to keep it together.  I remember at one point saying if we just went to bed it wouldn’t matter whether or not he could see! I was logical beyond my years.  At some point in the night a call was made, I can’t remember if he called or if I did but somehow my dad showed back up.  Of course he yelled at me for “not taking care of your granddaddy”! But by this age I was very close to realizing that both of my parents were dumb as bricks and that leaving me with this responsibility was a very bad idea destined to fail so it didn’t matter.  He took me home and my granddaddy to the hospital and all was well that ends well. 
So this was my life until age 10.  More random memories follow as such:
This was the time before much thought was given to vehicle safety and kids.  We had a green station wagon.  The twins would roll around in the back of it pretty much.
I was really good at kick the can but not so much at red rover
My mother “taught” me to ride a bike by making me get on one and pushing me down a hill….the gate at the bottom stopped me.
My sister Shannon fell a lot! And got in trouble for falling a lot!
My dad taught us to play poker and we bet with real pennies.  He let us keep them if we won but most of the time at this age we lost.  We also had to “call our hand” and play what we called.
I think the reason why I never have to pee on trips is because there was a lot of pulling to the side of the road and peeing in the bushes at this time….or in a bucket…and I was doing neither!
Summers were spent shucking corn and snapping green beans….and eating homemade ice cream.
Holidays, birthdays and Sunday dinners were a big deal.
Kids could buy cigarettes; my mom would send me in the store to buy them for her.  You could also smoke everywhere even in grocery stores.
My dad thought it would be a good idea to take us to see Jaws
Every Sunday during football season I would watch football with my dad – he hated the Redskins.  A Skins fan was bornJ

No comments:

Post a Comment