Lightning…Thunder…and The Roar Of Chattahoochee Child…


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Dearest Readers:
It is early on a beautiful Sunday morning in Charleston, SC. The weather forecast for today is H-O-T — AGAIN! Reportedly, it is supposed to get to 85. No doubt, it will be another steamy hot day. Stepping outside in the heat of the day is like stepping into a sauna. Yesterday, we had a late storm brewing after we went to bed. I suppose I slept through it, which is something I do not normally do.
Whenever I see lightning, I jump out of my skin, almost. My husband says even when sleeping, I will hear the thunder and lightning and jump or tremble. I do not remember doing it. Just a few days ago, we had a summer storm in the afternoon. I was in route to get my doggies from the groomer. Every time I saw the lightning flash, I jumped, while driving. It isn’t a pretty sight. Just how can a grown woman be so frightened by lightning?
I suppose I should share my story here. If you follow my blog and read a bit of the “Chattahoochee Child” stories I’ve posted, you will understand. During my childhood, I was always the child with an opinion. In my dad’s diary, he wrote, and I quote since he is deceased now: “Barbara is really a child with opinions. She likes to get noticed, and even though she is only five-years-old, she does vocalize her thoughts, rather well.”
Humph! I cannot imagine what he was referring to, but after high school graduation, I have learned to ‘vocalize my thoughts and opinions…’ AND — I DO question authority. I suppose it is the journalist deep inside me. I suppose you could say, during high school I was quiet. I confess I went to six high schools during eighth grade thru graduation. What? Might you say? Most people only go to one high school. It is simple. My family and I moved a lot — like gypsies. So, just when I got comfortable in one high school, off we go to another, so no one really got a chance to get to know me until we moved to Columbus, Georgia. Finally, I was able to attend only one high school for two-and-a-half years until graduation. Figure that out, if you can! Let’s just say, during high school I was considered shy and a wallflower. Heck. I was afraid to get to know anyone and forget the high school boys. All they wanted to get to know was —! Never did I date high school boys. They always had ‘rushing hands,’ and I did not want to have a battle with them. Their libido and testosterone were quite active, so I decided I would not date them.
Since I’m free writing, it is back to my fears of thunder and lightning.
When I was a child, my mother disciplined me constantly. “You ask too many questions,” she said. “Just do what I tell you to do and stop being so opinionated… “You stupid girl. One day I hope you’re struck by lightning…just so you’ll know you shouldn’t say so much or ask so much.”
My mother loved to call me her ‘stupid girl.’ How I hate that description!
I suppose it is easy to say, as a child, I probably had too many opinions, but when lightning occurred, I remember my mother saying, “I hope you get struck by lightning soon.”
Each time I saw lightning, I cringed, sometimes rushing to hide in the closet of my bedroom so I would not see the lightning. When thunder roared, I screamed. Still, to this day, when we have storms I do my best to hide under covers, close the blinds, or stay in a room where I will not notice the roaring sounds and sights of thunder and lightning.
I still hear my mother’s cruel words. If my memory is correct, and I do believe it is when she would say, “Girl, I hope that lightning strikes you down,” I felt as if she had no love within her body for me. The other girls in the family never heard those words, only me. All of my three sisters did whatever our mother ask them to do. As for me, you guessed it. I placed my hands on my hips and I would say, “Why must I do that? Why is it only me that cooks and cleans?”
My mother’s reply: “Stupid girl. Just shut your mouth and do it before I get a switch.”
One of my sisters could not even boil water when she married. The other two, expected the men to do everything. I suppose they got a real ‘wake-up call’ in marriage, and maybe that’s why their marriages did not work out. I haven’t a clue. I do not pry into their lives. Marriage is truly a work-in-progress, every day!
I do know one of my sisters had a brutal marriage. Her husband loved to hit on her, leaving bruises and scratches she attempted to cover up with makeup. In 2002 we drove to Michigan to rescue her and her son from a safe house.
It is easy to observe I was the Cinderella of our family, or maybe I was the ugly stepchild. Regardless, I was the one who did the cleaning, cooking, and housework. My mother continued her verbal and physical abuse after my parent’s divorce. As for me, I could not wait to leave the family. Growing up where abuse is shared like daily activities, I vowed to myself I would break the mold and never behave in such a manner. My children would not grow up afraid of lightning and thunder.
Last night, I woke myself up listening to a voice speaking. Recognizing this was my ‘sleeping voice,’ I heard myself saying:
“Your mama is a whore and a drunk. Just look at that dress she wore tonight to her reunion. A long black dress with a plunging neckline and a low back. Only a whore would wear that.”
My son was seven-years-old when he heard his grandmother describing me. Just like me, he was opinionated. Reportedly, he did not appreciate what his grandmother was saying about me, so he chose to speak up and defend me.
“My mommy is not a whore and she only drinks wine. She is not a drunk. I’ve never seen my mommy drunk. Don’t say those things about her.”
My mother was caring for my son on that night. She promised him they would have a good time. I should’ve known she would pull some of her stunts, but I was hoping I could give her a second chance.
Awakening from the Nightmare, I sat up in bed, remembering the scenario like it was yesterday. I remember when we arrived to pick him up, he was sound asleep. The next morning, a bit early after a night of partying at a high school reunion, my son rushed to me. “Mommy,” he said. “Granny said you were a whore and a drunk. You’re not a whore and a drunk, are you Mommy?”
“No,” I said, scooping him up in my arms. “Mommy is not a whore or a drunk. Please don’t say the word whore.”
“It’s a bad word?” He asked.
“Yes. Whore is a bad word. A very bad word.”
He looked into my eyes.
“Whore is a woman who sleeps with lots of men, and that is not your mommy. I sleep with your daddy only. And I am not a drunk.”
Later, we drove to my mother’s house to confront her and say goodbye. When we arrived, my mother was still in bed. I knocked on her door, then I opened it and let the words fly. I warned my husband to let me handle the situation.
“How could you call me a whore and a drunk?” I asked. “Especially in front of my son. Your grandchild. Just what kind of grandmother are you?”
My mother opened her eyes and struggled to sit up. “I did no such of a thing.”
My son burst into the room. “Yes, you did,” he said, tears falling down his face. “You called my mommy a whore and a drunk. Sorry for saying that word, Mommy, but she did say it!”
I rushed him out of the room. I knew this scenario was getting ugly.
After a verbal battle, I knew I was defeated. My mother would never admit she said those words, nor would she apologize. My husband knocked on the door.
“We’re leaving,” I said. “I cannot tolerate this abuse anymore. It’s bad enough I tolerated her abuse all of my childhood, but to say those things in front of my child is something I will never tolerate. How could you, Mom? How could you be so cruel to him?”
On that morning, as we drove home to Charleston, I decided I would not see my mother again. Arriving home, I had several messages on the answering machine from my mother. I erased them all, not wanting to listen to her cruelties anymore. There comes a time in life when we must cut the cords of abuse. My time was now. I had to protect my child.
Motherhood is never easy. We all have regrets of things we would change, if only we could. We would be more patient and kind. We would not shout, nor would we lose our temper. One rule I kept is the rule of if I am angry, I will walk away. I certainly had times when I saw my mother inside me, and when that occurred, I would go to a window and pray. Just like my maternal grandmother taught me.
As for my mother and I? Rarely did I go back to Columbus, Georgia. I attempted another reunion, stopping by to see my mother. A surprise visit. We stayed for a few minutes and left. We had hotel reservations and another reunion to attend. Neither of us felt welcomed. My mother did not rush to hug me, like other mothers do, nor did she show any affections. Her health was deteriorating and she limped when she walked. Four years later, I phoned her telling her I was coming to Columbus to attempt to ‘bury the hatchet.’
On that visit, we had another shouting match, so I left, in tears. My mother always had a way of getting to me, bringing me down. Making me feel worthless and unlovable. Was I really such a horrible person? After a bit of soul-searching while driving, I recognized I was a good person. My mother refusing to love me was her problem, but as a child and a grown woman, I still craved a mother’s love.
How I wanted and prayed my mother would change, but she did not. In 2000, she suffered a stroke. Her left side was virtually paralyzed. I drove to see her on Mother’s Day, bringing her a gift wrapped box of pearl earrings. She attempted to speak, but only slurred her words. When I opened the box of pearl earrings, she gasped and touched her right ear. I placed the earrings in her ears, and she attempted to smile, her face wrinkling with a scrunched lip and new wrinkles I did not remember.
I never saw her again. She lived in a nursing home for the remainder of her days. I sent letters to her, gifts and when her dentures got broken, I paid for a new set of dentures. On September 11, 2002, she died. A questionable death, to say the least. When my sister phoned in the late afternoon of September 12, her question to me was: “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”
Dreadfully ill with bronchial asthma, I did not attend the funeral. The question of “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?” played in my mind. I made a few phone calls, including a phone call to the coroner’s office, and the nursing home. Never were those calls returned. I suspect the reason for my question was a simple my mother died under questionable circumstances.
Did I want to stir the pot and get these answers? Since I was so ill and weak, I chose to take care of myself since my husband was away on business in Italy. I needed to rest and get well.
Those years and those nightmares of my mother still play in my mind as the dreams did last night. Although my mother was a difficult woman and not exactly mother of the year, she was my mother. I did not hate her. I lost respect for her over the years, and I worked diligently to improve our relationship, but it wasn’t meant to be; nevertheless, the way she died is questionable and I suspect my sister knows the real story. She will not share it. I’ve done enough research to complete my story, “Chattahoochee Child.” I pray my mother is at peace.
I pray I will not have any more nightmares about my mother. They always leave me shaken and heartbroken but today is a new day. Maybe last night’s nightmare was a result of the lightning and thunder? The sun is shining today. Clouds are overcast, but it is another beautiful day and I am certain it will be another steamy day of perspiration (or is it glitter that women release in the heat) while I attempt another day of yard work.
My husband and I plan to work in the back yard of our home today, moving the debris of weeds, tree branches and dead limbs he worked on yesterday. I must say, I’m not looking forward to being in the heat, but once I am outside, I will work hard to get everything thrown away, and if a storm brews, or if I hear lightning, just watch me run to the back door to get to safety. I cannot get over my fear of lightning, regardless what I do or tell myself. After all, it is only lightning. It hasn’t struck me down — YET!

Domestic Abuse — “A Family Matter”


Dearest Readers:

Below is an excerpt from “Chattahoochee Child.”

A FAMILY MATTER…

Domestic Violence…Domestic Abuse… Regardless what it is called, it is truly a vicious monster. A wild, destructive monster that roars with such anger and turbulence I vowed never to allow it to knock at my door as a grown up. There were times I felt domestic violence knocking at my door, especially whenever Garrett felt threatened by his green eyed monster of jealousy. At times I was horrified of my husband, especially on one occasion when we were fighting most of the day. He was in one of his PTSD rages, shouting at me, raising his fist, threatening, and when his anger got the best of him, he thrust his fist through the doorway of the hall. I jumped back.

“Was that directed at me?” I asked him, rubbing my face.

He smirked. “No. I’d never hit you.”

I raised a manicured finger at him. “If you ever hit me, our marriage will end. IMMEDIATELY. Domestic violence is something I will never forgive.”

Garrett rubbed his fist. “Whatever,” he said, walking away.

In my marriage I was blind sighted to domestic violence. I made excuses. He didn’t mean to swing at me. He didn’t mean to squeeze my arm so tightly, he left a bruise. I smiled at the wrong person. Garrett just doesn’t understand. I LOVE getting attention. He will never hurt me. It’s because he loves me so much… Always forgiving Garrett’s jealous rages, I tolerated his verbal abuse. Excusing his quick, hot temper as another rage from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I apologized for making him angry. Whenever men looked my way, I quickly glanced away. I did not want Garrett to lose his temper, or shout at me. I closed myself inside my home, afraid that if he called and I wasn’t home, he would retaliate with another shouting match.

Domestic violence I knew much about as a child, although at the time it did not have the title of domestic abuse or violence. It was labeled a “family matter…” It’s just the way marriage is… Shunned…Never mentioned. Ignored! As a married woman, never did I consider that my husband might become violent, and on the day that he thrust his fist through the door, I felt the fear that a victim of domestic violence fears and I promised myself that I would not become the next victim.

At the age of five-years-old, I saw domestic violence for the first time. My mother was outside, gossiping with neighborhood women at Joel Chandler Harris Homes in Atlanta, Georgia. I was inside our apartment playing with my doll babies when I heard my daddy shouting, calling in a harsh voice for my mother. I screamed at him, “Daddy, she’s outside talking to the neighbors.”

“Go get her.” My daddy demanded.

I rushed outside. “Mommy. Daddy wants you inside.”

My mother laughed. “He can come get me,” she said. One of the five women she was gossiping with snickered. “Guess you better get inside. Gotta keep the ruler of the house happy!” All of the women roared in unison.

Living in a housing project, the women were not exactly the Donna Reed style of women, dressed in fine clothing and high heels. My mother wore bed room slippers and a dirty housecoat. No makeup or lipstick. Two of the women were dressed in raggedy jeans and T-shirts. Their hair was messy and they smelled like dirty ashtrays. I decided on that date that I would always do my best to look my best – to groom myself like a woman and wear makeup and have my hair styled. Never did I want to be ‘frumpy’ or a plain Jane.

“Mommy,” I said, my voice rising a bit. “Daddy’s gonna get angry.”

The back door closed. My daddy rushed outside, waving his fist, shouting.

“Sa-rah!” He roared. “You get in here now.”

My mother did not move. Daddy rushed to her, grabbing her arm. She pushed away from him and he shoved her, knocking her to the ground where she hit her forehead on the concrete curb. The metal trash cans by her fell over. I saw blood on my mother’s forehead. Daddy grabbed her arm. “You get up…Now.” He barked.

My mother struggled to get up. I reached to help her. I touched her forehead. “Are you, Ok, Mommy?”

I stood between my parents, my arms crossed tightly in front of me, daring my daddy to reach for her again. “Daddy, don’t you ever do that again!”

My mother glared at me. “Hush, child.”

Daddy stomped back inside. Never did he show any concern for my mother. Mommy followed. The women standing nearby snickered amongst themselves and I realized I was the only one who came to my mother’s rescue. No one cared. Domestic violence was a family matter at that time. Everyone looked away, with exception of me.

One of the women turned to move away, whispering something about a family matter while exhaling smoke from her mouth. I didn’t understand her words, but I did know I didn’t like any of these shabbily dressed women, and I hoped that woman would choke on her cigarette smoke. I wanted to shout at them, asking why they didn’t help my mama. After all, I was a small child. Too young to help, too young to have any rights or say-so. I decided these women were nothing but trouble! ‘Poor white trash,’ I thought to myself…’Nothing but white trash!’ I followed the blood trail from my mother’s forehead back to our apartment.

After Mommy got inside, I got her a cold washcloth, placing it on her forehead.

She rested on the tattered sofa of our apartment, blood still pouring from her forehead. I brought her another washcloth.

“Get me a butter knife,” my mama screamed. I rushed to the kitchen. She placed the cold blade of the butter knife on her forehead.

“Don’t cut yourself, Mama. Please. You’re still bleeding.”

“The butter knife will make the swelling go down.”

That night when I said my nightly prayers, I prayed that my mama would be all right, and I ask God to make my daddy stop hitting and knocking my mother around. After my prayers, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow any man to ever hit me, or knock me down, like my daddy knocked my mother down. At the age of five-years-old, I became the referee to my parents.

Ten years later, I served as the referee for the final time… Arriving home from Russell High School in Atlanta, I rushed inside; anxious to tell my parents I had the lead in a play at school. I knocked on my parent’s door. No answer. I rushed to my room. A voice inside my head encouraged me to go back to my parent’s door. I knocked again. I heard the shuffling of feet, and a slap. I opened the door. My mother was standing hunched over, blue in the face, gasping for breath. A handprint was on the side of her face.

“What’s going on in here?” I asked. My mother was getting weaker. I rushed to her side. My dad stood by the bed, cursing and throwing mail at me.

“She’s made all these damned bills. They’re garnishing my wages. I can’t afford this. To Hell with her.”

Moving my mother to a chair, I sat her down and moved closer to my dad. “Don’t you ever hit her again? Do you hear me, Daddy? I’ve watched you over and over again hitting my mother, and I’ve watched her hitting you, but this has got to stop! One of you needs to leave this house and marriage. One of you needs to leave before someone gets killed.”

The next day, I rushed home from school, horrified I would find my parents fighting again. My mother was sitting on the couch with tissues in her hand.

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

My mother threw a tattered pillow in my direction.

“I hope to hell you’re happy now,” she shouted. “Because of you your daddy left me today. It’s all your fault. He’s divorcing me. I hope you’re really proud of yourself, you stupid girl.”

“How is it my fault? Yesterday, he was beating you. You said you hated him. You called him words a child should not say. All I did was make him stop beating you.”

“That ain’t all you said. You told him to leave, and he did. He came home this morning. Packed up his things and moved out. It’s all your fault. You ain’t never to say his name inside this house again. Do you hear me, child? Never! Your daddy is dead. DEAD. Dead. DEAD! It’s all because of you. We’re moving from Atlanta, and I never want to see that bastard again. NEVER!”

“Where are we going, Mama?” I cried, tears rushing down my face.

“We’re moving to Columbus, to the mill village. We’re gonna live with your grandparents now. I hope you’re happy.”

I was heartbroken. I would not get to be in the play, or have the lead. I would not sing on stage. All of my hopes and dreams were vanishing.

Years later, I became an advocate for domestic violence. I was thankful when laws against domestic violence became a crime and I was thankful that I did not have to be the referee between my parents anymore. In their later years, I became their caregiver, serving as a parent to my abusive, cruel parents.

After their divorce, my dad became a new man. Kinder. Happier. Religious and gentle. I received birthday gifts on birthdays and Dad and I bonded as a father and daughter. Never did we discuss domestic abuse. We focused on happy times. The birth of my child. The home Garrett and I bought in South Carolina. Our strong, happy relationship as father and daughter. Before his death in 1999, we were closer than ever. Dad was fun to be around. Never did he show any anger or hostility at my mother. Reborn inside the body and mind of my father was a man easy to love. So different. So kind. So caring.

My mother? Slowly, she became outraged. Violent. Bi-polar. She died a questionable death after suffering a stroke. The one concern from my youngest sister on the day after her death was, and I quote, “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”

My youngest sister spent the night at the hospital with our mother on the night of her death. Suppose I’ll let this story decide if an autopsy was necessary, although I suspect an autopsy should’ve been completed – to discover the true reason our mother happened to die on the one and only night my youngest sister chose to spend the night at the hospital. Interesting?

And so – now I am developing the poignant story of “Chattahoochee Child.”

Family Matters…Oh how they matter!

Reflections On July 6th of Every Year…


Dearest Readers:

Today is a day of remembrance for me. On July 6, 1999, while walking into the nursing home to visit with my dad, he was slipping away. The story below is a remembrance written about him last year, on the anniversary of his homecoming. July 6, 2015, is the 16th anniversary of losing him.

After losing my dad, what did I learn about the dying process, you might ask. Simple. I learned that when we lose a significant person in our lives, we must walk through the grief, embrace it, and move on with our lives. Believe me, it isn’t as easy as some people think. And so, today – I will share my thoughts and memories of someone who influenced my life, helping me to move on without him. Today is a day of much melancholy and gratitude to my dad. Words cannot express how much I miss him. Later, I will go outside and pray for God to give me guidance as I reminisce about my dad.

Last night I sang “Dance With My Father Again,” at karaoke. in remembrance of him. After I sat down, two people came over to thank me. “That was so powerful,” both of them said, wiping tears from their eyes. I suppose I failed to recognize how powerful a performance can be to a singer, entertainer.

On July 6 of each year, I remember:

July 6 is always a day to remember for me. Why? Allow me to explain. During the stressful days of my dad’s terminal illness with esophageal cancer during December 1997 until his death on July 6, 1999, I have felt such a loss.

I’ve had people tell me I need to move on. “Get over it. Life goes on…” Etc. ETC! It isn’t easy! Tomorrow is July 6, 2014 – exactly 15 years since the death of my dad. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. After a demanding day at work, I rushed to visit him like I did every day. I spoke to the nursing home earlier in the day. “Dad was doing fine,” they replied. “Fine!?!” If he’s in a nursing home he isn’t fine. Yes, he was as well as could be expected; nevertheless, over the last six months of his life, I watched his body slowly shutting down. First it was the weakness from esophageal cancer. His inability to retain his food. His legs grew weaker and he fell – LOTS. Each time the nursing home reported the falls to me like they are required. And each time, I prayed a sigh of relief. Just one more day. Please God, give us one more day.

In March, his heart grew weaker, and I realized the end was near. I stopped praying for a miracle. In my nightly prayers, I prayed for God to find a special place for my dad, to use his talents, his voice, and yes – even his temper. Dad could be a tenacious man when he wanted to be!

During my daily visits after March, I noticed Dad no longer walked me to the door, to kiss me goodbye. He simply waved his hand as he closed his Holy Bible. No longer were the visits welcoming or fun. He appeared to be angry at me, always waving me away after about 10 minutes of our time together. His roommate told me Dad was mean to me. “You deserve better,” Dudley said. “He is so mean. He should appreciate you.”

I smiled at Dudley. “Don’t you understand,” I cried. “Dad is dying. He’s angry at life.”

Dad and Dudley were the odd couple of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. They teased and complained, always trying to compete with each other. For a while, Dad had the upper hand since Dudley’s body no longer moved and he remained in the bed, or a special wheelchair. Dudley had difficulty with speech too, but after visiting Dad so often, Dudley and I were able to communicate without a problem. After March, Dudley had the upper hand as we watched Dad sit on his bed, or remain in his bed most of the time. Gone were his daily strolls with his walker.

I suppose I was counting the days down, knowing my dad and I would not share another holiday together. No more birthday parties. No more Christmas trees, Thanksgiving and holiday dinners together. Tick. Tock…How I wish I could make this clock stop and save my dad.

On the moment of his death, I was walking in the corridor of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. A nurse I recognized approached, pushing an oxygen tank. I remember speaking with her, saying Uh, oh. That isn’t a welcoming sign for someone. She nodded, never saying a word to me.

I placed my hand on the door of Dudley and Dad’s room and so did the nurse. Quickly, she nodded, telling me not to come inside.

I screamed.

“Oh, Dear God, No. Please…please….Please God, NO!” I cried.

Someone grabbed me, walking me to a chair and I sat down. I knew. The clock was stopping. My dad way dying.
I heard a voice say, Barbie. We can bring him back.

“No,” I cried. “He’s a DNR. I must honor his wishes.”

Moments seemed like hours. At 6:15 a nurse approached me. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to say goodbye?”
Yes, I nodded.

I waited a few minutes for my husband to arrive and together, we walked into Dad’s room. Dudley was eating dinner. I could not speak to him. I touched my Dad – his body as cold as ice. His skin clammy. His eyes closed. I kissed him. Told him I loved him and I would never forget him. “You’re still here, inside my heart,” I cried.

I have no idea what happened next. I was numb. Dumbfounded. How would I live without my Dad?

After his funeral, I joined a grief therapy session and learned to move forward. Still, as the day of July 6 of each year approaches, I feel an incredible emptiness. Grief. Heartache. I ask myself, will this pain ever leave?

I think not. July 6, 2015, is only hours away. I must keep myself busy, remembering my Dad, Walter W. Perkins, and the goodness inside of him. Yes, he had moments of temperamental ups and downs, but he was my dad. As a child, I always looked up to him. I held his hand. We sang. He taught me how to harmonize and he always reminded me to “Make this a good day.”

I ask you how? How do I make each day a good day without my dad?

When do we stop grieving over those we’ve loved and lost? When does the heartache end?

After my dad died, I felt like an orphan. I have learned to move on and to recognize that each day is a gift. I plan to have a serious heart-to-heart discussion with my dad in the morning while drinking my morning coffee. I will lift my head high, looking into the Heavens and speak softly to my Dad. Yes, I will probably cry, but now, the tears are good, cleansing tears because I have learned to move forward. To make the most of every day. Today, July 6, 2015, is another day without my dad, but I am so thankful that I was there for him daily while he battled cancer. Yes, I miss you, Dad. I was blessed to share one more day. Thank you, God, for giving us one more day!

Chattahoochee Child – Walking Into the Fears of Cancer…


Dearest Readers:

Periodically, I post a few stories from the book, “Chattahoochee Child” — my latest work-in-progress. Hope you enjoy!

 

The morning my father and I learned to forgive each other started like most mornings in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Resting motionless in bed, he reminded me of a frail injured bird with crippled wings. His body was thin. His skin the color of mustard. Peach fuzz of a cotton soft beard kissed his face. My heart broke for him. My arms ached to reach inside his weakened body to pull the cells of cancer away.

Dad was rebelling after the diagnosis, stating in a firm voice that he would not shave his face UNTIL he was given the freedom and luxury of eating food. Meanwhile, the beard continued growing.

Although it was the holiday season of 1997, I could find no happiness or excitement in decking the halls or decorating a Christmas tree. The patriarch of my family tree was terminally ill, destroying my belief in the humanity and meaning of life. Why was it always the good people who suffer the most? Life just wasn’t fair.

During that Christmas holiday spent inside four cold walls of a hospital room, I remember staring outside, watching cars speeding by, ignoring traffic lights. I glanced at Christmas lights blinking off and on, counting the precious moments of life we, as adults, get locked into believing will be forever.

“How much longer do we have?” Suddenly, I shared an unspoken conversation with God as I looked up into the skyline asking why this had to be.

On that particular morning, Dad’s forehead was hot to the touch. I took his temperature. 103.  Sighing, I reached for the phone near his bed. “I’ll get the nurse to check your temp,” I said.

He watched every move I made. “You’re a good daughter,” he said. “I love you.”

I stopped dialing the phone. “I love you too,” I said, realizing he had never expressed those words before. His generation did not believe in showing affections and I was moved to the point of tears.

“Barbara,” he said his voice only a whisper. “I’m sorry for everything.”

I bathed his forehead with a cooling wash cloth, “No need to be sorry for the past,” I said. “You were the parent. I was the bratty, rebellious teenager.”

Dad’s facial muscles struggled to smile. “You always were stubborn and persnickety,” he said as he coughed.

“Just like my father,” I teased. “You rest. We can talk later when you’re stronger.”

“I’m glad you’re here. I can always count on you, even when things are difficult.”

“All of that’s in the past,” I said, brushing a blonde strand of hair from my face with an apricot manicured nail. “The past is history. The future a mystery. This moment is a gift, and that’s why we call it the present.”

Dad’s eyes fluttered. “I’m tired and sleepy.” He said.

“You close your eyes and sleep. I’ll be here when you awaken.”

November, 1997 until July,1999, were years of change, heartache and indescribable fear as I slowly watched my dad melting away from me from the effects of esophageal cancer, the Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy [PEG tube], commonly referred to as a feeding tube and chemotherapy radiation. I watched his tall, sturdy frame slowly bending into an emaciated body that could no longer fight or walk without assistance. It was truly the most painful time of my life.

After the week of Thanksgiving, 1997 my dad phoned, telling me he was a bit nauseated and thought he had cancer. I snickered. My dad did not have cancer. He was the picture of health. He took care of himself, walking daily, eating healthy foods and he lived a good life. Never drinking or smoking. No, Dad doesn’t have cancer. Not my Dad.

The next morning I took Dad to the Emergency Room at Roper Hospital in Charleston. For over eight hours, we sat while medical professionals took blood samples, x-rays and scratched their heads. Deciding to refer Dad to a gastroenterologist, we left the hospital, got a bit of dinner and I drove him back to his apartment. During dinner, he struggled to swallow his food. He apologized for taking so long to eat. When finished, over half of his meal remained on his plate. He did not request a take-out box. I suppose I knew something was wrong, I just did not want to admit that my dad was getting older and weaker each day.

In early December, Dad and I met with the gastroenterologist. An endoscopy was scheduled for the next morning. I phoned my boss letting her know I would not be at the office the next morning. I detected a bit of disappointment with her but remained firm. After all, my dad needed a test. All of my interviews and presentations could wait. Corporate America simply had to understand. My family was important to me.

The next morning, feeling confident Dad’s tests would be negative, I sat alone in the waiting room of the hospital, watching people passing by in a rush, reading newspapers and magazines, and sitting. How I wish I had remembered to pack a book or magazine. I watched the clock tick away. One hour. Two hours. My stomach growled. I hadn’t eaten anything and it was almost lunch time. My cell phone rang, but I couldn’t answer it since the hospital did not permit them to be used while waiting. And so I waited and waited.

Moments seemed like hours. I glanced up at the clock again, stopping to notice my dad’s doctor was approaching. His eyes did not look at me. He held his head down. He sat down by me.

“We found the problem.”

“Oh. He’s just not eating properly? Isn’t that his problem?”

“No. Your dad has cancer. Cancer of the esophagus. Terminal cancer. I’m sorry to say it, but he probably has less than six months to live. He needs a PEG tube so we can get nourishment into him again.”

I sat motionless. Nothing was fazing me. My mouth flew open and I felt dizzy.

“Are you all right?”

“My dad has cancer. You’re saying my dad is dying? My Dad? This can’t be. He’s taken such good care of himself. You must be mistaken.”

“Have you noticed how thin he is?”

“Yes, I suppose. I did notice he didn’t eat much at Thanksgiving. I’ve been so busy at work. I guess I just didn’t pay enough attention.”

I knew my speech wasn’t making sense. People were passing by me, and all I could think of was the dreaded word – cancer.

I thanked the doctor. When he left, I turned my phone on and called my husband.

“Can you…can you please come to the hospital? Please?”

Garrett knew me well. When he arrived at the hospital, I fell limp in his arms. The tears I refused to cry suddenly poured out of me and I screamed. People stared at me, but I didn’t care. My dad was dying. Cancer. Cancer. CANCER.

The next few days were a blur to me. I returned to work, although my heart wasn’t there. All I could think about was my dad and the approaching Christmas holiday season. How could I possibly celebrate Christmas while knowing my dad is battling cancer? What if he chose not to fight cancer?

My prayers were answered one afternoon after a stressful day at work. I walked into my dad’s hospital room. He was resting while watching TV. An intravenous solution was attached to his arm. I touched his cold, resting arm while watching the IV solution of chemotherapy slowly dripping into his body. An amber colored bag covered the solution as it dripped…dripped…dripped ever so slowly into the veins of my father.

His eyes opened slowly. “Chemotherapy,” he said. “The doctors think it might help me live longer.”

My hand squeezed his and I felt his icy cold skin. “Are you warm enough?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m fine. You stop worrying about me.”

I squeezed his hand again. Tears were dancing in my eyes and I turned away. I did not want my father to see me crying. On that day, I recognized a new closeness and bonding between us. Gone was the angry, bitter-tongued father of my youth, replaced by a kinder and caring man who trusted me.

“We’ll fight this together, Dad.” I said, looking deeply into his eyes. “Together. I will be here for you every day. I love you, Dad. Together we will fight.”

Dad squeezed my hand. “You’re a good daughter,” he said. A tear fell down his face. “Will you wipe my eyes with a tissue. They’re watering.”

Still the tower of strength emotionally, Dad would not admit he was crying. I wiped his eyes and kissed his forehead. “I love you, Dad. Together we will beat this monster of cancer.”

During the holidays of 1997, I watched my dad battle chemotherapy radiation with courage and faith. I visited him daily and with each visit, we bonded. Before leaving at night, I would bend over to kiss his forehead. He whispered, “I love you.” Something he never did before cancer knocked on his door.

Cancer changes people. Suddenly life appears to fall into place. The little things in life become important again. No rushing around. No deadlines to battle. No appointments to break, or arguments to tolerate. All that is important is that one special, precious moment of life. Even when Dad had a rough day, we made the best of it. We strove to see the sunshine and sunrise. Life appeared to be simpler, with one exception. Daily I prayed for God to give Dad and me just one more day. One more day to touch his hand, one more day to kiss his forehead and to whisper three simple, caring words that gave me strength. “I love you.” Eight precious letters of the alphabet that guided me in the mornings, during the unexpected stress of each day, and covered me with a blanket of warmth at night. “I love you.” We expressed those words daily. Every day and moment we shared was precious.

After three chemotherapy treatments Dad was so weak, his blood counts so low, the doctors decided his body did not have the strength necessary to receive additional chemotherapy or radiation treatments. His throat was extremely sore, creating more difficulty with swallowing. The medical terminology I was learning educated me about esophageal cancer and other words I hadn’t learned before cancer knocked at our doors. Dysphagia, the inability to swallow. Skilled medical care – meaning 24-hour medical care and, of course, the detested PEG tube. What Dad and I described as an umbilical cord. Since he had a PEG tube, we decided it was necessary for him to reside at a convalescent center. He made friends at the nursing home and adjusted well. I visited him daily, praying for a miracle.

Our miracle granted him additional time with us although his quality of life weakened. He could not swallow food without regurgitating it, so the PEG tube was used, against his wishes. Slowly every quality of his life ended. The ability to enjoy food. The strength to take daily strolls without the assistance of a walker. The independence to live alone, without the assistance of skilled medical care. Father Time was slowly ticking his life away. Tick. Tock. Tick Tock, until he was almost a vegetable lying in his hospital bed.

On July 6, 1999, I arrived at the nursing home thrilled that I had his checkbook in my handbag. Dad kept close tabs on his checkbook and always asked about it. I was pleased that I had balanced his checkbook, and paid the nursing home for another month of nursing care. I was confident he would be pleased that he did not have to ask for his checkbook this month. I was prepared. Approaching his room, I turned my head, acknowledging a nurse. She was pushing a portable oxygen machine. “Oh, that isn’t a good sign,” I said to her. She did not acknowledge me, but followed next to me. Placing our hands on the door of my father’s room, I exhaled. The nurse suggested I wait outside. I was told I could not enter. I knew the time had arrived, and although I had prepared for this moment, his loss tore into my heart and soul. A woman I had never seen before took my hand, moving me to a chair. I was hysterical. She sat next to me, holding my hand until my husband arrived. I have no idea how he knew that Dad was dying. Someone had called him. Much to my surprise, that someone was me, although I do not remember making a phone call. All I can retrieve from that ‘moment’ was the strange, kind woman holding my hand, whispering words of encouragement to me.

The next morning, I drove to the beach, before sunrise. Standing along the shore, I knew Dad was at peace, and in time, I would be thankful that he had the final say. Walking along the shore, I noticed a sandpiper, appearing to follow me. Was this a sign? I would like to believe it was. The tiny sandpiper running next to me was a symbol that Dad and his spirit were now united with his twin brother and his family. Truly, it was a beautiful sunrise on that morning, July 7, 1999. The first morning of my new life as an orphan.Never would my dad and I harmonize a gospel song. Never would we spell vocabulary words, or whisper ‘I Love You.’  A fresh new morning of life for me, although inside, I felt nothing except a deep, debilitating grief.

 

 


Dearest Readers:

While cleaning files on my computer, I discovered this story written years ago. I do hope you will enjoy! Perhaps the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, reminds me of simpler times with my dad. Enjoy!

Perhaps a portion of “Chattahoochee Child”

Footsteps: Taking the Back Roads to Alabama

by

Barbie Perkins-Cooper
Copyright Barbie Perkins-Cooper

Dad looks dashing today, so unlike other residents at the nursing home. The green shirt and tie match the hazel-green of his eyes. The khaki pants swallow his emaciated frame. Nevertheless, he walks with his shoulders erect, head held high. A friendly smile frames his face. A hat protects his shiny bald head from the sun. “Hello-ooo, Barbara. It’s good to see you today.” His once boisterous voice no longer rings with a tone similar to Winston Churchill.

With my arm outstretched to brace his slow, shuffling movements, I walk alongside my father. His legs are so weak they remind me of spaghetti. My mind ponders the moment, picturing a small child using a walker to take her first steps, while her daddy’s arms open wide to hold her in case she falls. I feel those same heartfelt emotions now, only I am the daughter holding my arms nearby. My father uses the walker. I’ll be the one to catch him, if he falls.

Today has been a good day for Dad. He laughs, managing to tease me occasionally, by telling me stories I’ve heard a thousand times before.

Sometimes when I visit, no words are spoken between us. His memory is trapped in a timepiece of years past, remembering the bitter divorce and the disappointments in his lifetime. He points his finger in my direction, accusing me of betraying him. He says women cannot be trusted, and since I’m a woman, I fall into that category. On those days, I escape quickly, visiting for just a few minutes. I refuse to respond to his rage, afraid of upsetting him. I know by watching his signals he is angry at this dreadful monster of cancer. He does not want to be around anyone because we might see his pain and suffering. He is detaching.

Today is a different story. The love radiating from his eyes touches me. I make a mental note to cherish this moment for the rest of my life. He moves his hand from the walker to touch my hand. “You’re a wonderful daughter. My precious star.”

Tears rush down my face. I turn my head away so he will not see me crying. He tightens his hands on the walker, shifting his footsteps he moves carefully. “Today’s been a good day,” he repeats. “I kept my food down and I was able to walk a bit. I think we could travel to Georgia and Alabama with Lewis. He loved Georgia, you know,” he says. “Lewis and I planned to take the back roads to Georgia, so we could see the simple things in life.” Dad wets his lips, stares at the tile floor, and speaks carefully. “I never made it to all the places Lewis and I wanted to go, but on a day like this one, I could take the back roads to anywhere.”

“So let’s take the back roads, Dad. You can describe our voyage when we get back to your room. I’ll be the pilot. You‘re the navigator. While I drive, you can describe all the colors and sounds of life along with the scenery.”

He stops for a moment. His eyes glimpse at a delicate, silver-haired lady with a blue bow in her hair. Dad nods to her. She smiles a flirtatious smile at him. I step back, watching the graceful woman my dad has a crush on, and I smile. She’s the first woman I’ve seen my dad take an interest since my parents’ divorce. Such a tiny lady, with a gigantic heart of gold. Her silver hair is neatly combed, swept into a bun. She smells of Chloe cologne. She wears a pretty bow in her hair to match her outfit. Cultured pearls flatter her youthful neck. Diamond and pearl earrings sparkle in her ears.
Today she wears a blue silk dress. Blue pumps with white buckles accent her feet. Her legs are clothed in silk nylons. “I love to look my best. I’ll be ninety years old next month, she says. “I feel fifteen, until I look around.” Tucked by her wheelchair is a white lace crocheted afghan. Her fingers are long, manicured nails painted pink. She wears one cultured pearl ring and a beautiful diamond watch. The nurses say she was a well-known pianist, before her body was attacked with Parkinson’s Disease. Her hands move the wheelchair in his direction. Dad stands taller as she moves closer. “Good afternoon, Ms. Bee,” he says. “It’s good to see you again. Do you remember my daughter?”

Ms. Bee stops the wheelchair. Her hands quiver as she shakes my hand. “Of course I do. Not a day goes by without speaking to her. It’s so nice to see you, dear.”

Ms. Bee has a beautiful smile. Her iridescent blue eyes shimmer like sapphires as she looks at my dad. “Seeing your dad every day makes my day complete,” she says to me. “He’s such a charming gentleman. He likes to kiss me on the cheek. Sometimes I get him to join me in my room for dinner. I offer him a cocktail but he refuses to drink.”

“I’m a teetotaler,” he says, reaching for her hand. The childlike grin on his face expresses a side of Dad I’ve missed.

“Ms. Bee, would you like to take a journey with us?”

She cast a perplexing look at me, smiles and says, Where are we going?”

“Dad’s taking me on a mental journey to Georgia and Alabama. I’ll meet Uncle Lewis.”

“Lewis and I have an engagement for the annual church Family Day, 1941.”

“I’ve always wanted to meet Lewis, Ms. Bee says.

Ms. Bee follows us to the lobby. Dad parks the walker near a chair. Dad speaks eloquently telling us the story of his trip with Lewis in early 1941.

“Today Lewis and Barbara will take turns, driving a 1938 Buick Special sedan. We start our trip on Highway 17 leaving Charleston, driving to Georgia. We’ll spend the night in Savannah. Lewis’ car is a finely tuned automobile, burgundy with black interior. Chrome decorates the front bumper, four new white wall tires. The Buick has an engine that purrs like a kitten as we drive along the road, headed to the First Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama where Lewis and I will preach and sing the gospel. Afterwards, a church picnic will be served, complete with fried chicken, homemade biscuits, iced tea and desserts made for a king.”

The roads to Georgia and Alabama are narrow in 1941, traffic isn’t bad. Lewis and Dad are in the back seat, snoring. I cruise on the roads, not worried about rushing to get somewhere in a hurry. These are simpler times. I see green pastures, lots of farm land. Deer, cattle, horses, and other animals paint a picture of times past I never knew. While traveling through Georgia, I notice lots of red clay, the Chattahoochee River, cotton fields, barns, and people walking on the roadside. The air smells fresh as it brushes my face. When I get tired, Lewis will awaken me by singing in my ears. The luxury of a radio is not necessary while Dad and the Uncle I never knew entertain me with harmonies equal to a barber shop quartet.

Listening to Dad entertaining us with stories from his past, I long to step back in time, to meet Uncle Lewis, the identical twin brother of my father, the uncle who died in September 1941.

Watching my dad come to life again by sharing his stories encourages me to continue the journey, learning from his wisdom. I have no control over his disease. I cherish every moment we share, but I know soon the sunset will disappear. Dad will be gone, traveling into a promised, eternal life with his brother and family members.

Dad’s always been there for me, holding my hand, teaching me to walk, telling me about the beauty of life, the sunrises, and sunsets. When he’s gone, who will teach me? Will I still see life the way he does, or will I grow bitter? Will someone reach out steadying my footsteps as I travel to my sunset? Will my memory record the pleasant days of life like my father’s memory, or will I be a wilted vegetable?

Later, as I leave the nursing home, I look back at Dad. He stands at the doorway, waving goodbye. A welcomed smile fills his face. I will cherish that wave forever. As I open the exit door to leave Sandpiper Convalescent Center, I see Ms. Bee again. Her words describing Dad as a charming man ring in my ears. I suppose its true — with age comes wisdom. My dad shows me with his kindness and tranquility how people grow, prosper, and improve after adversity. When he’s gone, I’ll remember these irreplaceable contributions of his life. I’ll break away from the rat race of life, taking tiny steps, recording the memories of these special days together.

Grammy’s Heavenly Homemade Biscuits – Chattahoochee Child


Yesterday while reading an e-mail from an online writers’ group, I discovered a food writing contest. The directions discussed a contest for Thanksgiving. The assignment was to share a family recipe for the holidays. Humph. I thought. I don’t have any family recipes to share.

That assignment for a contest got me thinking; nevertheless, I cannot enter the competition, simply because the recipe I would share would be Grammy’s homemade biscuits.

My Grammy was a good ole’ Southern cook, rarely did she measure anything. Her recipes were never written on index cards for others to share or to preserve for family members. A tiny woman, with long white hair, early every morning she rolled her hair up in a crochet hair bun, clipping the left and right with wavy clips. Spraying the hair with a light spray, she was ready for the day. No makeup or fancy earrings did she wear. She was a natural beauty with bright, beautiful blue eyes.

Grammy encouraged me to help her in the kitchen. “Always remember to wash your hands several times when cooking,” she said. Only 10 years old, I remember stepping up on a chair to watch her make baked goods, especially her homemade biscuits. Grammy had a special large pottery bowl only used for baked goods. In this bowl, she placed all-purpose flour, Grammy preferred Gold Medal Flour, baking powder, a bit of salt, shortening, Grammy preferred Crisco, and milk.

I watched my grandmother carefully; curious as to how she knew just the right ingredients to use to bake the light as a cloud, fluffy hot biscuits she made daily. Never did she measure the ingredients. Never did she make a mistake.

“Grammy,” I said, watching her fingers moving the ingredients into a soft, moist mixture that rolled into one soft ball of dough, ready to pinch off and pat into a cast iron skillet. “How do you know how much to use? You always make the best biscuits. They melt in my mouth.”

Grammy laughed. “I just know.”

“But you don’t measure anything. If I tried to make these, how would I know?”

Grammy laughed again, her blue eyes almost dancing with delight.

“Well child, I suppose I’ll share my recipe.”

Grammy’s Homemade Biscuits
“Use a large pottery bowl that you only use for biscuits.
Place a bunch of flour in the bowl. If you are making biscuits for our group, a family of 10, then you place a lot of all-purpose flour in the bowl.
Add a pinch of baking powder.
A dash of salt.
Shortening. I always use only Crisco, and if I’m baking biscuits for all of us, including Rusty, I use more Crisco and more ingredients.
Milk. I don’t like it real cold. I let it get a bit warmer before I use it. I let it sit out for about five minutes before I pour it in. Before I pour it in, I make a well with the ingredients with my fingers and I pour the milk into the well. Then I mix it all up.
I have the oven ready by letting it heat up a bit. The temperature is warm, about 400 degrees when I put the biscuits in the oven. My secret to get golden biscuits is to roll a bit of the dough in your hands to make the shape and size you want and place each biscuit in the pan. Pat each biscuit in the skillet with milk. That helps them to get golden brown and stay moist.”

I listened and listened while wondering what a bunch of flour was. A pinch of baking powder. A dash of salt. Enough Crisco for all of us, including Rusty? And – just HOW would the biscuit bowl KNOW it was only used for biscuits, nothing more?

I shook my head. I would never be able to bake Grammy’s homemade biscuits.

When I was a teenager, our family fell apart. My mother and father divorced. Mom moved us back to Bibb City, to live with our grandparents. Cramped together in a small brick mill house with only two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a tiny kitchen, I chose to devote my time to cooking. I asked Grammy to teach me how to bake biscuits. Following her directions, I scooped up a bunch of flour. My fingers pinched the baking powder. I shook the salt shaker, hoping to get just a dash of salt to make my biscuits as fluffy and tasty as Grammy’s. I took a large measuring cup filled with Crisco, plopping it into the well of the flour mixture. And then, my fingers worked their magic, pouring in just enough milk to make the ingredients work together into a magical ball. The ball my mixture made was lumpy and dry.

Working my fingers around the well of dough, I hoped and prayed my mixture would follow the lead of Grammy. I moved my fingers strategically, just like Grammy. The mixture refused to follow my lead.

“Grammy,” I said. “My biscuit dough doesn’t move around the bowl like yours did. What did I do wrong?”

Grammy looked at the table, noticing the measuring cups.

“I don’t measure, child. I just scoop it all up in my fingers.”

“Oh…but how…how do you know what a bunch of flour, a pinch of baking powder, a dash of salt and enough Crisco is? Did I mix too much milk in my well?”

She laughed. “You just know child. Don’t fret none. It’ll come to you.”

For two more days I attempted to learn how to bake Grammy’s homemade biscuits. On my last attempt, Grammy suggested I stick with baking my homemade pound cakes. A Betty Crocker recipe, I make those pound cakes every year, and each time I do how I wish I had my Grammy’s vintage pottery bowl.

I lost my grandmother to breast cancer in 1973. Unfortunately, her recipe for homemade biscuits vanished with her death. Today, I suppose it is to my benefit that I do not have that delicious recipe, or her magical vintage bowl. One can only imagine how such recipes require willpower, just to abstain from eating them – at every meal.

I have no idea what happened to that beautiful biscuit bowl. Never did I receive anything tangible in remembrance of my precious grandmother. I do hope someone in the family has it, although I doubt it. My mother had the tendency to take such precious items to antique shops to sell. Perhaps the next time I go ‘antiquing’ I will search for such a bowl. If my memory is correct, the bowl was an off-white color, deep with two blue bands across the width of the bowl. A bit heavy for a young child, but I cherished that bowl, along with my grandmother.

During the holidays I still crave my grandmother’s homemade biscuits. No one that I know has ever been able to equal her magic recipe. I suppose some recipes should remain secrets for the family to enjoy. The next time you eat a homemade biscuit, just pretend you are eating a light, golden brown biscuit – from Heaven, in memory of my Grammy!

Life in a Mill Village During the Hay Days of Textile Mills…


LIVING IN BIBB CITY

The waters of the Chattahoochee River flow along the riverbanks of Bibb City, a small mill town located on the red clay banks of Columbus, Georgia. The harmonious water trickles in creeks, and rocks; gleaming through thick pine forests, poison ivy and vines.

Sometimes the river is rustic, a reddish-brown terracotta mixture of soil, earth and clay formations. When wet, the Georgia red clay becomes a cluster of mud, forming into shapes human hands can mold into almost anything, drying days later into hardened bricks of earth.

Sitting along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, Bibb City is the kind of old-fashioned town where neighbors speak to each other, knowing more about the walls next door than they know about themselves.
The Village my grandparents called Bibb City is framed by the setting of The Bibb Manufacturing Company, a tall brick building with a clock edged into the masonry work.

Serving as the focal point of Bibb City, the Bill Mill dates back to 1920. The Bibb, as elders called the mill, is located on 38th Street and First Avenue. Houses across the road from the mill are uniform, framed with exterior wood, painted white, sheltering the families of textile mill workers.

The tranquil, close-knit mill community called Bibb City encompasses north from 35th Street to 44th Street, and west from Second Avenue to the Chattahoochee River. The streets are narrow and winding. Mill houses consist of approximately two hundred forty-seven dwellings, located within walking distance of the mill. Most are constructed of wood, painted white, landscaped with magnolia trees, sweet gum trees and other varieties, some laced with Spanish moss.

Bibb City includes the mill acreage along with a smaller area called Anderson Village. The houses in Anderson Village are brick with interior walls of stucco. According to elders who still live in the Village, Bibb City is one of the best planned mill villages ever built, because of the quality of the residential developments and how they were maintained for mill workers.

Mill workers were recruited from blue-collar, unskilled white men and women, and young children. They were treated with respect as long as they followed the rules established by the patriarch Bibb Manufacturing Company while teaching their children to be ‘seen but not heard.’ No one employed by the Bibb questioned the mill’s authority. The domineering practices had the workers moving as if they were under textile mill hypnosis. No one was allowed to speak up, and if they attempted to voice an opinion, they were released. No questions asked. Rarely were blacks hired, and if they were, they were placed in maintenance and not allowed to live in mill housing.

Most of the homes located in the heart of Bibb City had large front porches, built high off the ground, with easy access to the crawl space underneath. When I was a little girl, Grammy and Papa lived in one of the big white houses. I found this convenient for me, choosing to build a cardboard playhouse under Grammy’s house, using large cardboard boxes I found behind Flossie’s Dress Shop as foundations and walls.

My grandparents lived in another white house in the village of Bibb City, until we moved back to live with them temporarily during one hot summer. Papa said Daddy wasn’t a good provider for us. Papa only knew Mama’s side of the story, not the real story.

By that time, the mill wanted to improve working conditions for the workers, so they offered to sell some of the homes.

The dwelling my grandparents bought was located in the middle of Walnut Street, a solid brick structure, containing two small bedrooms, a living room, one miniature bathroom, and a kitchen. The house was less than 1,000 square feet, total living space. Mill workers were accustomed to living in small settlements. We made do with what the Good Lord provided us, according to Papa and Grammy.

Papa bought a metal shed from Sears Roebuck to store fishing equipment, tools and some of Grammy’s sewing supplies that would not fit inside the house. Grammy filled the house with what-knots, lace crocheted doilies, a vinyl couch that made into a bed, crocheted rag rugs, Priscilla curtains, and simplistic pieces of thrift shop furniture. A framed picture of the Lord’s Last Supper hung on the wall over the couch. Family pictures sat on a small, vintage tea cart.

The kitchen contained a small wooden cabinet for Grammy’s mixing bowls, a metal table with four vinyl covered metal chairs, and a gas stove. When our family ate dinner at Grammy’s house, we extended the table with a leaf, so the table could accommodate all of us. I remember crawling underneath the table to get into my seat because the extended table and extra chairs filled the room, since the kitchen was so small. Although simply decorated, the little house on Walnut Street was the only dwelling where I felt completely safe. Little did I know about the City of Columbus, Georgia since we were not permitted to wander away from the boundaries within Bibb City. Papa wanted us to only date mill kids and to never want to do anything else other than church and school. When I ‘painted my face with makeup’ Papa disowned me, telling me I was a ‘painted woman and would die within the gates of Hell.’ I smirked at him. “Papa I already live there…here in Bibb City where I’m not allowed to do anything!”

Yes, I questioned the authority of my Papa and life in Bibb City. I did not wish to be a child that was ‘seen but not heard.’

Excerpt from “CHATTAHOOCHEE CHILD”


Dearest Readers:

Today, while finally gluing my butt to the chair, I am writing again. Today, I would like to share the latest Excerpt from “Chattahoochee Child.”

I hope you will enjoy!

A FAMILY MATTER…

Domestic Violence…Domestic Abuse… Regardless what it is called, it is truly a vicious monster. A wild, destructive monster that roars with such anger and turbulence I vowed never to allow it to knock at my door as a grown up. There were times I felt domestic violence knocking at my door, especially whenever Garrett felt threatened by his green-eyed monster of jealousy. At times I was horrified of my husband, especially on one occasion when we were fighting most of the day. He was in one of his PTSD rages, shouting at me, raising his fist, threatening, and when his anger got the best of him, he thrust his fist through the doorway of the hall. I jumped back.

“Was that directed at me?” I asked him.

He smirked. “No. I’d never hit you.”

I raised a manicured finger at him. “If you ever hit me, our marriage will end. IMMEDIATELY. Domestic violence is something I will never forgive.”

Garrett rubbed his fist. “Whatever,” he said, walking away.

In my marriage I was blind sighted to domestic violence. I made excuses. Always forgiving Garrett’s jealous rages, I tolerated his verbal abuse. Excusing his quick, hot temper as another rage from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I apologized for making him angry. Whenever men looked my way, I quickly glanced away. I did not want Garrett to lose his temper, or to shout at me. I closed myself inside my home, afraid that if he called and I wasn’t home, he would retaliate with another shouting match.
Domestic violence I knew much about as a child, although at the time it did not have the title of domestic abuse or violence. It was labeled a “family matter…” Shunned…Never mentioned. Ignored! As a married woman, never did I consider that my husband might become violent, and on the day that he thrust his fist through the door, I felt the fear that a victim of domestic violence fears and I promised myself that I would not become the next victim.

At the age of five-years-old, I saw domestic violence for the first time. My mother was outside, gossiping with neighborhood women at Joel Chandler Harris Homes in Atlanta, Georgia. I was inside our apartment playing with my doll babies when I heard my daddy shouting, calling in a harsh voice for my mother. I screamed at him, “Daddy, she’s outside talking to the neighbors.”

“Go get her.” My daddy demanded.

I rushed outside. “Mommy. Daddy wants you inside.”

My mother laughed. “He can come get me,” she said. One of the five women she was gossiping with snickered. “Guess you better get inside. Gotta keep the ruler of the house happy!” All of the women roared in unison.

Living in a housing project, the women were not exactly the Donna Reed style of women, dressed in fine clothing and high heels. My mother wore bed room slippers and a dirty house coat. No makeup or lipstick. Two of the women were dressed in raggedy jeans and T-shirts. Their hair was messy and they smelled like a dirty ashtray. I decided on that date that I would always do my best to look my best – to groom myself like a woman and wear makeup and have my hair styled. Never did I want to be ‘frumpy’ or a plain Jane.

“Mommy,” I said, my voice rising a bit. “Daddy’s gonna get angry.”

The back door closed. My daddy rushed outside, waving his fist, shouting.

“Sa-rah!” He roared. “You get in here now.”

My mother did not move. Daddy rushed to her, grabbing her arm. She pushed away from him and he shoved her, knocking her to the ground where she hit her forehead on the concrete curb. The metal trash cans by her fell over. I saw blood on my mother’s forehead. Daddy grabbed her arm. “You get up…Now.” He barked.

My mother struggled to get up. I reached to help her. I touched her forehead. “Are you, Ok, Mommy?”
I stood between my parents, my arms crossed tightly in front of me, daring my daddy to reach for her again. “Daddy, don’t you ever do that again!”

My mother glared at me. “Hush, child.”

Daddy stomped back inside. Never did he show any concern for my mother. Mommy followed. The women standing nearby snickered amongst themselves and I realized I was the only one who came to my mother’s rescue. No one cared. Domestic violence was a family matter at that time. Everyone looked away, with exception of me.

One of the women turned to move away, whispering something about a family matter while blowing smoke from her mouth. I didn’t understand her words, but I did know I didn’t like any of these shabbily dressed women, and I hoped that woman would choke on her cigarette smoke. I wanted to shout at them, asking why they didn’t help my mama. After all, I was a small child. Too young to help, too young to have any rights or say-so. I decided these women were nothing but trouble! ‘Poor white trash,’ I thought to myself…’Nothing but white trash!’ I followed the blood trail from my mother’s forehead back to our apartment.

After Mommy got inside, I got her a cold washcloth, placing it on her forehead.

She rested on the tattered sofa of our apartment, blood still pouring from her forehead. I brought her another washcloth.

“Get me a butter knife,” my mama screamed. I rushed to the kitchen. She placed the blade of the butter knife on her forehead.

“Don’t cut yourself, Mama. Please. You’re still bleeding.”

“The butter knife will make the swelling go away.”

That night when I said my nightly prayers, I prayed that my mama would be all right, and I ask God to make my dad stop hitting and knocking my mother around. After my prayers, I made a promise to myself that I would never allow any man to ever hit me, or knock me down, like my daddy knocked my mother down. At the age of five-years-old, I became the referee to my parents.

Ten years later, I served as the referee for the final time… Arriving home from Russell High School in Atlanta, I rushed inside; anxious to tell my parents I had the lead in a play at school. I knocked on my parent’s door. No answer. I rushed to my room, but something inside my head encouraged me to go back to my parent’s door. I knocked again. I heard the shuffling of feet, and a slap. I opened the door. My mother was standing hunched over, blue in the face, gasping for breath. A hand print was on the side of her face.

“What’s going on in here?” I asked. My mother was getting weaker. I rushed to her side. My dad stood by the bed, cursing and throwing mail at me.

“She’s made all these damned bills. They’re garnishing my wages. I can’t afford this. To Hell with her.”

Moving my mother to a chair, I sat her down and moved closer to my dad. “Don’t you ever hit her again? Do you hear me, Dad? I’ve watched you over and over again hitting my mother, and I’ve watched her hitting you, but this has got to stop! One of you needs to leave this house and marriage. One of you needs to leave before someone gets killed.”

The next day, my dad moved out. My mother told me that from this day forward, I did not have a daddy and I was never to speak about him again. I ignored her. She said my dad was divorcing her and it was my fault. I caused the break-up of my parent’s marriage.

Years later, I became an advocate for domestic violence. I was thankful when laws against domestic violence became a crime and I was thankful that I did not have to be the referee between my parents anymore. In their later years, I became their caregiver, serving as a parent to my abusive, cruel parents.

After their divorce, my dad became a new man. Kinder. Happier. Religious and gentle. I received birthday gifts on birthdays and Dad and I bonded as a father and daughter. Never did we discuss domestic abuse. We focused on happy times. The birth of my child. The home Garrett and I bought in South Carolina. Our strong, happy relationship as father and daughter. Before his death in 1999, we were closer than ever. Dad was fun to be around. Never did he show any anger or hostility at my mother. Reborn inside the body and mind of my father was a man easy to love. So different. So kind. So caring.

My mother? Slowly, she became outraged. Violent. Bi-polar. She died a questionable death after suffering a stroke. The one concern from my youngest sister on the day after her death was, and I quote, “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”

My youngest sister spent the night at the hospital with our mother on the night of her death. Suppose I’ll let this story decide if an autopsy was necessary, although I suspect an autopsy should’ve been completed – to discover the true reason our mother happened to die on the one and only night my youngest sister chose to spend the night at the hospital. Interesting?

And so – now I am developing the poignant story of “Chattahoochee Child.”