Chattahoochee Child, Domestic Abuse, Family, Uncategorized

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!

Free Writing, Uncategorized

The Saga of Freewriting — Ten Minutes and Counting!


Freewriting again today. What is the subject? Truly the first thing coming into my mind.

For just a few years, I’ve worked on a manuscript, “Chattahoochee Child.” At first, there wasn’t a plot. Only characters. Now, I have the plot although I keep procrastinating about it. Here goes.

The story is placed along the coast of South Carolina, and the rivers of the Chattahoochee River, Columbus, GA.

Basing much of the story on characters I knew. For example, the protagonist is named Rebecca. All of her life she hungers for the love of her mother. The older she became, the worse the relationship with her mother developed. When Rebecca marries at 18, she moves away from her mother’s home, only to be told by her cruel mother that ‘she cannot take anything that belongs to her when she leaves, with exception of her clothes.’

Packing up her clothing, she asked her mother if she can take some of her childhood photos and her senior year picture.

“No. You ain’t taking nothing like that. I’m gonna burn all your pictures.”

Devastated at her mother’s cruelty, Rebecca leaves the mill village of Bibb City, refusing to look back. When her mother finds her, she realizes the relationship needs repairing.

Going back to her mother’s house, Rebecca is alone. Her framed senior picture is gone. When she asked her mother what happened to her pictures, her mother laughs a wicked laughter. “I told you I was gonna burn ’em and I did. Just a few weeks ago. There ain’t no pictures of you inside the house.”

Rebecca rushes outside. Tears pour down her face. She rushes to her car and leaves.

The soldier she married is fighting a war. Rebecca realizes it is time to bury the past and move on; however, when she sees her mother again, she is slapped, belittled and told she will never amount to nothing. Her mother claims she wrote a letter to her husband overseas, telling him Rebecca is sleeping around with every man in town.

“I hope he never speaks to you again. You ain’t never gonna keep a man happy.”

“Just like you, Mom. Right? You don’t want me to have any happiness. I suppose you want me to walk in your shoes, but I refuse to do that. I will have a life You will never destroy me!”

Leaving her mother’s home again, Rebecca decides that some people are not blessed to have a good mother. She vows to enter into a new journey while waiting for her husband to return home from war.

When he does, Rebecca discovers the man she married and waited for is a changed, tormented man. He loses his temper quickly, jumping almost out of his skin whenever a car backfires, or fireworks happen. At night, while sleeping, he straddles Rebecca, choking her while saying ‘Charlie is coming…’

Rebecca discovers her life is still not under her control.

This freewriting for 10 minutes is hard, but it is something I am forcing myself to do in hopes I will regain the confidence I once had in writing.

Life this summer was so demanding and unpredictable. My husband had surgery in late May. He is still struggling to regain his strength. The summer of 2016 was like a roaring, twirling tornado to me. All the plans for a summer of fun were changed, due to the demands of caring for my husband while struggling to keep the house and finances under control. Normally, during the summer I go to the beach on a weekly basis. My first visit to the beach this year was in September. Isn’t it strange how life is sometimes out of control.

Oops. Ten minutes is gone. That’s it for today.

 

Chattahoochee Child, Family, Short Stories, Uncategorized

Chattahoochee Child


PART TWO

The headlines in the newspaper caught my attention. Bibb Manufacturing Company becomes a ghost town. I stared at the caption with a tight bewildered look on my face, reading it again, picturing the desolate hope filled community of Bibb City, Georgia, the destitute textile community of my youth. Bibb City was the small cotton mill town where my footprints were imprinted within the clay riverbeds. Bibb City was the only place I had roots established. Bibb City was Home to me.

The richness of life in a mill town is disappearing now while the little town called Bibb slowly becomes extinct. Bibb Manufacturing Company abandoned the area in 1998, closing the mill, leaving a graveyard of homes, failing businesses, broken families and memories behind. The hunger for better jobs, civil rights, and the race for modern technology prevailed, leaving the Town of Bibb City devastated.

I poured another cup of coffee, reading the article again. The years of working as a reporter filled my mind with curiosities and questions about the dying communities of mill workers. I scribbled notes on a pad. My mind rushed back to my youth, playing a mental continuous loop video of memories from the small town of Bibb City, Georgia.

Why was the little town  called Bibb City distressing me? Years ago, I drove away from the Village without looking back, embarrassed to be associated with people who judged others by the colors of skin, religion, sexual preference, or political choice. Sipping a hot cup of coffee, I realized my perspective about Bibb City was changing.

Reading the article again, my body was shaking. If the mill is no longer in business, what will the residents of this precious mill village do for survival? Bibb Mill provided housing and when the Mill decided to sell those homes to mill workers, many of the hard working employees took their first steps to independence and the American dream — a home — a brick and mortar foundation where roots could remain.  My grandparents became homeowners, buying a tiny brick home on Walnut Street. Grammy  insisted on buying a home so Mom could have a place to live.

After Grammy’s death, Mom had other ideas. She sold the house, wasting away all of the money. What about the historical value of the Bibb Mill? Couldn’t the politicians see the potential for historical recording? Was everything in the corporate world about the potential for a profit? What about the families who lived in the Village?

A whirlpool of mixed emotions churned inside me. As I read the article about the abolishment of the town I knew so well, I discovered childhood feelings resurfacing. I debated my anger for a few moments, realizing I could do nothing to stop the bureaucracy of developers, who had no comprehension of the premise of life in a mill town. The one thing I could do was to write about the rise and fall of Bibb Manufacturing Company. As my grandfather reminded me, “You work for the Mill, you’ll always have a job.” Papa died before the Mill closed.

I called my editor, leaving a voice mail, expressing interest in a story about mill workers. Bibb City would be the focal point. When he returned my call, I pitched the idea.

“We have to do this story,” I said. “It isn’t just about life in a mill town. It’s a story about relationships, civil rights, bigotry, and so much more. It’s a feature, maybe even a series. We’ll start with The Rise and Fall of The Bibb Manufacturing Company.”

I waited for his response.

“Let me think about it.”

“I need a commitment now,” I pushed aggressively. “I’m packing my bags. There’s a story there and I’m going to get it,” I said. “My mother lives there. She’s had a stroke.”

“Sounds like you have some issues,” Garrett groaned.

“A few. If you’re not interested in the story, I’ll find someone else.”

Garrett laughed. “That’s what I like about you, Rebecca. You always push to the limit.”

“I’ll call you later,” Garrett breathed into the phone.

I hung up.

 

 

Chattahoochee Child, Family

Dearest Readers:

Another portion of “Chattahoochee Child…”

 

The thermostat hanging on the porch read 100 degrees that Wednesday afternoon. I wiped beads of perspiration from my forehead. If only Grammy had given me permission to go to the swimming pool. The only way I kept cool was by wrapping ice cubes in a wash cloth, placing them on my head. I fanned myself with the morning newspaper. Papa and Grammy read it before going to the mill. I was alone, sitting on the porch when I heard sirens screaming in the distance.

Someone must’ve gotten too hot at the mill. The sirens were getting closer now. I peered over the porch, anxious to see if I could see them. The mill was only a block away from my Grammy and Papa’s wooden house. The sirens sounded as if they were approaching my direction. I stepped onto the sidewalk. A crowd of people blocked my view, so I moved closer, hoping no one would tell Grammy and Papa I was off the porch.

“What’s going on?” I heard a woman dressed in Bibb overalls say.

“It’s Barney. It’s bad,” a wrinkled man with a bald head answered.

I moved closer, reaching the man, I tugged at his overalls.

He glanced down at me, surprised to see a ten-year-old being so inquisitive.

“What happened to Barney? He’s my Papa’s best friend.”

“Ain’t you Jesse’s granddaughter?”

I nodded yes. The sirens screamed in my ears now. A Bibb City police car. An ambulance. Another siren screamed behind the two cars that had just passed. The coroner.

Someone gasped. I heard a woman say, “Oh. No. Here comes the coroner.”

I couldn’t help wondering what a coroner was. We hadn’t had that word on vocabulary test in school. Whatever a coroner was, I knew it meant something bad was happening, just from watching the movements and sighs of the curious crowds of Bibb City.

Barney lived two blocks away from Papa’s house. I could walk to it. I looked around for the wrinkled man who knew me as Jesse’s granddaughter. I hoped he wouldn’t see me crossing the street. I knew if I got caught crossing the street, Grammy would give me another tongue lashing and more restrictions. I lived on restrictions at Grammy’s house.

I jumped down to the curb, looked both ways, deciding to cross the road. The sirens were quiet now. I couldn’t see Barney’s house for the swarm of people standing around it. People were talking saying the coroner’s inside.

     “What happened?”

“Did Barney have another heart attack?”

I knew from all the whispering that my Papa’s friend was in some kind of trouble.

The wrinkled, bald headed man who knew me spoke up, “Barney got canned today. They sent him home. I saw him after it happened. He probably ended it.”

“Ended what?” I asked, the curiosity of a child visualizing a collection of thoughts inside my head. None of the thoughts were healthy. Somehow I knew, ‘ended it’ was not good news.

The coroner stepped outside, lighting a cigarette on the porch. A Bibb City police officer joined him. A few minutes later, two men carrying a stretcher left the house. One of the men tugged at the black cloth covering the stretcher. Something was under the black cloth. Please God, don’t let it be Barney.

A lady rushed from the house. I recognized her as Miss Evelyn, Barney’s wife. She was crying, ringing her hands, screaming at the stretcher. “Please don’t take him to the morgue…Just take him to the hospital. He’ll be fine…”

I made a mental note to look up the words coroner and morgue in my Webster’s Dictionary. The people standing around were being so careful, whispering softly into each other’s ears. I heard mumbles of ‘sh-hhh-hh…children are around. Don’t say nothing.’

The two men placed the stretcher inside the ambulance, closing the door when Miss Evelyn met them. One of the men attempted to stop her. She jerked her arm free.

“Just leave me alone,” she screamed. “I want to be with Barney.” She touched the ambulance door, and turned towards the crowd.

“Barney wouldn’t listen. I told him not to do it. I begged him to be quiet,” She cried. “He wouldn’t listen to me. He never listens to me, or anyone else. I told him…”

The lady dressed in Bibb overalls reached out to her. “It’s okay. Everything will be all right. The mill takes care of us. You’ll be fine. Let’s go inside.”

“The mill,” Miss Evelyn said. “They’re the ones who did this. The Bibb destroyed him. They killed my husband. To Hell with the Bibb.” She spat on the ground. “I hate that mill. Don’t let the Bibb kill all of you.”

About a crowd of 20 or more mill workers heard Miss Evelyn’s angry words. They mumbled something about her being sick.

“A nervous breakdown.” A woman’s voice said. “She doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

I turned away from the house, anxious to get back to Grammy and Papa’s house. I crossed the street, meeting Papa on the other side.

“What are you doing here, Missy?” He said.

“I-I-, uh, I heard sirens. I wanted to know what happened.”

“You’re always such a nosey kid. Go on. Get on home.”

“Yes, sir.” I said. “Papa, they’re saying bad things about Barney.”

“Barney’s dead,” Papa said. “It don’t matter what they say now. He was trying to do something, and now he’s gone.”

“Miss Evelyn said the mill did it. She said the mill killed Barney. Will they kill you, Papa?”

“Missy, I said go home. Now!” He shouted at me.

When Papa shouted, I dare not ask again. He used switches on my bottom when I misbehaved his commands. Sometimes those switches cut my skin, leaving whelps and deep scratches, hurting me so badly I hated to sit down.

“Yes, sir.” I said. I was worried about my Papa. His face was clenched. His forehead wrinkled. His lips tight. I didn’t like seeing that side of my Papa’s temper.

Chattahoochee Child, Family, Free Writing

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.

 

 

Chattahoochee Child, Short Stories

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.

Chattahoochee Child

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!

Chattahoochee Child, Domestic Abuse, Friday Reflections, Uncategorized

Friday Reflections…


Dearest Readers:

If you follow my blog on a regular basis, you will know I haven’t written much in this column in about two weeks. Last week was truly the week from Hell for me. Beginning with suspected car problems where the technicians replied, “The engine light wasn’t on when we checked it…” Of course, that is a typical response from men to a woman at a service department…now, isn’t it — WOMEN! They were slightly mistaken. The engine light icon returned, and on Wednesday, it took over three hours to get it repaired. Of course, the main reason it took so long is due to the fact my car warranty was purchased with the car ($1549.00) at Car Max. Still, I am furious with Car Max; however, I will go on record to say that the service tech at Dodge possessed an amazing amount of patience with them — JUST — to get the warranty approved. Thank you, Dodge…and NO THANK YOU…to Car Max!

But — that chapter is closed and I am pleased to share that the repair that I had to pay for in the amount of $477.21 has been compensated to me – minus the $100 deductible since I DID NOT USE CAR MAX FOR THE REPAIR… Heck, I could not get Car Max to return a phone call, or the Mouse Lady to acknowledge me! Can you detect my frustration with Car Max???

Enough about Car Max! I suppose this post should actually be Friday frustrations, instead of Friday Reflections; however, since I am a person who looks for the positive in life and not the negative, I will do my best to reflect with a positive attitude.

While I am reflecting on Friday and this week, I would like to share that I was finally able to attend my weekly Weight Watchers meeting yesterday — the first meeting I’ve attended in four weeks. I confess, I anticipated a weight gain of 3 or 4 pounds and was a bit happy when I had only gained .06! It was wonderful to get back to my REAL life again. This reflection proves to me that I cannot complete my Weight Watchers journey alone. Like someone with an addiction, I must attend weekly meetings to share my ups and downs with all. I confess, I think the only reason I did not show a weight gain of four pounds or more was due to the fact that I have worked out on the treadmill every day since last Saturday. It was suggested at the meeting for me to ‘shake up’ my exercise routine a bit, so this week I will go for an extended walk — on the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, and I will return to walking my dogs again. I’ve been slack about walking my dogs ever since we lost my precious Shamey-Pooh. The last time I walked the dogs on our three-mile journey someone actually stopped me to inquire where the ‘beautiful silver dog was,’… when I replied that he died, they apologized and I burst into tears.

Undoubtedly, there has been a black cloud over me for a few weeks, or maybe it is the full moon returning; nevertheless, this week started off — shall I say unpredictable. Monday afternoon, Phil and I left the house a few minutes after 5pm, headed to the Coastal Carolina Fair. What would normally take about 30 minutes was at least 1.5 hours. We arrived at the fair at about 7pm. Never did Phil get annoyed about the traffic and we had a great time at the fair. Little did I know how things would change within 24 hours!

For those of you who do not know – My husband has PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you do not know what it is like to live with someone with PTSD — count your blessings! Tuesday afternoon when Phil returned home from work, he had a strange look in his eyes. I know that look well — PTSD! Within 30 minutes, we were fighting. I cannot recall what set him off, or me off – but our fight continued. I decided to shut myself away in the bedroom. That night, I broke our rule – a rule made when we were newlyweds…the rule of “never going to bed angry, or without a good night kiss!”

Wednesday – we had the same scenario. No matter what I said, we could not stop the fight. Listening to someone is difficult with him. I approached him carefully, telling him ‘we need to talk.’ When someone has PTSD communication does not exist. Every time I said I needed to talk to him, we fought. The real kicker was when Phil shouted to me that I was exactly like my mother. Yes, he does know the right buttons to push! I exploded although with a calm, diplomatic voice letting him know that I was ‘nothing like my mother!’ Never did I behave, or deceive him in the manner my mother deceived my father.

I gathered my dogs and off we went to the bedroom. I pretended to be asleep! No kiss. Nothing! Breaking the rules continued. I should add, Wednesday, Phil called me several times. No doubt, he wanted to end this scenario on the phone. I stood firm.

Thursday morning, after Weight Watchers, I had lunch with a close friend from Weight Watchers. As I was leaving the car to meet her, my cell phone beeped with an e-mail. From Phil. Subject – Peace! He said he was tired of fighting…recognized that at times he could be difficult, only that is not the word he used! And he was sorry. I phoned him. Fight over.

No, I was not refusing to take the first step to end this emotional battle, but when you live with someone with PTSD there does come a time when you must be firm so they can see the issues related to PTSD. I’ve had several friends ask why I tolerate his behaviors and mental treatments. My reply – simple –he is the only person who has ever loved me. He rescued me when I needed rescuing. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, reading my issues with my mother and the domestic abuse of my family, then you must understand. When someone grows up in such an environment, never do you anticipate a life of love and peacefulness. Never did I EVER see my parents hug or kiss, so — due to LOVE(??) that is why I tolerate such behaviors. I do recall my parents shouting and I shall quote:
Mother – expressed to my father: “I hate you…You no good Son of a B—-!”

Dad’s reply: “I wish I never married you!”

Mom’s reply: “I hope you die soon…”

Those cruel expressions echoed in my ears as a child, and they still echo in my ears. Once you live in an abusive family situation, you never forget it!

Maybe that is why I strive so hard to be positive. When I hear others gossiping, ridiculing others, I say something positive about the person. Maybe that is why I’ve lost “friendships” because I do not wish to gossip about others. I do not function well with gossip or negativity. As a child, I recall my mother dragging me to the beauty shop in Bibb City, GA where she would sit for hours gossiping about women, men and the couples within the village of Bibb City. I hated these moments and would rush outside, or sit with my head covered with one of the bubble hair dryers so I would not hear their shrewd gossip. Women can be so dangerous and cruel. I suppose those ‘toxic stories’ made my mother feel better about herself, and I do recall saying to my mother, “God don’t love ugly.” My grandmother’s favorite expression! My mother’s response, “You shush your mouth, you stupid girl!”

Later in my life, I focused on a new definition of STUPID!
S – Sensitive
T – Tenacious
U – Unique
P – Passionate
I – Imaginative; Independent; Intimate
D – Dignified; Dependable; Desirable

Perhaps for today, these are my Friday reflections. I am hopeful next week will be a positive, happy week for me, and for you. What are your Friday Reflections?

Chattahoochee Child

Chattahoochee Child — Saga Continues…


Chattahoochee Child
Barbie Perkins-Cooper
Copyright 2014

Walking around the flower displays at the exhibit hall of the Coastal Carolina Fair, I inhaled the aromatic smells of pale orange roses. Garrett touched a rose petal. I tapped his hand.

“You aren’t supposed to touch them,” I scolded. He laughed, stepping back.

“Coral roses are my favorites,” I whispered, my mind rushing back to the first time I received roses. Garrett was in Vietnam. We were celebrating our first anniversary alone while he fought the war. The roses were delivered in a long white box. One dozen beautiful, aromatic coral roses that I would cherish for as long as they lived. I was touched by his thoughtfulness in a war zone, so far from home and so alone.

Our marriage started with everything against us. My family made bets that we would be divorced within six months. We proved them all wrong. Although some family members considered us separated when he left for war, I refused to consider us apart. I wrote letters to him every day, sent monthly care packages and lived only for him. The gesture of one dozen roses on our anniversary meant the world to me. I was stepping into a new journey in my life as a young, married woman and I was determined to make this journey a positive one. Although I was only 18-years-old, I had lived a sad, abusive life. I wanted to close the door and never look back. I prayed God would open a window for me and my marriage when I closed the door of abuse.

Admiring the artistry of the displays of flowers, a familiar song played in the background. I listened, singing the chorus while my mind drifted back in time.

I was about five-years-old when I heard the song, “I’ll Be Loving You Always,” playing on the radio while my mother drove Papa’s fishing car, a 1958 pink and white rambler four door sedan. At our house mom marched around, barking orders, screaming at me, demanding me to hurry up. I was the only child home that morning, so I rushed around, grabbing my activity bag in hopes my mother’s mood would change.

Sitting in the front seat of the car, I turned on the radio. We were driving to my paternal grandmother’s house for a visit. Mom appeared a bit agitated that morning, sharp-tongued and impatient. I turned the volume up, listening to the music. Mom sang the lyrics softly. “I’ll be loving you always. With a love that’s true. Always. When the things you’ve planned need a helping hand, I will understand, Always…”

I looked at my mom as she sang. Never have I heard her singing before. I smiled, enjoying this special moment.

Mom glanced over at me. “What are you looking at?” She asked.

“I’m listening to you singing. I’ve never heard you sing before.”

“Stupid child. It’s just a song.”

“It’s a song you like. I can tell, just by watching you.”

“I like the song,” I said… “And when I grow up, I’ll sing it to you and Daddy when I become a singer.”
Mom laughed, a snickering laughter that made me uncomfortable.

“You’re such a silly, foolish child. Don’t you know that love don’t last. That song is stupid.”

Stupid was my mother’s favorite word.

“I believe in love,” I said, lifting my head to look at the gorgeous sunshine beaming into the car. “When I grow up, I’ll fall in love and I’ll sing that song. You just wait.”

“For a five-year-old you sure have some stupid dreams. You ain’t never gonna be a singer. You’re gonna be just like me…Married to a man who beats you, and having babies again.”

My mother was pregnant again, and not happy about it.

“I’ll get married, and I’ll have a baby, but I’ll never let a man hit me. Never.”

Walking around the displays of flowers at the fair, I listened to the song, wiping a tear from my eyes. This was the first time in many years that I cried over the loss of my mother. I sat on a bench, buried my head in my hands so I could wipe my face. Garrett joined me.

“Why are you crying?” He reached for my hand.

“That song. It brought back memories of my childhood and my mother, on one of her good days. That was her favorite song.”

Garrett wiped a tear from my face.

“She was singing that song in the car as she drove to my paternal grandmother’s house. I was only five-years-old, but I remember her saying she was having another baby again. It was one of her good days. That song changed her demeanor. She actually smiled.”

Later that night, I grabbed Garrett, hugging him tightly, thanking him for having a fun day with me. Our marriage was slowly improving for the better. I sang the song “Always,” over and over in my mind until I fell asleep. The next morning, the song replayed in my mind. I went to the special window in my home, the wide open window next to my desk. The window I sat by listening to fog horns in the distance. The window that beams sunshine on me. I looked up to the sky, curious if my mother was attempting to communicate to me from the grave.

“Are you there, Mom?” Tears fell from my eyes while the lyrics of “Always” continued playing.

There’s a reason for this memory to be replaying again and again, but I don’t know what it could be. Could it be my mother making the attempt to apologize and say that she loved me? Was it just a coincidence that we walked into the flower exhibits as that song started to play? I’d like to believe this happened for a reason. In 1978, I cut the chords between my mother and me, after another verbal dispute where she told my son I was a whore, nothing more. Leaving her filthy home, I chose only to speak to her when there was a funeral or family tragedy.

During her illness, I was caring for my terminally ill father. When my mother died in 2002, I was dreadfully ill and could not attend her funeral.

“I’ll be loving you, always.
Days may not be fair Always.
That’s when I’ll be there, Always.
Not for just an hour.
Not for just a day.
Not for just a year,
But Always.”

The lyrics of “Always” touched me more than I anticipated. It had been over twenty years since I cried over the estrangement and loss of my mother, and today, the tears rushed down my face like an endless waterfall. I’ve always believed that those we have lost can communicate with us again. Today was that day. My psychic abilities were a gift from my maternal grandmother who could predict good and bad things happening to us and others. Repeatedly, I have had dreams about someone dying, only to realize the death had happened. Two days before Benjamin broke our engagement, I dreamed that he was breaking up with me. When the letter arrived, I was not surprised. When Garrett was in Vietnam, I awoke in the middle of the night fearful for his life. I circled the date and time on my calendar, staying awake the rest of the night to write him a letter. Twenty days later, a letter from him arrived confirming that he was involved in a battle where he was in the jungle fighting while struggling to keep the communication lines working. In my dream, I visualized him in a thick jungle going deeper and deeper into battle. The more I strove to get closer to him, the thicker the jungle became and I knew just from this visual dream that he was in trouble. I compared the date of his letter and the date circled on my calendar. They matched perfectly. Another vision was a reality.

Early July 6, 1999, at 3:45 in the morning, I dreamed my dad was dying. I phoned the nursing home to have them check on him, telling them I’d had another dream of his death. By now, the nursing home was accustomed to these phone calls. They reassured me he was fine. That afternoon, at 5:45 pm, I approached the doorway of my dad’s room, only to meet a nurse who was entering with an oxygen tank. “Oh, God no,” I cried. At 6:00, my dad died.

On September 9, 2001, I dreamed about several men dressed in long trench coats, dark-skinned with thick black beards, entering two planes. The planes crashed killing every one on board. Another group of men, armed with weapons, wearing trench coats approached beach crowds, shooting the families and beach bums relaxing on the beach. Two days later, I awoke to the tragedies of 9-11-01. Coincidence? Visions? Perhaps.

Visions were part of my life. Each time I had them, I recognized the psychic abilities I possessed were a reflection and a gift of who I was in life. No doubt, I was a witch.

Yes, my mother was communicating to me. Perhaps she was apologizing and the lyrics of the song, “I’ll Be Loving You Always,” were her way of letting me know that in death she recognized her cruel behaviors were due to the unhappiness she had in her life. Perhaps through the compelling lyrics expressing her love, “Always” she was communicating her love to me. Sitting at my desk, I found the song on YouTube, playing it over and over.

Today was a new day. A day to believe that now, in death, my mother loved me, Always.

Chattahoochee Child

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.’