The first ten years.
The First Ten Years (Chapter 1)
Once upon a time, I lived with my momma, father, sister and brother in a house in the town where I was born. I was the youngest child. Then something happened. My father didn’t live with us any longer. Momma, my sister and I moved to another house in another state. My brother went to live with our grandmother, momma’s momma.
The house we moved to was on a riverbank. There was a beer garden beside the house, a bridge behind the house and a rattlesnake in a box in the front yard. I don’t know why the snake was there…it just was.
In the evenings, there would be visitors to our house. They were always male visitors and they came to visit momma. She did her nails and dressed up real pretty. My sister and I went to bed early.
Sometimes, momma would go away with one of the visitors and leave us with neighbors who lived across the bridge. These neighbors had several children who played with us while we stayed there. We also ate dinner with the neighbors. Dinner was usually beans and fried potatoes. They were good to us and we had fun... except when the father played with me.
We didn’t live in the riverbank house very long before momma got married to one of the male visitors. We didn’t know what to call our new daddy so we called him Mr. Mitchell. He was a really nice man and was very good to us. He bought me a rabbit and let me play with it all day if I wanted to. One day the rabbit died and one day Mr. Mitchell died too.
We had to move again. We moved to a hotel and momma was the hotel manager. I didn’t know she knew how to manage a hotel. There were lots of women there. They lived in other rooms on other floors in the hotel.
I was getting a little older now and had started school. I was in the third grade. My sister had spells, called seizures, and had to go to school at home. When I was there, I had to watch her so she wouldn't hurt herself when she had one."
There was a big church across the street from the hotel. I used to go there a lot and pray for my sister and ask God to make her well and to make me a good girl. I liked going in the church. It was quiet there and it felt good to my heart.
Since I was getting older, momma let me sell newspapers on the corner of the street next to the hotel where we lived. I sold lots of newspapers to the coalminers in the evenings when they were going home from the coalmines. Momma said they thought I was cute and that would make them buy papers from me. I didn’t feel cute.
We didn’t live in the hotel for very long. I guess I was right…momma didn’t know how to manage a hotel.
At this time, momma married another man and we didn’t know what to call him either. He liked to get drunk a lot and when he did one day we moved away without him.
This time when we moved, we lived in the basement of a relative’s house. I didn’t know this relative lady but she was mean to me and my sister. We didn’t live with her very long before we went to live with my grandmother. My brother was still living there and it felt good to be with him. He was much older but he made me laugh and played games with me and my sister.
My Grandmother lived on top of a hill in a rock house with lots of trees and flowers in the yard. It was good to be living with her. She let me water the flowers and help feed the pigs and chickens. We got to use the outhouse with the moon on the door. At night there was a big pot next to our bed so we didn’t have to go outside to the outhouse.
After we moved to Grandma’s, momma went to look after some other relatives. Sometimes she would get to come visit us on the weekends. I used to run down to the bottom of grandma’s hill to meet the bus that brought momma home.
When momma was with us, I wanted to ask her to stay. I wanted to tell her that Grandma didn’t talk to me, but I didn’t want her to think that I was unhappy. She might worry and I didn’t want to worry momma.
I was lucky. I had other people to help me watch my sister at Grandma’s house. If she had a spell, I could just yell really loud and someone would come help me watch her. After she had spells, everyone in the house was real quiet so she could sleep. I went outdoors and played with my imaginary friends, picked flowers and road Grandma’s broom like it was my pony. I never tried to be bad, but Grandma said I was and I guess she knew because, after all, she was a grownup, my momma’s momma.
Oh, I forgot. My momma’s sister lived with my grandma too and so did my momma’s brother. Aunt Avis was momma’s sister and Uncle Snook was momma’s brother. Aunt Avis mostly stayed in her room upstairs and crocheted and smoked cigarettes. She was a retired army nurse. Uncle Snook taught school and was only at home on the weekends and during the summer.
Sometimes Aunt Avis and Uncle Snook played cards with me and my brother and sister. Those were fun times. Aunt Avis even taught me to crochet and Uncle Snook took us to the movies and let me listen to his 78-rpm records. He had tons of records and I learned every word to every song. I listened to the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry and something called Big Band Sounds. I sang along with those records, but not loud enough to bother anyone. I felt safe when I listened to music.
One day we went with my brother to wash his car in a nearby creek. I cut my foot on a rusty can in the creek and it hurt really bad. That evening I lay alone on the glider on Grandma’s front porch and asked Jesus to make the hurting stop. Unknown to me, my uncle was listening just inside the door and I heard him laugh at my prayer. I didn’t pray again for a long time, but Jesus did answer my prayer. My foot stopped hurting and I knew there was a God.