I was born in the southern United States during the years when segregations was the norm. My mother, coming from a school in Hawaii where she was one of two Caucasians in a school of Hawaiian and Asian nursing students had some awareness of what discrimination could do.
She came to the south in the 1950’s to marry a Baptist preacher in training. I would be in my mid-fifties when I would hear more than the family gossip about how this young mother of one made the choice to change her dreams. Even then, the story would be given in a way that left more new questions than answers. Such was the life in a home where the mother had a unique ability to forget much of her life accept at rare moments.
The stories she seems to remember best about those early days of marriage were stories of the horrors of seeing that discrimination at its worse as black patients were denied access in the local hospitals. One story that she could never let go of was when she attended a pregnant mother that had to give birth in the kitchen of a farmhouse behind the hospital because of this policy. Though the baby lived, if I remember right, the mother did not.
It was a real culture shock for a young woman who had given up her dreams of becoming a doctor in order to become a homemaker and preacher’s wife in a denomination where segregation was seen as an acceptable reality. The lack of financial security in his dreams and his feelings about her working as a wife and mother would stifle her for many years even though she is smiling in so many of the pictures you see. Though actively involved in his work for years, she never quite left the doctor behind.
At the time of my birth, my family, comprised of my parents and two sisters, lived at a small but new apartment.. Mom says she thinks I was the first baby born to a family living there. That building which was my first home is now a low income complex in the heart of the southern city in which I was born.
My sister, Carol is a year and 11 months older than me. Since my parents could not afford insurance my mother spent her hospital stay for her birth in a gurney in the hallway. As a result, when I was born, they had set up for my birth to be in a clinic for people who could not afford going to a hospital.
When I was planning my wedding and Mount Saint Helen’s erupted coating the Northwest in black ash, my mother repeatedly told me how a tornado ripped through my birth town a month before my birth. She said it was a warning for them of what was coming. I am guessing that I was quite an active and demanding toddler from that comment.
I was told I disturbed church for my first time of many the night before I was born. Mom went into labour just before the evening service. Dad, of course, made sure they stayed before we headed to the hospital. Going to church for him, as a young up- and-coming preacher, was a big deal.
From what I hear, my mom had mumps for the first 10 weeks of my life so I spent much of those 10 weeks in a crib at the foot of my bed with bottles propped up for me. My oldest sister, 7, was in school, but Carol would sometimes crawl into my crib and hold the bottle up for me. What she must have thought with a new baby in the house and her mother too sick to hold her! We couldn’t afford for dad not to work and, I guess, relatives did not live near enough so they coped as best they could.
The earliest story I heard of myself was at the age of three. Someone asked if I was planning on being a “gold digger” someday. Seems that if we were in a waiting room, by the time we left I would have asked every man in the room his name, age and how much money he made.
I have two early memories from my life down in the south. Both occurred in the third town we lived in during my brief 4 plus years down there. I seemed to have a real interest in names since both of these revolve around names as well.
While living in a town right along the coast of Mexico, we had a neighbor girl. My memory is brief. She seems to have a foot on the gate and is swinging on it. Her hair is long and wavy to her shoulders and she is wearing a longish dress with no sleeves. I ask her what her name was and she told me she didn’t have a name. I think my memory of her looks came from home videos my father took and showed us through the years, but the memories of the words were my own. I always felt a deep sadness for her when I thought of the hollowness in her eyes and the bitterness in her voice. When I shared that with my mother a couple years ago, mom told me that her name was the same as mine. She had a sad story, my mom continued, being sent to relatives because of things her dad did to her.
The other, in the same town was sitting in the seat between my parents while we went to pick up dog. It was my first simile. I looked at him and saw his likeness to another object and that became his name. When we moved to the Northwest during my fourth, we had to leave him behind with people we knew. It was hard enough to travel the multi-day journey with what was now 4 daughters as my youngest sister, Julia, joined us not long before that journey.
Besides our dog, we also left behind much of our contact with my dad’s side of the family. Cousins and Granny would be remembered mainly from pictures and brief visits. Though I would be the one clinging more often to granny or taking her hand, it was Carol sitting that she would unapologetically and vocally favour. I took it in stride and just kept finding my way to build my own relationship with her. She seemed to find a way to build a relationship with me as well.
The day my granny died during my grade 4 year, I was sent to school as usual. All of remember of that day was not hearing anything the teacher was saying. I sat at my desk and drew a tombstone with her name and the date of her death. The epitaph I wrote was: The greatest granny that ever lived. I have never stopped writing since.