The Woman with Two Birthdays
The Memoir of a Lesser Known Poet
2014 © Carolyn Sorrell
by Carolyn Sorrell at Smashwords
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is a biographical work and the people and places depicted are real.
Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Books by This Author
was four, maybe five. Me and Daddy were in an old drug store. It
was dirty. There were men sitting around in dingy booths with torn,
plastic covers. Cigars and cigarettes had been stamped out on the
floor. He had my hand and for that, I was grateful.
was the mid-fifties and we were in downtown Dallas, across the street
from the old Greyhound Bus Station. This was Dallas years before
anyone ever heard of JFK or the assassination that made Dallas
famous. Dallas wasn’t much of a city then. Oh, it was big enough,
but not proud and mighty the way it is today.
the drug stores in those days had a counter with those stainless
steel barstools and yellow plastic covers. They served malts and
shakes in real glasses; heavy containers. Daddy lifted me up and sat
me on one of the bar stools. It felt like I was twenty feet in the
air. He was asking me something.
can daddy buy you an ice cream cone?” Daddy smiled at me and then
nodded to the guy behind the counter, a weathered old man in sagging
trousers. “Fred, bring this girl an ice cream cone.”
nodded back. “What kind, Johnny?”
deal was done. The ice cream came promptly on a large cone. At
first lick I fell in love. There was certainly no greater pleasure on
earth than ice cream. The ball of ice cream, the cumbersome cone,
they were difficult for a tiny four-year old hand to manage but I had
become completely absorbed in those licks … one, and then another
and then another.
and Fred discussed things too difficult for a little girl to grasp,
something about football games and who would win. Money exchanged
behind me, Daddy’s big hands formed around my waist. “Time to
go, honey,” he was saying as he lifted me high and swung me around.
then a tragedy of mammoth proportions occurred: the ball of ice
cream fell off the cone. Kersplat! Right into the middle of the
dirty floor full of crushed out cigars.
let out a blood curdling wail and was suddenly enveloped in tears.
then, my startled father exchanged panicky glances with Fred, but I
couldn’t see how this calamity could ever be set right.
no!” Fred called out. “We dropped our ice cream.” This was
the type of guy who had likely never uttered those five words in his
life. “Here, let me get you another,” he offered in a softer
took the new ice cream cone from Fred and gently knelt down to hand
it to me. Then he turned and thanked the man and we left the drug
store. Walking out onto the sidewalk in the bright noon day sun,
daddy carefully helped me into the old ’47 Chevy and we headed back
home to momma and Sonny.
was years later before I knew where I had been that day. Fred was
daddy’s bookie. It took years of yelling matches between my mom
and dad, yelling matches that, over the years, began to clarify some
things about my life, our
one thing, daddy had a gambling problem. For another, momma had a
drinking problem. She had a temper too. She was far beyond most
females in the women’s movement. She worked outside the home when
most wives and mothers shunned such behavior. She drank. She had a
girlfriend that she always went carousing with. They’d dance the
night away with guys whose names didn’t even matter.
the yelling matches I found out other things too. Things that
innocent children really shouldn’t know about. Momma was always
mad at daddy because he was chasing skirts.
see, daddy was a very good-looking, charismatic man. Women just
naturally gravitated toward him. He couldn’t be faithful. I
remember one floosy that daddy got involved with when I was around 10
years old. She was a semi-famous stripper in Dallas known as Trixie.
I don’t recall what exactly happened, but old Trixie got herself
mixed up in some kind of racy scandal with a well-known politician.
It was all over the newspapers for a year or so.
never seen such genuine glee as the day momma picked up the Dallas
Morning News and read one of the first of many articles about the
scandal. You could almost hear her thinking, At
least there will be one less ‘other woman’ to worry about now.
seemed at a loss for a while. Looking back, I realize that he might
have had some true feelings for Trixie. Who knows? Love never makes
any sense, does it?
I was six or seven years old, we lived in a worn out duplex in a poor
neighborhood of East Dallas. Me and momma and daddy, Sonny and
Curtis were all stuffed into a small one bedroom duplex.
I already knew we were poor. I was playing on the sidewalk toward the
end of the street one day and there was a FOR RENT sign in front of
this pretty two-story house. I wanted to live in that house so much!
ran home, got a pencil and paper and wrote down the phone number and
then ran back to our ratty little duplex to call the owners. They
must have thought I was crazy or some kid making a prank call. But I
wanted to know how much that house rented for. I wanted to go to
momma and daddy and tell them that we needed to move into that house.
was light yellow and white and had a big front porch with columns. It
was a beautiful house, like a palace … the most beautiful home I’d
ever seen. I wanted to live there so badly that it caused me to ache
at six years old, I knew that we were not only poor, but it was the
kind of “poor” that could only be fixed by a “Great God” or
some other powerful force. I sensed that my family had always been
poor. For many generations backward, we had all lived in lack and
poverty and such financial deficiency that it covered our lives like
a woolen blanket. And just like a woolen blanket, this type of
poverty could steal your breath or your dreams. It could smother your
joy and hope.
was on our lives, like paint on a sidewalk. We were poor, had always
been poor and would always be poor unless something extraordinary
would happen in our lives.
six, I was sick inside about this revelation but certainly had no
idea what to do or where to go. Who can I see about this? Is there
any way to stop being poor? Surely there’s a cure for poverty.
that’s the reason why I spent my whole life trying to be someone
else. People will tell you that they spent their whole life trying to
be someone else, but usually it isn’t true. They’re normally just
trying to make a point. In my case, it was really true.
didn’t spend much time examining the reasons for this. Instead, I
put my efforts toward actively trying to be someone else. There are a
lot of ways you can accomplish this. For me, it developed into a kind
of rolling change of personas.
a while I was a girly girl. For a while an outdoorswoman. For a long
while I became the quintessential homebody. The woman who made all
her Christmas gifts. Someone who could throw together an elaborate
and delicious meal on the spur of the moment, with almost no
ingredients to work with. Later in my life, this would show up in a
whole different form … a dangerous one.
would rave about my pecan pies or homemade soups. This was the role
that suited me best. It was the one where I would find myself. It was
the one time in my life where I felt comfortable, at ease,
worthwhile, like I belonged.
I think back upon the years I’ve lived upon this earth, I find one
thing that stands out in my mind and heart: I immensely enjoyed the
role of being a mother and grandmother. Though it was a seemingly
simple one, for me it was glorious.
could love, nurture, bake things for people I loved. I could
encourage and support. Life was peaceful and beautiful for me during
those years. I had found something I was good at, my niche. My home,
family, they came first. They were all that mattered. Perhaps it was
an attempt to recreate my own screwed-up childhood and make it
wonderful this time, just the way childhoods should be.
came to be most comfortable in that role. I fell into the lifestyle
easily. A lovely home out in middle suburbia, where the oaks grew
tall and the flower beds always bloomed profusely. Neighbors were
always friendly. Streets were safe for children to play on, even at
was the American Dream and I had it.
had forgotten one crucial bit of information though. Dreams are never
meant to last. You wake up from them and there it is … reality…
cold, hard reality.
I was three years old and Sonny was only a baby of one year old, the
two of us came down with polio. There was a raging epidemic across
America during the fifties and my family fell victim to this killer
virus that would ravage and maim the bodies of thousands of small
children and infants.
have a couple of vivid memories of that experience. One of them is a
memory of lying in a bed in a large room full of beds in a hospital
ward in Tyler, Texas. It was hot, so hot that sometimes I can still
feel the intensity of the smoldering heat.
were dozens of little beds, all filled with children like myself.
There was so much crying. At any time of the day or night, you could
hear the voices of little children moaning, wailing, calling out for
their mothers. The sounds echoed off the dingy green walls of the
room like screams in a dark canyon.
weren’t air conditioned in those days and it was summer in East
Texas. In the day time, temperatures hovered around 100 degrees and
at night time, they would fall to the high 80’s. The room never got
any fresh air. It was closed in by the dingy green walls and large
windows that were never supposed to be opened.
would sit by my bedside and fan me with a homemade fan crafted out of
a piece of paper. Once she brought a small oscillating fan in and sat
it on the table by my bedside. The air that came out of it was hot
fever went up to 103 and 104 degrees and stayed there for several
weeks. Back in those days, the doctors knew nothing at all about
polio. They thought that if they left our fever up that high for that
long, it would somehow burn the virus out of our bodies. All it
actually did was cause brain damage in many of the children.
tried not to be angry or bitter over the years toward those doctors.
They didn’t know what they were doing. They had never dealt with an
epidemic on this proportion with thousands of tiny victims.
1955, Jonas Salk finally perfected a polio vaccine that would stop
the spread of this horrific virus. His vaccine came too late for me
and my little brother and thousands of other children.
night, doctors came with pretty bad news for our parents. We would
die soon, both of us. We were just too small and the infection in our
little bodies was too widespread.
parents were broken-hearted, but they went back to their pastor and
the congregation of the small Baptist Church where we were members
and told them the news. The pastor and all the sweet little old
ladies cried out to God for our lives to be spared and they were.
doctor came back again a week later to inform our parents of more bad
news: even though it looked like we might live, neither of us would
ever walk again. When momma and daddy took that news back to the
congregation of the little church, they became even more adamant and
prayed even harder for us to not only live, but walk again.
brother suffered more long-term affects; he was only a year old after
all. His left leg was pretty crippled for most of his life and the
brain damage was apparent. I came out of it much better though. I
walked with a slight limp for most of my life until hit by post-polio
syndrome later in life.
doctors still don’t know a great deal about polio, they believe
that the polio virus never dies. It just goes into hibernation for a
long period of time. When a victim reaches their forties or fifties,
the virus comes out of hibernation and continues to destroy muscle
tissue. The prognosis is pretty bleak.
know God healed me once and he can do it again though. As for my
little brother, Sonny, he died a dozen years ago of a heart attack.
We always had a special bond because of what we went through together
and I still miss him even now, but I know that he’s in heaven and
that I will see him again someday. In Heaven, we will have strong,
healthy legs and muscles so we can run and play like the other kids.
can recall at around eight years old, shopping at the “specialty”
shoe store with my grandmother in Terrell, Texas for shoes that would
fit me properly. My left leg and foot were smaller and somewhat lame
from the damage to my muscles. My parents had no choice because we
were poor; they bought the cheapest shoes from Woolworth’s or Sears
for me. But my grandmother would try to get shoes that would fit
of these trips stands out in my mind. Grandma had me by the hand
walking briskly down the sidewalk toward the “special shoe store”.
It had a big machine that would x-ray your feet and tell you exactly
what size to get for each foot.
her breath, she was whispering, “Honey, stay away from those black
people.” She nodded toward the black men sitting on benches in
front of a hardware store across the street.
never said exactly why
we should stay away from them but it seemed very important to her
that we walk on the other side of the street from the black people. I
thought perhaps they had some virus like polio that we might catch if
we came too close to them, so I obeyed her commands.
also noticed that any time any of us kids would put a nickel or a
quarter in our mouths, granny would harshly reprimand us, saying, “Oh
land’s sake, child! Get that nickel out of your mouth! A negro
could have touched it.”
comments like these, I was able to ascertain that black people were
in some way inferior to white people. They had some sort of disease
that we could catch if we came into close proximity to them. We
weren’t supposed to speak to them either.
though, even at only eight years old, my common sense told me that it
wasn’t possible that we white people were somehow better than the
blacks simply on account of our skin color. After all, skin color is
something that none of us can control. How could being white make you
a better, sweeter, smarter, nicer person?
back now I wonder how I ever managed to escape being racially
prejudiced. I was born in East Texas and grew up in Dallas. In the
south, there was widespread racial prejudice that probably still
exists today. It may be hidden behind polite smiles and friendly
gestures, but it still remains in the hearts of citizens who grew up
like me, in a place and time where white people were the majority and
the dominating force in society. White people ruled and other races
were inferior to us.
to the dismay of my family, I never accepted their so-called truths.
Something deep within me told me that it was hogwash! It wasn’t
possible for any person to be superior to another simply because of
their skin color. How could so many people be so wrong?
never understood racial prejudice and still don’t to this day. In
many ways, I guess that’s a good thing.
was a very quiet child, more likely to withdraw into the background
at social events. I didn’t say much to those around me and always
felt misunderstood for reasons that still baffle me today. I had a
very introverted personality and stayed to myself.
one person I loved with all my heart was my half-sister, La Queta
Ann. I can recall when she would come to visit us. As soon as I would
get the news she was coming, I’d jump up and down and run all over
the house yelling, “My Queta is coming! My Queta is coming!”
was the only person in my household though, who was excited to see
her. I can still recall the awful yelling fights that would ensue
anytime La Queta came for a visit. Daddy hated her, calling her that
Massey-looking son of a bitch.
was the daughter of my mother and her first husband, Elton Massey.
Mother and Elton married right before he went to serve in World War
II. As soon as he returned they realized they had made a mistake and
got divorced. The only thing to come out of their relationship was La
Queta, my half-sister.
once her father and my mother remarried, no one wanted this sweet
little girl. My dad would become furious any time he saw her. Her
only fault was that she resembled her father, Elton Massey, too much.
He was half Cherokee Indian and my mother was an eighth, so La Queta
had the dark olive complexion, the long black hair and the rounded
nose associated with American Indians.
was a beautiful little girl but no one wanted her; she was
inconvenient now that both her parents had remarried. She got kicked
around a lot; she was shipped off to live with an aunt and uncle,
cousins, people we didn’t even really know very well.
those years, she was unloved and unwanted, molested and abused. Later
in my own life, when I learned of this, it broke my heart. I couldn’t
understand how humans, adults, parents could ever do this to such a
precious little girl.
and I had each other though. She seemed to love me just the way I
was. Even though I was sort of quiet and shy and people didn’t
understand me, she loved me. Even though no one wanted her around and
she was a stark reminder to her parents of a failed marriage, I loved
her. From the first day, we formed a strong bond that would last
throughout our lifetimes.
was my very first experience with unconditional love. For many years,
it would be the only experience for both of us. For some reason, the
rest of the world didn’t seem to know about unconditional love.
Their love depended upon what you did or didn’t do and whether your
physical appearance was pleasing to them. If it was, then you could
stay in their little world. If it wasn’t, then you had to go.
eight years old, I was awkward and clumsy. My mother told me that I
wasn’t pretty, that I was stupid and that I would never amount to
anything. She said I would trip over my own feet and that I was too
dumb to pour piss out of a boot with the directions on the heel. She
told me I was fat and ugly.
trusted my mother and thought she was much wiser than me, so I
believed every word she said to me. I really never doubted one thing
she said. Surely your own mother wouldn’t lie to you! So I grew up
believing those things about myself. In my own mind, I was fat,
clumsy and stupid and would never amount to anything. This was my lot
really didn’t know what you were supposed to do about that though.
Perhaps try to be different, try to be someone else, someone who was
prettier and smarter? I guess that’s when I first began to
fantasize. In my mind, I was beautiful, like the women on TV. I was
smart enough to work as a secretary or even an astronaut.
my fantasies, I became the enchanted beauty of the forest who was
loved by all the animals and eventually discovered by her charming
prince. Within a few years, I began to write these stories down on
paper. I would focus on each character and really become them long
enough to learn all that I needed to know about who they were.
did they look like? Their name? Were they blonde, brunette? What were
their skills and goals in life? What were their motivations? Who were
their friends and colleagues? What was their purpose?
could go deeply into a story and become the people there and write
their tale of adventure. It was a powerful escape for me that
developed into a great passion over the years and finally a career
path. I was a writer. God created me to write the stories and share
them with the world. I had some purpose for existence, at least. My
mother had been wrong about that.
barely survived my “troubled teen” years, choosing rebellion over
obedience. Anything I could do or say to hurt my mother, I would do
it and relish every moment. I had every right to feel angry towards
her. She drank every day. She and daddy fought like cats and dogs. Me
and both my brothers were already nervous, over-emotional kids from
the years of momma’s drinking and daddy’s gambling and a million
screaming arguments that would often end with the police at our door.
was sixteen the first time I tried to commit suicide. Anything had to
be better than the hell I constantly lived in. I had been out with a
bunch of other teenagers. We were all drunk and disorderly on a
parking lot in the middle of the night. The cops found us laughing
and acting silly. As soon as they realized we were all under-aged,
they arrested us.
took us all downtown and locked us in separate little rooms and
called our parents. While they went to call mine, I found a mirrored
compact in my purse, removed it and broke the mirror out of its
plastic covering. It broke into several nice sized pieces. I picked
up one of them and matter-of-factly used the sharp edge to slice open
my left wrist.
showed me much sympathy. My mother was mad as hell because we had
interrupted her evening out at the club with her wild girlfriends and
my dad couldn’t be found. Turned out he had spent the night with a
girlfriend and never came home at all that night. I was starting to
feel inconvenient too, just like my sister, La Queta.
I still have the scar today, the wound didn’t turn out to be too
bad. I had somehow missed the artery. I was bandaged up in the
emergency room and sent home.
had a way of making us feel like we had horribly inconvenienced her
life; that if we weren’t there, her life would be fun and
wonderful. We were such a burden! Even though we were just kids, each
of us could feel and sense how angry mother was with us because we
were holding her back from the simply divine life she could be
leading if only we didn’t exist.
I was sixteen. My breasts had already developed quite a bit and even
when I was around older men, I could see them staring at me. My Queta
was 21 by now and she loved country and western dancing. She would
come get me sometimes in the evenings and tell momma and daddy that
we were going out for a coke. Instead, we would go down to the Palms
Danceland, her favorite watering hole.
sister would dress me in a slinky grown-up dress and put me in high
heels and the bouncers always let me in those clubs. They never
asked for ID. We’d have ourselves a gay old time, laughing, dancing
… she was careful not to let me drink anything but a coke, but we
still had a blast.
is when I first began to realize that I had something men wanted. And
furthermore, that I could use this ‘something’ to get them to do
anything I wished.
you have ten dollars I could borrow?”
honey, no problem. Is that all you need?”
you give me a lift home?”
sexy! Let’s take the long way though. I know a perfect spot for
first serious relationship
with a guy turned out to be the drummer at Palms Danceland. He was 25
and had dark, curly hair, a real charmer. I fell for all his smooth
lines. I have no idea how I managed to keep from getting pregnant
during those years, but somehow I avoided it.
was no such thing as sex education in those days, in school or
otherwise. You learned about sex and relationships from other kids at
school or out on the streets. Nobody talked to their children about
safe sex or using condoms. If you got pregnant, it was a disgrace
and you’d probably have to marry the guy whether you wanted to or
not. Your parents would make you.
know my life would have gone a completely different direction if I’d
gotten pregnant at sixteen. I’m still thankful to this day that I
only thing that remained constant in my life was my love for words.
I’d write everything down; every feeling, every incident. I’d
make up stories and characters. I’d daydream their lives and
dialogue and all their actions, then make it into a poem or a story.
I’d have dreams, vivid dreams, usually in color. I’d write those
down too. I could tell when the dreams meant something and when they
were just regular dreams. One warm summer night, I had this dream:
awoke to find Mary Shelley in my bedroom. When I got up to put on a
housecoat, I found Ernest Hemingway standing by the corner of the
was trying to explain to Ernest how she came up with the idea for
Frankenstein. Surprisingly, she said that she drew his character and
the idea for him from her husband, a neighbor and a friend …
Frankenstein was actually a composite of people she knew.
then, Shakespeare appeared. He began to go on and on about how much
the live theater had changed. He seemed very upset about the
changes. “She ain’t what she used to be,” he claimed, quoting
an old song lyric.
remember thinking that he shouldn’t know the lyrics to “The Old
Gray Mare”. It was written in 1843 and Shakespeare died in 1616.
watched Mary, Ernest and William for a few more moments, listening as
they discussed the theater. Finally, I told myself that I must be
dreaming. So I left the bedroom and walked out onto the front porch.
The moon was full and the night breeze was warm and smelled of herbal
to my dismay, I glanced around to see that the trio had followed me.
Also, they had been joined by Edgar Allen Poe. He was always one of
my favorites and influenced my writing quite considerably, so I was
eager to speak to him.
turned out to be a glum fellow who suffered with depression. He
didn’t say very much at all. He seemed apprehensive about
stood on the porch for a while, just relaxing and talking about our
favorite characters and stories. “Why don’t we go make coffee?”
I finally offered. “If we’re going to stay up all night talking,
we need some coffee.”
idea!” remarked William, and he headed for the door.
rather have whiskey,” Ernest said, “but oh well!” And he too
headed for the door.
pushed in front of Ernest and Mary, making his way back into the
house. He went straight to the kitchen as if he’d lived there all
his life, opened the refrigerator door and found a pitcher of orange
juice. “Mmm, I’ll have this,” he said, going to search for a
everyone had their drink of choice, we headed back out onto the front
porch to enjoy the cool night air.
the door will you, William?” said Mary with a cup of coffee in one
hand and a bagel in the other.
enough, Mary. And please … just call me ‘Bill’. William sounds
of us found a chair and pulled them into a circle of sorts and there
we sat in the dark drinking our beverages and discussing art, music
and literature. Ernest kept wanting to talk about how much life had
changed for “gay” people since his time, while William … or
Bill shared his latest idea for a new play.
next morning when I awoke, I lay in bed for an hour, going over the
whole dream in my mind. It had seemed so real and I honestly felt
like I knew those writers from then on. They were my muses now. They
would come to assist me whenever I was struggling with a story. They
helped me craft my stories from then on.
throughout high school, I was in love with just one guy, Bobby
Hammonds. He and his three brothers lived just around the corner from
us. We went to the same high school but he was in one grade higher
than me. We dated off and on for years. I was so much in love with
him, but at the same time, I had all these hormones racing around in
my body and was so curious about sex. I wanted to date and go out
with different boys and experience life and love. I wasn’t ready to
settle down with just one guy.
I was crazy about Bobby and he was crazy about me. I was so young and
filled with all these hopes and dreams and an insatiable lust to
learn about life. I decided that I’d play around some and date a
few different boys but then eventually me and Bobby would get
married, buy a house and have a few kids … the best of both worlds.
I was out there playing around, I met an older guy. He was 24 and I
was 17. He had a real job and a car. The only boys I’d ever dated
still lived with their parents. They didn’t have cars and jobs and
their own apartment. I was impressed and infatuated with the older
had been working at the local supermarket saving money to buy a new
Ford Mustang. He had it all picked out. It was candy apple red, which
is actually kind of an orange color. When he had enough money saved,
he was going to buy that car and me and him would drive around town
in it and listen to our music … maybe drive up to Flagpole Hill at
Whiterock Lake and make out in his new car. All our friends would be
here was a guy who already had a car, a job and an apartment. I was
dazzled by this older man and thought he was so cool. Before I even
knew what had happened the guy asked me to marry him and I thought,
“Wow! Wouldn’t that be cool? To get married before all my
friends?” So without really knowing much at all about the man, I
parents were right in the middle of a nasty divorce. They were
constantly fighting and screaming hateful things at each other. They
had totally forgotten about their three children and we were mostly
just on our own. We got ourselves ready for school, we made our
dinner, we took care of housework. As the oldest, most of the
responsibility fell on me and I constantly felt overwhelmed. Me and
my brothers were confused about our parents getting divorced. We were
worried about our future. We weren’t sure what was going to happen
to any of us; there was no stability in our lives at all.
those days, people didn’t get divorced very often. They mainly just
stayed together and tried to make it work. Divorce was a sin. Divorce
was almost unheard of. It was frowned upon by all the decent people.
I can recall being embarrassed to let my friends know that my parents
were getting divorced. I was trying to act adult about it and be
brave, but I was just as scared as my little brothers were.
parents had gotten to the point where their fights were violent.
Momma would get a tire iron and chase daddy around the house and we
would be crying and begging her not to kill daddy and the police
would come and calm everything down … till next weekend. I knew in
my heart that it was probably best for all of us if our parents did
move forward with the divorce. After all, they’d been fighting for
so many years that we’d mostly gotten used to it.
had a lot of problems with his flesh. Besides being a skirt chaser,
he was addicted to gambling. The most vivid memory I have of how
daddy’s gambling affected his family was the time when I was 16 and
we lost our car. We had a 1956 Ford Fairlane. It was baby blue on top
and white on the bottom and had a four-speed in the floor. It was a
beautiful car and I had just got my driver’s license. I loved
driving that car so much and would find a reason at least daily to
take it and go to the grocery store or someplace … anywhere …
just so I could drive that amazing car.
day, I told momma that I thought the Ford needed washing and begged
her to let me take it to the car wash. In those days, you pretty much
had to do all the work yourself when you would go to get your car
washed. Me and my two brothers took some rags and cleaner, a bucket
and some car wax and spent two hours at the car wash getting the Ford
immaculate. It was shining when we drove it home.
I pulled into the driveway, I noticed two men on our front porch.
Momma and daddy walked out onto the porch beside the two men and
waited while I pulled the car up in the driveway and got out. As soon
as me and my brothers piled out of the car, the four adults walked
out into the yard.
kids get in the house,” daddy said gruffly.
were baffled about what was going on but we walked past them and went
inside like we were told. Watching through the screen door, we heard
the men talking to daddy and then momma started crying, and then the
men took the keys to the Ford Fairlane, got in it and backed out of
our driveway and drove away. I never saw that car again.
was later that day before I could get momma to stop crying and tell
me what had happened. Daddy lost our car in a poker game the previous
weekend. The men had come to collect on their debt. I couldn’t
believe our car was gone. I missed it for years and would cry when
I’d think about how we lost it.
married the older man and quickly found out that he was from a
totally different world than I had grown up in. He had no idea who
his father was and no idea where his mother lived. His brother had
just gotten out of prison. He had an uncle who believed he was Jesus
Christ. What had I gotten myself into?
was young and foolish and sure that we could work out our differences
so I stayed for a full year and tried to be a good wife to him. He
was irrational and difficult to communicate with. He was always
moving around to a new job and a new place. We moved to a small town
in Oklahoma and stayed with an aunt for a while. She earned extra
money by being a prostitute. I had never been around people like that
and had no idea what I was into.
new husband brought home the clap to me once while we were staying
with his aunt and we had no money to take me to the doctor for
penicillin so his aunt turned a trick for $10 to get me the money to
go the doctor. For some reason, she liked me and kind of watched out
after me while I was there. She lived in a pretty rough neighborhood
on the wrong side of town and I was grateful to have someone to watch
my back. People in her neighborhood would knife you for a pair of
shoes. If I got caught got out on the streets after dark, I was fair
game for anyone or anything. The police didn’t go into
neighborhoods like that in those days.
husband heard of a wealthy farmer who was looking to hire hands
outside of Tulsa, so we decided to hitchhike to his farm and work
there picking cotton. There were about six of us though and it was
hard to get people to stop and pick us up. Sometimes, we would break
up into two groups so we could get rides easier. One man driving a
new pickup truck picked all of us up and drove us to the next town. I
guess he could see that we were all dirty and hungry, so he drove to
a little store on Main Street and bought a whole sack of groceries
for us. He handed us the sack of food, then wished us luck and told
us to be careful. We sat down on some benches a few hundred yards
away and went through the bag to find two packages of bologna, a big
loaf of bread and a big bag of potato chips. There was a six-pack of
canned coke at the bottom of the bag. Though it wasn’t cold, it was
this very day, I still enjoy bologna sandwiches, potato chips and a
coke once in a while. I’ve never forgotten that stranger’s
kindness and I know that God must have rewarded him in ways we can
only dream of. That feeling of hunger is something that sticks with
you for years. It’s an empty sick feeling in the pit of your
stomach that never goes away and haunts you constantly.
last trip I took with my new husband was to Oklahoma City to stay
with a cousin. It was a horrible dump with too many cockroaches. We
had absolutely no money whatsoever and there were no jobs to be
found, not for people like us, at least. We stayed there for over a
month and nearly starved to death. Finally, my husband’s uncle
could see that I was wasting away to nothing and he sold some metal
he’d found in an abandoned factory to get me the money for a bus
never forget my mother’s face when I got off that bus. As soon as
she saw me, she started crying. I weighed a frail 90 pounds; my
cheeks were sunk in and my eye sockets were dark. I was so dirty. My
clothes were filthy. I was wearing an old mouton coat, which was a
popular fur in that day and time. It was originally white but now it
was so dingy and filthy that it had to be thrown away. There was no
washing that kind of dirt away. That was the way I felt too. All the
way through I felt dirty and sad and sick inside. I knew I’d made a
terrible mistake by marrying this man so I asked my mother if she
would help me get a divorce.
had her faults but she could be a very tender person if she wanted to
be. She took me in, cleaned me up and started cooking wholesome meals
for me each day. We had plenty of squash, spinach, calves liver …
momma wasn’t no doctor but she could clearly see that I was anemic
and in bad health. It took her a few months to get the color back in
my cheeks but I was starting to put on some weight and look a lot
day, my sister, La Queta came over. She said, “Hey girl! Let’s go
out and get lunch somewhere. There’s a new diner down the street;
we should check it out.” Her and mom had turned me into their pet
project. They made it their job to help me get strong and healthy
again and get divorced from this horrible person I had married. After
that, they would help me start my life all over again. I loved them
both for being so supportive during this time and I was finally
starting to feel safe and loved again. My life was returning to
sister sat down on the side of the bed and waited while I got dressed
to go eat lunch with her. As I dressed, she studied my figure for a
few moments, staring at my stomach with curious looks. Finally, she
glanced up at me and said, “Honey, I think you’re pregnant.”
just sat down on the side of the bed beside her and cried like a baby
while she held me and rocked me back and forth. It felt like the end
of the world to me.
never forget the day I sat in the doctor’s office facing the
OB/GYN, him all dressed in hospital white and me just a girl of 18
with no idea of what the future held for me. He perused his papers,
my test results, then glanced up at me and said, “Well, you’re
definitely pregnant.” I felt numb all over. It didn’t even really
register. I wouldn’t allow myself to consider his words at all.
What did he know anyway? Doctors can be wrong about things.
got up, thanked him, paid my bill and went to get my hair done. For
the next few weeks, I went on like nothing had changed and everything
in my life was just fine. It was a type of denial that would soon be
shattered by the body of evidence growing in my own womb.
almost certain I would have had an abortion, but it was the late 60’s
and abortion wasn’t legal yet. It was only performed by shady
doctors behind closed doors, so I decided to go ahead and have the
baby and keep it. My mother tried to talk me into giving the baby
away. She said I had no business with a baby. She said I was nothing
more than a child myself. She said I couldn’t support myself, let
alone a child.
she told me was true but I had this new life growing inside me and
for once in my life, everything wasn’t all about me. Now there was
a child to consider and I just knew in my heart that I would not be
able to carry this tiny life inside me for 9 months and then just
give it away to strangers and never see it again. Once I made up my
mind to keep my baby, my sister and mom pitched in to help me.
stayed with my mother and she helped me get some maternity clothes
and find a local hospital that would take a young girl with no
medical insurance, job of any kind or hope of ever being able to pay
them back for medical care. After much research, we found that Baylor
Hospital had a program where you could get proper pre-natal care plus
baby delivery for only $150 plus 3 pints of blood. Friends and family
were called upon to donate the blood and my mom and sister scraped up
pregnancy went well. Momma made sure I ate plenty of fruits and
vegetables and drank plenty of juice and water. I started to fill out
and soon I’d gone from 90 pounds to 140. Some of it was the baby
and some was just me becoming healthy again. I worried that the baby
would be harmed by the fact that I had not been very healthy when I
conceived and the fact that my husband had given me the clap several
times during our brief marriage.
continued to struggle during my pregnancy with God too. “Why did
you let me get pregnant?” I would cry out when alone at night
trying to fall asleep. “Why couldn’t this be Bobby Hammond’s
baby … or someone I at least cared about? Why does this child’s
father have to be such a horrible man and the worst mistake of my
though I was growing more and more fond of the gentle life growing in
my womb, I couldn’t see how I could completely love her. I wanted
to love her but something inside me told me that she would be like
her father … a drifter, a con artist, a liar. Genetics were a
pretty sure thing, proven by real scientists and the like. Little did
I know then that those questions and that struggle to love her would
continue throughout my lifetime. In fact, it would define my
relationship with my daughter.
baby’s father came back into our lives very briefly while I was in
labor. Somehow he had found out that I was in the hospital having his
baby so he came down there and sat by my bed while I was in labor.
Instead of holding my hand and telling me not to be afraid, each time
I would fade in and out of consciousness, he would accuse me of
cheating on him and insist that this wasn’t his baby at all.
Finally, my mother got wind of all this and had him ejected from the
hospital by security guards.
those days, doctors gave pregnant women all the drugs they wanted
without any concern for what it might do to the baby’s health. They
also didn’t do C-sections very often in the 60’s. Besides that, I
wasn’t really a paying customer. The hospital didn’t want to be
out any more money than was completely necessary so they left me in
labor for 19 hours. I was so doped up after the first couple of hours
that I barely recall anything at all. Only the intense pain and the
long duration of time and the doctor saying that I wasn’t dilating
miraculously though, I woke up the next morning and was told that I
had indeed given birth to a baby girl. She was very normal and had
all her fingers and toes. I was still apprehensive and insisted on
seeing for myself, so they brought her in to me and for the first
time, I got to touch this innocent new life. She was very soft and
smelled nice. She seemed very small to me but the doctor assured me
that 7 pounds and 4 ounces was a perfectly normal body weight for a
had warned me not to breast feed. She said that I would have to go
right back to work as soon as I was able and that it would make
things much tougher on everyone if I breast-fed. In those days, kids
did what their parents told them. Parents were always right even when
they weren’t. So I never even considered breast feeding.
hadn’t really given much thought to naming the baby either. For my
entire pregnancy, I had sort of leaned toward remaining in denial
about even being pregnant, so thinking of names for a baby that
didn’t exist seemed ludicrous. My mother and sister were right
there though, telling me how good I had done and congratulating me
and asking what I was planning to name my baby.
older brother’s wife, Sonya, had been pregnant during the same time
frame as me, only I was about three months further along than she
was. One day when we were discussing our pregnancies, she told me
that she was going to name her baby Sharrell. I told her that I loved
the name and she seemed very pleased.
on my hospital bed that day, staring up at the ceiling, I recalled
our conversation and thought, “Hmmm … Sharrell is kinda pretty.”
So when momma came for her afternoon visit, I announced, “I’ve
decided on a name. I’m gonna name her Sharrell.”
loved it. “Well, what about a middle name?”
Nobody was ever happy, were they? I’d gotten through the pregnancy.
I survived the delivery. I came up with a name. Now I gotta come up
to two names? “What about Rene? Sharrell Rene.”
thought it was great, but then she left the hospital and went to work
and my sister came. I told her that me and mom had come up with two
cool names for the baby … Sharrell Rene. Instead of being elated,
my sister made a face.
would you think of naming her after momma?” she said, with some
name was Evolena. She didn’t have a middle name at all. “Sharrell
Evolena doesn’t work. It doesn’t sound right,” I answered.
then, what about Eva Sharrell?” My sister was grinning like she had
discovered a diamond mine.
love that! It’s perfect.”
it was all settled. When the nurse came in later that day to fill out
the birth certificate, I wrote down the baby’s name for her and it
was a done deal. When momma found out that we had named the baby
after her, she was extremely surprised, but pleased. I guess she
never dreamed we would do such a thing. Even though my sister and I
both loved mother and treated her with utmost respect, let’s face
it … momma hadn’t been a great mom for most of her life.
had abandoned my sister when she was only four years old because her
new husband, my dad, didn’t want to raise another man’s child.
She had verbally abused me to the point that I had no self-esteem
whatsoever. But there’s a power that none of us understands. It’s
the power that parents have over their children. We try to love them
no matter what they do to us. We want to honor and respect them even
when they don’t deserve it.
spite of my mother’s sins and failures as a mother and as a human
being, I nonetheless, loved and respected her throughout her lifetime
and I sat at her bedside when she was 76 till she breathed her last
breath and her spirit returned to the Great Spirit and her body
returned to the ground from whence it came.
of what people do or don’t do that hurts you, in spite of their
sins and failures, I’ve discovered that it’s never wrong to love
someone and that forgiveness always brings healing.
that I was a mom, things began to change quickly. I wasn’t happy
staying with my mother anymore, but I honestly didn’t have the
money to get my own place. Momma showed me how to sterilize baby
bottles and rinse the poop out of cloth diapers, which were the only
kind available in those days. She showed me how to hold the baby so
that its head was always supported. She taught me to always make sure
the baby was properly dressed when taking it outdoors.
were fragile. They could get sick easily. They took special care.
Momma made me stay in bed for almost all of six weeks after the baby
was born. She said that if you got up too quickly all you inner lady
parts would not heal properly. She took good care of me and the baby
and I saw a side of her that I hadn’t really seen much growing up.
She was nurturing.
ate about half a sandwich per day for those first six weeks so that I
could lose all my baby fat quickly. I knew that I’d have to go back
to work pretty soon and wanted to be able to fit into all my old
clothes. It was kind of nice to get back to my old routine and my
old friends. The problem was that now whenever a guy asked me out on
a date, I’d have to scramble to find a decent babysitter. My sister
and mother could help sometimes but they were single, working and
dating too so they weren’t always available.
soon learned that in order to be a good mom, you sometimes had to
sacrifice what you wanted to do and stay home with your baby. It was
a painful lesson but I’d made up my mind to be a mom and I wanted
to be a good one.
was a beautiful baby. She had fat, rosy cheeks and curly brown hair.
She smiled a lot and made cute sounds. Even though I had started out
with a bit of an indifferent attitude about motherhood, I quickly
learned to enjoy it. Working and caring for a newborn was exhausting
but rewarding. I could lie in bed at night with Sharrell cradled in
the crook of my arm and just watch her sleep. She was so precious and
innocent and I could see that there was truly a God whenever I would
gaze at her.
her first birthday party, I was pretty sure I had the motherhood
thing nailed. We had fallen into a fairly solid daily routine, me,
mother and the baby, and we all got to work each day and took care of
the baby, housework and stuff without too much trouble.
was around this time that my sister, La Queta met Raymond Morton. He
was a truck driver she had met at work. He had dark curly hair and a
good sense of humor. My sister was working at a local coffee shop and
he came in one day to eat lunch and they hit it off instantly. Before
we knew it, their relationship had developed into something pretty
serious and Raymond moved in with LaQueta after they’d dated only a
few months. Not long after that, they started planning a wedding.
Everything seemed to happen so quickly.