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The Woman with Two Birthdays

The Memoir of a Lesser Known Poet

Copyright 2014 © Carolyn Sorrell

Published by Carolyn Sorrell at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

No part of this book may be used for any purpose other than personal use. Therefore, reproduction, modification, storage in a retrieval system or retransmission, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, for reasons other than personal use, is strictly prohibited without prior written permission.

This is a biographical work and the people and places depicted are real. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

ISBN: 9781370911097


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

About the Author

Other Books by This Author

Chapter 1

I 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.

It 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.

All 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.

“Honey, 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.”

Fred nodded back. “What kind, Johnny?”

“Bring her vanilla.”

The 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.

Daddy and Fred discussed things too difficult for a little girl to grasp, something about football games and who would win. Money exchanged hands.

From 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.

Just 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.

I let out a blood curdling wail and was suddenly enveloped in tears.

Just then, my startled father exchanged panicky glances with Fred, but I couldn’t see how this calamity could ever be set right.

“Oh 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 voice.

Daddy 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.

It 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 lives.

For 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.

During 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.

You 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.

I’ve 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.

Daddy 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?

Chapter 2

When 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.

Somehow, 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!

I 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.

It 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 inside!

Even 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.

Poverty 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.

At 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.

Perhaps 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.

I 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.

For 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.

Friends 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.

When 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.

I 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.

I 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 night.

It was the American Dream and I had it.

I 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.

Chapter 3

When 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.

I 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.

There 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.

Hospitals 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.

Momma 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 though.

Our 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.

I’ve 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.

In 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.

One 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.

Our 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.

The 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.

My 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.

Though 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.

I 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.

I 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 properly.

One 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.

Under 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.

She 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.

I 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.”

From 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.

Somehow, 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?

Looking 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.

Much 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?

I never understood racial prejudice and still don’t to this day. In many ways, I guess that’s a good thing.

Chapter 4

I 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.

The 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!”

I 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.

She 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.

Sadly, 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.

She 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.

During 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.

Her 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.

This 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.

At 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.

I 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 in life.

I 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.

In 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.

What 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?

I 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.

Chapter 5

I 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.

I 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.

They 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.

Nobody 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.

Though 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.

Momma 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.

But 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.

My 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.

This 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.

“Do you have ten dollars I could borrow?”

“Sure, honey, no problem. Is that all you need?”

“Can you give me a lift home?”

“Sure, sexy! Let’s take the long way though. I know a perfect spot for necking.”

My 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.

There 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.

I 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 didn’t.

The 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.

Often, 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:

I 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 room.

Mary 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.

Just 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.

I remember thinking that he shouldn’t know the lyrics to “The Old Gray Mare”. It was written in 1843 and Shakespeare died in 1616.

I 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 grasses.

Much 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.

Edgar turned out to be a glum fellow who suffered with depression. He didn’t say very much at all. He seemed apprehensive about something.

We 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.”

“Splendid idea!” remarked William, and he headed for the door.

“I’d rather have whiskey,” Ernest said, “but oh well!” And he too headed for the door.

Edgar 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 glass.

When everyone had their drink of choice, we headed back out onto the front porch to enjoy the cool night air.

“Get the door will you, William?” said Mary with a cup of coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other.

“Sure enough, Mary. And please … just call me ‘Bill’. William sounds too formal.”

Each 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.

The 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.

Chapter 6

All 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.

But 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.

While 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 man.

Bobby 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 so envious.

But 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 married him.

My 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.

In 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.

Our 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.

Daddy 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.

One 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.

As 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.

“You kids get in the house,” daddy said gruffly.

We 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.

It 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.

I 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?

I 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.

My 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.

My 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 still delicious.

To 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.

The 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 ticket home.

I’ll 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.

Momma 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 better.

One 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 normal.

My 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.”

I 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.

Chapter 7

I’ll 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.

I 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.

I’m 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.

Everything 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.

I 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 the $150.

My 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.

I 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 lifetime?”

Even 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.

The 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.

In 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 properly.

Somehow 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 newborn.

Mother 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.

I 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.

My 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.

Lying 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.”

Momma loved it. “Well, what about a middle name?”

Geez! 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.”

Momma 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.

“What would you think of naming her after momma?” she said, with some hesitancy.

Momma’s name was Evolena. She didn’t have a middle name at all. “Sharrell Evolena doesn’t work. It doesn’t sound right,” I answered.

“Well then, what about Eva Sharrell?” My sister was grinning like she had discovered a diamond mine.

“I love that! It’s perfect.”

So 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.

She 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.

In 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.

Regardless 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.

Chapter 8

Now 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.

Babies 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.

I 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.

I 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.

Sharrell 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.

At 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.

It 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.

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