After over a week in the hospital, Patricia caught pneumonia on the day before they planned to graft skin and died. This was a blessing from God, not only because of the burns that covered most of her body, but because of the life she was spared any more than six years of, with a Father who was abusive in every way imaginable. Charles made moonshine in the woods behind their house. And, more than once he had beaten their mother and thrown her and the five children out in the pouring rain to walk the streets. The caretaker of a local historical site, the Chief Vann House in Spring Place, had seen them one evening, and out of pity allowed them to sleep inside out of the rain, despite the fact that this was against the rules.
I grew up in Dalton, nestled there between the North Georgia mountains. I always felt like they were the big strong shoulders of God, watching over me. Glenda, my Mother, came into the world while her Mother was separated from Charles. The exact circumstances were never shared with her, but she knew Charles was not her Father. She lived with an Aunt and Uncle after her Mom took Charles back, up until her Aunt died. She thought they were her parents, they loved her so much. Then she was sent back to her Mom and stepdad at the age of twelve, where she laid in bed at night hearing Charles curse about the "bastard" who wasn't his. He gave her many reasons to be glad that she was not his daughter. My Mom, Glenda spent her teenage years with this man, her Mother, and her younger brother and sisters. But, when she asked her Mother who her Father was, Pauline told her to "look in the mirror," and she would see him. She only knew his name and that he looked like her.
Uncle Roy got a job in fifth grade, and missed a lot of school to work long hours. The Truancy officer pulled him out of the lunchroom one morning after several missed days to paddle him, without questioning why. Roy ran home, and never went back. One day he came home from work to find their Mother lying on the couch. He called out for her to cook dinner, but after shaking her, realized she was dead. He screamed so loud that my Mother heard him from a couple trailers over, where she lived with me, a toddler.
This left the remants of this torn family to fend for themselves. Glenda, Roy, Gerldine, and Barbara, in that age order spent the next several years struggling to take care of themselves, under Roy's protective arm. Charles had left with another woman years before. Oddly, my Uncle Roy is the only person I have ever heard speak well of his Father. Roy loved Charles until his death many years later. I wouldn't call the times they had spent together Father/Son bonding, when even Roy admits it included the gift of his first "hired woman." But, somewhere in the dark heart of the man, Roy saw his Father, and he loved him. There are those poor souls on Earth that have not a single spot of light inside their dark hearts. But, no matter how much of a monster they may seem, someone in this world loves them. I think Roy was afraid of not loving someone... anyone.
My Mother remarried when I was in Kindergarden. We spent time around our cousins, aunts, and uncle Roy growing up. Gerldine and Barbara both had married abusive men when we were small. Barbara's husband beat her badly and threw her out of a window once. Eventually both men were out of the picture while I was still very small. But, I still remember Hershel. Though he was Barbara's husband, and she had his name tatooed on her right hand, those same letters were inked on Gerldine's knuckles. She had taken him at some point. Then he was gone. It was many years before Roy married. He was too busy taking care of their children. That name was visible plain as day on Barbara's hand in the coffin today.
It was about that time that our Mom grew apart from the others. We didn't really have alot to do with them for years. They wandered around from Florida, to Tennessee, and back to Georgia, then to Kentucky, and Ohio, and back and forth together. Social Services have been involved in the raising of most of Barbara's children and grandchildren. I am a Christian believer. But, I strongly believe there is a time for a single Mother to have a conversation with her sons, that involves explaining how a condom is used. (Surely salvation of the soul is worn somewhere on the outside of our clothing. When stronger passions take over, even among Christians who are saved, salvation is the first thing to be dropped to the floor.)
My sister raised one of Barbara's granddaughters. Mamma remembers when her and Angie were in court and the judge gave them the baby. Barbara cried pitifully, "You mean a piece of paper can say that she is not my grandbaby anymore?" The judge told her that my mother was the baby's grandmother now. This breaks my heart to think about. But, Barbara had even had a chance to try to take care of the baby herself, and had even had that right taken. Gerldine's two boys have spent hard time in prison, (as have two of Barbara's.) One murdered a cab driver in Florida while he was drunk, over the cab fare, threw him into the trunk of the cab, and drove him to Georgia, where the police intercepted him at his mother's house. One of Barbara's daughters is in prison now, and the other couldn't come to the funeral because she had to be in court today for failure to pay child support.
When my baby sister was seventeen, my stepdad ran off with his best friend's wife, a girl my age, leaving my Mom alone in midlife. It wasn't long before she cheated on him with another friend. And, then my Aunt Gerldine married him...my stepdad. A perfect record... she scored both her sister's husbands. Both my Mother and my Aunt Gerldine share the same last name now... and they share a lot of anger and hurt feelings. But, the man has moved on to someone else. I can honestly say, aside from the trick of giving me a coke can once that had beer in it, just for a laugh to see my expression, when I was in first grade, neither one of them ever did anything to hurt me. They seemed to love us well enough. And, I love them, despite the drinking, and cursing, and drugs, and wild living. But, I could see few things I had in common with this family. Though, I can certainly look at this scheme of family interaction and understand my Mother's distance from them. I often wondered how we could be related to them at all. I wondered how I fit in with this family, when I felt so different. I felt no connection, like I had no legacy but pain and hate.
When I turned seventeen, it occurred to me that Mamma's real father might be living right there in Dalton, and I told my Mom. I picked up the phone book and we looked up his name. Sure enough, the last name was there, and I called one that looked similar to the name we knew. We learned that though her father had died years before, he had several children, all younger than my Mom, living right there in the area. And he did look just like Mom. The next day, we met my Aunt Anna, at her business. She was just like me. I felt like I had found my missing relatives. Mamma had one sister who looked just like her, and another who she bonded instantly with. But, out of my mother's two sets of half siblings, my Aunt Anna and my Uncle Roy were the two I loved the most. Roy has given me the love of a Father all these years, and my odd sense of humor. And Anna gave me the pride of knowing who I was like in my family. For the first time I felt like I fit, because I found the piece to which I was connected.
Now, thirty years after meeting this "second maternal family," two of the uncles and the Aunt my Mom bonded with have all died. Aunt Anna, too passed away in a motorcycle accident earler this year. Now, Barbara is gone from the "first family." Listening to the Chaplin at the Funeral home this afternoon speak of all of our relatives that Barbara had seen buried by them, (he had to think of something respectful to talk about) my mind turned to little Patricia, who was too sweet to live. Yes, I too had grown up there in the North Georgia mountains. But, while this side of the family wandered aimlessly like lost ships, I always felt like the mountains were the shoulders of God, looking over me. Therein lay the secret to where I belonged. I belonged under the big strong shoulders of a loving God. I am a part of the family of Heaven. I took after Him, with all his goodness, and his love. I have my father's heart. This is my legacy.
Ephesians 3:14-19 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That
he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened
with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts
by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend
with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to
know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with
all the fullness of God.