Off of a long,dirt road, down a longer dirt driveway, so steep that many folks were afraid to drive down it, to a tiny house, in Southwest Virginia, is where this story begins. "The Holler". That's what we always called it. The grass was never mowed. There was some junk strewn about the property. Nothing major. Just a couple of old cars and an old oil heater, as I recall. The woods, filled with trees so tall that they didn't look real, almost reached the back door.
In this house, there lived a father, a mother, and eight children, three girls and five boys. In order of birth, there was Cindy, William, Claude, James, Hoss (nickname), Lorra, I was the seventh born, and then there was my baby brother, Chris. Aside from the first three kids, who were born a year or so apart, The rest of us had at least a three year age difference. I'll begin my story from when I was around age four. My memories go back to a younger age, but nothing of real interest went on during those years.
Though the house was quite small, it did have three bedrooms. Daddy and Mama were in one room, along with the baby, the other four boys were in another room, and we three girls shared the final and smallest bedroom. We all managed to fit, thanks to bunk beds that Daddy had built. Although this sufficed for sleeping, there wasn't much space left for toys or playing, so we spent few daylight hours in those rooms.
My sister, Lorra, and I shared the lower bunk. Sometimes, as I lay there at night, listening to the bed above my head creak and pop, whenever my oldest sister, Cindy, would move in the slightest, I held my breath, expecting her to come crashing down upon us. If I was ever frightened, by a bad dream, or just couldn't sleep, I would climb from under my covers and proceed to hang from the side of the top bunk. I never said a word. I would just swing there until Cindy noticed me and would reach out with one arm and flop me over onto her bed. We had an understanding.
Cindy had a sad life. Though she was only 14, she was forced into the role of being our mother. Not due to our real mama having an illness, addiction, or disability, but just because Mama couldn't be bothered with us. She had better things to do, like watching TV. During the week, Cindy's day started early. She was out of bed early, as she had to get the other kids ready for school, as well as herself. When she returned home in the afternoon, she had to start right into cleaning the house. Washing dishes, making beds, sweeping floors, all the things that Mama could have done during the day but saved for her oldest daughter instead. She even had to wash Chris' diapers and get them out on the line. Then she'd help Daddy cook supper, wash up the supper dishes, and then bathe us little ones. Even then, at such a young age, I knew this wasn't right. I felt so bad for her. Yet, at the same time, I depended on her. We all did.
Mama had a bad temper and was near impossible to please. I vividly recall her screaming at Daddy, stomping mad for some reason or another. He would usually laugh at these displays, probably because she looked so ridiculous. I wanted to laugh as well, but knew it probably meant certain death! Or at least a whipping from Mama. Although she had given me spankings before, she had never beat me like she did Cindy, and I wanted to keep it that way. For the slightest infraction, Mama would take Cindy to our room, make her remove her shirt, and hit her across the back with a belt repeatedly. Cindy never cried out. I'm guessing it was because she had gotten used to the whippings by the time I was old enough to remember them. Then again, maybe she just wasn't going to give Mama the satisfaction of breaking her.
Daddy and Mama were like night and day. He was a jolly man, always telling funny stories or singing happy songs, anything to brighten someone's day. He told us kids that he loved us and called us his babies. Mama always had a scowl on her face, like she was constipated. She did not like kids, not even her own. There were never any hugs for us. She never told us that she loved us. There was not a nurturing bone in her body. I have often wondered why a woman who obviously hated kids, would have eight of them. Surely she knew what caused babies to come along. We were in her way. Whenever I would get brave enough to ask if I could sit on her lap, she would gripe at me, "I ain't got no damned lap!" That's how she spoke to a child of four, her own child, who was merely requesting some affection.
The best times for me were when Mama would take a job for a while and Daddy would stay home with me and Chris. He was a brick Mason and didn't have a lot of work in the wintertime, so Mama really had no choice but to work, if she wanted to eat. Where days at home with Mama were filled with listening to her gossip with the neighbors and watching soap operas all afternoon, days with Daddy were fun. He let me watch PBS in the mornings. He took me outside when the sun was shining and let me explore, telling me all about this animal or that plant. He told me stories and drew me stick people, as well as teaching me to draw an infinite knot, which I've never forgotten how to do. The important thing was his being present.His treating me as a little person that needed affection and activities to keep her busy. Not like a piece of furniture, the way Mama did.
I often wish I could go back to those days and hug him more, listen to those stories a little more closely, ask him more questions,stare at him more, and fill my memory bank with all things Daddy. I had no idea how soon he would be taken from me, from all of us kids that needed and loved him so much.
To Be Continued...