Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “family”

Trauma in the Making: Part 1

My grandmother was a paradoxical woman. She had a fire but by the time I saw it was but an ember.  You could see the smoldering in her eyes. She quenched it with drinking, every day. Relying purely on stories, I have been able to see some of the fullness of her life and the demolition that came to bring the need to self-medicate, daily.

Josephine Ruth Leonard was born in 1918 in Talledega, Alabama. She was one of 5 daughters and 3 sons of Pa and Ma Leonard. She was the black sheep, the hellion. She broke away from her family but her emotional fragility always brought her into the care of her sisters or brothers.

I spoke to her younger sister just days before she passed. She described my grandmother as being so kind and frail but not physically frail, but emotionally. This is an opposing image to the one given by my grandfather, Curt’s family. She was a floozy. She drank, danced—a walking temptation surely sent by the devil to lead the meek to the self-destruction.

Jo, as she was known, was a woman first and a mother second. After her much older husband died suddenly, she spun into a era of insensibility. As a woman who needed to be taken care of, she was not adept to nurturing but being nurtured. She found this in a slew of men who came and went. While, her children fended for themselves, she continued on her search for someone to take care of her. Drinking, fighting, instability. This was her life. Rejection, subjection, and dejection were the pillars of her existence.

One of her “husbands”, was an Native American (Indian)  named Short. He was hateful, according to my mother. He was “damn mean”, evil to the core. Jo got pregnant by this man. She was several months along. One night he beat her so severely that he killed the child in her womb. Being so fragile, she was so sullen. This baby was dead but still there. She could not afford to go to a doctor. There was always a hope that the baby might still be alive even though the it ceased to move or grow. Jo wanted that baby, but she knew that would not happen.

She worked as a waitress at is the equivalence of “Waffle House” today. She worked with one other person on the night shift. She made friends with many people who were patrons of the restaurant. Policeman particularly would sit and talk for hours at night waiting on calls to go take care of the menial crime of the time on the Southside of Birmingham. Jo was always the one who could permeate the souls of people she encounter. Men wanted to take care of her but her fire pushed them away. However, in purely platonic relationships, the policeman thought of her as a sister they must protect. So when Short beat her and killed her baby, the policemen were enraged. This was in the 195o’s Birmingham, Alabama. As my mother would say, “There was only one thing worse than a nigger and that was an Indian”. They couldn’t be trusted.

The policemen took Short out of the small, dilapidated apartment where he squatted, while sending my grandmother to work. Everyone saw the policemen take Short. They headed out to the country and killed him. As the story goes. He never returned.

The most disturbing part of this story is the fact, at 70+, after varying cancer treatments, the remains of the baby was still entombed in my grandmother’s womb. This all resurfaced after I watched an episode of “Law & Order-Criminal Intent”. The title is “In the Dark” from 2004.  The character had dementia and inspired the murders over a baby that was never born. She said she didn’t want people to know she was “a coffin”. Wow! The very thought of the emotional and psychological effects of that statement explains so much.

The remainder of the story is to come………

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A Letter to my Son

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Hey Son. I need to talk to you about something. And before you start, I am a writer. I write. This is my way of expression so hear me out. Now I want to tell you a story. I know you don’t want me to but I am anyway.

The story is of a woman who has no commitments. She lost her husband. She has family but it’s emotionally removed. They do not get together or say “I love you”. They are there for one another in times when they are needed but they do not have the day to day closeness of “family”. This woman meets a man who is loving, kind, funny and most of all, sincere. He loves with his whole heart, which is more than most people ever do in a lifetime. They make a happy life together. Both feeling a happiness that neither has felt just being in a healthy, loving relationship where people could walk away, but they don’t.

This man has children by another marriage. Neither of them are his biologically but he has chosen to take all the responsibility for these children, UNCONDITIONALLY, for their entire lives. Again, he could walk away, but he doesn’t because he is too good a man to do so. One of the children is grown and has chosen to drift away from the man because he could no longer give to him like he did as a child. This man expected his child to be the person he raised, but hoped he had learned to be kind and in respect for all that had been done for him to be there for the man as a child should. This never really happened. Once the child found there was not anything to take but love from this man, he walked away.

The other child of this man’s was younger and didn’t understand all the things going on in the divorce of the parents, but saw the happiness in the father’s eyes in the new place he had made a home with this woman. A peacefulness that he had never known. This woman took in the man that she loved and his child into her home. They made a family. Subsequently had grand children together, all with the knowledge that no one was chained to each other and all could have walked away in rough times but chose to endure out of love.

The first of this couple’s grandchildren came at a bad time; unforeseen and undoubtedly unpredicted. The man’s child was too young to have children and doctors said it was impossible but yet here this child sat pregnant and married but too young to understand what either meant. After the birth of the first grandchild, the woman and the man doted on the child as neither had ever expected to be grandparents, but both felt blessed to have this miracle baby. So much so in fact that they did everything to be there for this grandchild and the child. They filled in as babysitters and were for the most part complete caretakers of the grandchild that the child and new spouse didn’t know how to take care of.

The woman and man bonded to the child as if it were their own. Being both mother and father to this little baby who was not expected but was loved more than life itself. They spoiled the child rotten and they watched the child grow into a little boy. Until one day the man died, the woman’s world fell apart. She depended on this man. They were soulmates. They were the most in love that they ever believed they could be. Seeing her sisters marriages being routine, average, loveless, but her life was rich in a fulfillment that was more like a movie than real life and now that bright light was gone.

She wondered if the man’s youngest child would still be a part of her life even though she now had the grandchildren and moved away. She wondered if that grandchild that she took care of for the first 2 years of its life as more of a mother than a grandmother would ever know how special it was in her life with the only attachment, the man who died, gone.

To her surprise, the child still needed a mother who wanted to be a mother. Therefore, the grandchildren still needed a grandmother. In times of despair, the woman did all that she could for this child and grandchildren ​as any mother would do and in fact, more than the child’s mother ever did. She gloried in being a grandmother and mother.

The child and the mother eventually had a rough patch​, a time of hurt that was that of the creation of the child. A great deal of hurt to go around but it was only temporary. The feelings of the grandmother to the grandchildren didn’t change and a love was always there even if there were hurt feelings.  The grandchildren had been taken in throughout this relationship. This woman having no connection to this child or her children took care of them in times that were trying. She loved unconditionally, even though there was hurt feelings, love still remained.  This woman gave her heart, home and self to this child and grandchildren. She still had a special place for the first grandchild because that child had been more like her child than grandchild. That was not to slight the other grandchildren. She simply didn’t have the connection of the day after day​ of the​ first 2 years. Those children never depended on her the way this first grandchild had.

Now the woman sits on the edge of the end of her life. She beams from the pride of having the only grandchildren she ever knew and was never supposed to have. A gift given because she fell in love with the love of her life. September 11th was the old woman’s birthday. She sat by the phone, hoping for the reminder of the love of her family that no longer are seen day in and day out.  They have no real obligation to her because she is not biologically tethered to ​them​ but as the man had expected of his first child, but never got, she expected the return of the love she selflessly gave to these children.

The Southern Paradigm

“Here at the Mississippian’s southernmost point of native soil, one had to recall what inland Mississippi was like, how people in its small town (or even in larger towns like Meridian and Jackson and Columbus) related inward to family life, kinfolks, old friendships and hatred. How hospitably newcomers were welcomed but how slowly accepted. Once I heard this remark: ‘The H—–‘s haven’t lived here but for thirty years, but look how everybody likes them!’ In talk of the outside world, not much was to be accepted, nothing could be trusted to be ‘like us’. There were Yankees ‘up there’. “

Elizabeth Spencer’s account of small town life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Very much like most areas of the South. Litlle ole’ Pensacola or even Cahaba Heights. It was all the same. People knew each others’ stories and family history. There were no secrets in these towns. Every event involved one or more members of the town and one or more had a story about the event—no matter what it was. Pretty soon a story somewhere in between the variations would be accepted as common knowledge. We were all open books.

As crazy as it sounds today, it was refreshing. It kept people aware of their reputation, standing not only their own but their families. What kept you from acting a fool was the story to be told the next day. Today, we all keep our doors and mouths shut. The skeletons are all buried as deep as possible unless they are big enough to be drug out in a scandal someday. People can’t be gauged by their appearance or their activities as they are hidden under facades. Progress?  I don’t know about that.

PS Check out my blog for justice…..Conjuringjustice.com or Conjuringjusticeblog.com

The Gulf Coast

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I have been reading short stories by Southern writers. I came across a story by Elizabeth Spencer, “The Gulf Coast”.

“The first visit I made to this spot was during the summer of 1951. Already it seemed part of my own personal geography. Everyone had been to Ship Island. Picnics were talked of, summer days recalled.

On the first time for me, I walked ahead of friends (a man I went with, two friends of his) straight south, taking the walk through the dunes. Then, cresting, I saw before me what I’d come for without knowing it: the true Gulf, no horizon to curb its expanse, spread but infinite and free, restless with tossing whitecaps, rushing in to foam up the beach, retreating, returning, roaring. Out there, I thought, astonished, is Mexico, the Caribbean, South America. We are leaning outward to them. Everybody back on land, all along the coast, feels the presence, whether they consciously know it or not. What was it but distance, the leaning outward, the opening toward far-off, unlikely worlds? The beyond.”

To me, this embodies all the things I felt at Pensacola Beach. Being alone just after the dawning of the day, I used to go to Fort Pickens to lay out in the sand of a desolate and peaceful landscape. I could here cars passing behind me on occasion, not true traffic of any sort. No one as far as the eye could see. The bliss and freedom represented being in the company of divinity. Those days, in my late youth, were priceless and in describable. It was my church. It was my point to access God without interruption.

This was Daddy must feel when he goes fishing. The peace. The centering effect of being in the presence of all living things but no humans to spoil it. No noise to taint it. My mother would say, “come hell or high water, on Sunday, your Daddy was on the river.” Why on Earth, wouldn’t he be? It is serene.

Dear Lord, Thank You!

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Out of chaos comes stability. Out of ugly comes beauty. Out of hate comes unabounding love. I have to look at the parts of the circumstances around my family at the time of my birth. It all comes pass in a fluid form of harmony. While everything was falling to waste, my mother’s health, my parents’ marriage, my brother’s reality, out comes a baby that unites everything. It is remarkable really.

Then you have my dad alone with a child that is not his and a newborn baby that is also not his, trying to work and balance time with everyone including my mother in the hospital. He was overwhelmed as he’d never ever handled a newborn before. He couldn’t stay up all night and go to work. Nor could John. There was no allowing of my grandmother Josephine to help, because she was a damn drunk with a husband who was possibly a sex offender. Nor could he ask his mother Georgia, for she didn’t like the circumstance that had befallen her son. So what do you do? He’d been close to the Warren family 2 doors down who had a daughter Patti who was 2 years younger than John. From what I understand, JoAnn, the mother and wife of the Warren family, would make him a plate of food at night after work while my mother had been gone. She’d help him out with John so that Daddy had some help. Quite kind of her in the circumstances.

Now he had a newborn trying to navigate the same situation. Whether she volunteered or he asked her, she took the newborn to her home and kept her there and Daddy would visit. She kept me for the next 8 weeks because my Daddy was afraid he’d “break” me and he was just overwhelmed by the entire situation. But out of that chaos, he and JoAnn where the first people on this planet that bonded with me.

When I was almost 3 mos. old, my mother came home and in the Liz fashion swept in to get “her baby”. She had little to do with JoAnn Warren after that. It seems to me that jealousy set in. She played the doting Mother for the first few years of my life. She was the normal mom. It wasn’t until I was 4 or 5 that she and JoAnn made some sort of peace. They became best friends. My dad was always closer to the Warrens and I assumed it was because Bill or (Uncle Bill) as I called him was his buddy. But I know now that wasn’t the case. The dynamic of seeing JoAnn and my Dad talk about me was unusual and I was not able to put words to it until I was older and knew the situation of my birth.

Throughout my life, my mother took a freefall. She went from “Carol Brady” to “Joan Crawford”. She blamed my Dad for his part in her descent. She was a walking zombie. She was drinking, popping pills. She’d gone back to work at Harry Alexiou’s “Gold Nugget” Restaurant. She shifted over to the his brother, Johnny Alexiou’s restaurant ,the “Brass Rail”, which to everyone threw up a red flag.

Johnny was reckless and lived on a level that was not as stable as his older brother Harry. Self-destruction was his middle name. His reputation could be inferred to be wild. I say that because of people’s reactions when she told them she was going to work for Johnny. Everyone lowered their brow and asked the same question, “Liz, are you sure?”. My mother’s answer was that he was “not the same”. Even as a young child, I knew what that meant.

From that time, JoAnn was my babysitter, my emergency contact. She was my rock. My mother tried to balance it by leaving with my grandmother on the weekends but her lack of parenting skills was infamous. Had I been a bad kid, I could have gotten away with anything? I would sit on the hill infront of her Southside Apartment. I would then barricade myself in her bedroom while she sat in her recliner drinking beer. Was the indifference because of me and where I might have come from? Maybe because she seemed to be different in the pictures of my cousins, Curt and Anna when she visited California. She didn’t seem ambivalent to them. I thought it was because Jim was my dad and the tension between the 2 of them was palpable. But now I know it may have been the fact, I was possible her dead husband’s daughter. How do you get passed that?

Nature vs Nurture

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In reflecting on the obstacles and the skeletons that have plagued me, I have to say that my belief in God was restored after all of this. The circumstances that I was born into should not have allowed me to flourish in the way I did. I was a bastard child of morally absent parents surrounded in dysfunction. Yet Jim Barnett, my Daddy, took a child he should have resented and made that child his own. He took the purity of innocence and cultivated it into a loving functioning person. He took an act of anger and rage and with almost alchemy-like conversion turned it into love and compassion.

Nature vs. Nurture.

Score one for Nurture!

Even the Liars Do Not Know the Truth….

Sonia Aaron Stephens, the niece of Ernest & Joe Aaron worked with my mother when she was pregnant with me, but this doesn’t make sense. My Uncle Mike was in California when I was born after he left the Navy & Vietnam. I knew what this meant. The secrets even have secrets. I could anticipate the answer of my next question–“what year was this?”

“1962 of course,” Sonia answered. I asked a flurry of questions that seemed crazy I’m sure to Sonia, but I couldn’t wrap my head around this. John didn’t even know the truth. Joe was his father. Sonia was sure of the timing. I googled Lamar’s Drive-In in Birmingham—nothing but Omar’s Drive-In was a place that opened in 1962 and closing in 1967. My brother was born in July of 1962. The timing is right and Mike being there would be correct. But the version I was told was that Tommy Brookshire was John’s father.  But it didn’t make sense because when I asked my Daddy (Jim) if he ever met John’s daddy and he said yes that he’d fished with him. Later when I said Tommy’s name he asked me who that was. Red flag #1 as a child. Joe used to fish.

So my brother who dropped the bomb on my life didn’t even know the truth. How ironic. Joe Aaron is his father too. 

 

 

 

 

Putting All the Lies Together

After the conversation with my brother, I spent the next year remembering every moment of my childhood. Every instance that now was a red flag. Encounters, conversations, interactions between everyone. I started asking people. I started with Patti Warren Lett. She was like a sister to me. Her mother, Jo Ann, was the woman who took care of me the first 2 months of my life as well as most of my childhood. Jo Ann was my babysitter  She was my surrogate mother. I loved her so much. Patti was leaving the nest when I spent the bulk of my time with Jo Ann. She was 10 years older than me and 2 years younger than John.

Patti told me that she knew Jim wasn’t my biological father. She remembers hearing him say that no one had the right to take me away. I was his little girl. The rumors had suggested that the man who contributed to my birth might have something to do with my PawPaw Ernest. She said somehow he was involved. It made sense since it was his brother Joe. She never saw Joe. Patti was able to corroborate the tale my brother told. So if Patti and her family knew who else knew?  I contacted Kim Aaron Lloyd. She had an Ancestry account with Ernest and Joe in it. She was part of their family. So in the most awkward email of my life, I told her my tale. She responded by putting me in touch with her aunt, Sonia Stephens. It seems Sonia worked with my mother while she was pregnant with me. She knew my mother and grandmother.

When I called Sonia, I was nervous.  This all seemed so unreal. Sonia talked about my mother, being young, pregnant, enamored with Joe Aaron when they worked at Lamar’s Drive In. She said my uncle Mike was always around and he smelled so good. None of the kids wore aftershave but he did and he smelled so good. There were 2 red flags in that statement. The fact Mike was there, when I know he was in California by the time I was born through pictures and stories and that none of the “kids” wore aftershave. My mother was 30 when I was born…this is not making any sense!!!!

My Village

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  In my case, I guess that’s true. I found out the man who was a superhero to me, is not my father. The worst part is the story leading up to my birth. My mother is 18 years younger than Daddy, Jim. My brother, John, is 12 years older than me. He saw what happened in the months prior to my birth. He proceeds to tell me that in the later part of the year of 1973. My mother left my Daddy. She ran off with a man named Joe Aaron. The relationship is convoluted. He was her step-father’s brother. As I have come to find out, he was an evil, mean, hard drinking man. He was married; he ran around on his wife, beat her & he is a suspected pedophile. My mother left my brother with Jim, who is not his biological father, to be with Joe. That is screwed up.

Oh but wait…there’s more. In the early part of 1974, my mother came back beaten SEVERELY, and pregnant. This is where God steps in.   My Daddy takes her back, gets her taken care of and agrees to raise me as his own. He had always been sterile due to an illness in his teens. He wanted a family and the agreement was that he was to be listed as my father on the birth certificate. Now, it must be understood, that my Daddy married mother in part because of her already having a child, my brother John, who was 18 mos. old when they married. But he always carried the name “Maddox”, a separating moniker placed their by my mother. To remind my Daddy, who’s son he was. Now that kind of option was off the table. I was to be a Barnett. He would name me. I would be his child–period.

me & daddy with that damn turtle

This decision broke my heart. He knew I was the illegitimate child of my mother and this mess of a man from a very painful time. How does a man reach such a place of forgiveness in the eyes of face of such pain?  I believe this is my divine intervention. After a hard pregnancy due to the injuries to my mother in her beating by Joe, I was born. My mother stayed in the hospital for over a month so that the doctors could fix some of the damage done by Joe that couldn’t be done while she was pregnant. In the meantime, my Daddy took me home. He couldn’t take care of a newborn, give John the attention he needed and work. He was also scared he’d break me. His solution to this problem was another one that would positively affect my life forever. He went to a neighbor lady who had 2 kids–one in high school & another a little younger than John.Her name was JoAnn Warren. He asked her to take care of me. These 2 people, not related to me, would be the biggest 2 influences in my life.  This is just the beginning of my village.

The Power of Understanding

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Not long after my mysterious jaunt to California, my mother, recently divorced from my dad, ended up letting me go live with him “temporarily”. She planned a moved to Pensacola, where my dad and his new wife lived. I had spent the summers there. I loved it because it was peaceful. No drunken, bipolar hissy fits. No mind games. No belittling. I was just a kid. I was away from my mother, brother, uncle and grandmother. Each day was me and my dad. He and I had always had this special bond. He loved me more than anything and he was my hero. I knew he wasn’t perfect, but I couldn’t imagine what a better daddy would be like. His flaws made him human and made me feel like I didn’t have to always be perfect. I could be me without hindrance.

During my life, I clung to my Daddy. He could always talk me through things. I would get upset; he & I would sit down and talk about it. Usually, it wasn’t as bad as I perceived. He was a calming, reasoning and enlightening force in my life to rival no other. His death in 1997 broke a portion of me, because at 22, I was not prepared to give up the part of my soul that he occupied. He physically, emotionally, & psychologically was a part of me. Jim Barnett’s influence in my life will resonate forever. When he saved me, he saved my future, my children. I married a man that cherished me who is much like him. He showed me how to live peacefully without drama. He taught me how to think things through. His actions reverberate in every faction of my life.

Then one day, I get a call. It is my brother, who I have not spoken to since my mother’s funeral. I had medical issues I wanted to discuss with him. I had emailed him begging him to talk to me about such issues. It was May 14, 2012. The day after Mother’s Day 9:30 AM.  The words he spoke I was not prepared to hear.  Jim wasn’t my Daddy.

 

 

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