Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the category “josephine leonard”

Trauma in the Making: The Conclusion

Jo’s youth, child , hair, health and sexiness were gone. The only thing she had left was Ernest and her grandson, John.  He was growing up so fast but Ernest adored him and sometimes she would imagine that he was their child on nights he would spend the night. Although, it was an illusion, one that was beyond holding for too long.

The cancer had been taking its toll and by God, she had to work. Ernest couldn’t make enough with the occasional job cleaning gutters. He drank more than he could make in a day. She had to work, even her son’s money was not enough to pay for the medicines, food, beer, rent & utilities.

Just after Christmas, 1973, Jo’s cancer appeared to be in remission but even with the treatments being finished, her hair had yet to return nor had her energy.  Her daughter Liz had called her this one evening, crying. She was leaving him–Jim, her husband. She was done. Ernest drove out to Cahaba Heights to get her. John was to come with them but for the sake of the peace, Ernest and Liz left him with Jim. Jo walked home the following morning after working all night. Ernest must have been asleep; he didn’t come and get her.  Mad as a wet hen, she arrived home, half expecting Liz to be waiting on the stoop.  She wasn’t there.  Oh well, she is probably was asleep too. When she opened the door, dying for the beer in the refrigerator and wanting to soak her feet, she saw it.

Oh my God, she thought. There was Ernest and Liz having sex in her bed. She screamed and threw the shoes at them–the same shoes she had carried for 15 blocks.  Liz jumped out of bed and grabbed her clothes.  Ernest said wryly, “Hey, Baby, whatchou doing home?”

She couldn’t believe it. Had they been screwing for all this time? Every time she turned her back were they laughing at how stupid she was. Why would Liz do this? Why would Ernest? Liz did it out of spite she reasoned. She was trying to take her husband–that little whore!

Liz came out of the bathroom with shame on her face but also contempt. She cussed at Jo and left.  Jo didn’t know where she went and damn if she cared. Ernest was young and vital why wouldn’t Liz want him. So he was a drunk? Most men were.

After a few weeks, Jo and Ernest returned to normal. She’d not heard from Liz and didn’t care if she would. She did get an occasional call from Jim who didn’t believe she didn’t know where she was, but that wasn’t her problem. Ray, Ernest’s younger brother had inquired if his twin, Joe had been around. It seems he wasn’t to be found. He walked off and left 3 kids and a wife. For all, Jo knew they were together. After all, Joe was John’s biological father back in the day. Liz had a weakness for him and his bad boy imagine. He was a damn psychopath though and almost biblically, Ray, Joe’s twin was mild tempered but men like him usually were–homosexuals that is.

In June, 1974, Jim called Jo to tell her to get to the hospital fast. Liz was there and she may not make it. When  Jo and Ernest got to the hospital, they met Jim in the waiting room. Joe had beaten Liz–nearly to death and Jim had brought her to the hospital. Oh and one more thing, she was pregnant—very pregnant. Doctors were not sure she would make it or the baby. The first thing Jo could think was, “my God, Ernest’s baby” but she couldn’t think like that…not now.

Over the days to come, Jim had agreed to take Liz back. All he ever wanted was a family and being sterile, that was the one thing that eluded his 48 years. The baby seemed to be ok, but doctors were sure that the baby was brain damaged. After an amniocentesis, Down’s syndrome was concluded and low amniotic fluid which was most definitely a bad sign. The baby needed to be aborted, the doctors said. Jim and Liz had decided against it. In the beating, her bladder, gall bladder and spleen had been dislodged. Joe was attempting to abort the baby himself–God knows why, but the baby was holding the organs in place. There was a chance that the pregnancy may allow for muscles that had been torn to heal, but the baby was defective. Jim didn’t care. He wanted the baby desperately but to Liz’s detriment, it seemed to Jo. She wanted the baby gone too, just in case. But that didn’t matter, Jim and Liz didn’t care, they had this fool idea that they’d live happy ever after.

Liz made a deal to let Jim be the legal baby daddy and no one ever mentioned the night that precipitated all this. Jo was just happy that Liz was alive. Assuming the baby would be a mongoloid, she knew no one would want the child after birth.  There was no reason to think the baby would matter to Ernest even if he was the father. He wouldn’t want a broken baby. It was all safe.

October 2, 1974, Jim called Jo at work. He said she needed to be at the hospital in 20 minutes; Liz was having the baby. Jim and John went bowling while Liz had the baby, natural childbirth, which wasn’t the plan. I was born at 10:09 pm. Daddy named me Jimmie Lee.

The secret was kept but Ernest connected the dates. He made everyone uncomfortable by caring me a round saying that I was “his baby”. He spoiled me rotten. My mother didn’t seem to mind.  Ernest drank himself to death when I was 3 years old. Jim could not stand him. Maybe he knew something they didn’t know. Or maybe it was just a feeling. Whatever it was, hatred might be the best way to characterize it.

How many times Jo look at me and wonder whose child I was? How many times did it break her heart to think of how my life started? Did she ever resent me or Mother? Ernest was gone. He’d forever be the blameless one in death. But is that fair?

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Trauma in the Making: Part 2

After being traumatized by watching a mere TV show, I finally saw my grandmother in the bigger picture. She was a broken woman with a strong will but a fractured spirit. Was it a wonder that she was an alcoholic? Hurt people hurt people. That statement from freshmen psychology is the moral of the story.

This TV show enlightened me. In the early 1960’s, my grandmother was transitioning in life. She was an aging woman with now grown children. How could that be? She was so young in her heart. It was an inconceivable thought. She was no longer young woman. This compounded by the corpse in her belly. A reminder of her last chance to be young was, in fact, turned to a calcified cadaver that was no longer a child but a curse.

In this emotional turmoil of coming to terms with how her life was not what it had been. Seemingly overnight, the young hell-raiser was now a middle aged woman, who wore her age honestly. She must have felt the beginning of the end with her body acting as a casket for last opportunity to be a mother–her last chance to re-do the role of mother. With all this going on, a younger man started coming around to drink with her. He was familiar. His family and hers had intertwined with this man’s brother being the father of her only grandchild. She was too young to be a grandma but she was and there was no way around it. Her youth like her baby was gone, but this younger man, Ernest, was about 8 years younger than her. He was a prankster.  A fool and a drunk to be sure. That was what fueled his character, the alcohol. Ernest had a hard time making a living but as Jo’s taste in men went, he was a step up. He didn’t hurt her. He was younger which in a way made her feel younger–more desirable. So they married.

Jo was restarting her life with her son helping her by sending money to her while he was in Vietnam. She was supposed to save it for him but she needed the money to be comfortable. That was a fight for a later date. She and Ernest lived pretty well for a while in that honeymoon phase. Then it happened. She went to the doctor for the first time in years. She had cervical cancer. They discovered the baby still in her womb. Doctors suggested aggressive treatment of the cancer which meant chemo therapy and radiation. The baby wasn’t causing any immediate problems so that was to be addressed at a later date. It was the cancer that needed to be treated–and fast.  Also being concerned, the doctors removed over 100 small moles on her back, fearing they might be cancerous. Thankfully they were not.

Since Ernest did not work much, Grandma worked through her chemo therapy. She lost her hair and donned a wig. This had been a sensitive issue. She’d had dark auburn hair her whole life…now she had nothing but this damn wig. She simply couldn’t catch a break…..then her world turned on a dime. The little she held dear to her was now being used as a weapon against her. …to be continued.

 

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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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 Baby”

When I tell  people about my family, I have to remember who my family is. People can’t wrap their heads around the reality of my family.  Every single relative has a chemical dependency problem. How do you make that normal or coherent for somebody? On our spontaneous jaunt to California, I realized for the first time how unconventional and off the chart my family was as a whole. A stranger skulking our house early on a Sunday morning. I heard my grandmother feverishly making phone calls to what seems like random people. My Uncle Mike in California was screaming through the phone. My mother was recovering from a drunken bender the night before at a friend’s house. This wasn’t the most odd Sunday but it wouldn’t be a typical day in the life of any of my friends.

It was a crisp Sunday morning. What the hell was going on? By the end of the day with virtually no clothes or possessions we were on a plane L.A.X. Before we boarded the plane, an older man with kind face walked up to my mother and hugged her. He said it had been a long time. He was trying to calm my manic mother. They discussed what my uncle wanted us all to do. She finally introduced me to him.  “This is Ray. He’s Ernest’s brother.”

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Ernest was my Paw Paw. Even the mention of his name, made me smile. He died when I was 3 years old, but I remember him being the source of continuous laughter and him being a clown all the time. It wasn’t until I was older that I was told he was just “a damn old drunk”.  He couldn’t hold a job; he sponged off my grandmother who worked midnights at Waffle House-esque diner known as the “Steak and Eggs”. But to me, he was my crazy Paw Paw telling jokes, pulling the chair out from under my mother or taking me to the little general store to buy me whatever kind of candy I wanted.

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Ernest wasn’t biologically related to me. He had been my grandmother’s last husband many years after the death of my grandfather, Curt. He was younger than my grandmother by about 8-9 years. He died abruptly in 1977. I remember the night clearly. I was a sleep on the couch in our living room on Cypress drive. It was odd because my mother wasn’t there; it was just me and my Daddy.  My mother didn’t drive and I don’t know where she went. My normal routine was to sit down with my Daddy and watch TV after my bath. Daddy would carry me to bed, but this wasn’t what happened this night. Daddy said we had to go see Paw Paw. We drove up to their apartment. There were flashing lights everywhere. People were walking all around. It was the middle of the night or at least it seemed like it to me. I’d never seen people at their apartment before–not even the neighbors. My daddy and I sat down on the stairs amid all the chaos. He had a look on his face. It almost looked like anger. He was a mild man. He didn’t throw fits or anything. He would look at you with this look of disappointment and restrained words.  It wasn’t a scary look; it was a look that always made guilt well up in my chest. I remember asking where Paw Paw and Grandma were. He said Paw Paw was sick and Grandma and Mother had gone to see how Paw Paw was doing.

None of those words meant anything to me really. I never realized I’d never see my Paw Paw again. I was “his baby” as he’d always say. He came to our house all the time. I knew my Daddy didn’t like him or my Grandma for that matter. Daddy had never taken me to see them before. It was unusual but I couldn’t comprehend the truth of it all. My Paw Paw had died. Grandma had found him when she came home. Mother was at the hospital with her.

Now 5 years later we sit in an airport terminal with a brother of his, on the spur of the moment. I had school Monday morning. What had happened now?

So It Begins; A Reflection

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The  funny thing is I think I look a lot my uncle. As I look through pictures, I want to understand why he was the way he was. I see strength and uniqueness in this “beast” of a man. I don’t know what it is that makes his life so intriguing but I have to keep delving into the unknown abyss.

I just found something I wrote a while back.  It’s the beginning of a story that is giant portion of my recollection of my uncle. 

“Hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way, 

you can bet you’ll make this ol’ boy’s day, 

hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way”

I heard this song and a flood of memories came over me.  The low husky voice, those words..

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March 1983

Cahaba Heights

A Sunday morning 8 am, to a 8 year old is THE most boring time. All my friends were in church.  My Grandma spent the night with me while Mama was out and  there was no way in hell Grandma was going to a church.  The closest she ever got was watching Jimmy Swaggart.  That was her religion.

 I was bored.  I went outside and kicked the gravel in the driveway.  I was pretty disturbed.  I missed my Daddy so much.  He worked out of town and came home every other weekend. A old truck rolls down Cypress Drive. This is odd because all the neighbors were in church.  Our street was out of the way for somebody to just be passing by. A dark haired man was hanging out the passenger side window.  They slowed down at the driveway.  So I started to walk towards them.  The man asked if my Daddy was home.  I said, “No sir, he is working in South Carolina”.   He asked me if I was alone.  I said, “ No sir, my Grandma was inside the house.”  He nodded and the truck drove on.   A few minutes later, the truck came back the other way.  This time the man was driving.  He stopped in front of the house again.  Again I walked up to him.  He said smiling “Hey pretty girl, you wanna come home with me?”  

 

I said, “No sir, I was just waiting on my Mama. She should be home soon.”  I thought maybe he was friend of Daddy’s.  He was more interested in knowing about him than anything.  Something about the man looked familiar but I didn’t know why.  

The old truck drove away. I went back inside.  I told Grandma that Daddy’s friends were asking about him.  And she asked me if I told them he was out of town and I said “Yes, m’am I told them he’s working out of South Carolina”.  She looked out the kitchen window and the truck was driving by again.  She told me to go play in my room.  I didn’t have anything better to do. She got on the phone and was talking.  Then the phone rang and she was yapping some more.  It was a little unusual.  Grandma wasn’t the social butterfly that talked on the phone very much.  I think I fell asleep on my bed.  The next thing I remember Grandma was talking to Uncle Mike in California.  That was just odd. Then all of a sudden my mother flies in the door.  She grabs me and tells me to get a couple of toys that we were going to California……that’s where the weird got even weirder…….

Man vs Myth

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When I say Michael Maddox was a evil, visualize the mythology of the Minotaur. Half man, half beast. When he raged, this is what I saw. His voice boomed. His face contorted. Furniture shook. It was something I had never encountered, but this particular display of animalistic fury, was because my cousin, Curtis, his son, named after his beloved father didn’t finish the food on his plate at dinner. I was 5 years old. Curty was only 4. I was so scared for him. No fictitious villain could ever compete with the ire of my Uncle Mike. Fire was in his eyes. Carnage in his voice over brussel sprouts. My God! I had envied the lifestyle of my cousins but this night, I was scared for them. During my youth, he would sweep into town sometimes unannounced and hold our lives in limbo. By ours, I mean me and my mother. I am sure my brother and grandmother too but all I knew was his presence on us. He would lavishly buy things, dinners, without a care in the world. He was a self-proclaimed millionaire. Just as quickly as he swept in, he was off again.

This was so bizarre to me as a child. My parents scraped by, month to month. Grandma was not wealthy but more comfortable but we struggled. How was he a millionaire? None of this makes sense but I recognized even then that his vitality was the difference in the rest of the family and him. Modesty vs extravagance. He moved to Los Angeles and made himself a fortune. The American Dream, right?
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That is what you were supposed to strive to do and he did it fluidly. He was a phoenix rising from the fire of squalor. Again Elvis and the Devil personified. When I would ask my father about Mike’s line of work, he would simply say was a “con man”. He explained that to me. But he’s rich and he’s not in jail, surely he wasn’t just a con man.

Now Just Look at You

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“..You sure are a  pretty little girl” One of the scariest memories I remember as a child. My uncle, magnificent, bold, brash, and evil. His voice boomed. I prayed he wouldn’t notice me. His rage might find me and my mother wouldn’t be able to protect me. As fabulous and dynamic as Michael Maddox was, he was just as much a monster. A breeze might blow in the jovial, life of the party or it might blow in the rage of man that seemed more like a beast than a human. He was Elvis and the Devil all in one.

Mike was the youngest son of Curt Maddox and Josephine Leonard. They were my grandparents. My mother was 5 years older than him. Curt died when Mike was little. I believe there were memories there for Mike to remember but I never heard about them. When Curt died, Mike became the man of this end of the dysfunctional Maddox family. He was the protector for his mother and sister. Being 6’2″ and broad shouldered when he hit his teenage years, made him look like the “man of the house”.

I don’t know what his childhood was like. I never got to spend that much time with him but what I knew was that after Curt died, Jo, as she liked to be called, became a woman who couldn’t be without a man. Being a broken woman due to the hardships of poverty, loneliness and being a country girl in the city, she did what everyone did then–she drank. Barn dances were her favorite events and the men there were overloaded with testosterone and gin. They were looking for a submissive woman. While my grandmother wanted the security of a man, she was NOT submissive.  Her fiery dark red hair looked black in the old pictures but I have been told it was red and her personality like her hair was vibrant.

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Mike had his mother’s charisma. He was the life of the party as was she. But there were times that Mike felt impotent when his mother brought home the drunk du jour with a temper. As I was told, there were knock down drag outs that Mike was told to stay out of. However, there came a time when Mike stepped up for his mother. From that moment on, he was always in charge.

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