Pretty Little Girl

A day in the life….

Archive for the tag “birmingham”

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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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.

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…….

The Making of a Man

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Michael Maddox was a brute. He was massive and a force to be reckoned with. His size was a tool; his voice thundered. When he entered a room, every person knew it. Even at the age of 15, I am told by my aunt, Sonia who went to high school with my mother and worked with her and Mike after at Lamar’s Drive-In, remembers Mike as a ladies man. “He smelled so good and he was so handsome. I always had him come sit next to me, even though he was younger than us. He didn’t act  like it”, Sonia told me. One of his quotes from that time was that he loved Southside Baptist Church. He went there as often as he could. Why?  It was the best place to get laid. Enough said.

Along with being a cad, he was a huffer; he would inhale the pressurized chemicals in aerosol cans. Looking for a way to escape his meager life. Mustard and lettuce sandwiches were a commonality for my mother and Mike. Jo was too wrapped up in her personal demons to be an adequate mother. The kids were on there own. My mother Liz tried to step in to look after Mike but she had no role model to know what she should do. Jo’s lifestyle kept them from connecting with people for any length of time. Constant moving, beatings and generalized hell raising kept most away. Surviving the best way they could with an emotional not present mother and her present drunk, was life for them.

Mike was different. He wanted out. He had delusions of grandeur from early on. My mother and many others favored Mike. He had something as a little kid. He was unique but no one really knew why.  I can only assume it was the aura of being in the present of something great. I have heard this about many great men.  They had something intangible innate that radiates from them. No word to describe it but just a magnetism that was beyond words.  Recently in college studying psychology, a found out what that “thing” was.  It is, what is erroneously called anti-social behavior. It is not like it sounds. The dynamic, charismatic charmer is truly a well primed facade for the absolute inability to be human.   He was in a word– a sociopath. Calculated, cunning, charming, and evil with the inability empathize with anyone beyond his mother and sister.

As a teenager, he was a thief. He evolved into stealing cars. His biggest adventure took him to Florida in a stolen car. He was eventually arrested. This was the early to mid 1960’s. Vietnam was a reality for the youth of the nation. Mike was given the opportunity to go to Vietnam or jail for his interstate mischief. He chose Vietnam. This was truly the end of anything human in Mike’s personality.

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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.

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