When you think back on your childhood, what do you think about? How far can you even remember?
Me? I can remember as far back as 5 years old. I often reminisce about what life was like with my family. I remember my mother being fun! She could often be found laughing and playing with my sisters and I. Little did I know that Mama was also battling drug addiction, but I will get into that later. I recall playing with the wood kitchen set in kindergarten; chasing my sisters around the house; playing with my cousins and neighborhood children. I also think back on the abuses I endured as a very young child at the hands of family, strangers and others who claimed to love me.
My fondest memories of my family as a child are those of my maternal grandparents. My grandmother, Pina, was so loving, but if you got on her bad side… well, let’s just say you didn’t want to get on her bad side, LOL! She would cook the most scrum-diddly-umptous (Ned Flanders reference) meals and welcomed us with open arms and a warm smile. My most favorite meal, the last one I can recall in fact, was greens, cornbread, fried chicken, sweet potatoes and potato salad. I didn’t want to eat my greens but Grandma was having none of that! Needless to say, I ate all of my greens! Grandma was not for play play! LOL! She kept a crystal candy dish on the living room table. Some days my sisters and I would visit her just to get a piece a candy! That’s the reason I also keep a crystal candy dish on the table in my living room.
My grandfather, Rufus (who everyone called Raycap), was my mother’s step-father. My mother’s biological father, Nathaniel, passed away when my mother was only a few years old, so I only know Rufus as my grandfather. Despite the fact that Granddaddy had a large gaping hole in his leg, he always made our visits fun and exciting! As I opened the door, the first person I’d typically see was granddaddy as he sat in his recliner in the corner of the living room. My sisters and I would take off running through the door of my grandparents’ apartment; barely able to contain our enthusiasm! With outstretched arms, we’d race to him, trying to be the first one on his lap! The grin on my face would instantly turn into a full fledged ‘Colgate smile’ as I ran toward him!
As soon as I reached his recliner, he’d scoop me up in those strong arms of his and I’d grab his neck and hold on so tightly! Granddaddy would give a raspberry on my cheek and ask “are you my little boy?”, to which my answer was a firm “no, I am a girl!” Then he’d tickle me on my belly, another raspberry, then ask again. Over and over we’d do this until I finally relented, screaming out, “yes, yes, I am your boy!” I’d be laughing so hard, my cheeks and belly hurt! After my ‘surrender’ Granddaddy would reach into his pocket and give me a quarter, sometimes more. (Yes, my childhood nickname was boy! Why? I have no idea! I thought I was a rather cute little girl!) He’d do the same to both of my sisters, except using their nicknames; ‘big ni**a’ for Celeste, my older sister & ‘monkey’ for Tamika, the youngest. We had the same ritual every time but it never got old! I lived in anticipation of the next time we would visit. I miss those days! Grandma died when I was five & Granddaddy when I was a preteen. My whole life changed after Grandma died.
What else do I think about concerning my childhood? I think about riding my green tricycle up and down the street; the block parties we had on 59th & Peoria in Chicago where the whole community came together, listened to music and danced in the streets, ate good food, played games and loved on one another. I think about running back and forth to Ms. Mallies’ corner store and buying snow cones from Cowboy (yup, he wore a cowboy hat and boots) who sold them from his home. I think about my tooth coming out as I bit down on a Now & Later (we just say now later, LOL) and when my head got shaved because of ringworms! (EWWWWW)
But mostly what goes through my mind when I think about my childhood is all the foster homes my sisters and I lived in. As soon as I’d get a little comfortable in one, it was time to move to the next. Only a couple were good places to live; most were horrible and I suffered varying degrees/types of abuse. After a few years, my sisters and I were separated, but I know they endured trauma, just as I did. Frequently I would ask, “Why didn’t anyone protect us?”, “What did I do to deserve the abuse I went through?” and “Did anyone really LOVE me?”