The Umbrella

Up early, readying for work, dad stops to finish his coffee and smoke a few cigarettes. Sometimes, mom would join him with one. She would sit with him at the table, he would hand her a cigarette, sometimes already lit, sometimes not. As they puffed their cigarettes, the fire on the end of it would glow. The smoke rising toward the light above the kitchen table reflected its exaggerated movement. There was no globe on the light, it was just screwed into the ceiling. A string hung from the middle to turn it on and off, the end frayed with wear. No one would know today would be one of “THOSE” days from the display of affection on departure from each other. Mom’s arms wrapped around his neck, him holding her at her waist and their embrace, such a typical scene for a normal family, the love was there. It is summer, outside it is hot, and one can see the waves of heat ascending from the ground. Before dad leaves to work he fills the one fanned air conditioner with water, gets in his car and heads to town. As the morning moves forward to noon, the chores are about completed, all the troughs for the pigs are filled with water, the quota of maize we were to cut with pocket knives had been gathered and fed to the pigs. Mom is busy in the kitchen fixing lunch, for dad would be home soon. In our home, breakfast was ready at 6AM. Lunch (dinner) was ready at 12 and Supper (dinner) was like clockwork ready between 5 and 5:30. One could set their clock by it. My mother was all about routine. We see dad coming down the old dirt road, not knowing what to expect, whether or not the jobs we had done would ever be good enough, or if we would have to do them over just because. Today, a good day, dad stopped at Bill Barrett’s small grocery store and had brought home a bag of penny candy. Yes, each piece of candy cost a penny. He would do this sometimes in his odd way of showing how he cared, perhaps appreciated what we tried to do or how we tried to appease him. Lunch is the only meal we ever ate with dad, the only one he wasn’t drinking. His tea is dark and he is eating quickly today, he must be busy at work. I’m not remembering the exact meal, but usually it consisted of red beans, corn bread and probably fried potatoes. Dad would put his corn bread in a bowl, pour beans and juice over it and then a huge plop of butter right in the middle. It is amazing what you can see when you think back, the wiping of the mouth and another drink of tea, sometimes a drop or two falling on his shirt. He tells the older boys, Kenneth and Buddy to be ready to go to town and mow yards. Most of time the boys are up and leave with him in the mornings when it is cool, but not today. Dad always expected half of all proceeds made, much like child labor. The rest of the day is left to the God’s as Rodney and I play with whatever it is to play with, usually running in Mr. Henderson’s field next to ours and eating his watermelons. He didn’t care, more ruined than he harvested anyway. Randy tagging along, trying to keep up. Usually if I wasn’t carrying him, Rodney had him by the hand and ever so often mom would come out the front door hollering at us, making sure we were still there. As afternoon turned in to evening and dinner is cooking, dad and the boys come home. Dad stays a little while and says he is going to town. We knew what was to behold later. When he was in this mood, it usually meant he was going to play poker or shoot craps, lose his money and come home mad as hell. And so, it was, late into the evening he finally comes home, his dinner put away as mom always did. He comes in and his personality he expresses doesn’t belong to him. We take our places as mom has always rushed us in to another room and it begins. All the while through his arguments, accusations and determined demeanment, mom sets the table for him, only for him to with one sweep of his strong-arm swipe everything on the table into the floor, making a mess that makes him madder, demanding that it be cleaned immediately. My mother’s face is distressed, she is scared and knows she is the object of his unintention. Sometimes it was just arguments, other times it was physical, and mom would find herself picking herself up from the floor. The love was not there. At times, my oldest brothers Johnny or Kenneth would have to intervene. After Johnny had left home, it was Kenneth’s turn to be the defender. Kenneth wasn’t too scared, he put up with a lot of abuse from dad, as we all did, but Kenneth would retaliate, and that made dad even madder. Sometimes it was a hindrance, but Kenneth would stand his ground to the point he would often have to leave for fear of hurting my dad. More than once was my brother Kenneth threatened while dad was in a drunken stupor. It was an act of God, I believe that any of us kids grew up with normal intelligence, much less enough self esteem to communicate and socialize with the outside world. For you see, these are the things people remember, these are the things families and children are judged by. It doesn’t have to be your fault, many people are going to portray you as different, make you feel less than or just ignore you all together. That’s not very conducive for the learning process. Maybe now those of you that have never experienced abuse in it’s many forms can understand the closeness my siblings and I share. Many the storm we have weathered, many times the umbrella was my mom. Now you, the reader understands why it was always so hard for the older kids to leave. When the older ones left, the defense was weakend. I am so thankful for that baby brother that Rodney and I coddled grew to be a very strong man, for he of all of us kids knows it all, saw it all, remembers it all, but is gentle in nature with a heart that always has room. Randy is the baby brother and Cindy is the baby that saw dad at his worst but were also the ones that got to see dad bloom the most in his last few years of his life, for it is those days that we all finally got to have a dad and mother got to have a partner. It took us all a lifetime to have what we should all have at the beginning. Now again, no poor things, for these are not stories to be pitied. These are memories of perseverance, strength and bonding of a family that could have been lost forever but were able to piece it all together.

Copyright (Charles D. Grant)