(These events are real but the characters and certain details have been altered to protect the family to which these events occurred.)
He watched his older siblings go to work every day. They were in their early or late teens and the oldest four, of those ten children, were already in the military or working in factories. It was the end of ‘The Great Depression.’ He had seen his father once or twice but his mother said his father was in prison now.
His father was a drunk, with other women besides his mother, but he did not know that until well into manhood. All he knew now was he was hungry.
“Mama? I will go out and hunt for eggs! If I get eggs you cook them?”
She said nothing but smiled at him and he ran out to the dirt yard out in what was then rural West Texas and found that the hens had run away. She watched him out the window. He was too young to understand that they were old hens and the chicks were too young to lay and that they had no food in the house and might not have until his brothers and sisters came home from their farm work later in the season. He was too young to understand that there was no food for the animals now and they had gone to make the soup they had eaten this week. She watched, with regret, as he grabbed his youngest brothers hand, and they ran to the now empty nests to look for food.
“CARL! BERTIE!!!!!” She yelled out the open door. “Get back to the house we are going into town!”
He still had Bertie by the hand and dragged him back. Bertie was only two years old but he knew he was FOUR years old! He watched his mother with her still-black, long straight hair, that was pulled into a bun on her neck, tie a scarf around her head and get out her red shawl she knitted herself. He looked at her face and he knew there was something wrong.
He hushed. He always did what mama said because she would smack them with a rubber spatula if they misbehaved but she would hold him and rock him and his baby brother and sing French songs to them and tell them stories about a huge rich farm his siblings worked on in a different part of Texas. She would sing,
“Gue gue solangue
Balliez chimin la
Gue gue solangue
Balliez chimin la…”
He and his brother Bertie, whose nik name was ‘Bitty’ on account of that was what it sounded like when Carl said his name, would fall asleep. He loved her so much. She was the most beautiful woman on earth. Right now she had on her ‘Sunday-go-to-meeting’ clothes. That meant maybe the ice cream parlor! He started to dance around!
“Mama mama I LOVE YOU MAMA!”
“Bring your little ‘Bitty’ with you…you and Bitty hurry along now. Keep up with me!” She looked at the few pennies in her purse that was all there was left of anything they had in the whole world and made her heart hard for the sake of her boys. She started walking towards town on a dusty dirt road in the country that Carl would see again one day, paved, and part of the biggest city in Texas, but now he kept a tight hold of Bitty’s hand as they ran after their mother down the road.
They had started out in the morning. It was afternoon when they reached town. People here already had cars, radios and a very very few even had TELEVISIONS! Carl stared around with his skinny, knobby-kneed country legged pants, covered with road dust, and became very quiet as he followed his mother up a pretty, nicely paved street. She grabbed both boys hands and, looking resolute, stood tall and straight with her head high, and took both boys to the front door. She knocked and a woman, smoking a cigarette, answered. Carl had seen this woman before. This woman was married to his uncle…the one the townspeople called ‘nigger-lips.’
The woman let them in the house and both woman went into another room and left Carl and Bitty, sitting stiff and uncomfortable and hungry, on a fancy, brocade sofa. The woman of this house worked for a living and had worked most of her life. She was one of the original ‘Rosy the Riveters.’ She had no children.
She was well off by the standards of that day.
Both women came back into the living room and Carl’s mother told him the bare truth,
“Son, I can’t take care of you anymore. I had to divource your father. He is still in prison and I have no idea when he’ll get out. There is no food in the house and I know you are hungry. I am leaving you here with your new mother…”
She took Bitty by the hand and left quickly so he would not see her cry. He tried to follow her but the woman grabbed him and hugged him while he beat on her and tried to get away crying…
“Maaaaaaa maaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!! MAAAAAAAA!!!!! MAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! BITTYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!”
When they were out the door the woman let him go and he quit kicking her and ran to the window and watched his old life walk away from him. The woman who would now be his mother said,
“Son? I have breakfast cooking. I have to go to work and the lady next door will take care of you while I am at work. You can eat all you want I know you have not eaten in a long time.”
Carl looked at the woman. She looked sad too like he felt. She looked like a nice lady. He was soory he kicked her.
“Is mama coming back?”
“No son she is not coming back she promised me you belong to me now. Your father will be home before I will be home. Be respectful.”
“He is Uncle Nigger-lips.”
He screamed and kicked her again when she smacked his face.
“He is your uncle and you will NOT call him ‘nigger-lips!”
Then she took him into the dining room and fed him the tallest stack of pancakes he ever saw covered with honey! With his belly full and all the stress of the day he fell into a deep sleep as his new mother left for work at the telephone company. He had no idea when the neighbour woman picked him up and tucked him away on a big soft fancy bed, with fancy carved furniture, in his own room.
He would later come to love the woman who raised him and even defended her when the Jehovah Witnesses came to tell her she was not good enough to raise him because she was a ‘working woman.’ He came into the parlor with a butcher knife in each small, childish hand and GLARED at them until they quickly excused themselves.
He had come ‘home.’