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Chats with my Mom #7

Whatsoever Things are Lovely

Despite a life that was undoubtedly filled with poverty, abuse, neglect, and the general hardship that was commonplace in the late 1950s, the home that Pa Dyer built was for all intents and purposes quite a cheerful home from the outside.

The carousel of stepmothers ended when Nennen moved in with her children. Ms. Adelaide, my grandfather’s third wife, had to delicately maneuver her way around a home with three teenage girls, all fiercely independent, and not all of them keen on another authoritarian figure being in charge.

“She managed for the most part to keep the peace. But clashes were inevitable.” Mom is elusive as ever.

“Was there shame attached to being pregnant at 15?”

“Oh yes. I distinctly remember my father demanding that I stopped wearing ribbons in my hair. I was a woman now. Ribbons were a symbol of innocence, and childhood. I was removed from school, and told I needed to look after the home.”

In all our conversations, the trend has been to avoid details that reflect negatively on anyone. Like any good researcher, I do my follow up enquiries. Mom knows I will do this, and she courteously as always, reminds me that not everything needs to be salacious, seedy, and full of negativity. I love writing as raw as I could, but I must respect her wishes.

“How did your sisters feel about all of this?”

“Both Adelaide and Pa Dyer insisted that your father write for permission to court me. They still wanted to maintain a proper example for the younger ones. But Stephanie and Rosalie were happy I was having a baby.”

The idea of a suitor asking permission seems so antiquated. But it was the way things were back then. My father Henry, a man 15 years her senior had been secretly dating her for a couple of years. He had been banned from the premises once my grandfather had discovered the romance, but he had acquiesced to the fledgling relationship once my father had promised to marry Gloria when he had made the necessary provisions.

My Auntie Stephanie

“a defiant, tiny little woman. Driven to escape the hell we were living.

“Did he ever write the letter?”

“No. But he did speak with them face to face. He had a decent job, he worked hard, and he would look after his child.” She seemed pleased with that memory.

“I am sure his financial contributions were an immense help. Wasn’t the economy still in shambles back then?”

“Things were still tough on all of us. We ate whatever we could afford and stretched that twenty-four dollars he would give me as far as it could go.”

“Was Pa Dyer still working?”

“Not really. He drank too much. But as young women we had learnt not to depend on any one person for survival. We did what we had to do.”

Her remarks have a succinct air of justification. There is something about this period in her life that she seems proud of.

“What about Stephanie?” I was curious. I only truly know two people from this period of my mum’s life. Aunts Steffi and Big Jean.

“Oh my. Stephanie was my rock.” She blurts it out with such pride.

My mother and her baby sister share a bond that my older siblings know all too well. As a child I loved visiting her house in the west of the country to spend time with my cousins. To me she was just auntie Steffi, but to them she was like a big sister. Their memories of her are so much more intimate, and vivid.

“How did she cope throughout all of this mayhem in the household?”

“She had her own mind. Steffi was determined to escape poverty and that life from exceedingly early.”

“Did she escape it?”

“Quite remarkably yes. I remember her finding a part time job at the laundry. She would iron and do washing for people. Saving as much as she could, contributing to the house when she could. But she would always have her goal in sight.”

There is a fondness for her siblings. Age has not dimmed her memory, nor her passion for any of them, the crazy gang that learned the hard way how to become adults. Jean is her big sis, the one she speaks of reverently, and with a pride and humility that acknowledges that she had her back through it all. Big Jean was her example of strength, of learning to bear the rough and tumble that life throws at you. But she gets excited discussing my aunt Stephanie. She is a proud big sister, gushingly so.

“Did she always wish to become a nurse?”

“I am not sure, but I remember when she started working at a pharmacy, and that probably influenced her decision. I remember polio was rampant around that time, and nursing was a secure job, a way out of the madness we were living.”

I know from my discussions with others that my Aunt Steffi did not have an easy path. Like most colored young women from that era, the shackles of society were not easy to shake. The color of your skin determined your privilege and access. Fleeing a violent home did not mean you were free from violence.

“When you left home, were you worried for your sister, like Big Jean worried about you?”

“When Steffi became pregnant, Pa Dyer struck her and kicked her out. I didn’t know where she had gone to that night.”

My mother pauses here. Her voice broke for the first time in all our conversations. I know from others the other details of the story. Of the former soldier who refused to acknowledge the pregnant teenager, and the struggles she endured to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse while raising her daughter, my cousin Deborah.

“When she finally did return, we hugged in the front of the house and cried as she took her few belongings and went to live with Big Jean. Steffi was a defiant, tiny little woman. When things got more difficult, she moved in with me and your two eldest brothers. She shared the small room to the front of the house.” My mother continues after blocking a memory.

“Why won’t you tell me what really happened?” I asked her, hoping for more details that could fill out the story.

“Nigel, it’s simple; Whatsoever things are lovely, think on these things.” It has been her coping mechanism all throughout her life.

She left it at that, with a sigh that said I was to dig no further.

Categories: Blog Post Chats With My Mom domestic violence Ongoing Series

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byngnigel

I am a freelance writer living in West Palm Beach. I observe and write about nearly everything and everyone I encounter. I have learnt that if I look at the world carefully, and long enough, I see a reflection of myself in everything. After all, we are what we put into the world.

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