Knarred pines below the mountain where we lived were living gravestones on the
land we called home high above them was the kudzu-shrouded caves where I played with constant skinned knees, Hoarfrost eyes and long black braids. Below this mountain was hallowed ground and beneath decaying pine needles the bleached bones of my ancestors lay hidden in the mounds.
My Great-grandmother whom we all call “Ma” said the mountain was like a cathedral, a place where she took me every morning to pray, she told me that it was our way. As the night shadows disappeared in the mornings golden rays, we raised our palms toward the sky to bless another day.
Ma’s voice strong and clear begin to chant in her native tongue the words robust and bold; it came from deep within her as if orchestrated by her Soul. Floating across the mountains scarred face her mantra rose to the Great Mystery – her God, she said that I must always honor this sacred place.
She told me that the sounds of a waking earth should reminded us of how the world came to be, her prayers spoke of rebirth and how our Souls would someday be free. We walked through emerald grass damp with morning dew, the unseen breeze kissed our face, and she believed that with the beginning of each morning our life was once again renewed.
I have shared below a few of my own art collection, during a time when I was in grief over the loss of my child I placed my thoughts, scenes from my childhood into painting in acrylics and watercolors. My hope is that someday they will become family treasures. I continue to paint today for my enjoyment.
Books by author at Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com $.99 to $15:
Bangles and Colorful Cloth for Ma…
“Dedicated to one of my mother’s, my Great-Grandmother”
When I was born, you were young ninety-years old,
your hair pulled tight at the nap of your neck, still
black and bold. At night, you let it down to braid before
you went to bed, it fell to the floor; at first I would watch
in silence from a crack in the door.
The night you caught me I was six, you called me into the
room smiling…asking that I bring you a single broomstick.
I quickly plucked it from mother’s only broom, and rushed
back into the dimly lit room. You showed me how to break
it into small pieces; when I looked bewildered your smile
accented all of your dark wrinkles and creases.
It was then that my eyes opened wide as you put the stick right
through the lob of your ears, its magic I thought; but this is my
great-grandmother I have nothing to fear. As a child, I did not
realize that there was a hole, because when I would touch the
bangles on her ear, she would quickly scold.
Just like the time when I tried to sneak a peek at her button up
shoes by raising the hem of her long dress, she did not have on
shoes, there were moccasins on those tiny feet…who would have
guessed. Yes, I was only a child without a care, and I spent many
hours sitting at the foot of her old rocking chair.
I never tire of the stories she would tell, sometimes we cried together
and now I can say it…as a child she lived in a white man’s world, she
called it “hell”. Her parents had walked on the “Trail of Tears”, proud
and strong, with every step wondering where they had gone wrong.
She help raise me and she taught me the way, and her mind was still
sharp as it was when I was a child, I use to wander in those later years,
I was sad when she would tell her stories because when she got older,
she only remembered the bad. This grand old woman dressed in bangles
and cloths of many colors, with that big ball of hair and the nap of her
neck she was a great-grandmother like no other.
She died only days before her birthday, she would have been one-hundred
and five, my father said, Ma would have scolded you saying,
don’t you ever cry. I was fifteen-year old and the world was bright and
colorful with the artwork of fall, a befitting day to bury this beautiful and
Wild Mountain Rose…
There is a legend up on Mossy Ridge that children hear while listening to the old folks weaves their tales around their supper table at night –
Two gentle spirits walking the rutty mountain roads under the mystical Tennessee moonlight.
These stories begin many years ago about an old Cherokee and a little girl he called his Wild Mountain Rose –
First, saw her drinking from a cool mountain stream all legs and dirty yellow hair abandoned by her family so the stories go, but no one is sure of that, if the truth were told. The first time the old Cherokee saw her, she was sleeping under a bush folks call the Mountain Rose –
She was with him no matter where he would go. Folks would say that without old Willie Youngblood she would not have survived –
Knew that without her, he himself would have died. The years went by quickly and they both grew old, time had touched their hair with gray –
Could only dream about their younger days. One cool spring morning Willie woke to find her gone from his side, he sat for hours head hung low as he cried –
He found her lying peacefully she had died there on a soft bed of leaves, a mournful death chant was the only way the old Cherokee knew how to grieve. Now if you know where to look it is in the Tennessee Mountains where Willie Youngblood’s Wild Mountain Rose can be found –
The damp rotting forest floor in a shallow grave up on Mossy Ridge near the entrance of Chicopee Cave. The following winter Old Willie died and they buried him next to his Wild Mountain Rose –
Say in the moonlight two ghostly spirits can be seen sitting on the banks of Chestnut Creek or floating along the rutty mountain roads. When the sun comes up they disappear, or so the legend goes, but everyone on Mossy Ridge knows that it is Old Willie and that golden haired pup he found those many years ago –
In the cold damp room, soft moans came from the young woman lying on the bed; she was a live skeleton covered with pale flesh; beneath her, a cornhusk mattress covered with a collection of old newspapers and worn out sheets made from bleached flour sacks waiting for the reality of the coming birth. Her strength gone, she looked out the window at the moon, it appeared to be hanging on an invisible thread in the darkness, she prayed to who she thought may be holding the moon in place; another invisible person…GOD. In the waning March moonlight, she did not hear the baby crying, tears fell from the corner of her eyes the pain unbearable, the birth was over; she looked at the motionless baby at the foot of the iron bed; maybe it would die soon. She heard no crying.
“Missus Ruth you have a
baby girl,” Allimay Schumaker their neighbor and a mid-wife whispered softly as
she tried to place the baby in her mother’s arms.
“Get it away from me”,
the sound came between clenched teeth, like a caged angry wild animal but it
was only a whisper.
Mrs. Schumaker tried again
to place the baby in her mothers’ arms, “She so tiny Missus Ruth, I doubt she
will live don’t you want to hold her”.
“I told you to get it
away from me”.
After cleaning up the bed and throwing everything including the remains of the baby’s lifeline to its mother into a burning barrel, Allimay walked across the open breezeway of the two-pen split log house that separated the sleeping room from the cooking room, and at one time served as Burleson slave quarters. She paused for a moment pulling back the cover from the baby’s face, two dark blue almost black eyes stared back at her; long dark hair curled around the baby’s shoulders. She gave a sigh and walked through the door.
Roy ___name?____ sat on a
homemade chair in front of their fieldstone fireplace in the cooking room. He worried about his wife, and his baby; his
biggest fear, losing one or both of them.
He had sat there for hours, he heard no moaning or cries of pain, the
silence between the two rooms was still like a frozen fog. He did not hear anything; perhaps both his
baby and his wife were dead. Quietly
Allimay came into the room, so softly that not one board creaked from the
weight of her colossal body, she smiled, holding out the tiny bundle.
“Mr. Roy, you have a
little Indian baby, black hair just like you” she gently laid the baby in his
rough work worn hands. He laughed
pulling back the covers from the tiny bundle so small it fit in his hand.
“Mr. Roy you need to get
ready to lose this little one, she is so small, Missus Ruth doesn’t want her
and she doesn’t have any milk”. She
dabbed at her eyes.
“Well Mr. Roy she is all cleaned up and you need to call out Missus Ruth’s Uncle; that doctor from Hartselle.” She repeated herself dabbing at her eyes. “She shore don’t want this baby. I have to go now, if you need me ring the big bell on the porch somebody will hear it. I have to go take care of my own family now, but I will keep Miss Billie for a few days”.
Allimay Schumaker had nine children of her own, one more would not matter; she glanced in one more time at the lifeless woman, closed the door gently and walked slowly up the narrow rutted road.
“Thank you very much Missus Schumaker, I’ll be lying in a cord of wood for you helping Ruth”, Roy then sat for a moment staring at the tiny life he held in his hands no more than twelve inches long and maybe two pounds.
Roy shook his head bringing himself back to reality; Ruth had gotten rid of the baby bed years ago, announcing that she did not want any more children. He lay the baby down on the fireplace hearth, going into the other room to search for a box. He found a box, returning to the baby never looking at his wife. He knew that Ruth chose starvation trying to lose the baby. She knew that if she starved so would the baby. There was a possibility that her method would not work, he was not one to pray; but he did when he saw what she was doing. Now, he stood looking down at the result of her starvation.
Ruth lay still on the
bed, pretending to be asleep so she would not have to look at Roy all the while
wishing the crying that sounded more like a kitten mewing instead of a human
baby coming from the other room would stop.
She turned on her side watching the watery blue liquid dropping on the
sheet from her breast; she knew that she had no milk.
Roy weighed the baby with a two-pound cotton pee and the baby could not pull it down to measure, it was less than two pounds. Cotton pees, was meant to weigh cotton, a bell like object with a hook made of solid steel. A measuring bar would have a sack of cotton on one end and a pee of various weights put on the other to measure the cottons weight; this time the scale did not budge his baby was too small to pull the weight down.
William Schumaker owned his land, Roy worked for Mr. Burleson for a wage, $20.dollars a month, they all tried to survive in the miserable days of the depression. Mr. Burleson, was one of the wealthiest men in Morgan County, Alabama; the land that the old log house stood on was Burleson land and at one time housed slaves that worked the land. They used the same well, the same chicken house and stanchion for the cow; the only difference in the house was floors that had been put in several years ago. Roy believed that Mr. Burleson respected him, he was a hard worker, and the land he worked yielded more than most who sharecropped. Time had not taken away the horror brought upon those long ago tenants; from the top to the lowest of people in the south, in 1939 people continued to believe Indians and Negro’s were lower than the animals on the land. Roy was known as the “Half-Breed”. His mother was one-half Native American, his daddy a white man whom he had not seen since he was twelve-years-old.
Roy stoked at the fire his thoughts wandered toward the time when he first met Ruth. She was at a local Roadhouse in Flint, Alabama with her sister Emma Sue. Emma was out on the dance floor having a good time; Ruth sat at a table in the back of the room hoping no one would see her. She and Emma Sue had slipped out after their parents were asleep; Emma Sue had a boyfriend; they met them at the road below Burleson Mountain. If they were caught, it would be Ruth that got beat. She would be told that she should know better, not Emma Sue. She did not look like she wanted any company. Roy had known of the place for years, it was one of his stops when he was running whisky from South Birmingham, Alabama to Chicago, Illinois. No one could have told him then that he would have a wife and two daughters a few years later on that early March morning.
He had come to Morgan County because of Ma, his grandmother. His last run was a bad one, his car had been riddled with bullets by Tennessee law enforcement, and he had barely got away from them. He was known by the local law enforcement but the people who hired him to run whiskey, except them ole boys in Tennessee, paid them off, they did not take bribes! He drove through Tennessee; his speed would surpass the power of any car and put the needle on his dash out of sight. He would laugh every time he told that story. Ma was right he needed to lay low for a while; it had been his dream to return to Birmingham to play baseball for the Birmingham Black Bears, a minor team. No one knew that it was Roy driving the car, few knew his name. That was all gone now, playing baseball lay dead in his past he had responsibilities now!
Billie, their first
child, was the only child that Ruth wanted. She had nine brothers and sisters, she help
deliver most of them and raised them until the day her daddy kicked her out. She lay crying thinking that maybe her
strength would return so she could take care of herself and Billie, for days she
still held onto the idea that this baby would die. Ruth had hope to stop at giving birth to one
child, she was tired of being poor; she wanted to make a better life by going
Ruth had always hated
Vina and the fact that her husband’s half sister lived well; a beautician that
owned her own shop in Birmingham, Alabama.
Vina’s husband Wesley worked for the steel mill and brought home good
money, Ruth was envious.
Actually, Vina had always
thought she had not planned Billie either.
Vina believed that Ruth found herself pregnant after a few roadhouse
visits with her sister, meeting Roy. When
she told Roy, he married her; he was just that kind of man. Billie had been born eight months and two
weeks after they married. Roy had not
planned a child either. His dream did
not lie in the cotton fields of Northern Alabama. Nevertheless, he was a decent man, and he
thought this was the thing to do.
Ruth appeared disappointed that the baby had survived such a difficult birth. She was very ill herself, both physically and
mentally; unhappy that she had another child, one she did not want. She rolled over falling into a fretful sleep;
maybe when she woke she would have a funeral to attend.
Old Doc White, Ruth’s Uncle came after
the baby was born; her mother’s brother lived and had his practice in
Hartselle, Alabama, he said the baby was too small but seem healthy and Ruth
was despondent as many mothers are after delivering a baby. He said only time could help his niece or the
baby. He left saying he would register
the baby’s birth when he returned to Hartselle.
Ruth chose not to have anything to do with the baby; she left it up to Roy to care for her. Their oldest daughter, Billie came back home and she did help all she could, but the ability to care for a sick baby and mother was not possible for the six-year-old, it is said that Billie had a hard life. Roy could see that it was impossible to leave Ruth, Billie and a baby to work the fields. He walked a few days later to the Schumaker’s and called his sister Vina.
She came that night to
stay with him for a few days. Vina had
given birth to a baby, girl born only weeks before and the baby was stillborn. She and her husband Wesley had two boys,
Everett and Jimmy. She was in mourning,
but she loved her brother and he needed help.
Vina knew that Ruth did not care for her but she always tried to
overlook Ruth’s actions.
When she arrived, she found Ruth despondent and Roy worried, both were
at odds with each other. Ruth had
refused to try nursing or care for her baby.
Now she was upset that Vina was there, within days, Roy agreed that the
baby could return to Birmingham with Vina.
Vina, left with the baby in a shoebox stuffed with cotton from the
nearby field and covered with flour sacks for a blanket. Before she left her daddy named her __?_______
and Vina called her __?_, it was never known but most believed that she would
have called her stillborn baby _?__. So
____?______ born on ___?___, 1939, a beautiful month in Northern Alabama. The buttercups, lilac and forsythia bushes
would have been blooming around the Two-Pen cabin Roy, and Ruth called
home. Kudzu vines would have covered
the makeshift chicken house and the “Outhouse”.
Beyond, a small barn surrounded by razor sharp Johnson grass bordered
acres of freshly plowed ground waiting to nurture the seeds of what the south
called white gold … cotton. The family
would move from this shack in the middle of a cotton field and _?__ as Vina
called her would not see it until twelve years after her birth.
Vina cared for the baby
girl for two years, she gave her everything a baby would need including a Nanny
to take care of her while Vina returned to work. Roy tried to get to Birmingham once a month
to see his baby, Ruth stayed behind with the only child she would ever want.
Continue with draft #2 – No Choice
This book of poetry “Passage into Madness”has been ten years in the making; my daughter passed suddenly in 2010; my mourning has been hidden within these pages… of life my pain constant. I found myself in a place of inner darkness, the threat of madness crouched above me; and it does not go away. I was in a fervor to put the words down; what begin as writing an accounting of me, turned quickly into “Poetry”. I felt like my spirit wanted the accounting, an apocalyptic writing begin; an it closed with shocking revelations into my personal life
Dearest Ma…When I was born, you were young ninety-years old, your hair pulled tight at the nap of your neck, still black and bold. At night, you let it down to braid before you went to bed, it fell to the floor, at first I would watch in silence from the crack in the door. The night you caught me I was six, you called me into the room smiling…asking that I bring you a single broomstick. I quickly plucked it from mothers only broom, and rushed back into the dimly lit room. You showed me how to break it into small pieces; when I looked bewildered your smile accented all of your dark wrinkles and creases.
It was then that my eyes opened
wide as you put the stick right through the lob of your ears, its magic I thought; but this is my
great-grandmother I have nothing to fear.
As a child, I did not realize that there was a hole, because when I
would touch the bangles on her ear, she would quickly scold. Just like the time when I tried to
sneak a peek at her button up shoes by raising the hem of her long dress, she did not have on shoes, there
were moccasins on those tiny feet…who would have guessed. Yes, I was only a child without a care,
and I spent many hours sitting at the foot of her old rocking chair.
I never tire of the stories she
would tell, sometimes we cried together and now I can say it…as a child She lived in a white man’s world;
she called it “hell”. Her parents had
walked on the “Trail of Tears”, proud and strong, with every step
wondering where they had gone wrong. She
help raise me and taught me the way, and as her
mind begin to wander in those later years, I was sad when she would tell her stories she only remembered the
bad. This grand old woman dressed in
bangles and cloths of many colors, with that big ball
of hair at the nap of her neck she was a great-grandmother like no other.
She died only days before her birthday, she would have been one-hundred and five, my father said, Ma would have scolded you while saying, and don’t you ever cry. I was fifteen-year old and the world was bright and colorful with natures artwork of fall, a befitting day to bury this beautiful and proud Chickasaw.