Today, I thought I’d present a small portion of my ‘work-in-progress-memoir’. One particular event in my young life had such a profound effect that the trauma remained alive and quite active for years. Even well after I’d married and had children of my own.
Being the last of three children; born at the height of the Great Depression, in August 1932, I was mistakenly raised to think I had but one sibling… Forest, my brother-six years my senior. My sister, Victoria-eight years older had been taken by my father’s Aunt to live in West Palm Beach, Florida. Consequently it was quite a number of years before I was aware that the pretty girl who showed up periodically was kin to me.
Until I was around six years of age I believe my life was more or less normal, but something changed in the way my Daddy interacted with me. Looking back I now believe he was beset with bipolar and I became the object of his misdirected intervention into my daily life.
My brother was spared his scrutiny and allowed to have playmates; hunt, fish, and generally live a carefree existence. I, on the other hand was suddenly held in some sort of nether world where I was not allowed to speak without being spoken to; nor allowed any interaction with other children-outside the school classroom.
I suppose I developed a protective shield against Daddy’s behavior toward me by busying myself with outside activities in the yard areas of our house. I had been diligently making my very own place to live with my dolls and tea sets out in an open-sided lean-to next to the garage.
One Sunday Daddy came out the back door and headed for the blue ’34 Ford and called me to get in. With no hesitation I ran and jumped into the passenger bucket seat and we drove away from the house. I could see the familiar scenes speeding by the window, until soon we were in new territory.
Driving along a very straight and narrow dirt road between swamps on both sides, we were speeding faster than I ever would have thought the car could go. Daddy was leaned forward with his chest nearly on the steering wheel and his eyes straight forward. I chanced a quick glance at the speedometer and the little black hand was bouncing on 100.
Within just a few more minutes he slowed and we pulled into a yard devoid of grass, beneath huge hardwoods strung with long beards of Spanish Moss. There were several black vehicles parked there, and a few children were playing beneath the trees. The house was small; wood, with a tin roof and an narrow porch reached by three wooden steps.
With Daddy’s big hand shoved into my back he propelled me toward the steps and up onto the porch. An open door gaped before me and my ears were beset with the sounds of tambourines being beaten against hips and wrists and the people inside the room were singing.
Daddy asked a lady to move over and he shoved me onto a straight-backed chair at the end, next to the back wall. I clamped my bare feet upon the chair rung and furtively glanced outside to watch the children. Soon tiring of that I watched, mesmerized as some lady stood up; her hat fell off but she didn’t seem to mind. Her body became stiff as a board, and with arms raised straight up she skittered across the floor to her high-pitched chittering noises. Her eyes were closed and somehow she never hit anyone or ran into anybody.
Everyone seemed to be speaking at the same time and I gave up trying to understand any of what they were saying. Pretty soon the music stopped and a very tall, thin man in black trousers and open-necked, white shirt stepped to the front of the room. I knew right off he had to be the preacher. He lifted the Holy Bible and began to speak. He preached and talked and nodded with every ‘Amem’ and kept on until he became hoarse. Then he closed the Book with a prayer.
About that time there came a fluctuating murmur though out the room and I could ‘feel’ the tension rising. From the back row I watched my daddy move aside-he had been standing all the while against a far wall near a window, as a burly young man moved up toward the corner of the room near where the preacher stood.
I stood as inconspicuously as possible to view what was transpiring. There! In the corner were two wire cages holding masses of diamondback rattlers! I sat back down and held my breath. Trembling inside, wondering if I had been brought here to play with the snakes.
My Daddy was an avid snake handler in the natural state, but I’d never seen him in such a setting as we were now in. He was notorious for picking up snakes, but was cautious to lift the poison ones from beneath a forked stick placed to the back of their heads, and poison sacks. He had taken the time to instruct me in the identification of the snakes common to South Georgia.
I watched as several women and men reached in and lifted those snakes over their heads; all the while in a trance-like state. Eyes closed and chattering sounds that had no meaning to my ears. I watched in awe, wondering if Daddy would take one. He did not. After some time the group began to ‘awaken’ and would return the serpents back to their cages.
Soon we were back in the car headed back toward Albany, and civilization. Once we arrived home I jumped out of the car and headed toward my wonderful playhouse. Snakes forgotten for the moment.