HIGH POINT, N.C. 1963-64
Grandma was a strong, spirited lumberjack of a woman with a booming voice and wicked backhand that could sting your face for hours. After braiding her long, gray hair, she knotted it up in a scarf around her head that matched her imitation pearl cat-eyeglasses. Her clothes were fabric scraps she hand-sewed into a hodgepodge of garments that loosely covered her ample frame. Other accessories included yard shoes with toe holes, her butterbean gardening hat, and a set of chipped dentures her dog had gotten ahold of, leaving them riddled with canine teeth marks and one less tooth for Grandma.
Grandma rented an old, rundown property off highway 62, surrounded by oak trees and thousands of flowers, plants, and creeping ivy vines. Over time, her house reminded me of the old witch’s place in the Hansel and Gretel story, minus the cookies and candy. The first thing you felt when approaching were thick waves of suffocating heat smacking the life from your body.
Walking through her front door, your breath and sight were pinched off by unseen forces. Her two wood-burning stoves stole your breath first, followed by temporary blindness brought on by soot-covered walls, grimy pictures and second-hand furniture. Once your eyes adjusted to the dark, closed-in space, dozens of filmy pictures of Jesus watched your every move.
Everywhere you looked, there was Jesus on a cross, Jesus wearing a crown of thorns, or bloody Jesus expressing agony. There was only one serene Jesus image imprisoned inside a tarnished, ornate gold-plated frame with a built-in tube light that accentuated his face. Any remaining wall space was peppered with decorative crosses, photos of her grand kids, lacquered biblical quotes, and angelic pictures.
Once inside, the sounds of traffic zipping along the highway mixed with firewood popping in the stoves steel stomach, as food boiled, fried, simmered or baked. From her bedroom blared a preacher’s words struggling past the static of a choppy AM radio signal. The sermon was often followed by an elderly white gospel choir whose droning sounded more like dying cows in a hailstorm than the intended heavenly message.
“Children are to be seen, not heard,” Grandma preached. “Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to.” I had learned the hard way that her rules changed faster than Dad’s moods, and going against her orders often meant a severe beating, or worse.
On this particular visit I was almost two-years-old and my brother Bobby was not quite one, when Mama took us to visit Grandma. Bobby slept between propped up pillows in the living room while Mama and I sat in Grandma’s hot, muggy kitchen.
The small kitchen was stuffed with a faded refrigerator, huge deep-freezer, wood stove, and a homemade countertop, with a plastic tub for washing dishes with well water. The table and chairs were pushed flush against sticky, stained walls. And every surface was covered with heaps of canning jars, old bakery products, paper bags, pie tins and cooking utensils.
Mama fanned her blouse to generate cool air, when Grandma gave me a block of wood to play with. For some reason I playfully tossed it on the floor. Infuriated, Grandma popped me hard, then sharply snapped up the block and jammed it back into my hands. Crying, I dropped it, and with my arms held high I reached for Mama to hold me.
Grandma took ahold of my shirt, spun me back around, and spanked my rear end. While hitting me she looked Mama square in the face and said, “Now you whip him too.”
Instinctively, Mama pulled me back into her arms. Assuming Mama had misunderstood her, Grandma repeated, “I told you to whip him; not fuss over him!”
Teetering on the double-edged sword of being Grandma’s daughter and a teenage mother to me, Mama tried to sound respectful while standing her ground.
“No ma’am, I’m not going to hit him.”
Grandma wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her hand then dried it on her apron. “What?” she shrieked, while retrieving the wooden block again.
Mama watched her in vain. “He doesn’t understand why you’re whipping him.”
Ignoring Mama’s protest, Grandma jabbed the block at me a third time. Balling my hands beneath my chin I plastered my body against Mama so Grandma couldn’t reach my hind-end. Aggravated, she flung the wood behind the stove and then spanked my bare legs harder. I cried louder. Mama stood up, grabbed Grandma’s blistering hands, and when that didn’t work, Mama pushed Grandma away from me.
“Stop it,” Mama said clenching her jaw, her body shielding me as Grandma swatted around Mama’s hands and body determined to reach me. “I said, STOP IT!
Grandma took a step back, and sent her daughter through seven circles of hell with her gaze. “What did you say to me?”
Pulling sweat soaked hair off her neck and flipping it over her shoulders Mama stood up, out of breath. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Grandma advanced, her voice matching the stove’s overpowering heat. “You don’t understand, do you? You’ve got to break his spirit now or he’ll run you for the rest of your life!”
Her words stunned Mama. Neither of them spoke for the longest time. Finally, Grandma turned her back to us, pretending to wash dishes in water she’d been boiling on the stove.
Mama gathered up our things, wrapped Bobby in a blanket, and walked us back into the cramped kitchen to say goodbye and thank Grandma for the fatback biscuits and sweet tea, but she ignored Mama. We walked through the Jesus gallery to the front porch. I quietly closed the screen door while Mama situated, Bobby, his things, and her pocketbook.
That’s when I saw a thin, wispy image of an old man’s face, suspended in midair, watching us.
I froze and closed my eyes then rubbed them open, but the man’s face had already vanished. Mama took my hand again. I glanced back over my shoulder as we left the front porch, just in the case the man’s face was still there. But he was gone.
I was confused about why Grandma had whipped me. After that day I grew more afraid of her ever-changing moods, which put her in the same no-win category as my Dad.
Playing back the incident, I knew it had taken all Mama’s nerve to stand up to Grandma, but my young mind still couldn’t make sense of grown-ups. As we walked to the bus stop that afternoon, Mama’s hand had eventually stopped shaking. I remember glancing up to see her face, trying to imagine what she might be thinking and what I could do to stop her pain. Though she looked straight ahead, her face unreadable to the outside world, I knew she was hurting inside but she never mentioned the incident with Grandma again. Neither did I.
I hungered to understand why bad things happened to people I loved, and why people I loved treated each other so badly. I knew Dad loved Mama, but back then I couldn’t make sense out of him beating her or us. And then there was Grandma’s unpredictable craziness, all in the name of Jesus Christ her Lord and Savior. When she got on a roll, it seemed everyone feared her and nobody escaped her temper.
Every night I’d secretly ask for help from my angels to understand what made people happy, what made them sad, and how I might help them. I figured that once I had acceptable answers, I might understand how to turn a lot of these bad family experiences into something shiny and new again, especially for Mama.
After we got home, I thought about the eerie, cloudy face that had been watching us on Grandma’s porch. Misty and vapor-like, he had floated from nowhere before disappearing into thin air. I’d never seen anything like it. It made me feel strange and uncomfortable, like I was not allowed to be in his space. I wondered if the wispy face would return.
January Nelson said, “What happened to you was not your fault, but how you go forward is your responsibility. Healing is our responsibility because unprocessed pain gets transferred to everyone around us, and we are not going to allow what someone else did to us to become what we do to those we love.”
Six decades have passed since that morning at Grandma’s house. I still seek answers about why bad things happen. I have a stronger awareness of the “whys” in life, but as a kid it was overwhelming and confusing. Today, I no longer see my childhood experiences as horrible. Instead I see them as teaching tools and rare gifts. Each experience beautifully expanded my consciousness and deepened my inner-standing about my life purpose path and how to be of service to others.
And in the end, isn’t that the whole reason we are here? To heal ourselves back into full connection to source energy? Doing so stops the familiar cycles of suffering we were born into. As a child and young adult, I innocently identified as a victim scarred by layers of abuse on every level imaginable. But all of that changed in my early 30’s.
On a soul level, I instinctively knew it was my responsibility to heal myself and to understand why I chose the childhood I did. I did spiritual work daily and over time I learned to stop, take a beat and rewire the self-hatred programs I was born into. It took a little bit of time but; thought by thought and feeling by feeling I vibrated my negative beliefs out and happily stepped into my new ones. From that moment forward, my life changed dramatically for the better.
Nelson goes on to say, “Healing is our responsibility because ‘healing’ is actually not returning to how and who we were before, it is becoming someone we have never been – someone stronger, someone wiser, someone kinder.”
This is so true. After navigating through the stormy seas of unhealed personalities and experiences from my childhood, the biggest lesson I learned was to be kind to myself and to be kind to others. All of us know the pain of not being seen, heard or treated with kindness by family, friends or even strangers.
It’s never been someone else’s job to fix us or to make us feel better – it’s always been our responsibility. What we think and feel inside, we will attract to us in the physical world. It’s that simple. That’s why it’s so important to be kind to yourself first. To love yourself. Be gentle with yourself. And to do things that make your heart and soul sing. Doing this makes you ten times more electromagnetic to attracting some of the strongest, wisest and kindest spiritual beings on Earth – and beyond.
Believe me. I know this for a fact. I live aspects of this truth every single day – which is the polar opposite of the pain and suffering I was born into. Each of us can traverse the pain of our past and become stronger and wiser, but the true test is when you drop the shackles of deep suffering and find sincere kindness in your mind, your heart and your soul for the most important person of all – YOU!
And on that simple note, always remember to keep your thoughts, feelings, and frequencies high, fast and pure so that you can unlock the Universe within!With Love,