1: Before and After Kate

The freedom our family experienced on that first 4th of July in Philadelphia seemed perfect.  The year was 1972 but we were dealing with a group mentally and emotionally stuck in pre-1950’s southern traditions.  You could hear the kids playing on the street, girls playing double-dutch while the boys rode their bikes on one side of Chelten Avenue.  The other side had my parent’s new friends grilling outside the four one-bedroom apartments.  We lived in the upper right apartments, the door was wide open in this July heat and no windows in the hallway makes it hot in summer and cold in winter.  You wouldn’t think we just moved from the south since our cousins lived around the corner and others were in Baltimore, so it was easy getting settled.  Carla kept riding by a house after a year or so had passed, getting a younger brother changed things.  Everything started being rushed.  But once we moved into this huge place I got my own room.

The coldness of this echoing 3 story row house in West Oak Lane was a step up since white people still lived in our neighborhood.  The great flight of those who had enough money had dwindled and we were left with the cream of the crop.  (My thoughts because of all I learned from the ones I got to know.)  That meant to our parents they had arrived at being equal in real estate.  They treated the older residents like kings to show their worthiness to be in their vicinity.  But this brought so much positivity needed in my life at a time I needed absorb for the more trying portions.  I like to think of it as my reserves for harder times in the future.  For now, we have a new house, new friends, and more freedom now that we weren’t as cramped.  That year I began kindergarten with Ms. Valentine, I was excited to be away from my own house for 5 hours of education and books!  I was in my element.  School had its perks with my being able to escape with the understanding everyone isn’t there to join me.  Witnessing the classroom split between those who were going to prey on victims and those who warn the first group to stay away from those people being picked on consistently.   The dynamic stayed this way for the same reason our street and neighborhood lived in reasonable peace, (don’t bother me and we won’t care about you rule).   We all got up here by the skin of our teeth and some have a plan where others made chaos.  How you react to each incident determined to keep your sanity and self-preservation through each phase.   So please remember to find the sweet spot of St. Athanasius for the next 7 years.  Weaving through the third grade without incident was a miracle but at home, things turned dark.  My grandma came to live with us died suddenly.  I was waiting for her to come home after her doctor’s appointment and time kept going and she didn’t come home.  We made my room our getaway since it was the only room to share, who wouldn’t love being room-mates with their grandma.  That the best of my young years.   I didn’t mention this before, moving from the apartment caused a drain on our finances and party time.  Having two kids put a damper on the benefits of bachelor life.  The house was great for social private parties but he money keeping up with their friends became an issue.

(I want to emphasize the difference of 30 or so years has on a society.  In the 1970s   domestic violence and child abuse (not discipline) was a given.  The family unit was very strict and the boundaries were violently blurred due to how women were thought and treated as property instead of as human beings.  So, as we continue to remember that all interactions were “normal” though now it is humane or cruel.)

From the outside of our house, walking home you couldn’t tell we were going hungry most days so they could hang with their friends on the weekend.  Two days were worth keeping up with the Jones’ with clothes, cars, furniture or spending.  If he was pleased, the treachery spoken, done or felt by others was never thought of by Nate.  He knew what he could get away with while still wreaking havoc on his family through adolescence.  He takes the idea of being a man’s world literally. Unless it met his approval it’s not going to be done.  Emotions are not shared, they are given by instruction, belittlement or criticism are used to achieve his goal.  Since he ahead to work everyone must react to him as you would a king.  Jump when he says or ask how high to get it right.  To be a decent woman, my brother and I had to assume his direction in every aspect.  There are manly duties expected by gender, color, and tradition that still is implemented blindly in one way or another still.  But as for now, it was getting out after grandma moved in that his “family” wasn’t being cared for according but could be lied away.  My grandma went to my favorite cousin Renee’s house, her oldest daughter’s home and she took food without asking for both my brother and me.  Now a debate can be made for the harshness, favoritism, or her being outspoken for a woman.  But this was a chose to live single children alone.  She provided the life she wanted for her children as a wife and mother but chose to be alone happy than to be a doormat to a man who only spoke or showed attention when he denied or could get something in return!  She had enough courage to want real reciprocal love she moved out.  She got a smart house in the only neighborhood blacks could live and rent.  Her landlord and bosses were the rich whites that had left the area because coal mines and factories were paying black lower rates enough to stay in the designated areas.  Having her single sister that lived in Norton, Virginia with her but on the hill while her other sister was a short drive to Richmond.  Though morally she may have been right staying home with 4 boys and 2 girls alone most days and nights while her traditional husband worked, ran the streets chasing women and paying bills to the house he got mail, ate, showered, did the holiday and had drunk unwanted relations with the woman he claimed to love publicly.  Out of sight, she could be cold, calculating, quick to say when she was wronged, good with her money as well as her pen.  After the depression had passed, growing up Kate (my Grandma) had time to do the only thing that kept her sane in the same life she’d now with all these children thought she got away from the fighting, lies, and heartbreak that her mother died struggling against.  Marrying a well-off man with a good family that always stayed sharply dressed in the latest styles.  Her parents were thrilled to hear their daughter was chosen by one of the boys but one with a future.  Every town had royalty and in the 1940’s town of Norton, the Walderton’s was the church going, people helping, railroad engineers for two generations after reconciliation.  These people listen to sound financial advice from the men they met serving train riders on their routes.  The sacrifice of being away from home 70% or more depending on how much trouble the marriage may have been in at the time.  Men had reputations to uphold especially in this new free generation.  The excuse of being a man versus embarrassing two families.  The town and God only knows what else usually followed suit in the reasoning back to the home the men claimed they loved yet felt like an albatross strapped to them voluntarily.  The dance between what is real and appearances for others became normalcy as dysfunction stayed home behind closed doors for the sake of all that is proper.

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