By Delbert H. Rhodes
A fatherless child is one filled with loss, one living with hurt, a child ever wondering why Daddy didn’t want me, why did he leave me. Still, the child grows, plays, laughs, and learns, until one day he learns to cry. He cries for an irresponsible Father, an uncaring man, and a man never his Daddy. This child lives to die never feeling his Father’s love.
I am that child.
The following is a story not created by me; but for me, because I live. Mine is a story shared surely by many, alas, if you are the weak of heart, or simply care never to know, then this story (as it develops) may not be for you.
My birthplace is in the Northwest coast of Florida, known as the “Panhandle.” My town is a small seaport town, and racially segregated, however, I have never known racial hatred, just discrimination and separation. The people of my town shop together, move about together, but are separate in the neighborhoods, the movie house and schools.
Early in childhood, my Stepfather informs me of the “hanging tree,” and then, one day, takes me to the spot. Near the Courthouse and in the town square, a select location is symbolic of historically hurtful memories.
My Mother is of mixed heritages. Physically, I am (more) my Mother than my male contributor, and yes, I did not write Father. Maternally, and Paternally she shares American and Scotch-Irish ancestry. Additionally, maternally, she is Seminole (Creeks). Further, paternally, her Scotch-Irish Great-Grandparents emigrated Ireland to immigrate the United States. Moreover, also, she is French-Ceole and African, Black.
I am about five years old; and usually my Mother calls me Del: however, whenever summoning me from the window she favors Delbert, stressing the ‘r’. “Delberrrrrt!” I strongly dislike it whenever she yells to me from the window. Later in life anyone calling to me from any distance disturbs me.
My Mother’s family is large. Her paternal family resides throughout the town, and at its center is “Rhodes Ville.” Rhodes Ville is a small compound of houses including a tiny store, owned and operated by my Mother’s paternal Grandfather, Thomas, “Papa Tom,” Rhodes. Robert Allen, an Educator and former Principal of Dunbar High School, and my Mother’s maternal Uncle, built Wallace M. Quinn High School, replacing Dunbar after fire destroyed it.
My Mother’s maternal family resides nearby, and on the opposite side of town. At the midline, is the most important family member of all, my mother’s Aunt Katie. She is the backbone, the storm’s rage and the sea’s calm. Aunt Katie’s word is final.
My first house of memory, is a tiny three-roomed structure, referred to as a “shotgun,” house. If one fired a shotgun from one end, the unimpeded projectiles travel straight through to the opposite end. The bathroom sits on the backporch. There I learn the finer details of littleboydum. Across the street is Holy Family Catholic School; and representatively a dynamic resource in my personal, academic and religious development. In the house next door lives a family whose oldest son, Lewis, becomes my first (human) friend.
My family is small, as tiny as the house; comprising my Mother, Stepfather, and one younger Sister. Later, another (baby) Sister arrives. Unfortunately, the baby’s stay is brief. Before leaving the house to play, always, I stop by her crib. I enjoy playing with her, she loves smiling, and I love seeing it.
I never play with my other Sister. Actually: Before she was placed at the foot of my bed, one night, I never knew of her. Sometimes we share the small rubber pool, relaxing in the refreshing cool water, but nothing else. My Mother says that my Sister never enjoys outdoors, preferring to remain indoors, and seated in her little chair. The baby appeals to me, and I favor her, she is similar to my Mother.
One day her crib and my baby Sister are missing, and I could not find them. When asked of the baby’s whereabouts, my Mother’s response confuses me. Somehow, I realize that my baby Sister and I would play no longer. Saddened and feeling alone: I begin my day.
Sorry, I failed to mention another family member, my dog, “Blackie.” She is a beautiful black Lab, and my first friend. I love her very much. Before meeting Lewis, Blackie and I are inseparable. She lives beneath the back porch of the house, there she mothers her pups, and there is where we meet, each day. Always, she welcomes me with a smile and cheerful eyes. Her eyes are deeply dark. They are black moons glowing beneath the porch, brilliantly crystalline in sunshine. Often we play in the yard, and sometimes sneak off property, to learn more about the neighborhood. Surely, my dog is well acquainted with the surroundings; but yours truly is not.
The yard is home to me.
Blankets of beautiful light brown almost white sand cover every yard. Sunlit for long periods, the sands are hot, making them uncomfortable to bare feet. Yes, often, I walk and play without shoes, after-all, I am a child. My yard is large, and I make it my (little) boy business to become well acquainted.
Later in childhood, I realize the sand to have three different layers. Below are rust brown, black, and silver. The silver layer, by far, is my favorite. Rubbing it between my fingers, or, toes it feels smooth, silky. Also, and even at midday, the lower layers are cooler.
To the rear of every yard are the Alleys. These connect two separate and adjacent Avenues. Naturally, I did not know it, but the Alleys are fire lanes. Should fires occur, emergency crews have quick access to residences. Additionally, the lanes permit easy collections of stored garbage. During my childhood, and brief stay in Florida, I never witness a burning house, or building; however, and to my great displeasure, I do witness a small bush fire. I deny responsibility for the act and inform my Mother of the guilty person, yet she accuses and spanks me. The misfortunate events do not linger in my mind, other interests easily replace unwanted memories.
My favorite area to play is along a sidewall of my house. This side faces Lewis’s house, and during the earlier part of the day, is sunnier. The opposite side hosts a fence, separating my house from the house of an unfamiliar neighbor. Later, and because of this neighbor, once again, I am to feel sorrow. After the rains, water dripping from the roof creates tiny holes beneath the overhang. Here I engage exploration.
The shiny rocks peering up at me mesmerize my little boy eyes. Excited, I move along the column, from hole to hole. Stooping closely: eagerly, I probe and dig with my fingers. Moving the sand, the tiny rocks, each its own color, shape, and size beam up at me.
I love the sand it provides me a home where even my shadows feel welcomed. Daily, making my way through an unfamiliar chasm, the sand delightfully fills, teases my curiosities. The sun moves to a higher place in the sky and as though applying parental guidance my shadows call to me.
Yes, the boy searching, probing, investigating and thrilling from the mysteries of wonderment, soon learns a new lesson. He becomes disappointed by a newly found hole in his world. Within this hole he quickly and joylessly realizes that he is never to be the same; that he is ever to suffer mentally and emotionally from a hurt following closely, a pain (always) waiting and watching. He is never to out live an everlasting joy permitted others, and not him.
Mine is a tiny world.
During my childhood, I play, laugh and even love. The world around me blossoms as it avails opportunities of further exploration. Together: Blackie and I walk through a neighborhood that although strange, soon becomes our playground. Quickly, I learn that the neighbors and my Mother are friends, and then Lewis and I begin bonding. Somewhere in my mind’s eye, in my heart, I also know, I also feel something that I cannot explain.
Throughout my life, this thing harangues me; it bends my shoulders, wrinkles my pillow, slows my pace; and then as if not enough, it arguably disrupts my conversations. The thing formulates my dreams, and distract as I must, as I do, still the demon haunts, and chills and taunts and grins; it thirsts, and then appallingly lusts for a most cherished part of me, my thinking.
Thinking offers me solitude, it avails a light inside a darkened tunnel, it is the knight advancing with outstretched lance deflecting every foe. Yet this hole, this chasm, this labyrinth, this hurtful thing chokes my screaming soul.
Aging cast me into school and the 1st grade. At six years old living becomes more complex.
I sit in a classroom of many children, and before us, a Nun, Sister Mary Louise Richardson, instructs our young minds. Previous to entering the halls of Academia: I soon realize other family members. On the near corner is (my Cousin) Joe’s family, my Aunt Katie and Uncle David.
Life has its woes and mine forever haunt me.
Although school never poses reasons for sadness, and by 2nd grade, I have extra-curricular activities to cherish, I remain haunted by this thing that I cannot visualize. School is fun, learning intrigues me; and I learn competitiveness and the feelings of accomplishment, yet, never quite shake the weight from my shoulders.
Boys (sometimes) flourish from preoccupation, enjoying the fulfillment and distractions of play, ignoring feelings; better dealing with the world as they know it, although the world (too) is strange. Playing in my yard, and Blackie content beneath the back porch, many times, I walk in a stooped posture. For reasons unclear to me I never want to grow (up). These feelings are powerful, they are emotional needles deeply penetrating me. Repeatedly while stooping in stride, I chant, “I don’t want to grow-up.” My feelings call out to me; however, effectively, the boy is unable to hear them: alas, as I age and mature their echoes resound, clearly.
In childhood: I neither remember my Father’s voice, the touch of his hand, nor anything of him connecting me, as a son. Life for me is my Mother, the day and play, learning, and then my Cousins on the near corner. School and Church quickly become important. I love learning. I love service as an Altar Boy. I anticipate the next day. Children cannot anticipate life delivering hurt, a hurt forever holding them.
A man resides inside my house; I know that he is not my Father. This man I never call Daddy, but by his first name. I cannot remember a Dad, and never ask about him. I am a child happily fulfilled by-play. The following years permit me images of a man; my eyes framed by curiosity and questions, and even though I look at him, I see only a shadow.
Copyright © 2011-2017 Delbert H. Rhodes