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, though if you are the weak at heart, or simply caring 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, though in childhood, I have never known racial hatred, just separation. The people of my town shop together, move about together, but are separate in the neighborhoods, movie house and schools.
Early in childhood, my stepfather informs me about the “hanging tree,” and one day takes me to the spot. Near the courthouse and in the town square, a spot above a street curbside is symbolic of hurtful memories.
My mother is of mixed heritage, my male contributor, and note: I did not write father, is black (more about him later). Physically and fortunately, I am (more) like my mother.
I am about five years old.
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.
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 maternal Aunt Katie. She is the backbone, the storm’s rage and the sea’s calm. Aunt Katie’s word is final.
An educator on my mother’s maternal side (Robert Allen, former Principal of Dunbar High School before fire destroyed the building) built the town’s (black) high school, Wallace M. Quinn High School.
My mother’s maternal side: Scotch-Irish, Seminole (Creeks), Creole.
My mother’s paternal side: Scotch-Irish (Immigrants), African (American, Black).
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 projectile (s) would travel straight through to the other end. On the house’s back porch sits the bathroom. Here I learn the finer details of littleboydum. The little house sits across the street from the Catholic school. Here, I begin my education. 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. In the beginning: there is my mother and stepfather, and one little sister. Later, another (baby) sister arrives. Unfortunately, she does not stay with us long. Each day before going out to play, I always stop by her crib. I enjoy playing with her, she loves to laugh and I love to hear it.
I never play with my other sister. Actually, I see her at bedtime. Our mother places my sister at the foot of my bed for sleeping. Sometimes my sister and I share the small rubber pool, but nothing more. Probably while I am outside at play, my sister stays indoors, keeping our mother company. The baby I seem to favor. Maybe, and for such a youngster, I believe I love her.
One day I could not locate the crib and my baby sister. I ask my mother about her, and my mother’s response confuses me. Somehow, I realize that my baby sister and I would play no longer. Saddened: I venture outside to begin my day.
Oh, I failed to mention another family member: “Blackie.” Blackie is a beautiful black Lab, and my friend. I love her very much. Before meeting Lewis, Blackie and I are inseparable. Even afterwards. Blackie lives beneath the back porch of the house, there she mothers her pups, and each day (there), I would meet her. 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. Yes, I love Blackie.
Often we play in the yard, 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.
Beautiful light brown almost white sand blankets every yard. Because the sand is sunlit for long periods, the yards sometimes are uncomfortable to bare feet. I often walk and play without shoes, after-all, I am only 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 multi-layers. Below: are rust brown, black, and silver. The silver layer, by far, is my favorite. Rubbing it between my fingers, it feels smooth, silky. Also, and even at midday, the lower layers are cooler.
To the rear of every yard is the Alley. The alleys connect two separate and adjacent avenues. Naturally, I did not know it, but these are fire lanes. The alleys permit quick access to residences in need of emergency assistance. During my childhood, and brief stay in Florida, I never witness a house or any other building afire. Although a fire of a different type did catch my eyes.
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 love to explore.
The shiny rocks peering up at me mesmerize my little boy eyes. Excited, I move from hole to hole, along the column. 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: parentally, it provides me a home where even my shadows feel welcome. Daily: making my way through an unfamiliar chasm, the sand embraces a curious boy. Shortly: I grow and mature, my shadows peering up at me.
Yes, the boy searching, probing, investigating and thrilling from the mysteries of wonderment, would soon learn a new lesson. He would become disappointed by a newly found hole in his world. Within this hole he quickly and joylessly realizes, he would never be the same. He would ever suffer mentally and emotionally from a hurt following closely, a pain (always) waiting and watching from the shadows. He would never out live an everlasting joy permitted others, and not him.
Mine is a tiny world, but it is my world.
During my childhood, I play laugh and even love. The world around me blossoms as it avails opportunities of further exploration. Blackie and I walk together through a neighborhood though strange, soon becomes our playground. Quickly, I learn that the neighbors and my mother are friends, and Lewis and I begin bonding. Somewhere in my mind’s eye, in my heart, I also know, I also feel something I cannot explain.
Throughout my life, this thing has embraced me. This unwanted weight adding poundage to my shoulders: an ever-unrequested fairytale lulling me to sleep, accompanying me on walks; and without solicitations, sharing my conversations. Nightly the thing dreams my dreams. Distract, as I must, and as I do, still the demon haunts and chills and taunts and grins, and lusts for the one thing I most cherish, my thoughts.
Thinking offers solitude, it avails a light in a darkened tunnel, the knight advancing with outstretched lance to deflect every foe. Yet this hole this chasm this labyrinth these hurtful hands choke my screaming soul.
Aging cast me into school and the 1st grade. At six years old living becomes more complicated.
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.
Though school never poses reasons for sadness, and by 2nd grade, I have extra-curricular activities to cherish; I remain haunted by a thing I cannot visualize. School is fun learning intrigues me; I learn competitiveness and the feelings of accomplishment, yet, never quite shake the weight from my shoulders.
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 and penetrating. Repeatedly while stooping in stride, I chant, “I don’t want to grow-up.” My feelings embrace me, and though I am never clear about them, the matter remains private.
Boys are (sometimes) able to busy themselves, enjoying distractions of play, ignoring feelings; to better deal with the world as they know it, though the world (too) is strange.
A man resides in my house; I know he is not my father. This man I never call daddy, but by his first name. I cannot remember my dad, and never ask about him. I am a child happily fulfilled by-play. The following years permit me images of a man; and though I look at him, I see only a shadow.
In childhood: I never remember the sound of my father’s voice, the touch of his hand, or anything to connect me as a son. Life for me is my mother, the day and play, and (then) learning and my cousins on the near corner. School and church quickly become important. I love learning I love being an Altar Boy, I anticipate the next day.
Children cannot anticipate life delivering hurt, a hurt forever to hold them.
Copyright © 2011 Delbert H. Rhodes