Sunday, June 12, 2011

It Takes A Village...

Dear Ian,

This post has taken me a long time to write, simply because I could not find the right words.  But I just finished reading a book that moved and inspired me to get to work; delaying this post wasn't fair to you, because I was delaying writing about someone important in my life.  And even more important, delaying this post wasn't fair to her, because she would have loved to meet and hold you.  This post is about a member of our family that wasn't really family: Lucille.

When I was a baby, your Grandma Davis looked high and low for someone to take care of me that would love me and keep me clean and safe.  Being a new mommy, and not to mention a director of a preschool, I know what a nightmare this must have been.  She told me stories of going places that had roaches crawling on the walls and of women who let poor little babies run around in diapers that were hours old.  Your Grandma was a great mommy and kept up her search until it led her to Havana, Florida to meet a lady named Lucille Davis.  It's completely ironic (and totally true) that her last name was the same as ours, since she became such a member of our family.  It was a long drive for my Momma and Daddy to take me all the way over there, but (as I now know) to make sure that their baby was in the best care, that was what was going to happen.  I don't know the specifics of how the whole interview and hiring process went, but all I know is that I, and your uncles Brian and Gary, were so lucky that our parents made the decision to have her care for us.

Lucille was a black lady.  Now that's not such a big whoop, I know, but I was born in the late seventies, and if you think about it, that's not too far of a jump from the tense years of the 60's when segregation and integration were such hot button topics for our country, especially in the South.  And even though it shouldn't matter, there are those out there with closed minds when it comes to races and differences.  It didn't make much difference to us kids, although it was sorta obvious that we were typically the only white kids around when we were at her house.  Lucille loved us, and we loved her.  She was funny, caring, one heck of a good cook, and a strict disciplinarian.  I learned so much from her.  With this post, I hope to share some of the things, good, bad and downright odd, that I can remember.

Me and Lucille, Halloween 1979
Miss Lucille was born August 7th, 1915.  That is a LONG time ago little man, and to think about all of the the things she saw throughout her life is just humbling.  She lived through the great depression.  She experienced 2 world wars: one as a small child, barely older than you and then the other as a 30 year old.  She watched the idea of civil rights take root and bloom into existence.  Men on the moon, presidents assassinated, communism fall, terrorism try to rise...  I honestly wish I had been a little more mature and thoughtful to ask more about her life.  I do know that she didn't go to school for very long: 7th grade was the highest she went through, if I remember right.  She went to work for a family taking care of kids and cooking, and although I know very little about that, she did tell us stories about how when she was little, she and some friends (maybe her siblings) would tie flaming paper bags to the tails of the farm cats.  Or how they would harass those same cats by tying them to bent-over thin pine trees and then let the trees go so the cats would get whipped around.  I know that sounds awful, and I so don't want you to think less of this person I am trying to introduce you to, but knowing her and how caring she was just makes that story so dang funny to me.

Miss Lucille did get married, but her husband passed away long before I was ever in her care, and again, this is one of those things I wish I knew more about.  She had a brother in California that she visited once or twice that I can remember, and she had tons of nieces, nephews and godchildren.  She didn't have any children of her own, but she loved and adored the kids that other people trusted her to look after; we in particular were some of her favorites.  I remember her combing my hair (she was hardly gentle about it) and telling me how pretty and fine it was.  I remember letting us climb into the chair with her while she watched her "stories" (soap operas like Guiding Light and As The World Turns) and rocking us.  Some of my favorite memories are sitting on her back porch eating "freeze cups" which was Kool-aid in little paper cups.  We had a trick of flipping them over so the softer, bottom side of the frozen part was the first you could eat.  And let's not forget licking off the gooey, sweet layer at the very top before flipping it.  Dang, now I am going to have to make some so you can try it and understand what I am talking about.  I also can recall her giving us fresh oranges, and instead of peeling them like normal people, your Uncle Brian, Johnte, Samathalyn and I would just poke a hole in it with our thumb and suck out all the juice and pulp.

But if there was anything that Lucille loved more than her kids, it was God and her church.  Lucille was very religious, and she spent a good part of her day reading her Bible or singing hymns.  Her favorite hymns were "A Charge to Keep I Have," and "Before This Time Another Year."  I am still on the lookout for a good recording of those songs.  I cannot find one, though, that comes close to hearing them sung in person by a full on "black church" choir.  I hope that one day you will have the chance to hear that.  Uncle Brian and I spent a lot of time with Lucille in her church.  Well, churches.  I remember going to China Hill Missionary Baptist church and Holy Light MB church.  We went on Mondays and Wednesdays, and she would walk in holding our hands and brag about how she had her "white chilluns" with her.  The ladies and deacons all knew our names, we got to take the tithing baskets up to the altar a couple of times, and going to church with her was a special experience.  Again, remind me to tell you the story of your Uncle Brian at Catholic church, but going to Lucille's church was a completely different experience than going to other churches.  I have never experienced such joy and true praise.  Again, I hope one day you could have that experience.  Lucille had such a strong faith, and that really inspired me.  I remember one time when we didn't go to church for some reason or another, and I remember her telling me that you could have church even when you weren't at church if you had Jesus in your heart.

Me and Lucille on the couch where we had to sit during thunderstorms

Yet, despite her faith in Jesus and how much she trusted that God would keep her safe, she still had some of those old, ingrained Southern superstitions and beliefs about things.  During thunderstorms, she would turn off all the lights and open all the doors and windows of the house, and we all - even us rambunctious little kids - had to sit still and quiet or else the lightning would get us.  She hated black cats, would bury the heads of any animal she cooked separate from the body so they wouldn't haunt her, and she believed in some crazy medicine.  Once when I had chicken pox, she took me to the chicken coop and started throwing chickens at me to get one to fly over my head.  It was her belief that the only way to cure chicken pox was to have a chicken fly over your head.  I am not a fan of chickens to this day.  Lucille also held dear to the more genteel ways people were supposed to act.  Thinking back on it now, those genteel ways she taught me probably stemmed from a past where "genteel" people didn't treat her so well, but she still taught me how ladies were supposed to act.  Manners were a big thing with her, and Lord help you if you didn't mind.

Discipline ruled the house when it came to Lucille.  She expected us to obey, and when we didn't there were consequences.  Let me start off by saying, I was never abused or bullied in anyway.  I was spanked, and from time to time I had to go "pick my switch" off the tree outside (and DO NOT get a skinny one), but I learned right from wrong, good from bad, and never once did I not feel loved.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  She loved us so much, and I remember her crying her eyes out when Uncle Brian first started going to kindergarten, when Momma first told her that she had to find care for Uncle Gary that was closer to the house, when we said we had to go after a good visit...  We were her babies.

Me and Lucille the day after I married Daddy. 
And she was a huge part of our lives.  She was always on our Christmas list.  Even after we stopped going to her house, your Papa still took her meat from hunts.  We took her fish to eat that we had caught.  We took her out to dinner - Lord, that woman loved fried seafood.  I remember one Christmas how we brought her to our house and gave her a new rocking chair.  We had her sit and the chair to try it out, and then Grandma or Papa told her to look on the tag and see who it was for, and when she read her own name, she fell out of the chair laughing and crying and hollering thank you.  She was so appreciative.  Another memory was from when Uncle Gary was born.  Papa had to go get her because, as Lucille told me, "Claire would not leave the hospital until she came to see that baby boy."  She then told me about how she rocked new-born Gary in the hospital rocking chair and that it made the worst squeaking noise.  Your uncles and I didn't consider a person worthy to date until Lucille had met them, too.  Your poor Daddy had to be inspected by your Grandparents and then Lucille.  He passed the test though, as you can tell, although she did tell him that he has yellow hair.  She wasn't able to attend our wedding because of her health (she was 86 at the time), but Daddy and I did go see her the day after on our way North for our honeymoon.  One of my biggest regrets is that she never got to hold and rock you.  I often wonder what that would have been like, her holding the baby of one of her babies.

The day she died was one of the saddest of my life, but I know that she was ready for God to call her home.  She was 91, and after dealing with health issues and a bad fall, she knew that she was ready to be in Heaven.  A week after her passing, her church held her "home-going celebration."  I wish she could have heard the power in the hymns the choir sang for her; I wish she could have heard the words people spoke in her honor; I wish she could have seen her "white family" - the only white people in the place -  walking into the church in the processional that is reserved for family members only

You see little son, even though we live in a different time from when Lucille was growing up, people still have issues with race.  Even in this day and age, it's hard to see past the way a person looks, and there are still people out there calling names and pointing out differences.  I hope to help you grow up as an accepting, open-minded young man, able to see past silly differences.  Lucille would have been so proud of you.  I hope you see how proud I am to have had her as part of my life. 

This post is already incredibly long, so I need to stop, but I keep thinking of more and more things to write: Like how we used to bathe in a big galvanized tin tub, her home-made cakes, the corn bread, taking you in your car-seat to her cemetery so she could "meet" you... Or how on the day you were baptized, the closing hymn at church was the same hymn (Catholic church-ified) that Lucille's choir sang as they brought her into the church for her home-going celebration.  But those will have to wait for another day and another post.  I am so fortunate to have my life touched by her, and through me, you'll be able to share in that experience.  We're a lucky family.
Miss Lucille Davis
August 7, 1915 - March 31, 2007

Love Always,

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