Resurrecting Memories for Legacy II (revised)

My parents once lived in this cabin. Photo taken by Dwayne White in 2013. ©

 

This is a revised version of a previous post.

Curiosity drives some of us to become amateur genealogists because we enjoy learning about our ancestors and distant kinfolk. We also appreciate the importance of family history and want to preserve the information for future generations.

I was blessed to be the first of Hattie Staton, my maternal grandmother’s, 21 grandchildren. Although circumstances, like birth order, sometimes work against us, being the first-born grandchild also has its advantages. We tend to remember things that our younger siblings and cousins may not recall or may never have known.

The process of writing my second book is awakening memories of distant relatives and my interactions with them.

Rhea Williams was the first cousin to my Grandma Hattie (who we called Maw). I recall meeting Cousin Rhea only twice. Both meetings occurred when I was a very young girl, probably not even eight, and Cousin Rhea was in the winter of her life. I initially met my cousin when my mother took me to visit her home on the outskirt of Oak City, North Carolina. She lived in a tiny cabin down the road from grandma’s place. (Although I’ve been unable to confirm it, I was told that it was the same cabin my parents had lived in for a short while before they moved to DC.)

I suspect that mother was preparing me for the visit when she told me before we arrived that Cousin Rhea was partially blind. A frail-looking, slow-moving woman greeted us at the door and invited us into her dimly lit one-room home. Cousin Rhea’s body was stooped by age then, and thin strands of white hair puffed around her head. Childhood curiosity led me to rudely stare at her, curious to see what a blind eye looks like. I decided that the sightless eye must have been the one that was fully closed as if it were sleeping, the other eye was partially open.

Cousin Rhea appeared to be a kind woman; she smiled at me while reaching one scrawny arm toward me to take my hand, which I refused to extend. “How you doing child?” She asked in a whispery voice. I timidly backed away from her. Clinging to my mother’s side; I pulled on her skirt, concealing my face, and clung to her during the duration of our visit.

The last time I remember seeing my cousin was when her grandson, Perch, dropped her off to visit with our family at our home in Washington, DC. And I’ll never forget what happened the first night that she was there.

It must have been after midnight because everyone in the household had gone to bed and they were probably asleep when I awakened to go pee.

Sluggishly, I climb out of bed and walk toward the bathroom, where I switch on the light and step toward the toilet. I am about to turn around and sit when something on top of the tank catches my eye. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. There is a mason jar partially filled with water, and resting near the bottom of that jar is an eyeball.

For a second, as I am standing there, I think I’m dreaming. I stare in wide-eyed disbelief at the lidless eye in the jar. The eye stares at me. I stare back at it. Never in my young years have I seen an eyeball that wasn’t in someone’s face. The sight transfixes me until my imagination fools me into thinking that the eye is moving. Now it is floating to the surface.

Suddenly, wide awake, I switch off the bathroom light and sprint like the Road Runner fleeing Wile E. Coyote back to my bed. I throw the covers over my head, and until I fall asleep, I lay there shivering and praying that I won’t wet the bed because there is no way I am going back in there until daylight.

The following day when mother and I are alone, Cousin Rhea may have still been sleeping; I ask her about the eye in the glass in the bathroom. She says that’s Cousin Rhea’s glass eye and then explains that the artificial eye replaces Cousin’s natural eye and that she removes it each night before going to sleep. Although I accepted my mother’s explanation, my young mind refused to comprehend, and I left many questions unasked. Where does someone find a glass eye? Do you buy them at the grocery store? How do you put it in and take it out? Can the glass eye see me?

As an adult, looking back on what then was a chilling experience but is now an amusing memory, I decided to do some research on glass eyes. I was surprised to learn that the first in-socket artificial eyes were made as early as the 15th century. And contrary to what the naive little girl believed, a prosthetic eye (as they are now commonly called) cannot restore vision. It is merely for cosmetic purposes.

Today, a custom prosthetic eye cost will run you somewhere between $2000-$8000. If you are lucky, health insurance will cover the cost. Recently, my out-of-curiosity search on eBay found glass eyes selling for as little as $30.

I don’t know the cost of Cousin Rhea’s glass eye. I suppose they were less expensive back then. According to a now-deceased family member, the county welfare department paid for Cousin’s eye.

You are probably as curious as I was to know how Cousin Rhea lost her eye. Over time, narratives tend to get distorted, but I will retell the story as it was told to me.

One day Cousin Rhea was visited by a circuit preacher as they were sometimes called back then. During the act of blessing her, the preacher poured oil on Cousin’s head. I wonder if he was attempting to follow the Scripture that reads, “Thou anointest my head with oil.” I don’t know. Anyway, some of the oil rolled down Cousin’s forehead into one eye. (I imagine that must have burned like hell.) Not to make light of the issue, but the blessing apparently did not cover the eye that got the oil because it cost Cousin her sight.

I don’t know who, if any, of my cousins or siblings remembers Cousin Rhea. Although my memories of her are vague, memories of her grandson, Perch, are more vivid. He lived in DC as we did and I remember him often visiting my parents at our family home, and in later years, when I was married, he, his wife, Martha, and their two children lived about half a mile from my home in Suitland, Maryland.

Perhaps someday in the future, after I am gone, if one of my kinfolks decides to do a family genealogy study, this tidbit of information about Cousin Rhea and Perch will be helpful.

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Trapped in the Elevator

Last month, I got stuck in an elevator. I remember the precise date as Friday, April 30, because that was the date of my appointment with a new doctor. There is nothing worse than having your long-time primary care physician abruptly close her private practice and integrate with a medical group located at a hospital. Then, shortly after that, she retires, abandoning her former patients, leaving us at the new facility without so much as a “See ya.”

Having lost “the best” doctor I ever had, I inherited a physician who I didn’t select and didn’t particularly like. And dissatisfied with the operations of the medical group in general, I located another doctor on my own and made an appointment. Pardon my digressive rant; I’m still upset about that forced transition and will revisit the topic another day. But now, I will return to the elevator episode.

The new doc’s office is on the 4th floor of a small, four-story medical building (not a hospital) with a single elevator. So far, I like him better than the other guy.

When my appointment ends, I summon the elevator, step inside, and push the button for the first floor after the doors close. The elevator could hold four people comfortably, six in a crunch, but I am pleased to be the lone rider. I watch the panel showing the floors as the car begins descending 3 – 2 – 1, and then step forward, waiting for the doors to open. Nothing happens. I press the “Open” button. Still, nothing happens. I press the open button again, then briefly press the red alarm button and wait. The thought of prying open the doors crosses my mind, but I know that I do not have the strength to do that, so I angrily slam my fist against them. “Open!” I command. “Ouch! Is anyone out there?” I shout.

The narrow hallway on the ground floor extends about 30 feet from the lobby door, past a single elevator and a stairwell. I remember this because upon entering the building, I noticed that the wall at the end of the hallway, opposite the entrance, has a beautiful landscape mural on it.

“Hello!” I holler. “I’m stuck in here. Is anyone there?”

Hearing no one, I scan the panel looking for an emergency phone or push-to-talk button. I don’t see either, so I push the alarm button again and listen. Not a sound other than my labored breathing. Surely, someone hears the darn alarm. I think.

I begin to feel panic rising like a tidal wave. My body alternates between cold sweat and hot flashes. Calm down. I tell myself. I start doing Pranayama, deep yoga breathing and even try to use humor to help me relax. I’m in a medical building; what better place to hyperventilate.

Anxiety soon overtakes my positive thinking, and I press the alarm button again, wait a few seconds, and then repeat the process. Now I’ve got big-time attitude. I lean on the button for several seconds like a determined telemarketer rings my phone. And then, I shout. “Someone get me out of here.”

The light above my head flickers. I bite my bottom lip and try to erase elevator scenes from horror movies and prank videos that flash in my mind like a PowerPoint presentation.

Has everyone left the building but Elvis? I wonder. Of course not, because most people would take the elevator down to the lobby, I reason. What if people are pushing the button for the elevator and wondering why it doesn’t come to their floor? Surely, someone hears the alarm. And then, my imagination takes over. I am lying on my side on the floor. Both feet are propped against the side of the car. I wedge my fingers into the space between the door panels and, while pushing with my feet, begin pulling the doors apart with all my might. I soon dismiss the crazy thought and look up to see if there is a camera in the car. I don’t see one, but I think if there is a camera, they will know that I’m trapped and send someone to get me out of here. Then, did I feel the elevator jerk?

The door opens about half an inch. I breathe a sigh of relief, stand in front of the doors and prepare to exit. But the doors don’t open any further. Moving forward, I lean my face close enough to the gap to see if I can spot anyone, but not so close that the doors will snag my nose and lips if they suddenly close. I don’t see a soul. Dare I place my fingers in the space and try to pull the doors open? Nah. What if my fingers get crushed? As I reach toward the alarm bell, the doors fling open, and I rush out of there like the devil is chasing me. While exiting the building, I pass a security officer entering the facility. He is accompanying a stooped-over elderly lady using a walker and shuffling along at a snail’s pace. That explains why he didn’t hear the alarm; I tell myself. He was outside.

That was the first, and hopefully the last time I get stuck in an elevator.

A couple of days ago, a friend I told about my incident said that he had the same misfortune. While my confinement had lasted about 8 minutes (it seemed much longer), he said that he was trapped for over an hour. He was working late that night. There was no one else in the 12-story office building. He tried everything he could think of to force open the doors or get the elevator moving before using the emergency telephone to summon help. Men don’t yield to defeat as quickly as some women. It’s the machismo factor.

He said that when the elevator began moving, it suddenly dropped two floors before stopping again. Then, he said, knowing that help was on the way, he sat down and waited. He was trapped for nearly 90 minutes before the building engineer and others arrived and freed him.

Had our experiences been reversed, I’d have been a basket case claustrophobic by the time help arrived.

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The Second Time Around, It Ain’t a Song

In February, when I penned “Take the Shot – Or Not,” I was indecisive and disinclined to get the COVID  vaccination. My understanding of historical experiments and distrust of injections remains. However, like numerous others, I yielded to the pleading and the guidance of the CDC, the president, and medical professionals. My reaction to the first and especially the second vaccine reinforces the thought that lives in the attic of my mind – I am a human guinea pig.

Days before being vaccinated, I mentally prepared myself. I had to. I am trypanophobic. In layperson’s terms, that means scared as hell of needles.

I keep on top of reports about the vaccine, am aware of the possible side effects, and can recite pro-vac rhetoric like verse one of the Negro National Anthem.

“Every individual is different. Some people have no side effects,” the experts say. “Others have some reaction for a few days after receiving the second shot. It is a normal sign that the body is building protection. The reaction should go away after a few days,” they say. Yada, yada, yada. I know at least two people who had side effects not listed on the V-Safe datasheet I received when I got my shot.

Days before vac one, I began having nightmares about a nation of disfigured mutants roaming the streets—shades of the creatures in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Bad dreams aside, I told myself that I would not have any side effects. It’s a simple issue of mind over matter. Wrong!

I decided to journal my experience, detailing my reaction from the first shot that I received on April 16 until a few days after the second shot on May 14.

First shot – Day 1

I arrive at the health center at my appointed time, 9:45 a.m., and am surprised that everything is well organized. Before administering the shot of Moderna vaccine, the nurse asks me which arm I prefer for the injection. “Left-arm.” I say. Although I am putting on a brave front, I am second-guessing my decision to take the shot. Why am I here? I ask myself. What possessed me to do this?

The nurse picks up a needle from a small table nearby and then turns toward me. As I roll up my short sleeve, I look at her. I look at the needle and little bottle in her hands. I look away. She swabs my arm near the shoulder and then squeezes it before sticking me. “You’re done,” She says. It must be her technique, I think. I hardly felt it. I am in and out of there in about 30 minutes. At home, I feel mild pain at the injection site and shrug it off, but then the ache gets intense and lasts about an hour. I also feel tired and nap on and off throughout the day. Drugged, I think before drifting into one doze.

Day 2 – The left arm is still a little sore, but the sting is bearable.

Day 3 – I am feeling fatigued and napping a lot. Something new has developed. Intermittent pain crops up in various places in my left arm between my shoulder and the wrist. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like the flash of pain you get when someone pinches you hard, and instead of immediately letting go of your skin, the person holds your flesh for several seconds before releasing it. I began calling it pinch-pain.

Day 4 – Still feeling occasional pinch-pain, only now it isn’t just in my left arm. It is ping-ponging throughout my body. It pings in one place, disappears, and then reappears someplace else. Ping! An ache near my elbow. Now gone. Ping! At my wrist. Gone. Ping! Pinch-pain in my left bicep. The pinch-pain is traveling and attacking a moving target – me.

Day 5 – I awaken between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m. The fatty area beneath my left arm close to my breast feels hot and achy. It is so painful that I go and get the ice pack from the freezer and apply it to the feverish area. This should not be happening, I tell myself. The underarm ache eases only to be replaced later that day with occasional muscle and joint pain. It is here and there:  left knee, right elbow, even the right side of my neck. Overall, I feel blah today, not just physically but mentally, too.

Day 6 – I am not my usual, perky self. I’ve been in a state of high anxiety since I got that shot nearly a week ago. To what do I attribute my now daily, familiar discomfort and the fact that I’ve been napping most days like Rip Van Winkle? I frequently find myself humming the tune of that old song by The Enchantments applying it to my body, “Something strange is happening. You don’t belong to me anymore.”

Day 7 – My body still feels foreign. I have a low tolerance for pain, and I start berating myself, asking why I went against my better judgment and took the shot? So, the current president and vice president got the injection on national TV. I love them and pray for them daily, but how do I know what, if anything, was injected into their arms? Might it have just been a stunt to lure the public to participate in the vaccine drive? I don’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist Republican, but how do I know that we are all – regardless of race or ethnicity – not unknowingly participating in some secret government study that will come to light years from now?

My antenna rises every time I hear a report that includes “we are studying vaccinated people…to see how long the vaccination last or when it wears off…to learn whether the vaccines work against emerging variants…when or if additional shots might be needed by people who have already had two.” The studies continue. The questions remain unanswered, and my anxiety level continues to rise.

One week to the day since my vaccination. I take no comfort in hearing news reports like the one this morning about a woman who died two weeks after taking the shot. Granted, she took the J&J vaccine, but there have also been reports of some deaths following the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

Throughout this process, I’ve been participating in the V-Safe (smartphone-based) after vaccination health checker. Via text, participants provide a daily update on how we are feeling. From a checklist of questions, we are to indicate if symptoms we feel are “mild, moderate, or severe.” I think they should include a “downright lousy” category because that’s how I’ve felt most of the time since being vaccinated. I pride myself on not being a pill popper, but my resistance is wearing down.

Day 9 – Last night, I had aches and pains all over my body. Again. WTF? I did not sign-up for this.

Day 10 – This afternoon, I ate two clementines, and both arms started itching mercilessly. I thought I was about to break out in hives. I often eat citrus fruit and have never been allergic to it, so what’s up with this strange development?

Day 11 – This morning I work up feeling like a Wakandan warrior. No pinch-pains. No blues. I feel like myself again. Wakanda forever! Then, darn! Here it is, afternoon, and the ache is back again in my upper left arm.

Day 12 – It is a dozen days since my first shot. The pain has subsided. Shhh, I must not think that out loud, but low energy and sleepiness hang on. A few more weeks to go before shot two. I think I’ll stop journaling about these episodes until then.

SECOND SHOT

Friday, May 14, 2021 – My anxiety level is off the charts. I almost change my mind about going back for the second vac, but I do it. As I take a seat beside the table, the administering nurse greets me and asks me how I am doing. “Nervous,” I say truthfully. “You will be okay,” she says. Easy for you to say. I think.

I remove my jacket, revealing my sleeveless arm. She tries to calm and humor me by engaging in pleasant conversation while preparing the needle. Before swabbing my arm, she asks, “Do you want someone to hold your hand?”

I say no thanks, but I’m thinking, is she for real?

“I’m serious.” She says as if reading my mind. “I can get someone if it will make you feel more relaxed.”

“No,” I say, “I’m good.” In addition to the nursing staff, at least 25 other masked people are seated at two additional vaccine stations and in chairs that are socially distanced around the waiting room and in the 15-minute recovery area. Periodically someone walks around the room and disinfects the empty chairs. There is no way that I, a grown-ass woman, will act like a big baby and have someone hold my hand in front of all of these people.

I know the process only takes a nanosecond, but as she prepares the needle, I am thinking about making a run for it until the mind reader says, “Sit still, please. Don’t move your arm.” I look away. Then she says, “Ready?” Before I can answer, she sticks me. I am not exaggerating when I say that the second injection hurt five times more than the first. She bandages the spot where she jabbed me. As she is capping the needle, she whispers, “There now. Do you want a lollipop?” I crack up laughing, and she laughs, too. Some folks seated nearby look at us to see what’s so funny.

Seven hours later, my arm is hurting like the dickens, and there is a slight metallic taste in my mouth. But I smile when I think about the lollipop question. I flex my arm periodically throughout the evening, hoping that bending and extending it at the elbow and doing wrist rotations will ease the pain. It only helps a little.

Day 2 – I had a terrible, sleepless night of tossing and turning. Trying to rest on my left side was impossible because it hurt whenever I rolled over on that arm. After dozing intermittently, I awake in the morning with every muscle, nook, and cranny in my body feeling like I have been run over by a bus. I take the V-Safe datasheet from the nightstand and read it to see if there are any instructions on what to do when you feel like you have one foot in the grave. Exercise is one of the things listed. It takes every ounce of energy I can muster to pull myself out of bed and then to work out for an hour. I do cardio, stationary biking, and stretching. After I finish exercising, I say to heck with my anti-pill attitude, and surrendering to my pain, I take an Advil. Soon, on a scale of one to ten, with one being the worse pain and ten being total relief, I’ve ascended to eight. Advil is doing its job.

Day 3 – I wake up feeling good. I work out again. This time I skip the painkiller.

Day 4 – Hmm, no, ill effects this morning either.

Today is a week and a day since shot two. Right now, I’m feeling back to normal. I hope that what my daughter refers to as my vaccine hangover has finally ended and I am back on the wagon. I am not ashamed to admit that for a while, it had me down for the count. This warrior may whine, but she doesn’t go easily.

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Are Things Changing?

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” — Angela Y. Davis

 

I cried. Yes, I admit I lost it and bawled like a baby whose pacifier had been snatched away. But mine were happy tears.

Until yesterday, when the verdict against Derek Chauvin was announced, I had not seen so much hugging, hi-fiving, and joyful weeping since Joe Biden was elected president. Telephone signals crisscrossed nationwide as friends and associates, many expressing stunned disbelief but euphoric gratification, phoned each other to confirm that what we heard was not a cruel joke or a bad dream. The track record of bad cops vs. Black Americans trapped in their web is common knowledge. How many Black people didn’t find it hard to believe their eyes and ears when Judge Peter Cahill said, “Guilty. Guilty. Guilty?” Say whaaat?

I wrote my first post about George Floyd on May 28, 2020, nearly a year ago. Although I have always maintained hope for justice for Mr. Floyd, honestly, I wasn’t expecting it, not even after a video circulated worldwide showed Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck, and pressing the life out of him. I didn’t expect it even after Chauvin was fired and arrested and put on trial. I still have little faith in the so-called justice system. It has failed us so many times before until “Say Their Names” has become as much a rallying cry as Black Lives Matter. On Tuesday, my prayers and the prayers of millions of principled people – people of color and whites – everywhere were answered. My close friends and I collectively exhaled a sigh of relief, although disbelief still hovers in the shadows of the future like an ominous cloud as does Chauvin’s expected appeal.

During the days after Mr. Floyd’s murder and the following weeks, I refused to watch the video showing his demise. I just couldn’t. Whenever I knew that it was about to be shown, I’d mute the TV and look away until I thought the segment was over. In the months preceding the trial, when I thought of the tragic way in which the incapacitated man was murdered, in my mind, I would see the smirk on the killer cop’s face as he pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck. Today, I replace the image of that smirk with what I saw above the mask on Chauvin’s face after the verdict was read – deer in the headlight eyes. I imagine and hope that what was going through his mind was gut-wrenching fear; fear of a dire future.

I’ve learned of so many – too many – senseless murders-by-cop of black men and women during my lifetime. I hope that the Chauvin verdict will change bad policing in America.

I pray for Darnella Frazier, the teenager who courageously stood her ground and filmed Mr. Floyd’s murder. I also pray for all of those who testified against the rogue cop, especially the other police officers who – this time – ignored the blue wall, that informal code of silence among police officers, and did the right thing.

I know that before the verdict and even in its light, many organizations and some individual citizens continue calling for police abolition (replacing policing with other systems of public safety) or defunding the police. As I understand it, “defunding the police” does not (as some believe) mean doing away with the police. It means reducing police department budgets and reallocating or redistributing those funds toward essential social services.

I hope that Congress will pass H.R.7120 , the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, aka the George Floyd bill. Not only will the bill address systemic police misdeeds, among other things, but it will also create a national registry to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct. Ideally, that registry will prevent bad cops who willingly leave or are fired from the police force in one city from relocating to another police force in a different town. The proposed ordinance is primarily intended to “hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies.”

I don’t think that the majority of Americans are anti-police. I’m not. I know that there are good officers out there. We all are just sick and tired of bad cops using their badge and gun to get away with murder, literally. I agree with Michael Moore, who in his Podcast proposes that our country “abolish a sick and cruel system of policing and replace it with a humane and accountable system of Public Safety and Compassion.”

What right-minded person wouldn’t agree that this country’s law enforcement system needs massive change? Who would not like to believe that there truly is liberty and justice for all?

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Rolling Sevens

Sometimes I get so enthusiastic while exploring an issue that I don’t want to let it go. Friends tell me that I am a compulsive over-thinker. I prefer to believe that I am more of a persistent researcher. Lately, I’ve been exploring the mystery of the number seven and have turned up some interesting data.

Biblestudy.org and other sources claim that the number seven is mentioned 735 times throughout the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation), beginning with the narrative that God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The Bible also references seven seals, seven churches, and seven trumpets. Some might say that the creation was the foundation of the mystery of seven.

There are seven deadly sins. Seven seas. Seven Wonders of the World. Seven dwarfs. A rainbow has seven colors. In elementary school, I learned that there are seven continents on earth. (Nowadays, like most things, that’s debatable, depending on whose theory you choose to believe.) Some mathematicians consider seven to be the most prime of prime numbers. And in many religions and cultures worldwide, seven is the most significant number and is regarded as the luckiest.

It’s incredible how many movies, TV programs, books, and even songs I can think of that include seven in their title:  Furious 7, The House of the Seven Gables, The Magnificent Seven, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Seven Pounds and, there is Morgan Freedman’s grizzly crime/murder movie named, what else – Seven. Let’s not forget Double O seven as in Bond, James Bond. Even Shakespeare may have been fascinated by the number. When he pinned “As You Like It,” he had his character Jacques deliver a monologue describing the seven ages of man.

Perhaps Morris Day liked the number so much that he sang about it in The Times hit 777. Let’s focus on the prefix of the phone number referenced in the song. He probably only added the 9311 for the sake of rhyming.

Seven swans a-swimming. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And who doesn’t remember the trial of the Chicago Seven?

The following incident will probably seem silly to some, but it was a bit disconcerting to yours-truly. While writing this post, I decided to take a break and inbox my cousin, Vanessa, who lives in another city. She had told me that her daughter has a babysitting job. Offhandedly, I asked her the child’s age, thinking that it was an infant. And she said – wait for it. “Seven.”

Before you roll your eyes, consider this. I don’t know the child and have never seen her. She could have been six, eight, or nine, but she is seven. How strange and timely is that given the circumstance? If I believed in coincidences, I’d say that’s what it was; but I don’t, so I won’t. For a few seconds, after my cousin answered my spontaneous question, I was surprised; and then it dawned on me — seven!!! That fits right in. Ah, utopian Seventh Heaven.

Oddly, as I write this, I recall that it was seven years ago that my mother, who was born in 1927, died in the 87th year of her life. Whether you are looking for it or not, that number seven is ubiquitous.

Like a crap-shooter, rolling sevens, I’ve become engrossed in this project of finding sevens. I could pursue it twenty-four seven, seven days a week.

Did I hear someone say “Get a life?”

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