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Healing for my Hurt: A Journey to WholenessFinding My Father, Finding Myself
By CYNTHIA PARKER WHITE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Cynthia Parker White, Ed. D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BEGINNING
I was born Cynteria Elaine Parker on July 31, 1952. My birth certificate, which I did not actually see until 1992, is rift with inaccuracies. It lists my date of birth as July 30, 1952 although my mother swore that I was born on the last day of the month. According to her, a mother never forgets the day that she brings a child into the world. Because my momma said it was so, I have always observed on July 31 despite what my birth certificate says. I use the term observed because to the best of my knowledge, there were few if any birthday celebrations for me.
I was born in the county of Pinellas, the city of St. Petersburg and the state of Florida. My delivery was at Mercy Hospital, the only facility in the city that would take Negro patients, the terminology used to describe people of color during that era. My father, listed as Freeman Parker, Jr., 20 years of age (he was most likely only 18), a Negro born in Georgia with a usual occupation of fruit picker (a fact my father much later would dispute). My mother's maiden name on the certificate is Louise Kinslow (another inaccuracy) as her given name is Helen Louise Kinsler. She despisedthe name Helen and rarely if ever used it. She was 17 years of age at my birth and born in the state of Florida.
The certificate documents the fact that she had one other living child, my brother born two years earlier. I would later learn that my mother was married and widowed by the age of 16. My brother's father died as the result of a tragic swimming accident that occurred before his son was born.
The informant on the birth certificate is Louise Parker. I determined later that the stigma attached to giving birth while unmarried during this era often necessitated stating one was married to the father of the child when it was not necessarily the truth. It occurred to me later that I was not the only one living with shame or perhaps she actually believed that the marriage she hoped for would come later.
I have few memories before the age of five and there are few if any pictures from my early childhood to help recount the story. The few photos that would have aided in telling the story were lost in a flooded storage unit. At approximately age five, I vaguely remember living and playing in the housing project known as Royal Court. It is this housing complex for the city's "Negro" population where my mother and father lived during their relationship and where I lived for a time after my birth. By the time of my birth in July 1952, my father had already departed the city with the intent of securing better employment and then returning for us. As life and circumstances would have it, he would not return and not see his daughter for another fifty-six years.
Chapter TwoTHE EARLY YEARS
I vividly remember being on the playground in Royal Court, an unadorned fenced-in area without grass. There were commercial sized swing sets and seesaws that we spent endless hours playing on. The swings were my favorite and the memory remains with me today of being thrown from one of them.
As I recall the incident, I was in the swing while a slightly older boy straddling the swing with his feet planted firmly on both sides of me pumping with his legs to increase the momentum of the swing's action. Unexpectedly, he jumped from the swing causing it to go backward at an even higher rate and flip across the top bar. At some point, I let go of my grip either voluntarily or involuntarily. I must have hit the ground with a force great enough to knock me unconscious. I only remembered waking up in my bed at home with a local doctor who at that time made house calls, at my bedside.
The best part of living in the complex was the vast number of playmates that were available. We were both resourceful and creative and built complete maze-like playhouses out of connected cardboard boxes. There were endless games of hide and seek and hop scotch and for the girls playing with our dolls and mimicking the behavior of our mothers and grand mothers.
Left to our own devices, we rarely fought and played hard until the street lights came on. When those lights came on, children began to fall away from their long day of fun and games and head home. Those ignoring the lights had the stern voices of mommas and grandmas to remind them and usually their one and only reminder. Living there was much like living in our own private world, insulated from the harsh realities of living poor and Black in the early fifties.
I remember at some point, moving from Royal Court and living in an apartment house not far away that we shared with other tenants. I remember it as a very scary place to live. It was next to a wood yard. There were men who lived there in makeshift housing who sold an assortment of junk and wood to eke out a living. Due to the proximity of the junk yard, mice abounded and it was impossible to keep them out of the apartments. As a child, I was terrified of them. They came out at night in the kitchen scurrying around on the linoleum floor.
The reason I could hear them was because often my mom had to rent out the bedroom my brother and I shared to help pay bills. We both slept on the same rollaway bed in the kitchen. I spent many sleepless nights afraid the mice would get to me on the bed. I remember at the age of six or seven, being home alone one day, sitting on the sofa watching television when a mouse came from out of no where, poised himself on the floor in front of me, raised up on his hind legs and proceeded to watch me. There was no place for me to go and I was too terrified to make a break for it. After what seemed an eternity, the mouse tired of watching me and went on his way. All of this occurred in broad day light.
Surrounded by an assortment of neighbors, we never lacked having someone to keep an eye on us when our mother was not at home. Miss Pauline lived on the lower level of the huge building with us and she was the stern taskmaster when our mother was working or sick. I vividly recall a time when my mother was ill and Miss Pauline was in charge of my brother Will and me. She had no children of her own; to the best of my remembrance, she also had no husband. Miss Pauline had a distinct way of mispronouncing my name, calling me Cinty instead of Cynthia, which replaced Cynteria, which no one could pronounce.
When my momma was sick with the flu once, it fell to Miss Pauline to take care of us. She fed us and then gave us a bath at her house. She literally scrubbed us raw. She took us back home, told us to sit on the sofa, watch television until our bedtime and not disturb our mother. Our little bodies were too in shock from the abrasive washing to entertain any thoughts of misbehaving.
My brother and I were a rambunctious pair as little children and he was forever daring me to do things that had I been older would have automatically known that they were both dumb and dangerous. We had a habit of sliding down the wooden banister on the backside of the apartment building that led to the upstairs units. I allowed my brother to convince me that if it was fun to slide down a banister backwards that it had to be more fun to slide down forward. It sounded like a wonderful idea and I excitedly agreed to be the one to try it first, at his urging.
I was too young to understand any of the laws of physics and gravity and did not anticipate the speed and force, which my body would come hurtling toward the ground. There was nothing to slow down my momentum and for the second time, knocked unconscious. I woke up in my bed with the doctor ministering to me. I had a throbbing headache that lasted for several days and received a stern warning from my mother that I had better not try any more foolish stunts. I did not tell her that it had been my brother's idea.
Miss Redvict was the property owner and we envisioned that she must be rich to own such a big house. She lived on the second floor with the back stairs being the only way to gain entrance. I often was the one sent to make the rent payments. She was a heavyset woman whom I never saw outside of the confines of her own apartment. Her unit was tiny, much smaller than the one shared by my mother, brother and I. In her bedroom area, she had this elaborate dressing table loaded with an assortment of exotic perfumes and lipsticks. She had more clothes than a closet could hold and she had a habit of wearing long, flowing nightgowns with matching cover- ups. I do not recall that she had a husband or children. Although there were other tenants living on the second floor, them I cannot recall.
I remember that the house in which we lived was at the intersection of Dunmore and Dixie which at the time was in the heart of an all black enclave or as we were known then, a Negro neighborhood. I came to realize later that we were all quite poor but luckily as children, we were not aware of our poverty. Family and friends who looked after us and filled in wherever there was a need always surrounded us.
I recollect we had an electric refrigerator that my mother was buying on credit and when she could either not make the payments on it or the electric bill, we would revert back to our old ice box for which you literally had to buy large blocks of ice to keep the food cold.
To this day, I can vividly recall the unpleasant taste of food stored in that old ice box. I also recall portable kerosene heaters in the winter and oil lamps with wicks to supply lights when the electricity was off. I do not remember any fires in our house from using these items or in the homes of others. My mother was forever warning us to be careful and not get too close. There were times when our clothing scorched when we attempted to dry them by placing items on the kerosene heater. Many times my brother and I worn items with burn marks on them for not heeding our mother's words.
Our neighbors across the street were a family by the name of Bennett with at least six or seven children and a mother and father. The fact that they had a live in daddy was an anomaly to me. I was friends with the daughter who was my age and whenever I visited them, I always felt like too many people were crowded into such a tiny, dark place.
Old man McCloud lived diagonally across from my apartment building in the strangest house one could imagine. It looked part decaying business and makeshift housing. There was junk to the ceiling in parts of the building and it always was dark and dank. Old man McCloud was definitely eccentric but respected in the neighborhood. He was the neighborhood Boy Scout leader and we often saw him parading through the streets with his troop of boys, some of whom were his own sons.
There was a corner store owned by a black family and every penny, nickel or dime we could beg or scrounge from family, friends or strangers went to the store to buy cookies that sold two for a penny, candy, RC Cola and orange and grape NEHI sodas. We often collected soda pop bottles for the deposit we could get for returning them. We scoured the neighborhood for hours, pulling a battered wagon and generally netting less than one dollar but always being satisfied with our profits. There were old-fashioned pinball machines designed to delight for hours in that store.
Sharing the same building was the neighborhood Beer Garden where my mother sometimes worked nights as bartender to make extra money. I remember it distinctly because the night that hurricane Donna blew through St. Petersburg, she was working there. The establishment was only a few steps away from our house where I was alone sleeping. I woke up terrified that the encroaching storm would sweep me away.
I remember waking up, standing in the doorway of the apartment crying my heart out when someone who knew my mother came to get me and took me to her. They secured me in a booth where I promptly fell asleep. The storm left a tangle of downed trees but surprisingly little structural damage to the houses in my immediate neighborhood. As these memories initially emerged, I thought it was bad of my mother to leave me alone but I suppose in retrospect, it might have been either work her shift or look for another job. The adult in me now can view the event with a greater clarity and understanding than the child standing in the doorway.
As young as six or seven year old, I was catching the city bus alone. The buses in the black neighborhoods had black drivers who looked after little children riding alone. I knew to sit as close to the front as possible so I could ask when to get off. I rode the bus to school, to my sitter's house and back home again. I knew all of the routes that could take me to where I needed to go.
Because of the hours my mother worked, she decided to place me with a babysitter I lived with during the week. The Stuarts had previously lived in Royal Court also but were fortunate enough to buy their own home. I cannot honestly remember when they first came to care for me. When they moved from the housing project, I went along. They were very kind to me, treating me as their grand child. Being with them was the closest I ever came to being spoiled.
My adopted grandmother made me feel special and I basked in the afterglow of that feeling. I only remember her disciplining me once for some infraction of the rules and we both cried when she spanked me. I remember getting a treat immediately afterwards because she felt worse than I did about the punishment.
I was safe and in good hands with the Stuarts but it did not ease the feelings of disconnectedness from my mother and my brother. Because I would go a week and sometimes longer without seeing them, I worried incessantly about them. I was always afraid that I would somehow permanently be separated from them, particularly my mother. As a result, I developed multiple stress and anxiety related ailments between the ages of six to eight. The skin would peel starting from around my cuticles down to my knuckles on both hands. They would literally be raw and extremely painful if touched. I developed severe pain in my neck whereby I could not turn it for a long periods without a great deal of discomfort in trying to do so.
One morning, I awoke at my grandmother's house to get ready for school and discovered my face swollen and a huge welt like bruise on my thigh. Although we did not have a telephone at home, my grandmother was somehow able to get in touch with my mother who surmised that I needed medical care. We went to Mercy Hospital where medical personal, after examining me thought it to be an allergic reaction to food I had probably eaten at school. The diagnosis earned me a painful shot of medication in my hip. The only positive out of this ordeal was that it got me a day out of school to recover and some much needed time with my mother. Getting to see her made the whole episode worthwhile.
Excerpted from Healing for my Hurt: A Journey to Wholeness by CYNTHIA PARKER WHITE Copyright © 2009 by Cynthia Parker White, Ed. D.. Excerpted by permission.
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