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Untold MiraclesAn Undeniable Memoir of Faith
By Velma Palmer
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Velma Palmer Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUntold Miracles
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But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
Mountains are the best description I could find to outline my life and the way God has allowed me to climb these rocky steps, and at times sloping areas in my life. My life began in Highgate, Saint Mary, Jamaica when my young mother, Ivy gave birth to me, a brown curly-haired baby girl that she named Velma Brown. It was a time of uncertainty and disappointment because Ivy's dreams of becoming a teacher became shadowed knowing that her gears had to be shifted to meet the needs of her new baby. Being a single mother in a new town away from family would make it difficult for her to raise a child as well as continue working. To complicate this matter, my father who was a bus conductor was rarely around because his job took him to various parishes in Jamaica.
Within months my young mother had to make a decision, "Ah! I will take my baby to Mama," she muttered, "that's the best thing right now." She packed our bags and boarded a bus with me and headed for Hartland her birthplace; this was another rural district within the parish of St. Mary. My mother was determined for the village to raise me. It was customary for neighbors and communities to be supportive of children and families, by addressing the child's well-being and needs during their upbringing. This method of raising children was considered shared responsibility, and children were fully aware that parenting was not confined to their individual parents only. As a result children had to obey and respect adults who were of no relation to them.
The major economy in Highgate was farming. There were no factories or companies. The prominent professions of the community were teaching, nursing or law enforcement. Finding employment, which was scarce, meant that people had to work on the farm cultivating numerous types of crops or being employed in housekeeping. Most people had limited resources so they were unable to afford college or trade schools for their children. They also maintained their family by cultivating their crops and selling them to exporters as well as the city market.
Mama and Papa were delighted to meet me, their only granddaughter, for the first time at the tender age of six months old. The household also consisted of my oldest brother, two uncles, one aunt-all were attending school. Growing up in a large extended family was a blessing as well as a curse sometimes. I was the youngest and the only granddaughter in the household, which I used to my advantage many times. I considered myself pampered by all the family members and both sides used this to their advantage. I was a scapegoat out of punishment for the boys as well as out of many of their chores. They would prepare me to support their stories with all kinds of references, such as their activities and locations during certain events. My reward from them was outstanding!
According to my aunt, as a result of my curly hair that had a striking resemblance of the picture "Betty" on the condensed milk can, I was nicknamed "Betty". A term of endearment, I was called Betty by everyone except my mother. My mom showed her resentment to the name by refusing to call me Betty. I didn't understand the reason for this; it would become a source for a lot of problems later in life. There were no explanations or discussions as to why and this affected me in numerous ways. I wanted my mother to call me Betty just as all the other members of the family. This may have been one factor that led me to feel unloved by my mother throughout my childhood. I fought with the unanswered question- what is in a name? There was a constant battle that raged within my heart. I carried a huge burden because there were no answers to my questions. I even inquired from my father if I were her step-daughter. I discerned how shocked he was but he calmly said, "No, not at all." My investigations have not unearthed any reasons for this rejection, so I am the first to confess that I do not know. I am blessed to have found strength in this song to deal with my lifelong problem.
My load's hard to bear
And I feel myself stumble
'Neath my load of care
Then I ask Him this question
Oh my Lord, how long?
Then I hear His voice
Whisper, whisper, whisper
He carry me through
Oh how I need Jesus to carry me through
Along Life's journey
Yes you need him too
And when you're in trouble
Don't know what to do
Just Call on Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
He'll carry you trough
When storm are raging
And the high billows rolls
When sad winds of sorrow
Sweep over my soul
Then I reach for my refuge.
My safe hiding place
And I know that he'll
Keep me, keep me, keep me
In his wonderful grace.
My emotions had escalated to new heights especially when my grandmother (Mama) sent me to my parents for the summer holidays. In Hartland and Kingston my family called me Betty however, my mother refused to call me by any other name than Velma. As the years went by, all my focus and actions were intended to resolve my fears of being unaccepted by my mother. I knew that it is God who kept me through this storm. My sense of rejection haunted me and without His presence it would have been catastrophic.
Although my parents lived in Kingston, the big city, I was desperate to return to Hartland even before the summer ended, to continue my way of life at all costs. One theory concerning my actions can be linked to me being totally bonded to my grandparents at an early age. My mother may have felt some resentment from me at times due to this bonding. My father was an easy-going man who did not believe that children should be punished for their infractions. My mother was the total opposite. She was known as a strong disciplinarian. I hid my sense of distress from Mama and Papa carefully because it would have affected their relationship with my mother.
I had a sense of reaching the stars at an early age and it was known by almost everyone who met me. It was evident that I was a leader and I demonstrated it in my everyday life. I was always teaching, instructing, and guiding someone during my childhood. My parents supported me financially while I was living with my grandparents. My dad was my favorite; we both looked alike, and I was considered his favorite as well. My name was echoed by my entire family due to my level of intelligence and achievements I made at an early age. There were no doubts, they were extremely proud of me. Papa would share some of my abilities and achievements with his friends and how proud he was that both of us worked out complicated problems that affected people's daily lives.
Geography and politics were his favorites. What conversations we had! He constantly informed me about world affairs and its long-term effects. He instructed me to read sections of the newspaper and share my understanding. I developed a love for different forms of communication and it has impacted my writing and communication skills throughout my life.
My perception of my mother's rejection was always visible even to other family members as well as family friends. She praised my siblings for their achievements but ignored mine although my successes were above theirs in most cases. There were times when family members came to my defense by saying how could you forget Betty's award or her good grades. During those battles I was hurt, crushed to the point that I cried for relief. Numerous times Papa would chastise my mother in my presence for treating me in this manner. Mama would join in by saying, "I just can't understand this; she is your child just like the others." One of her favorite customs was to criticize me openly in public for any trivial thing. I was terrified when this happened because it was almost impossible to overcome the embarrassment. It took such a toll on me that I did not want to be in her presence at times because I felt out of place. After many years of a feeling the sense of rejection by my mother, I was convinced that if I pushed myself to the highest levels in education, my successes would change my circumstances. Instead, it only increased my frustration as well as my doubts. My experiences taught me that external achievements will never compensate for your internal problems. I developed a strong bond with my aunts and uncles and they have always embraced me as their baby sister. Whenever I wanted money, clothes or shoes I'd send messages to them in the United States, and they rarely denied my request. This was difficult for my mom; she would always say that, "The family let you have your own way by spoiling you."
For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. (Proverbs 3:12)
My Mom returned home to Hartland a few years later to live and I was miserable. Her rules were clear and I was expected to be the model child that she envisioned. She was convinced that her parents were lax with their discipline, so she was going to correct my behavior. Within weeks she began teaching pre-school students at a center within the community. I was one of her students who was always in trouble.
Having my mother as my teacher was devastating; I felt like my freedom was plucked from under my feet. She expected me to be the best in academic achievements and excellent behavior, and I resented it. In one of my times-out for my infractions, I rebelled and I stuck two fruit seeds in my ear. The doctor's office was miles away and she was really mad with me for doing it. There were no clinics or hospital in this small district and there was no form of transportation at that time of day. In her desperation to find medical assistance she hurried home hoping that she would walk as fast as she could before the doctor departed for the day. On her way she saw a parent who inquired why she had left school so early. A short explanation led the parent to seek permission to intervene. This parent comforted me and asked me to remain calm while she used a bobby pin and removed the seeds from my ear.
Shortly after this incident I entered public school and I loved my new teacher. Secretly, I was hoping that my mom would return to Kingston. Her stay was much longer than I had anticipated but finally, my dad informed her that his job had put him in a more stable position and so he was better able to take care of the family. I was elated when my mom relocated from Hartland to Kingston. I did not care where they were going. All I wanted was to regain my freedom. I felt like I was caught up in two worlds and I loved one and hated the other. I loved to roam the bushes with the other children although they had to take turns lifting me up or setting me on a pony because I was unable to manage on my own.
As I grew, I gained strength and peace through songs and scripture verses that I studied in church. They had deep meaning to my life although I did not fully understand the extent. The more I read and repeated Psalm 27, I was convinced that it addressed my concerns, my inner being, and it gave me assurance and comfort especially at nights when the script began to roll in my mind:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? ... Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me ... When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up... Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Psalm 27:1,7,10,14)
As I got older I excelled in school and in just about everything that I did. Walking a few miles from Hartland to Donnington All-Age School daily was exciting. My friends and I picked fruits, played games, played in the nearby river and ran to class by nine o'clock. School began with a song and a prayer and ended with "The Lord's Prayer" and a closing song. We were anxious to play as we ran home to do our chores before it got dark. Happy voices chimed in at the end of the day by singing:
Night is drawing nigh,
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.
Now the darkness gathers,
Stars begin to peep,
Birds, and beasts and flowers
Soon will be asleep.
Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With Thy tenderest blessing
May mine eyelids close.
Recess twice per day was a delight. I engaged in numerous games, ate my favorite snacks, and conversed with my friends. I raised money sometimes from my peers as payments for solving some of their mathematical problems so this placed me in the smart league. My teachers praised me constantly for my understanding and accomplishment in class and in my yearly examinations. I was a shining star throughout my school. Agricultural Science and sewing were stressed as part of the curriculum and I had lots of fun learning them because it was applicable in my everyday life.
Mama prepared our homemade lunches daily and expected one of the boys to be responsible for it. In her absence they insisted that I take the lunch to school. One day I put an end to it by hiding the lunch bag on a grassy hill; ants turned it into an ant pile and we were all left without lunch. They realized that they were not going to be my 'boss' any time soon. We hid the incident from the adults, knowing there would be consequences and things went back to normal.
My physical state was also examined daily at school and on at home. I was expected to return from school with my navy-blue uniform looking like it had just left the ironing board and my black shoes still shining although I walked along the dusty road home. Sometimes, I had to give an account of my activities due to the state of my clothes. Secretly, I accompanied my friends on their quest for fruits and sugar cane from several properties along the way. We loved to feast on them as if we were starving but in truth our property had abundance for us to eat. Rainy days were exciting because the rules were less strict both at home and at school and I loved it. The years that I spent at Donnington All-Age School has created a lasting memory that I will always cherish.
My grandparents were well-respected property owners so I was expected to maintain the family name although my surname was not Matthews. I was constantly reminded of who I was and what was expected of me. People within the community reported our infractions and there would be consequences for our actions. My brother and uncles were seen playing marbles during class time. It was handled by my grandfather like a trial. I was called upon to testify about their behavior before they were punished.
My family had a long history with the principal. She taught my mother and her siblings so her words were considered gospel. Papa's monthly visits to the school kept me on my toes. I read and recited to the family every night after my homework was completed. My grandparents were very supportive of me and I treasured their blessings. Papa followed all the news in the Island as well as overseas; as a result I had to walk a long distance regularly to purchase the newspaper. This chore seemed to get me in the habit of reading the newspaper even as an adult. Life in the rural area was exciting, although everyone had to assist their parents on the farm, which was vital for the family's survival.
Monday was my favorite day, because my mother who was affectionately called "Lala" sent a box packed with basic necessities from Kingston for me. One of the boys would await our only public transportation which was a bus called "Magnet" to collect it. The aroma from the fish and the peppermint candy was welcomed. When there were changes in the bus schedule due to the bus breaking down on its way, the conductor would leave my box at the grocery store to be picked up. We were always delighted when Lala sent school supplies and items that were rarely sold in our area.
I roamed the countryside free-spirited, climbing trees, riding horses, accompanying my brother and uncles on their expedition of bird-shooting and fishing. I loved the tranquil hillsides, the brooks, rivers, and the endless vegetation. This was my world and I adored it. My friends met me in the place that I designated for our games as well as outdoor cooking, swimming, and horses racing. The boys in our household did the major part of the planning. This was my secret adventure; my grandparents had no knowledge of it because I provided a logical explanation for our disappearance. The boys provided the "script" for me and I just repeated what I was told to say.
One of our favorite's was catching craw-fish and making a special soup with them. There were times when I thought I ate too many different fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats, along with the regular meals. It was mandatory that I had dinner at the table so I had to find creative ways to alleviate any form of suspicion by the adults. Fresh cow's milk was served twice daily and I detested it. I made a plan that I thought would put an end to being forced to drink cows' milk. An old broken discarded fork that was being used to till the soil was close by so I used it in an effort to punch a hole in the cup, but my attempt failed. Not realizing that the force would glide off the enamel cup, I struck it really hard, one of the sharp prongs ripped through my foot. The trauma was enormous; Mama sprang into action with her antidote and stopped the excessive bleeding.
Excerpted from Untold Miracles by Velma Palmer Copyright © 2012 by Velma Palmer Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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