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In Pursuit of Sanity
A Memoir of My Life's Spiritual Journey
By Lavinia Lynn Reynolds, Vera A. McKinney
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2015 Lavinia Lynn Reynolds
All rights reserved.
NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO SLEEP
It was Sunday morning. I woke up excited! I knew I would be wearing a pretty new dress and fancy shoes on that day, something that I did every Sunday throughout my childhood. I put on a beautiful red velvet dress with a laced bottom petite skirt and cancan slip underneath. My shoes were shiny patent leather. Mama washed, pressed, and curled my hair the day before—that was expected every other Saturday throughout my childhood.
I am Lavinia, pronounced "la-veen-ya." My sister and brothers couldn't pronounce my name when we were younger so they affectionately called me Beanie. I was told that it started off as Veanie by Mama and my aunt; but my sister, brothers, and cousins changed it to Beanie. Mama called me Bean for short.
I loved wearing new clothes, especially whenever we went to church. It made me feel very special. We went to church every Sunday when I was a small child. Mama told me that Daddy was a deacon in the church when I was four or five years old. As a family, we often studied the Bible at home. During the summer months, we attended vacation Bible school. That's where I first learned the song, "Jesus Loves Me." I didn't realize it at the time, but the words to that song would be my help throughout my life.
My youngest brother, Johnny, was quite funny during that time of my life. He would imitate the preacher when we returned home from a long boring day at church. If you've ever attended a black church in the 1960s, you can imagine the style of the preaching and how he mimicked the preacher. "Come ... come to Jesus," he would say. We would laugh because he sounded just like the preacher at the time. Our granny called him Johnny Preacher.
Mama's birth name was Patty. She was the eldest of six children. Granny was Mama's grandmother on her mother's side. When Mama lost her mother unto death, she and three of her siblings were sent to live in Detroit to be raised by her grandmother on her father's side. The other two siblings were raised in Pontiac by Granny.
Mama felt that because she was the oldest, she was responsible for keeping them together as a family. She once told me that, for years, she hated her father. She felt it was his fault that her mother died. It's my understanding that she was diagnosed with tuberculosis after giving birth to six children before she reached the age of thirty.
I was also told that my granddaddy Frankie, as we called him, was a "rolling stone," living from house to house. I wonder what type of woman my grandma was. I do know that two of Mama's sisters were not Granddaddy Frankie's biological children, the two that Granny raised.
My daddy's name was Charles. Mama called him Charlie. My mama met him on one of her visits to Pontiac. Daddy was engaged to another woman while he was serving in the navy, but when his service ended and he returned home, he learned that his best friend had married her. Daddy was quite upset. It's my understanding that that's when my daddy started drinking. Daddy shared with me years later that when he was a baby, his mother, who was an alcoholic, left him on his aunt's porch and never returned. Auntie raised Daddy. He had two elder brothers that she also raised.
Mama told me that when she became pregnant by Daddy, my great-grandma made her give up her baby, whom they had named John, for adoption. Daddy didn't like that idea, and he told Mama, "No son of mine will go through what I did!" Then he asked Mama to marry him. After they married, they were able to get their baby from the foster home he was in while waiting to be adopted. Mama told me that Daddy changed the baby's name to Charles, Jr. Family members told me that, right after they married, the fighting between the two of them began.
Mama and Daddy had issues when they met. However, they tried to do what every other American family did at that time: live the average American dream. Daddy went to work, and Mama stayed home to care for their baby. A year and a half later, another child was born. Her name was Vanessa, my sister. Eleven months later, another girl was born, which was yours truly. A year and a half later, my youngest brother, Johnny, was born into this world.
Mama shared with me some pictures and memories of those years. I don't remember a lot from that era, but I do remember a picture she showed me of myself when I was a baby. I had very big eyes and was bow-legged. The only hair I had was growing in the center of my head. Mama said she often placed a little rubber band around my inch of hair and a barrette. Whenever she told me that story, I thought about the little girl, who wore her hair the same way, on that cartoon show on television about a family who lived in the Stone Age. Mama shared that we lived on Jaden Street in a row of homes that she referred to as the projects. I remember them being made of brick with large concrete steps. I was sitting on the steps in the picture.
Daddy started working for the city as a garbageman. Family members told me that Daddy used to drink and fight with Mama during this time. I was also told that my eldest brother got a whooping every day because he wet the bed every night. They said that he had other issues as well. From the pictures I had seen, we looked like the average family. The pictures of Daddy showed how handsome he was. One picture that I remembered throughout the years was when he was in the navy. He had the most beautiful smile on his face, and his teeth were gorgeous! I remember Mama being very pretty. She was very shapely, with a small waste line. She had a figure that most women would kill to have!
The first memory I have from childhood was when I was almost five years old. We had moved from Jaden Street to Rail Street. Daddy had bought his first house. I have a lot of memories from that time, and what I didn't have knowledge of, Mama shared her version.
When we were little children, we were left home alone a lot. By this time, Mama also had to get a job because the mortgage was high and more money was needed. Mama worked cleaning houses for rich white people in Bloomfield and Birmingham. They would give her lots of appliances and furniture for our home and all kinds of toys and bikes for us. They liked her a lot.
School had begun that year for me. I was excited to go to kindergarten. All kindergarteners had to bring a rug to lie on during nap time. During nap time, all the kids would fall asleep, but I couldn't. I found myself asking God, "Help my mama make it through her day at work."
Daddy worked during the weekday and was home with us on Saturdays. At least, he was supposed to be home with us. But he would leave home soon after Mama left for work and go to the bar and be with other women—women of the streets—I later learned.
Mama was a good mother during this time of our lives. Whenever she wasn't working, she spent all her time with us. Mama loved being a homemaker. I remember as a small child having days that I worried about Mama and Daddy. Mama didn't drink or smoke at that time, but I do remember her going to Mr. Hill's house whenever Daddy wasn't home. She told me that Mr. Hill was an old man that loved helping us.
Daddy would come home on Saturdays so drunk that he would fall down and break things that Mama had placed in our home to make it a "good-looking home." We started off very young taking care of Daddy whenever he was drunk. Our house had a bedroom downstairs. We would remove his regular clothes and put him in his pajamas, after cleaning the blood from the cuts he would get from broken glass, either at home or at the bar, and put him to bed. We learned at a very young age the roles we would play our entire childhood.
Mama made sure that as small children we stayed well groomed and went to school very clean and neat. She kept mine and my sister's hair pressed and curled. Mama didn't believe in having her girls looking any other way than like pretty little dolls; and as small girls, she kept us looking beautiful. The "boys," as we called them, weren't fussed over as much as the girls were, but Mama still kept them clean and neat.
Mama was obsessed with appearance and trying to impress people. She always told me, "A first impression is a lasting impression." Daddy was a neat and clean man as well. He was a cook when he served in the navy. He believed in earning a living through hard work and honesty. Daddy always instilled in us the importance of keeping our word: "Your word is your bond. After all that's said and done, your word is all you have," he would say.
Once Daddy was in bed and asleep, my sister and I would start cleaning up the glass and blood so that when Mama returned from work, her house would be the same as she left it—clean. She would be so tired when she got home. We didn't want her to see how her house really looked. We knew she still had to cook dinner. Besides, she already knew that Daddy had not been home with us because she called several times during the day. Whenever she called, she always asked me what was happening and I always told her the truth. Daddy always managed to make it back home before Mama returned from work. She would come home, take a bath, and then make dinner.
Weekdays during this time of our lives were normal, at least what we thought was normal. However, every Friday evening and Saturday, the drama and chaos would take place, especially payday Fridays. Then Sunday morning, we got up, put on our best clothes, and went to church as a family. Mama always cooked dinner when she came home from work. Sometimes we would eat without Daddy. Once he sobered up from his nap, the arguing would begin. It never failed. Mama always felt she had to "check" him for leaving us alone and getting drunk. That's when all hell would break loose. The actual fighting didn't take place until we were in bed. I guess they thought we were asleep, but we heard it all.
I cried a lot when I was a child. I experienced emotions that no child should ever experience. The fear was overwhelming. But there were some moments on Rail Street that were normal, like in any other child's life, like the times I would help them tend to our garden. I enjoyed the time I spent with Mama whenever she washed, pressed, and curled my hair. She always fixed my sister's hair first because it was thick and always said she'd do the hardest job first.
Anyway, one day we were in the kitchen and Mama was pressing my hair. We heard a loud boom outside. It was summertime. The front door was open. Mama quickly laid the pressing comb down. I jumped up from the chair I was sitting on and ran to the door. I saw a car that had struck a huge tree head on directly across the street from our house. Mama had made it to the front door of the house by this time, and together, we noticed that a small child's head was hanging out of the window on the driver's side of the car. It was a little girl.
Neighbors came from their homes to see what was happening. My sister and brothers were playing in the backyard and also came running around to the front to see the accident. We watched a man who was bleeding from his head jump out of the car on the passenger side and take off running up the street. My brother, Charles, Jr., ran after him. "Charles, Jr.," my mother hollered, "you come back here!" Charles, Jr. kept running. Other neighbors also chased after the man.
Mama turned and went for the telephone. My sister Vanessa, my youngest brother Johnny, and I curiously looked at one another, thinking, Where is Charles, Jr. running? We were small kids, but we knew that his actions could be dangerous. Even the neighbors who were running after this man knew not to get too close. Charles, Jr. was right on him. The man was drunk and couldn't get away from him. The grown-ups on the street were awestruck at how Charles, Jr. stayed up on that man until the police caught him. Then Charles, Jr. turned around and ran all the way back home.
In the meantime, the ambulance had arrived in front of our house. We were all gathered around watching. The little girl was lifeless. After they pried the car door open, I saw them remove her little body from the car. I realized she was dead. That was the first time I ever saw such. I remember to this day the compassion I felt for her. I also remember solemnly saying, "God, please take her to heaven." In church, I learned that heaven is where you go when you die. I also asked Mama if the little girl would go to heaven. Mama said, "All kids go to heaven if they die." It was comforting to know that she would be going to heaven. Anyway, we went back inside the house. Mama finished pressing my hair. The next day we went to church.
Summer had come and we were out of school. Mama didn't want us alone all summer long, so Daddy said his nephew, Teddy, would babysit us. I later learned that Teddy was on drugs, which explains why he allowed us to get into so much trouble that summer. Teddy let us do whatever we wanted. Charles, Jr. would go outside to play, while we would stay and play inside.
One day Charles, Jr. came inside and talked Johnny into going outside with him. He told Johnny that he had snatched our neighbor's clothes from her clothes line and buried them in the yard next door to our house. He wanted Johnny to go with him that day and help him steal more clothes and bury them. Later that night, when they were discussing it, they asked me and Vanessa if we wanted to steal her clothes from the line the next day. Vanessa didn't want to, but I agreed to do it. The next morning, when we went outside to play, Vanessa stayed in the house with Teddy. My brother and I went outdoors into our neighbor's yard and yanked her clothes from the line and ran to the yard next door to our house.
We were digging a hole when the lady walked up to us and angrily said, "Gimme my clothes and dig up my other clothes! Is your mother home?"
I said, "No."
"Who's home with you?" she asked.
"Our cousin, Teddy," we said.
She stormed over to our house and knocked on the door. We quickly ran inside our house through the back door and told Teddy that the lady was at our front door. As he was opening the front door, he said to us, "What did y'all do?" She told Teddy what happened and that she wanted every piece of her clothing returned.
After she finished speaking with Teddy, he had the nerve to flirt with her: "You sho' is a pretty lady. Do you have a husband?" That's how Teddy was. He didn't care what we did. He just made sure when Mama and Daddy returned home, we were in the house, had done our chores, and everything looked like he had done his job. Teddy wasn't a babysitter; he just wanted to get paid! We thought he was cool!
On the other hand, he told Mama what we had done because the lady said that she would be back. We went outside and dug up her clothes from the ground. Once we were finished, Charles, Jr. took them back to her. When Mama came home and heard about it, the three of us got a whooping. My sister never got into trouble, and this would be the last time that I got a whooping as a child. It wasn't the last time I got into trouble, but it was the last time I was disciplined in that manner. My eldest brother continued to get whoopings for a while. My youngest brother didn't get whipped very much after that because Mama always said he wouldn't be in trouble if he wasn't following Charles, Jr. around and doing what he said and did. Charles, Jr. was our big brother, and we did whatever he said and did.
Other kids were always jealous of us. Charles, Jr. got into a fight when he was a little kid. He was attending school when another boy pushed him down the stairs. Charles, Jr. hit his head, so Mama had to leave work and take him to the hospital. I remember this so well because Mama always said that when Charles, Jr. fell and hit his head, the doctors said that if any damage was done, they were unable to tell at that point, but time would tell.
Excerpted from In Pursuit of Sanity by Lavinia Lynn Reynolds, Vera A. McKinney. Copyright © 2015 Lavinia Lynn Reynolds. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, 1,
Chapter Two: Newberry Street, 12,
Chapter Three: Dear God, I Know You Love Me, 26,
Chapter Four: The Beauty Of Crystal, 33,
Chapter Five: The Icing On That Christmas, 41,
Chapter Six: Thank You, God, For My New Teeth, 50,
Chapter Seven: The Valley, 60,
Chapter Eight: Mama Will Be Mad If I Don't, 73,
Chapter Nine: I Do, 86,
Chapter Ten: The White Fur Coat, 97,
Chapter Eleven: Please Forgive Me, 106,
Chapter Twelve: Beauty School, 116,
Chapter Thirteen: Shining In The World, 126,
Chapter Fourteen: Pure Pandemonium, 138,
Chapter Fifteen: Miami, 148,
Chapter Sixteen: My Three Sons, 160,
Chapter Seventeen: The Street Life, 171,
Chapter Eighteen: Tell Her I Love Her, 181,
Chapter Nineteen: Sleeping With An Enemy, 192,
Chapter Twenty: A Glimpse Of Joy In Total Darkness, 203,
Chapter Twenty-One: A Bad Dream, 214,
Chapter Twenty-Two: The End Of A Nightmare, 224,
Chapter Twenty-Three: A Bleeding Heart, 235,
Chapter Twenty-Four: A New Beginning, 245,
Chapter Twenty-Five: I Can't Turn Back, 257,
Chapter Twenty-Six: I Set Myself Up, 266,
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Losing A Part Of Me, 276,
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Nineteen Ninety Nine, 288,
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Pearls, Rubies, And Diamonds, 299,
Chapter Thirty: True Love, 311,
Chapter Thirty-One: Lcogic, 323,
Chapter Thirty-Two: East Lansing, 335,
Chapter Thirty-Three: Pressure Will Burst Any Pipe, 348,
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Battle In My Mind, 362,
Chapter Thirty-Five: Giving Up, 374,
Chapter Thirty-Six: The Process, 385,
Chapter Thirty-Seven: I've Been Set Free!, 400,
A Prayer in Behalf of the Life of LaVinia, 409,
Overcoming (A Family Prayer), 411,