Tag Archives: poverty

No Perfect People: A #Mother’s Day Reflection

aliciaDoSomethingGood

When I wrote those words in the novel Run or Die, they came from growing up with my mother. She was a woman who became the first female remodeling contractor in our state to do her own work.  Never play the damsel-in-distress because if you play it long enough, you become it.  Never back down from a bully; they only get worse. And, whenever you get knocked down, pick yourself back up and throw yourself back into the fight. Never settle; constantly strive to improve, to grow, to become more.

All very necessary lessons as I grew up in a ghetto. A poverty-stricken area where dreams died fast and so did most people. But most people weren’t my mother.

Flying saucers were part of my childhood–they were the things my mom threw at my stepfather. She liked knives, too, but unlike the cups and saucers, she deliberately missed with the knives. A friendly warning; that’s all. Her temper was well-known in our neighborhood. No one wanted to set it off, including me. All too frequently, I was at the wrong end of her temper; often for reasons I never understood.

You’d think that with memories like that, that I would despise my mother. Honestly, I did go through a phase of hating her, but it never diminished the fact that I also loved and admired her; respected and idolized her. Why? One time she told me to wake her up and when I did, she threw a Vick’s jar at me. I ducked and took off out of the house until she calmed down. So, why do I retain good memories of my mother? Why do I speak of her with respect?

Because, in spite of the violence, my mother was a kind and caring person. No, that is not some illusion succored by someone who can’t accept the truth; the reality. Let me tell you about the woman beneath the violence.

My mother grew up in a coal camp–tarpaper shanties where coal miners and their families lived while the miners eked out a piss poor existence. Water hauled from the creek, kerosene lanterns rather than electricity, outdoor latrines. A tough life. My grandmother cleaned a rich woman’s house for a pittance and the rich woman’s castoff clothes that Grandma altered by lantern light. My mother’s father–my biological grandfather–like most men in the camps believed it was his right to get drunk on money needed for food and to come home and beat his wife and children.

My grandmother, like most women of that day and that place, put up with the beatings until the night he staggered home and went after my mother. My grandmother grabbed his gun from the cupboard. She told him to “Get yerself right with your Maker, John.” Then she pulled the trigger. Fortunately, or unfortunately, (I never could decide on that) John took those seconds to dive out of the tarpaper-covered window hole. Grandma plugged him in the upper thigh, but he’d learned his lesson. He didn’t return and died in a coal mine cave-in years later.

Didn’t matter. He had used his money for booze and women. It was Grandma’s work that fed and housed the family.

Fast forward to when my mother turned fourteen. She had a beautiful singing voice and from somewhere managed to scrounge up a battered guitar and taught herself how to play.  Big dreams for a girl in a coal mining camp. Eventually, she ran away to the city where singers, even women, could find jobs as singers and guitar pickers. Yes, some women did find lounges and places to launch their career as singers. My mother wasn’t so lucky. She scratched out a living doing whatever it took to survive.

But, she never gave up. She wrote songs and found small venues where they hired her to play and sing. Sometimes, the pay consisted of a plate of food and beer. It was rough trade and a tough life.

Fast forward again. Birth control wasn’t available to my mother back then. She wound up eventually getting pregnant and getting married. Still, she refused to completely give up her dreams of singing. She continued to write, to sing and play when she found the gigs, but a woman with kids didn’t enjoy the same kind of freedom to pursue her passion as a man with kids. Over time, finding work to pay the rent and the bills took priority over pursuing her dreams. My mother accepted her responsibilities to provide for children, but alcohol and drugs soothed the wound left by her unrealized dreams.

Yet, even under the burden and the anger of thwarted dreams and passion, the despair of watching her life become a drudgery, of never having anyone with whom she felt able to truly share, the true spirit and heart of my mother shone. In large actions and in small ones, her kindness and caring spilled out.

Violence in poverty-stricken areas is sharpened by  physical hungers as well as despair. And, no one in our neighborhood ever had enough to eat. Somehow, Mom talked to the “bulls” that guarded the train yards back then into allowing her and me to gather the crates of fruit and vegetables that had fallen and busted during transfers from train cars to trucks for delivery. We hauled those crates home in the back of Mom’s dilapidated pickup. Then she would send me around to invite the neighbors to help us out, since we “couldn’t possibly eat it all”. I learned a valuable lesson back then: sometimes the only thing poor people have left is their pride. You don’t offer charity; you ask them to help you.

Another time, a child in our neighborhood needed medical care that her parents couldn’t afford. Mom set up a street fair on our deadend street. Now, for most people that right there would spell disaster for the fair. Not my mother. Even to this day, I have no idea how she pulled all those people to our street; to her fair. People paid to walk past those cars parked across the end of the street and they paid to play and laugh and eat. After two days, the fair ended and the little girl received her treatment.

It wasn’t just what my mother gave to others that impressed me. My mother was a consummate oral storyteller, telling stories in such a way that tears would pour down my cheeks and then the next story would have me laughing so hard my stomach ached. I would sit at her feet and listen for hours, transported to other worlds and far-off times.

Like the stories, I recall the nights my mother played her battered guitar and sang. Even today, I remember many of the songs.

My stepfather and mother both worked, so I was given chores such as cleaning the house and making dinners. Pride swelled inside me when she’d lay her arm across my shoulders and say “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

When she discovered that I wrote, she told me to never give up my dream; to never stop, no matter what happened in my life. After I left home, I found out that she bragged to neighbors, to friends, to acquaintances that her daughter was a writer.

At the age of nineteen with my life in turmoil, I returned home and worked with my mother in her home remodeling business. It was during that special time Mom introduced me to her lover. Her lover, a woman and a nurse. I had noticed something different about Mom during the months we had  worked together–her rages and violence had decreased; she laughed more; she drank and drugged less.

Unknown to either my mother or myself, that year I spent working with her was the last year of her life. I am grateful for it allowed me to see the real woman; the woman who could have been had life been kinder. We worked together, and laughed together. And, sometimes, we would have lunch or dinner with her lover. My mother’s eyes shone.

I had never seen my mother’s eyes shine like that.  Love had soothed the wounds in my mother’s soul.

Journey you make

A short blog post can never capture my mother’s journey, nor the strength it took for her to walk it. Here are a few of the footsteps she left behind for others to follow.

–No one is perfect. Just do your best.

–Never give up your dreams.

–Love is a most priceless gift. Don’t let others tell you who to love.

–Joy awaits those whose hearts never stop seeking.

–You’re tough. You can do anything you decide to do.

–Don’t let fear decide your life.

–If you don’t allow yourself to grow and to become, you will have nothing to offer others.

 

 

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MEMORIES

aliciaDoSomethingGood

Fond memories–who doesn’t have at least one? Even growing up in a poor neighborhood, I had several. #Books figure in all of them; usually along with a dog. One of my fondest is of the Carnegie #Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–the one on the Northside. I spent untold hours within its rooms; curled up in a corner somewhere with my nose stuck in a book.

At some point in every winter that I recall, at home our heat got shut off for non-payment. It’s hard to feed a family when your wallet is empty, much less keep the heat and the electricity turned on. Carnegie Library was always warm. And quiet. And never violent. No one got stabbed or shot or beat up within those walls. No one even yelled. That was back when libraries had a hushed, reverent atmosphere.

Oftentimes, when I’d walked in with my toes nearly frozen as they peeked from the holes in my tennis shoes and wearing clothes that were always too big for me, the librarian would smile and glance around then wave for me to come over to the desk. She would dart looks here and there like she and I engaged in a great conspiracy. I’d stand on tiptoe and lean as far over the counter as I could and she’d stretch toward me and whisper, “We just received some new books and I found a few I thought you might like.” Then she reached beneath the counter and drew out two or three or four books and slid them over the counter to my eager hands.

With a quick look around, I swiped them off the counter and tucked them in faded backpack I’d bought at a thrift store–treasures to savor. Sometimes, a sandwich lay on top of the books. Of course, there was no eating or drinking in the library, but she’d lean even closer and say in a voice only for my ears, “No one’s over by the table at the end of the A-B aisle in nonfiction.”

Though I visited that particular library many times every week from the age of six to the age of nine, if I ever knew her name, I’ve forgotten it. Her face, over the years, has blended with other faces, but I have never forgotten her kindness to a poor child in a rough neighborhood.

During the winter of my ninth year, my grandfather was murdered. Shortly afterwards, Mom moved us out of the city and into rural suburbia. I never saw my beloved library nor the kind librarian again, yet the impact of both still affects me to this very day. Every time I write a book, I remember her. I hope that my work honors her kindness.

 

http://i1.wp.com/andrewcarnegie.tripod.com/Alleghenyfront.JPG?w=625  Once upon a long time ago, I climbed on those concrete banisters. Sometimes, I ran up and down them; and, sometimes, I lay on my back and stared up at the sky and dreamed of a place far from where I’d grown up. This building was my sanctuary, my haven.

http://andrewcarnegie2.tripod.com/photoalbumAlleghenyReg.htm

 

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Through The Fires of Hell

Every story that I tell is rooted deep in my soul. I pull them from the years of growing up with the cramps of hunger and the queasy feeling of never knowing when the next meal or the next blow will come. I rip the scent of blood and the fingernails-on-chalkboard screams of pain from memories that no number of years can ever smother.

But story roots grow deeper than the darkness; deeper and wider than the despair. The smile of being able to share food scavenged from the railroad yards with neighbors who are hungry, too; the heart-wrenching sweetness of a guitar played late at night; the wonder of a wild flower pushing up through concrete and blooming in the shadows of crumbling brick buildings–these, too, are the roots of my stories.

These are not my stories, but the stories of many. I have the obligation to give voice to the voiceless; to hear and tell the stories not yet told.

And so it is with Hard Road Home. Though my coming of age novel is fiction, what Cas Redner goes through is real. It is that reality that nurtured this novel. It is a novel of loss, pain, betrayal of the worst kind; yet it is triumph and love of the highest degree.

Kahlil Gibran once wrote: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

In every story I write this is an underlying theme: the very things that cause great sorrow, also prepare us to face horrendous obstacles with courage. It is those obstacles that allow us to grow into our deepest selves.

It is through the fires of hell that we find our way to heaven.

Hard Road Home 2 14 Collage

http://www.amazon.com/Hard-Road-Home-Aya-Walksfar-ebook/dp/B00TLCRUFQ

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COPS: FACISTS OR HEROES?

#COPS: FACISTS OR HEROES?

In a climate of controversy about cops, I continue to write a series in which cops are quite human. Why?

The roots of my decision lie as far back as childhood in a poor neighborhood. Cops didn’t show up in our area with less than two, and usually more. When my grandfather was murdered, no serious investigation ensued. Since that time, I have been harassed, beaten, and when I reported an attempted rape–sneered at by cops.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that I actually had a civil conversation with a cop. I’d broken my leg up on the hill where I farmed. Unfortunately, my vehicle–an old Volkswagen–chose that period of time to break down. A friend drove me to the hospital which was roughly thirty miles away then took me and my unwieldy cast home.

If you’ve ever farmed, or just had animals, you know that minor things like broken legs doesn’t stop your responsibilities. Way too soon, my walking cast wore through and needed replacing. I hitched a ride with a neighbor to the hospital, but she couldn’t wait in town for me. I told her not to worry; I’d hitchhike home.

After two short lifts that spilled me out on a long stretch of hot road without a hint of shade, my leg ached and I felt exhausted from walking with a million tons of plaster on my leg. I wondered if I’d get home that night. At least it was summer. Back then cell phones still belonged to the future–yes, I’m that old–and even if they hadn’t, I would never have been able to afford one. Landlines up on the hill were nonexistent. No one could afford a phone even if the phone company would’ve put the line up!

I’d begun scoping out the fields along the road for a likely spot because I couldn’t drag that heavy cast another step and the sun was maybe an hour away from setting. When the cruiser pulled over a few feet ahead of me the predominant thought was: what the hell have I done now? As far as I knew there was no ordinance against hitchhiking.

The cop strode over, utility belt squeaking. I stood my ground, getting my most belligerent face on.

“Where you going?”

I wanted to tell him it was none of his business, but I didn’t want to wind up in jail for the night like a near neighbor had when she smart mouthed a local cop. I settled for a sullen, “Why?”

“Do you have some ID on you?” His voice didn’t betray any emotion at all.

“Yeah.”

He shuffled his feet. “How’d you break your leg?”

Tired and cranky, and thoroughly sick of the interrogation, I snapped, “If it’s any of your business, I was dancing on a hillside.”

He threw his head back and belted out a laugh. The laughter felt so free and genuine that I found myself chuckling along with him. Finally, he wiped his eyes and gave his head a shake. “I saw you hitchhiking in town a few hours ago. When my shift ended, I thought I’d see if you were still on the road.”

Feeling a bit less combative, I spread my arms. “Yep, here I am–backpack, cast and me.”

“I know a great burger place just up the road. Hungry?”

“I have some granola in my pack.” I certainly didn’t want to confess to being too strapped for cash to buy a hamburger. It felt too embarrassing; like being a kid again and eating mayonnaise sandwiches because we didn’t have the money for anything else.

“If you don’t mind keeping the granola for another meal, I’d like to buy you dinner.”

Eyes squinted, I stared up at him. “I don’t date cops.”

The smile that spread across his lips lit up his eyes. “I don’t date anyone. I’m married to a great woman. I do make friends occasionally, though. What do you say?”

My stomach chose that time to out me loud enough for him to hear. His smile widened. “A hamburger won’t make you one of the enemy.”

I lifted a brow.

“I know how the folks up on the hill view cops.” His smile fell away. “Sometimes, with good reason.” He sighed and looked me in the eye. “How about it? Want to eat dinner with the enemy? Might gather some good intel.”

That evening we became friends and I began the journey of discovering that cops were human. When I moved back east, I lost touch with the man, but never forgot the lesson.

Since that time, I have known both good and bad and mediocre cops. Some want nothing more than to put in their time and retire; some see the world as “us vs. them”. There are those, however, who truly believe that the motto “to serve and to protect” covers every person they meet, regardless of race, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age or any other artificial division.

These cops are still human; they still make mistakes and bad judgment calls sometimes–sometimes that judgment call is taking too long to pull a gun and they die. These cops work hard, learn constantly, and put their lives on the line every day. They believe in what they do. They try to do it better; to be there for those who need them. Isn’t that the best any of us can do?

So, you see, that is my motivation in writing a series about a team of cops. My characters, like the cops I’ve known as flesh and blood people, aren’t perfect. They struggle to understand themselves, the society they are called to protect and the people they meet every day.

Meet hot tempered Sergeant Nita Slowater in Sketch of a #Murder, Book 1, Special Crimes Team. See why she drives her superior, Lieutenant Michael Williams–a man known to bend the rules–crazy.

You can check out all the Special Crimes Team books.

Stop by and join the conversation on http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar

Want to meet some fabulous REAL cops? Check out https://www.facebook.com/CopsKindToCritters/timeline

Here’s a cop trying to do the right thing. It’s not easy. http://www.wtae.com/news/pittsburgh-police-chief-defends-antiracism-photo-on-twitter/30510986

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jobarrow/boy-and-cop-hug-at-ferguson-protest#.xs375Q2e9

http://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Rank-Expos%C3%A9-American-Policing/dp/1560258551

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THE CHAMELEON’S LEGACY

Chapter 1

By age 5, I–Cas Redner–had seen a number of flying saucers…sometimes, they even landed…on my stepfather’s head. My mother’s aim was very good, whether the object was a saucer, a Vick’s jar or a butcher knife. It wasn’t her fault that my stepfather moved so quickly.

Our family fit into our dead end—on so many levels—neighborhood. The cops rarely appeared with fewer than two units and four cops. Mostly they didn’t show up at all—probably hoped we would kill each other off. Sometimes, we did.

When Mom went into a rage the only person who could, without fail, calm her down was Miss Allen. Miss Allen lived in the house next door. Her yard adjoined ours. My mother called her Miss Allen with great respect and I knew better than not to be respectful to Miss Allen. If my mom didn’t knock me into next week, Miss Allen surely would.

Miss Allen, a big ebony woman with white teeth that showed often in a smile, black, kinky hair, huge pillowy breasts and a solid right hook, didn’t tolerate being dissed. I’d seen her knock a full grown man on his ass. She laughed loud, talked louder, hugged big and had a slow burn temper; you just better not keep on until it boiled!

Mom didn’t trust men alone with me, except for Daddy Reese, a short term stepfather, and my step-grandfather, Mom’s stepfather who I called Paw-Paw. I have lots of memories A.P., After Paw-Paw, but none B.P., Before Paw-Paw. There weren’t any B.P. He knew me before I ever knew about him, but then you can’t blame a two and some year old in an orphanage for not knowing her grandfather. Born while my mother was serving time for killing a man, the only person present during my birth, besides the medical staff and my mother, was Mom’s friend, a prostitute named Sue. I went straight from the hospital to the orphanage.

I grew up knowing my mother couldn’t keep me—no nurseries in prisons—and neither could my grandma. My grandfather set his foot down saying, “I’m not going to take care of the kids your daughter whores out.” End of discussion. Grandma cried but she couldn’t afford to take me if she left her husband and she wouldn’t leave for less than that kind of good reason. I’m told that a well-known attorney wanted Grandma to bring me home, leave me on her couch while my grandfather was at work and leave the door unlocked. He said, “When you return the baby will be gone to a good home and there’ll be a little something to help you out financially in an envelope.” Sort of like a puppy. I heard that Grandma drew herself up rigid and stared at the attorney. “I don’ sell my granbaby.”

I grew up hearing that story along with the story about the young couple who wanted to adopt me. They took me home, but when I got sick with a high fever and had a convulsion, they returned me. Nope, don’t want this one. It’s broke.

Mom served her time and hit the streets, in more ways than one. Prostitution paid better than any other job my unskilled mother could find. When Reese Hannah paid the young blond woman for a date, he didn’t know it would go so much farther. An older man with a strong sense of where he fit in the world, and where women fit—in the house taking care of kids and husband—he quickly fell under my mother’s spell. Mom could charm a polar bear out of its fur. Couldn’t blame her. Daddy Reese worked hard, had simple wants and loved my mother beyond all reason. The only condition he put on their marriage: mom had to bring me home from the orphanage.

I’ve never been able to decide if Daddy Reese did me a favor or not. Maybe Grandma should’ve sold me to that attorney?

Paw-Paw said when I came home I would go into a screaming terror if I saw a rubber doll and I was likewise terrified of thin switch-like tree limbs. Except for that, he said he’d never see a child not yet three years old stay as still and silent as I did.

I don’t recall much about Daddy Reese. I remember him coming up the hill from his job in the evening, black rounded top lunch pail swinging from one big hand. I’d run as fast as my legs would carry me down the hill, screaming, “Daddy Reese!” Just before I reached him, he’d put down the lunch pail and spread his arms wide. I’d race into him, and he’d scoop me up and we’d twirl around and around. Then he’d give me a kiss on the cheek and put me down. I’d insist on carrying his lunch pail though it hung nearly to the ground, I was so small. He’d take my hand and I’d skip-walk back home with him. That’s the only memory I have.

My fourth birthday came and Daddy Reese left. Mom had gotten pregnant by another man and divorced Daddy Reese.

My new stepfather, Andrew, was not permitted to be in the same room alone with me, and he wasn’t permitted to speak to me. Nor I to him. I’ve never understood how Mom could control people the way she did, but they did whatever she demanded. Until my mother died when I was nineteen, Andrew spoke to me only three times, and those times remained my and his secret.

A couple weeks after my younger half-sister, Helena, was born Mom had me sit on the frayed couch and taught me how to hold, bottle feed, burb and change an infant. A few weeks later, after I’d had a bit of practice, one day after Andrew left for work, she handed the baby over to me. “You have to take care of her, Sis. Andrew has to work and I have to go find a job, too.” I am sure I nodded because any other answer would not have been acceptable to Mom. Unlike some four year olds, I was mature for my age, and I understood how to live with my mother with the least amount of pain—literal pain as she despised being back talked or disobeyed.

People have heard me relate these things about my mother and they have said, “Oh, God, she was so mean to you!”

No, Mom wasn’t mean. Our world was harsh. To be female in our world demanded a toughness that even men didn’t have to don. And a vigilance beyond what any boy or man had to maintain. It was years after I’d left home that I finally comprehended my mother’s actions.

 

The Chameleon’s Legacy is a new, coming-of-age novel I am working on. This is a VERY rough first draft of Chapter 1. Leave a comment! I appreciate all comments.

For other books I’ve written, go to: http://www.amazon.com/author/ayawalksfar

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