© 2016 Joye B. Moore
511 Durham Street, Goldsboro NC
She’s back! Standing at the end of the hall near the big window. Her hair is long and silver white with dark gray mixed into the three parts on her head; they look like three big plaits that came loose and were never combed back. Her dress is long like a house coat, with flowers and has buttons running down the front of it. But I can’t see her face… or her feet?
She is calling me with her hands trying to get me to walk up the staircase with her. She wants me to follow her from the second floor to the third floor; but the third floor staircase is only there when she is there? I hear a loud pounding in my ears as I shake my head back and forth ‘no’. I turn around and start running up the hallway yelling ‘Grandma! Grandma!’… I look back and she is close behind, reaching out for me! I can feel her almost touching me, but I still can’t see her face!
I ran up the hall into my bedroom, jumped on my twin bed and placed my back against the wall. I watched the door as she came into the room moving slowly past me to the other twin bed.
She laid down on the bed with her back to me; she’s facing the wall so I still can’t see her face? What’s wrong with her face, why can’t I see it?
I got up from my bed and moved closer to the other twin bed that she is lying on, but the closer I got to the bed, the more she leaned her body forward toward the wall; which turned her face even more away from me, making me have to move in even closer to her and the bed to try and see it. Now I am standing right next to the bed, about to reach out to pull her back by her shoulder so I can see her face.
Just as my hand is about to graze the old woman’s shoulder, I feel my body jerk as my Grandma Dot is talking to me and shaking me at the same time!
“Joyebell, grandma done told you, you can’t never touch them baby! You can’t never touch them or go nowhere with them! If you do, you gon die, we will never see you again… you hear grandma baby”?! She said as she pulled me close…
“Where you been!” Grandma Dot’s voice asked loudly. “You been gone for three days! I told you, you gotta watch over Joyebell! You know they after her!” Grandma Dot, one of our family’s intercessors, told my Momma. “Pat is you listening to me girl?” “I hear you mama!” my Momma snapped.
My Momma looked at me standing in the doorway with that look that said… “I’mma get you for mama yelling at me”. My breath caught! But she wouldn’t hurt me while Grandma Dot was around, so I stayed close to grandma.
I didn’t understand everything that grandma was saying, but I knew “they” had to be the ‘spirits’ in the house. “Why are they after me?” I later asked quietly as if they could hear me.
She looked at me and cupped my face with one hand, “Cause you were born with a veil over your face and that makes you sensitive to the spirit world” she said as she traced an outline around her face with her other hand. “They want you but I ain’t gonna let them get you, okay?”
She smiled and kissed my cheek and let go of my face. “Where is it?” I asked touching my face. “The doctors cut it off and I keep it in my bible” Grandma Dot said.
I believed her. I saw things in that house. We lived in a huge white, two-story house that sat on the corner of Durham Street with a huge cemetery that sat across the street in the middle of the neighborhood. Things happened at night that scared my aunts and uncles, things that sent them screaming out of their bedrooms at night.
We had moved back with Grandma Dot right after Momma had left Sand’s daddy, Ronnie Carrie. Granddaddy Babyface and Uncle Leslie (who was in the military at the time), kept bringing these military men by the house, trying to find Momma a husband; which is how she met my daddy Woody Hatcher, who never claimed me; Sand’s daddy Ronnie Carrie and her first husband Bruce Berry, the first man I called daddy.
Grandma Dot said the house was a port for spirits and when Granddaddy Babyface had had enough, he moved us to the country in Dudley, NC.
Dudley’s main roads were paved, but many of the off roads where folks lived were still dirt roads; with either lots of woods or large fields that separated the houses. We were truly in the country.
It was summer time and my sister Sand and I were actually allowed to play outside; grandma no longer worried about us disappearing in Dudley. And at our new house my grandparents had cows; a chicken coup, a hog pin, a rabbit pin and grandma grew a vegetable garden!
Early mornings were the best; Sand and I would get up with Grandma Dot when the sun came up and went to work with her in the garden. The garden was off the back of the house, and to the right of the barn. There were peach and plum trees in the yard and strawberry and blackberry patches everywhere!
We helped fill the lines grandma dug in the dirt with seeds. We measured elbow to hand and placed two seeds, elbow to hand and placed another two seeds. We helped her feed the chickens, held the basket as she gathered the eggs from the coup and if chicken was for dinner, we would be mesmerized as she killed that chicken for us to eat.
Sand and I helped her chase the chickens until we had them cornered, and then as they ran past us and grandma to get away, she would snatch one up by the neck and start whirling it around over her head, while walking over to the chopping block. She would bring the chicken down over the chopping block and cut off its head so fast I almost missed her picking up the ax.
The chicken seemed to jump off the chopping block running and flopping around with its head missing, blood spurting everywhere until it stopped moving. Once the chicken stopped moving she hung it up to finish draining the blood. It surprised me every time.
Today after grandma had finished her yard work, she went and sat under the big pecan tree; and Sand and I ran to sit next to her. Grandma Dot pulled tomatoes out of one pocket of her apron and a salt and pepper shaker out of the other. We sat together under the big pecan tree with our ankles crossed eating tomatoes and pecans that had fallen onto the ground from the tree.
Later that afternoon, Sand and I played at our children’s table in our bedroom. Our table had our stuffed animals sitting around it, with plates and cups in front of each one. We were giggling and having fun. Until I heard a car pulling onto the gravel rocks in the drive way!
I look at Sand and she’s watching me! I jumped up and ran to the window to see who it was? My ears were pounding as I looked out the window. I recognized the woman in the car! I looked back at Sand and then back to the woman, my heart stopped... it’s Momma!
Patricia Edna Mae (aka Pat)
Momma had been gone for a few weeks now. I was happy not to have to try and figure out what not to do to make her angry.
Momma was beautiful at 18 years old. She was light caramel with freckles; piercing eyes, high cheek bones, a narrow yet firm chin and she had shoulder length black hair.
She was shaped like Grandma Dot, big boned; full chest plate and breast, full hips and curvy in all the right places.
Everyone was afraid of Momma. She loved to fight like a man and she was unusually strong. Momma carried a razor blade in the roof of her mouth most of the time, always prepared to fight.
My aunts and uncles were slapped, punched or hit with objects regularly if they looked at her the wrong way or said something she didn’t like; and all hell broke loose if you did not do or give her what she wanted!
Once she broke a beer bottle over my Uncle Leslie’s head and stabbed him in the behind because he didn’t agree with her about something; she felt like he was taking the other person’s side.
But on the same hand, she would try to do bodily injury, literally, to anyone who messed with her sisters and brothers. When it was time to fight or someone was bothering them, they came to my Momma to protect them. All her girlfriend Geraldine (who later became my Aunt having my cousin Lawrencena with Uncle Leslie) had to do to get the party started was say… “Pat, why they staring at us?” and Momma started cussing!
Momma could draw you into a fight with her mouth; it was foul and it knew how to strike you in a place that was sure to get a reaction from you.
Your reaction was her justification, what she called ‘legal rights’, for tearing you up; her razor would come flying out of her mouth and she started swinging, you deserved it!
If it was a bad day Momma would walk throughout the house heavy footed, stomping around, with her weight in her heels until she stopped in front of you, causing your heart to stop beating. She would shift all of her weight to her right hip, while simultaneously placing her hands on her hips, with her lip pocked out, looking in your eyes with bulges in hers, her head slightly cocked to the right and lifted as if she was listening to the air or someone was talking to her.
She had lighting speed reflexes when she slapped you across the face; you didn’t even see the slap coming until it had hit you, she was so fast. I was always nervous when she was anywhere near me on a bad day.
I never knew if she was going to hit me or knock the hell out of me, and there was a difference! It depended on how she was feeling at the time.
I had to be careful because I couldn’t make direct eye contact when she was talking to me, if I looked too long into her eyes she said that I was ‘bucking up’; challenging her and being disrespectful, which made her very angry and my whopping worse!
Yet, I had to be careful to make enough eye contact to be considered listening or I would get whopped for not listening when she was talking to me!
I didn’t know where she had been and I had not asked.
Since we moved to Dudley, Momma had been disappearing more often and for longer periods of time than when we lived in Goldsboro. She and Grandma Dot would fight every time she came back home. “You need to do better with these girls! They should be with they mama!” Grandma Dot was yelling, as she stomped around the kitchen.
I peeked around the corner at Momma who sat at the kitchen table with her brow crumpled; yet her eyes showed nothing. Grandma Dot continued to yell as she stomped out the back door, I turned and hurried back to the room.
Momma soon appeared in the doorway and I froze in place! I felt weak like my body didn’t want to work anymore. She walked heavily into the room as my ears pounded! It was hard to breathe. Momma snatched up clothes that Grandma Dot had washed for us that were sitting on the floor in a basket by the ironing board and started ironing. “I can’t never do nothing!” she mumbled as she looked over angrily at me; I looked down at the floor. “Ya’ll get on my nerves!” Momma said.
Momma was getting angrier with every mumble as she shook the ironing board back and forth. “I wish ya’ll had never been born!” “Ya’ll wersome ass” she growled. “I hate this” she said as she banged the iron up and down on the ironing board!
Sand who was sitting on the floor started to cry! Momma’s head whipped in her direction as her hands bawled into fists at her sides… “Shut up” she yelled! Sand jumped and cried louder! “Please stop crying”, I thought to myself as Momma started pacing back and forth in the room talking to herself! She walked past me and then walked back in front of me and stopped with her back to me!
She moved forward like she was walking away, but I saw her arm swing forward as she leaned into her right hip! Before I could duck out of the way, she swung her arm backwards with all her might; and hit me directly in the side of my forehead with her bawled-up sideways fist! I was stunned as I hit the floor! Momma never looked back at me and continued to pace.
As I lay there, I watched from an angled view from the floor, as Momma picked up the iron from the ironing board, snatched the cord from the wall, bent down and grabbed Sand by the ankle! Sand tussled and cried out as Momma pulled her leg.
“Shut up” she growled as she pressed the iron to Sand’s inside leg! Sand let out a howling scream like I had never heard before. Momma removed the iron and sat it to the side on the floor. She came over and picked me up from the floor and placed me on the bed, as Sand lay screaming on the floor. Momma then went and stood over Sand briefly watching her and as she bent over to pick her up when I heard Grandma Dot.
“What’s wrong!” grandma was yelling as I heard her feet running into the room. “Lord Have Mercy!” she cried out, as she came into the room and saw Sand on the floor. Sand’s little leg had pink and red meat showing with puss pooling on the top; her skin was stuck to the iron!
“What happened?” Grandma Dot asked as she picked Sand up off the floor; she’s looking at me, but my mouth will not work and my body won’t move, I just lay there looking.
Momma looked at me and started crying, saying “Sand pulled the iron down when I wasn’t looking...“
Momma was forced to either stay in Dudley or take us with her when she would leave; after Sand’s “accident.” Momma stayed in Dudley and slowed down for a while, and soon found a new friend in Mr. Davis who lived in the house after Uncle Russell’s.
To get to Mr. Davis’ house we either had to cut across grandma’s backyard and then through Uncle Russell’s yard to get to the dirt road, and then walk the rest of the way; or we walked the main dirt road in the front of Grandma Dot’s house, making the long walk up the dirt road, turning left at the end of the field and then walking the distance to Mr. Davis’ house.
It was a small square wooden house that did not have many rooms; it didn’t even have a porch, just steps that went up to the door.
Momma liked Mr. Davis right away; he smoked Marlboro cigarettes and he would share them with her while they smoked weed, drank together and listened to music. We were sent outside to play, which we did, playing in the woods.
Sometimes other people would come over. If they had a car, Momma would get them to give her a ride to Goldsboro. But we slowed her down and she soon started leaving us with Mr. Davis, who always seemed happy to watch us until Momma returned.
We had already been threatened by Momma that she would kill us if Grandma Dot found out that she left us at Mr. Davis’ house. So we had to stay inside his house so Aunt Essie would not see us from her backyard and tell Grandma Dot.
It was a late night that they had been drinking and smoking, Momma and Mr. Davis were asleep on the coach and Sand and I eventually feel asleep on Mr. Davis’ bed in the other room. It was early the next morning when I woke up; the sun was pretty and bright.
The inside of his bedroom was slightly dark with shadows; with the early morning light coming through the burgundy sheer curtains on his window. It made the color in the room seem peachy from the curtains and the dingy, smoke stained walls; as I sat up.
There he was, Mr. Davis! He was sitting on the edge of the bed smoking a cigarette; and he didn’t have any clothes on! “Someday, We’ll Be Together…” by Diana Ross and the Supremes is playing on the radio. My ears start pounding, something is wrong!
He had his hand between his naked legs as he sat there. What he was touching looked like it was cut off, like the people with a piece of their leg or arm missing. He kept touching it as his feet dangled over the side of the bed with his toes moving.
He let go of himself, put his cigarette out in the ashtray next to the bed and stretched his arms out in a manner that made me move forward, like he wanted to give me a hug. Sand is now sitting up next to me and as I moved forward, so did she. He pulled us close to him and hugged us. He then held the chopped thing in his hand and told us to touch it. He looked like he always did, but something seemed different; I shook my head back and forth ‘No’.
“You don’t want me to tell Pat that you was bad and I can’t watch you no mo do you” he asked? My breath caught, I sat there looking at him and shook my head ‘No’. He told Sand to touch it and she shook her head back and forth ‘No’. He then took his free hand and took my hand and placed it on him, he made a funny noise as he stared at us. He picked me up under my arms and laid me back on his rumpled bed.
“It’s okay,” he whispered as he placed me on my back. He pulled up my dress and took my panties off. “You a good girl” he kept saying as he had his eyes closed, while pushing it down there. It hurt so I started to cry, and when I started to cry, Sand started to cry loudly too!
He continued to try and we stayed like that for a while longer and then he got up. He put my panties back on, pulled on some pants and hugged Sand trying to stop her from crying. He gave us popsicles to eat and sent us outside to play in his back yard. Once outside I took Sand by the hand and we walked quietly up the dirt road, the long way back to Grandma Dot’s house.
I told Grandma Dot where we had been and what Mr. Davis did! There was lots of yelling and cursing; and Grandma Dot did not curse. Granddaddy found and told mama!
Momma and my Uncle Leslie, who was home from jail, went to Mr. Davis’ house. I don’t know what happened to Mr. Davis, but sometime after, I saw wood over his windows.
Momma moved out of Grandma Dot’s and took me and Sand with her back to Goldsboro.
Now Momma was leaving us with anyone she could; she left us for days at a time until the people she left us with got tired of watching us and called my great great grandmother Nannie Howell Middleton who lived in Goldsboro.
Grandma Nannie was Grandma Dot’s grandmother, we called her Granny. All of Granny’s daughters died before or by age 26 from heart problems, including my great grandmother Letha Mae Middleton, Grandma Dot’s mother.
Granny raised all of her grandchildren, most of her great grandchildren and several of her great great grandchildren; including my 1st cousin Gina and now Sand and I.
Granny loved us, took care of us and let us help her cook, she did everything from scratch. Sand, Gina and I chased their chickens and got in trouble with our great great grandpa Willie Middleton for sneaking fruit off of their apple and plum trees. We loved it there!
We didn’t see that much of Momma until she would eventually show up to take us with her, only to leave us with someone else again; and us ending up back at Granny’s.
But today when Momma showed up, something was different about this visit. She and Granny were yelling, “You can’t take them babies that far away!” Granny said.
I ran to Uncle Donnie who was sitting in the living room wiggling his foot back and forth; as he told Uncle Richard that Momma was pregnant and she had better leave before they find her for cutting up some girl’s face that was looking at her new man.
I jumped into his lap and wrapped my arms tightly around his neck. “It’s gonna be okay” Uncle Donnie said as he hugged me tight.
“Them my babies and I’ll take them anywhere I want too!” Momma yelled as she walked into the living room where we sat, that doubled as a bedroom and started pulling our clothes out of the drawers and stuffing them into a pillow case!
Granny came into the living room and hugged us close to her while kissing our heads. “I love ya’ll babies, don’tchya’ll forget ya Granny”, she said as I stared at her wrinkled hand.
Sand and I start to wail, it’s happening again…
Momma came back pregnant, by the second man I would call daddy.