100 Years: A Journey to End a Vicious Cycle
By Mark L Baynard
My Single Parent Mother
Most of my very young years were spent between my mother’s house and my dad’s house, although I spent the majority of my time living with my mother. My mother was a single parent who worked hard for minimum pay to raise five children alone. While living with her, I attended school in the state of Delaware; I would visit dad in Alabama once or twice a year. My dad was more financially stable than my mother, but my mother was a very hard worker; for most of her life, she held two jobs. At the time, I did not see the value in her hard work, but I now respect and appreciate all that she did and how hard she worked for us. There were times when we would have her bath water ready for her when she got home from her first job of the day so that she could get ready for her second job. She would get in the tub, clean up, and head right back out the door. My mother was a very loving and caring person and I learned a lot from her. Even in her absence, she did her best to keep us well cared for and safe; we were not allowed to let anyone into the house while she was at work. She prepared us for certain tricks that some people may try, such as claiming to be a distant relative so we would let them in the house. One exception to this rule was Dexter; he was my brother’s friend and one of my mother’s favorites. There was also Terrell, a very good and popular dancer, whom my mother allowed to live with us for a while. My mother treated him like a son, and we treated him like a brother. I learned how to cook food and wash dishes, to respect my elders, and others.
Though my mother worked very hard to sufficiently provide for us, our household constantly struggled. I did not understand why we were financially poor; this conflict began to brew in my heart, and I started to blame my mother for our financial state. I understood that she loved us, and we were taught to appreciate the things which we had, but I did not want to be poor, and I was filled with embarrassment and shame. When I visited dad I noticed the very obvious difference between my parents’ finances situations; at my dad’s, there was minimal tension and challenges while at my mother’s, and life was very difficult. Others would tease us for the clothes that we wore; sometimes we didn’t get new school clothes at the start of school, and I often had to share clothes with my older brother. Sometimes we shopped at the Goodwill Thrift Store, or discount department stores such as Gaylord’s, but there were times when my mother could not afford to buy us school clothes. In these cases, we would get hand-me-downs or just wore the same clothes that we had from the previous year. I can remember the feelings of dread on the first day of school; everyone else would be in their new school clothes that their parents bought for them, and they would laugh at and tease us for wearing last year’s clothes.
While my mother was very loving and caring, she disciplined us by spanking us when we misbehaved. I quickly learned to not cry in the midst of physical pain, even though my brother and sisters would encourage me to cry, saying, “Cry Mark, cry.” I was more likely to cry over something emotional than physical. I once got my fingers closed in the door of my mother’s old Nova car. The door of that car had a small gap in the door panel; it did hurt my fingers, but there was no real damage done to my hand. I chose not to cry or make a noise because I did not want to get into trouble for getting my hand closed in the door.
When I first arrived in Wilmington, Delaware, I was able to speak both English and Spanish; while living in Spain with my father, the school I attended taught both languages, and whenever I went to the store for my step-mother, I had to speak Spanish. One year while in Spain, I had to wear a clown costume to a school Halloween party, complete with a traumatizing wig and embarrassing red nose; I currently strongly dislike clowns! I used to tell my mother the meaning of different things in Spanish, and she was always very excited that I was able to speak both languages. I would tell her what a television was in Spanish, and I also knew the word for a television that didn’t work (we had a television that didn’t work). At that time, I thought that I was fairly smart, and I did very well in my classes. I liked to help my teachers, and to learn new things. I frequently got notes on my report cards suggesting that I was the teacher’s pet. At the end of that school year, however, a traumatic experience took place; I did not realize it at the time, but I now see how this change contributed to my descent into darkness. My good grades allowed me the opportunity to be skipped ahead from the 1st to the 3rd grade and, while this seems like a positive thing, I had trouble learning to keep up with the older children, and to focus in class. I day dreamed a lot, and I struggled with paying attention to the teacher. My teachers soon realized that I still depended a great deal on them for assistance, and that I needed more attention than the other children. My teachers decided that I should be put back into my right grade, the 2nd grade, for the remainder of the year, but my confidence immediately started to decline at this point.
My mother was a very good mother in my opinion; she did not have any formal education but she worked hard at two very low-paying jobs from as far back as I can remember. She always put her children first. She was very stubborn, and would not accept any handouts simply because she was a single parent raising five children. When I was very young, she used to receive food stamps (back then food stamps came in the form of colored paper money, not a credit card), but this did not last long because my mother refused to accept assistance. When I used to go to the store with the food stamps, I would only go to the checkout line if it was empty; I was embarrassed by the food stamps, even though everyone in my neighborhood had them, too. There were times when I would head to the line and turn around if someone else was there. Shortly after this my mother started working two jobs; one of her jobs was at a nursing home where she cleaned up after the elderly, and her second job was at a country club where she cleaned up after other people. My mother worked very hard for many years. She taught us many valuable lessons, though I didn’t take many of them to heart until years later; she kept very few secrets from us in her efforts to prepare us for the harsh reality that awaited us out in the world, and was honest about life. She told us about the people who hung out on the street corners selling drugs, and I knew that I did not want to be that type of person when I grew up.
We ate Thanksgiving dinner at my grandmother’s house each year. Thanksgiving was a very big holiday for us; everyone would come together and visit with one another. All of my cousins and I always had fun being around each other, and every Thanksgiving we watched two great football games. We would watch the Detroit Lions play during the first game, and we would watch the Dallas Cowboys play during the second game. I was (I still am) a very big Dallas Cowboy fan who enjoyed watching them play on television. I would celebrate when they won, and some of my cousins would tease me whenever they lost. After the games on television, we would play outside, sometimes racing up and down the street.
One year my mother was very upset with some of the family and she refused to take us to our grandmother’s house. We were disappointed because we wanted to eat Thanksgiving dinner, and we did not want to miss out on the largest family gathering of the year. When news of my mother’s refusal to attend Thanksgiving dinner got around, several family members stopped by the house in an effort to convince her to come to the dinner. My mother ignored the knocking, and refused to open the door. She also instructed us to not open the door. Eventually, however, my mother gave in and allowed us to have Thanksgiving with the rest of the family.
All the lessons my mother taught us were backed by her examples. My siblings and I watched her quit smoking cigarettes, and then return to smoking shortly after. She eventually found the strength to quit for good, but this is one example of how she taught us to not give up. My siblings and I watched her frequently put her life on hold in order to take care of us. On pay day my mother would sometimes buy each of us a famous Italian G and P $2.00 sub. Today, they are still in operation in Wilmington, Delaware, and I have many fond memories of the incomparable taste and size of a G and P sub. Despite the fact that we were economically poor, my mother somehow managed to provide us with many good times. If there wasn’t enough food for all of us, she would do without so we could eat. I have seen a number of family photos in which my mother had spent her small wages to buy one of us a birthday cake. If there is a parenting award, then my mother would be a great candidate for it. We were taught the difference between right and wrong, how to take care of ourselves in the home, how to cook meals, and to treat everyone fairly and with respect. My mother preached adamantly against stealing and taking things that did not belong to us.
One year, my mother bought me and my brother a pair of metal skates. This was the first and only pair of skates that I owned. Whenever I rode those skates, they made a loud sound as the metal scraped against the concrete. While I never really learned how to skate properly, I liked and appreciated my skates very much. Many years later as an adult, we rented the skating rink for my daughter; I put on a pair of skates and realized that I still could not skate! I had to stay close to the wall and I could only go straight forward, no dancing, or turning, or anything else. Skating will never be my strong point, but I do thank my mother for those loud metal skates so many years ago.
During the holidays at my grandmother’s house, most of my cousins and I used to walk to her house on the other side of town in order to stay over during the weekend. Whoever called her first was allowed to stay. We would help out around the house and she would give us a few dollars. At that time, penny candy was popular and I would buy between fifty and one hundred different candies. Even later in life when she needed to use a walker and was in and out of the hospital, I really enjoyed sharing time with my grandmother.
If I were to describe the type of child I was, I would probably use such adjectives as “good” or “average.” Before any of the drugs or criminal activity, I was a fairly normal child; I spent a lot of time playing by myself, and had a collection of Hot Wheel cars that I used to have fun with. I would pretend that the cars were people, and I acted out things that I had seen or heard about. I would pretend that the cars attend parties, and sometimes make the cars get into fights; you could say I had an imagination typical for a young boy. Sometimes, out in the street, I played football games with myself. “How is it possible to play a football game with yourself?” you might ask. Well, I would throw the ball high in the air and run ahead to make the catch. I imagined I was a player on my favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, and was playing against another team; most of the time my team would win, but once in a while I would allow the other team to win.
I also used to play football with my cousins and friends sometimes. They all liked to play “free for all” football, which is where someone throws the ball into the air and everyone plays for themselves. I never wanted to get the ball during these games because everyone would tackle the person who caught the ball. After a while, someone caught on to my dislike of the game, and they would throw the ball to me so that I would get tackled. I used to be afraid of heights, and I can also remember being afraid to walk across bridges, even flat ones. Throughout the city of Wilmington, there were a few bridges we had to cross whenever walking to the other side of town. Everyone else would walk straight across the bridge, and I would stop and hesitate. Despite the fact that I was afraid, my cousins and friends continued to walk and threaten to leave me. Eventually, I would get the courage to run across the bridge, but the process would be repeated on the way back and every following time.
One time, some of my cousins and I stayed the weekend over at my Aunt Shelly’s house. This particular aunt had very clear, and sometimes stringent, rules in her house. We weren’t allowed to play the radio, and with all of her rules, there wasn’t much for us to do. While playing in the backyard, we got creative. We were all growing pre-teens and wanted to show our strength. Our aunt had an old garage in the backyard that had an old door, and we decided that we would take turns locking each other inside. The goal was to see which one of us was strong enough to fight our way out. Well, I am not quite sure how, but one of us managed to break the door to the garage; needless to say, our aunt found out about our misdeed, and was furious! Not only did we damage her property, we mindlessly destroyed something that wasn’t ours. Inside, she told us to line up as she pulled out her belt; she placed one of my cousins in the chair face first and then sat on top of him. I knew that I had done something wrong, and I was terrified that my turn was coming soon. I knew that my aunt loved us and only wanted to teach us a lesson, but after that I was hesitant to do a sleepover there ever again!
As I got older, my grades began to decline significantly. When I was once making A’s and B’s, I was now also making some C’s and D’s. Once in high school I began to make a few F’s. My mother refused to accept my low grades, and she never deviated from her expectations that we work hard and try our very best. I did not want to try my best, however, because I didn’t think that I was smart; the incentive I once had to please my teachers had diminished, leaving me to merely go through the motions of life. Growing up in the ghetto had many challenges, but until my early teens, I blindly accepted the realities of being raised in a low income household. In school I received a free lunch card so I could order food, and in the summer, the city gave out free lunches in the park, compliments of the Parks and Recreation Department. They would serve things such as sandwiches, fruit, and milk; I enjoyed whatever they served, but especially loved it when they served chocolate milk. For me, my siblings, and friends, chocolate milk was considered a delicacy! The loss of incentive I felt only added to my discouragement and depression; I no longer wanted to blindly accept being poor, and the slope toward prison grew more and more slippery.
Parks were popular in the city for a couple of reasons. For one it was one of the main gathering places for teenagers; the Parks and Recreation Department offered a number of games out for us to play, such as checkers, chess, jumping rope, hula hoops, and basketball tournaments between different parks. When the free lunch truck arrived, those who volunteered to unload the food from the truck had first chance at any extras. There were some people who would follow the food truck from one park to another in order to get another lunch. During the day, local DJs would bring their music equipment and throw block parties, and everyone would stay for the movies that played at night.
There were a few main parks in the city that my friends and I would hang out at; Prices Park was a rather popular spot, perhaps because it had a free swimming pool that a lot of people would swim in. On the west side of town there was a park on 6th and Madison Street; many of the guys from that side of town hung out there. There was the 24th Street Park and the 30th Street Park, both of which were on the north side of town. The Brandywine Park was positioned more or less in the center of the city and while it was not the biggest park in Wilmington, its neutral location attracted those coming from each side of town. The Brandywine River runs through The Brandywine Park; often cars would park up and down the street and a steady flow of traffic would ride slowly through. Summer brought visitors from places like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Baltimore, and D.C. While individuals from a variety of areas mingled at the park, each side of town would usually congregate in a certain area. Everyone would drink beer and smoke marijuana, or just find a place to chill. My friends and I enjoyed these social weekend events. The crowd would probably start dying down around 6:00 pm and everyone would then head back to their own side of town.
Hanging out with my friends provided somewhat of a distraction, albeit temporary and periodic, from life at home. The blame I placed on my mother for our economic status created bitterness in my heart; this attitude led me to disrespect her. It started subtly and then became overt. I began talking back to her under my breath and she would ask, “What did you say?” I feared my mother and the consequences that came with my actions, and I did not want to get hit in the mouth, on the head, or anywhere else within her reach. I would reply, “Nothing,” but these interactions quickly escalated into cursing, and accusing her of loving my brother more than me. Spending time away from the house allowed me to ignore the feelings I felt toward my mother and subsequently minimize our interactions
The Book is Available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/100-Years-Journey-Vicious-Cycle/dp/0986138002/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1437414094
Follow on Twitter @mark100years