[I share the following story with permission]
It is an amazing and mysterious process that brings us into contact with people who influence and affect our lives.
In 1951 an illegitimate child was born that was not wanted, so the mother left her in the hospital where she was taken care of by nurses. Six weeks passed before the mother’s parents came and took the baby and raised her for the first year of her life. It was during that year that the mother of the baby married and eventually took possession of her little girl. Whether that was a good thing or not, you, the reader, can decide, but what is certain is that the young girl’s life quickly took on the semblance of the early pages of the Cinderella story or the bleak life of a Charles Dickens’ character.
As the girl’s mother began having babies every other year, until there were nine children, this girl’s life evolved into the role of caregiver. The family lived in abject poverty, not always knowing where the next meal would come from, and often the next meal did not come at all. The various rental and tenement houses they moved in and out of had little if no heat in them. During the cold Indiana winters, the only heat the children had was to pile into the same bed and huddle together for warmth. Their hair was stringy and unkempt, and their clothes did not match. Ridicule by their peers was at ever turn.
The harsh words that came out of the mouth of the girl’s stepfather were as destructive as lava—destroying the trees of self esteem, searing the grass of familial love, and crushing the rocks of self confidence.
When it seemed that things could not get worse—they did. She was fourteen years old when her mother was stricken with cancer. It was not the type of cancer that attacks like a savage beast, quickly killing and devouring but rather was the kind that gradually drains life away like a leaking hot water heater.
So, at the age of fourteen, this girl forfeited what was left of her childhood and became an adult, a mother to her brothers and sisters, especially the youngest who was only a few months old. She missed one entire year of her high school, cooking, cleaning, chopping wood, hauling water, and seeing to her bedfast mother. On some occasions her mother would ask her to bring the baby to her bedside so that she could sing to her.
After two long years, the frayed thread that tied her mother’s spirit to her body finally broke, and she died. It was then that the sun, moon and stars hid their faces from another approaching storm. The stepfather sent all the children, except the baby, to various family members to live, and he took the baby and our person of interest to live with him. Then the merciless horror and terror of sexual abuse began.
Some months later, the stepfather rounded up all the children and began driving south out of Indiana, through Kentucky, to Tennessee. None of the children knew where they were going but knew better than to ask questions. Eventually, he pulled into a driveway that led past several two-story buildings that were arranged in a horseshoe shape. He told them to get out and then drove off. It was hours later that they learned he had left them at an orphanage.
Many, with this kind of history, would have likely fallen into a life of despair and hopelessness, a life of low income, a sketchy job history, poor mental and physical health, unhealthy relationships, and even the path of addiction. But not the heroine of this story with heart. No, this girl grew into a woman who went to college, held a steady job that required a person of impeccable character, fought her way through depression, learned to forgive the unforgivable, faced cancer and won, and became an inspiration to everyone who had the privilege of knowing her and her heart. Both her daughters, her six grandchildren, and her husband of forty-five years (which I have the privilege of being) rise up and call her blessed.
Because she wants people who’ve had difficult childhoods to not give up, my wife, Brenda Johnson, readily shares her experiences with others, not to gain sympathy, but to perhaps inspire others to follow her example.