It was the early morning of Monday, August 10th, 1981 at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, GA when my Mom gave birth and introduced me to the world. I was a big baby, weighing in at 9 pounds. My mom recalls it as being an exciting experience because she was happy to have a little baby girl, but nervous because I was just 18 months apart from my older brother, Spencer. I was told that I was a pretty laid back baby. Mom recalls the experience of having two under two exciting, but challenging. One instance in particular that stands out is one time when she was cleaning and went in our room to check on us, and my brother had covered my entire face with baby powder. She said “You didn’t cry, you just looked up at me with your big brown eyes waiting to be rescued.” My mom recalled my favorite doll, which was a little cabbage patch kid doll. She said I took it everywhere I went.
My Mother was a stay at home Mom at the time, and my Dad was a Phlebotomist at Emory Hospital. We were low income, or as my Mom would say “really poor”. We lived in Stone Mountain in a two bedroom apartments (my brother and I shared a room) that didn’t have air conditioning, and very poor heating in the winter. One winter my Mom recalls it being so cold that there were icicles inside the windows. She describes it as a very difficult time for all of us. They were young and new parents, being only 23 and 24 years old.
My Mom didn’t feel like she was supposed to ask for help, and that she just needed to wait for things to get better. My Dad in the meantime was going to school at night, studying to become an RN so that he could provide a better life for us. This along with the financial stress caused a big strain in their relationship. There was fighting and abuse, and what ultimately ended in divorce when I was five and my brother was six.
The divorce and separation led to a bitter custody battle. At one point during the whole ordeal, Spencer and I were even removed from the home for a few days and placed in temporary custody with a family that we had never met. I’m not sure if it was a foster family, or someone appointed from DFACS, but I remember feeling scared and confused. No one really explained much to us during all of this. It was nice to have my brother there with me, going through the same thing. We supported each other a lot through this, even at the young age that we were.
My Dad was ultimately awarded primary physical custody of us. Even though my Mom had blamed him of physical abuse as well as drug abuse, it was not something that was able to be proven. My mom had been admitted a few times to a mental health clinic and was diagnosed with a mental illness. This was a deal breaker in the eyes of the judge. Also, my Dad had a stable job working the graveyard shift at a nearby hospital (which provided a decent means to support us), and my Mom didn’t have a job. The court awarded my Mom with visitation, and we spent time with her every other weekend.
I had some of my favorite childhood memories being with my “single Dad” and brother. My Dad loved playing basketball, and he would take us all the time to school playground, and we would watch him play basketball with all the “brotha’s” in Atlanta. I thought my brother hung the moon, and I wanted to be just like him. Because of my Dad and brother having such a presence at the time, I became quite the tomboy. I loved to try to play basketball too, and one time in particular I remember wanting to take off my shirt because my Dad, brother, and all the guys on the basketball courts had their shirts off one hot summer day. I just didn’t understand what the big deal was.
We continued to have a good relationship with my Mom. Weekend visitation was spent mostly at Nannie’s house. She loved to spoil us with tons of hugs and kisses and cook big meals for us. Some weekends we’d sit in the living room with our TV trays eating homemade sloppy joes and watch Hee Haw. It was a good ‘ol country home. I loved that place.
One day at one of the school playgrounds, while Dad was enjoying his typical weekend basketball game, I met a few girls my age (around six), and their names were Shannon, Amanda, and Melissa. I also met Pam, their Mom, and I learned that they didn’t have a Daddy. I later inadvertently introduced her to my Dad, and they began to date. Their courtship unfortunately didn’t last, but one good thing did come out of it. My half brother, Joseph Daniel was born who I met once as a baby, and not again until he was in his early teens. I loved hanging out with Shannon and Amanda. They were my age and I loved playing house with them and making mud pies in the back yard. Good times.
Another great thing that came out of that relationship was how more involved in church we got. Pam was an evangelical Christian who home schooled her girls. My mom and Nannie had taken me to their baptist church, during this time as well. At some point during this time, I gave my heart to God and decided to live my life for him. I remember that I didn’t understand all there was to know about being a Christian, but I wanted to do good, and be an example of Christ’s love. I was baptized at the age of six in the YMCA swimming pool.
A few years later, My Dad tells us that he met someone special at work that he would like for us to meet. I remember this like it was yesterday. My Dad told us to put on our best outfit and that we were going over to her house. We were planning to cook at her house and have dinner with her and her daughter. I was so excited to possibly have a new sister and to meet a new wife for my Dad. I put on my favorite little black outfit with a ruffle skirt, and did my hair up in pigtails. Rennie and Lisa were their names, and they were great. Rennie was a classy southern Mom and Lisa was a fun young girl who would soon become my new friend and playmate. Rennie was a real girly-girl, and defiantly took the tomboy right out of me, and got me interested in being more glamed up. My Nannie (my mother’s mom) also loved dressing me up and taking pictures of me. I guess it rubbed off a bit since I’m definitely more of a girly-girl today.
In Spring of 1989, my Dad married my soon to be Step-Mom, Rennie. It was nice having a big family of five. With both of them being a Registered Nurse and having the income of such, we were able to afford so much more than we did when my Dad was single and barely scraping by. It was nice to have a new home in Stone Mountain and the holidays were more than I could ever ask for. We were still visiting with my Mom every other weekend. My Mom went on to get married a few years later to her now husband Mark.
Even though both of my parents were married to their new spouse, there was still tension between my parents. Rennie was also a divorcee and they both really wanted to start fresh in a new city. They did some traveling to decide where we would possibly move. After considering Galveston TX and Wilmington, NC, they decided that Wilmington would be a better fit to lay stakes and relocate.
My Mom and my Nannie weren’t too thrilled about us moving. They called and wrote us often, but it wasn’t the same. The visitation changed to every summer break and spring break and every other Christmas. Even though I missed my Mom and my Atlanta family, I was kind-of excited to be living so close to the beach, and the cute little artsy town that Wilmington was. As any move can be on a kid, it was a bit of an adjustment making new friends and getting settled in school, but eventually I got the hang of it. Even though I was a pretty shy kid, I joined a cheerleading squad for a local flag football team, and I met a few friends. I loved the beach, and quickly became a little beach girl in love of the sunshine and waves.
My Nannie and Pawpaw came to see us a few months after we moved to NC. She told us that she was sick, but we didn’t really know what was going on. My uncle had leukemia at the time, and she always asked us to keep him in our prayers. When we came to visit over spring break the following year, we found out that my Nannie had passed away the day after her 55th birthday of breast cancer a few weeks prior. I was devastated. My uncle on the other hand, found a donor and was cured of his leukemia. I took my Nannie’s death very hard. It made me question things, and feel things that I had never felt. This was my first of many challenges that helped me learn and grow, but was so difficult at the time.