My Mother, Janie married again shortly after the birth of my first child, Walter.  She marrried Bob Davis, a guitar playing, blues singing family friend.  No one in the family wanted her to marry Bob, but she did.  Mama had a mind of her own, and made her own decisions.  She moved to Welch, West Virginia with her husband.  The marriage to Bob did not keep her from visiting with us often.  Bob loved my children and he enjoyed having us around.

Uncle Isaac married Marguerite and moved here in with him, Mama Carter, and Uncle Wesley soon after I married Otis.  When I left Norfolk, Marguerite took care of Mama Carter during the day, and over time she and Isaac fell in love.  We were like sisters and Otis and Isaac were like brothers.  We visited them often because we had a car.  Marguerite and Isaac had their first baby, Melvin around the same time I had Otis, Jr.  Isaac worked in the mines near Rolfe, West Virginia.  The coal mine was the only employment for people living in the mountains of West Virginia.

I remember not feeling well about a year and a half after Walter’s birth.  I felt terrible and went to the doctor for advice.  The doctor gave me three large pills and told me to take the pills and all my sickness would go away.  I showed Mama Carter the pills and told her what the doctor told me.  She looked at the pills and told me not to take them.  “Throw those pills out”, she said, “You are sick because you are carrying another baby.  If you take those pills you will kill your baby.”  I listended to Mama Carter and did not take the pills and later found out that I was indeed pregnant and had a very healthy pregnancy.  I was so blessed to have my grandmother near me and have her advice.  I thought about how my life would have changed if I had lost my second baby boy.

My second child, Otis, Jr. was a very easy delivery.  No noisy visitors waiting in my house for me to deliver.  The doctor, Mama and Mama Susie helped me through the delivery in a very quiet house.  Otis, Jr. was an eight pounds, chocolate baby boy with black curly hair.  My husband told me he prayed that his boys would have beautiful hair because the girls in his family had beautiful hair and the boys were left out.  He said “Girls can go to the beauty shop”.  His prayers were answered because both our boys had a full head of beautiful baby hair.

Papa Starghill had a special affection for our second born son, Otis, Jr.  After his birth he began stopping by to see the baby on his way home from the mines.  When he arrived he looked inside his lunch box and found something special to give the baby to eat.  I loved my father-in-law but was not happy that he gave my baby some stale food that had been sitting in his lunch box all day while he worked in the coal mines.  However, I knew it was out of love for my baby, and that he saved my baby something special.  Otis, Jr. loved it smiling, waving his fat little arms around in excitement the moment he saw Papa and gobbled us whatever morsel of food my father-in-law stuffed into his mouth.  After Papa left, I asked God to please protect my baby from any illness related to stale food.  The food did not hurt him; he was one of my healthiest children and grew strong and tall.  Many years had passed when Papa came and asked me to bring Otis, Jr to him so he could bless him.  I was happy that he wanted to bless my children and told him I would bring all my children for his blessing.  He said, “No, Arlene I am here to bless Otis.  Please do as I say and bring him to me for my blessing”  I did as he said and he prayed a special prayer over Otis and bestowed his blessing on his life.

After Otis, Jr’s birth our family settled in as part of my husband’s larger group of kin living in Glen Alum.  It was nice having all the family living near.  I could visit with the ladies, Lillian, Molene, Kitty and her daughter, Katy Mae who was my age and Mama Susie.  Our children played together while we chatted.  At that time the cousins were all boys, Earl, Albert, Jr., Walter, and Otis, Jr.  My boys would get alone with the other kids for a while and then one of the other boys would tell me that my son, Walter beat up one of the kids.  “Arlene, Walter hit me with his fist” one would say.  I would always chastise Walter by spanking him and we would go home.  Now, I wonder if they were all fighting and then blamed Walter when things did not go their way.  Otis, Jr (Teddy) was the youngest of the group, so he was too young to be accused for the fray.  Mama Susie told me that Otis, Sr. was a fighter when he was a young boy, so I did not know what to believe.

Two years after Otis, Jr. (Teddy) was born I finally had a daughter on a beautiful, sunny April day.  The doors were open and the weather was great.  Mama Janie came to assist as always, but this time she wanted me to hurry to have the baby because she had a trip planned for early May.  Her church had an assembly in Nashville, Tennessee and she did not want to miss it.  She told me, “You better hurry up and have this baby.  I am going to the Assembly.”  I said “You are going to leave me for the assembly?”  I felt so hurt.  I wasn’t involved in her church in those days.  I felt hurt becuase she was putting her meeting ahead of me and my baby.  She pressured me to have the baby soon.  Lucky for me the baby came the last week in April.  I had no problems with my third delivery and had a fat, creamy colored, 8lb, 6oz., baby girl with a little brown hair but mostly bald.  She made me happy.  I had my girl and I named her Janice.  I thought Janice was a pretty doll, but Otis teased me because she was nearly bald.  After my daughter was born Mama stayed with me for one week and left me in the bed.  She usually gave me two weeks to get on my feet and take over for myself.  Just so happened, Margarite, Isaac’s wife was visiting from Norfolk and came and helped me for the second week.  She told Janie she could leave me and that she would stay and take good care of me.  Margarite stayed until I was on my feet.  Margarite was a special, loving person.  She had her baby girl, Seretha, two months earier and here she was helping me.  Our daughters became very close, because we had a special bond.

J.Keel, Author



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