This week for class we were given an extract from “Semper Fi: The Story of a Vietnam Era Marine” by Orville Leverne Clubb (pp 10-14), and asked to write a corresponding piece from the Grandma’s perspective. The piece was written from a little boy’s point of view, about how he moved from his grandmother to his parent’s home and back again, and how he ended up failing first grade. Considering that this is the only extract I’ve ever read from this book, I took a lot of literary liberty to create a backdrop and even to make up names of certain characters.
I tried to give a darker twist to the story, instead of the straightforward, his grandma loves him too and really missed him etc. I thought of why the little boy was placed to live with his grandparents in the first place and came up with this:
Just as I was getting ready to make dinner, my sixteen year old daughter, Carol burst into the house, with tears in her eyes looking like a deer caught in the headlights.
“What’s wrong sweetheart?” I asked.
“I’m pregnant” she sobbed, “and it’s not Harry’s.”
Harry was the captain of the football team, Carol’s high school sweetheart and her fiance. They were getting married in June.
“What am I going to do mother? What am I going to do?” Carol cried.
Lee was born 7 months after Carol and Harry married. He had blue eyes and wisps of blonde hair. He looked nothing like Carol or Harry.
“He looks just like Carol when she was born!” I exclaimed.
I suspect that the circumstances of Lee’s birth was a point of contention for Carol and Harry’s marriage. Harry never showed much interest in Lee. Shortly after Lee was born, Carol and Harry left him with me and Martin, and moved to Jackson, Mississippi. They wanted to get settled in first without the burden of a child.
A few months became a year, and a year became six. I began to pray that Carol and Harry would never come back for Lee. Bit by bit, Lee had sneaked into my heart, and I loved him as my own (perhaps even more so!). He was a smart and adorable little boy. Always up to some mischief or another. He filled the void in my life, left behind after Carol, Sam and Buster left home.
In late 1950, just as Lee started first grade, Carol called. She had just given birth to her fourth child, Doug, earlier that year and she wanted Lee back to help take care of his siblings.
I missed Lee terribly. But I was too busy to dwell too much on it. Martin had just bought a bakery in Biloxi. After so many years penny pinching, we finally had enough to open the bakery of Martin’s dreams (a friend of a friend was also moving and was willing to sell it to us at a discount).
But Martin’s dream soon turned into my nightmare. I watched as he became a slave to his dream. He woke up at 3:30am and didn’t stop working until 9:30pm. The bakery consumed his life. He barely nodded when I told him that Lee had just had his tonsils taken out and was at the same time circumcised, and that I was sending him a bicycle for Christmas. We were going to teach Lee how to ride that year.
Then one day, just when I came home after a visit with Annie Tosh, a sergeant at the Keesler Air Force Base, the phone rang. It was Carol. Lee wasn’t adjusting well to the family and was causing trouble, she said. She wanted us to take him back. I knew something was wrong. Lee was a very an energetic boy, but he was also conscientious and thoughtful. He would never deliberately cause trouble.
Neither Martin and I could drive, but luckily one of my neighbors were available and kindly offered to drive me to Jackson to pick up Lee. In thanks, I made my signature Southern Fried Chicken for the trip, and shared my secret recipe with them afterwards.
Later that night, as I was helping Lee wash off all the grit from the road, I saw in horror the black and blue marks on his back and legs, and swallowed a gasp. I never imagined that Harry could be capable of such violence. No wonder Carol had to send him back to us!
Lee never quite recovered from that beating, and became very susceptible to sickness. He caught the chicken pox, and all sorts of colds and flu viruses that year, and ended up spending much of his time at home. He didn’t even have the energy to learn how to ride a bike. In the end, Martin sold the restaurant side of the bakery, partly because of his health and partly so we can spend more time taking care of Lee.