When I was four, all my brothers except the married one, was drafted into WWII. Basil, Byron, Bonnie and Buford. I really don’t remember much about my “childhood” that I never had. Because of the Sullivan Brothers all being killed at the same time, the Armed Forces had declared never to put a whole family together. Basil went somewhere in European Theatre, Bonnie to the Pacific; Phillipines; Byron to France and Buford to Germany.
It seemed like only a short time later that the first telegram came. I couldn’t understand why my Mama was crying. My brother Byron had been hit by exploding schrapnel several times. He was hit in the head, shoulder and hip. All could be removed except the head. It was too close to the brain stem. Although he suffered severe headaches all his life, he worked on a tug boat for thirty days at a time; home for twenty. Those twenty days were spent drinking or drunk and fighting with his wife. He had two sons and a young daughter. When I graduated, I went to stay with them and get a job.
On my first week there, after working an evening shift at a type of ice cream joint, I went home exhausted. I was sleeping on a cot in a hallway, with a curtain in front. I awoke with him attempting to get in my bed.. I caught a bus the following day and came to Montgomery where my now married sister lived. I never told anyone. Even though I was still 16, I found a job immediately. But Mama and Daddy had to approve and sign because of my age.
I must stop here to say that because Daddy would not let me cut my hair, when I arrived at my sisters the first thing I did was find a barber shop. Daddy also would not let me even wear shorts in PE, they were banned. Mama bought me a bathing suit to go on my Senior trip to Ft. Walton. When I returned, she washed it and hung it to dry at the Preacher’s House. Daddy did not approve of his son either.
Mama and Daddy had already picked out a ‘boyfriend’ or future husband for me. They sent him to Montgomery to watch over me. He got a job and stayed on my sister’s enclosed back porch, with the door locked every night. My sister’s husband was a mechanic and gave me a car to drive to work. They had a six year old son.
I grew up being told how smart and beautiful I was. I don’t remember ever doing anything except comb my hair and dress for school. Because I hated my long hair, that’s all there was to do with it. But I had somehow developed the knack for flirting, without commitment it would be called today. My boyfriend Daddy had sent to watch me worked all day, as well as my brother-in-law.
One late afternoon, I was sitting in my sister’s porch swing, reading a Photoplay. I had on my shortest of short-shorts and a blouse. I was 5’5″, 115, black hair, brown eyes and dark olive skin. Along comes this young boy, walking slow from work, counting his paycheck in cash. He did not speak. I noticed he went in two doors down. I had already met a young blonde boy who lived there, my age, but still in high school. His name was Richard.
One day that young man, name Jimmy, stopped to talk. Daddy’s boyfriend, Bill, came out and asked him to leave. Not good for a West End boy. They talked ‘loudly’ for awhile and I asked him to go home. He did. But the next day I was at the coffee shop down on Mildred Street. I saw him across the street at a paint store. As I started walking back home, he came out of the paint store. He asked if I would answer a question for him. He had just bought a 1948 Mercury and he wanted to paint it. What color would you paint it? I said “Battleship Grey”. The following weekend, I saw this hideous Battleship Grey car sitting at his mother’s house.
After a few fights with Bill, I gave his ring back and sent him back to Greenville. I started dating and became engaged to Jimmy. My parents did not like that at all. They wrote that they would be up the following weekend to take me back home, where I could then enter college.
My father and mother decided to make the trip from Brushey Creek to Montgomery in order to convince me to give my ring back. Become unengaged. Stop work and go to college. When they arrived, my brother in law, Mack, had slipped a disk. He was in traction in the hospital. My fiancé, Jimmy, had done the same at his job. He was also in the hospital. That left my handicapped sister, Bernice, mother and 17 year old me.
That fateful weekend of October 16, 1954 was the beginning of a long string of PTSD, anxieties and depression. All of these have followed me for the next sixty five years.