Whispers of Jimmy and Darla: part 2


Mother holding a puppy next to her sister, Peg.


Before Darla’s birth, mother had been unable to contribute any money to Aunt Peg’s household, so after the birth, mother joined grandmother cleaning offices at night. Both women handed over their paychecks to help with expenses and pitched in to cook and to care for the now seven children. But neither the house nor Aunt Peg’s marriage was built to handle that many people. Aunt Peg’s husband endured it as long as he could. Then he asked them to leave.


Grandmother wrote her sister, Vern, who lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan to ask if she had room for six more people. Vern and her husband, Ray, had never had children of their own, but they welcomed the four children and two women into their home. Vern helped mother and grandmother get jobs serving tables in a supper club.


Mother never lacked for tips. She knew how to smile at a man and wear clothes that showed off her curves, while being friendly and attentive to any women who happened to be at the table. Eventually she was making enough in tips that grandmother didn’t have to work and could stay home to care for the children. Mother rented a small house from the owner of the supper club so the six of them could move into their own place.


It wasn’t easy, but it could have worked. It didn’t though, because Grady had mother’s number.


Grady, the new man, the changed man, the man of promises, the man who was now going to be a good husband and father, called her up and sweet-talked mother into letting him come up to Michigan to live with them.


This part of the story is full of maybes. Maybe she believed him. Maybe she forgot he had denied fathering Jimmy, had drunk what little money they had when they lived in Alabama, and had beat her up. Maybe she was tired of trying to make it on her own. Maybe she needed a man, and any man was better than no man.


So when the past knocked on her door, mother mistook it for the future and welcomed it in.


Grady found work right away, and mother thought her financial struggles were over. They weren’t. Payday after payday, less and less of Grady’s money made it home. He never contributed much in the way of cash, but he did contribute in another way. He got mother pregnant again.


Michigan never suited Grady. From the beginning, he wanted to move back to Alabama to be near his family. As bad as the previous time there had been, mother considered it. But when she found out she was pregnant, she knew she couldn’t, especially if they had five children to take care of. Someone need to work, and not just work, but bring home a paycheck. On her next day off, after Grady left for work, she asked her mother to take the children to a movie.


Mother never considered trying to find a doctor to help her with this “female problem.” She knew about birth and its dangers; had watched her mother, acting as a midwife, deliver babies; and had given birth to Darla by herself. And she had learned what other desperate women did when they carried a fourth or fifth or sixth child that they couldn’t feed or provide for. She used a coat hanger dipped in alcohol and prayed she would survive.


After the movie, her mother found her, covered in blood and lying unconscious on the bathroom floor. Grandmother sent the children outside and called the doctor. He performed a D&C and told mother that if she ever did that again he would report her for breaking the law. Had she had serious complications or faced death, he would have had to report her in order to exonerate himself and make it clear that he did not perform the abortion.


Grady resented mother and grandmother for acting behind his back. Since he took to drink, his successes in life were few, and getting mother pregnant was one of them. He couldn’t believe she would do that to him. After the abortion, he pressed mother even harder to move to Mobile and insisted until she relented. Mother wanted her mother to come as well, but grandmother had heard and seen enough; she wanted nothing more to do with Grady. Vern and her husband had moved to New Mexico to open a restaurant, and when they offered grandmother a job, she packed her things and headed west.


Mother turned her face toward the South. Although she believed that going to Alabama the first time had been a mistake, she felt that things would be different this time. She was right. Before she left, she couldn’t imagine that anything could be worse than sleeping on someone’s dirty floor with four children and a drunk, abusive husband. Within a year, she couldn’t imagine anything better.



Next: Part 3

33 thoughts on “Whispers of Jimmy and Darla: part 2

    • This was my mother’s world before I ever entered the picture. As I write the stories down, I learn more about my mother and myself. Many of them I had to carry as secrets when I was younger, so it is a relief in one sense to see them outside of me.

  1. When I read your writing, the rest of the world stops. And sometimes, it takes a little while to get it started again. I’m so glad I had the good luck to meet you.

  2. “So when the past knocked on her door, mother mistook it for the future and welcomed it in.”

    How do you squeeze so much truth into one sentence? Good grief, you can write. Your words make time stop; the clock freezes, and the air is heavy with the past. (I get lost in the story, and then remember this isn’t just a story; it’s a life. Your mother’s life. Your life).

    I read the next sentence, and the next, and secretly I’m pleading with your mother (and every mother) to make another choice, even though I know she will choose the other direction. NO! NO! But, of course, it’s already written in time. You’re simply unfolding the story as gently as possible, while allowing us to witness the pieces written across time.

    I haven’t read anything for a good long while. I’ve been avoiding reading. You’ve cured me. There’s no way I could stay away now. Thank you for sharing this with us. And for being as gentle as you can be when speaking the truth. You are amazing.

  3. Very rarely am I so touched by something I’m reading. Too often I feel manipulated. Too often feel a certain contrived legerdemain when the writing is slick and smooth. But you write from your heart, but keep its pulse beautifully under control. Giving your reader time to feel his own emotions … and find his own connections.

    I bleed for your mother … and am amazed at her bravery. Through everything she still keeps hope flickering but alive. I can see the mistakes looming in front of her, but she doesn’t flinch, she barrels right into them headfirst.

    And to be reminded of a time when women’s recourse to safe abortion was a coat thanger pulls me up with a terrible sense of grief. I came of age just in time to benefit from “the pill”. And had forgotten that this little tablet gave freedom to women for the first time in history. And fairness.

    A lot of things going on for me in your story … and you’ve shared it so well … and like your mother, so bravely. The photos are treasures too, linking everything firmly to a long ago time.

    Thank you so much

  4. hello, ms. yearstricken… yes, it’s rather sad. your mother went through a lot… and it took you this long to tell the story. i admire your courage and yes, glad that you finally found the words. 🙂 kind regards…

      • you are welcome, ma’am… i find it hard to write about my mother, have written about her only twice. she was a very strong-willed woman and she lived a rather colorful and challenged life. but i’ve realized that we must write about our mothers’ stories so that slowly and gradually we can come to terms with our own… ^^ i wish you luck and more courage… 🙂 cheerio!

  5. OMG. How painful. You told the story beautifully. By the way, the little girl in the middle, Peg, looks a lot like a pic I have of my mother at about that age. What year was the picture taken? Just curious.

  6. Whew, what I story! I hung onto every word as I read these posts. You wrote it in such a wonderful way about some very difficult and complex situations. I’m also looking forward to Part III.

  7. Loneliness can be devastating for some people, to the point where they’ll make the wrong decisions just to have a partner. I can’t wrap my mind around some decisions I’ve made, much less understand the thoughts or motivations of a stranger. I certainly feel for her, and wonder at the desperation (or determination?) that would cause her to risk her own life in aborting the pregnancy, but not propel her to leave the man, to cut out the root of her problems. Figuring life out is not easy and sometimes it takes all that we have, and then some.

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