Mary of Baltimore, Mother of Six and Successful Brownstone Squatter

I met Mary Harvin in 1996 on my first research trip in the U.S.A. when I visited the city of Baltimore. She was warm, inspiring, and funny. Now, so many years later, I lost touch with her. Who knows maybe the Internet produces a small miracle and she finds me as a result of posting here her interview.

Could you tell me about your community work, Mary?

People's Homesteading Group is a non-profit which works with low and moderate income families. The goals are two-fold. First the production of decent affordable housing, because there are a lot of people who can't go through conventional methods, can't go to a bank, and usually that's because of credit problems, or employment problems and yet, landlords would collect from them maybe $200 to $600 a month in rent, so it didn't follow that they couldn't own. And so we started this program to deal with those people who couldn't go through the conventional means but were good at paying the rent, and we use a process called sweat equity. What that means is that nobody gives the family anything, we have to actually get out and work for it.
As you look at Baltimore, Baltimore has row houses like this house, and it has eight to ten thousand vacant properties, just nobody's living in, they're deteriorated, sometimes they’re neighborhood dump sites, sometimes they're falling apart just from neglect, sometimes the fire has been set on. And these are areas that were one time nice, they're usually located in the inner city, where's usually a high crime rate, all the problems. Most of the people that can afford better moved away from the inner city to the suburbs. My program goes after those city properties and we have families that are interested to go in. They do what we call selective rehab, for instance there may be things in that house that are still usable, we won't take them out, we just use those, we don't take out walls that can be repaired, we work within the city code, which would say that plumbing, heating, roofing, electrical, all these things had a potential to be life threatening if they're not done right, so we have to have skilled people to do that. However everything else that families can do themselves, they do. They take out everything that's no good, they build the walls, they lay the floors, they install the doors, the windows, they paint it, and finally they move into it.
We give them a house, it's up to them to go in it and make it a home, and be able to maintain that house, and maintenance is more than just keep the house repaired, it means that okay, now you got a house, you got more expenses, which means you got to get a better job, 'cause a lot of that people are under employed, sometimes that means getting a GED, finishing high-school, sometimes it means going and getting a skill, all of these things are involved in the maintenance of that house and usually the people we deal with sometime they are on government assistance, sometimes they're family members that live together to pull together every resources, sometime they're senior citizens, that are living on their SSI or social security benefits, and they've got the desired home, the only thing that we ask them is that they commit to a certain number of sweat equity hours which is usually 480 hours, and they can do it at the rate of 20 hours a month. I guess you can say why 20 hours a month, because that's a lot. The majority of that people are single female people with a household, which means they have to raise a family, generate an income, take care of children and maintain their sanity, so 20 hours a month is a lot. But that's what we ask them to do.
They go through training programs where, some of these people have been renters all their lives, they don't know anything about owning a property, normally when the pluming breaks down they call the maintenance office and they usually send somebody over to fix it, but when you own your home it's not like that, there's nobody to call, we teach them things like how to fix a leaking sink, things like that, they go through a program that enables them to keep the walls and stuff up, and of course the skills that they gain, all of that is really important.
We call that home owner education, you gonna pay your utility bill, they go through classes on budgeting before they actually move into the house, budgeting, why is it important that I have a budget? Why is it important that I have some money saved? So that if something goes wrong in the house I can fix it. Of course the house is under warranty for a while, but let's just say you have boys that hustle all over your furniture or they put that nit through the wall, we're not gonna come back and fix that, we expect you to do it.
One of the things I enjoy doing is going by seeing those bushes planted, or seeing flowers planted or seeing some new improvement of the property, that does me real good. As I said our program is mostly inner city program, and the reason, the success for the program is these contractors cannot come in and renovate the property and charge the amount that they put into the property, 'cause they're looking for one thing: profit, okay?! Whereas we can go in and our people called homesteaders, they can go and work as a team, and renovate the house and keep the cost affordable in that way to have a mortgage at the end that they can afford, which is maybe a few dollars more than they actually paid for rent, and from that mortgage we collect the ground rent, if there is any ground rent on the property we collect the taxes, for one twelfth of the taxes every month goes, we pay taxes here in Baltimore once a year, we also collect money for home owner’s insurance, what that does is that it protects my interest as a lender, if the house burns down, I don't lose anything, and then the family has something to rebuild with, so we try to consider everything but the thing that makes everything work so well is that everything is included in that one payment, all they really have to do is just get that one payment, one gets sweat equity hours and get the one payment in.
What was like at the beginning, how did things evolve?
Oh, oh, at the beginning! We have something here in Baltimore, well, let me back up a little back. I belong to a church group and my pastor is a woman and she's always encouraged us to work for social change and blessed us and she was always saying that if there was anything that we wanted to do without compromising what we believed, without lying, without cheating, without cheating and all of these things, go for it, if it improves your quality of life, and so we heard about a group in Camden New Jersey that was working with people to get vacant buildings fixed up, a home ownership, and that they would come into Baltimore. Well, I had a girlfriend that just, the way I got involved is it was just a meeting of what they call the squatters group, she heard about it on TV, and she said, 'Come on and go with me,’ and I said no, but she kept bugging me, you know when you have a girlfriend that bugs you, you don't really want to do it, but you just go to shut them up, you know, so I went and I met a group of housing activists, which were, they were primarily white. They were giving their time and their energy and their money for social change, and first I figured that this is just a hare-brained idea, that it will never work, you know, and as I began to go to the meetings and listen, all of a sudden it seemed that it didn't sound so crazy, I said to myself, 'Listen, it’s workable.'
At that time I lived in government subsidized housing, I was a single parent and I had six young children at the time, by God! they're grown now! and I wanted to own my own house, I wanted to get out of that environment, because is something about the cycle of poverty. If you look here you see the grandmother on government assistance, and you look over here and you see the mother on government assistance, you look over here and see the grand-daughter on government assistance, not that it happens all the time, but you know… You heard this saying: Everything at its own time? Well, it seemed like all of a sudden my eyes were opened and I said, 'No, I'm on government assistance too, so I raise these children, but I want something better for them.' I kinda felt like, if I can get a house and move and get out of that environment, 'cause I saw this cycle of poverty, that just goes around and comes and grabs everybody, and plus there were some other things going on that I didn't approve of.
Like what?
There were, there were… Now listen, because I lived in a housing project, my housing project was very nice, it was like a town house, you only paid 30% of your government assistance in for your rent, you didn't pay any utility bills, you didn't pay any water bills, plus I had a food subsidy every month, depending on the size of your family, it was not so much that, because as long as that government assistance came in I didn't have any problems, but it was like, I'm talking about income wise, of course with six children you could always use money, seven people in a family and 1,000 a month is nothing in a year, you know, but it kept us from starving and it kept us from being in the street, but it was more like the attitude.
I saw women that were struggling, and they were been taking advantage of. For instance, not that I think that I am so much better than them, but all the women have much of the same problem, okay, but I saw families, maybe, you might had a child by this man, a child by that man, a child with that man, you know, and I saw these women struggling and I saw little self-esteem, drinking, drugging, smoking. Well, I have a Christian back ground so all of those things were like, you know fshiu, out for me, but I could see all of those things, I could see these, what I call these once-a-month boyfriends, you know, you don't see them till your government assistance comes through and they come in and help you spend it. I saw these women living like that, you know, and I always had the kind of household where I kept plenty of food, and if you play with my children then I feed you too, the deal was you had to help and clean the kitchen, and you had to help them wash dishes. I always had plenty of food to feed the children, but there were a lot of households where the mothers would sell the food stamps to get them drugs or give it to the man, trying to take him in, and not that I'm judging them, don't get me wrong, but I'm just saying you can do better by yourself, you know those children were all looking to those mothers, okay, but you have a lot of situations where the mothers have so much pressure on, try to escape, trying to deal with reality until they have turned to other things they help them escape and also a lot of the children suffered.
And then, with my children it was a problem with the gangs beginning to evolve, and I thought, 'No, I don't want this, so I'd rather get out, I want to get out now!' Like one day I just woke up, 'I want out, I can do better than this, I don't have to, I'm worth more than this.' You understand?
So, as I said I began to come back and forth to the meetings, and then we began to look for the houses, just look for houses, everything is city owned, so it belongs to the people, aren't you one of the people?! [Laughs] Alright.
Then, we have something here called Taxpayers’ Night, and at a Taxpayers’ Night you have the Mayor of the Baltimore city, which was then Mayor Schaefer, he works for the government now, Mayor Schaefer, he moved on, and he had a Board of Estimates. Now the Board of Estimates controls the money strings for the city. They designate all the money, they spend all the money, no money is spent without their approval. So, it's a place where all of the community groups and all of the people can go for one night and sign up and for five minutes, you can sing to him, you can preach the gospel, you can say about snow removal, you can fuss with him about anything, but it’s only one time a year, they have to listen.
Well, we found out about it, and we had put together this program. We always have people that they work for the city, they love to do community work, but they can't make a living out of it, you've got peoples that have Master’s degrees and Ph.D.s in these kind of work place, I mean, don't try to get rich on it, you know, and so they held other jobs, to make a living, they were people who believed in social change, they worked in the system, but actually told us how to go around the system, they told us what to do, so they said, ‘Okay, what you do is just go ahead and take the house, just go ahead and take the house! Not private property, I wouldn't take private property, that's like a war nobody has time to fight, okay, but city property, well, okay.’
And so we went to Taxpayers’ Night, and everybody, the Teachers’ Union was there fussing about pay raises, the Baltimore Symphony fussing about pay raises, but we went and we did something that was so unusual, we presented the mayor and the Board of Estimates with a petition, telling them, that, ‘We're gonna take, we're gonna create this program, we're gonna take this vacant city property, and renovate it for low income families.’ Well, they didn't know how to take us, with everybody screaming at him, yelling at him, ‘We just wanna tell you that we gonna do something.’ Well, they took it and they looked at it. Well, this was a Thursday night. That Saturday we had arranged for some press, some of the TV stations came and we took the boards off.
Now technically we were guilty of trespassing. The majority of us were from a church group, those of us who weren't housing activists we were from that church group, so it was like I had two families, I had the church family, and now I had become part of an extended family. Well, we had gotten businesses to donate materials, we had brick owners giving us bricks, we had skilled people who had volunteered their time to train us, 'cause I'm a cook by nature, I put the stuff on the walls like the frost on the cake, that wasn't quite the way it was supposed to be done.
I will get back to my story, but let me tell you, I worked on something to put on the wall called joint compound. It looks like a paste to put on the wall. And the guy who was training us was an unemployed general contractor, he was out of work so we employed him 'cause the majority of us were women, and he looked at the wall, it was like the frost on the cake, oh, the design was so pretty! [Laughs] Okay, 'cause I was just learning. Oh, he came to me and using wisdom he said, 'Oh, Mary that is so beautiful!’ Then he took the blade out of my hand and squirted it all on the floor! I said, 'Okay, I'm not so bright, I admit it. But what's wrong with this picture. If it's so good, why is he squirting it all on the floor?’ Well, I realized, 'You crazy woman, you don't put stuff on the wall like you put the frost on cake!’
So anyway, like I said, we arranged for some press, we had a big TV station there, we had the newspaper there, and okay, what was wrong was the paddy wagon, the police wagon. Well, whenever people are going to jail there’s always the wagon, you know, 'cause they put you in a wagon, and so he said, and just seeing the wagon it was intimidating enough, this church group was, we hadn't even had a parking ticket some of us, never had any problems with the law, because we were obedient to the law of land, so that was not a problem, but just to see the paddy wagon, the psychological impact of seeing that, ‘Lord, you're going to jail!’
Well, okay, the way I prepared myself was, 'Okay, I've got six children. If I'm going to jail I'm going to do no laundry, I do no cooking, and I need a rest,’ so I was taking it like a joke, ‘Okay, take me away, take me away. You all just decided you take me to jail, you cook now. You know what a breakfast for six kids, you know how the laundry looks like? A week’s laundry looks like for six kids? You know what the grocery bill is like? So, like take me away, I need a rest,’ you know.
But he came in and he said, 'Look, I've been told to come here, but I'm waiting orders, and I haven't been told what to do with you,’ he told us. He said, 'I'm waiting on orders from headquarters as to what to do with you.’ So we came in and he said, ‘Okay, just give me your names, your addresses, and your ages.’ We didn't mind telling him our names and addresses but you don't ask a woman how old she is! [Laughs] I was like, 'Mmm, I'll tell you reluctantly, I'll tell you. I don't want you to know,’ but by and by I wrote the age and protested. I should have said 28 plus, if I’d been an accountant that's what I would have said. [Laughs] But anyway, nobody bothered us that day. As a matter of fact the City didn't do anything, and we had chosen perhaps the worst case and area one can choose for a test house, we chose a house that was probably, what is this one, three stories? Is this a three stories house, Sam?
We chose a house bigger than this one, for our first test case, and it was the guts we had, here you had inexperienced people that were the majority of our group, well, after numerous hours of work… I used to have to catch the bus, I had to get three buses to get over to do the construction in the morning, and I also had to catch the buses back. It was so funny when I would get on the bus beside people they acted like I had some type of plague, like, ‘What does she have on?’ I'd be covered with dust just from working on the house, I've worked about half thousand hours.
We completed the first house, we did open house, we invited the city. The city was probably in the best position of all, because if we had failed they would have said, ‘See, we gave them every opportunity.’ If we had succeeded they could say, 'See, we didn't stop them,' you know, so they probably had the best position of all. It was clearly there were a lot of things going on.
And while we were working on that house, my family, I, moved into a vacant city house and I didn't tell everybody. I called the utility company and told them to turn the services on, and they came without questioning me, I called another city agency and told them I want to have a water meter installed, because once the house is vacant for a while they take the meter out of the street, because it's in the street. I called another department, nobody questioned, they came and put it! [Laughs] Oh, God!
That was on TV?
No, because it wasn't my house. We didn't tell them about me. We told them about the house that we gonna take, but we didn't tell them that we had a squatting family, and that was my family, and when I moved into the house, I'll never forget it, it was a nice house, the windows were broken because the children used to target fight, which is not unusual in the inner city when they are vacant, but everything else was intact.
Now, I don't know how much you know about the housing here but they use something called fuses, okay, this is something you screw in that would generate electricity. Well, that's what was in the house, and living in the housing project the stove came with the housing project, so when I moved in I didn't have stove, okay? The money what I was living on I couldn't buy one, 'cause that was just to live on that month, okay? so somebody donated a stove to me, which was an electric stove and if you know anything about those fuses, to warm the stove, you need 220 Amps, I only had 120 coming into the house. When I moved in the weather was really hot, so nobody thought about how when the weather is gonna change we gonna need heat, right? The only wood I had coming with the house was in the basement, because the pipes were corroded, so somebody had a couple of pipes so that I could turn it on so water could come out, the thing was so interesting is that I had a house with six children and we didn't have any water. I had water coming into the house but it wouldn't go into the pipes. I said, 'Oh, Lord, what we gonna do?' Okay, so in order to flush the toilet, you could turn the handle all you wanted to but it was no water in the tank, you couldn't flush it, so the boys, which were the oldest of the children, would take the buckets and fill the tank of the toilet up with water so that we could flush it, used it. They wanted to bathe, we had to heat the water.
So that was dramatic, because we lived in a neighborhood where everybody knew them, and they knew everybody, like I could look at the school from where I lived. Which meant they had to make new friends, okay. You go to a new neighborhood and then kids can really be cruel sometime. They were saying to my kids, ‘You and your mother live in that old house with no windows,’ and I would tell them, “Well, just tell them next time they say that “Your mother pays no rent,” “Nobody's gonna pull her out,”’ and that kinda gave them something to fight back with. So of course they had little squabbles with the neighborhood kids, so it was like starting all over again, and my children didn't get use to it and they kept telling me that, ‘I wanna go home,’ you know. They meant back to where we lived before.
So like I said it was hot when we moved in, okay the seasons are changing, September, October, and that October was getting cold, it didn't dawn on us, ‘Wait a minute, there's a furnace, let's see if it works!’ It was an old furnace. We had to buy $50 worth of oil just to see if the thing worked. Then the thing didn't work, so some of the folks in the group had an electric heater, we all piled in one room, 'cause I had the biggest bed, we stayed in one room, we had TV and everything but everybody just piled in one room, and the people that were in the group were like, 'Oh, my God, she's gonna freeze to death with those children!' you know, ‘We can't let this happen!’ And in the city everybody talks to each other, everybody that does anything in the housing talks to… You'll be surprised how many people heard the story.
In the meantime there were some internal conflicts going on because the city had discovered that I lived in the house, okay, so one day, knocking on the door, and those big city dignitaries coming through and getting on my nerves, they said to me, ‘Well, we could lend you enough money to fix this house, because the way you did it, we're not gonna do it.’ I said 'Good, I mean punish me, I mean I can't miss some I never had, right?’ So they walked around and said, ‘This house is not fit to have a human habitation.' The house was clean, it was neat, it was clean. I've been in houses that people live in, that looked worse than the house that I moved in 'cause we had cleaned it up and everything. So they were not happy with me. Then they told me, 'Look, I'm gonna give you 30 days to settle on this house. Well, the settlement we estimated about $500.’ Well, $500! That was all what I lived on for a month!
But, as the wheels of bureaucracy are so slow, it took them about 6 or 7 months to actually get the documents together. So in the meantime there was a housing activist, he was at that time working for MTI, he had planning background, so he said, ‘Mary, I'll tell you what I'll do. I give you a month pay to settle on your house and do the things you need to do, I'll give you that and I'll go to my sister's place and I'll eat, I guess, and I'm living with a friend so he'll help me out for a month.’ Well, that never became necessary, but I loved him from that day for the gesture that he made and in the meantime, within the group itself some interesting animosities were happening. People were beginning to panic, 'Oh, my God, what if the city does this, what if the city does that! And Mary did this and Mary did that!'
I’m the type of person, if I made my mind to do it, I'm just gonna do it.
But I noticed that a lot of my problems were not external, 'cause I could deal with those. Because our timing was great, it was an election year, he couldn't go messing with this woman who is trying to improve the quality of her life, she's a God fearing woman, she struggled her way with her six children, she's a good mother, she's got six children, you know, I mean, you don't want to do that in an election year, you know, it's bad, it's bad for your image, all of that. I said to somebody too bad I wasn't pregnant! [Laughs] So the timing was great! I let them look at me, 'Oh, this poor dumb, poor dumb black woman!’ And I would smile ravishingly at all, and I was just as happy as I could be, and my family was looking at me saying, 'Has she lost her mind?!' Not the children, because they were enjoying it now, you know, 'cause this house had four bedrooms, and an attic and the older boys had their bedroom upstairs, the girls had their bedroom, so everything was nice, and my other son had another bedroom, so everything was really nice and of course the baby, I tried to give him his own bedroom with the other brother, but of course his bed was my bed, 'cause he was so young, but anyway I'm talking about family members that didn't live with us but were related to us. 'We knew she's gonna lose it, only we didn't know when. This is obvious that she's lost it.'
Sometimes, I would lay at night after everything was quiet and the hustle and bustle of the day was over and I would say, ‘Have I lost my mind? Have I, have I, have I bitten off more than I can chew? Have I jumped out of the skillet and into the fire? Am I crazy?' Then I would say to myself, 'No, you're not crazy, you're just a woman who knows what she wants.'
In the meantime here it was November, somebody heard about my dilemma, 'This woman is living in the house with all these children, she doesn't have any water, they can even have a bath!’ Although we could take a bath but we couldn't ran the water into the tub. ‘The toilet doesn't flush; she doesn't have a decent stove!'
Well, somebody, an anonymous donor, gave us $10,000, gave the organization $10,000. We weren't incorporated in so we couldn't receive the money, so we had to have another organization that could act as a conduit to pass the money to us, and that would be our hook for the money. I owned $10,000, and I always tell this, I said, they put new plumbing in, and I always say I knew I was prosperous when I had a toilet that flushed. That was how I measured my prosperity, by flushing the toilet! [Laughs] They put a furnace in, so that meant for the first time we had heat, so we would get down on the floor, and that's where we would sleep 'cause we were just so glad! And I had no heating yet on the second floor, in the bedrooms, but we could come down and lying on the dining room floor and wooden floor on the heat vent and just we didn't have a mind to complain, or anything.
We were at that time in what I call an acquisition position, when they saw that we really gonna do what we said we'll do. People had given money, we had a good accountability, we could track the money, we did what we said we will do and when we did the open house, the house that we told them about 'cause we never did an open house on mine, only the one we told them about, and we invited them, they came, all the big dignitaries of the city came. They found only one thing wrong with the house, and that is the fact that we forgot the hand rail going down the step, which was picky-picky, you know.
After that they began to see that there was a need for organizations like ours, because of the flight, not just white flight but black flight to the suburbs, as the job status increased and the income increased, they moved into the counties because they thought they could run away from the problems of the inner city and as a result, you had all these properties in the city left vacant, and most of these were in the inner-city African-American communities where they were vacant, so the city began to see the wisdom in helping us, rather than fighting us, because we were going to get people that weren't going into the county, that couldn't go into the county but wanted to live into these neighborhoods, that wanted to actually help increase the tax base and fix up those communities and as a result they began to see the wisdom in giving us money. So it's twelve years later now and some 70 houses later and they give us money through a black community run program, to carrying on the stuff inside of the program, so now we are in partnership.
Now they might call me up and say, ‘Mary, we have some houses in such and such a block that we would like you to do it, do something with this block,’ and of course my feeling is, ‘Okay, you want me to do something to help you, what are you gonna do to help me?’ ‘Well, Mary, we'll give you some money, to stabilize properties,’ because some of the properties, one project that we particularly did, was seven units in a row, so we done almost the entire block, and it was like, these properties looked like a bomb fell on them, you could look out, go into the building, and the whole roof was off, just look at the sky, okay! The people that I work with, we can't afford to put that type of money into a building, and have it have a mortgage that's affordable, so what are you gonna give me? ‘I'm gonna give you some money to put a roof on, to stabilize it, to put back the floor.’
Well, of course that catches my ear.
That's how we started it, kind of rough, but I think that if you gonna create change, it should be some challenge to the system. It's good for the system to be challenged, because that's how you improve it, and make it better. I am a firm believer in that, because I work with a low income community and the low income community does not realize the power that it has. It does not realize that if you can bring the low income community together, with one voice, or bring the masses together, as I heard somebody say before, the things that they can achieve, if they could just realize the potential in being one mind, one voice, politicians would listen, the dollars would flow into the community, but until we can address the everyday needs, in other words, I can't hear a thing you saying, often time, because sometime I'm talking to people, because as you notice I like to talk. [Laughs] I tell them about how the communism got such a foothold in Africa, during the '60s and '70s. It wasn't that the African people wanted to be communists, it's just that communism came in and let them eat, they fed them, they clothed them, okay. If you want me to hear what you have to say, you need to feed me first, 'cause if I'm hungry, all I hear is my stomach. You're talking to me and I'm saying, 'Yeah, but when you're gonna feed me?' [Laughs] you know.
So a lot of the problems that I found in the low income community is the fact that there are so many dysfunctional families, you have so many women that head households and I always say it was never meant to be like that, a mother can never take the place of a father. I know I raised my children by myself but I could never be daddy, I could never say to my youngest son, ‘I know how you feel, I know what you are going through,’ I never been a boy. But I could say to my daughters, ‘I know what are you going through, I know what you deal with,’ 'cause I could do that, so I think that's the part of the problem that we have so many…
I believe that if it weren't for black female, I believe that the black family would have disintegrated a long time ago, but because of the strength of the black female and the extended family, you have aunts and grand-mothers that play a role in the family, where is a lot of time the males are not there, so how am I doing so far?
Okay. Tell me about your childhood.
About childhood? Well, what I remember about childhood, okay.
I grew up in a household, and I often tell the story, there were seven of us with mom and dad. My father was a farmer. We lived in the suburbs, not in the inner-city, on a farm, you know? We probably had just about any animal you could think of. We didn't have ostriches and stuff like that, but we had bulls, we had cows, we had horses, mules, goats, chickens, pigs, that's what we had, and of course as a child I thought everybody lived like that. We raised a lot of animal food and meat. My father, as I said, was a farmer, and he use to tell us, because I was born during the Second War, if you had a skill or a trade that could be applied to a war you couldn't be drafted, so he raised food for the government, that was a part of what he did, and later years, I don't quite understand why, he had some problems with alcoholism, so he was there and his presence made a difference, he was a loving father but he just couldn't stay away from the bottle.
My mother in the meantime worked as a maid, she worked for white families in the neighborhood, they knew her and loved her, and as a result I had some of the nicest clothes that we didn't buy, that were all given to us. I was thinking that my mother didn't make a lot of money but we always had the type of house where the neighboring children could always come and find food, and, you know, children draw other children, and we used to play with the children, my mother would always feed them, see, that was just handed down to me, so my mother was kinda like the glue that held the family together.
We lived in a house I remember we didn't have any electricity, but we used the old lamp, you know, we didn't have a 'frigerator but the iceman came by once in a week and delivered a big block of ice, that's how we kept the food from spoiling. No running water, I remember we had an outhouse, where we would bathe, 'cause it was plenty of water around, 'cause my mother would catch, she had bowls outside and she would catch rain water, the rush water, we could bathe in it, and wash in it but we couldn't drink it. The way we got our water is that there was a spring and at that time my older sister, she was old enough to work so she was working, but there were four of us that were at home all the time, two brothers and a sister and myself, so it was our job to keep the supply of water, and the way we would do that was that we would go to the spring and we would get water and we would have a stick between us to carry the bucket, like if the bucket was too heavy maybe one person couldn't carry it, but if you get equalized the weight by one person on the stick and the other person on the other end, then you could carry it. Well, my brothers would have one and my sister and I had one, and that's how we kept drinking water in the house.
I remember we didn't have a TV set screen like this, I remember we did have a TV, and most of it it was like radio. My father was very afraid of lightening, and whenever would start the storm everybody had to sit down and be quiet, you couldn't play, you couldn't do anything, and he was a lot of our amusement, he kept us amused, he played with us.
It wouldn't do my mother any good to make up the beds, 'cause we bounced on them, we jumped, all the bed covers would be everywhere, so finally she got it, ‘Look, let me just roll the bed covers up, until the night, before we go to bed.’ And every night she would bathe us, everyone of us she would bathe us, and lotion us, and put on nice clean night clothing, put us to bed, and before, she put back those things she had to take from the bed 'cause we just bounced, you know. And I tell you we didn't know that we were poor, till somebody told us [Laughs] 'cause we didn't know anything about that, we didn't know. Even though my father had bouts with alcoholism, he was always at play with us, he never bring money 'cause drink it up, but he was there, playing with us, and he was a very intelligent man. My father was a reader of books. He told me that he didn't have a segregated education, 'cause he had to leave school to go to work. He was very young so when it came to maternal affection, he didn't have a lot of that, but, like I say, with us he was really good, he could talk to you and discuss very intelligently because he was a reader of books.
As about race… Well, I didn't know I was different, because that was one thing that we had never discussed it in our house. Yes, I saw people that were in different color than I was, but it never dawned on me that, you know, when you are a child and you are really sheltered and protected, we just lived in a happy world, I mean all the cattle, plenty of food, and we never once sat down and had a discussion that you are different and what that difference was. To this day, we had never had that conversation in that household.
We were just taught you treat everybody right, you know. But I began to realize, I guess when I was about 6 or 7 years old, the fact that, see, because my mother being a maid to white folks I was always in and out the house. They would set me at the table, make me breakfast, give us stuff, so there's no difference, right? My mother never said, ‘Okay, you’re a different skin, you're different, this is your place,’ this is that, we never had that conversation. But I remember around 6 or 7 there was a ball game going on and being a child, we played ball, you know, when you hear a crowd I wanted where the crowd is, you know? And it was something called the donkey ball game, like you hit the ball and the donkey runs, okay, and sometimes they can be more stubborn, sometimes they won't want run, they'll sit down and that's part of the fun. And so I said, ‘Can we go over there?’ and the answer was, ‘No, we can't go, but we can watch from the hill,’ and I said, ‘We can't go over there, but we can watch from the hill?!...’ That was as far as it went.
Then I remember my mother sent me to the store and we lived in this community where everybody knew everybody, and I went in the store, and I'll never forget, we used to call her lady ‘Miss May’, the owner and his wife, his name was Charles, and he was ‘Mister Charles’ and she was ‘Miss May’, so my mother sent me to the store for her, she always give me the list and give me the money and then Miss May would take the list, take the money and any change was due she was giving back to me, she told me, ‘Tell your mother hello.’ Okay, so mammy used to call her May, and she calling my mother Mary, okay, but of course I couldn't call her May, you know, it was always ‘Miss May, yes Ma'm, no Ma'm,’ that's the way it was.
So I'll never forget one of the white ladies, dropped a loaf of bread and I picked it up to give it to her and she wouldn't take it! And Miss May came around and said, ‘Look, give me the bread,’ she put the bread back on the shelf. Well, in my mind I could figure it out that something was wrong, but I couldn't figure what it was, what was wrong, and you know as a child you're seeing all these things, but you can't comprehend exactly what it is, and so it wasn't until I got older.
See, the community I lived in was unique in that black and whites, even though maybe they didn't socialize, but they knew each other when they saw each other, and like it was some neighborhood catastrophy, like a fire or something, you had blacks and whites out fighting the fire, but it was never any mingle. As a child I didn't know these things.
The first year, when integration came, I was in the high-school for the first time. We were only three blacks of which I was one, in a class of 30, 33 students. That's where I really began to notice the difference, not that the teachers treated me differently, but I noticed that some of the children… For one thing, coming from a black school educationally I was not on the same level that they were. It was obvious to me that they had a better education than I had, I mean I had basics, some of the stuff that I learned in the predominantly black elementary school, things that I'm still using today, they were good but we noticed that there was a better, it was not as if I was dumber, but just undereducated. And then I began to realize that there were differences as far, there were cultural differences, okay…
I began to notice, okay, alright, I press my hair out, you perm yours curls up, okay, even music was different, ‘What are you listening to?! Oh, Jesus!’ and I realized this was all cultural differences, but yet in spite of the cultural differences I realized, I used to watch my white classmates in love and crying over the boys in class, ‘Wow, I'm in love too,’ you know, so we realized that there were differences but there were so many similarities. And then as I got older I began to notice that by then the integration movement was like everybody was fighting. My mother was very protective with us, she wouldn't let us go anyway she thought is gonna be a problem, so that's pretty much what my childhood was like but I had never that discussion 'course my father died a couple of years ago, but with my mother, racism I hear, their experiences were much worse than mine.
They told you…
Yeah, they would talk about it later years, they have discussions of things and they will tell you about the dangerous places they couldn't go in, but I never thought about it!! Now that I have the benefit of haven't gone through it, now I can see that there were differences. You know that it was a little tavern and whenever black folks wanted to buy something to drink, they go knock on the window, they couldn't go in front door, you know, and yet I knew of that but I didn't realize what I was seeing, as far as segregation, as far as the community, usually the blacks went in one club and whites went to another club, but there was never a mixture, you know. There was like subtleties, as a child I could only see subtleties and yet as a child I didn't realize what I was seeing until I got older.
Do you talk about it with your children?
My children? Well, I tell you, what I noticed in my boys, the anger, 'cause they see it more. You see, I look at it like this, as a black woman, the reason I'm not afraid to contend with the white male who has the majority of power, is that what can he do to me? He has not a thing he can do to me? You know, I'm just crazy enough to challenge him. Whereas the black man can't always do that, and as far as racism with my daughters, my oldest daughter would confront you if she feels like she's been mistreated, she has walked up in confronting you, telling you about it.
My sons are little more angrier about it, and they talk about things like being treated differently. For instance how maybe a white young boy can have a Pathfinder, a Pathfinder is a fancy jeep here, and you just figure he's got wealthy parents, but if you see a black boy with it, he automatically is a drug dealer. And there are some myths and some stereotypes about the Afro-American community, yes, you have drug dealers, that goes on in the community, but if a boy is watching his mother struggling $1,000 or $600 a month, and he can deliver this bag and get $600 a day, what do you think the boy's gonna do? He's gonna deliver the bag, that's what he's gonna do! When he sees his mother struggling to feed his brothers and sisters, and to clothe him, knowing that she's got to hand the money to the rent man, what do you think he's gonna do? 'Course he's gonna choose to deliver the bag, not because he wants to deliver, but that's the reality of it.
And yes, there's a lot of drug dealing in the African-American community, but you need to understand that the African community doesn't have the power to bring the drugs in. You're looking at people in positions of authority, you’re looking at doctors, you're looking at lawyers, you're looking at your senators, you're looking at your government officials that bring that stuff into the country. The big men behind the drug trade is not your everyday little black drug dealer, that you see on the corner, we, in the African community know that. Yes, they benefit from the drug trade, but they do not have the capability to bring it in.
Like I said, being a black male, I mean you could just look numbers, because if you have a young black boy between the age of 12 and 23, he gonna end up with statistics real quick, so I keep him in, with my son. I have a son that's 17, he'll be 17 in a couple of months, one is 19 year old, just finished school and he's going to college in the fall. The 17 year old, the baby, is spoiled rotten because he's the baby. I keep a close eye on him. ‘I want to know where you go, I want to know who are you going with.’ I even take him, if he goes to the video store maybe to rent a video or tape, I'll take him to the store and take the time to wait on him and bring him back. Why? Because I realized that his life is at stake on the street, and I don't want him on the street. He doesn't have to be doing anything, he can just have a misfortunate being in the wrong place at the right time, 'cause that's the time we live in and so what I try to do is... 'cause I realized that you can’t be a parent in these days living in the city and not be strict wise, okay? There's so much with him. He has a part-time job, from his part-time job I let him keep all his money except a few $. Everybody that lives in my house has to contribute to the pot, and the pot is, ‘You better contribute money to me, I'm the pot, okay?’ [Laughs] So you got to contribute money, I'm the bank and I tell them, ‘Nothing in the bank, nothing comes out of bank, you want to make a loan from the bank, here, [Laughs] put that in the bank, okay,’ that's what I tell them and that's what I buy special things that they like or I use it to pay the bills or maybe birthday time or to buy something special, that's a must in my house that they contribute. And all of the other money, because I know he's getting ready to go back to school, and he's grown a foot size, his pants are grown up, so I know he needs new pants, so as long as I can see what he does with his money, for school, I just let him doing, but as far as the house, he's got video games, he's got a computer, anything to hold his interest and keep him out of the street. He says I'm treating him like a baby which I probably do, but I don't like him out of house, you know, after dark. I don't mind during the day, but when is dark I want him in the house.
So, did I answer your question? And I always talk to him about, because he is like being drawn to Farrakhan. You know who
Farrakhan is? They are kind of drawn to Farrakhan because they have this fascination. I'm trying to draw him to Christianity. [Laughs] They're drawn to Farrakhan, because Farrakhan meets a need. He talks about the injustices, but I have a problem with anything that's founded on hate. I think the world is too diversified for one, for any group of people to think that they can be alienated over here. I always tell him, I say, ‘It's not right, because you can't judge all by the actions of a few,’ and that's the principle I keep trying to push, but Farrakhan taps something that goes to the heart of the black man, he talks about 400 years of slavery, and all of that, and some of the things that he says it's true. It's not what he saying that I'm disagreeing with, it's just something undercurrent, you understand? Now, he's getting ready to do a march on Washington and they are going to, but I'm saying, ‘Why do you want to go? Why do you want to be a part of this?’ Because it meets a need that they had, you know, and as a mother, as an African-American mother, I am very concerned about that, because I think the 1990s, year of 2000 and so on, especially the '90s is the decade of diversity and I don't believe that you can, when you have any group of people that feel like this, superior, and anybody else is inferior, I think you got some problems there, and this man is a powerful man because of the ability to rally people around this cause. And I'm not against Muslim people! I'm not against that, but I'm against anything that underneath the surface is hatred.
Yes, we have to address the mistakes of the past, 400 years of slavery, yes, but we can't go on there, the people that were slave masters years ago, they are dead and gone, what are you gonna to do? Hold a generation in hostage? You know? So I kind of feel that we have to move on. I think yes, we've learn from past, 'cause if we don't learn from the past, we repeat the mistakes, but I think the time we live in is so volatile, the black community is so volatile. Yes, I admit had been injustices, I admit that, I give that, but we can't stay there, we've got to grow and we got to go!
And in the year 2000 if statistics are right, whites would be the minority and people of color will be the majority, so like I said, I have a real problem with that 'cause I'm trying to teach them, you don't have to necessarily agree with the person or with their opinions, but respect their right to be different, you understanding? That's what I'm trying to and I'm not sure how successful I'd been, but they've grown now and they have their own minds, of what they wanna do.
But I'm just troubled when I see that that man smiles, I mean he smiles but very vicious underneath his smile. Or maybe he's had to be like that, I don't know, I don't know his story but that's not what I would like for my sons. But all I can do is hopefully give them the tools to make the right decision, and I say maybe they are speaking the truth and maybe this is just a phase, I hope it's just a phase, that is just something that they grow out of, just be patient long enough and one thing about as we talk, we don't necessarily agree when we talk, when I would say, ‘You have to believe this!’ or ‘You have to do that!’ I just make the statement, and we talk back and forth throughout the dinner table, and we have some great discussions, you know. I think that's necessary.
So now everybody lives in your house or…
No, I have the 19 year old and the 17 year old, the rest are out and have their own families and their own homes, so just those 2, a cat, a gold fish, my 2 sons and me, that's all.
Mary, I want to move on to talking about women and men.
Okay. As I was saying, of course I was very young at the time but I do remember my parents, especially my dad was really instrumental in getting people out to vote, because that's one of the things that they tried to stop African-Americans from doing, was voting because of the power to change government, and a lot of people were actually killed or they disappeared for trying to encourage people to vote. The Klan was active, I don't know if you are familiar with that, but the Klan was very familiar with terrorist tactics. I want you to know: very effective.
Because what they would do was they would come at night, and if you thought your family was in jeopardy or your life, many times they firebombed, they firebombed the houses and people would disappear, and right on this time, I remember civil rights workers, the three from Mississippi that disappeared, and then also, now see, the thing is, people just fleeing, like the Klan was prominent in the South, you heard more about it in the South but they were just as prominent here. And the myth is that the Klan is just anti-black, they’re anti-Catholic, [Laughs] they're anti-Jews, they're anti-gay, you name it, you know, anybody that's not what they think, they would be anti-Gypsy! You know, because that's just how the Klan is. But one thing that they realize, see, because a lot of the members were police officers by day, and judges by day, but they lived two lives and so that was interesting phenomena.
But I think African-Americans have been oppressed for so long, so just they were determined that they just won’t take it anymore and I think that was, when people began not to value their lives 'cause they knew that what risk they were taking then, I just said the underemployment, just the frustration of not being able, sometime when you traveled, I remember one time somebody telling us about they were traveling and they wanted to know where the bathroom was, and because black folks, you couldn't eat, you couldn't have any restroom facilities, somebody asked the proprietors, ‘Where do black folks hang out round here?’ and he pointed to a tree, ‘See, that tree right there, that's where they hang out.’
So that was being done, I mean not me because I was too young, but people of my parents’ age had the dogs put on them because that's the first thing they would do for crowd control, was put the dogs on you, put the horses on you, a lot of times they were beaten. Maryland was a border state with the Confederacy, so sometimes people forget about that, and even today there are places here in Maryland where black people are not received too well, even in the state's capital, in Annapolis. One of my co-workers and I went down to a restaurant in Annapolis, and I couldn't figure out what was wrong with people, because he's a white male and I'm a black woman, but we were just co-workers, we were down there to a meeting of the legislature. But I went in the restaurant and people just, they were just watching me so hard and I couldn't, we couldn't figure out what the problem was because in this town you have inter-racial marriages, is not unusual to see a black woman with a white male or vice versa, but in Annapolis I found out that is taboo. And it was so bad, the waiter that I had waiting on me dropped salad on my feet, he was so nervous, he was nervous! I said, ‘God, poor man, he really has a problem!’ but it was because he was nervous.
And Michael kept smiling at me, he kept saying, 'Oh, you know Maryland is an old border state anyway.' It took me a while to figure it what he was talking about, but right here in the nation's capital, you have prejudice, you do. Institutionalized racism.
One of the major banks here in this area was found guilty of what they call red lining the African-Americans, not making loans in certain neighborhoods, they red lined the black community, okay, and that means that they literally drew a red line around the communities where they said they would not make any loans to those people for homeownership and it was proven in court that they actually purposely did this and showing that you could have African-American applicants that had the same qualifications, but they were turned down more often than white buyers. And as a result they had to pay a lot of money in community reinvestment, they had to give a lot of money back to the community because it was a proven fact that, see, African-Americans were good enough to put their money in their banks, but they weren't good enough for you to loan them any money to buy homes and things like that.
There was a problem with real estate, a lot of real estate today they still subtly do it, where they stir you, it's against the law, rights violation, to do that, and they can be sued for that, to stir you to certain neighborhoods. For instance if you want to buy a house and say, 'Oh, what if I want to buy a house in X, Y, Z neighborhood,’ for them to tell you, ‘That's an African-American community,’ you understand? They have by law not to do that, but they had done it in the past, so they still do things the subtle way. Racism is not as blatant as it was 30 or 40 years ago, but don't fool yourself, it still exists! still exists!
I will tell you this, I will tell you that in America, I'm not saying everybody in jail is innocent, I wouldn't dare to say that, but I will say this, that there's a disproportion in the amount of blacks in jail. For instance, if they were to murder a white, they might get life, whereas if they'd murderer a black they might get 7-8 years. Or you could be white and be sentenced for the same crime and yet you might get community service, and I might get sentenced to jail, and see these are things that sometimes anger the black community, as I said, not everybody in jail is innocent, I wouldn't be so foolish as to say that, but there has been a difference in the sentencing process and the justice system, okay, there's definitely and nobody can say that that's not true, so…
You have friends who have kids in jail?
Let me think, in jail, do I have any friends with children in jail? Yeah, acquaintances. Most of them are in jail for things like theft, either they stole something, because they're drug addicts, or what else, what else are they in jail for? Most of them are not violent things, but drug dealing, usually drug dealing or theft, usually nothing big like armed robbery or murder, stuff like that, I don't know anybody like that, but it's something with the distribution of drugs or they stole something, to get the money to buy the drugs, usually it's that, that's usually the problem, so I tell you most of the children that go to jail, like I said they get mixed up with the drugs, because of the big bucks that they can make from it and the fast life.
I mean, why work if you [Laughs] stand on a corner a few hours a night and make money? It's not something that we're proud about, to talk about, because we know that, you're all ready black that's one strike, society, to be poor is another strike, to be undereducated or uneducated is another strike, and then to have a record your chances of unemployment are almost mute, you know, so the majority of the people try to instill the right values in their children but it's like we're up against a losing battle because there's peer pressure, there's so many things against us. You look at life, for instance we cannot tell our children nowadays about things that it took to make me happy as a child, don't suit them anymore, you know.
To them is old fashioned values, you know, it's old fashioned values, like they told me, ‘You're idealist,’ if I say to them, ‘Look, never mind that the boy drives in a $3,000 car and you're catching the bus,’ they don't want to hear that, you know, ‘Well, why can't I have a car too? How can he get the car?!’ ‘You just too honest and, you understand all those old fashioned values of honest work, you know.’ Young people don't want to hear that, they don't want to hear.
Well, you know, the thing is the majority of them, when the children into drugs and they know, that eventually is just a matter of time before the police raids the house, most of the time they put them out, they say, ‘Look, stop this, you can't do this in my house, this is not acceptable conduct, you have to go!’ Well, when they're pulling down that kind of money they can afford to go, you know, and being a parent it hurts your heart you have to put the child on the street, but we call it tough love, you know, I mean even he go ahead after you've taught him right, it just comes a time when you just let them go, you can't make him do the right thing, you can't make him do the right thing, so it comes a point in time when you have to let him go. Of course you have some family members that believe no matter what they do it's okay, but we know that that's not it, see, because I'm the type of mother I believe in old fashioned values, and whenever you think you can’t live by my rules you just have to go, you don't have to fall out, [Laughs] you can live on peaceable terms, you know, it's just, ‘Good-bye Mother, I can't live on your terms,’ that's all, you know, that's all you have to say. But you have to, follow my rules to live in my house. You may not like it, but that's how it is, you know, so…
Now, Mary, tell me how was your life, you know, how you married, how you had the children…
Okay, let me see, let me think back. Okay I was married at the age of 16. I became pregnant at 14. I don't know, I kind of took a look at my husband and totally lost my mind, I looked at him at 12, at 12, but see he was 17. My body developed early so I didn't look like I was a 12 year old or 14, I looked much older, and I guess by him being a young man at the time hormones running wild he just [Laughs] didn't question it as closely about my age, and my parents didn't know about it, because I went to baby-sit for my sister in town. I had an older sister that had a family, she took me for the summer to baby-sit and so he asked me out. First I said, ‘Nooo,’ 'cause I knew some things about relationships, but there were some things I didn't know, I was green as grass, as they say…
Your parents didn't talk about it with you?
Oh, we talked about life in general, but you know it's a difference in talking about it, and actually doing it. You know what I mean? Like I said, my dad had books around the house, so I had my books in the head somewhere. I read true stories, true confessions, books that deal with relationships, detective stories, you know, when they solve some major cases and stuff like that, whatever you have around restrooms, shoot him, bang-bang, you know, a good mystery, I read that and of course young girls like romance, romance is romance, I don't care what color it is, [Laughs] you know.
The thing was my mother was like a modest when it came to sex and stuff like that, she tell me about sex, you know, and I'm a grand-mother, and she's a great-great-mother, but we not had that discussion. However my father was the one that did all the talking, my mother no, you just didn't talk, so you just didn't talk, you know, like this son is gonna have a baby and what is that on her dress, oh! no, you just didn't.
They told you to mind your own business and stay in your place, that's what they told you, you know, that's what they told you, [Laughs] ‘Stay in your place, that's not your business! You're too fresh.’ This is what they told you, and so you didn't have any answers anyway, you know, so, [Laughs] why bother talking.
By that time I was going through changes, I had my period at 10, I was 10 years old when I had my period.
When I saw my husband, he wasn't my husband then, he was minding his own business, I actually I saw him and I said all of my teaching about you don't let boys touching you and hurt me and love and all that they have in books there was something about that when I saw him tall, old, he was working at his car across the street, and when I’d come to baby-sit I heard about these two twin brothers, that his brother so cute, nobody mentioned him, but when I saw him, you know, my interest was not in his brother, it was something about him, and I can't explain it.
I was like the new girl on the block so we started speaking, and I knew he could drive and stuff like that, I knew he was older. Something about girls, when you're a 12 year girl you don't want a 12 year boy! You understand what I'm saying? If you 13 you don't want 13 year old boy. So I thought he was charming, that I was attracted to him. My life was not the same, I can't explain it to this day, don't ask me to explain it 'cause I can't do it. So anyway he asked me to go with him and I told him yeah, I would go out with him, and first couple of times nothing happened but you kind of knew something was gonna happen, but nothing happened, so anyway to make a long short I became pregnant at 14, losing my virginity in a car, when I was 14, and I said to myself after the experience, 'This what it's all about?!' you know, at 14, so disappointed and he was happy. [Laughs] He was happy and I was like, ‘Man, is that all of this? What's this big deal people make about sex?’ Well, he didn't know.
Anyway, I ended up pregnant with my first son, at 14 and I said to myself, ‘Oh, my God!’ My mother had told us, one thing she did tell us, ‘I don't believe in abortion, I will not help you destroy babies, don't even ask me!' She said, 'Look, if you have to get rid of the baby, go ahead, 'cause I'm not gonna help you do anything to get rid of it.’ Because we know in the black community like any other community ways of getting rid of babies if you just don't want it, but my mother that was not her way, ‘You get pregnant with it, you have them,’ okay, that's what she told us. So I got pregnant and I was going to school and I don't forget I was in 10th grade, and I knew I was pregnant because my cycle was like clockwork, and, ‘Oh, no! I don't want tell anybody that I'm pregnant.’ Well, I started to sleep, you know, natural symptoms, sleeping, eating, oh, my God! It wasn't hard to tell my mother, but the hard part was to tell my dad, so I couldn't bring myself to tell him. And my mother told him one day, 'cause I was at school because I wasn’t showing and nobody knew it, so my mother told him one day, while I was gone to school, so he called my husband, and said, ‘What are your intentions with regards to my daughter? She's pregnant.’ And my husband, ‘Well, we gonna get married.’ ‘She's not ready to get married 'cause she got to be 16 and parents have to sign, the male has to be 21, must have the parental signature, to marry the girl has to be at least 16, but alright.’ My father was one of those old fashioned, he believed in shot gun weddings, I don't if you know that, shot gun wedding? Shot gun on the boy, make him to say, 'I do.' Well, my father was from that age, this is what he said, he said, ‘Look, you will have to deal with this.’
It was just too poor for my family to deal with the baby, let alone me, so eventually, my husband got himself an apartment and I moved in with him, so we lived together and my first son my husband took over all his care, he literarily took him from my arms at the hospital and did his diapers, did his laundry, and there's a bond between my oldest son and my husband even today, I mean I was just the laundry woman, I by accident gave birth to him but that was as far as it was with his father. When he needed a diaper change or he needed to be fed, then it was my son, but the rest of it he belongs to his father, you know.
Then I found myself pregnant not too long after that with my second son which is Donald. Somebody said to me, ‘Well, how did you feel getting pregnant so soon?' It was so soon I didn't get a chance to feel nothing! [Laughs] So a couple of years later I had Dora. I was at home all the time with the kids and my husband worked.
Money was a problem, but you know, my parents’ attitude, ‘Well, you made your bed hard, you lay in it,’ my father! ‘Jee, yeah, I made my bed hard but you could help make it a little easier if you help me out of it financially,’ but they didn't do that in that day, they felt like, ‘Jee, when you marry, you got a husband, a home for you, you live whatever he provides for you is what you live on.’ So me and my father use to have this constant battle, ‘Yes, I made my bed hard, I admit it! I made a mistake!’ I never regretted my husband ‘cause, like I said, I loved him from the moment I laid eyes on him! They said, ‘Did you fall in love at 12?’ I don't believe, I don't believe in that and I don't agree with that ‘cause like I say today I can't even explain what happened! I was a sober-minded young woman, you know? Then I meet him and lose my mind! You know, [Laughs], so I don't really know what happened, but all the time my husband made enough money to pay the rent and feed us and meet the basic needs that we had and I loved him and he loved me and we were just happy, you know? We were poor, but we didn't know how poor were till people started telling us. [Laughs], and then we realized it takes time to accumulate things, jee.
Then I had my third baby, my daughter, and she was the first girl so she was spoiled rotten. In the meantime our relationship had begun to suffer. Because my husband had some childhood difficulties, like he raised his brothers and sisters while his mother worked, being the oldest child when I used to see him, he was, I didn't realize, he was acting as mom and dad for his brothers and sisters. He never really had a childhood, because he always had a lot of responsibility, when you have the eldest child and there was no father at home, because his mother and father were separated too, so he took a lot of responsibility. His mother worked for the family and when he should have been a playing child he had to be grown up, because he had the responsibility of other brothers and sisters, so when he got married then he wanted to play! after he had children.
My mother said, ‘You're much older than your years. You always knew what you wanted to do.’ And so instead of having 3 children I had 4, including him. When other girls were going to school prom I had 3 children! So that made me feel kind of bad. ‘Why I gave up my childhood?! That's what I did.’ 14, what do you know about life?! I really was a baby with a baby. I was away from my mother, and I've got this little thing that screams, yells, wets the diaper, and have the sleep routine messed up, and all of sudden I got to know what to do with it. He wouldn't lay down. I had to cook with him in one arm, and go to the bathroom with it, 'cause he'd scream when I got out of his sight. So when the second son came along, the only time I really picked him up was to feed him, dry, bathe him, play with him a few minutes, and then back down, but that first son, we made all the mistakes with that first son, 'cause we didn't really… you know, parenting is like job training. [Laughs] You learn that okay, what kind of cry is this? You learn, okay this is a distress cry, this is a spoiled cry, like 'Pick me up! Please, I want some attention.' There's nobody to help you decide for all of that, you got to know, and in the mean time I was growing up, as the children were growing, I was growing up too.


Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being one of them, I’d be grateful.

New York,
July 29 2013 

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