I ran into a woman Sunday at Broadmeadow United Methodist Church who remembered that my mother used to sell Avon. Apparently, Mama had gone to her family's house in Neshoba County and took me along. Somehow, she remembered.
I always went along when Mama went door to door trying to sell cologne and lipstick to white, black and Choctaw residents of the county. I had to: She couldn't read the forms herself or fill them in. So she'd pretend that she was "letting" me do it so she could make money beyond her seamstress job or the meager disability pay she got when she finally got too worn down to work.
My mother couldn't read to me. Nor could she write a note to my teacher, although she signed my report cards. (She memorized how to write a few names by writing them over and over again.) She told me that her daddy hadn't believed girls should go to school, so he kept her home to cook and work in the fields.
When I was growing up, she didn't go to PTA meetings (I don't actually remember any at Neshoba Central), even though she always showed up to cheer for me when I marched with the band at halftime. She worked long days in a factory, sewing and then later ironing pants just to keep food on the table, and did odd jobs like selling Avon. There wasn't always enough: I remember us "rolling nickels" one year to buy my Easter basket, and I'll never forgive myself for losing the class ring she and I saved so long to buy.
We received various forms of public assistance over the course of my childhood and college days. I got Social Security payments after my (real) daddy died. By the time I went to college (at Mississippi State on a Stennis scholarship and federal grants), she was getting food stamps and living in a small trailer. We had given up our house after she finally left my stepdad due to violent episodes associated with his drinking--although I'd worked 40 hours a week at Pasquale's during my 10th-grade year to try to help keep up the house note and the car payment. I still cringe when I think of scrubbing pizza pans late on school nights.
My mother had severe challenges beyond her illiteracy. Breast cancer cost her the muscles under one arm and, later, she died from heart disease. She never had good medical care, although she worked damn hard for many years. She did get whatever public assistance she could get her hands on, though, mainly so I could "be something" some day, as she would put it. And although she couldn't teach me many things herself, she urged me to learn however I could. She even bought me a set of encyclopedias one year on a payment plan and told me to "read 'em."
My mother also had a bad habit of falling in love with men who had problems (and limited education); the pickings were thin for illiterate women in Neshoba County. I loved both my daddies, but they put her, and often us, through hell. And they would spend the money she, and sometimes I, worked so hard for on gambling or something we didn't need.
None of my parents had great parenting skills. Indeed, they probably never heard the word "parenting." They all grew up among poor people who worked in the fields; I was one of those toddlers (like Rick Bragg wrote about) whose mother's day care meant me climbing on her cotton sack when I got tired of following her through my uncle's field.
I tell you all this not to make anyone feel sorry for me or my family. Honestly, we had plenty compared to many others around us, and my mama had a spirit you can't buy. And I'm proud of my past; it makes me who I am, inspires my writing, and it has helped instill empathy for other people.
No, I'm sharing these details now because I'm sick and tired of hearing people bash poor parents and single mothers who don't have what they have. I'm tired of hearing people say, "where are the parents?" when the parent(s) might need as much, if not more help than the children. The parents may be exhausted, or sick or plain uneducated about what their kids need to succeed.
I survived my mother's challenges due to her intense love for me and her willingness to beg or borrow to meet my needs (and maybe she stole to feed me now and then, but I doubt it). I also survived because there was a larger community of people who cared what happened to me and others like me. There was a 5th-grade teacher in Columbus, Ga., (where we lived for a minute) who encouraged me to read "Little Women" (life-changing for me). There were teachers at Neshoba Central like Mrs. Salter (yes, Sid's mom) and Mrs. Hodges who mentored and encouraged me to think, write, challenge and believe in myself (and slipped me lunch money now and then). There was a funky 4-H leader in her 20s (and unmarried!) who made me want to grow up and be an independent woman and wear cool clothes and have a lot of beaus.
Blaming parents for problems facing our younger generations is horrifying and ludicrous and shortsighted. Blaming parents for being poor is plain obscene.
We've had a lot of talk on our website (still unfolding) about a faulty chart a local newspaper publisher sent around, claiming to prove that poor people are better off getting public assistance than working. I can guarantee you that that successful publisher probably didn't buy his school clothes on layaway, or watch a prideful mother decide to sign up for food stamps or cash in empty bottles to buy school supplies.
We live in a country where not only is the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us widening astronomically, but where jeering contempt for people not born into wealth is off the charts. The same people who game the government to help their business and industries, or avoid taxes, are sending vicious e-mails turning the needy into hustlers who jump out of bed every morning thrilled to be on welfare and unable to give their kids what they want and need.
This is unconscionable. Our citizens--and especially those who descended from the unsung sharecroppers, slaves, seamstresses and farmers of our state and nation--deserve a safety net. They deserve just as many opportunities as a guy who gets into Harvard or Yale because his daddy went there first.
They also deserve basic human respect. Think twice before you desecrate them.
Judge not, lest ye be judged, friends.
I don't think blaming parents is "ludicrous" or "shortsighted". Blaming parents who clearly don't have the tools or the means IS. But as a PARENT, the buck stops with me and my bride in our home. I don't profess to be the greatest parent but I accept responsibility AND blame where necessary because it's what we as adults should do. I see plenty of parents my age and younger who Have the means and who I know came from good homes(because I grew up with them) who need to be blamed.
When there are problems with todays youth the blame cannot be placed solely on them but it does a disservice to NOT point the finger at those who CAN and don't.
Blaming those who however need help IS wrong. And those parents should have something, somewhere put in place to help them LEARN what it means to parent kids and HELP getting in a position to better themselves via school or job, so they can do better by raising their kids.
"No, I'm sharing these details now because I'm sick and tired of hearing people bash poor parents and single mothers who don't have what they have........... I'm tired of hearing people say, "where are the parents?"................ when the parent(s) might need as much, if not more help than the children.............. The parents may be exhausted, or sick or plain uneducated about what their kids need to succeed.................."
First and formost, its refreshing to see that comment from your article.
I think a while back, someone on here wrote an article about the issues with the kids in JPS, I don't know if it was you Ladd, 'kaze or Todd - but one my comments, was the same thing you voiced in your article. It amazed me that no one even considered those facts you pointed out as well?
Now that I look back at my youth, my mom was like yours Ladd - always looking for love, in all honesty - I love her to death, but she's been married 4 times and it was frustrating, because I always felt the focus should be on me and my siblings?
Now that I am 35 years old and working, its hard out there - out here! I've worked at quite a few places and with many different kinds of people, whether it was their ethnic background, education level, where they grew up, religious views, views towards peoples sexuality, political views, social skills, mental stability, their financial stability/responsibility - take all those factors and then mix in the responsibility of parenthood!? It boggles the mind?
How does a child come from a history of molestation, but does not turn out to be a child molester themselves?
How does a child grow up in a home full of hate and anger, possibly a feeling of superiority or inferiority, towards a particular group of people - but yet, does not turn out to be a bigot themselves?
How does a child come from a home of alcoholism and physical abuse, but does not turn out to be abusers themselves?
There are so many factors that goes into the growth of a human being?
I think a lot of people make the assumption, that just because someone is a parent or becomes a parent, some sort of magical maturity, intellect and intelligence kicks in and they KNOW to teach their children whats right and pure? I think we need to check that at the door and start focusing on what's really affecting parenthood today.
I am glad you did this article and I hope people take the time to read it and when they do, I hope they take into consideration how all this plays into the efficiency of our community here in Jackson and our country.
'kaze I am glad you realize the responsibility of parenthood, because a lot of people don't have that kind of understanding
- Duan C.
The problem, Kaze, isn't with your view. You're not the target of this column. It's with all the people out there who don't want to do anything to help people in need get a leg up and then want to solely blame the parents when their kid does something. That is way too simplistic, and it is often used in a racist way.
And pointing fingers NEVER helps. Pointing the way, however, can.
Thanks for this article, Ladd. It is a personal testimony of the experiences of children who grow up in dysfuntional environments; however, many develop methods of functional skills that allows them to become proud and contributing adults. This is your recorded legacy. The common thread that surfaced for me while reading your article was the fact that your Mom loved you.
I think that this is the ingredient (LOVE) that is missing in so many of our children's lives. If there is a person who esteems them and they know that a parent/caregiver has limited skills, but, is able to encourage them, these are the kids who usually succeed.
I'm sure that you can stand tall and feel proud of the days you spent in the different communities with your mother selling Avon products and you "filling out the forms." Your level of understanding was remarkable and it has made you an EXTRAORDINARY WOMAN!
Thank you Donna for one of your best articles. It is from the heart and from personal experience, thus, it is with passion.
I shared the dysfunction you experienced growing up in Neshoba County. While those were some hellish years they produced in me a resilience that has served me well as an adult. Congratulations to a Rocket from the class of 1979!
Hey Jim, so great to have you here! Cheers, old friend. Go, Rockets!
And thank you for the kind words, of course. ;-)
Thank you. Succesful adults come from parents who love them and believe in them, regardless of income, privilege, or background.