In 1927 they lost my birth certificate.
I was born of course, but there was no proving it, or so Mama said. She acted as though it wasn’t a big deal in the least. This resulted in confusion of how old I was for many, many years to come. How was I ever going to prove I was really born in 1927?
My sister Leah was born so close after me that we were considered “Irish twins.” I was the second oldest but Mama ended up with 13 of us, so in hindsight, I’m sure it was easy for her to forget some details.
It never left me though.
The way it felt when I realized what Mama said that day over steaming turnips- and all that she didn’t say. Or maybe she couldn’t. Would I ever know?
One thing was for sure and Mama confirmed it: I was Papas.
I felt confusion and anger swelling in my chest at the thought that he’d taken me from a family or a Mama who could’ve given me a different home. But was that even fair? I had many brothers and sisters and such a wonderful Mama that I just wasn’t sure I’d want to be attached to anyone else. She loved me dearly and had cried for hours when I asked her that question.
It wasn’t brought up for many years after that.
She’d said to me in the middle of a flood of tears, “Lord knows, honey, your Papa wanted you in a good home. He’s your Papa and we are your family.” I could tell by the way she worded it and the overwhelming emotion my question stirred in her, that she wasn’t quite sure what to say. It wasn’t the full truth. I knew deep down I had some of Papa’s features and none of Mama’s.
I wasn’t sure I could live without knowing if this was just the way God made me or if the truth was really different than the way it looked. Maybe I had assumed something that wasn’t really true? I’d heard sometimes kids wouldn’t look anything like their folks but still had the same blood.
I chose to believe that was my lot for many years. Just stuffed it right down and let the question simmer for awhile.
That blood in my veins though? Definitely a rebellion that none of the others had.
Leah and I spent a lot of grown years arguing about who was the oldest, since we were so close together. By the time I was 17 I still didn’t have a birth certificate and I still didn’t look like my Mama. I had a closeness with Leah though that couldn’t be compared. She was my best friend. We did everything together, Leah and I.
We were eventually found out by Mama for going to the creek bed to meet our friends.
“Ain’t no place for young ladies to be meet no mountain folk in the water. No boys ‘specially.” I had a hunch mama knew the Lopps family very well and probably shared some meals with them on occasion. I felt sure she liked their boys as much we did. I’d seen her exchanging baskets with Mrs. Lopp on the only occasion I’d ever seen the woman.
I marveled at how much Eugene held her features. Her beautiful large brown eyes and creamy brown coloring. She had a hardness about her though, as if maybe she’d worked harder and longer than we did to get food on the table. She smiled with Mama and Mama hugged her close. I’m not sure if she ever saw Mrs. Lopp again after that day because it wasn’t long after that when I left home.
I spent that summer making plans to exit the Carver Farm as quickly as possible.
The last 6 years had been hard with many siblings in tow and brow-beating from Papa over farming techniques. I learned how to plant a garden, can numerous vegetables, and finally became skilled at quilting in those years, and I was proud of all I had accomplished.
As time had passed, I’d come to miss the learning environment with Mrs. Hatfield that I had been so fond of. Turns out, I liked learning. Just not about tobacco fields. I often wondered if Mrs. Hatfield missed me and what the next grade would’ve been like.
Many hands were needed for the Craver farm. Being older placed that burden on our shoulders whether we liked it or not. We made our money from selling, curing, and drying tobacco leaves and bartering a moderate portion of our massive vegetable garden. Papa would sometimes sell a cow or a pig but that was on a rare occasion and usually during hard times when the leaves hadn’t given us a good crop.
I spent several years in a row growing my dislike for Papa. I loathed the sight of him coming in late at night drunk and making Mama cry. Sometimes he’d still act that way with us in the mornings and we’d all taken a few rounds from his belt when he felt like we’d misbehaved.
Whether we truly had or not was the question.
All I could think about was breaking free.
Mama made us go to a church on Sundays down in the holler and I’d met the strongest and most handsome boy I’d ever seen there. I didn’t mind going to church even before I met him though. I liked anything where Papa wasn’t around. Papa came sometimes, but most Sunday mornings he slept in, nursing the bottle he’d carried home from the night before.
Andy Hall had kind brown eyes that glanced over my way more than a few times when I’d sing in the choir.
Mama made me get up there but I felt like I was too shy to do it most Sundays. Lucky for me Andy was just as shy as I was, but I caught him staring enough that I’d spend many days and nights thinking about him.
Plucking leaves in the field I’d daydream about what it would be like to be married to Andy. How we’d have a small home on a hill with just 1 or 2 kids and a creek bed close by. He had such a gentle way about him I knew he’d never be like Papa.
This is Part II of a Part V series.
Photo by Josh Felise