Snakes in the Grass

This image is similar to the
Virgin Mary grotto image that
brought me so much peace as a child at
Cristo Rey Church.

Since the day in the first grade that I had experienced the paternal side of my family tree and their terrible judgment in child rearing, I inevitably developed those feelings of wanting to be detached from that first generation of Westindians. The cruel beatings my father had unmercifully rained on me was just an introduction to feeling unprotected. My parents’ divorce had led to such treatment I reasoned and had triggered the crudity of the beatings my Aunt Gwendolyn encouraged my father to dole out to me.

For the almost two years we spent home before entering school I had tried to find some kind of sympathy in my father, but the behavior of the adults surrounding us at the time was something I had never understood. My father’s behavior and the beatings with the shoemaker’s rawhide strap completely baffled me such that it would remain in my memory all of my life- a mystery. Until I ran into a similar form of inhumanity and a way to control people decades later when I studied black slavery at the University.

Such memories of those brutal beatings I remembered experiencing weren’t the first time my father would use such a method of “disciplining” me. I even became detached from my grandmother for a while, as I secretly accused her of not having the fortitude to stop such abusive mistreatment. Memories of the blows on my back with a cord from an electric iron that had caused me to bleed from my back and neck for me would never be erased.

This brutish behavior of an adult man much larger than me, who seemed to derive pleasure from scarring my back and legs, marked me tremendously. Even today when my hands casually travel to my forehead I can still feel the now faint scar left by an ancient wound from a furious father’s shot with a plate. To this day I actively support all programs, police related or otherwise, dealing with the prevention of child abuse.

In fact, by this time I had, as an individual, developed a callous feeling of detachment from those people who had been forced on me as guardians. My thoughts then turned to religion, a religion my people at home never talked about and of which I remembered knowing little or nothing about until the 1945 school year.

That year at school the Religion Teacher began imparting catechism classes, initiating me in my more serious or formal beginnings in religion. My excursions over to the Virgin Mary’s grotto in the back of Cristo Rey Church in the exclusive Bella Vista district had not been far from school and I had always felt welcomed there.

Right after multiple bouts with confusion and feelings of being hated and maltreated, however, I noticed my grandmother started taking my sister and me to different churches at night. These were our first family outings, as such, and not surprisingly we kids seemed to enjoy them.

The feelings of being detached, however, even from my paternal grandmother had started that very first night when we attended the visiting preacher’s lecture I described before. The white American preacher might have been from the Canal Zone but I was sure that he was from the United States and I observed that the congregation was mostly made up of Westindian women.

I remember thinking back to Grandfather Seymour and how he would have sympathized with me in my feeling that I was sitting with the enemy. This was particularly evident to me since I had overheard my grandmother and my aunts openly referring to us, her own grandchildren, as “the snakes in the grass,” which to me signified “a lurking enemy.”

The visits to these churches, however, had their beneficial effects, especially on me. They introduced me to the loving kindness of the Christ spoken about in the Holy Scriptures.

This story continues.

2 responses to “Snakes in the Grass

  1. Kyle and Svet Keeton

    My Grandma always said that every cloud has a silver lining.

    Even that dark cloud that you resided in, had a spark of light in the church.

    She use to say that the silver lining did not make things OK. It just made things bearable in life!

    Took me a lot of years to understand my Grandma was pretty smart lady…


  2. Dear Kyle and Svet,

    It is always good to hear from you.

    I, as you will notice during your readings, was very close to my “Toot’s” as I lovingly and playfully refer to my grandmother. However, I always hoped that she woud have been the “Matriach” -That “Queen”- that I envisioned for her to become even if only for my sake.

    I had to then accept that she would always be the “spectator” where her children were concerned and that made me very sad. That mendicasy for their love and attitude in her that I percieved even at a young age made me discard my objections and try to live with her as she was.

    Always glad to have your comments.