The Birthing

In my mind, at least, there seems to be some mystery surrounding my birth. I was told that I was an “un-planned birth.” This seems odd considering the birth control methods of the day; the early 1950’s. Were there planned births then?  I was also told, by my mother, that while she labored with me, my father was out buying another woman a fur coat. This seems oddly cruel. I was told that I was born premature, with weak lungs, allergies and a myrid of auto- immune problems. I had A negative blood which was problematic since both of my parents were positive. Back then, conventional medical wisdom declared this an impossibility. My older brother and sister also had negative blood types, and my mother (to this day) says that she was a nineteen-year-old virgin when she married my father. This was the generation where secrets were buried within crypts.

 Harold B Kelly,  as a physician,  set about to keep me alive. My nursery was set-up like a neonatal unit. I was fed glucose water I.V. I was allergic to everything on the planet-including milk. I was born during the time when it was extremely unfashionable to breastfeed. I was not given the benefit of the immunity -laden properties now attributed to breast milk. I could only drink whey. I was told that I lived in an oxygen tent for two years.When I say, “I was told,” it is because I have no memory prior to kindergarden. This alone has been a question on the lips of therapists and psychiatrists alike. They quickly make a notation and attribute my lack of memory to some early trauma. If that is the case, and I cannot remember such a trauma, then there is a great possibility of what can be described as a “shattered-soul” For all intensive purposes, this is just a theory that is one of many out there describing such traumatized persons. I believe, however, that I lay between life and death through my early years, and that I might have been sedated at some point because of the many invasive procedures used to keep me alive.

My sister Rhonda, became the story teller in my life. She interpreted events to me so that I could understand.  She was and still is highly itelligent and imaginative. She told me that my mother was a “white witch” and that someone had stolen our real mother. I was told to keep looking for our real mother under the beds. I grew up neither close to my mother or my father. My siblings were my only companions and my confessors of choice. When I was one, my mother, brother, sister and I sailed on the Queen Mary to meet my father in France. He was a captain stationed in Fontainbleau, France. We lived in a chateau that had formerly  belonged to some wealthy Jewish family that had been taken by the Nazis.

 This chateau became the focal point of many nightmares for me. We had two French maids; Antoinette and Louisiette. I was told by my sister that we were locked in the cellar when our parents were vacationing in Europe by the maids as they entertained their lovers. I can recall recurrent nightmares regarding fears of a black rat. Now, my sister tells me that there were only spiders in the cellar. My mother denies any dangerous or traumatic capability within an old cellar with a forlorn past. Rhonda was always the trouble -maker. She took a wooden hanger and dropped it down from the top of the winding staircase onto the head of one of the maids. My parents slowed down on their travelling after that. French was my first language since I did not leave France until the age of three. To this day, French will roll off of my lips as I stand at counters paying for groceries or services. It becomes a “hoot” when I have been given some wine. My favorite French recitation is about “Blue-beard” and his many wives. Due to frequent trips to France and studying in Montpellier during a summer session, I have a Southern twang to my French, certainly not what is considered cultured, spoken in Northern provinces like Paris.

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Not Far From The Tree

My mother, Norma, was an exceptional beauty. Class oozed from her pores like sweat. Sibling rivalry was the household problem. She was her father’s pet, and her brother was her mother’s favorite. There was no give and take. No profile of the psychological damage that this could cause.  Back then, the rules were:”..spare the rod and spoil the child…” All the way, bordering on abuse by today’s standards.

My mother graduated from North Carolina State University and was qualified to teach. Her brother suffered failed businesses until he finally found his niche in the family funeral business. My mother married a physician from a prominent, South Carolinian family. All I know about Harold B.’s family is that out of seven living children, three were physicians, one  a nurse and the others were educators. Harold B’s mother, Catherine, had been  a school teacher and his father, Peter, was among the first black postal workers, according to what we have been told. 

Their family home was in the middle of an all-white Georgetown, South Carolina neighborhood. This came about because two slave children took care of their aging masters until their deaths and were freed as well as bequeathed this property. My father also tells of his great-grandfather on his paternal side, who jumped off of a slave ship outside of St. Maartin. He was never a slave. He became known as Pierre Calais. I was told that he was a trapper. Now, Peter Kelly, he migrated to New Orleans where he got together with some mixed-race gypsy-type woman.  The Kelly name remains prominent until this day.

When my father met my mother he was intoxicated and followed her home. He was convinced that she was the only woman for him.  She was a white as you can get without being white and he had some issues. Despite family objections, my mother married my father.  She traded stature in a small place for luxury in a larger place. She was always a social butterfly and gave the greatest parties wherever she lived. She had a moral core, where my father had none. He could be described as amoral.  He showered her with material things as he drank and womanized his way through the years.

I have memories of going with my mother in the car to find  my father at whore houses and mistress’s apartments. It was quite traumatic. My mother felt unloved, but stayed because she knew that my father would forsake us if she left.  My mother had quite a temper and she threw him down the stairs while he was drunk, and he never knew why he felt so bad. As he sat drunken in his recliner, she took her high-heeled shoe and pummeled him everywhere. He still did not know why he felt so bad. He would get drunk to the point that, while fishing in Canada, he burned a cigarette hole down to his viscera before he was aware of a problem. When he tried to hit my mother, she responded with a butcher knive that assailed his surgeon hands and required emergency- room repair. He told ER that he had tried to separate frozen fish and cut himself. 

A couple of his siblings died early from alcohol-releated diseases.  He used to give himself  B-12 injections reguarly just so that he could continue to drink. I understand that he had other addictions that only a physian could easily access. It is my belief that he was bipolar and compelled to act out with promiscuity and alcohol, as well as to behave in a grandiose manner. He talked about his greatness to anyone who would listen. What I do understand is that he was a brilliant gynecologist, who lectured in Russia. He was an obstetrican who later in life traded his life-brearing hands into the more profitable life-taking hands of a successful, boycotted abortionist.

Legacy: Fame or Infamy?

Plummer was a good man.  He was kind to all and was a friend to the sharecropper. He built a church out of his own pocket. They even named the town’s project development after him.  Laura was as mean as Plummer was kind.  As she grew older, she had the classic “witch look” replete with a  hooked nose, facial warts with hairs growing out of them and teeny-tiny, little black shoes. It left us all looking for the whereabouts of Dorothy and Toto.  

Plummer and Laura lived in a house upon a hill in Nashville, North Carolina. Also upon that hill was Richardson’s Funeral Home, the house that Aunt Irene lived in, and the house that my grandfather Plummer Benjamin lived in with his wife, Alice Cooper. My grandfather, P.B as he was affectionately known, owned the funeral home. Aunt Irene was its bookkeeper and Alice Cooper was a schoolteacher who gave birth to my mother, Norma and my uncle P.A.  It is said of my grandfather that he was a mathmatical genius. He chose to use his gift in the art of playing cards. 

My great-grandfather, Plummer Alston was deceased by the time of my birth, but how I remember Laura. We called her Mammy. At the ripe age of ninety-six, she asked my cousin and I to go “fetch” the switches that were to thrash our bottoms. The property that was accumulated by Plummer and Laura was divided among the thirteen children and many of them squandered their inheritances , with exception of my grandfather who passed his funeral home on to his son PA. My uncle P.A. owns a  funeral chain in North Carolina.

The ancestry of my mother’s mother is exciting. . I will tell her tale as it was told to me. She was a descendant of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftsbury, one of the eight Lord Proprietors of North Carolina, so deemed by King Charles II of England. It was his son who found a great love for a slave named Rebecca. By all reports, Rebecca claimed to be a princess captured from the other coast of Africa and she refused to work. She was about to throw herself off of  a cliff when Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper II rescued her and kept her for his mistress. They had thirteen children together and all were given the Cooper surname. There you have it: the white Cooper line, the mixed Cooper line, the white Battle line, the mixed Battle line, and the mixed Richardson line. I grew up always being told that I came from nobility.

 It seems as if the First Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of  Shaftsbury, had found favor with Charles II, and just as easily lost it as he was exiled to the Netherlands when his liberal religious views could not be tolerated by emerging religious zealots. The Coopers held plantations in North Carolina as well as Barbados.

He was credited with bringing  the writ of Habeas Corpus  into the English Parliment which was adopted by England and then ratified by the  United States. His friend was the great philosopher John Locke who assisted him in the formulation of progressive legislation of those times. Sadly, the first Earl of Shaftsbury, died in exile in the Netherlands; a brilliant statesman, and architect of one of our countries most just pieces of legislation.

 Both the Ashley and Cooper Rivers in North Carolina and the Ashley Cooper Waterfalls in South Carolina and Australia were named after Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper. All of his descendants carry his surname. After that there was over three hundred years of lineage that was un-recorded. The last of the mixed Coopers seemed to die at an early age from stroke-related illnesses. Now, there is no one who knows what happened after this great age. I will tell you that my grandmother,  Alice Cooper, had a predilection for fortune-tellers, that she passed on to my mother. Could there have been European exiled gypsies within the gnarled branches  of  our family tree?