Thursday, May 27, 2010

Steve Miller Band - Jet Airliner

Girl from Yorkshire

I was raised in a small village in Yorkshire, England. The main reason my upbringing was different to most was that my mother had had Multiple Sclerosis ever since I could remember. At first this didn't affect me too much, other than mum using a wheelchair when we went out, but as time went on, she depended on my brother and I more and more. Not many 10 year olds can say they can cook a full Sunday roast dinner from scratch hey - interesting note that I can't anymore... go figure!

As a girl, I tended to be asked to help my mum more than my brother. I remember having to come in early from playing to help my mum take a bath or help her to bed. As her condition worsened, we had to help her use the toilet as well. I still had a brilliant childhood - back in those days we could roam the streets and the village 'til the cows came home (literally - it was that kind of village!), playing with friends and so on. Yet there was an underlying responsibility to my mum, and one I didn't often begrudge.

Maybe it was this responsibility, but I didn't get into too much trouble as a youngster. I think I was pretty level headed. Does my dad know about the time my best friend and I stole as much booze from our parents liquor cabinets as possible, mixed it together, drank the lot and ended up at the local car auctions trying to bid on cars. Aged 13? Probably. I learned as an adult there wasn't much my dad missed, whether he let it pass was another story. Of course, I had my fair share of scrapes and arguments with my family, especially when it became somewhat extended at the age of around 12 or 13. My mum and dad had split up and my dad later went on to marry my step-mum, Brenda. Adjusting to a new family was tough on a young teenager, trying to amalgamate two very different (it seemed at the time) sets of rules and become one family was certainly a learning process for all. I remember being very disgruntled that I was expected (so it seemed to me) to do more chores around the house than my step-sister was and she was only a couple of years younger than me. It had the added oddity that my mum, unable to live alone because of her disability, lived with us as well. Although mum and dad were divorced, he looked out for her for the rest of her life. Anyway, we moved into a new house - dad, Brenda, my step-sister Tara and I and my mum lived in a little annex on the side. Other people have commented on how strange it must have been living with my dad, mum and step mum but really it kinda worked!

At 18 I moved away to Leeds to attend University. The best days of our lives they say, and they have a point. I had a blast. Not because of the studying mind, though I did come out with a Bachelors Degree in French and Linguistics. At the Fresher Fair, I discovered a group of people that would steer the next 4 years of my life and take me on adventures from Glasgow, Dublin and Paris and many places in between. This groups was RAG. A group of students who marauded around the country raising money for worthy causes. I became heavily involved even taking a place on the Committee (organizing collecting trips). In the name of charity I stood on street corners with my collecting bucket pretty much every Saturday of the year. In the name of charity I, wearing a ball gown, delivered roses to unsuspecting students in lectures. In the name of charity I dyed my hair bright pink (and many other colours). And in the name of charity I hitch hiked from Leeds to Paris. The friends I made during this time were from all over the country and are still the best friends I have.

After Uni I moved down to a town just outside London with my boyfriend (OK fiancé - not that that lasted long) at the time. Sadly I soon found out that this chap was happy to spend the foreseeable future living at his parents house and sitting around drinking tea. I needed more so I moved into my own flat in the summer of 1999. I got my first proper job as an Administrator at a college and things were going OK until I realized that every month my overdraft got that little bit bigger. I couldn't afford to live on my own so in January 2000 I made a life changing decision. I moved out of my flat and into a house share. This may not sound like an earth shattering decision but it was in that little house in Croydon that I met the man I would go on to marry, emigrate with and have a gorgeous little boy with.

I met Robert Phillips in that little house. At first he thought I was a prim and proper goody two-shoes and I thought he was a lazy sod who wouldn't help me move my stuff in. Well, we were both wrong and it turned out to be a lot of fun living there. We often went to our local pub to play the quiz machines and once, after the pub closed, randomly took a drive to the seaside! He took a couple of months to get the message but by April 2000 we were an item. Rob works for HMV and in the course of his career climb, we ended up moving all around the country. In the ten years we have been together we have lived in 10 different houses! It also means our music collections are vastly different in that he has some musical taste - and I don't claim to have any!

In the summer of 2002, Rob and I booked a vacation to Canada to stay with our good friends who had emigrated out there a few years earlier. We arrived in Calgary to hot sunshine and we immediately in love with the place. Over the course of the first few days Rob went up in a glider, we had many BBQs and really enjoyed meeting some Canadian people. After a couple of days settling in Barry, Rob and myself drove 3 hours south to the US border to camp in a beautiful park called Waterton. We pitched our tent in a quiet spot outside the townsite and had an enjoyable evening in town. That night Barry and I both woke up needing to pee but couldn't go outside the tent because Barry was convinced there was a bear out there.

This is relevant because the next morning, there was a knock on the tent and the police were outside. My first thought was that the bear had killed someone. But in actual fact, the police were after me! I had to drive into the townsite and call my dad. As soon as I heard that I knew something bad had happened. I quickly got dressed and got into the police car (funny note - I got into the back, the policeman said I could have sat in the front, I wasn't under arrest!) During that journey I convinced myself that my dad's mum has died. As the eldest of my living grandparents, it seemed the obvious reason. So when I finally spoke to my dad (who had been trying for 2 days to track me down) and he said "mum's died" I still thought it was my grandma. We packed up the tent and drove back to Barry's house. When we got there I spoke to my dad again and was asking him if my aunts and uncles from the US would be flying in. He must have been confused for a moment and they the penny dropped and he had to explain to me that it wasn't my grandma who had passed away, it was my mum. Mum was only 52 but the MS beat her in the end. It was a real shock and surprise though and entirely unexpected (though trying to explain that to the travel insurance company was interesting). I was in total shock and remember the others sitting around staring at me. I think I held it together OK and insisted that, since we couldn't get a flight back til the evening, we continued our day and went golfing. We were only in Canada for 3 days! I don't remember too much about the flight home - I do remember Rob giving me his pillow and blanket and letting me eat his meal when I decided I was hungry. I held it together until we got back to Heathrow and laden with luggage and golf clubs, tried to get a cab. The driver refused to take us because we would have had to stop at an ATM. I don't know if he thought we were going to jump out of the cab with 2 suitcases and a set of golf clubs and run away or what but at that point I lost it and started screaming and swearing at him and the unfortunate police officer who stopped to intervene. I then ran off into the terminal. Poor Rob must not have known what to do - stay with the luggage or come after me! It was very hard losing my mum when I was just 25, but there was definitely the blessing that she was no longer suffering with this horrible debilitating disease.

In the Summer of 2003 we went back to Canada and loved it just as much, the idea of moving there had been planted. We continued to move around with Rob's job moving out of London to Slough, Ipwsich, Milton Keynes and in 2004 we were lucky to get to move to the tiny Channel Island of Jersey. It is a beautiful island, only 9 miles by 5 miles, and the first year we really enjoyed island life. The winters were definitely tough with not much to do and by the second year we were both suffering from cabin fever.... the mainland beckoned. And so did Canada still. In August 2005 we submitted our application for permanent residency. We knew it would be a long time coming so we put it to the back of our minds. In 2006 Rob was transferred to Bournemouth. We settled there and took our first (oh the benefits of hindsight) venture into the property market. We bought a lovely 2 bedroom flat about 20 minutes from the sea, I got a job working for an Estate Agents (realtor) specializing in the high end of the market and often got to nose around houses costing up to 10 million pounds. Life was pretty good.

November 2007 was a milestone month. As well as our application for PR, Rob had constantly been in communication with HMV in Canada and in that month, he started having discussions on a possible move. The other key event, and not a happy one, was the sudden death of my grandma (mum's mum) from a heart attack. My granddad had been deteriorating for years following the death of my mum and I think everyone had expected him to go first. I had visited them two weeks before and Grandma had confided in us that she was finding caring for my frail granddad harder and harder. Grandma and granddad had made a pact when they were younger that they would never let the other be put in a nursing home. I sometimes wonder if Grandma's sudden passing was in some way her way of not having to make that inevitable decision. Being present while we broke the news to granddad that she had gone is definitely one of the worst moments of my life. You could literally see the lights go out from his eyes and he visibly sagged. We all thought he would follow her but granddad ended up hanging on, though to a questionable quality of life, for another year. My granddad was definitely one of the biggest heroes of my life. A man from another generation with a level of morals not often seen today. He was a real gentlemen. And to this day if I catch myself saying "me and Steven..." I can hear him correcting me from the heavens...." Steven and I". One of the two biggest heroes of my life - my granddad - now guides me from heaven (egged on by my grandma and mum of course). The other, my dad, still guides me from this Earth and I am honoured and proud to have had both men in my life.

Anyhoo, to back track a while. Rob and I moved to Canada in January 2008 on a work permit with HMV. Although I was devastated at leaving my family behind, especially an ailing granddad, it really has been a great move for us. And a great place to bring up a family. As if to prove that there is not much to d when it is -40C and 2 foot of snow, I became pregnant in February 2008. Much as I loved being pregnant, it didn't love me so much as I turned out to be allergic to my own son. In the latter part of pregnancy I developed PUPPPs rash, an excruciating rash pretty much all over my body. I ended up having to be induced a week early because of this but it turned out Mikey didn't want to come out just yet so after being induced on the Wednesday morning, finally at 3am on Saturday 8 November, Michael Ayrton Phillips arrived into this world by emergency C-section. As much as I wanted it, parenthood blows your head off in a way that you think you'll understand but until you are there - you never will. The sleep deprivation, the worry, the responsibility, the strain on your relationships. But it is all worth it to have this (mostly) happy, gorgeous little boy in our lives. I could write as many words as I already have about my little guy - how he makes me laugh, how he stresses me out, but I think that is a whole other story!

There's not much more to tell. In November 2009 we made a run to the border and officially became residents of Canada. We bought our first house here a few months later. We finally managed to sell the flat in the UK after our tenants stopped paying rent, turned it into a drug den and eventually trashed it. We try not to think about the money we lost on it, it was definitely the biggest mistake we have ever made, but you have to look at the positives. We have our house here and there are many people in the UK who have lost a lot more than we did. Now we can focus on the fact that we can now move forwards with life in Canada without any worrying financial obligations in the UK. We are starting to decorate our house here and make into a real home. We have already had several of those "is this really real" moments when we are out in our large back yard kicking a ball with Mikey or watching him go down his slide or sitting out on our deck looking at our view of the Rocky Mountains. Yes it is real. It is our life. And it is good!

this is really real

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Second Child

Okay, here it goes.....I am the second child between my mother and father. My mother was raised in Selma, Indiana. To this day there are still not other races living there but white people. My dad was born in Tennessee, but lived in Muncie, Indiana when he met my mother. As you know the mixed race thing back then was frowned upon. 

My older full brother died before I was ever born. He was killed by his babysitter. I don't think my mother has ever really gotten over that. My mother did have another child, which is my sister. She is my half sister, but I have grown up with her from the start and never thought of her as anything else than my real sister. My dad has had several other children throughout his life. A couple I still don't know. Two of my dad's other children are my brothers. Justin who is the same age as my sister, grew up with me too. Whenever I came to visit my dad, we were together. Johnathan, my youngest brother, is 17. I knew him when he was a child.

The backdrop for my story begins here.  My mother and dad divorced either after my brother died or when I was a small child. Don't actually know when. My mother joined the military and my dad joined the railroad.

As a small child with a single mother I had a blast! We traveled a lot because of the military, but I didn't mind because my mother was my best friend as a child. We did everything together. I can close my eyes and rememeber those times.

Then my little sister was born. I love her to death and always have, but deep down I blame her for having to share my mother and losing my best friend in my mother. I think I actually had a wonderful childhood, but it seems to me that once my sister was born my life was on the turn of getting worse. It didn't start immediately, but one outside the family could see the change. My mom got busier, I had to help with my sister, and I just didn't have any mom time!

I started acting out the older I got. Started getting in trouble. Stealing change from my family. Even from my sister's piggy bank!...I remember one time, I had been stealing from family so much and getting in trouble, that when my cousin stole five dollars from my Uncle Joe, everyone swore it was me! Even to this day they think it was me! I was there when my cousin did it and he still won't admit it. 

I had a great childhood and teenager years, I just wasn't getting the mom time I wanted and then started to not get the positive attention I needed, so i turned to negative things.  I can remember times when my mother was at every sporting event I had and cheered me on like no tomorrow. Then one day it stopped. Everything stopped. Praising me for good grades, watching me play sports, and going to do things as a family. She was too busy.

Somewhere around this time my dad went to prison for selling drugs. he did two six year stints. From day one of my mother finding out and telling me, her words were always, "You going to grow up just like your dad!" That hurt me to the bone because to me I loved my dad and he always showed me love and attention, so in that aspect I loved him, but also he was in prison! So, not only did she talk about my dad who I loved, but she was saying I was going to go to jail too! My mother loved me with toys and stuff like that when I got older. I knew I was loved, but I needed to see it and hear it by other means than just hardships? Not hearing I love you. You are a good son. I'm proud of you. My mother loved with an iron fist, not abusive, just not loving.

The end result to all of the love my mother stopped showing me was me being a man whore as Debbie would say. I dated two or three girls in high school all the time, looking for someone to love and love me back.

I played all sports in junior high, but in high school our basketball coach didn't like you playing if you played football too. So one of my favorite sports I had to quit to play my best sport, which was football. I played soccer and baseball too, but for some peculiar reason I always seemed to fail a class the first part of baseball season and never played for high school. I think if i had have played my life might have been a little different. Same goes for football. I was one of the best receivers we had during my time of playing for school, but the head coach didn't like me.  In his terms, I was a trouble maker. So I played only defense my junior and senior year. 

A highlight of my high school year was a picture in the Cove paper talking about Cove Soccer Team gets arrested. It actually wasn't all of us, but most of us. We were breaking into houses and cars and taking whatever we wanted. Stupid stuff. None of us needed anything. We always had money and did whatever we wanted, just being stupid teenagers bored to death, so we created our own adventures. Though I truly enjoyed doing it - the excitement of it all.

My best friend, who I feel is a brother to me, has always been there with me. Through the good and the bad. If I was there so was he. We were so close that both of us could walk right into each other's house, go in the fridge and get whatever, or just go to sleep in each other's rooms. We were family. Once in 10th grade we said to each other that one of us was going to go to prison and one of us was going to be successful. happened just like that......

I have been one who has seen his blessings go by and not grab them.  My high school years were a mix of good and bad experiences.  Though even the bad experiences brought me and my friends together. My best friend Chris was like a brother to me. We didn't always do right, but even through the bad we were always there for each other and our families. I love him as much as I love my my own family. 

My Dad was always my role model even though he wasn't there for me. He was in prison....I was a good sports player in school with a not enough drive to reach the upper levels of play to go to college. Wanted to, but had no one to push me towards that dream.  So many things happened in my life to get me where I am right now. 

I went to prison myself. Something I never had to do but made it my destiny. I went to prison for 10 years on a 15 year conviction. I will tell you that prison was a dangerous, yet vast learning experience. I met quite a few men I could and do call my friends, prison gaurds and inmates.

My other best friend,  is a stand up guy and my brother also. I love him as much as I love Chris. He not only kept me going, but kept my relationship with my wife going. He saw what i didn't see. He saw the good when I wanted to see the bad. He saw the future when I only saw the present.

I got involved with a gang in prison and had to do a few things I will always regret. Luckily, I made it out of prison healthy. Scarred emotionally, and mentally, but in one piece.

I can still rememebr the day I got out! It was a very emotionally draining day. I was going to get out and almost at the end of the day they tell me I wasn't going to get out til the next week! You can only imagine what that felt like. It felt like someone had torn my heart out! Thankfully, God, stepped in and made some things happen. I knew then that God had a true plan for me and my family.

It hasn't been all peachy keen for my family with me being home. Not only have my wife and I been through the ringer, but my oldest daughter has had some issues too. Mostly because I haven't ever been a real father to her. I question myself every single day, because I know I want to be, but how? How do you love your children when you can't even love yourself sometimes? 

Thankfully, I have some good Christian friends and a great support group in my family and my friends. I can honestly say that without GOD in my life and in my heart and in the heart of my family and friends I would not be here today. I take one day at a time.

There is nothing better in life than to see your children smile when they see you. To see your wife smile when she sees you. To see your father and mother smile when they see you. 

I am here to tell anyone, that when life gets bad and you want to quit..don't! There is hope. Seek Him and He will be there. Pray and he will listen. Ask and you will receive. People love you no matter how they show it, they do. And for all my family and friends, especially my children, Audreanna and Channah, Daddy loves you to the fullest!

Every day I take a step forward. Sometimes I take two. One day I will be the person everyone espects me to be and I expect to be. I hit rock bottom and slowly but surely have climbed that ladder to success.

Thank you everyone.

Thank you God 

Thank you for reading my story. It is real. It is sad. It is beautiful!

take one day at a time

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I belong to you - Lenny Kravitz (lyrics)

The Sage and The Stork

My “story” is not very different from those of others. I’ve experienced happiness, heartache, and pain throughout my life. Fortunately, I’ve had more happy times and fond memories throughout my 38 years.

I am an only child and have been fortunate to have a large, loving family around me my entire life. My childhood prior to 11 was pretty typical, aside from the fact that my parents always argued in front of me. My father was more of a “buddy” than a father figure, leaving all of the discipline to my mother. My parents divorced when I was 11, the summer before I started sixth grade. My life changed forever at that point.

After the divorce I would see my father occasionally, and I remember him living at a different place at each visit – always living with a friend or girlfriend. When I was in eighth grade, I began asking my mother more and more questions about the divorce and my father. I believe at this time my eyes were merely beginning to open to the situation before me. I came to learn that my father was verbally abusive to my mother from early-on in their marriage constantly belittling and yelling at her. Until this point, my mother never talked negatively about my father to me. The more I learned of his affairs, drug usage, and abuse, the more troubled I became. Shortly after I learned of the “truth” of his behaviors, he called me on my 13th birthday. I told him that I never wanted to speak to him again. These were literally my last words to him.

You can imagine that middle school was quite difficult for me. Not only was I an emotional wreck, but I was an “early developer”. Unfortunately as I developed my figure early, my body also reacted to the hormone surges and I was overweight. I was teased quite a bit by others, primarily girls, which only compounded my emotional issues. I began getting involved in sports in the seventh grade, which helped me to slowly lose weight; however, I was not able to ever be as thin as I wanted to be. It took me years to realize that I will never be a size 6, merely due to the fact that I have a large frame.

I have always been a very outgoing, friendly personality, and for this reason, I have always had a lot of friends. Most of my friends were always older than me in high school. I attribute this to the fact that I was more mature than most people my age because of my experiences. I did not date much in high school because of two reasons: 1) I was consumed by sports, which took up the majority of my free time 2) I saw how all of my male friends talked about the girls they dated and slept with – which was rarely positive. So, as I got further along in high school, my closest friends kept graduating, which ultimately left me alone my senior year.

My first serious boyfriend was my senior year of high school, when I was 17. The boy was the cousin of one of my closest childhood friends. The relationship was a textbook case of codependency for both of us, which was interesting given that fact that he was in college and lived an hour away from me. Despite living in a separate town, we spent every weekend together and often saw each other during the week as well. A month into the relationship he told me that he suffered from bi-polar disorder. At the time I had a vague understanding of mental illness, but soon learned that I was going to get a crash-course in dealing with the disease directly. Our relationship was very intense for several months, but ended at the end of my senior year right before my senior prom. I learned recently that he came out of the closet in the last few years, after he divorced he wife.

In college, I dated often and truly came out of my “shell”. I chose to go to a top-rated private liberal arts university that was known for the diverse nature of its student body. My grades were less than stellar my first year as, like others, I partied too much. I joined a sorority (which I am still actively involved in at the alumni level) my sophomore year and held numerous offices in the three years of membership.

My exposure to the world and others heightened in college, as I learned of other cultures, religions, etc. This is when I became very liberal in my stance on social issues such as gay rights, pro choice and other controversial social issues. Never once, however, did I lose my belief in Christianity. I just believe that I became more tolerant, sympathetic, understanding and a less judgmental individual. These are values that I will hold for the rest of my life.

My last semester of college was quite difficult for me. My grandmother, a dear friend, passed away suddenly three months prior to graduation. Her death shattered me to the core. In middle school and high school, I would spend significant time with her and my grandfather during the summers while my mother attended graduate school or worked. My grandmother became one of the few people I would turn to about my troubles regarding my father. She was an amazing woman, and even 16 years later, I still think of and miss her almost daily.

The months succeeding her death were very difficult for me. I fell further and further into a depressive state. Shortly after graduation, I began seeing a psychiatrist in search of treatment for the depression. After just a few weeks of treatment, I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and began a combination of treatment with medication and twice a week counseling sessions. After a year of treatment, we finally were able to begin addressing my pain and resentment toward my father and how it affected every relationship with a man that I had ever attempted to have. Psychiatric treatment was the most difficult thing I have ever experienced in my life because it was a sort of “death and rebirth” process. I have been under psychiatric care or monitoring for over 15 years now.

Needless to say, my time in therapy was very confusing at many points. I actually experienced some of my most self-destructive behavior during those first five years. I was quite promiscuous, used drugs and often kept friends at an arm’s length distance. Finally, a breakthrough occurred when I was 26 and everything began turning around for me. Within a year of my turnaround, I met my husband. I know now that we were meant to meet at the exact moment we did, which is why my turnaround happened when it did.

We have been married for over ten years now, and have experienced many trials during that period. The largest test of our marriage and of my sanity in the ten years has been infertility on my part. After numerous years of extensive infertility treatment and surgeries, we learned in 2007 that I would never be able to conceive a child. During the years of treatment, I battled with my depression off and on, despite still being under treatment for the disease.

In late 2007, we received a telephone call about an unborn little girl needing an adoptive family. We dove into the adoption process hearts first, and let our heads never fall from the sky. After three months of doctor visits with the birthmother, planning a nursery and getting ready for the delivery, the birthmother vanished. I learned of the birthmother’s change of mind when her doctor told me that she was no longer interested in putting the child up for adoption. We never received word from the birthmother, nor did the attorney that we were working with. We – especially me – were devastated. I slipped into a deep depressive state, starting drinking a lot, having affairs and doing everything I could to escape the pain. The months afterward I began looking for jobs out of state and also told my husband I wanted to leave him many times. I had officially hit rock-bottom by the end of the year.

I began therapy on a more intensive level again in 2008 after the adoption fell through. It was helping me some, but I was never quite able to move forward. My psychiatrist changed my medication again, and we started to finally see improvement. In early 2009, I was still trying to figure out where my life and marriage were going. The pain of not having a child had consumed me to a point that I didn’t know what to do with my life, except for dive into my career. All I could do was ask for a sign from God or whom/whatever on what I was supposed to with my life. Within weeks of essentially throwing my arms in the air in “giving up”, we received a call to adopt an unborn boy.

My husband and I discussed for hours the possibility of adoption and the state of our marriage, and if adoption was even a decision we needed to make at that point. In the end, we decided to pursue the adoption. The boy was born five weeks after we received the call, and the adoption was finalized with no difficulties in the summer of 2009. I can admit that this child has essentially saved my life, and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for him. We love him as if he were biologically our own, and our marriage has never been better.

I thank God every day of my life for my husband, my son, and most importantly, all of my experiences. My experiences, whether they were happy or sad, have made me the amazing individual that I am today – and I am THANKFUL for them all.

be thankful for the experience

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Sharecropper and Her Crops

hen Jewel Orex Todd Fletcher was raising her seven children in the piney woods of east Texas in the 1940s and 1950s, expectations for blacks at that time weren’t very high. Fortunately for the Fletcher family, Mrs. Jewel didn’t really care about the expectations of other people. Infused with a love of learning instilled by her school-teacher mother, Mother Dear, as she was called by her children and grandchildren, was determined to see her kids succeed academically where her own academic career was thwarted. She finished high school and even managed to finish her first year at Mary Allen College, the local Negro college in nearby Crockett. But when her dad fell ill, she left school to work to help the family. She then met and married Tally Fletcher and soon gave birth to what would be the first of eight children (one died in infancy). Never a stranger to hard work, she did what was necessary, working alongside her husband as a sharecropper in addition to tending their own land. She took on domestic work in town with area white folks and even took in ironing. When the local hospital was built, she worked there until her retirement. “No one owes you anything,” she’d tell her children. “You have to work hard to get what you want.” What she wanted was a different life for her children. All of her work required grueling physical labor, subject to the whims of nature or the demands of those more powerful. She knew that higher education was the key to a better life. Her children now say they didn’t realize that not doing well in school was even an option. As they made their way through W.R. Banks High School, the high school for the colored children of Grapeland, watchful eyes reported to their parents. Mother Dear and Daddy were well known to the teachers and well respected. The same high expectations set at home, were enforced by vigilant educators at school. Argell, Floydia, Tally (Bob), Franklin (Val), Bennie, Gerald, and Wardaleen grew up in this strict but loving home under the watchful eye of both parents, but it is Mrs. Jewel who seems to have had the greatest impression on their schooling. “My momma always talked about going to college,” recalls Floydia Fletcher Phillips. I grew up thinking that you go to college—it is just what you do. Argell, the oldest, left for Prairie View A & M and Floydia quickly followed him. For a few years, there were as many as three Fletcher kids in college at the same time. Even then, the financial burden must have been tremendous. “I honestly don’t know how she did it,” says Floydia. “I know she and daddy worked more than one job to help pay for it, but if it was a burden, she never said a word.” As the older children graduated with their degrees, they used the paychecks from their new professional jobs to help offset costs for younger siblings. Not all of the kids initially heeded the prodding of Mrs. Jewel. Val, worried about the added expense for Mother Dear if he joined his siblings in college immediately after graduating from high school, joined the military. Part of any money he earned, was sent to help his siblings in school. After three years in the Army, he used his GI Bill to join his sister Bennie, and brother Bob at Paul Quinn College, then in Waco. He had promised his mother that he would enroll in college immediately after leaving the service, and true to his word, after his discharge in June, he enrolled that August. Bob delayed school as well, moving to Kansas City to live with Mrs. Jewel’s brother and work. When he returned after some time away, Mother Dear said, “You know you are going to school, right?” Mrs. Jewel’s influence extended well beyond her own children. The Fletcher house was the gathering place for many of the neighboring children. Those children were also privy to her admonitions about the importance of education. As her children would return to school each fall, they would recruit cousins to accompany them and enroll. Mrs. Jewel “Mother Dear” Tryon lived a long and fruitful life. She died in 2007 having seen every single one of her children graduate from college (and quite a few grandchildren as well). A few of her children also earned advanced degrees. In rural east Texas, some thought it was silly to invest money in schooling when there was so much work to be done in the fields, but she pressed on, encouraging everyone in her path to reach higher. The beauty of education is that it doesn’t just impact the recipient. It filters down the family tree to the children and the children of the graduate. Jewell Fletcher’s prescient persistence meant that her grandchildren would all go to college as well. Her willingness to work two or three jobs to send her own children means that many of her descendants won’t have to struggle in the same way. For that, they are grateful. no one owes you anything

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