From "Growing Up"
I grew up in a town called Denmark, South Carolina--like Denmark in that other country. It was a pretty big place then and is a very big place now, but I can't tell you how many people live there. My mother and father were married and my mother's name was Julia and my father's name was Henry. They had eight kids: five girls and three boys. My mother told me she was pregnant with me when my grandma died. I don't know anything about my grandparents, except I think they died in about 1922.
The eldest sister was Lumisha. She was four or five years older than Willie, my oldest brother. He was three to four years older than the next brother, who was Henry. That brother was about two years older than Daisy, the next sister. And Victoria, the next sister, I would say was two and a half years younger than Daisy. Then comes Margaret, who is two years older than me. Then there's me. So that's the five girls. My brother Julius, he's the baby. I'm five years older than Julius. That makes me the seventh child--the lucky one.
My father left when I had to be about five or six. He was supposed to be the father of all the kids but I wouldn't know about that. I really don't know too much about him. I don't know the reason why he left. I don't know how it happened. My mother didn't give a reason. She didn't say why he left. Nobody asked no questions then and they didn't get no answers. In those days you didn't ask questions. If you tried, they'd say, "Get out of here." And that was it. Children today can ask their momma anything.
I knew my father was in another town after he left my mother. He was the boss of his own farm. He grew everything: corn, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes. He had everything a farm had: horses and mules and plows. My brother Willie went up and helped him one year. But I still didn't ask no questions about him. I was really angry at my father for a long time because all through the years he never got in touch with us. He was doing pretty well but he didn't do anything about his own kids. I heard that he had a lady friend but I never knew for him to have any more children.
My father was the one that I don't think I would've given a piece of bread to if I had a piece of bread. When I used to sit and think about it, I'd say, "How could he? How in the hell could he?" That's all I could say. Now, when you see these TV talk shows where the father leaves the family, I really want to hear everything about it because I don't see how he could've done it.
A father is not like a mother. He walks away and those kids will care more about that father that walked away than they care about the mother that stayed there. That's what I can't understand. On the talk shows, they tell the mother that it's her fault that the father walked away. He can walk away anytime he gets ready. And then he can walk back in there. They seem to care more about that father; they still want to say, "Daddy, Daddy." But if the mother walks away, she's a no-good. I can't understand that. The man is just as involved in the pregnancy as she is. So why does he have to be the one that can walk away and come back and get all that loving? What makes me mad is if a man gives the woman one child or two or three children and he didn't take care of them, how can she have another one for him? If he didn't take care of the three she's already got, how do you think he's going to take care of the fourth one?
When my father left, he went about his business and he stayed about his business. I wouldn't have tried to look for him. I wouldn't have tried to find out if he was sick or whether he died or what happened to him. Because he wasn't there for me. And nobody could say, "Well, he is your father." I wouldn't accept it. But if he had stayed and did for me, I would've walked through fire for him. That's the way I am. They say that blood is thicker than water, but not with me. It might be thicker than water but I could not accept what he did.
For a long time I kept in my mind everything that I had against my father. Then I changed my mind; I just got over it. As I see things of those days, I didn't like my father because I didn't know anything about him. You think back. You don't know what made him walk away. There's always two sides to a story and he wasn't there to tell his side and Momma didn't tell her side. I started seeing things more clearly when I got to be about in my forties. I decided I would get it off my mind; you can destroy yourself if you keep something on your mind like that. Hate can destroy you. You got to give it up. You have to cool it because nobody can do it for you. So I forgave my father.
My mother was very poor. She had eight kids to raise and she didn't have a husband. It seemed like she be thinking all the time. You know how you see a person thinking about something but you never did know about it because in those days they didn't tell you nothing. If they were worried about something, you didn't know it. If they were happy about something, you could kind of see that. But they didn't tell you anything.
My mother wasn't a well-educated person but she was bright. She knew what to tell us to do and how to do it and when to do it. She could tell us about things you should do and shouldn't do. Or what you should eat and what you shouldn't eat. Some of the things she used to tell us you can sometimes read in books right today.
My mother really worked hard to raise us kids together after my father left. She didn't give anybody up. It was very hard for her. She could've given some of us away. But nobody was put off here or put off there. Even Julius, who was the youngest child, he stayed right there until my mother died. She did so much for us by herself. God knows I loved that woman. God knows I did.
Excerpted from The Seventh Child by Freddie Mae Baxter. Copyright © 2000 by Freddie Mae Baxter. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.