The first three chapters of Derrick’s autobiography
Chapter 1 – ‘And the struggle begins’ Derrick L. Griffin
My home is none other than Lufkin, Texas. The small town where I always felt incredibly comfortable. Hearing an abundance of farm animals was normal. Most homes in my neighborhood were smallish wood frame houses. Families were generally larger. This was definitely prior to the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80’s that ruined virtually every African American neighborhood in that general area. Lufkin Land, my neighborhood was mostly a working class community. Lufkin was more or less a factory town. Hard workers were able to, at least, keep their heads above water on their weekly salaries. If not, some had small tax-free businesses on the side. Mrs. Deason sold candy, chips and other goodies. Mrs. Griffin sold ice cream cones, two guys had garages, where they also sold used cars. My grandfather, Travis simply bootlegged. He also had a garden and a large number of farm animals but with the town dry (not selling beer or liquor) bootlegging became a necessity.
Travis provided very well for his eleven grandchildren and when needed eight adult sons and two daughters. My grandparents were interesting people. Gracie Lee were half Indian and half black. Her paper sack brown skin with a few wonderful freckles came off beautifully. Her slim body showed no harm after childbirth. I can still see her small body, seated in ‘her chair’, nursing her beer. She was basically a housewife and she made sure the house stayed spotless. Breakfast and lunch were always wonderfully prepared, no one dared to touch the pots before Travis got his share. This was the rule. I truly have never seen my grandparents have a hungry day. This allowed my dismal home existence survivable but needing.
My mother, Juanita preferred to be called Redd. This because of her identical paper sack brown skin and short statue, that were passed down from her mother. Her three gold teeth were like her mother’s precious freckles. I viewed them as beauty marks. Strangely enough my oldest daughter resembled them both. My mother worked at the Lufkin State School. Tamika, my oldest sister and I were the only two she had. Tamika’s father, Thermon and my mother were married before me or my sister were born. At some point, there were problems in the marriage that caused a temporary separation that allowed my biological father, Gregory Smith, to slip in the chicken coup. My stepfather demanded that I addressed him as daddy on all occasions which was understandable since he was my virtual guardian but Thermon did not work, he basically laid around the house and drew government checks. This gave him the time to make our lives a living hell. He spewed insults at my mother, Tamika and me. I was the one that received the physical abuse. This was the early seventies. In those days men ruled the household. Most ruled with an iron fist and bigger foot. My foray into crazy started out early and often.
Chapter 2 – A shitty deal
That night, Redd and Thermon were in their bedroom talking. The old home entertainment system played old Motown hits as Tamika and I lay in bed. Even as children, if I did not go to bed before my big sister, I could forget about going to bed. She tore paint, killed roaches, revived dead roaches and too many other things to mention with her loud snoring. It was amazing to see her rail thin body produce such a horrible sound. Sometimes I was afraid that she was choking. When Tamika would wake up briefly, it gave me a second to try to go to sleep but that did not work. She would be asleep again, snoring before I could lay back down. Sleeping on her side? No. Not one of my suggestions came remotely close to stopping her crude opera like snoring. This was one of those nights. I rolled out of bed and looked back at my sister. She rocked the house. With most of the lights out in the house, I instantly felt like walking softly as not to cause any alarm.
Our small shot gun house with paper thin walls, consumed no noise. So you can imagine the weird noises in the air, Tamika’s snores, radio playing and my parents talking in their room. I gently pulled the refrigerator door. When the light poured out into the darkness, I pressed the small button and the light were extinguished. I grabbed the small blue and white package that hid those small chocolates pieces of candy. I obliviated half a pack and politely closed the box and shut the door. I tip-toed back to bed and ducked under the thick quilts. I peeked right over the blanket and spotted the Boogie Man looking back at me out of our dark closet. Tamika’s snores made it seem as if the devil himself was talking through the darkness where I knew the monster waited. The combination of Tamika’s snores and the darkness had me mortified. I wanted to reach over and touch Tamika but as soon as I reached for her, she choked and gagged. I figured that Boogie Man must have jumped inside my big sister. I jumped back and she turned and faced me. Now her snores were truly pronounced. Then it happened like a Martov cocktail my stomach jerked and lurched, pulled and tugged. It made me grab my little tummy. I wanted to go potty but that evil Boogie Man was snoring and daring me to budge. Budge I did. A mini explosion escaped out of my rear end. What followed, were several mountains of dung. The sound of the monsters exiting rivaled my sister’s snoring. I tried to move but some unmovable force penned me to the bed. At that point I dared to try to move another muscle. Every wiggle, accidental and otherwise cost more vengeful evilness out of the core of my being. The running mess oozed bitterness.
‘Boy!’ Juanita Marie Griffin, a-k-a Redd, was standing at my door. Tamika’s snoring sounded like a monstrous applause from the heavens. I can’t imagine Tamika, getting a whiff of anything because the depth of her sleeping. But I were awake. ‘Get your little nasty ass up out that bed and take your shitty ass to that restroom!’ I slid off my bed and sludge travelled with me to the toilet. The unforgiving tidal wave continued. ‘But Redd!’ As I spoke, I slid sideways off the toilet. Redd shoved me out of the way and dumped my residue in the toilet. ‘Flush that toilet boy! You got your bad ass up in those laxatives!’ ‘But it was good Redd! My stomach started back jumping. I shoved my mama and sat back down, she did not budge. Her look said everything. I emptied myself. Once the night was finally over my body felt eviscerated.
Maybe that bone headed move was God’s way of giving me some heads up idea about what kind of life I was headed for. It seemed to say: Get ready your headed for a poison pill that is going to cause you so much pain that you will wish you could defecate it out but you won’t! No amount of laxative will extract what your headed for kid! You better get ready. The clock is ticking and you’re running out of time!’
Chapter 3 – ‘What is to give light, must endure burning.’ Viktor Frankl
In those early days Tamika and I must have appeared to look like something out of a circus. She, with long silky hair, with two very large beaver like teeth. Me, pigeon toed, knocked kneed, chubby, with a matted air-fro that rivaled ‘Ludacris’, in those time he wore one. Mine was a mountain of naps. I never brushed my teeth, ever. To make matters worse, we did not have hot water. To bath in the morning, each one of us had to heat pans of water on the stove. It got a lot colder back in those days. This were years before anyone whispered anything about global warming.
Tamika and I would usually hang out together. To be frank, she hated my hanging around her and her friend Nickie. I loved it, grabbing Nickie’s butt and yes, she had breast, well developed breast for a child. I started out Tamika’s protector; period. She was an absolute cry baby. When not hanging out with Tamika, I would walk about block away to our grandparents Travis and Gracie Lee, Juanita’s parents.
I have to make it crystal clear, if not for my grandparents and an array of uncles, we would have surely starved to death. Or rather, looked horribly like Ethiopian children with protruding guts to add on to the other artifacts that we already carried.
There were a wide array of uncles. My mother was the only girl between Travis and Gracie Lee but my grandfather had two other children outside the group. My aunt Machelle and uncle Johnny Ray, both had different mothers but look somewhat alike. Johnny Ray was unfortunately, blessed with one of those protruding teeth like my sister. The guy was quiet and the only one of my uncles to have ever been incarcerated. Machelle was always a sweetheart. Infidelity always crept around my family. To be frank it was too terribly normal.
The clan started out with Nelson, a Vietnam vet who preached at first then landed on the bottle or rather can of beer. The demons came home with him. I would sneak through old black and white photos of him surrounded by his platoon. Those guys wore necklaces made out of body parts of Vietnamese. Some photos had my uncle close to dead bodies, it was a display like a deer hunting expedition. It was shocking to see him parade dead bodies around like it was normal. He started out dressing in suits but soon returned to his army fatigues and large bowie knife which he carried in a leather case, planted on his side. To say he suffered PTSD before it was popular, is an understatement. He had one son Nelson Jr. His wife left him, but never remarried.
The next clan member was Oliver, the guy was overly emotion but was the cleanest person that I ever met. Vacuuming while you were seated, cup holders for every drink, beds had a certain way to be made, the yard had to be raked in the same direction, so the lawn stayed immaculate. He appeared to have things together. He had a common law girlfriend and two sons, Rodney and a baby Wesley. He also had a serious drinking problem.
Pee-Wee followed, he was the only uncle who would remain in my grandparents’ home forever. He would eventually be passed down like old antique furniture. He was mentally retarded. I enjoyed ducking inside his cigarette smoked filled room to watch him cradle a Bible in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He preached to an imaginary flock of thousands for hours until my grandfather would scream ‘Pee-Wee! Shut the hell up!’ He would coolly make farting sounds with his mouth, laugh and say ‘DA, lewd said! You can go to hell!’ and bust out laughing.
Troy Lee was another, was always smiling, joking around and terribly irresponsible. After his wife Doris left him, taking their kids Machelle and Troy Jr. his drinking increased two fold, capitulating him into a full-fledged wino. His favorite drink was, as he always said, ‘Mus-kit-tell because when I drink it, I tell it’. Everywhere he went, his huge black lab followed him. He spoke to that dog like he was human. ‘Kamason! Come here and watch me get drunk! Down boy! Sit!’ He was clearly mentally ill.
Ronnie was by far the most stable. He was blessed with a wonderful wife, Opah and had two daughters Trina and Kesha. He drank very little and always held down a job, so did his wife.
Last but not least was Bubba. He was the darkest because he was dangerous. From what I was told, he was very good with his hands and if that didn’t work, a knife would follow. From what I remember about him, he loved and adored me. Every time I came around he’d grab me and tossed me in the air. I’d scream and yell until he caught me and we’d both laughed forever. My last glaring memory was him walking in my grandparents yard with a huge dead king snake, wrapped expertly around a stick. I’m not just afraid of snakes, I am terrified of snakes. I have never, NEVER in my existence, ran that fast into a gate in my life. He came running, pissed shot out my privates. Urine was everywhere. I tried to climb the gate but fell, I couldn’t do nothing but ball up and scream, HELP! When I finally looked up, he was laughing so hard he dropped the dead snake and was on his knees. I don’t know how I got past him and the snake, I might have jumped, I can’t remember. All I remember was slamming the screen door and slamming the wooden door. He was the first to die because of drinking. Drunk, he fell asleep smoking on one of those cotton mattresses. The identical shot gun house, four houses down the road, just like ours, burned like paper. At the time, I did not truly comprehend death. Even watching him being lowered in the ground did not hit me but seeing Redd, my mother cry like that, registered. Any type of pain my mother and Tamika endured, got my full attention. That would go double for Chaka, my baby sister, who was born the following year. You guessed it? My mother had yet another affair. Something about on job affairs, actually destroyed a large number of marriages.
Thermon, my stepfather, thought Chaka was his daughter. He paraded Chaka around town, bragging about his beautiful yellow skinned daughter that looked just like her mother. Imagine his disgust and anger when he discovered that the baby was not his. The infidelity is what I think led to him beating my mother and eventually me. He never touched Chaka and Tamika but he would verbally abuse the girls. I would gladly say the guy was severely depressed. He however, never drank or smoked. His only nasty habit was chewing Red Man tobacco. His diabetes curbed anything worse. He was a very tall guy with a bad limp. He never talked about what caused the limp but much later on, it would be his undoing.
Will be continued …
Derrick L. Griffin, 14-02-2022