Darrell arrived when his brother Randall was 16 months old and we still lived in our first cute little house on Kingstree Drive in Jacksonville, Florida. He had blonde hair like his Dad and it was curly like mine. My childhood fantasy of having two sons and two daughters was inching closer to reality, one more girl and my dream would come true. Maybe because the rambunctious boys were close in age they were close in many other ways, including looking out for each other. Together they could think of more ways to get in trouble than one of them could have thought of by himself. As they got a little older, they shared their growing love of motorcycles and animals. Eventually two stray dogs named Brutus and Friskie independently found their way to our house and became part of our family. We thought of them as the whole family's furry friends. However, Friskie had a different idea and imprinted on Darrell. Before long we had to admit Friskie was Darrell's dog for the rest of his life.
There was such a sweetness to Darrell as a child. One of my favorite memories is the day he came home, his purple lips a dead giveaway that he had discovered some wild berries, hopefully not far from home. He had an impish grin as he turned his purple-stained pockets inside out to offer me the berries he had picked so I could bake a pie. I was so touched by his excitement and generosity that I wrote this poem after he went to sleep that night in May of 1969.
To my Darrell who is sevenDarrell was eleven in this photo, a time all our children decided to let their hair grow long. My hair was short and curly then. In my Italian-American family, it was the unspoken rule that when a woman married, she must cut her hair and forevermore wear it short like a proper married woman. I was beginning to question countless rules I was force-fed that were founded on air. I wanted my hair to be long and straight so I took care of that and bought a long straight wig. It felt right to add my first bell-bottom pants, my first mini-dress and white boots. A 1967 song played in my head that promised it was the dawning of the age of Aquarius. I wasn't sure what that meant but I was determined to find out. It took a few more years before I realized I had an inner hippie that wanted to come out and play. I also had a 3-year-old daughter by then who fulfilled my childhood dream of having two sons and two daughters.
You stormed into the kitchen like a warrior
triumphant face barely cloaking a surprise
a raspberry-stained paper bag in your little hand
dripping red-purple on the kitchen floor
as you lifted it up to me
Look, Mom, I found real wild raspberries!
I picked them myself just for you to make a pie
and there’s more in my pockets.
You turned newly purpled pockets inside out
and more than a few berries fell on the clean floor
I had scrubbed while you were out scavenging
I forced myself to silence my own mother's stern voice
that still took up residence in a tiny crevice of my mind
but I'd learned by then that love is always the answer
and sticky floors didn't matter
I never could have loved you more, my seven-year-old precious son
with your innocent big brown eyes so full of your new discovery
Bet it was tempting to eat all the berries, no one would have known
Yet you shared them with me, eagerly awaiting my response
while my heart melted even more
I grew up in Brooklyn, no berries where I lived
discovered my first berries here five Springs ago
I wanted you to know I understood your joy
But uttered insufficient words my feelings rejected
How sweet the pie I baked that night
while you slept and I savored what we shared
who could I tell, besides your Dad, who'd understand
why feelings dripped out of my eyes
and salty tears ran down my face
When Darrell and Randall were about ten and eleven, they were in Little League and played baseball at Westside Park on NW 34th Street. Darrell loved the game and was good at it and continued playing baseball at the Boys' Club here. Hal was always into sports and played Rugby until he was 40. He was an avid golfer, too. I took Golf 101 at Santa Fe College and got an A. The instructor said I was the worst golfer he had ever tried to teach but I tried so hard he thought I deserved an A! It was only natural that the kids followed in their Dad's footsteps when it came to sports. That was the beginning of Darrell's neverending love of all sports. He bled Orange and Blue when he lived here, as all good Gators do (myself not included). Now his son, Niles, is very much into sports, too. Like father, like son, like grandson. The Circle of Life.
Those boots were meant for walking, as that old Nancy Sinatra song went. Looking back, it was a precursor of the next chapter in my uncertain life and the lives of many other women I hadn't met yet. We all had our own version of the same story and would later refer to ourselves as the fifties-wives. I didn't know what was happening inside me at the time. I just had this growing awareness that I had an inner artist and writer screaming to get out. I will always be grateful to Hal, who literally took me by the hand to enroll at Santa Fe College which was still Santa Fe Junior College at the time. I hadn't worked outside the home for over fourteen years and although I always knew I was Mensa-smart, I wondered if I would fit in at 30-something years old, which was considered an older student back in the stone age.
I took art classes from Norman Jensen and discovered my inner artist, and painting satisfied me for awhile. Then I took creative writing classes from the late Carolyn Arena who gave me the confidence I needed at the time and encouraged me to become a writer. My future life had to expand my creativity and could not be solely satisfied by being a wife and mother and living in a nice house. I felt like I was dying inside. It was radical at the time for nice women to get divorced and there wasn't much support for us. All of the married women I thought were my friends never spoke to me after I left. Maybe they thought whatever I had was catching. Two friends I didn't know very well were the angels I needed at the time. Coincidence or not, they both got divorced later. It was one of the most painful and most hurtful decisions of my whole life, but also one of the best, too, because I finally discovered who I was instead of being who I thought I was supposed to be.
Eventually I read Betty Friedan's 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique. There was a chapter called The Problem That Has No Name that changed the lives of many women because it brought public attention to the unhappiness and restlessness of many women in the United States. It is credited with being the beginning of the second-wave of feminism in the USA. Many books have been written about the phenomenon of the feminine mystique so I'll spare you. I never thought of myself as a feminist until awhile ago when my daughter Kimberli told me I was and had been.
The discrimination toward the working wife and mother seems pretty antiquated today when half of the work force is made up of working mothers, by choice or by circumstances. Please don't misunderstand me. If being a stay-at-home mom is a woman's truest calling, I salute her because raising a child is one of the hardest jobs in the world and one of the most important. One person's choice is not better or worse than any other's and I wish everyone in the world would just stop judging. By the 1970s many of us thought we had to be single again to be free to explore other paths. That's not true, of course. Obviously there were more assertive women who didn't have to leave home to find themselves.
Back to Darrell. I will never hear Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven again without reminiscing about the time when Darrell was teaching himself to play that song on his guitar. He played it constantly, over and over, until it was perfect. Now his son Niles is learning to play it on Darrell's guitar. I often wonder if Niles's son Dominic will eventually keep that family tradition going.
What a mind-trip it was to become a great-grandmother when Dominic was born. I still felt so young. Dominic has an adorable baby brother named Sage now and an amazing mother named Hannah who is intelligent, educated, has a career and is beautiful inside and out. I don't include photos of children for many reasons but if I did, you'd see the most beautiful ones in the world. I'm laughing as I write that but I've lived long enough to say whatever I want. I'll be 82 this year and I still feel so young inside and just a little like the Velveteen Rabbit on the outside. I remind myself more often now that time as we know it does not exist. We don't have to get attached to stereotypes of how we *should* behave or think or dress at any age. Life is beautiful when we discover our authentic selves and allow ourselves to create OUR OWN reality. It took me a long time to learn that what other people think of me is none of my business.
Yesterday I asked Darrell for permission to include some anecdotes from his younger days. Darrell told me a story I had never heard that involved both an old cemetery and a drive-in theater, an unlikely combination. The 5-acre parcel for the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery at 2837 NW 13th Street in Gainesville was purchased in the 1880s by the Mt. Pleasant Methodist Episcopal Church as a final resting place for its members and other African Americans in the city of Gainesville. They still maintain it. One of the earliest graves there is that of a woman born in 1845.
The Suburbia Drive-In was located right behind the cemetery. The drive-in had over 488 parking spaces for cars. Each car had a speaker on a pole with a knob on it so the driver of the car could reach out the window to raise or lower the volume of the movie. I personally never saw any cars parked in the last row of parking spaces that backed on the cemetery. Most people preferred to be closer to the screen and the rest rooms, and of course, the concession stand.
The original drive-in had a new incarnation after 1970 when new owner Phil Gibson took over and gave it a much-needed facelift. When Darrell and a teenage relative who shall remain nameless, were in their late teens, they came up with a creative idea to see the movies for free. They realized they could see the movie screen by sitting on the gravestones closest to the drive-in, but it was like watching a silent movie. They had to come up with an idea so they could hear the sound as well. The individual speakers were on poles car window high, right outside the driver's side of the car. The boys were already mechanically inclined even back then and had no disposable money to splurge on movie tickets. Necessity has always been the mother of invention, and one night one of them jumped the fence and attached a long wire to the closest speaker on the last row of empty car spaces. It worked. Instant sound. No wonder I hadn't heard this story until now, 40+ years later.
This is one of my favorite photos of Darrell, taken 1983.
Darrell explored a lot of the country and ended up out West where his son Niles and family live. I became a grandmother for the second time. Darrell was into computers and decided to attend a computer school. He was a natural and was graduated as an A+ Certified Professional and Microsoft Office Specialist. This was exciting for me, too. I was self-taught on DOS before Windows was born and balked at learning Windows when 3.1 arrived and changed the world. My kids told me I had to learn Windows eventually because that was the future and easier than DOS, which most people didn't like. I was the last holdout in the family and I finally caved. I was empowered by the knowledge that anything I couldn't figure out, my son Darrell already knew and would either do it for me or teach me how to do it myself.
In the 1990s, when I thought I was finally done compiling new age directories, I was divinely inspired by a male voice in my head that told me I was going to put together a new age directory that would encompass every country on Earth that had new thought activity. It would be the road map I was looking for years ago but for the whole planet! I had gotten used to that voice speaking to me from time to time and hinting at what I would be doing next. It was spot on in the past but I thought I was done with directories and I really didn't know if I could do one of the whole planet's burgeoning new age. I was overwhelmed by the idea.
I told Darrell I couldn't do it alone and asked if he would consider being my co-author and research associate. He said yes, and the rest is history. I suspected it would end up being in two volumes and settled on a title. It would be called New Age Directory of Planet Earth. Darrell and I have worked together on all my writing projects since then. In fact, he's the tech behind this autobiography, too. I'm writing it myself and choosing the photos and music, but after that I email everything to Darrell and he takes it from there. Thanks, Darrell, for all you do for me. I love you!
Contents Next Page Previous Page