top of page
  • Writer's pictureTeena Marie


Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Time would usually come to Pickens and take a vacation, my mother would say. Jackson, Mississippi, was my birth place, but I lived a half hour away in a small town named Pickens, in Holmes County. It was 1989-1990 and we lived at the end of a long red dirt road on a plot of land owned by my grandfather, J.K. The trailer home we lived in was new; my sister with sarcastic affection called it, our Tin Can. It was home to 5 people; my Mom, Dad, Sister, brother and myself. I was around 5 years old, my brother, Rob, was 8 and my sister, Kelsey, was around 11 or 12 at the time. The town only had one general store, a post office, and a co-op that farmers got their supplies from. It was still rather segregated. The doctor’s offices had separate waiting rooms for whites and blacks. The schools were all black. I attended preschool in Goodman County and attended Goodman-Pickens Elementary, a K-8th grade school. Kelsey graduated from 8th grade there.

The winters were cool, but the summers were hot, often reaching the mid 90’s. I would spend a lot of time outdoors, running around on the dusty roads-running through the wavy haze that arose from the hot ground, playing on my swing set that was infested with wasps or sitting under our apple tree listening to the constant humming of the cicadas and crickets. It was never absolutely quiet. My brother and I would often race to the candy store that was down the street, buying 25 cent bubblegum. I would explore the woods in the back of our trailer, we had a lot of wildlife; snakes would often pass through our yard. My Dad took his shotgun and killed a King snake with glee, but later found out that he wasn’t supposed to do that, because they eat other poisonous snakes. One day, a big round snapping turtle, as big as a lawnmower, stole my seat underneath the apple tree. I walked up to it while his head was still inside as my parents were screaming to get away. We all crowded around at a safe distance waiting until he poked his head out; apparently his neck was really long. I also remember seeing an alligator in the woods, too. I would walk until the earth dropped into what seemed like a swamp. I thought I saw something moving in the water. Rob and Kelsey stated they didn’t see anything, but when I went back there I was always alone.

When we weren’t in school, we were babysat by the ONLY babysitter in town. I don’t exactly remember her name, but I really feel like her name was May Velma. Let’s call her that. May Velma was mean. May Velma wore skin tight biker shorts and sleeveless tops showing off her dark skin that would be glistening from sweat. She didn’t like to wear bras and I don’t think she ever smiled. She kept the children in line and clean when the parents came to pick us up. None of us liked going there. Every time my mom would drop us off, I remember walking down the sidewalk real slow, like I was walking down a plank with a gun to my back. Kelsey would often tell my mom of terrible stories of how she would treat us and the rest of the kids. I coped with it by not talking or moving. I sat on the couch in front of the T.V. refusing to eat or talk until my mom came to get us. I figured if I was like a statue she would forget I was there and not mess with me; it worked. Today, I realized I have used this coping mechanism throughout my life. My brother Rob was not so lucky. He would often be running around ignoring her calls on purpose, so one day, May Velma took a sharp safety pin and cleaned out his ears until they bled because she thought there was wax build up. When we got home that evening, my sister immediately came out the gate with what happened at the sitter and mom noticed the dried up blood in his ear, and was compelled to make different arrangements. My mom was worried about my brother and worried I would starve, and tired of my sister telling her stories every time we came back. My mom said it would break her heart to leave us there, but she was the only babysitter in town and my parents both worked. So, my mom changed to a weekend job, so she was able to watch us during the week while my Dad worked. My Dad watched us on the weekend while my mom worked. My mom later told me that we expressed our deep gratitude with this change.

Not only the babysitter, but the whole town and educational system believed in corporal punishment; in sparing the rod and spoiling the child. I was confronted with a lot of uncomfortable situations that I did not fully understand being 5 years old, but I knew right from wrong. Goodman-Pickens Elementary believed in beating kids with wooden paddles. The teachers had paddles in their rooms and if you were really bad, you went to the principal’s office to get whipped. I remember a boy coming back from the principal’s office and he was not able to sit down after that. He would wince as he tried to find a comfortable way to sit. I was thankful I never had to go to the principal’s office. I did get whipped in the classroom, though.

Apparently, we were supposed to take a nap, I wasn’t sleepy and I ended up bothering a classmate of mine, so I was whipped for talking and bothering this girl. I have a vague memory of grabbing this girl’s pony tail and yanking it until her head snapped to the side. I don’t think she even did anything to me; I just wasn’t ready to go to sleep. I also remember I slapped a boy for taking my crayons in preschool; I used to hit other kids, but after I got that good country “whoopin” in front of the classroom I was cured. It was humiliating because everybody sat there quietly watching you get paddled and there was a walk of shame as you shuffled back to your seat. I knew I never wanted that to happen again, so I kept quiet.

There were other situations that happened in and outside the school. Sometimes my sister would appear from nowhere and whisk me away to where I was supposed to be. I thought of her as my guardian angel when my mom could not be around. I looked up to Kelsey and everything she said dripped with gold. Nobody could tell me different. If my big sister said it, then it was the truth. I felt like she was the smartest person I’ve ever met. One time, I walked into school toward my classroom and an older child grabbed my hand and was trying to get me to go somewhere. I have no idea where this person wanted me to go or why, but I remember feeling uneasy and telling this person no and that I had to go to class. There was a little back and forth for awhile, but my sister appeared and was like what is going on. Relief washed over me at the sound of my sister’s voice and she took me to my classroom. There was another time when my sister and I was walking home from somewhere and we walked past a house where I noticed some kids playing outside; I recognized them as family and I waved. They laughed and began to throw rocks at me. I was really confused as to why this was happening, but my sister yelled at them and threw a rock back. Kelsey did not have a great time in Pickens; she often got into fights or arguments with kids on the bus and in school. They talked about her and wanted to take her shoes or whatever she had on. It hurt even more because some of these kids were supposed to be our family.

There was a time when my sister was not around; I was hanging out with my brother and his big- lipped friend. That is an unusual characteristic for me to remember if it had not been for the game he wanted me to play. He wanted to play hide and go kiss. Now I’ve heard of hide and go seek, but not hide and go kiss. Even though I was 5, I knew there was something wrong with this game. I had a strong feeling that I was not supposed to be playing this game in the woods with this boy, so I said no. He asked again and I said no again. He finally gave up and he and my brother ran off to play something else and I went back to the house. It is funny because people, today, think that I have a hard time saying no and I am too nice, but I have said no a lot in my life; sometimes people listened and sometimes people didn’t.

Pickens had a thin veil that separated right from wrong. There was always a sense of uneasiness and something just wasn’t right. It was not all bad, but my good memories centered around my tin can, my home. My brother was goofy and he made me laugh. My mom was the best cook and she cooked a lot and everything was from scratch because there wasn’t any restaurant nearby that was worth the long drive. We had homemade pizzas to scratch biscuits and rabbit or deer stew. My Dad really enjoyed my momma’s biscuits. I liked drizzling syrup on a freshly buttered hot biscuit. Those were the best! Once my Dad discovered what we liked, he would buy a lot of it. He bought us a lot of Oreo's and Nabisco chocolate chip cookies. He bought us every Disney movie that came out and we would watch it together. Don’t tell anyone, but my brother’s favorite Disney movie was “The Little Mermaid”. I always thought my dad liked hanging with us, but later on he said he was just trying to make us sit still. Nonetheless, I loved hanging out with my Dad when he was not working. He worked in Jackson. My Mom told me that we were poor, but I did not consider us poor because we ate well, we were never hungry. In my mind, being poor meant you did not have any food. We did not have a lot of new clothes or fancy material items, but I always thought we had what we needed. One day, my Dad came home with a teddy bear and I got way too attached and would dress the bear up in baby clothes. My sister indulged me and would contribute to the cause. My brother would fart on him.

Every Sunday, we all would make the long trek to church. I would fall asleep on my mom’s lap during service every time while my brother would scoot under the pews because he liked lifting the women’s skirts. As a result, my Dad would drag him out the main hall, as my brother is kicking and screaming interrupting the preacher’s sermon. My mom looked on with embarrassment. It would disturb my nap, as well. After service, my Dad would always stop at a gas station and would buy snacks; this is when I discovered my love for pork skins. On the rare occasion we went to a restaurant, we went to a seafood buffet. My love for fried catfish and hushpuppies began there.

I love my family. Not Pickens. Maybe a year later, my Dad’s job moved to Slidell, LA. We hitched up our trailer and moved on out. We all loved that move. Slidell was a bigger town, about a half hour away from New Orleans. I started 1st grade and my sister would soon graduate from North Shore high school and go on to Morris Brown in Atlanta with a full scholarship. She was still the smartest person I’ve ever met. She blossomed in high school and was involved in a lot of activities and had a lot of friends. I was in 5th grade when we dropped off Kelsey at college. On the way home, I cried, because I knew I was not going to see and talk to her every day; I was missing my friend. At the same time, I was happy for her and knew she was happy. We used to share a room and for the first time, I had a bedroom to myself; it felt empty. But over time I adjusted to being alone.

This is just the beginning. A lot more has happened, but this is not a book. :) As I look back on all these memories and situations, it has shaped me into who I am today. I feel it is important to understand the experiences you’ve had in the beginning even if they are uncomfortable. Growth definitely comes from discomfort and this is just one step in my journey.

23 views0 comments


bottom of page