My dad, eldest son of a car-dealing family, had been teasing my little brother and me that he was going to “trade in” my mother “for a newer model”. I was ten or eleven, which meant Forrest (II) was about 5, and he really didn’t understand what Papa was talking about. Since Papa seldom joked with us kids, and he’d been at it for months, I’d been getting pretty nervous about this.
I had ADD/ADHD, but in those days, people thought only little blonde, blue-eyed boys got it, and that they eventually grew out of it— both items of incorrect information. My mother’s family had already found that corporal punishment didn’t work on me, and were in the middle of a fear campaign: “Dayonda,” they would tell me, “you’re so naughty you’re making your mother sick, and when she dies, you’ll get a step-mother just like Cinderella’s, and you’ll have to do all the work and she won’t want you and your dad won’t help you,” they continually scolded. “Do you want a wicked-witch stepmother like that?” they would ask.
I would cry, of course, because I didn’t want that to happen, and I had no wish to kill my mother by behaving badly. But I couldn’t “fix” my behavior, and the harder I tried the worse I behaved.
So, between my dad talking about trading Mama in for a new mother, and my grandparents and aunts and uncles on her side impressing upon me that my mom was getting sick and would die from my “naughtiness”, I was very upset and even depressed in those days.
It came to a crisis point one afternoon when my father picked me up from school with a black-haired woman in the front passengers’ seat of our tiny Mercury Comet. I got into the back seat without comment, trying to ignore the woman in the front. I would not look directly at her, because that might make the nightmare be true.
We were heading toward home when Papa spoke: “Dayonda,” he began, “you know that I’ve been considering divorciing your mom and getting a new model, right?”
I made a strangled sound, which he must have taken for a “yes”.
The lady in the black hair turned around and looked at me. She had Mama’s eyes, nose—- my mother’s face, and wore one of my mother’s blouses. (How could he do that? Give her Mama’s clothes on top of everything else! And get somebody with Mama’s face?)
After looking directly at me for a few seconds, the woman laughed! Even worse, she spoke to me, —in Mama’s voice! She said: “What do you think, Dayonda? I just bought this black wig; do you like it?”
I felt pure shock! Could what she was saying be true? This was all wrong! “Are you really my mother?” I choked out.
She assured me that she was, that she was just wearing a wig, that’s all. And when I continued to cry hysterically, she thought it might help if she pulled the wig off her head. It didn’t help, not one bit. In fact, it was such an outlandish thing to do that it made it even worse. It was hours before I could settle down, and over the next few days I continued to have crying jags on and off.
Several days later I overheard my parents talking about that incident: They had come to the conclusion that I was awfully sensitive, and maybe could use some “toughening up”. They also decided that maybe my sense of humor wasn’t “fully developed as yet”, and they’d have to be careful of the practical jokes they pulled on me. (I later asked what the difference between a “practical joke” and a “just plain joke” was.)
I was their first child, you see, and so I was the product of unskilled labor.
The did better with my brother. -=Dayonda