Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lois Maxine Johnson - Happy Mother's Day

Lois Maxine Johnson 1964 (striped jacket) 
I was tagged not too long ago on Facebook w/ this picture of my Mother.  I feel like a carbon copy as I look so much like her.  On Mother's Day that is both a good and a bad thing.  Good that I can see her reflection staring back at me, bad because it only reopens that wound that I know will never heal.

So I find it only fitting that it is time I write about her life.

Lois Maxine Johnson Addison
September 3, 1948 - December 31, 2000

Maxine as she was mostly called was born 3 days before Labor Day in 1948 to Ethel Elizabeth Johnson & John Thomas Mills in East Liverpool, Ohio.

My Aunt Ruth Johnson Christopher was 13 when my Mother was born and actually helped deliver her, being the one that cut the umbilical cord and I remember her telling me she knew nothing about sex or babies until that day in September.

My Mother attended elementary in East Liverpool and I remember the stories she would tell of her childhood, the games she played, the winters of East Liverpool and one of my favorite stories when her mother gave her money to catch the bus to visit her cousins in the next town, but she decided to use it to buy candy and walk along the river instead to her cousins house.  She told me she was singing, dancing, skipping eating candy and ecstatic about her choice on what to do w/ the money, until she ran into a river rat as it came out of the river it noticed her and stood on its hind legs and hissed at her. 

Now I'm not sure if you can tell from this picture, but my mother was all of 5ft on a good day.  However at that time she was approximately 8 years old and I'm sure no more than 4ft at the time.   From my research river rats standing can be about 2ft and about 20lbs.  She said they stared at each other for about 2min and then the river rat ran past her to jump in another portion of the river on the other side of the road.  After that encounter whenever she received money for a specific purpose she used it for that purpose only.

At the age of 12 she moved to Oakland, CA with her Mother and Brother Walter James Johnson.  She attended Madison Jr. High for a short time, then moving on to Havenscort Jr. High School.  She eventually moved on to Castlemont High School, but when her friend Lyndia (in the picture w/ her) transferred to Oakland High School, my mother forged some transfer papers so she too could transfer to Oakland High School as well.

My Father always told me he had the prettiest woman in Oakland.  Now I know when you are head over heels in love with someone they appear to be that way, well it seems he wasn't the only person that thought of her in that way.  My sister Kim ended up befriending a lot of children  whose parents knew my Mother while she was in school and they all said the same thing.  Physically she was pretty but her personality was beautiful.  

After graduating High School she had several jobs, the one I remember her most talking about is her being a waitress and she served Little Richard.  She said he gave her a very nice tip and he was the prettiest man she had ever seen.  She described his skin, hair and eyes - she loved skin and eyes.  Whenever she described a person to you she was very detailed in the description of those two things.

My Father was a red haired African-American, when she described him she said his skin reminded her of a brand new copper penny. 

She met my Father not too long after this picture was taken.  He was 7 years and 1 month older than her.  She liked him, but she liked being free and a teenager.  So  he courted her to the dismay of my Grandmother Ethel and Aunt.  They felt he was too old (right) and not trustworthy (not sure why).  In any case the more they fought against it, the more the two attempted at being together.

My Mother found out he was still married to his first wife, so she told him she wouldn't see him until he came back w/ a divorce.  Which he did in 1966.  A couple of years and some change later I entered this world. 

Maybe my Grandmother Ethel and Aunt Sally had a vision into the future as my parents relationship as much as it was filled with love it was volatile as well.  Did they love each other? Of course, but when goals aren't mutual and the past and dishonesty enter into a relationship - even the most beautiful and unique of relationships will suffer.

They tried to hold on though and during that stretch of trying to hold on in 1974 my sister Kimberley Dyan Addison was born.  Kim was a blessing.  Many years after reflecting on watching my parents relationship and seeing it from a child's eyes, pre-adult eyes and adult eyes, Kim was a necessity if for nothing else but myself.  She gave my mother what she wanted most, another child.  Gave me a piece of my father and grandmother (Mama) and gave my father what he called the "last button on Gable's Coat".  She was everybody's baby - everybody's.

Well the wind swept in on July 4, 1976 and fireworks were no comparison for what were going on with my parents.  Their relationship was coming to an end and from a 7 year old's vision it felt like it was World War III.  The end of life as I knew it with my parents together had run its course.

Maxine plotted and planned to make her exit a couple of days after that and took her two babies to Sapulpa, Oklahoma to stay with her one of her best friends to try to finally wash my father out of her hair. 

It didn't go as planned.  She loved him and endured a lot of pain and heartache while in Oklahoma.  Some things you simply cannot let go of, but she was a survivor, took care of her babies and eventually made it back to California, this time Southern.

We moved in with my Aunt Sally which was an experience in itself.  She filed for divorce and tried to get back to some form of normal for not only her kids, but herself.  Yet as life has it there is always a twist waiting for you and that twist was the illness and eventual passing of my grandmother Ethel E. Johnson.

Keep in mind all of these things that were going on happened by her 28th birthday.  My Mother was strong and a survivor but this was too much. Shortly after my Grandmother Ethel passed my mother begin having seizures.  She was never diagnosed with epilepsy believe it or not.  I remember her telling me that as a child she had seizures from the time she was 8 up until she moved to California.  She blamed it on several factors, maybe it was a fall or two she experienced as a kid.  However when she begin having them as an adult she blamed it on possible head trauma at the hands of physical abuse by my father.

Now I'm not saying neither one of those possibilities were not the cause, however I tend to believe it was more mental than anything else.  While she was a child, my Grandma Ethel worked a lot and most times paid either relatives or neighbors to care for my Mother during the week so she could work.  So most of the week she was in someone else's care and would not see my Grandmother.  During these times she experienced sexual, mental and physical abuse by her caretakers - some she told my Grandmother about and some she was too young to actually tell what was going on.  So I think that by the time she was 8 years old and started to realize a lot of what had happened to her the seizures were some type of subconscious escape.

By the time she was 8 years old she was considered old enough to stay home and not need caregivers, but at the same time she became responsible for her older brothers, looking out for them.  Looking at this from a 2012 perspective one would try to figure out where the common sense was in this.  I look at it two ways.  One could be that my Grandmother had more faith in my Mother being more responsible at 8 years old than she did of her sons that were 12, 15 and  18  at the time.  We also have to consider the generation she was coming up in.  Then they raised their children to be adults, so responsibility was handed down very early. 

I figure the seizures stopped at 12 when the level of responsibility lessened and leaving a place as much as she loved it and was the only home she knew, but a reminder about all she had endured was a relief on that 12 year mind and heart.

So 12 to to 28 she was free of these seizures, but once Grandma Ethel died, they began again and this was something she had to deal with the rest of her life. I also connect the seizures to the relationship with her Mother and in someways to my Father later on.  At 12 she finally had her Mother, when they moved to Oakland.  Yes she had to share with her nephews and nieces but when she went to school, Grandma Ethel was there.  When she got home, Grandma Ethel was there.  The only responsibility she had was helping her Mother run around after her nephews and nieces.

Stability.  She had that with my Grandmother finally - emotional stability.  Eventually my Father would take over a piece of that pie.  No matter how crazy their relationship was, she felt safe with him.  He would not let anyone harm her.  

There was about a year and a half which I feel she had what is called a mental breakdown.  I was 11 at the time and all she would do is stay at home.  She had taken a leave from her job and didn't want to do anything.  Just stay indoors in her nightgown.  During that time I stepped up, cooking and cleaning.  Getting me and Kim ready for school and at the time of course I didn't understand what was going on with her but by that time we had already weaved our own cocoon - so I did what I was supposed to do - help my Mother keep it together.

One day she snapped of it.  Went back to work and life was back on schedule.  She never stopped having the seizures, but she didn't let that stop her.  She raised her children and helped in raising other children.

Maxine was always the one to go to even during all of her ups and downs.  My mother did so much for so many, when I finally started to find out just how much of a positive influence she was in others lives it made me all that much prouder to be her daughter.  I still want to know how she got away with most of it though. :)

I know there are many that are amazed I would be so open about my Mother's personal experiences and pain.   Anyone that knew my Mother knew most of this stuff already.  She hid nothing.  If you asked her something and she knew it, she would tell you.  Healing for her was in releasing the pain to help and educate others.  So growing up, I knew about her being molested as a child.  She used those stories to let me know that if it was occurring to me she understood and wanted to know and that she would protect me (she got real colorful in what she would do to the molester, but I'll keep it clean here).  

She told me about how while in Oklahoma, that while at a nightclub 3 men put something in her drink and raped her.  She told me that story to teach me to always be aware of my surroundings and that sometimes people that say they are your friend does not make them your friend.

She was honest with me about her relationship with my father.  How she always loved him, but couldn't be with him.  That was a lesson as much as it hurt, it was understood.

She gave me my first breath, my first smile and my first tear.  She was my protector, savior and enemy, but most of all she was my Best Friend.  So when she closed her eyes that last time I understood that she was the closest thing I would EVER come to knowing God.  Love is not pretty she taught me that.  Love is not a fairytale.  Love just is and all that it brings.  She gave me that and I love her for it.  Always...

Oh, and she gave me Marvin Gaye. :)