Mable Elizabeth Palmer
Sam Cooke – Change Gonna Come
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom. Rabindranath Tagore
Mine is a journey first of forgiveness then to understanding and onto tribute and honor.
I can still see her still form poised in deep thought and concentration in front of the Victrola, seemingly oblivious to the records that dropped in sequence yet fully aware of the music issued forth from that ancient record player.
Here is where a Daddy's Girl pays tribute to a troubled woman who despite her mental illness embraced family life as much as possible.
Unfortunately most of her adult life my mother was a functional schizophrenic and alcoholic. Like many substance abusers she used the alcohol to cope with a debilitating illness. Keep in mind this major life crisis occurred during the 1960s when none of the so-called wonder drugs for mental illness were even around. How must it have been to see your life collapsing before your eyes and not being able to do anything about it? She had an autistic son, before anyone knew what autism was or how to treat a child like my brother. He screamed all the time. Mommy probably felt like a failure.
Cue May 3, 1961. My mother had given birth to a bouncing baby boy that she and my Dad named Stephen Vincent Palmer. By all outward appearances he was normal and continued to meet the milestones of childhood development until sometime around 1963 when my parents saw that he still did not speak. Thus began a series of worried trips to various doctors trying to find a diagnosis for their son Stephen in the hope that with a diagnosis lay a cure. Not so for Edward and Mable Palmer. Not so for my brother Stephen Palmer. Instead the doctors labeled Stephen a two year old child as emotionally disturbed. Emotionally disturbed? Is this not a classification applied to serial killers or social deviants? How could a toddler be emotionally disturbed? The doctors advised my parents to place Stephen in an institution and forget about him. My Mom and Dad faced a crossroads, a time of decision and their choice was to keep their son home with them and me, raising him as normally as possible. The term autism did not exist at that time or if it did, it was not in common use even among physicians.
By the way the institution of choice at the time was Willowbrook. Fast forward about ten years and we all remember and know what a then young unknown reporter named Geraldo Rivera found at this hellish place. I will not recount the horrors found there as you can all Google it for yourselves.
My parents married December 1955 and had a traditional 1950s marriage. Meaning my Dad worked outside the home and my Mom’s territory was inside the home with my brother and me. To say a child like my brother was a challenge for my Mom would be an understatement. Stephen screamed all the time; the two of us battled like two prize fighters in the ring and my mother had to endure all of this with no one to turn to. When she married my Dad in 1955, she left Dayton, Ohio for New York City; her mother and siblings far away. Her support network inaccessible she began that slow slide into schizophrenia which was to plague her most of her adult life. The 1960s were not a period of enlightenment or mercy for the mother of a mentally retarded child. My Mom bore the stigma of perhaps having caused his disability. I was a small child but privy to some of the cruel words and heartless accusations leveled at my Mom. How lonely, hurt and ostracized she must have felt. Every time she looked at Stephen or had to deal with many of his odd behaviors’ it must have run through her mind, did I cause this? The stigmata of shame and failure became etched into her already frail psyche creating a pathway that she did not want to travel but was forced to because of the times and type of society in which she lived.
Beer and wine seemed to quiet those voices inside her head but only temporarily. Finally sometime around the late 60s the voices became too loud and insistent to ignore. She answered their call and drank Drano. I was very young at the time and actually saw her doing this but had no idea what she was doing. Then at the point where the Drano was burning her throat she told me to go get my Dad. I ran to my father and I can still hear his voice shouting to this day, What did you do? He was frantic. The police and EMS were called. As my mother was being taken out I can remember Stephen telling the police, My Mommy is sick. Stephen could not have been more than five or six years old so maybe I was seven or eight when this happened. The ambulance swallowed up both my parents and Stephen and I were left in the house alone. So small we both fit perfectly in the living room wingback chair I held Stephen’s hand and prayed for Mommy to get better and come back home. A simple prayer but not answered right away or even in the way I wanted it to be answered.
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
'Good-morning,' and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
Edwin Arlington Robinson
My mother was placed in the psychiatric center of Queens Hospital Center and my grandmother Hattie Banks and Aunt Helen James came from Dayton, Ohio to take care of us. Children were not allowed to visit hospitalized parents in those days nor were Stephen and I given any information on how my mother was doing or if she was getting better. I do remember once my Mother somehow escaped the hospital and came home in a taxi. Needless to say she was not better and my father, grandmother and aunt had her returned to the hospital for treatment. Treatment consisted of making simple arts & crafts. Some treatment. Eventually my Mom did return home for good, but it would be years before she got some of her life back.
Her life. I’ve often wondered what my Mom’s life was like before she married my Dad. What was it like to grow up during the Great Depression, World War II hemmed in by the shackles and barbed wire of Jim Crow. Having to get off the sidewalk if white people were coming towards you. The back of the bus. The back of the movie theatre. Working as a maid in white homes where the white women demoralized and demeaned you as less than a human being. Always being second class. Not good enough. Then to have a child others deemed a mistake, an error, a human failing directly attributed to “something she did while pregnant” was probably the last straw. Inner dialogue: Did I really do this to my beloved baby son? Is it really my fault? What happened to the picture perfect marriage I held in my mind and expected to live out once I got to New York with my husband? What must have been like to relive one’s supposed inadequacies. Jim Crow tumbling, bouncing, swinging and throbbing inside your psyche, pounding out messages of not good enough, different, wrong, bad choices. Reinforced by conniving in-laws/out-laws who had always been suspicious of your motives for marrying their prized beloved brother and now found an outlet for their ignoble blame game. Where to find solace for a troubled soul imprisoned behind the bars of “Don’t put your business in the street.” That’s what you used to tell me and you probably absorbed that saying from Grandma. Soaked it up like a sponge so that those words constricted your mind placing your lips if not your thoughts on mute. Day by day trying to keep a hold on a frenzied mind raging in all directions watching records drop and play one by one on the old Victrola mesmerized and somewhat calmed by the regularity and consistency in which the phonograph arm distributed your musical choices.
Had the demons of Jim Crow followed her to New York and cursed her handsome baby boy.
My father’s family has attempted to demonize my mother but though she was a woman troubled by the many demons schizophrenia forces into residence inside your head she loved us more than she loved herself.
Despite some of the trauma I went through as a child over all I had a good childhood. Funny how when you get older you put things in perspective plus some of the illnesses your parents have visited your doorstep.
Mable Elizabeth Palmer -- DeBorah Ann Palmer
How do you quash a lie that seems to gain new life and resurrect with every generation? The Past, we often seek to bury it but only succeed in hiding it but like the undead its gnarled dirt encrusted six fingered rips off the death shroud, tears off the lid of the casket and pushes through layers of earth to reveal itself.
Out of the smiling photos of the 50s and 60s I’m a mini-me of my Dad with his full toothy grin and that twinkle in his eye always reading to play a practical joke or mimic the scary monster from Chiller Theater but I’m internally composed of my mother’s keen powers of observation and dry humor that served her well in dealing with challenging situations.
Betrayed by the playmates of my youth Condemned to an endless purgatory search for love, acceptance & belonging.
Wandering A Wasteland Of sorrow and disappointments, seeking and desiring a bond that never truly existed.
We who have been cast out from the tribe abandoned only to know longing but never fulfillment. Trapped by lies and falsehoods that should have long been discarded. Caught in an emotional web of deceit hoping for escape, a kind of salvation, a type of redemption. Oh where is my savior who will rescue and mend my broken soul. Locks shorn, sitting in sackcloth and ashes I await the delivering Angel of Death.
My Mom passed away in August 1998 but with all the 2012 drama I've felt closer to her than ever before. I believe she is speaking through me charging me to tell her story. Her spirit and mine are one flesh, our souls are reconciled one to another, the veil of death lifted for a time such as this.
The small town girl born in Davy, WV, raised in Jim Crow, Dayton, Ohio who marries the big city boy (my Dad Edward Palmer) from Harlem, USA.
The battle began when a small town country girl vs the sophistication of the Harlem Niggrati or what we now call Ghetto Fabulous.
She was the cornerstone rejected and misunderstood by her husband’s family.
Way back then they was not knowing that cells have genetic memory. The in-laws tried to make the simple girl from Dayton, Ohio into a pariah after the birth of their disabled son but the reality of the discourse was not to be. I'm here to cease the motion of 15 years of lies, fable, tall tales and innuendos. I exist to give validation to the voice that was never heard. The child Stephen fertilized with essence seed from without the boundaries had come to save us. His is the seed of many generations back, the DNA that coalesces make believes with reality. His earthly soul is subject to the confines of this life's limitations but Stephen's spirit soars with the Angels whose quest is to serve the Lord.
Mable was held in a panorama spun by coveted lovers, who were harlots through celibacy making death a closer journey to Heaven.
With this confession my Mother's Soul residing within me is at rest. She rages no more, her anguish has been extinguished.
My mother and I share broken lives, shattered in similar places we cut ourselves on shards of pain, our fractured lives seeking to mend.
Now I attempt to retrieve the scattered pieces, seeking to restore the jigsaw puzzle of Isis, long in disarray, bent and twisted from misuse, abuse and false accusations. Fraying the edges making impossible even imperfect fits.
Sitting across from her flesh & blood ghost, linking hands we grant each other absolution long sought from others outside our circle but only possible for us, from us.
In retrospect I have become her, a woman of strength, fortitude, courage, virtue and character; strong willed and loyal to a point.
My mother taught us basic human decency, a trait sorely lacking in many children and adults.
After I graduated from college at age 43, actually even before that I battled depression. I've been hooked on all types of anti-depressants, pain killers and have an off and on dalliance with drink. By the way doctors and therapists knowingly make drug addicts out of their patients. I stopped taking all my anti-depressant medicines in 2007. As you know medical science has since proved those medications turn you into a zombie and cause depression/suicidal thoughts. I'd rather be depressed and a functioning human being than a suicidal zombie.
Now I not only understand but know what my mother felt. Even though my Mom had been gone for years I'm closer to her than ever before, because I'm more like her. In a way I am her and me at the same time.
In the ensuing years since that incident I too have battled depression. I have attempted suicide several times as recently as earlier this year. The demons are forever with me. However they are held at bay through faith in God, prayer and my brother Stephen. Stephen has become my earthly salvation, my reason for being. How can I leave my beautiful brother alone on this earth knowing that for him the earth, moon, stars and sun revolve around me? Whenever he sees me his whole face lights up. When the workers at his residence or his teachers at his day treatment program ask him Stevie who’s that? He proudly answers my sister. One day I was feeling really down, depressed and discouraged and Stephen’s group home called to tell me they were coming by for me to sign some paperwork. I met the van outside and before the worker could place the papers into my hands Stephen leapt out the van and gave me a big hug! I was pleasantly surprised because people with autism are not really physically expressive. Stephen hugs but usually gingerly. This time he gave it his all. Somehow he must have known or God told him that I needed that hug.
To any of the doctors who might be reading this today and originally diagnosed Stephen back in 1963, Stephen has a job which he loves, enjoys living in his group home, participates in many social activities, has had girlfriends, etc… Yes Stephen has broken barriers. The barriers of doubt and labels from the medical community and from society.
My Mom Mable Elizabeth Palmer finally received the medication she needed in 1995 after my Dad had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. My father Edward Palmer passed away on May 13, 1995. Mom and I were left with each other. The medicine cleared her mind so we could really get to know one another. I asked her why. She said I was overwhelmed. I understood. By then I was an adult woman in my 30s. My mother and I made peace with each other and became good friends. Alas this paradise of togetherness only lasted three years. Cancer claimed Mommy August 2, 1998 sending my life into a tailspin from which I’m just now beginning to recover.
[caption id="attachment_107" align="alignleft" width="99"]
Mable Elizabeth Palmer[/caption]
Donations to this Woman-Centered Ministry can be made directly to my PayPal account via my email address: email@example.com
Women share an unequal burden in this world. Unfortunately some of it is often forced upon us by other females.