A friend and his 6-year-old son came to visit recently. It has been several years since the son has been to my house. As we are walking through the house, the 6-year-old whispered to his dad that he liked my stuff. Right now, I need to buy several more bookshelves to hold and organize my clutter of books and papers. This sweet little boy, with his child's wisdom and wonder in his eyes, looked up at me and said, "You must be rich." I laughed and then said, "Yes, in some ways, I am rich. I am very rich in friends."
This is my second article about the most influencial people in my life. For this one, I will take you back to when I was 19 years old and getting ready to leave home for the first time. I was just finishing up with my second year of college. I lived at home and rode back and forth to school with my mom who would drop me off on her way to her job every morning.
I met Althea that year in one of my classes. We were actually in 2 classes together. We were both attending a little junior college in Bossier City, Louisiana. This junior college started out as a pilot program that was located on one floor of Airline High School. We had a small student lounge at one end of the hall where the college students could sit and visit in between classes. Althea and I got to know each other in the lounge.
I told her that I was thinking about leaving home whenever I took my last college exam. I needed to find a job so that I could earn some money to pay for my next year of college. I had already been accepted for my junior year at Northwestern State University of Louisiana in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I had applied for and been accepted for a student aid loan and job starting in September of 1970. At that time, I was studying to teach Special Education in Elementary School.
Althea is about 10 years older than both of my parents so some people might think ours is an odd friendship. I have always been blessed with friends of all ages. I just love people. Althea has 4 children of her own, 2 sons and 2 daughters. At the time her oldest son was married and out on his own. The oldest daughter is 11 days older than I am. We became fast friends. Althea's youngest son was in high school when I first met him and her youngest daughter was 12 years old. Althea and her husband moved their family to Shreveport, Louisiana when her husband retired at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City the year that we met.
When I made up my mind to leave home, I didn't have a clue as to where I was going to live until September when I could go to Northwestern. All I knew was that I had to leave home or I would never be able to get out from under my dad's rule. My dad was a dictator, an alcoholic, and a rageaholic. I had reached a breaking point. I knew that if I didn't leave then, that I would have a nervous breakdown of some kind and totally lose myself. I was desperate to leave the abuse behind. I knew this was my one and only chance to leave.
I believe that God put Althea in that class for my sake. Without her intervention, I would not have survived. I told Althea that as soon as I finished my last test at school that I was leaving home. She asked if I would want to live with her and her family that summer. She said that she would help me find a summer job. I said yes. That night I went home and wrote a letter to my mom. I started to tell my dad that night that I was leaving and not coming home the next day. My mom interrupted me and would not let me tell him. I went to my room and packed a few changes of clothing and went to bed.
The next morning, I told my sister bye and gave her my letter. I asked her to give the letter to mom when she came in from work that evening. I hated leaving my sister behind but there was no way that I could take her with me. She was 16 and still a minor.
Mom dropped me off at school. She asked me if I was coming home that evening. I lied and told her I didn't know. It seemed easier than telling her the truth. I went to classes and took my last tests and then went home with Althea.
For the first day, my mom lied and told my dad that I was spending the night with a friend. The second night that I didn't come home she told him where I was. Mom called to tell me that Daddy was on his way to Althea's to get me.
My dad's oldest brother was a police detective for the city of Shreveport. Mom gave me his phone number. I called him and explained the situation and told him that I had left home and was not going back. I asked if he would come over to Althea's to help me talk to Daddy. He agreed. He got to Althea's just before Daddy did. Daddy, Uncle Odis and I went out and sat in Uncle Odis's car to talk. I was afraid to let Daddy in Althea's house because of Daddy's temper. He told me that night that if he ever caught Althea out on the highway that he would run her car into the ditch. I believed him. Daddy and Uncle Odis convinced me to go home for the weekend so that we could talk about my plans. I told Daddy that I would go home with him for the weekend only if he would promise to bring me back to Althea's on Sunday afternoon. He said he would. I thanked Uncle Odis for his help and told Althea my plans for the weekend.
I went home to a weekend of crying and threats and then when that didn't work, Daddy decided to threaten suicide. Instead he went out and got drunk and came back several hours later and went to bed. That was the hardest weekend I have ever lived through. I experienced fear for myself, for my entire family, for my dad in case he did commit suicide. I knew he was doing everything he could think of to keep me at home. I felt sadness over leaving my mom, sister and brother at home. I felt guilty for leaving my sister behind but I knew my dad would not let me take her. I decided I would not feel guilty if Daddy did follow through with his suicide thread. I knew I could not be responsible for his actions if he did decide to take his own life. I knew that my survival was at stake. I would have fallen apart and totally lost my self if I had stayed at home any longer. I was very close to breaking and I knew it. I knew that I couldn't be strong much longer before I gave into the fear.
I think that I was feeling deep echoes of a past life in which I did just give up. In that past lifetime, I remember the feelings of being so helpless to control my own life that one day I just went to bed and never got up. I quit eating and just laid there in my bed until I died of starvation of food and spirit. In that lifetime, I was raped too. In some deep recess of my mind, I remembered and I knew I did not want to do that again. I did not want to be so sad that I would just quit living. I also knew that I wasn't far from doing just that if I didn't get away from my dad.
My mom drove me back to Airline Junior College on that long ago Sunday afternoon. Althea met us there. I didn't go home again until just a week before I left for Northwestern State University.
Althea helped me find my first job working as a line worker in a cafeteria. What a wonderful job that was for a country girl with no special training of any kind. I was extremely quiet and shy. I was also the only worker there that summer that was below the age of 30. Everyone took me under their wings and protected me and helped me begin to blossom.
Althea and her family took me in, nurtured me and protected me and started me on my path to adulthood. I learned what some semblance of a normal American family was. They unofficially adopted me into their family. I gained 2 more brothers and 2 more sisters and a second set of parents. Althea has always been one of my best friends and my second mom combined.
Althea, I can't measure the love and admiration that I still have for you today. You hold a special place in my heart. You really did save my life that long ago day that you invited me into your heart and home. Thank you for your love and kindness in taking in that sad, lonely girl that I once was. You have played an important part in helping me to become the woman that I am today. You are one of the strongest women that I know. I love you.