Undoubtedly an important day in my life was Monday, April 24th, 1978. That was day one of my life journey – it was the day I was born. The parking lot of South County Hospital was dotted with the last remaining mounds of dirty snow which stood as frosty reminders of the “Blizzard of ’78”, a catastrophic, historic nor’ easter that plummeted and buried the New England area, with hurricane-force winds and almost 30 inches of snow between the morning of February 5th and the evening of February 7th, 1978. My parents were young and had only known each other for a short time. Neither one was prepared or ready to start a family together.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of information regarding my parents’ backgrounds or the details of how they met; I know even less about what their childhoods were like. For the sake of preserving my parent’s and extended family’s privacy, I’ll discuss personal perspectives and thoughts of the experiences from my childhood and life-journey instead. These pages contain crucial and compelling details which, when stitched together, provide a breathtaking and faith-inspiring picture, revealing the Divine Invisible Hand of God. Much of this specific chapter is either from a secondhand account or my own memory as best as I can recall.
In January of 1979, my mom was homesick and missed her parents. She and I took a bus from Rhode Island and traveled to Maryland, where her parents lived; meanwhile, my dad remained in Rhode Island. My mom’s dad worked for the U.S. Navy as an aircraft metalsmith, at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, or ‘PAX River’ as it’s known locally. I’m not sure what my grandmother did for work. She and my grandfather lived just outside the Navy base in a duplex, located in an old Cold War-era military housing neighborhood nicknamed ‘The Flat Tops’ – squat little pastel-color painted cinderblock buildings with flat sloping tar shingled roofs.
My mom and I stayed with my grandparents in their ‘flat top’ for about a month. During that time, an aunt of mine – one of my mom’s younger sisters – invited my mom to a church close to the PAX River Navy Base. Much of the church leadership and attendees were either civilians who worked on the base or were active-duty military stationed there. During one of the church services, my mom decided to become a Christian. As the pastor and church leadership got to know my mom more, they saw a deep need for mentorship, discipleship, and an overall climate change for my mom and me. Shortly after my mom’s conversion to Christianity, we moved out of my grandparent’s home and in with a family from the church, who lived on post on at the PAX River Naval Base. They were a Navy family and served as leaders in the church my mom and I were attending. The leadership in the church was sympathetic, providing mentorship and guidance for my mom. Eventually, she was ready to go back to Rhode Island and be reunited with my dad – but his priorities were elsewhere.
In the early winter of 1980, my mom and I took a bus from Maryland to Rhode Island, and we moved back in with my dad. We were only there for a few short months, but my mom introduced my dad to a local church pastor in Wakefield, Rhode Island, during that season. One day that pastor came by the house where my mom, dad, and I were staying. My dad and the pastor talked for a while, and towards the end of the conversation, my dad made a decision which sealed the eternal security of his soul – he received Jesus into his heart. Now, to be honest, I doubt my dad understood or was even interested in all the specific doctrinal details of Christianity, but around the time I was five or six years old, I do have very vivid memories of him reading the Bible; every time he did the atmosphere and climate around him seemed to lighten. Later that year, we moved from Rhode Island back down to Maryland. My mom reconnected with the same friends from church while my dad looked for a place where we could live. A short time later, we moved into a mobile home, located in a trailer park called National Trailer Court in Leonardtown, Maryland, situated about five miles outside of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
From my earliest childhood memories, I can recall the trailer we lived in was covered in a layer of corrugated tin and painted white. The sun had faded the thin layer of paint; the years of weathering and oxidation left a chalky white residue on my hands whenever I touched the metal sides. In front of the trailer was a massive oak tree. Calloused rough grey bark covered its mighty thick trunk like a tough armor hide, and the wide outstretched branches provided a broad canopy of protection as I played under its umbrella of leaves and acorns. At the base of the giant oak were thick roots that plunged deep underground and anchored the stalwart behemoth as a symbol of safety, stability, dependability, and strength. This was my sanctuary from the heartache and turmoil which filled the climate of my home.
As a little boy, I would spend hours under the cool shade of this tree, creating intricate networks of highways and overland infrastructure made from rocks, acorns, and broken twigs on a patch of bare earth. That patch of dirt was my world where I would make roads for my small pocket-sized cars. I had a whole system for engineering and developing my marvels of overland transportation. I would take my first three fingers and run them along the dusty ground, and as I dragged my hand through the dirt, my chubby little fingers would leave a pattern – three small indentations – which formed the lanes of my superhighway. I loved making roads in the dirt; I spent what seemed like hours out there in the front yard with a dozen or so little cars, trucks, and tractors – I was the master engineer and mayor of my little world, under the shade and watchful care of the mighty oak. I usually played by myself; I was content being alone. I enjoyed the silence of my own world without distraction or disturbance. I took my roads, highways, and little dirt city seriously. As much as I enjoyed the company of other kids, I didn’t like them messing with my carefully crafted miniature metropolis.
Although my world outside under the oak tree was a quiet, peaceful retreat, the world inside the trailer was heavy with sadness, neglect, instability, and loneliness. Inside, it was stark and cold with very little furniture. Cockroaches would hide in the corners, crevasses, and cabinets, waiting for the lights to turn off so they could scurry around and scavenge in the darkness. Standing in the front door and looking into the trailer, you would see faux wood paneling walls and cheap wood-floor pattern vinyl linoleum covering the floor. There was a plaid patterned couch in the living room made of some kind of rough bluish brown polyester material that felt like a burlap sack. In front of the couch sat the only luxury we had – a color tv. To the right of the living room was a single step leading up into the kitchen and dining room, which had a small round wooden table surrounded by four little chairs. It was at this table that I remember seeing my dad read the Bible; he’d sit there for hours with an air of solidarity, wonder, intrigue, and vulnerability.
Turning around from the dining room and kitchen and walking back into the living room was a hallway leading down to the back of the trailer. It was poorly lit, and the dark wood paneling seemed to soak up every speck of ambient light from the living room. Walking towards the back of the trailer, on the right, were two bedrooms that flanked a small bathroom in the middle. One of those rooms was mine. It was cold, unwelcoming, and bare except for one tiny closet and a spartan bed. Every night, before I went to sleep, my parents would shake out the covers as a dozen or so roaches ran out from under their linen hideaway. The bedroom on the other side of the bathroom was little more than an oversized closet with just enough space for a small twin-sized mattress. Then at the very back of the trailer was my parent’s room. A few feet in front of their room was the back door, which I don’t think we ever used.
Everything about the trailer was cheap, decrepit, and on the verge of falling apart. The turn handles used to crank open the windows were either missing or had the threads stripped. The sliding doors, which closed off the bedrooms and bathroom, would always come off their tracks and could only be locked with a little’ hook and eye’ latch. In the bathroom, the toilet rocked back and forth while the vinyl flooring bubbled and detached from the water-damaged particle board subflooring below.
Food was scarce; I can recall many times when my parents had to reach out to either a community charity service or a local church so we would have enough food to eat. As far as what my dad did for work, I’m not too sure. From some of the secondhand accounts I’ve heard, he held a few jobs at various times; once as a maintenance man for an apartment complex and another time, he worked as a construction laborer. My dad would often take off and leave my mom and me – often for days on end with neither of us knowing where he went or what he was doing.
I hated it when my dad left like that and would always get scared that each time would be the last time would see him. Even though I was little and didn’t have language for many of my emotions at the time, now that I look back, I used to wonder if he loved us – I used to wonder if he loved me, his son. It made me angry to see him take off, and I dreaded having to deal with the consequences of my mom’s emotional meltdowns, which were sure to follow afterward.