In spite of telling myself that I wouldn’t feel guilty about writing that last post, I do.
Not because I feel that I betrayed my mother by airing her dirty laundry. I don’t. And in this search for my family’s stories, I want to be honest about who we were. But I know some people will judge. Some will judge me for making light of a serious situation, but I don’t care about that. I admit that I use humor in uncomfortable situations. But, really, I think the story is a funny one.
What does matter is that some people will judge my mother for her parenting skills, and my family for how we lived. And that’s not right.
My mother was a loving, hard-working woman, in a new country and trying to learn how to make her way in the world, just like anyone else. Sometimes she was dramatic and did crazy things, but she was a wonderful parent. Yes, she fought fiercely, but she loved us just as intensely. And, regardless of what I may have made fun in the past (and what I will make fun of in the future), I loved her just as much. I didn’t realize how much until I lost her.
My brother was a quiet, gentle, deep-thinking person who used alcohol and drugs to self-medicate what was later diagnosed as schizophrenia. We weren’t best buds because we were so far apart in age, but we understood each other in our own way and shared a bond.
And then there’s Scotty, the patriarch, who I’ve yet to mention except in passing. (Eventually I will.) He was the most screwed up of us all back then, but even he loved us as much as he was able. And, over the years, I’ve forgiven him for being such a shitty father — as much as I am able.
Sure, my family had its issues, but what family doesn’t? There was a lot of drama when I was younger, but there was a lot of laughter, goofiness and love, too. I don’t think we were any better or worse than any other family. Weirder at times, maybe, but not any worse.
In the end, all any of us can do is our best and learn from our mistakes. And I think my mother did that a hell of a lot better than many: The “crazy Jamaican” woman that she was in the 1960s and 70s definitely became a kinder, gentler, more Americanized version of herself in later years. If that isn’t adapting to your surroundings, I don’t know what is.
So, I urge you: If you decide to go on this journey with me, don’t judge the ones that are gone too harshly. I would much rather have this be about telling the true stories than painting a flowery picture of what I sometimes wished growing up had been like.
Don’t forget: if you have a story about my family — good, bad or ugly — please share it. Leave a comment below, offer up a submission, or email me directly.
My mother believed in the principle of an issue. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of times I heard her say, “It may not be that important, but it’s the principle of the matter.” She did a lot of nutbag things over the years, but this is by far the craziest thing she did in the name of “principle.”
In case you don’t feel like reading the article above, here’s the condensed version: In July 1968, Dayton’s department store arranged to have my father’s paycheck withheld because of an outstanding bill my parents had with them. So my mother left me at the store with a note saying that they had to feed me since she could no longer afford to. (If you have read the article above, the continuation is at the bottom of this post. Don’t worry — it has a happy ending.)
The article, although not much different, is actually kinder to my mother than reality. In truth, by mother’s own admission, she made a much more calculated effort to wait until she had no food left in the house. Then she set out to make her point. In her defense, she did almost change her mind at the last minute. As she walked toward the door of the office, I started to fuss, and she considered turning back to get me. But, in the end, she steeled her shoulders and continued on. She was on a mission to prove a point.
See, the principle was that my parents were paying off the bill. The payments probably weren’t as much as Dayton’s would have liked to be getting, but they were what my parents could afford and were the payments that had been agreed upon by the store in arrangement that my mother made with them. And they still stopped my father from receiving his paycheck. That just wasn’t right, and my mother wasn’t going to stand for it.
I loved this story when I was a kid, and I made my mother tell it to me over and over as we looked at the article memorialized in one of her photo albums. I thought it was cool that she could be so brave — and that I was featured in the newspaper at 9 months old, of course.
As an adult, while I believe that there are probably many other actions my mother could have taken that would have been less drastic than abandoning her only daughter in downtown Minneapolis, I still think that it took a lot of balls to do what she did. And I respect her for that.
And, if you think that my mother’s rolling around in her grave because I’m releasing this story to the world, you can let that go. First of all, this story is a matter of public record and the entire Twin Cities metro area heard about it when it happened (it was also covered on television news). Also, my mother knew that I had told this story to several of my friends over the years, and she was never embarrassed by it. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had even been a little proud, because she always thought that she was in the right.
So, now you know a little more about the environment I came from: principled, but bat-shit crazy, too. If you read this story and realize that you or someone you knew was involved in it, or you realize that you new my mother and family, let me know. Leave a comment below, offer up your own story in a submission, or email me directly. I’d love to hear your perspective of this time.
Oh, and I almost forgot the happy ending: After this, Dayton’s forgave my parents’ debt in full (I’m sure for fear of all the bad publicity) and recorded their account in good standing. Not what mother had been looking for — she just wanted my father’s paycheck — but she took it. However, she promptly closed the account and never opened another one for the rest of the time the store existed. Every few years, they would open up another account in her name and send her a new card. And she would immediately cut up the card and call to close the account. After all, it was the principle of the matter.
(If you’ve come to this page first, you can read the story behind these pictures here.)
As promised, here are the pictures of Robert’s father, Ken Black. In the first picture, he’s the one in the middle. I have to say, I can’t blame my mom. I mean, really? Wow. Just wow.
I don’t know which one he is in the second picture — probably the guy on top? But, does it really matter — how cool is that?
Remember, if you ever saw this guy on some beach in England in the 1950 (and who could forget that?!) or if you’ve ever seen this picture before, leave a comment or email me.
While I’m in the process of going through my mother’s things and asking for help to discover some of the answers I want, I thought I’d offer a little comic relief. You probably can’t read it clearly, so this is what the letter says:
Dear Tooth Fairy,
I’m in 6th grade and learning quite alot more. I’m also learning how to handle my finances. Tonight I pulled out a tooth with a filling in it. Here are my estimates.
$10.00 - $5.00 = $5.00 - $4.00 = $1.00 + $1.00 = 2.00
The total is two dollars!
the tooth is under my pillow
I don’t claim to understand either the logic or my 6th-grade math level calculations. But it is funny how I got so greedy and cheeky in a few short years.
As a small kid, I was pretty clued in on Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but somehow the Tooth Fairy missed my reality check. When I lost my first tooth, my mom told me that if I put it under the pillow that night, the Tooth Fairy would come in while I was sleeping, take the tooth and leave me some money. Pretty much the classic Tooth Fairy story that every kid gets, right?
The idea of some stranger, fairy or not, coming into my room in the middle of the night while I was sleeping scared the shit out of me. There was no way that I was going to do it. My mother tried to convince me that the Tooth Fairy was nice and wouldn’t hurt me, but I wasn’t having any part of it. I now realize that my trust issues started very early in life.
Finally, my mother came up with a solution that I felt I could agree to: We’d leave the tooth on the desk in the dining room (I didn’t want that thing anywhere near my room) and see if the Tooth Fairy would still come and get it. My mother didn’t make any guarantees, but I figured it was better than the alternative.
The next morning, I came out of my room and the tooth was gone. In its place was a quarter (this was the early 1970s, after all — I’m sure it’s gone way up since then). I was a pretty smart kid, but for some reason, I couldn’t connect the dots: I started freaking out because somehow my tooth had gotten lost in the middle of the night. It took several minutes to figure out that the quarter was my payment for the missing tooth.
God, I must have felt like an ass when I found out about the Tooth Fairy.
My guess (more like desperate hope) is that the above letter was written after finding out that my mother would be the one getting it. I was probably trying to extort more money out of her by “being cute.” Wrong, I know, but as I remember, it worked.
And, yes, those are all my teeth that I found in a box of my mother’s keepsakes. She kept them all these years. Ewwww.
The Search for Robert’s Father
I’ve been thinking a lot about my brother since I wrote that last post. Although he used the last name Stone when he moved to the States, he had, in fact, a different father. And like many things about her past, my mother didn’t talk much about this man. She never told me his name, and I’ve only seen one picture of him, taken on a beach where he was wearing a Speedo (and a hot little bod). I’ll post it as soon as I find it again.
(UPDATE: I found two pictures that you can see here. And trust me, you’re going to want to see them.)
Although I know that my mother knew him in London, I don’t know if he was English or from one of the islands. I don’t know how long they knew each other, but I do know that he was already engaged when they met, so when my mother got pregnant I don’t think there was any possibility that they would get married.
I remembered that when I was going through my mother’s things in Atlanta, I had found a letter that she had written to this man. Today, I spent three hours going through a Rubbermaid tub of my mother’s pictures and papers that I brought back with me from Georgia. And, at almost the very bottom of the pile, I found what I was looking for. I know have this man’s name: Ken A. Black. And I’ve decided that I want to find him if he’s still alive, or someone who was close to him if he isn’t. I mean, how hard could that be — how many Ken A. Blacks could there be in the world? (Excuse me a minute while I giggle uncontrollably.)
But seriously, I’ve got questions. I wouldn’t even go for the hard ones (like, just what the hell was he doing fooling around with my mother when he was already engaged?); I just want to know what was going on then. Did his fiancee ever know about Robert? Did they even ever get married? Did Ken have other children later — did Robert have half-siblings that he didn’t know about?
And, I assume that Ken and my mother we pretty close, at least for a while. Maybe he could tell me some things about her: Back then, was she the carefree person that I caught only the tiniest glimpses of when I was little? Was she a risk-taker (beyond not using condoms) or did she need to be in control (the latter was definitely the woman that I grew up with)? What happened when she found out she was pregnant — did she freak, or did she just suck it up and figure out what her “plan B” was?
I did figure out two things from reading the letter. In it, my mother writes, “I don’t know if you’ll ever get to see him again but I hope so.” That means that not only did my mother tell Ken about Robert, but Ken and Robert had also met. I wonder: How many times? And what was that like? Did Robert know Ken was his father, or was he just “Uncle Ken”?
I could go on forever, but I won’t. As you can see above, what I have is a name and an address that at some time before January 1, 1973 (that’s when my mother wrote the letter) was where Ken lived, in Balham, London, S.W. 12, England. If you lived in London in the 1950s, 1960s, or even possibly 1970s, and think you knew this Ken Black, tell me a story. Or if you live next door to some old man named Ken — he’s probably be in his 80s by now — ask him if he ever knew Barbara Hay (you don’t need to mention the whole illegitimate-son thing), and if he did, have him contact me.
I realize exactly how ridiculous this search for my brother’s father is after all these years. But this is the age of the internet — there’s nothing you can’t find, right? I say, let’s put that to the test. Reblog this or post it on your Facebook or Google+ page or, hell, if you have an uncle named Ken Black, ask him what he was doing the summer of 1956 (Robert was born in May 1957).
Remember, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this post, submit a story or picture here, or email me directly, whatever you want. I’d love to hear from you.
Artwork by Bob Stone
Actually, his name wasn’t Bob. And for that matter, his last name wasn’t Stone, either, but that’s what he chose to go by, especially when signing his art. This painting isn’t signed; I’m not sure why.
My brother was a very talented artist, and fairly prolific considering he died at the age of 20. Unfortunately, he was addicted to drugs and sold his work to support his habit. I suppose there are worse things you could sell.
This is one of the few things that my mother managed to keep from his collection. She kept it stored in an unused room, rarely to been seen, like she did with many of her possessions. Several years ago, I asked her for it as my birthday present, and it now sits on a wall in my living room, one of the first things you see when you enter. Sometimes I think I should get it framed, but I really do like it in its raw form.
Robert memorialized the things he loved in his art: race cars, trains, double-decker buses and his idols, like Jimi here, Bootsie Collins and Sly Stone (no relation to us). Right now I’m on the hunt for my favorite of his paintings, one of Sly. I used to stare at it in wonder when Robert still lived with us and kept the painting in his room and, even as a kid, I was saddened when I found out he sold it.
I have only a child’s memory of it, so in some ways the image is hazy, but it was of Sly wearing a large white pimpin’ hat low over one eye in the classic 70s style, and there was a deep red in the painting as well, not as dark as maroon but a little darker than blood red. It might have been the background, but I think it was Sly’s jacket. I’m pretty sure that it was signed, probably in the lower right corner, but I could be making that up. Robert sold it probably sometime in the mid-1970s.
It’s possible that for one of many reasons the painting doesn’t exist, but if this sounds familiar to you, or if you’ve ever seen a painting signed by Bob Stone, please contact me. I would love to see it again, and possibly even find a way to make a reproduction from a digital image. Leave a comment below, click here to submit a longer reply or upload a picture, or email me directly.
I’m wondering if you are the Jocelyn Stone that I knew as a little girl. Is your mother named Barbara and your father Scotty? Did you have a brother named Robert?
If you are that Jocelyn, please answer my email. I’ve attached a picture of the Jocelyn I’m looking for taken in 1968 with my daughter, Penny.
I’m trying to find your mother. I think that she moved to Arizona.
I found this in my inbox on Saturday morning. And, yes, that is me (the one on the left). Judging from the season, I would say I’m probably about seven or eight months old.
I knew Dorothy as my aunt Dorothy (and she refers to me as her little Jocie) in early childhood. I probably haven’t seen her since I was six or seven years old. I have a few vivid memories of her and her family, like watching The Ten Commandments every year at Easter and The Wizard of Oz, whatever time of year they used to show that. But I have to admit, that most of my memories of them are kind of hazy.
So I was excited to hear from aunt Dorothy and I look forward to seeing her in person as soon as we can figure out a time (the woman has a social schedule that definitely puts mine to shame). But the email also brought up some questions, too. I realized that I had no idea how my mother and aunt Dorothy met. From the little I remember, my guess is that their cultural and socio-economic backgrounds are quite different. And I don’t even know if they were close in age. How did these two women come together?
As the day progressed, I thought a lot about my mother. In many ways, she was a very straightforward person. She would tell you exactly what she thought of anything, she never had a problem openly disagreeing with someone, and she offered advice, solicited or not, to anyone who would listen.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that there was a lot that, especially when it came to her early life, my mother didn’t talk about, or things that she would discuss on only the most surface level. Usually, if I asked a question, she’d answer it, but I didn’t ask many questions. Now I wish I had.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had these thoughts — I’ve had them many times in the four years since my mother died. In the past I resigned myself to the knowledge that all those answers died along with her. But Saturday I realized that, although my mother may not still be around, many of the people that knew her, interacted with her, even lived with her, still are. And I’m ready to do some askin’.
I’ve decided to take the next year of my life to find out about the family that had mostly disintegrated by the time my memory began. I’m going to track down the people and the records that will tell me what my family was all about before I was a conscious part of it. What was it like for my father growing up in the pre-Civil-Rights south? Whatever happened to my brother’s father? Why did my mother, who professed to be so close to her 11 siblings, always choose to live as far away from them as physically possible? And I’ll be laying out all the answers I get here, for anyone who’s curious.
I have a feeling that some of the stories could be pretty crazy, and even a little warped. I know that some of the ones I already know (which I will also share here) are. Ever hear me tell the one about how when I was a baby, my mother gave me away to Dayton’s? Yea, the store. I’ll post that one soon, complete with the article that was my debut in the Star Tribune.
Enough about what I’m going to do. Stay tuned and you’ll see soon enough. But in the meantime, if you knew my mother, father or brother way back when and have a story to tell, I want to hear it. You can go to http://stone365.tumblr.com/submit or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t let it go untold.