John: What are your best memories from childhood?
Christine: My best memories are my sisters. Really. My sisters, to tell you truth. And, the older I get, the more I realize that. And my mother, ya know. I adored my mother. I loved my mother. Even though there were times when I hated her.
And my best childhood memory was probably living with Mama Austin [Lily] and Papa Walter, and the year that I spent with Mama Lily and Papa Walter, and my sister.
John: Were all four of you together there, or was it two and two?
Christine: The four of us. And, it was on a farm and Papa Walter was a farmer. He had tractors and he would take me out with him on the tractor and had a horse. Was it one horse? I remember one horse. And, I was like, really, to tell you the truth, I was like adored.
John: Where was their farm?
Christine: Chastang. Chastang, AL. It’s between Mobile and Choctaw County or Butler. Yeah, it was like… Looking back, I wish I understood what, and even, yeah, I would have to say that was my favorite time.
John: Are they buried in Chastang?
Willene: Who are?
Christine: Papa Walter and Mama Lily.
Willene: I don’t know really where they are.
Christine: Are they buried in Chastang? Papa Walter and Mama Lily [dishes clanging]…I’m not really sure where they’re buried. They had a daughter who is much older and who wanted to adopt me but I didn’t want to be adopted. She wanted to adopt me when I was living with Papa Walter and Mama Lily.
John: Once you get settled here [in Montgomery] do you think you might go down and try to find their markers?
Willene: Find out something about them?
John: Or even just to find …
Christine: You know, Willene…years later when I was, let’s see, I was nine… When I lived with them I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade and then when I was in ninth, let’s see, when I was in 4th grade and she was in fifth grade, Papa Walter had died and Mama Lily came looking for us and wanted us to come live with her. She [Willene] went back to live with Mama Lily for a year or was it a summer…?
Willene: A summer.
Christine: … a summer, and at that time I had no interest in going back to live, and plus, she no longer lived on the farm; she’d moved off the farm and lived in a different area altogether. I went for the summer but I thought you [Willene] stayed for the winter?
Willene: I didn’t stay. I changed my mind.
Willene: Because I felt like I needed to come home and protect momma.
Christine: Yeah, right…because at that point it was already, my mother was already undergoing a lot of abuse from my father. And, uhhh… [sounds of exasperation…. long silence]. Yeahh. That was the last time I had any contact with them.
John: Un huh.
Christine: But I remember their daughter had green eyes. She was like us.
John: Un huh.
Christine: They were cajun I guess. Were they cajun or creole??
Willene: I don’t know if they were cajun or…
Christine: I don’t know if they were cajun or creole, and I don’t know if my father…I don’t know who knew them first, my mother or my father. They weren’t really our, related to us far as we know.
John: Like someone in my family we called Aunt Rita that had no relation to us whatsoever.
Willene: Un huh.
Christine and Willene: [Talking at the same time]….
Christine: …I don’t know… there’ve been times where I’ve gone through my life when I’ve felt, ‘if I don’t think about my past, and I just think about who I feel that I am at the moment’, I [large sigh]… feel differently about who I am, and then there are other times when I, when I look back and I, like we’re doing now, doing a reflection of the past, I realize that, again, I’m a different… I’m even a different person and then but, really to tell the truth, we’re all the same person we just have different experiences in life. It just, it makes us, it causes us to grow, hopefully. Yeah.
John: Yeah. It can be…it can be very, ya know, all of that pain, and all of that aggravation, and all of that joy and all of that imperfect recollection all coalesces into who we are today. Ya know…
Christine: Un huh. Exactly.
John: It’s like we don’t… it’s, it’s easy to suppress some of those things. At the same time it’s important to acknowledge those things as contributing to who we are and if they are bad things then…
Christine: Embrace them…
John: …embrace them as lessons in a direction of avoidance, and the good things, embrace them as a beacon for guidance.
Christine: Yeah. The things that I try to remember from my childhood… I don’t know. My mother always wanted us to [dishes clanging ]…she always wanted us to…she wanted us always to be proud of who we were but it was impossible given our background. She always wanted us to be honest. She always wanted us to never be a thief. And she always wanted us to be independent and she always wanted us to do well at what we did. And those are the things that I always try to subscribe to as an adult. I think maybe I try too hard sometimes and maybe someday they’ll contribute to my demise. I don’t know.
John: You have no demise. You just had some rough patches.
John: Yeah. Only demise…you know, you know…we got here from California and we had to drive through Memphis and there were some pretty rough patches of the road there.
And, metaphorically, life is the same way. I don’t deny that I’ve had some, ya know, I’ve a had a few things…. a couple years in an orphanage… nothing like what you guys have had to endure, but I recognize that nothing excludes that and that there are those who have and I hope they are as thankful as they can possibly be.
Christine: I don’t think they are. They can’t possibly know what it’s like…
John: Without knowing the contrast…
John: So…you know, it’s…don’t…. and recognize and accept the challenges but more importantly recognize that it is because of those challenges the things that helped you overcome them best, and focus on those characteristics.
John: That’s what, and maybe that’s one of the things I’ve seen in you… You’ve had a lot of challenges. I met some of your challenges, you know… Nazir, and Pat and Debbie and so on, but you’ve got the strength to deal with it, to go over or around or under, to do whatever you have to do to continue and move forward. So, ya know, when those walls are thrown into your path, you’ve got the savvy to figure it out.
John: So, anyway.
Christine: Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
John: And I don’t mean to bring up, you know, sad stuff. That’s why I was asking about the happy moments and it sounds like bonding with family is part of it.
Christine: It is. Definitely, at this point.
John: And maybe bonds aren’t so strong right now but they’re still bonds and they’re still there.
John: So who knows?
For the recording, this is the 26th of November 2014 around 10:30 p.m. [In Montgomery]
Christine: And I think I’m going to bed, soon.
John: I think I am too.