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Melbourne Folkes and my grandmother Clementina Folkes––I took some

cornflakes from the pantry in my mother’s house and some milk from the
refrigerator. I was starving, so it was a perfectly normal, innocent thing for

a boy to do. Except that my mother didn’t agree. So she thrashed me. She
used the closest thing she could find: a leather belt, a shoe, an electric

flex. And if she just used her hands to hit me, it would be her fists, not her

She also beat Sheron, though normally out of my sight, because

although I was completely dependent on Sister Martha for food and
somewhere to live, and although I was too young, too small to stop her,

Sister Martha was cautious about attacking Sheron openly in front of me.
Sheron’s whole body would be sore afterward. I remember that

once she was left with a badly cut lip. Even today, Sheron still has a scar
on her head from one of Sister Martha’s “punishments.”

Yet Sheron and I weren’t only being deprived of food and were

walloped indiscriminately for the most trifling deeds to which Sister Martha
took exception. We were also starved of love, of maternal care, and of


Sister Martha was our mother, but she didn’t act like it. She didn’t
like Sheron or me to think of her that way. Calling her Mom was absolutely

forbidden and exactly the kind of behavior she’d consider to warrant
another beating. She didn’t even want us living in her house. She felt we’d

been forced on her by our father’s family, and she saw no reason to be
kind. Melbourne and Clementina were the parents of her former partner,

Lincoln, from whom Sister Martha had separated when I was four years

old and Sharon seven.
Sister Martha didn’t like to be seen with us in public. As for her

husband John (we had to call him Uncle John), he didn’t like Sheron nor
me very much either. We were viewed as intruders. So for Sister Martha,

feeding us was not high on her agenda. Sheron mostly did the cooking,
but the portions we were allowed were, in effect, rationed.
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