A Little Past-Due Love for Cousin Glen
As a 9- or 10-year-old, my knowledge of the situation was limited. Therefore, I cannot pass judgment on the adults. I do not know what was done or not done to rescue my cousin Glen, a little boy who was severely abused by his mom, my late aunt Bummie (a nickname). My dad threatened to report Aunt Bummie to the authorities and warned her, “Do not physically discipline my kids.”
A homosexual, Glen's adult life was cut extremely short due to AIDS. My purpose for writing is to let the world know that Glen was here, that he suffered, and that I loved him.
Aunt Bummie was my mom's older sister. Their childhood was horrendous. Their father was accidentally killed in a street shooting. Their alcoholic mother would abandon the two little girls for long periods of time. Mom and Bummie endured things kids should not have to endure.
In the 1950s, when Dad broke the color barrier to become a Baltimore City firefighter, our family (mom and four younger siblings) moved out of the government projects into our own home in a black suburban community.
Aunt Bummie and her five sons by two absentee fathers remained in the projects on welfare. I enjoyed occasional sleepovers at my cousins' government-provided townhouse in the city. Aunt Bummie's house was unkempt, with holes punched in walls and broken furniture.
“Aunt Bummie, when I grow up, I'm gonna buy you new furniture.” “Thanks, Peanut” (my nickname), she replied.
I got along great with Aunt Bummie and her boys. And yet, I felt my cousins' envy of me having a dad in our home. I felt sorry for them.
Aunt Bummie and her boys lived differently from how my family did. Aunt Bummie did not have a job. Unlike in my home, the refrigerator was off limits to her children. Food was very valuable; each boy was protective of his food when eating. I remember large generic-label boxes of government cheese and powdered milk – cans of meat and peanut butter.
Fondly, I remember Aunt Bummie covering her table with newspapers and dumping a huge pile of fried chicken necks and backs on it for us boys to devour. I still like fried chicken necks and backs.
Even as a little boy, I felt the sadness, anger, and dysfunction of their household. Aunt Bummie was extremely kind and gentle with me, but brutal toward her boys – Glen in particular, the baby. I vaguely recall overhearing my parents saying Bummie hated Glen because he reminded her the most of his father.
Their household humor was weird and violent – the five boys along with Aunt Bummie would laugh hysterically about the time she broke the baseball bat while beating Jimmie and how she bent the cooking pot while beating Glen.
Glen was the family servant. When everyone was watching TV, anyone could order Glen to go fetch something. The slightest noncompliance from Glen would result in Aunt Bummie screaming at him and/or beating him – not spanking, but beating. My heart always went out to Glen as I watched him cry during his beatings. The lack of love. The unfairness. The cruelty.
Lawrence, the eldest, was very intelligent and responsible. He played substitute dad to his brothers. Glen was intelligent and responsible, too. Aunt Bummie's other three sons acted like Neanderthals. And yet, she catered to her two most lazy and irresponsible boys while being extremely tough on Lawrence and Glen.
Etched in my brain is the day I witnessed something emotionally die in Glen. Aunt Bummie was beating Glen, pounding away at him with her fists. Though his seven- or eight-year-old body bent in reaction to her punches, Glen just stood there with a blank look on his face, not shedding a tear. It was chilling.
Sadly, Aunt Bummie and four of her sons died young. Her surviving son is one of her favorites, who is now in his 50s. He never had a job in his life and lives in a nursing home.
The one bright spot in Aunt Bummie's depressed household was her eldest son, Lawrence. Incredibly, Lawrence worked his way through college and achieved great things. Her favorite jobless adult sons lived at home. Despite two non-working adult sons living with Aunt Bummie, a phone call would bring Lawrence with financial support. Lawrence, a homosexual, died of AIDS in his late 30s.
My heart goes out to Aunt Bummie and her boys – no husband in the home for her and no father for her sons. She was prone to explosive fits of rage. Aunt Bummie and her adult sons embraced cradle-to-grave government dependency. I believe that their lives could have been so much more. Aunt Bummie did eventually become a born-again Christian. Praise God!
But there is a special place in my heart for Glen. That kid never got any love. When he became an adult, according to the family grapevine, Glen was a bit wild and crazy, sexually promiscuous, with very little self-respect. What if Glen had had a real dad, rather than the federal government? His life would have probably been very different. Truly sad. Truly tragic.