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Poverty with its multi-faceted violence scours psyches of survivors eking out a living—but not all are left in dust-pommeled gangways—throughways for rats—as recounted in Vivian Gibson’s memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek (2020).

As a pre-teen, she witnessed the 1959 demolition of the historic four-hundred-square-foot neighborhood of twenty thousand underpaid African American workers in St. Louis, Missouri; its benign neglect, for decades, had contributed to the Mill Creek’s “blightedness” that green-lighted government funding for another Interstate for suburban workers, needing faster access to their city jobs. After the quick work of the medicine balls and tractors, Mill Creek’s bombed-out landscape became known as “Hiroshima Flats.”

What could have been a scorching account of disrupted families, churches, and businesses—a viable through invisible community to the world around it—it was told with honesty, humor, replete with wisdom. Life inside those cold-water flats, heated by coal and wood-burning stoves, many with no indoor plumbing, was not without its rules and consequences. Unique patterns of communication developed among families, bonding them for life.

Such experiences had unfolded within the Ross’s 800-square-foot flat in the 2600 block of Bernard Avenue where lived the author’s seven siblings and her parents, their teachers of positive self-regard, resourcefulness, and the value of education and hard work. All moved through daunting hardships—at times—with ease. Detailed accounts jumped off the pages: their Saturday morning “shopping” at Soulard Market, returning home on the streetcar with bags of bruised fruits and vegetables, left on the ground by the farmers. No one was ever hungry in the Ross household.

Vivian Gibson’s unflinching acceptance of her hardscrabble beginnings contributed to the accomplished woman she has become: author, fashion designer, cook, wife, and mother. She has much to teach us in her memoir, The Last Children of Mill Creek.

This morning’s dank chill feels like the inside of a sea-monster where the hapless prophet Jonah spent three days and three nights, in angst with Yahweh, over his disobedience. This image speaks to periodic descents into grief, and like Jonah, when I’ve had enough, Yahweh spews me upon the shore: my confinement is over, until the next time and the next lesson of letting go.

At 7:45 A.M., the aroma of quinoa for my breakfast roused me with this curious dream/experience:

A Princess lived alone in a splendid castle built centuries ago overlooking a verdant valley filled with songbirds and sunshine. No family, no courtiers, no servants—Yet she never wanted for anything, nor was she lonely. All her needs were met.

Evidently, I did not want to begin another day of weakness and shortness of breath and would have preferred the splendid castle, my psychic container, its multifaceted harmony nurturing the core of my being. I was very well. Yet, anger snapped its initial take on the message of the dream: my self-centeredness and preference for my own company militating against forming significant relationships. This negativity followed me until I could explore further its source.

From earliest memory, such internal judgments, sourced in half-truths, have kicked my knees from under me, rendering me unable to function. Although more mindful when under siege, I still believe the lies spewing from my unconscious. The hook, this time, was the penchant for self-centeredness. Everyone deals with this.

Another look at the dream, however, showed good order in my psyche. As soon as I sat down at my word processor, the image of the Princess restored balance:Herjoytinkled me, her lacy gown soothed my body—free from all illness. But it was her freshness that most attracted me—like sunset’s soft pastel peachiness. Songbirds, symbols of the messengers of the gods, surrounded her, as also sweet breezes, a constant source of refreshment.

Yet dwelling in such a place is not my lot today, but it will come, as it will to everyone who wants it.

Available on Amazon

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