ABSOLUTION: THE DARK PATH TO LIGHT

CHAPTER ONE

Man, I love Blow Pops! This love affair goes back almost as far as I can remember. It’s hard to pinpoint the one thing I love most about them; it’s the bright flavor of the candy, it’s the knowing that the bubblegum is waiting there, inside. It’s the ritual of unwrapping it in just that special way so that the whole wrapper comes off clean, the squeaking sound the plastic makes as I twist it just right.

 

Ultimately, its that final crunch of candy as my teeth sink into the gum, and then chewing the gum with the crunch of candy mixed all inside it, until finally it’s just gum, and the last of the candy crunch is gone, and the flavor of the gum lasts just a few more minutes before it’s time to start the ritual all over again.

 

The internet is happy to tell me that Blow Pops were first released in 1973, which means they were released about six years after I was released. I wish I could remember my first one, the Pop that got my cherry, as it were…but no.

 

I do have a very clear first memory, though. I’ve read that psychologists say your earliest memories are not truly about how far your brain goes back, but about specific things that imprinted on you which have some import as to who you will become.

 

My earliest memory is of my little sister Tonya having a dirty diaper. Tonya was a few months younger than me, a little light skinned girl, probably mixed-race like me, and we were adopted together. Though we were not biologically related, we probably could have passed for siblings, especially since the couple who adopted us, Lester and Annie Curley, were also mixed. A beautiful family, they probably thought.

 

But I only had a little sister for about a month; I don’t know if you can do this now, but back then, when you adopted a child, I guess you could get a refund. I was only eighteen months old, so I don’t remember any of this, but apparently Tonya was “sickly” or something, so my parents decided not to keep her. Doesn’t that sound strange? Their baby girl wasn’t good enough, so they gave her back. Maybe I internalized that and spent most of my life trying to be sure I was good enough for the Curleys.

 

I don’t remember those circumstances, but I do remember Tonya, and I especially recall the moment with the dirty diaper. I must have been in diapers myself at eighteen months, but perhaps I was old enough to know that other people shouldn’t be pooping their pants.

 

I could smell it. I knew what a dirty diaper was. I remember reaching out and pulling back the waistband of her diaper and seeing what looked like a squished hamburger patty inside. That’s what I related it to. I ran and told my dad.

 

So, tattling on the child who was only briefly my sister…that’s my earliest memory. What does that say about me? I hope it says that family is so important to me, my memory reaches as far as it has to in order to make even the slimmest connection.

 

I don’t know what became of Tonya. I have no way of knowing whether she got adopted again, or where she wound up, how her life might have turned out…whether she remembers me. It would be more than half a century before I had another sister.

 

It was never kept secret that I was adopted. As soon as I could read, I was given the photocopies of the redacted adoption papers, and I labored over them, fascinated by my own secret origin.

 

I was put up for adoption the day I was born. My birth mother was a white woman named Marcia (her last name was redacted), who gave birth to three children: first she had a white daughter, who she raised, and then two mixed children with two different black men over a two year period… whom she gave up for adoption. I have no solid evidence of this, only a gut feeling, but abortions were illegal during the mid and late 60’s so I’m somewhat confident that neither my mixed sister nor I would have survived the pregnancy had Roe V Wade been the law of the land at that time. She chose not to raise two mixed children and put us both up for adoption on the day we were born.

 

Regarding the adoption process, there was a famous politician named Barbara Jordan; she was the first black person elected to the Texas senate, and the first southern black woman elected to congress who played some role in my adoption back in1969. Her name is actually on the paperwork. I learned a lot from studying those papers, but I don’t think I ever found what I was looking for. Nowhere in the papers, not even under the magic marker redactions, did it say who I was supposed to be… and that struggle haunted me for the vast majority of my life… as we will discuss later.

 

For a long time, I thought I was supposed to be Lester Curley, my adoptive father. He was an imposing and well-respected figure. To me, he was like Malcolm X, the way he spoke, the way he carried himself. Nobody disrespected Lester Curley…. EVER.

 

My father was the grandson of a well-known land baron in Grimes County, Texas. In fact, if you visit Stoneham, Texas, well—that’s my great-grandfather: John Stoneham Sr.

 

Now this is where the story gets a bit ‘interesting’, to say the least.

Back in the nineteen thirties, the land baron’s son, John Stoneham, Jr., had a long term fling for a few years with one of the black servants, a young woman named Cyntia Durst. By the time I knew her, the whole family called her Mama Cynt…. This is Lester Curley’s mother…. My grandmother.

 

Mama Cynt was black as the ace of spades, a jet-black woman, and John Junior was a redneck white boy. She already had one child, a black boy about five years old who I later knew as my Uncle Robert. Mama Cynt was working as a field hand, doing hard labor, while she and the young Stoneham heir were carrying on, and that’s how her second child—my father—Lester Curley, came into the world.

 

Incredulously, even after Lester was born, the Stoneham family reluctantly kept Mama Cynt in their employ, but two and a half years later, when John Junior became a daddy again, this time to my Aunt Birdie-Jean, the family decided this was was just too much…. The Stoneham family, with all it’s influence, power and respect, could not stomach the idea of having not one but TWO black children associated with their namesake. Consequently Stoneham Senior packed Mama Cynt off with a few dollars and a 1 way bus ticket to Baytown TX and a stern demand… a loosely veiled threat actually, to never return to Stoneham TX. Herein begins the legend of Cynthia “Mama Cynt” Durst.

 

To this day, Mama Cynt Durst is still famous and carries legendary status in Baytown, Texas. She came to Baytown, TX with three kids and nothing else, but she never took welfare, and she raised those kids to be hard workers, never did any drugs, and neither of them ever got into any trouble… As you will soon understand why.

 

My grandmother has a story that is so outrageous and amazing and funny and scary that it could be a whole other book…probably will be. She sold bootleg whiskey and alcohol after midnight as a little hustle to put food on the table and she took care of those children with an iron fist. If you’ve seen the Tyler Perry Medea movies, that is the PG version of my grandmother. The only difference is Medea shot her gun in the air; my grandmother shot people in the chest. Literally. She wasn’t a murderer, but she was so loyal and loved her family so much that if anybody threatened her family, they were absolutely risking their lives… literally. If you wanted to see the true legend of Cynthia Durst come to life, then mess with her family.

 

As much as Mama Cynt loved her family, she did not love her family name. She chose not to pass the Durst name to her children. My Uncle Robert has the last name Daniels, and I don’t know where that came from. But by the time Lester was born, she decided to give him, and subsequently Birdie-Jean, the last name Curley, after a friend of hers. Her name remained Durst, but she wanted it to end with her.

 

The Durst family—back in those days—could be extremely vicious. There’s just a streak in that bloodline, and back in the thirties, they were known for being straight up hard core gangsters and murderers. They had this Billy the Kid persona where it was just known the Dursts would kill you. If you look at them wrong or step in their way, they will stab, shoot or beat you in the blink of an eye. I remember hearing that fighting breeders will sometimes feed gunpowder to pit bulls to make them more aggressive and explosively reactive in a fight. I don’t know if this is true, or if it actually works that way, but I’ve often thought about that when considering the Dursts of the early and mid 1900s. It’s like someone, somewhere along the line, fed them gunpowder, and that was carried on for generations. By the time I knew Mama Cynt, she was already a sweet old lady, but I heard the stories. And I could see it in my aunt and some of my cousins…and yes even in my father. I wasn’t very old the first time I thought to be grateful that, even though I was Lester Curley’s son, I didn’t have any of that gunpowder blood in my own veins. Now to be clear, my contemporary Durst cousins are all amazing, good God fearing people. Many of them are preachers and seem to have atoned for the sins of their forefathers. The Durst name is now associated with Godly love and respect…. Today.

 

But for all that I just said, Mama Cynt was a good woman. When she moved to Baytown, she knew nobody, or only a few people, but she was such a proud woman that she just did not believe in taking handouts; she believed in making it happen and providing for yourself. You just had to do it. She was not willing to accept government aid or ask people for help, she just wasn’t wired that way. She taught my father to be this way as well, and he passed it on to me.

 

When she moved to Baytown, mind you, she had a third-grade education. My grandmother was barely able to read up until the day she died. I’ve heard her try to read, she could read a little bit, but not well at all, and I think she learned to read better as she got older, but it’s pretty safe to say that she wasn’t able to read at all during those days. From what I understand, she worked in a little café and she waited tables during the day and at night she sold bootleg liquor to take care of her children.

 

Have you ever heard the term “I love you to death?” Well, my grandmother lived that cliche out in a very literal sense. She loved you so much that if you fuck up, she may have to kill you. She once shot her nephew in the chest with a .22 because he talked back to her after she questioned him about putting his hands on her daughter, Birdie Jean. She didn’t kill him, but shot him point blank (while holding her 18 month old granddaughter in her other arm, by the way) for disrespecting her and hitting her daughter. Although his wound eventually healed, that act created a wedge amongst the Durst family that never completely mended.

 

Another one of her infamous displays of family loyalty occurred when one of her nieces got hit by a man at a local juke joint in the neighborhood. Mama Cynt—in her forties by now— struck out to the juke joint to confront the fellow, with her niece timidly following behind…. surely knowing what was about to happen.

 

Upon having the man pointed out by her niece, Mama Cynt approached the man and said in her soft voice, “Are you the man that put hands on my niece in here a little while ago?” The man only got so far as to say “Bitch…” and before he could utter the next word, Mama Cynt pulled out a knife and commenced slicing him up like a fish on the filet board. My dad told me this story a hundred times. He was on leave from the military, and he went to the hospital and asked “Where’s the man Cynt Durst cut up?” They showed him the room, and Dad said Mama Cynt sliced that man everywhere but the bottoms of his feet.

 

This reminded my father that years before, while my he will still a young teenager, Mama Cynt killed his step father. One of her husbands. His step father came home late one night drunk and loud. He’d been cheating on her, and in a moment of poor, fatal judgment, when confronted by Mama Cynt about the tryst, he responded beligerently and indignantly. What was he thinking? Had he forgotten to whom he was married? Mama Cynt pulled out a knife and in one smooth motion, fatally stabbed him in the neck. He ran off and made it to a neighbors doorstep before he breathed his last breath.

They did arrest her for that, and she spent a night in jail, but back then, it was just another dead nigger. They held a kangaroo court, and Mama Cynt had some low country lawyer who made my dad chew on some kind of leaf to bring them luck. My dad would say, “Man I was in court twelve-years old, chewing on that damn leaf.”

 

Apparently, it helped, because she never got convicted and only spent the one night in jail. And to the day that she died, she never acknowledged that she had actually killed him. What she said is “I didn’t kill him; I was gone take him to the hospilla…he just took off running! He killed hisself! He wouldn’t have died if he didn’t take off running, I was gone take him to the hospilla!”

 

I think it really hurt her, actually considering that my grandmother only knew one way to love…. HARD. She couldn’t wrap her mind around that she had killed her husband whom she truly loved. So, she said she didn’t kill him, he killed himself.

 

As years passed, the killing of Mama Cynts husband settled into the distance as a disturbing memory that was rarely mentioned. Into his mid to late teens, my father began to develop into a movie star looking young man. He was very light skinned, with soft curly, jet-black hair. He looked like a combination of Elvis and Muhammed Ali. He was a pretty man. Actually, too pretty for being raised in an all-black ghetto neighborhood with gangsters and hustlers on every corner.

 

When my father was in high school, the girls obviously loved him. My dad mingled with white women when a nigger got hung for messing with white women, and I say it like that because that’s how it was. My dad had beautiful young women who loved Lester Curley, but the guys were very jealous of him.

 

Uncle Robert and Aunt Birdie-Jean told me this story on several occassions over the years: he was at school and these guys, black dudes, one of them jumped on him and had him pinned down and was gonna start beating on him, but another guy ran up and said, “Man, you better get up offa that dude, that’s Cynt Durst’s son!” He was like “Oh, shit!”

 

As the story goes, not only did the dude help my father up, but he straightened him up and said “Man, I’m sorry, didn’t know that was your mama; it’ll never happen again, please don’t tell your mama!”

 

That’s Mama Cynt. Had anybody messed with her boy, it would have been a wrap…. and they all knew it.tural and safe to interact with. Your feedback will help us improve.