Being solely responsible for a household of six by the age of eighteen, to say that I was overwhelmed would have been an understatement. Ill-advisedly, I had given birth to my first son at the age of fourteen, and I averaged one per year for the next four years. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that I accomplished such a feat given that I had a full-term pregnancy with each child. Nevertheless, adult responsibilities were thrust upon me much sooner than expected. I should have been married and older than eighteen before the arrival of my first child. However, as life would have it, I ended up living on my own with five sons before I reached my nineteenth birthday.
I knew very little about raising boys except what I had seen in my parents’ home growing up on The Hill. If only I had paid closer attention to the interactions between my parents and my brothers, then I could have been better prepared. However, my attention was directed elsewhere—like on doll babies. Too bad all my doll babies were of little white girls. I did remember that my brothers were heavily involved in sports, and so I thought it would be a good thing to get my sons involved in sports as soon as possible. Sports seemed to keep my brothers out of trouble, and so I figured that it could do the same for my boys.
The next step was figuring out how to get them involved. Even though my father was married to my mother, and he lived at home, I noticed another male figure who my brothers often spoke of when it came to sports. The one name that I remembered hearing repeatedly around the house was Jack Beavers. He was an old white man who had retired after many years of service in the United States Navy. Back then, he was responsible for running the local Boys Club in Martinsburg. I had never met the man face to face, but I knew about him through my brothers’ conversations. They had nothing but good things to say about him.
Most white and black folks in Martinsburg knew of Jack Beavers. He had a good reputation among them both. What made him different from the others was that he had a very strong interest in the youth—especially the young black boys in our town. Seeing that Martinsburg falls in the heart of Appalachia, blacks were a minority and most blacks were poor. Here resided an old white man who I could completely entrust with all five of my sons. Such trust I had never placed in any man—black or white. I had never stepped a foot inside the walls of the local Boys Club. During those days, the Boys Club had not yet been opened to girls. My next problem was figuring out how to get a hold of Jack Beavers.
It could only have been the good Lord looking down on my boys and me because my move from The Hill to the Wilson Street projects not only landed us in a cramped two-bedroom apartment, but it placed us less than a block from his house. Initially, I was upset about relocating from The Hill to the projects across town because my family and most of the blacks in Martinsburg resided on The Hill and there were just a few black families living in the Wilson Street projects. We were still within walking distance of stores, which was good since I did not have a car. Living within a rock’s throw of Jack Beaver’s house, made the move from The Hill to the projects a blessing in disguise.
Jack Beavers, the old retired Navy guy, would end up being the biggest lifesaver for me and my five sons. During our years in the projects, he became a father figure to my boys, and the Boys Club became their second home. Why and how I felt so secure with him considering the age, gender and racial difference is beyond me. I had made many mistakes with regards to one man up to that point in my life, and I would make many more mistakes in the future with other men, but amazingly enough Jack Beavers was the one man I did not make a mistake with choosing. He treated my boys like family. He often referred to them as his mates. I would later learn that many of the young black boys in Martinsburg had the privilege of being called his mates.