|My Family, The Jacksons|
| Originally, Joe announced that he wanted one child, which I couldn’t understand. He was one of five children, and his father was one of twenty. “Well, I want three,” I replied. Growing up, I missed not having a brother, and I figured that if we had three kids that chances were good that I’d have at least one son. But, by the time we had our third child -- Toriano, or Tito, born October 15, 1953, at Mercy Hospital in Gary -- Joe and I enjoyed being parents so much that we wanted an even larger family.
Also, I found pregnancy to be very easy. I never felt better than when I was pregnant I never had morning sickness. I never knew that I was pregnant until I missed my period. Sometimes, if I wasn’t watching the calendar, I’d be into my pregnancy a month or longer without feeling anything.
Jermaine, our fourth child, was born on December 11, 1954.
LaToya came next. She was born on May 29, 1956, six years to the day after Rebbie entered the world. At seven pounds, twelve ounces, she was my biggest baby.
Less than a year later I was back in the hospital, this time giving birth to twins, Marlon and Brandon, on March 12, 1957.
They were two months premature. As I was hauling a heavy pail of oil into the house for our space heater, my water broke. Joe wasn’t at home at the time, so one of his cousins rushed me to hospital. Forty-five minutes after I was admitted, Marlon was born. He weighed four pounds, five ounces.
The doctor was leaving the room when the nurse cried out, “Wait a minute, there’s another baby in there!” The doctor placed the stethoscope on my stomach and listened for a moment. “I’ll be darned, there sure is!” He exclaimed. This was the same doctor who had examined me during my pregnancy; he had not detected the fact that I was carrying twins!
“Well, she’s too tired to deliver,” the doctor announced. He began to pull Brandon out with a pair of forceps. I was sedated, but I recall thinking, He’s going to do something to my child. He’s going to hurt him.
After Brandon was born, I recall hearing him cry very faintly. Eight hours later he died.
Joe’s mother broke the news about Brandon to my children, and they felt badly. When Chrystal mentioned that I had been crying, they felt even worse. “Well, we do have one baby,” Rebbie said between sobs, So Mother shouldn’t be crying.”
Since I had to remain in hospital for five days, I couldn’t attend the funeral. Chrystal hired a professional photographer to take pictures of Brandon, but he lost the film. I never did get to see my son.
Suffering through the loss of my child and Marlon’s premature birth, it was a joy to bring Marlon home finally from the hospital four weeks after his birth.
My experience with Marlon and Brandon didn’t dissuade me from getting pregnant again. The following year August 29, I gave birth to another boy.
I remember that day well because my water broke while my neighbor Mildred White and I were driving over to see the new grammar school under construction, Garnett Elementary.
“Oh, my God, Mildred, I can’t sit in your car like this!” I exclaimed.
“Girl, don’t worry about it,” Mildred said, turning the car around.
At my request Mildred drove me home. I called my mother and she and my stepfather drove me to Mercy Hospital.
Shortly after I got there, I began having contractions. Later that night, my son was born.
“I want to name him,” my mother said. I hated her first suggestion: Ronald.
“How about Roy, then?”
“Oh, my gosh, Mama, no.”
She thought for a little while. “I’ve got it -- Michael.”
“That’s it,” I said.
By then I was used to seeing my babies born with funny looking heads, so I wasn’t alarmed by Michael’s. The two other things I remember about him as I held him in my arms for the first time were his big brown eyes and his long hands, which reminded me of my father-in-law’s.
“I bet I was an accident!” Michael has teased. He wasn’t, but after he was born, I did decide to take a break from childbearing --after eight births in eight years I felt I deserved one -- and go to work part-time as a sales clerk at Sears. Randy, our next child, didn’t arrive for another three years, on October 31, 1961. Almost five more years elapsed before I gave birth to Janet, on August 16, 1966.
One reason why Joe and I went ahead and had Randy and Janet is the enjoyment the older children got out of having other babies to fuss over.
“We have so many kids -- why do we love having another?” I’d ask my older children. Most kids, I thought, didn’t appreciate the extra competition for their parents ‘ attention. “We just love babies,” they’d reply.
They really demonstrated that fact when Janet was born.
“I have a baby sister! I have a baby sister!” Michael shouted as he went running from door to door on Jackson street.
Michael and Janet would be fated to become best friends; they remain extremely close today. But in the early months of Janet’s life, all of their brothers and sisters doted on her. Rebbie, for one, took her out so often that her classmates began insisting that Janet was actually her baby.
One of my joys in being a parent was watching my children develop their own personalities.
Responsible Rebbie was my number-one support around the house; “a mother’s image,” in the words of her brother Jackie.
By the age of six she was changing diapers and doing some of the feedings. By the age of twelve she was ironing, washing, housecleaning, and cooking.
“It was a role I just feel into, being the oldest,” she said.
Jackie was the tease.
REBBIE: He loved to aggravate his younger brothers. When my mom was out and I was running the household, he’d always be popping them, bumping them on their heads. Then he’d run into the bathroom and lock the door before I could get my hands on him. Cookie-making was a real trial when he was around. If I turned my back for a minute in the kitchen, Jackie would be into the batter, eating away.
Ironically, outside the house, Jackie was my shy one. I remember him one time sneaking to a party through the alley behind our house because I made him wear a suit and he was so afraid that his neighbor friends would see him.
Jermaine was the mama’s baby. Even at the age of five, he was my shadow.
This was understandable. When he was four, he contracted nephritis, a serious kidney disease. He had to be hospitalized for three weeks.
The day we admitted him to the hospital he screamed and screamed as Joe and I left his room. Suddenly the screaming stopped. When we got to the elevator we were amazed to see him standing there! He had escaped from his crib, run down the hall, and somehow gotten in front of us. It broke my heart to have to leave him.
Jermaine was also the tattletale.
JACKIE: If we’d done something we didn’t want Dad to know about, we’d give Jermaine a cookie and make him promise not to tell. And he’d say, “I promise.” But as soon as my father walked in the door, he’d go, “Dad .... ,! and spill the beans, anyway. Sometimes he’d even make up things!
REBBIE: If Jermaine happened to be the one at fault, he’d put it on everybody else. That’s when you know he was the culprit. Another thing I noticed about him was that, while he was a stutterer, he never stuttered when he was trying to explain his way out of spanking.
Tito was a tinkerer.
When he’d get a toy, he had to take it apart and then try to put it back together. By the time he was ten he was fixing the iron, toaster, and radio. He saved us a lot in repair bills.
He and Jermaine, who were best friends, loved to scrounge around for bicycle parts in the local junkyards and build their own bicycles and go-carts.
JERMAINE: Our bicycles looked like mountain bikes do today; they didn’t have fenders. We took pride in the fact that they lasted longer than the fancy bikes you’d but in the stores.
Tito even loved my Maytag wringer washer. If he was around when I was doing the wash, he’d ask if he could take over for me. He especially enjoyed putting the clothes through the wringer.
LaToya was my quiet child.
She was the kind of little girl a grandmother would love. In fact, she was my mother’s heart; during the summer she’d spent a lot of time over at my mother's house. When you’d clean her up, LaToya would sit on the couch like a little lady. If someone sneezed at dinner, she’d cover her plate. I did that, too, when I was young.
Janet, by contrast, was a tomboy. By the age of two she had the nickname Squirrel because she loved to climb on the furniture and on the boy’s bunkbeds.
Like a lot of little kids, she also loved to get in bed with Joe and me at night, which Joe didn’t like. So, being a clever little girl, she would wait until her father was in a deep sleep before quietly crawling into the room and climbing into bed on my side.
JANET: While my sisters were getting their hair and nails done, I grew up climbing trees with my brothers, playing baseball, and swimming.
I had a hard time getting Janet to wear dresses to kindergarten; she always wanted to wear jeans. To this day, she dresses like a tomboy. She’ll show up at the house in army boots, blue jeans with patches on them, an oversized T-shirt, and her hair scuffed inside a cap.
“Janet,” I’ll say, “wear some earrings or put on some lipstick. People are going to mistake you for a guy.”
Randy was my argumentative one. Rebbie nicknamed him Little Professor because he loved to debate. If one of his friends said the ball was red, Randy would say it was green just to be difficult.
Marlon was probably the most determined and competitive of my kids. He and Michael played the typical childhood games: checkers, cards, jacks. Almost always Michael would win. But Marlon wouldn’t be deterred; he’d keep playing a particular game with Michael until he beat him.
That leaves Michael, an amazing child.
It dawned on me that Michael was no run-of-the-mill kid one day in 1960. I was standing in front of my washing machine, checking the load, when I happened to turn around and see my one-and-a-half-year-old son practically under my dress tail. He was holding a bottle and dancing .... dancing to the rhythmic squeak of my washing machine.
In addition to his precociousness as a dancer, Michael was spunky and mischievous beyond his years.
REBBIE: Michael wasn’t even two yet when one day he took aim with his baby bottle as my dad was walking across the living room, heaved it, and hit him on the head. I don’t think my dad was hurt so much as shocked that his infant son had beaned him.
By the age of three, Michael’s mischievousness had taken a defiant turn. After Joe spanked him one day for misbehaving, Michael hurled a shoe at him. Joe saw it coming, and ducked; otherwise, Michael would have scored another direct hit.
REBBIE: When my mom asked him to do something -- say chore -- that he didn’t want to do, he’d mutter something. “What did you say?” Mom would ask, raising an eyebrow. But Michael wouldn’t reply. “Come here, boy!” she’d demand.
Then the fun would begin. Michael would tear off for the bedroom, with Mom in pursuit. He’d slide under the bed and grab onto the springs. My mom would try to pull him out, but she couldn’t. Neither could my brothers. She’d have to wait him out.
A half hour or longer would pass. Finally, Michael would get out from under the bed, dust himself off, and saunter back into the living room. Sometimes my mom would have forgotten about his misbehaviour; other times she would have the brothers pounce on him so that she could finally chastise him.
JACKIE: Michael was just as good at evading my dad. One second my Dad would have Michael in his arms, preparing to spank him; the next second Michael would be five feet away and my father would hit nothing but air. Michael was almost impossible to hold down. He was like a worm, squirming all the time. He was too much.
Sometimes, Joe would get so angry at Michael when he succeeded in evading us. But other times we couldn’t help but laughing. “What’s with this kid?” we’d say.
I asked that question regarding some of Michael’s other personality traits as he was growing up. There was the matter, for example, of his generosity. Occasionally it went too far.
One day when Michael was in the second grade I couldn’t locate a piece of my jewelry. “What happened to my bracelet?” I finally asked the kids.
Michael looked up and replied nonchalantly, “Oh, I gave it to my teacher.”
I didn’t punish him because I thought it was nice for him to want to give. But I didn’t instruct him: “Don’t do it again.” But Michael didn’t listen, and more of my jewelry disappeared.
He’d also nose around my mother’s jewelry and keepsakes. You know how particular grandmothers are. They have their stuff arranged just so, and they don’t want the grandkids in it. She and Michael would have the biggest fights when she’d catch him.
I’d also get reports from his brothers concerning his nosiness.
“Mother, when we were at so-and-so’s house, Michael just had to know what was in their drawer,” one of them would say. “When they left the room he opened the drawer and look inside.”
MARLON: He hasn’t changed. We were backstage somewhere during the Victory tour when Michael walked into a man’s office and started nosing around. “Michael, get out of those drawers!” we told him.
He’s well known for snooping in his brothers’ stuff, too. One day he was over at Randy’s. Randy had to go somewhere, and after he left, Michael started opening some of his drawers. In one of them he found a note: “Michael, don’t go in here with your nosy self!” Michael laughed and laughed.
I don’t want to give the impression that the young Michael was a nonstop mischief. He also had his endearing side. When Rebbie graduated from high school, he bought her a bottle of nail polish at the corner store. He’d also buy little presents for his neighborhood friends.
His first goal in life must have been to own a candy store because he loved to play storekeeper. After Joe began giving him and his brothers a weekly allowance, he would spend every cent of it on candy and gum. He’d come home with an armful of it, take a board and two bricks and place them in the doorway to the boys’ bedroom, place a cloth over the board, lay the candy on top of it, and sell it to his brothers and sisters and friends for the same price he’d paid for it.
Michael was also a serious candy-eater and gum-chewer. Before he opened his “store,” he’d save his pennies so that he could purchase bubble gum at the concession stand at the Little League ball park behind our house. One night, however, he couldn’t find his penny for gum and he was so upset he started crying. “Mother, do you know what happened to my penny?” he asked. I knew the answer when I saw Marlon happily chewing away on a wad of bubble gum nearby.
Michael and Marlon were “running buddies.”
MARLON: Because we were about the same height, people thought we were twins. Besides playing games together, we’d go roller-skating up and down the driveway, play basketball, and ride our mini-bikes.
JACKIE: They also used to get up in the middle of the night, grab a couple of broomsticks, and play Army Man. They’d poke the broomstick out the window, and “shoot” at the cars driving by.
Michael also liked to race his brothers and neighbor friends down the block, run in the sprinklers during the summer, and play stickball. All this, of course was just normal kids’ stuff.
But Michael’s singing and dancing were never kids’ stuff.
The first time I heard him sing was in 1963. Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine were singing a Motown song in their bedroom for the fun of it when all of a sudden I heard a fourth voice join in. It was Michael -- at the age of four -- picking out his own part, and singing the part as clear as a bell.
“You know what, Michael has a nice voice, good enough to be a lead singer,” I told Joe that night.
Two years later, Michael demonstrated the fact in public for the first time, singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” a cappella at a Garnett Elementary School assembly. Joe’s father and I were in the audience, and it was something to see hard-nosed Samuel Jackson burst into tears the second that Michael began to sing in his sweet pure voice. I was matching him, tear for tear. Michael was so poised; not nervous a bit. A natural even then.
Michael’s dancing was no less advanced. By then he had developed the footwork of a miniature James Brown. He would watch “Soul Brother Number One” do one of his trademark spins or twists on television and then perfectly execute that move himself in out living room.
By the time the Jackson Five began performing in Gary talent contests in 1965, Michael was choreographing their numbers. During rehearsals, one of the brothers would say, “We don’t have a move for this part of ‘My Girl.’” Michael would pipe up, “Okay, let’s do this” Then he’d demonstrate a move that was so fresh and stylish that the older brothers, who still towered over him, would look at one another and shake their heads in disbelief.
Michael, you’re just a baby, I remember thinking, and you’re the one giving the instructions!
Michael was also the one doing all the dreaming.
“Someday I’m going to live in a castle,” he announced one day to his second-grade teacher.