“Russellville’s star running back of 1963, Larry Johnson, and
his wife, Faye, announce the birth of the newest member of the Panther cheerleading squad and the 1987 football homecoming
queen, Veronica Mae Johnson. Veronica was born on November 3, 1969 at 12:32 a.m.
at Logan County Hospital. She came into the world weighing 6 lbs. 12 oz. and was 21 inches long,” my birth
Daddy has always said that the day I was born was the best day of his life. I remember being a little girl, sitting on my daddy’s lap, asking him over and
over to tell me about the day I was born. Many times he would pull out the yellowed
newspaper clipping that announced my birth.
“It had to have been one of the coldest Novembers we have ever had,”
he said. “It usually doesn’t snow that early in the year but we had
at least 4-6 inches on the ground,” he continued, while I sat wide-eyed and in awe.
Growing up the oldest of three children, and the only girl, I was affectionately
known as a “Daddy’s Girl.” My daddy was a star football player
during his high school days. He still had that athletic build, broad shoulders
and strong arms.
“Do it again, Daddy,” I would scream as he took me in his arms
and threw me high into the air, catching me just before I plummeted to the ground.
He always joked that he could toss me around just like a football. That was our common bond-football. I was taught the game and
came to love everything about it because it meant so much to my daddy. Sunday
afternoon and Monday nights were reserved for football. It was during these moments
that he explained what a “wishbone formation” was, or why the referees threw their yellow flags when a team was
“off-sides”. In addition to Sunday afternoon and Monday night football,
there was also the Friday nights that I would dress in my very own cheerleading outfit to cheer on my beloved Panthers. My black and gold pom poms were held together by a common string, just like a family
is bonded together.
“T-O-U-C-H-D-O-W-N!” I cheered, standing next to the high school
cheerleaders dressed in their black and gold uniforms. I felt like one of them,
even though I was only three-years-old. The squad had adopted me, more or less,
and considered me their mascot.
“What did you think of the game?” my dad asked as we got into the
car. He talked to me about football just like he was talking to one of his buddies.
“We won!” I responded, the excitement from the night still bubbling.
As soon as we arrived home, I bounced in the house ready to give my mother
a play-by-play, but the minute I ran in the door I was chastised for making too much noise and waking the baby.
“Look what you’ve done now!” she exclaimed. “Don’t you know how to be quiet? You woke the baby and I just got him to sleep.” Hurt and upset at being yelled at, I kissed my daddy goodnight and headed to my room.
A child’s mind cannot comprehend why adults get mad at them. Alone in my bed, with the darkness surrounding me, I wondered why my mother didn’t
love me. What did I do to make her hate me?
Was I a bad girl?
“Mom, can I ride my bike?” I asked, staring up at her as she fixed
“No!” she yelled. “It’s
almost time for supper and I have to feed your brother. Go play in your room.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I turned to go back to my bedroom. I sat on my bed, hugging my pom poms to my chest.
“I’ll show her,” I said to myself as I hopped off the bed
and went to the closet for a suitcase. I packed a few clothes, my Ms. Beasley
doll, my football, and my pom poms into the suitcase and headed for the door. Marching
through the house, I stopped in the kitchen to make sure she knew I was leaving. It
seemed as if she were too busy feeding Chris to even notice me, so I tugged on her pants leg to get her attention.
Looking down, first at me and then at the suitcase I had set on the floor,
my mother asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to live with granddaddy,” I declared with as much
anger as a five-year-old could muster. Tears welled in my eyes as I picked up
my suitcase, clutching my doll under my arm.
With that, my mom returned her attention to the baby. It was at that point that I realized she didn’t care. What
I couldn’t understand was what I had done so terribly wrong that kept her from loving me.
I walked out the door, thinking that she would come after me, but she never
did. I made it to the end of the street before I laid my suitcase on the ground,
sat on it, and began to cry. I never did make it to granddaddy’s house. I was still sitting in the same place when daddy came home from work, found me clutching
my doll, and took me back home.
Every time dad told me the story about the day I was born, he would also
talk about his own mother. He said that I am the spitting image of her; from
being barely five foot tall to the freckles and jet-black, curly hair. Although
I never knew my grandmother, people have often told me that I could pass for her twin.
“Your mom worked up until the day you were born, standing on her feet
for eight or more hours fixing hair. I kinda expected her to give birth in the middle of giving a perm,” he laughed. “She came home that afternoon, energetic and happy. My momma had always told me that when a woman is about ready to give birth she will want to clean house
because she has a burst of energy, which is exactly what your mom did as soon as she walked in the door. First she dusted all of the furniture, then she decided that the sheets from the bed needed washing, and
finally she swept and moped the floors. She would have cleaned out the kitchen
cabinets if I hadn’t made her stop and take a break to eat supper.”
I listened intently, reveling in the way he always got me excited about my
big day. “Go on Daddy, tell me the rest,” I pleaded, knowing that
there was more.
“I had no sooner gotten to sleep when your mother woke me, complaining
about having heartburn. Now I know that I’m not the best cook in the world,
but supper wasn’t that bad,” he said.
Mom never did have a stable home life while growing up; therefore, she never
learned the basics of cooking or laundry, so daddy almost always cooked our supper.
He said that when he married mom, she couldn’t even boil water. Whenever
he said this it elicited a laugh from everyone, except Mom, that is.
“I went to get her a glass of milk, glancing at the clock on the nightstand. It wasn’t even 11:00 p.m. and I knew right then and there that it was going
to be a long night,” he smiled, making me laugh as he exaggerated the word long while making a funny face. “As I was walking out of the bedroom, your mom hollered, ‘I think I peed the bed!’”
making me laugh even harder at the thought of her peeing in the bed. Even as
a young child I new grown-ups weren’t supposed to do that. “I grew
up with two sisters who both had children, so I knew what was happening. I threw
on my clothes, grabbed the hospital bag that we’d had packed for weeks, picked up my keys, and headed out the door. It wasn’t until I reached the car that I realized I had forgotten your mother,”
he said, laughing as he recalled the memory. Daddy laughed a lot back then…not
just a chuckle or a snicker, but a big hearty laugh that made everyone around him laugh too, even if something wasn’t
funny or they didn’t even know what they were laughing about.
Daddy said that he had no sooner gotten mom to the hospital and out I came. I must have been in a hurry to get here, although I don’t know why! The only other thing I remember him telling me about my actual birth wasn’t as funny, at least not
“They wouldn’t let men in the delivery room back then, so I had
to wait in the hallway just outside the door. As soon as you were born they brought
you to me. When they laid you in my arms, I counted your fingers and toes just
to make sure there was ten of each. Then, when I looked down at you, I remember
a tear slid down my cheek,” he recalled. I thought that was the sweetest
thing I had ever heard until he said, “The doctor looked at me and said something about me being overcome with joy,
but I told the doctor I wasn’t crying for joy, I was crying because you were the ugliest baby I had ever seen and your
head was shaped just like a football.” I could just imagine my daddy standing
in the hallway of the hospital, holding me (his first-born), and comparing me to, of all things, A FOOTBALL!
Brown pig-skin with white lace…my first football. Most of my friends asked for Barbies and baby dolls for Christmas, I asked for sports items like a new
baseball glove whose brown stiff leather would become an extension of my hand, or a hard wooden Louisville Slugger bat that was as big as I was tall.
Mom always tried to discourage my love of sports. Maybe she expected a
daughter who was “girly”; one who wore dresses, played with dolls, wanted to learn to sew, and enjoyed fixing
hair. But her arguments fell on deaf ears.
I was my daddy’s girl and I was born to love sports.
“Larry, you have got to quit buying her things like that,” Mom
would say any time Dad came home with anything for me that was sports related. “She’s
a girl and girls are supposed to play with dolls.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my daughter being athletic,”
Dad would say, defending his actions.
“Well, she’ll never amount to anything as long as you keep doting
on her like you do,” Mom shot back at him as she glared at me. “She
needs to play with girls her own age and find interest in something other than sports.
I had my beauticians’ license at sixteen. When she turns sixteen,
she’ll probably want to play high school football.”
Every time mom put me in a dress, I would deliberately get it dirty just
so that I had to take it off and put on my play clothes. I loved to get out in
the backyard with my dad and the neighborhood boys to play ball. One hundred
degree heat, the sun beating down, sweat dripping from my chin, bloody knees, and bruises from head to toe…that was
the life I loved. I couldn’t imagine being inside the house playing make-believe
with Barbies. My joy came from being outside, beating boys at their own game,
and reveling in the competition that came from playing ball.
I heard my parents argue and fight a lot.
Often they fought about money or bills, but most of the time it was about me.
Maybe mom had the thought of her ideal daughter in mind and I just didn’t fit that mold. It made me wonder why they even had me. Sometimes I would
think that maybe they would have been happier if my brothers were been born first, or they had only boys and not me. “What would their marriage be like if I hadn’t been born?” I asked
myself countless times. “Would they be happy? Did my mother regret having
When I was in high school, my mother had her first of several nervous breakdowns. On one of her many visits to the psychiatrist, I was asked to come along. I was already seventeen-years-old and this was the first time I actually became aware of her troubled childhood. There were obviously many things that I didn’t know about my own mother; things
that helped explain a lot about her behavior and attitude towards me. I learned
that even though she may love me in her own bizarre way, I was seen as the “enemy” and would never have the close
mother-daughter relationship that most of my friends had with their own mother.
“Good morning, Faye,” her doctor began. “How are you today?”
“Fine,” she replied, never looking him in the eyes as she answered.
“Who do you have with you today?” he asked, smiling warmly and
offering his hand to me.
“This is my daughter, Veronica” Mom said.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” he said as he shook my hand
and pointed us both to take a set.
I sat down and surveyed my surroundings.
I had never been in a psychiatrists’ office before, but had seen some on television shows. Glancing around the wood-paneled room, I noted the diplomas hanging proudly on the wall. There were bookshelves filled with medical journals, a leather couch with two matching chairs, a few plants
to brighten up the place, filing cabinets, and a large oak desk covered in patient folders.
There were many questions running through my mind at once; questions that I wanted to ask but didn’t dare, like,
“Why am I here? What am I supposed to say or do that will help my mother?
What secrets are in our family closet and who holds the key to unlocking them?”
“Today I asked you to bring Veronica with you so that we could discuss
a few things,” he began. “First, let me say that this may be one
of the hardest sessions you will ever have, but it may be the most productive. Veronica,
do you know why you are here?”
“No,” I replied. “Mom
just said I had to come.”
“Well, Faye, why don’t you begin,” the doctor said. “Tell your daughter whatever you are feeling at this moment.”
Mom didn’t seem to know what to say at this point, keeping her eyes lowered
to the floor. She sat that way for what seemed like an hour. The doctor finally spoke up and asked mom if she would like for him to start. Mom shook her head yes and never looked at me.
“It seems that your mom is jealous of you,” he said. “She never had a father and she resents the relationship you have with your dad, and the time he
spends with you. She was also molested by several of her uncles, and has never
had a stable and loving relationship with any man other than your father.”
This revelation shocked me! My
mom is jealous of me? My mom was molested?
I didn’t know how to react to this news. I was old enough to understand
what the doctor had said, but all I could think was that these things only happen in the movies. I couldn’t even begin to imagine that they had happened in my own family. Of course I hurt for her, but what did this mean for our relationship?
“Also, your mother never graduated high school and her mother was in
a mental institution when she died,” he said matter-of-factly. I don’t
know if the doctor told me these tidbits of information to further sadden or shock me, or if he felt I needed to know that
mental instability ran in our family. Suddenly I began to wonder if maybe someday
I may go crazy and need to be institutionalized.
I always wondered why mom never talked about her own family, and why I had
never met them. Things were finally starting to come together, like pieces of
The doctor continued to talk. “You’re
little, petite, cute, and confident, while your mother is overweight and self-conscious.
Marrying your father was the beginning of a stable life for her. But when
you were born, your father spent every moment with you, seemingly ignoring your mother.
As you have grown and matured, your mother feels that you’re everything she’s not and she doesn’t
know how to relate to you.”
I felt confused at this point. I
had always loved my mother but sensed that she hated me. Stunned and speechless,
I sat and stared at my hands folded neatly in my lap.
“Your mother suffers from depression, just like her own mother, and she
will need to be on medication for the rest of her life. There is a chemical imbalance that can only be treated with drugs,
but it may take a while to find the right combination,” the doctor stated.
Would I need to take medication too?
Was this mental condition hereditary? Did I need to start seeing a psychiatrist? Questions continued to form in my head, but it seemed that no words were forming on
The doctor concluded, “I thought that a session with you present may
help you understand things. Is there any questions you have for me or anything
that you would like me to explain further?”
I slowly shook my head no, not knowing what was permissible to ask-especially
in front of my mother.
I always thought that parents were supposed to love their children unconditionally,
but my mother sat silent as the doctor talked. That didn’t seem like love
to me-unconditional or otherwise. She never once refuted what he said and she
never looked me in the eyes. We left the office without saying a word. Maybe she felt ashamed of the molestation she suffered as a child or her families’ mental state. Then again, she may have been ashamed of the fact that she was jealous of her own
daughter. Whatever her reasons, it has never been mentioned again.
Growing up, nothing I ever did was good enough for mom. If I made A’s and B’s on my report card, she wanted to know why I didn’t make all A’s. Maybe she was just pushing me to do better, but it always made me feel like a failure. If I bought her a present for her birthday or Mother’s Day, she would say she
wished she just had the money. That was enough to make me question my taste in gifts.
If I cleaned the house for her, it wasn’t clean enough because I
may have missed a crumb on the counter. If I did laundry for her, I didn’t
do it right because I didn’t pay enough attention to how she wanted it done. It
was almost as if she expected perfection from me and was quick to point out my flaws.
When I turned thirty-eight, I decided to go back to school and finish my
degree. I should have known that she would think it was a bad idea. Dad, on the
other hand, couldn’t have been more proud.
“What do you mean you’re going back to college?” she asked
when I told her that I had received a full scholarship. “You don’t
have the time or the money to go back to school. You need to worry about getting
a better paying job so that you can pay your bills.”
I thought that all parents wanted only the best for their children, and a college
education would help provide that, but obviously she was still resentful of the fact that she never graduated high school. I suppose that she felt a high school diploma was all that I needed, too.
“Well, the scholarship will pay my tuition and I will get grants to pay
for my books, not to mention a little extra money left over to help with other expenses,” I explained, but she didn’t
want to hear anything about it.
“That just sounds stupid to me,” she said. “You will just be wasting your time. You’re too
old to go back to school.”
Even though I would be the first in our family to graduate college, I still
couldn’t get her to be happy for me. Maybe if I had completed college twenty
years ago when I first started and not dropped out, she would have been happier for me than she was now.
My dad was elated that I was finally going to get my degree. I don’t think anyone could have been more proud.
“Sissy, that’s great!”
Dad said as he hugged me. “I think it’s wonderful that you
are going back to school.”
Mom continued to glare at me, taking away any joy I had at being given a second
Although we live a street away from each other, I only see my parents once
a week. It’s a family tradition that we spend Sunday afternoon at their
house for lunch. That is not necessarily the highlight of my week, but I do it
out of obligation. It’s still the one day I get to spend with dad, watching
ballgames, while talking about our favorite teams. I don’t stay very
long, an hour at the most, but this isn’t the only time I talk to my dad. He
usually calls me once a day just to check on me or see what’s going on in my life.
“Hey sis! How was your day?”
“Busy,” I replied. “But
I can’t complain. I’m almost finished with another semester of school,
and then I will only have one more year left. Have you looked outside lately?”
“No,” he said. “I’ve
been watching the game. Why?”
I exclaimed. “It has already covered the roads and the ground. You can’t see a patch of green grass anywhere.”
“Are you serious?” he asked.
I could hear him getting out of his recliner and opening the front door. “Well,
even though it’s already spring, I’ve seen it snow in April before, so I’m not surprised.”
“I know, but still…It was seventy degrees yesterday!” I said.
“I really want to get back to the game now,” dad said. “Here’s your mom.”
I cringed at the thought of talking to her.
I didn’t call to talk to her, but I couldn’t just hang up since he was giving her the phone. Although I don’t think that what she said was meant for my ears, I heard her remark, “Why are
you giving me the phone? I don’t want to talk to her.” That’s
not exactly the worst thing she has said about me, but it hurt my feelings all the same.
“Hi Mom,” I said. “I
didn’t mean to bother you. I just wanted to see if you all knew it was
“Well, of course I do. I
can see outside, you know. It’s not like I’m stupid or anything,”
she replied sarcastically.
“Oh, sorry!” I managed to mutter.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to sew a new pair of curtains but I keep getting interrupted,”
Mom shot back. The hostility in her voice made my eyes well with tears as I quickly
apologized and hung up the phone before she had a chance to reply.
Even though I am older and more mature, the strain of our relationship still
hurts. I long for the same type of mother-daughter connection that many of my
friends share with their own mother, but I know it will never come. We are cordial
to each other, but distant, and I’ve resigned myself to accept that fact.
I still have my pom poms. They
hold a place of honor in my bedroom so that every morning when I open my eyes I can see them.
They continue to remind me of my family bond-strings held together by a single handle, my father. “Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Daddy-Daddy-Yeah!” That is my cheer for the man who has loved and supported me all of my life.