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    Robert Baldwin's Memories of Sidney Wallace

    Of all my family members, my mother's brother, Sidney, was one of the most gentle.

    There is no telling how much he saw or how much he has endured over the years.

    I have been told of the severe beatings he endured from his father.

    I remember his severe case of acne, the reason he always had his hands on his face. I remember hearing of the cruel names they called him as a teenager. Hamburger Face...

    I remember tales of the many fights he got into as a youth, defending the honor of his sisters or retaliating to the cruelness of other school children.

    My mother told me of the many times he received incredible blows to the head... sometimes from a fist... sometimes from a piece of wood... many times from hitting his head on a sidewalk curb.

    Sidney was a fighter. It seems that his clothes were so ill-fitting as a child that he would hold up his pants with one hand and fight with the other.

    At some point in his late teens or early twenties, something really snapped.

    Sidney began spending time in a mental hospital. In and out of Jackson State Mental Hospital near Baton Rouge and in and out of the stupor caused by shock treatments and experimental drugs.

    The doctors wanted to give him a lobotomy, and that's where my grandmother, Emma, drew the line.

    Sidney heard voices... lots of them. It's when he would begin sharing these voices with family members that things went bad for him.

    And then there were times he would go to bars and begin preaching the message God had given him. I suppose not many people want to be evangelized while bellying up to the bar. And when the police were called in to put down the disturbance, Sidney would be locked away.

    Once he told one of my aunts that the voices were telling him to cut up people and put them into a pot. One of my cousins had spit in his face that day, which likely set him off. That was another stay at Jackson. How many times they fried his brain, no one knows.

    We would just pile in a car and visit him some weekends. We always brought fruit, sandwiches, cold drinks, egg salad, Ritz crackers, and lots of cigarettes.

    Most of the time I couldn't eat any of the food because Sidney was hard to watch. He would cram his mouth with food... again and again. And go off to throw up, and then return to eat more. We tried not to notice, but I can still hear Emma suggesting that he slow down.

    "Sidney, all this food is for you. So, slow down and enjoy it."

    "Honey, don't make yourself sick."

    Sidney was hungry for something and the food wasn't doing the job. Neither were the cigarettes that he violently smoked... lighting one from another... again and again. His hands were yellowed and burned because he would forget he was holding a lit Camel.

    When he was deep into the drugs or shock treatments, he was on another planet. And the verbal communication from this far off place boiled down to a very spacey "yes" or "no". It was like the positive or negative he communicated was only given to shut the questioner up.

    Questions were not a good thing for Sidney.

    Sidney seemed so full of fear... especially fearful about what had happened to him at the hospital. He would beg not to be sent back because of the rubber hoses used on patients in the showers. My uncle once shared with me the reason for using rubber hoses... no marks.

    As we would leave the hospital, he would beg us to take him with us, and he would stand at the gate dressed in khakis, waving to us.

    It would break Emma's heart, and she would cry.

    I loved Sidney, his smile, his insane little laugh.

    He would play games with me, taking special delight in beating me. The checker games he and I shared are good memories, and the puzzles we put together, the card games... all of it.

    Sidney loved to help me study my spelling and took special pride when I brought home a good grade on something he had drilled me on.

    The Sidney I remember was soft-spoken, kind, full of fun... and always ready to smile.

    I see him with his curly, sandy hair, playful, like a puppy.

    He made no secret that he despised his father, Joseph, who would never come by our apartment when Sidney was there.

    What Sidney wanted was peace, and he has never gotten it that I know of.

    Today he's in his late 70's and lives in a supervised home outside of New Orleans. He recognizes no one, just sitting in a rocker... smoking... off somewhere I have never been.

    Date28 Mar 2009
    Linked toRobert Barton [Wakeley] Baldwin; Sidney [Wakeley] Wallace

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