We never met, but my grandfather, Jesse Paulk, shaped my life

We never met, but my grandfather, Jesse Paulk, shaped my life
My grandfather Jesse, Nana, Mom, and my Uncle Michael. Shortly before my grandfather's death, September 1961.

If I could meet anyone in the world, I'd choose to go back to before September 12, 1961 and meet my maternal grandfather, Jesse Paulk. September 12, 1961 was my mom's 13th birthday and also the day my grandfather died. I was given my name, Jessica, in his memory. My mom's brother also named his oldest son Jesse in honor of his dad.

I've heard many stories about my grandfather. He grew up in Florida in Palm Harbor, Crystal Beach or Tarpon Springs. I'm not really sure which one. He moved to Mississippi in the 1930s and married my Nana in September 1938. He was one of three boys. He was also known to be a God fearing man and devout Christian, Presbyterian more specifically.

During the Depression, my grandfather worked in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) where he learned to dig wells. He also served in World War II in the Army Corps of Engineers, and, upon returning home he began Paulk Brothers Well Drilling and Plumbing so his brothers, who remained in German POW Camps, had jobs when they returned home.

By all public accounts he was a kind and loving man who worked hard and provided for his family. Over the years, I've heard many wonderful stories from family and friends about the man for whom I am named.

But that's just one side of him. The Disney-fied version of him.

He had another side to him. It was a side that only a very few people knew about.

Jesse was reportedly an alcoholic and was quite violent with my Nana. He also did things to my mom that no father should ever do to his daughter. It all went on for years.

Nana denied all of this until the very end of her life. Actually, she practically deified him. My mom, on the other hand, remembers it all quite clearly. Of course, in the 1950s and 1960s, victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse had very limited options for getting help, and probably no options in a small Florida town. No one talked about it and women were often blamed for the abuse they suffered at the hands of their husbands.

If I could meet him today, I'd have a million questions for him.

Mostly, I'd ask him why. Why did he do what he did to Nana and, more importantly, to my mom? My mom was a helpless little girl. She didn't do anything to seduce him. She didn't want him to touch her and do what he did to her.


I'd take him on a little trip forward from September 1961 to the present day, very much like the Ghost of Christmas Future.

I'd let him see how abuse impacted Nana's career and her ability to advocate for herself. How she struggled to raise two happy and healthy kids as a single mom, attempting to put the past behind them. I'd also let him see her second marriage, a decade later to their minister, and how physically and verbally abusive it was for more than 30 years. She didn't want to marry him, but he relentlessly harassed her for months after his wife died until she finally said yes. I'd show him how he tore apart Nana's self-worth with his violence, causing her to believe that relationships had to hurt and that abuse in a marriage was simply the norm.

I'd spend most of my time giving him a long and hard look at my mom's life. The good news is that my mom didn't marry anyone who was abusive; she broke that cycle. The bad news is that her marriage disintegrated in the early 1980s and the scars that formed from the abuse she endured, manifested in mental illness that has haunted her throughout her life.

Like Nana, Mom never knew how to advocate for herself personally or professionally either. She was never able to establish a healthy, loving relationship and has been alone since she and my dad broke up. Her professional career had ups and downs. She was highly successful in her endeavors, but never got fully paid. Why? Because she didn't know how to recognize an unhealthy environment or how to get herself out when things went horribly wrong.

Those scars of my mom's also inhibited her ability to raise a daughter with much self-worth or understanding of love. It's taken me more than 40 years to figure out that relationships don't have to hurt, physically, verbally, or emotionally, and to understand that I deserve better. There are many days I'm not really sure. The good news is that at this point in my life, children are no longer an option, so I've completely broken the cycle. The flip side is that I'm also alone, so there's that.

I'd also tell him how cursed I feel having his name and how I've spent my life hating it and me because I hate him. Long before I knew what a monster he was, I would physically react to someone calling me "Jessie." I always said that Jessie sounded like a hick slut and make it known, in no uncertain terms, that Jessie was not an acceptable nickname. I don't know where I came up with that, but that's what I would say. Frankly, I'm not even thrilled with "Jess." It's not so bad, but it's not my name.

Then there's my Uncle Michael. I don't really know much about him. I've never heard any stories about abuse he might have suffered, although I can't imagine that "second hand abuse" (think second hand smoke) didn't leave scars on him as well. You simply can't abuse one or two people in a family without repercussions on other family members, even if they don't personally witness the abuse. At his choosing, he's completely estranged from the family, which makes me really sad. He didn't even come to Nana's funeral because we didn't have his contact information to let him know she'd died. It's only been in recent years, through the joys of Facebook, that I've developed a little bit of a relationship with my cousin Jesse.

Three generations all deeply damaged because of Jesse's selfishness, brutality, and lack of self-control.

That Jesse died on my mom's 13th birthday was simply poetic justice.

After I gave him an up-close and personal view of the hell he'd inflicted on our family, I'd ask him if what he did was worth the lives he destroyed. And if he said yes, well, Lord help me, I wouldn't be responsible for my actions. Then I'd give him a send off of "Burn in Hell you rotten bastard."

After it was all said and done, I'd change my name to something that didn't constantly remind me of someone so vile.


Tonight's post was part of Blogapalooza, a monthly challenge for ChicagoNow bloggers to write about a specific topic given to us at 9:00 p.m. from  Jimmy Greenfield, ChicagoNow Community Manager. We have to post at 10:00 p.m. That's right. We've got one hour. Tonight that's all I needed. Any more and I couldn't have handled this topic.

Welcome to ChicagoNow's Blogapalooz-Hour!

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to publish a post in one hour. Here is tonight's challenge:

"Write about a person, or persons, you never met whose death had an impact on you. Can be a writer, a celebrity, a politician, a regular person in an extraordinary situation, (Trayvon Martin, for example), an event (Sept. 11, for example) or even somebody who died before you were born."

Be creative, enjoy the process. Use words, images or video. Whatever you need to tell your story.

Be aware of the time. No matter when you finish, please wait until 10 p.m. to publish. Above all, please respect the deadline.

You have one hour.


Want to read all of tonight's fantastic Blogapalooza posts? Check out the Storify.

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    A native of Chicago's Northwest Suburbs and resident of the North Shore, Little Merry Sunshine comes by her name honestly. The story goes that as a child, she was always so happy that she even slept with a smile on her face. Her mom nicknamed her Little Merry Sunshine. It stuck, along with her insatiable desire to focus on the good in the world and to leave it a little better than she found it. She does this by sharing her passions and dreams, what inspires her, and maybe you too, and furthering the discussion about how we can listen to our better angels. You can reach her at LittleMerrySunshineCN[at]WowWay[dot]com.

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