"The hardest part of my childhood was in the wintertime," she says. "My father was a carpenter, but we never had our lights out; he always paid the bill. He saved when he worked in the summertime. He made sure he put money away to pay the rent and the public service bills. Food was the hardest. I 'member one time I was 'bout 5 years old. My sisters and brothers was in school. I come down and tell my mother I was hungry. And she said, "OK, wait, wait.' So she made me some toast. I ate that. An' then when my sisters and brothers came home from school that afternoon we had oatmeal. I 'member that night tellin' my mother I was hungry, that that oatmeal didn't fill me up. That was the first and only time I remember bein' hungry. The next day was payday. My father came home and [had] bought food and everything, groceries and stuff. I had been near hungry, but that was the only time I can really say I was really, really bein' hungry."
Her father would travel in the winter to the Pocono Mountains and hunt pheasants, rabbits, groundhogs and even bear for food.
"We had groundhog many a day," Lolly says.
When her mother became gravely ill, the family called the pastor to come to the house to pray.
"The pastor came up that Saturday to see her, and I had to read the Bible to us every night," she says. "My mom had a black Persian cat. This cat had to have breakfast with my mom every day. Whatever my mother didn't eat, the cat would eat it. When my mother would finish eating, she would take her cup of tea and pour a little in a saucer and feed it to the cat. One day I came in there and I took her plate. I went in the kitchen and heard this noise. I went back in the room, she had fell. I called my older sister [at her home], and I told her; I had a hard time getting [my mother] up, you know. My sister came over that day. She took my mother [to her home]. My sister said it's too much for me to take care of the house, cook dinner for everybody and take care of my mother at the same time. When my father came home I had the suitcase packed, me and my little brother with me, and we went to my sister's house. My mother said I was the only one who could lift her. Everyone else hurt her. When we go there my mother said, "I knew you would come.' "
"The night she died, I was sitting with her," Lolly says. "I said mama you can't talk, I said do you want some water, shake your head yeah, she shook her head yeah. So I gave her some water and then she died. The whole sky lit up, like fireworks. Goodnight, dada. Everybody up there know what to do. Somebody called the pastor."
Lolly was left to care for her adopted 7-year-old brother. Her mother had taken in the boy after a neighbor told her that an infant was being left alone in an apartment all day while the mother worked. Lolly, her father and her little brother moved to Camden after her mother died in 1961.
"It don't have to be blood all the time for someone to be your family," she says. "And that's what I tell my children. They don't have to be your blood. I have one [Boom Boom]. " I've had him since he was three days old. My neighbor was talking about having an abortion. I told her, "Are you ready to stand before God and tell him the reason that you got rid of that baby?' She said, "No.' I said, "Give the child to me.' I never asked her for a penny after that, for anything."
Lolly started working at Sears. She met a man named James Nipples, nicknamed "Nick," who was in the Coast Guard. They fell in love. She and Nick had their first daughter in 1964. When Nick got out of the Coast Guard he found a job at Campbell's Soup. They moved into an apartment together, an arrangement that ended when Lolly came home and found Nick with another woman. She moved to an apartment of her own on Washington Street in Camden. Eventually she and Nick reconciled, moved into an apartment together and had a second daughter, Tammy.
"Nick was scared to death of my father," Lolly says. "My father was a tall man. He had big hands. That's what Nick said. He was always respectful to my dad. They used to call him banana fingers. And my father was respectful to him."
They planned to marry in September 1970, but Nick was shot to death on August 30 in the middle of a quarrel in a bar.
"I was pregnant with my last daughter, fourth daughter, when he got
killed," she says. "Baby girl, that's Cheryl. His [Nick's] mother, she
said, "I was coming up for the wedding, " [instead] I come up and bury
my son.' "
All of Lolly's brothers came home from the wars struggling to cope with the violence they had seen or participated in.
"My older brother Gilbert, he was in the Army," she says. "My second oldest brother, Wilfred, he was in the Army. He used to have a heart trouble, and they sent him home. My youngest brother, one I was next to, Virgil, he was in the Marines. He was in Vietnam twice. He went back. He came out the service. He says, 'There's nothing out here [in civilian life],' and he signed up, and they sent him right back. He drunk himself to death I guess. My older brother, he died too, because of the liver. Mostly all my brothers were drunk."
On May 13, 1975, Lolly's 7-year-old daughter complained that her throat hurt and she could not swallow. Lolly rushed her to a hospital, and the child died there.
"I almost lost my mind," Lolly says. "I would hear her laughing. I would look upstairs. I would see my daughter jump up on the bed. I knew she wasn't there. You know what I mean? I thought, people gonna say I'm crazy. One night I was laying in bed. I always left the bathroom light on. That toilet would constantly run. Constantly run. I was praying. I was crying. But I never asked God why, I never asked him why, why my daughter had to die, I never asked him why. I heard my father, who had died six months before my daughter, just like I'm talking to you right now. My father said, "Didn't I tell you don't worry about her? Don't worry, Tammy's all right " she's with me.' And I believe he's in heaven. Everything just got all light."