Social Justice

Rob Thomas: My Story

Part One

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I was born May 25th, 1987, here in Asheville, North Carolina, I think at St. Joseph's Hospital. My parents were actual high school sweethearts.  My father was going to Asheville High when they first started integrating it. Robert Elijah Thomas, Sr.  His picture might be in some of the yearbooks of mine.  He was born in ’61, I think.  But yeah, he tried to date my mother for a while and she eventually gave in. She went to Asheville High, too, and was younger than my dad by a year and a half, maybe two years.  My father grew up in East End until urban renewal, which forced my grandmother out of her house.  She was able to find a house in north Asheville on Annandale. My uncle lived there as well in the basement. My mother and my father lived there, me and my brother, my grandmother, and it was a three-bedroom house. And my uncle was definitely a drug addict. The basement that he lived in was nicknamed The Dungeon because drug dealers and prostitutes and all types of crazy stuff went on in there.

My dad's mother, she worked most of the day. She was working at Mission, I think, in the laundry room for a while and then they fired her before she retired. They didn't want to pay her retirement. Then in her 50's and 60's she started working at Grove Park Inn, and she worked there until she got too old to work. She did what she had to do. She worked and kept her head down and went through a whole lot of racism. Because of the racism that she went through, she didn't like white people at all. She was from South Carolina.  She and I didn't have the best relationship. She didn't like my mother and growing up, I looked just like my mother, so I got a whole lot of butt whoopings for what I think was probably no reason.

A lot of my mother’s childhood was spent on Ashland Avenue, until urban renewal took those properties.  Her mother then found a house to rent on Woodlawn. A good memory that I had of my mother was, she had gotten in a car accident and she took me and my brother down to Charlotte and we had fun for about a week. I think somewhere in between seven and nine years old. We had family down there, and my father was locked up, and she was waiting on him to get out because he was the sole provider of the family and the leader of the family. He and my mother had active drug addictions at the time, and being with him made it to where she was stable. She didn't have to do some of the things that people on drugs do to get money. But when he got incarcerated, things definitely started falling apart quickly. We were in a car accident and she got some money and she took us to Charlotte, maybe even Carowinds. I just remember being down there for the first time I could remember in my life because my mother's side of the family has a whole lot of family down there, and I stayed with my aunt and I met some of my cousins.

And then when we came back, I guess she acted like we were going to go visit my grandmother and we went over there and she disappeared out the back door for months. This was the worst memory that created a lot of the trauma that I work through today. I've learned that these actions create abandonment issues and can affect the individual's attachment style as far as in love, life, and relationships.  I then saw her seven months later. She had come back. She had lost a whole lot of weight, looked completely different, and stayed maybe a day or two and then acted like she was going to the bathroom and disappeared again. And this happened a couple times.

My younger brother and I stayed with my mother’s mother on Woodlawn.  She was probably the best person ever to walk this planet as far as integrity, moralistic values. Everybody knew her, everybody loved her. She was born in 1921. She never had a formal job as far as I know. She made money by cleaning houses. She had a few people's houses she cleaned in Ballentree [in south Asheville, just north of Givens Estates]. She also ironed lawyers' and doctors' clothes. And then she would faithfully have me and my brother in the back seat of her station wagon as children and she always had to get her table at the flea market, so we'd be there. Dreamland. That’s the name of it. [Dreamland Drive-In Flea Market, on South Tunnel Road at the current Lowe’s site] We'd be there at 4:30 in the morning. The place didn't open till 6:30 or something. She was selling random stuff. She was definitely a trader.  She was a hoarder as well. She had boxes of stuff. But she survived. She made money to pay her bills. I mean, everybody loved her. Sally Nicholson Baxter. One of the people that she worked for cleaning their house, I want to say the Mathesons, they were 80 or 90 then. I'm positive they're probably not still here, but they bought her two cars throughout her life, brand new. The station wagon that I remember with the wood paneling on the side that was fading, and then they bought her a new Ford Taurus station wagon, I want to say, in the '90s.

Everybody loved her, and my grandmother was very much a churchgoing woman. The last church that we attended was Beulah Chapel on South French Broad. My grandfather was Reverend James Baxter. His brother was Johnny Baxter, the individual who did a lot of implemental stuff for the YMI [Young Men’s Institute] downtown.