The Crimson White

When work becomes a blessing

Ashley Tripp

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For Essie Inge Charles, the struggles of being a teen mom began inside a crowded country home in Springville, Ala.

“I remember having the rats nibble at our toes during the nights as I could peak through the tiny cracks in the ceiling and look at the stars,” Charles said.

Charles, a housekeeper at Alabama’s Gamma Phi Beta sorority house, became a mother at 17 years old in 1973 when she gave birth to her first son, William, whom she named after her father.

“My mom kept saying that there was nothing to be ashamed of, but I thought differently,” Charles said. “We had to be put on welfare and had to move into a HUD house the following year.”

Charles continued her education for a year longer, but she eventually dropped out before graduating high school.

“I stopped school, because I needed to take care of my baby,” Charles said. “My mom helped out as much as she could financially by applying for disability and food stamps. The father of my child would always be working the garbage truck. He only gave me some money on the weekends.”

When Charles quit school, she lost not only her continued education, but also the money she drew from social security checks she received after her father passed away.

“So long as I was in school, I would receive the social security checks,” Charles said. “Since those checks weren’t coming in anymore, there was no income. There were some nights when all we would eat was mayonnaise sandwiches.”

William Inge, Charles’s oldest son, said that like all families, they faced good and bad times.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but somehow my mother always made a way,” Inge said. “Even though she faced many obstacles, she still found a way to give and help others. I’m so inspired by her in many ways. She reminds me to put God first.”

Charles still desired to be educated. Like an answered prayer, Charles met Raymond Austin, a 24-year-old English teacher from Miles College. Raymond saw her struggles offered to help further her education.

“Raymond suggested I look into taking the GED test,” Charles said. “After agreeing, he drove me to Rose Administration and paid for my test. I passed and within months I was back in school … The checks started coming back. During that time, I started dating Raymond, and he took me dancing. Back then, I knew how to drop it like it’s hot.”

Charles relied on her mother for most of her transportation and care. However, her mother had to suddenly spend a moth in New York to care for one of her children, and her absence threatened to set Charles back.

“Raymond stepped up and drove me to school,” Charles said. “On days when he wasn’t able, I would have to walk about four to five miles carrying my books and my 2-year-old over my shoulders.”

Charles received $104 every month as long as she remained in school. She applied for the Federal Work Study Program and worked part-time as a file clerk. After two years of pre-requisite classes, she was accepted into Stillman College, but never enrolled.

Charles’s relationship with Raymond ended in her early twenties. Rejected, she soon found herself struggling with the same, familiar emotions she felt as a 17-year-old girl.

“I felt alone and left out, just like in high school,” Charles said. “I started rebelling by partying and smoking weed on and off. I fell into the wrong crowd.”

Her mother was fully aware of her daughter’s choice of lifestyle, and Charles said her mother always told her, ‘Ain’t nothin’ gon’ win but right, and right will follow you.’

“I remember right as I was about to go out to the clubs, my mom would pop the Bible out and read a verse to me,” Charles said. “I would have those words ringing in my head the whole night. I thought my mom was trying to run my life, but she saw something that I didn’t see at that time, and that was hardships.”

At 23, she gave birth to her second son, Derek Inge.

“I thought I was in love, but it turns out the father of my child was cheating on me with my neighbor,” Charles said.

In 1979, Charles, along with her two sons and mother, left Springville, Ala., to start a new journey where her sister lived.

Along with this new location came the birth of her third son, Thaddeus Inge.

“I still didn’t know any better,” Charles said. “I fell for the first guy that showed me respect.”

A year later, Charles was in a relationship. This relationship was with someone she called savior.

“I formed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” Charles said. “Jesus showed me that I was pure in his eyes and loved me no matter how many men I had slept with. My life was changed a year after I had my third son … God started providing in ways I never thought would happen.”

Working jobs at KFC and Shoney’s Inn, Charles bought her first apartment in Eastern Square in 1982. This was the first time she lived on her own with her three sons. It was also the same year she met her future husband, Clarence Charles.

The couple started dating in December 1982. Two months later, Clarence proposed and the two said, ‘I do,’ on April 9, 1983.

“It ain’t the perfect marriage, but we’re still together,” Clarence Charles said. “We’re still together in spite of all the hardships we’ve been through, and only by the grace of God.”

There were times during their marriage when Clarence’s plumbing business was slow, but Clarence said he was always able to manage with the help of God.

With a lack of transportation, Essie and her husband depended on family and friends, even neighbors to commute across town.

“Sometimes I got dropped off at the clinic with the kids for their doctor’s appointments and would have to walk back, because either my ride couldn’t come back or they were running late,” Essie Charles said. “However, God made a way for my family, and in 1992 we were finally able to afford our first car.”

Even with success came setbacks. She recently suffered from a slipped disc.

“I suffered the most severe pain I had in years,” Essie Charles said. “There were times when I felt like it was going to get the best of me.”

The pain was so bad, she could barely function.

“It hurt trying to get up and sit down,” Essie Charles said. “Sometimes I became so angry, but would immediately change my attitude and ask God to forgive me.”

Right after Essie had a nerve block, the pain worsened, but she forced herself to continue working as a housekeeper.

“I just couldn’t sit around and do nothing,” Essie Charles said. “I had my job to think about, because I was the only housekeeper and had that obligation. That door would probably stay open for so long. I just couldn’t give up … I was determined to get back to my health. I had to take care of my family, because they needed me.”

Clarence would be the only provider paying for the house and grocery bills if Essie stayed to heal at home. She could only pay for half of the treatment prescribed and still owed $250 in medical bills.

“I didn’t have that at the moment, but the nurse called me back and said DCH was going to take care of it. I looked up and praised God in that moment,” Essie Charles said.

Gradually, she returned back to her happy, singing self.

“There ain’t nothing like being able to do things for yourself,” she said.

One of Essie’s desires is to fulfill the work God has called her to do by preaching God’s word and loving others.

“He has placed in my heart the love, care and concern for other people in spite of how they are, how they might treat me or look down on me,” Essie Charles said. “I still have to love them because God is love.”

At 58 years old, she continues working as a housekeeper to help support her family.

“I’m not looking to still be working when I become 65 or more unless God sees fit to keep me working,” Essie Charles said. “God is able. I’m indebted to God. No amount of hardships are difficult for him.”

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When work becomes a blessing