Childhood: The Early Years, Part 2
What did you daydream about?
I dreamed of being a mother. I had a baby doll named Matthew that had curly red hair. He talked. I absolutely loved that doll, and took him everywhere with me. Once, when I was in high school, I actually took a “real-life” baby doll I loved to school with me. Miraculously, no one laughed at me; in fact, they all seemed to think that the doll was neat because it was so real-looking.
Other than having children, I dreamed about having a book in printed format. I used to imagine that I was at a book signing and others wanted me to sign the book for them. I would spend time practicing my autograph.
What birthday do you remember the most?
We had birthday parties at the skating rink and Chuck E. Cheeses, like most kids. But the birthday party that I remember the most was my sixteenth and eighteenth birthdays. We had a limo pick us and a couple of friends up from school and take us to the horse stables, where we got to ride horses. We had cake at the stables and it was in the shape of an open book. Everything about these birthday parties was perfect.
How did you spend your Summers?
Every Summer, Fan Fair came to Nashville. For ten years, we spend a week sleeping out on the concrete at the fairgrounds, waiting for the chance to meet country music stars and have them sign things for us. We met a group of people that traveled here every year and loved hanging out with them. We would also go to the June Jam in Alabama. Fan Fair was my favorite part of the year.
Describe how important religion was to your family when you were little?
We moved too often to go to church regularly but we always knew that faith was critical to our lives. Mama read the Bible to us regularly. When we were in town, we would go to church at Two Rivers until my brother died. When Nathan died, Mama met the preacher at Christ Church and we started going there when we were around town instead. Despite the lack of a stable church family, God was a constant presence in my life.
I received a Teen Study Bible as a gift when I was about thirteen. I loved that Bible and it was the first Bible from which I read all of Scripture; it encouraged me to do so by having a checklist in the back of it where I could mark off a chapter when it was read.
When I was very young, an aunt told me that if I held my palm up toward the ceiling and said a prayer to ask God to hold my hand, He would. An otherwise inexplicable heat would settle over my palm and that, she said, was the hand of God holding mine. I tried it and did feel the heat; I believed God was holding my hand. This gave me immense comfort throughout really difficult times in my life. Whenever I was really scared, or needed someone to be with me, I would hold my palm out and pray, asking for Him to hold my hand. He always did, and it told me that He was nearby and that He still loved me.
Were you ever seriously ill when you were little?
No. I began having migraines when I was eleven or twelve years old, and they were intense, but I was otherwise perfectly healthy.
Did you ever have any serious accidents as a child?
Once, I fell out of a car. I wasn’t hurt, though, since it was only traveling in a parking lot at a low speed. During one of the otherwise fabulous birthday parties, I decided riding a horse barefoot was a good idea and ended up falling off. My foot got stuck in the stirrup and I was drug upside down. Fortunately, I had a helmet on, which probably saved my life. I also broke my wrist once at a skating rink—-and I wasn’t even skating at the time!!!
Did you ever experience a family tragedy during childhood? How did it affect you?
The greatest family tragedy was the death of my brother. The worst part of this experience was that it made my mother question God. I spent many nights praying fervently for her to keep her faith. It scared me to think of my mother, who had always been the faithful rock in our family, not believing in or trusting God. I was very relieved when she finally turned a corner.
What were your greatest fears as a child?
My father: I was very, very scared of him. I used to hope that when I would come home from school, he would be gone. Minutes after laying down in the dark, I would start shaking, anticipating his coming to my room. Even when he didn’t come, I would fight sleep. I was always afraid of being hurt while I was asleep. Other than that, I remember fearing disappointing the adults in my life. I worked very consciously and very hard to make everyone happy—-failing meant that I wasn’t a good person and I walked a tightrope, only speaking when and what I knew was accepted. The last great fear of my childhood was death. I remember from a very early age being very afraid that I was going to die prematurely. I didn’t know when or how it would happen but I did not believe I would live to see my children grown. When I was twelve, I saw an Unsolved Mysteries episode in which this woman had dreamed and believed that she would die on her eighteenth birthday. She was murdered around eleven p.m. on her eighteenth birthday. The show bothered me because I, too, had always feared that something tragic would happen to me. The fear didn’t begin to go away until my youngest daughter turned five.
What is your saddest childhood memory?
I was around eight years old. My dad came to my room. I remember staring at the ceiling, consciously trying to make myself disappear. I remember how heavy he was and being scared because I couldn’t breathe well. But what made this time so particularly haunting was that, after he left, I rolled to my side, pulled my knees up and stared straight ahead at the wall and I did not cry. My mouth hurt, I remember it feeling bruised. My body hurt and, as always, I was afraid of going to the bathroom. Usually, I prayed afterward and asked God to hold my hand. But on this particular night, I didn’t. I just laid still, staring straight ahead. This memory haunts me today, because I was just eight years old but I was already numbed. I was too sad to cry.
What is a funny story from your childhood?
When I was about four and my sister about two, I had a piece of gum in my mouth. My sister wanted it. I must have told her no. She then proceeded to push me over onto the floor, climb on top of me, stick her hand into my mouth and pulled the gum out. Also, for her sixteenth birthday, she wanted to ride the SkyCoaster at Opryland. I was terrified of this ride but agreed to be a good sport and ride it with her since it was her birthday. While it was pulling us slowly to the top, I prayed, out loud, the entire time time. When we were almost halfway, Mandi said, “Tiffini, STOP praying!”
Tell us about the most influential people of your childhood.
Other than my mother, teachers were the most influential people around me. I was blessed to have several really good teachers. My sixth grade Math teacher was named Mrs. Hogshead. She gave us a test once. I failed it with flying colors—-made something like a 40 on this test. Disheartened and sad, I was surprised when Mrs. Hogshead asked me to stay after class. She asked me if I would like the chance to take the test over again. I said yes. The next day, I came back and retook THE EXACT SAME test. Again, I failed with flying colors, making something like a 55. Smiling, she offered to let me take the test again. The next day, I failed it again, although I continued to increase my score. This time, I made something like a 62. She let me re-take it. I failed it again, but now I was passing with something in the seventies. I was happy but Mrs. Hogshead asked me to retake the test. This time, she let me bring the test home. I was so humbled by this generous act that I did not cheat by asking for help from my sister or parents. The next day, I took it to school and still hadn’t aced it; I was only in the mid 80 range. She had me stay after school and retake it. This time, I aced it. After she graded it, I went up to her and thanked her. She said, “Tiffini, I knew you were trying and that’s really what matters.” Mrs. Hogshead taught me a valuable lesson that day. She taught me that perseverance matters more than a single score and she also taught me that I -could- ace a math test.
My fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Krutsinger. Mrs. Krutsinger was my favorite person for a long time. She was the first teacher who allowed me to read my stories out loud to the class. She believed in me and I knew it.
All of these wonderful teachers led to amazing teachers in high school. Stackhoouse, Mrs. Waller, Dr. Estes: all of whom taught me more than academics; they taught me that I was important and capable of succeeding.