Her name was Sharon Lee Stone, better known as Tobi.
On December 13, 1942, Tobi was born on the beautiful coast of the Monterey Bay in Pacific Grove. She grew up in Seaside with her three sisters Betty, Barbara and Cheryle. Tobi was the third born.
Her father Roscoe was a hardworking man. He held various jobs over time, including one as a shoeshine man. Her mother Selma was also a hardworking woman, holding a number of jobs cooking and cleaning.
Tobi’s first child, a daughter named Tillie, was born on June 26, 1964. On February 4, 1967, Tobi gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Tracy Lamont Stone. In the interim, her ambitions had led her from the small coastal town to the fast paced, city lights of San Francisco, to pursue her dreams for success.
But basic survival had become difficult for her. Life was quite challenging for a single black woman raising two children on her own in the 1960’s. She could not afford childcare. In order to work, she often left the children alone in a locked apartment. On one occasion when the children were home alone, their grandmother drove in from Monterey for a visit. She found Tillie and Tracy alone, hungry and filthy. She convinced Tobi to relinquish her parental rights and to surrender custody of Tillie and Tracy to her. Reluctantly but unselfishly, she did. Tobi got down on her knees in the gravel of the parking lot in front of her children and promised, “I’ll come and get you soon. I love you. I will come real soon.” Tillie was four years old and Tracy was one year old.
Living without her children broke her spirit and her heart. On November 1, 1969, she had a third child, Tobiana Johanna DiLorenzo, a beautiful bright-eyed baby daughter, to fill that emptiness. Life’s challenges still pressed hard against her endeavors, and Tobi turned to forms of false securities. She became addicted to heroin. Her search for comfort began to lead her in the wrong direction, away from her dream.
And in those five years that had passed since they left San Francisco, Tillie and Tracy had seen their mother only once.
In 1973, the grandmother made a decision to send Tracy back to live with Tobi in San Francisco. “He was too much for me to handle,” she explained. “I would have beaten him to death.” Tracy was six years old at the time and had been abused at the hands of his grandmother.
The trip to San Francisco was surreal. Tracy had no memory of Tobi as his mother, since he was only a year old at the time he was taken. She was a stranger to him. The expression on his face the moment he said goodbye to Tillie and the door closed between them burned into his sister’s mind.
Years passed, and again Grandmother had taken Tillie to visit her mother only once. When they arrived, Tobi was not at home. An unknown and unfriendly lady answered the door. Reluctantly she allowed them to see Tracy. He was taller and thinner. His eyes lit up as he ran to Tillie, clutching his arms around her. Turning to Grandmother, he asked, “Are you taking me with you? I want to go home with you.” But it was not to be, and after a brief visit, Tillie and Grandmother left for Monterey. That would be the last time Tillie would ever see her brother.
Finally, Tobi came through on her promise. The letter addressed to Tillie said she wanted her daughter to come back to live with her. Tracy really missed Tillie, she said, and wanted her to be with him. As for her, she had a job and everything was wonderful. She “I want you to come and live with us,” she added, “so that we can be a happy family now.”
Tillie was 13, and her grandmother told her that she was old enough to make the decision for herself. After hours of agonizing over it, she decided it was best to be with her little brother. Before going to bed that night, Tillie wrote, addressed and stamped the letter saying she was coming to be with them.
That night, she had the most terrorizing nightmare of her life, one of severe darkness. She awoke in a puddle of sweat, and lay for hours in the dark, paralyzed with fear. At the first sign of movement in the house, Tillie ran from her bedroom and begged her grandmother not to make her go. The letter she mailed was different from the one she’d written the previous day. She remained in Monterey with her Grandmother.
It was another year before Tobi wrote another letter to Grandmother. “I am in a beautiful place called Jonestown, Guyana,” she said. “I have my own house and am working. Tracy and Tobiana are with me, it is so beautiful here. Too bad my daughter did not join us. We are very happy and we are never coming back.” Tillie visualized a beautiful bright colored house with a yard full of trees. It was reassuring… but at the same time so final, because as the letter also said, “And we are never coming back….”
Tobi was a free-spirited, talented black woman. She was an artist who created beauty with her hands out of her heart. She loved music and she danced as though no one were watching her. Her laughter and dreams kept her hopes alive. Tobi was a beautiful mother, with dreams for her children’s future.
She was my mother and I am her namesake. I am Tillie, Tobi’s oldest daughter, better known to you as Sharon Lee Stone II. These are my memories of Tobi, of my mother.
(Tillie – also known as Sharon Miller – can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would love to hear any stories anyone might have about her mother and siblings.)